Vintage Cable Box: “Deal Of The Century”, 1983

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“For I do not do the good that I want. But the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me.”

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“Deal Of The Century”, 1983 (Chevy Chase), Warner Bros.

An uncomfortable satire that crosses the line between ludicrous and oddly prescient, “Deal Of The Century” is a cold war romance about America’s obsessive love for military firepower. The first images in the film we see are an advertisement for the Peacemaker, a stealth-like drone craft capable of untold destruction and designed (it seems) specifically to neutralize conflicts in small Central American territories. The advertisement is disturbing not only for the child singing, “Someone To Watch Over Me”, but for the images of infants cradled in their mothers’ arms. Breaking down the demographics, Vince Edwards (with an imposing hawk-like profile) presides over a conference with advertising executives on how to sell this sleek instrument to the public and (more importantly) to nations in the market to buy.

In what is obviously a comment on consumer culture, we focus on slick arms dealer Eddie Muntz (Chevy Chase), as he peddles his wares. He eyes a lusty Sigourney Weaver in a bar; a fellow American lost in San Miguel, a fictitious sovereign Republic led by flighty fascist dictator, General Cordosa. His pitch to shady mercenaries is not unlike the approach of a used car salesman, but he prides himself on selling quality merchandise. Although Muntz considers himself an independent businessman, there is a disturbing bit of foreshadowing which predates the Reagan Administration revelations of selling arms to both sides during Nicaragua’s Iran–Contra affair. Caught in the middle of a helicopter fire-fight during a sale, Muntz is wounded, and loses his money and his merchandise. Design flaws are discovered in the Peacemaker’s offensive program (it appears the drone can suffer water damage and go hay-wire), which causes havoc at a demonstration for representatives of the Pentagon.

While recovering from his injuries, Muntz meets destitute broker and Peacemaker salesman Wallace Shawn, who promptly kills himself.  Muntz steals his $300 million contracts, and takes up his assignment to meet with General Cordosa.  Coming back to the States, Muntz’s friend, former Air Force pilot Ray (a diffident Gregory Hines), picks him up at the airport.  In his absence, Hines has become a born-again Christian who swears off selling weapons and embraces pacifism.  Weaver, revealed to be Shawn’s widow, seeks out Chase in an effort to steal back the contracts.  Edwards approaches Muntz and Weaver to gain their assistance in selling off his Peacemakers to General Cordosa. Muntz appeals to Ray to go in with him on one last job.  Ray is conflicted, and in a momentary fit of rage after a minor collision with an angry couple, he torches their car with his latest acquisition, a military-grade flamethrower.  By itself, this is a brilliant scene.

Ray begs Muntz to reconsider selling the Peacemaker to Cordosa because of the destruction it will cause.  Muntz likens his job to that of selling a product and nothing more, so Ray, in good conscience, cannot allow this sale to happen.  Ray steals a fighter jet and attempts to destroy the Peacemaker himself.  Unfortunately, the movie fails as a comedy, because of the deadly serious nature of the source material (a thought-provoking screenplay by Paul Brickman).  Director William Friedkin shoots the film as a drama with humorous moments.  The material is too moody to aim for the techno-terror style of the same year’s “WarGames” or the farce of Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb”.  There’s a lack of warmth to the enterprise.  Though Weaver and Chase are attractive enough, they lack chemistry, and their romance feels forced, as if it were shoe-horned into the narrative.

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Chase is intensely interesting as a man with no politics, with no compunction about selling weapons of mass destruction to opposing sides in a conflict, and no religion, when he comes into conflict with Hines and his burgeoning spirituality. It’s downright eerie how all of these weapons are now being used in common practice. Every day, we hear stories of drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the loss of innocent civilian lives, women and children in the fiery fray. While the film, as a satire, doesn’t comment on the morality of using drones, it does poke holes in the supposedly “fool-proof” design of such weaponry. “Deal Of The Century” (for me) would’ve been much more effective as a straight-out black comedy than a meandering, unbalanced political satire about the mixed morality of capitalism and the destructive consequences it can foster.

Support the troops, not the drones.  Happy Memorial Day!

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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