Vintage Cable Box: “Jinxed” (1982)

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“Let me say something I’ve never said to a man before.  Help me murder Harold!”

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“Jinxed” , 1982 (Bette Midler), United Artists

Rip Torn is a career gambler. A career gambler is an occupation that only appears in movies and television shows. This is a person who evidently has so much money they can continue to gamble and never lose their respective shirt. So Rip (and main squeeze Bette Midler) live out of their truck and trailer hitch, following erstwhile casino employee Ken Wahl (a good-looking hunk in the Richard Gere/Matt Dillon mold) around Nevada so Torn can take advantage of his relative lack of skill. He always seems to win big when Wahl if officiating the game. In effect, he tends to destroy Wahl’s life everywhere he goes, because Wahl’s employers grow suspicious of his inability to maintain the bank.

Wahl turns the tables, spying on Torn in an effort to get to his very talented paramour, and possibly seduce her, because why not? Hell, that’s the first thing I’m thinking I’d do, you know, before reporting his conduct to the Nevada Gaming Commission or something. Did I mention Bette plays a singer (shocker there) and she is very talented, but nobody seems to care. She has a bastard for a boyfriend in Torn, but again nobody seems to care. Torn is verbally and physically abusive. Seems to me she could get a lot of help from Social Services. Wahl and Midler “fall in love” (ugh) – I don’t know, maybe he’s really good in the sack based on the smile plastered on her face after they’ve done the deed. Even Bette’s cat loves him. Wahl and Midler hatch a scheme to snuff Torn and collect on his life insurance. This is supposed to be a comedy, right?

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The problem here is you have a movie on a fairly big budget (about $13 million – this movie and “Heaven’s Gate” double-teamed to wallop United Artists) with three unlikable characters: aforementioned bastard Torn, oily-variety beau-hunk Wahl, and shrill Midler. Don Siegel, normally a brilliant director, but on his last legs here, consistently confuses his drama for comedy, and his comedy for drama, so what he has here is the movie equivalent of a peanut butter cup. “Jinxed” is not a terrible movie, but it has no heart. With the help of Psych 101, we can see that Midler is an enabler, never once stepping up to Torn and defending herself. She lets Wahl take advantage of her as well. She finally gets her just desserts by the end of the movie, but by that point, nobody will care.

Much has been written of the tension and acrimony on the set between Wahl and Midler. He once, famously, compared kissing Midler to kissing his dog. Messed up, but funny. Midler, in turn, tangled with Siegel, who told the press she was almost impossible to work with. No love for Bette here! I didn’t have a problem with Bette. Honestly, she’s the most interesting thing about the movie. I don’t like her in most movies, but I’ll concede she is very talented; a great singer and a great actress, but she also seems like the kind of person (not unlike Babs), who needs that constant reassurance, otherwise she can’t function.

Visually, the movie has that soft glow of late seventies cinematography, bright, bold and colorful, and the polar opposite of Gordon Willis’ crisp, clean, grain-less dark photography. Vilmos Zsigmond’s photography compliments the sparse Nevada locations quite well, and once again we have a case of beautiful set decoration, lighting, and costuming (not to mention Midler’s lively songs), but with a script unworthy of such technical embellishments.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month. Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

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