“The Buddy System, 1984”

“You’ve gained seven pounds. If you want to put something in your mouth, try a gun.”

The Buddy System, 1984 (Richard Dreyfuss), 20th Century Fox

Okay, what the Hell is going on here? Why can’t Dreyfuss and Sarandon make it work? There’s no direct hostility (at least later on), but there is anxiety between two people, man and woman, in their late ’20s, early ’30s (ostensibly, and I’m just guessing, based on the dialogue) who miraculously have sex and then decide to be good friends. Even though they know the ins-and-outs (and the sexual organs) of each other. I surmise The Buddy System isn’t so much about the Dreyfuss/Sarandon conundrum as it is about poor little Wil Wheaton. Wil is the wayward, dejected, lonely child of stenographer Susan Sarandon (herself a single mom living with her own possessive mom, All in the Family’s Jean Stapleton) who strikes up a friendship with Richard Dreyfuss’ school security guard. It seems Sarandon and her kid have been scamming the school, by pretending to live in the designated school district and using a fake mailing address. Dreyfuss is about to bust them. I didn’t know this was such a problem; we’re talking about educating children, for crying out loud.

Shut up, Wil!

Dreyfuss takes a liking to the kid and promises not to spill the beans. Even though Sarandon is incensed by Wil’s attempts to pair up her and Dreyfuss, the kid still hangs out with him. It turns out Dreyfuss is a gifted inventor, but his real passion is writing. He encourages and inspires Wil to read, which surprises Sarandon, and it’s obvious Dreyfuss is a good influence on the kid, unlike Wil’s real Dad, who, in his words, “took a powder” after he knocked up his Mom. He hasn’t quite gotten the hang of his most recent novel, so he plunges into his work as an inventor. He finds an investor for his portable dog-washing contraption. His flighty on-again, off-again girlfriend (Nancy Allen) dumps him, but then (like a true emotional vampire) looks him up when she’s low on blood. Sarandon, Dreyfuss, and Wheaton make for an interesting family unit, and it works for a while as an assexual husband/wife heteronormative dynamic. Sorry about the use of the word “heteronormative” – but that’s all I could come up with for the Dreyfuss/Sarandon conundrum.

Unfortunately when Nancy Allen shows up again for another oil change, Dreyfuss makes himself scarce, and Sarandon has to go back to the life to which she has become accustomed: clinging neediness from Jean Stapleton (whom I had always imagined spoke like Edith Bunker in her civilian life). Her mother is a bit of an emotional leech in her own right. Her mother needs Sarandon to be dependent on her, so she can be dependent upon her daughter and grandson. Without Sarandon, she has no purpose, or believes she has no purpose. She consistently fills Sarandon with dread, making her afraid to be her own person, to embrace independence. Sarandon takes a stenography test, gets a promotion, and moves out of the house. She and Wil take up residence in a nice, but small apartment with a backyard. This is one of the few movies I’ve seen where taking an apartment is a step-up. I like that. Apartments are cozy, more secure, less expensive to maintain, and the heating/electricity bills are considerably lower. It makes sense.

The Buddy System seem to be wish fulfillment on the part of Wil Wheaton. He just wants a family. A mom and a dad. The movie played constantly on cable television between 1984 and 1986. I mean it had to have been on every day. I had a very similar upbringing to young Wil. Lonely, strange (precocious is the word my wife used to describe him) and yes, there are pitfalls to having only your single mother for a parent. He desperately wants a dad, and he thinks Dreyfuss fits the bill perfectly. Looking at it again courtesy of a Key Video VHS tape, the movie still resonates with me. Sarandon seems to be in a perpetual state of confusion, whereas Dreyfuss is some kind of a frustrated genius. They have their own personalized antagonists in Nancy Allen and Jean Stapleton; characters designed to keep them stagnant or fearful of either enjoyment or fulfillment. When they reunite at film’s conclusion, you’re still not sure they can make it work as lovers, but Wil Wheaton’s smile when he sees them together does give you hope.

The Buddy System was an extremely difficult movie to find. At the time I was looking for it, I couldn’t even find scenes online. I did manage to procure the Key Video VHS tape from a collector. Curiously, you have a movie starring Richard Dreyfuss and Susan Sarandon (two Academy Award winners) with Jean Stapleton (three-time Emmy Award winner) that received only a perfunctory VHS/Beta release, not available on Laserdisc, DVD, or Blu Ray. I knew when I started Vintage Cable Box, I had to take another look at this movie and I’m glad I did. In a way, it represents closure for me as I wrap up this series next week with a classic movie I’m sure you’ll all remember.

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.


“The Lady In Red, 1979”

“I have two arms. Two legs. And I know all the words to ‘Yes, We Have No Bananas’.”

The Lady In Red, 1979 (Pamela Sue Martin), New World Pictures

You have a simple farm girl in Polly Franklin (Pamela Sue Martin) singing show-tunes while she’s getting the eggs for transit into town. She stops and does a soft-shoe for the assembled horses and chickens. Her no-nonsense father rants and raves about hell and damnation. While in town, she witnesses a bank robbery. The robbers (one of them, Mary Woronov, playing a moll) take Polly for a short ride as they elude the cops. After a talk with a newspaper man, she discovers she was in the clutches of the Dillinger gang. Some time later, she heads to Chicago and sets about working in textile sweatshops for sleazy Dick Miller (a staple in Roger Corman movies). Miller exploits the workers (this must’ve been before Unions) and Polly leads a revolt. She gets a job as a dance hall girl – 10 cents a dance!

Working her way up in the food chain, she becomes a decent prostitute pulling in good money. The Johns really go for that innocent naive thing, and Sue Martin plays every scene with the youthful zeal that made her extremely popular as Nancy Drew in The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries, which ran on the ABC Television Network from 1977 to 1979. It was rumored she left the show because of this movie, but the dates don’t quite line up, and most official explanations cite “creative differences” as the main reason for her departure. She hits the sheets with a mysterious hit man named Turk (Robert Forster), which gives her the idea to spend more time sidling up to the Mob. Polly’s an angler, and much sharper than most women who resort to worse measures to get through the days in the incredibly corrupt cesspool of Chicago in the Prohibition era.

She spends some time in jail where she has to deal with monstrous matron Nancy (Porky’s “Tallywhacker Inspector”) Parsons. The movie is a kaleidoscope of genre and exploitation films; gangland, prostitution, women-in-prison movies. The violence is truly graphic and bloody. In fact, this is one of the more violent movies I’ve seen, and it seems to have made that way on purpose. The Lady in Red is not a movie you’re going to find in a multiplex. More likely, the drive-in circuit. It’s more a tent-pole show, moving from town to town and making money. Sandwiched between all of Polly’s hi-jinks is her love affair with famed gangster John H. Dillinger (Robert Conrad). They make a cute couple, but Conrad isn’t in the movie enough, nor do I think he was intended to be. This is the girl’s story, not his. He’s a mystery to Polly. He never tells her who he is, but everybody else seems to figure it out. The movie is based on a footnote in crime history. Imagine seeing the bloody aftermath of the notorious shootout. Dillinger, riddled with bullet and a woman in a red dress at his side as he dies. This was John Sayles’ central premise when he was mandated by Corman to write the movie.  Who is this girl?

Louise Fletcher’s duplicitious Anna Sage (working through a lot of early childhood pain, I gather) drops the dime to Hoover’s FBI task force on Polly’s relationship with Dillinger. The Feds move in at the Biograph Theater where Dillinger and the little lady take in a movie. Sage “makes” Dillinger and the Feds plug him full of lead and leave him a bloody mess in front of the marquee. This isn’t how the story actually unfolds from what I’ve read. In reality, shots were fired upon his exit, and Dillinger gave chase through a side alley and was shot in the back, severing his spinal cord. In the movie, a crowd of amused spectators dabs napkins and handkerchiefs into his blood. The Press has it all wrong, concocting a narrative that she was the woman who betrayed him. She orchestrates a little payback, and in the process takes up Dillinger’s bank-robbing work. Director Lewis Teague shot the movie in 20 days with a budget of under a half a million dollars. He would go on to direct Alligator, Cujo, Cat’s Eye, and the Romancing the Stone sequel, The Jewel of the Nile.

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.

Monkees vs. Macheen: “Monkees Mind Their Manor”

“The Episode I Don’t Really Remember…”

The episode begins, to my delight, with the Monkees rehearsing at their pad. Peter and Davy play a tune called “Iranian Tango” for Micky and Mike. Yes, they’re really playing that. That little bit of music was included on the Monkees bootleg LP, Monkeeshines, along with other vocal bits from the show, such as “Different Drum” and “Greensleeves” from this very episode. It also included “All the Kings Horses” and the fast version of “I Wanna Be Free.” I’m just happy that the episode starts off with a nod to the premise of them as musicians. Thank you, Mr. Thorkelson.

Oh yeah, this episode of The Monkees was directed by one of their own, Peter Tork, credited as Peter H. Thorkelson (his birth name). IMDB trivia tells me this was part of a “deal” worked out by Raybert with Peter and Micky, who both got to direct episodes because they weren’t allowed to direct themselves in Head. I can’t find any other source to back that up however, so make of it what you will. It’s interesting to note that this is the only thing Peter Tork ever directed. He has one other credit as a “second unit or assistant director” on a television short called “Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes at the Asbury Park Convention Center.” Micky, who also directed an episode in the second season, went on to do quite a bit more directing. I’m just guessing that, in contrast to Micky Dolenz, directing didn’t appeal to Mr. Thorkelson.

The episode plot launches with a knock on the door. Davy goes bouncing across the pad to answer it, stopping to acknowledge the camera. The visitor is a very British gentleman, Mr. Friar (Laurie Main), who’s been looking for Davy “up and down the beach.” Mr. Friar needs Davy to return to England. Davy refuses, so Mr. Friar faints. As you do. They carry him over to the sofa and Friar infuriates Micky by saying “Thank you, miss.” More jokes about their long hair making them look like girls to the older set. Those jokes seem so quaint now, but I guess you can project them onto anything that the kids do today that adults don’t get.

Apparently some dusty Lord Kibee has croaked and left Davy his estate. Davy needs to be present for the reading of the will. Davy keeps refusing to go with him and Friar keeps fainting. Between collapses, he manages to explain that if the estate goes to Kibee’s nephew, Lance the Sot, he’ll sell it to a developer, and all the villagers will lose their houses. Davy’s surprised that Kibee would leave the estate to him because he was just a “stable boy.” Cut-away of Davy dressed as a kid with short pants and a lollipop. Though Tork didn’t exactly distinguish himself as a director, I do like that he utilized the elements of the show that worked, such as breaking the fourth wall with Davy’s look to the camera and the fantasy cutaway with Davy as little boy.

As the Monkees pack Davy for his trip, Davy comes up with an idea of how the other three can come with him without buying airline tickets that they can’t afford. They arrive at the London airport where the Customs Man asks if he has any fruits or exotic animals etc. No, but he does have three large mummies. Customs Man asks him to open the cases. The three Monkees are inside the sarcophagi, with half-assed mummy bandages around only their head and necks. Customs man says they aren’t the best looking mummies he’s ever seen. Come on Customs Man, I think they’re pretty cute. Davy outs the Customs Man as Jack Williams, the Property Man. “Look sweetie, I might be Jack Williams the property man to you, but to 20 million teenagers, I’m the Customs Man.”

That settled, Friar and Davy head back to Kibee manor. They approach the entrance where the incredibly near-sighted butler (Reginald Gardiner) shakes hands with the tree as he greets Davy and invites him in. Referring to Friar, he tells Davy he’ll have to leave his dog outside. Finally, he recognizes Friar but still calls him “Fido.” Funny, but lowbrow humor.

Inside the manor parlor, there’s the first shot of Lance the Sot, standing by the fireplace with a drink in his hand and looking surly. As Davy, Friar, and the Butler enter, they see an impatient Bernard Fox. Friar introduces him as the executor of the will, Sir Twiggly Toppin Middle Bottom. They seem to be attempting a similar effect to the name “Robroy Fingerhead” from “Monkees a la Mode.” Whatever you want to call him, he’ll always be Dr. Bombay from Bewitched to me. “Calling Dr. Bombay, calling Dr. Bombay. Emergency, come right away.”

Twiggly is very officious as he reads the will. “I, Sir Malcolm Kibee, being of sound body and mind.” Lance snickers at this, causing Friar and Davy to get the giggles. Twiggly keeps trying to get through the phrase as the others guffaw, and a laugh track joins in. This ends up being a funny bit because of Bernard Fox’s irritated reactions, which have to be seen. Kibee has left the manor to Davy Jones, providing he stays in residence for five years. If he doesn’t want to stay, the villagers can buy the land for 50,000 pounds. Lance pours drinks out of his sleeve, very similar to the drunken housekeeper in “The Chaperone,” who had the purse full of booze etc. She was British too, not coincidentally I’m sure. The Monkees never met a cliché they couldn’t turn into a sight gag.

Just then, Ric Klein, David Price, and David Pearl bring in the “mummies.” David Pearl delights me by pulling off a British accent, “To where do you want the lamps, governor?” The drop off their load and tip their hats in unison, as they leave. Kudos to Mr. Thorkelson for that cute bit.

Twiggly carries on with the reading. If the villagers can’t raise the money, and Davy doesn’t want to stay, then the manor goes to Lance Kibee, “The Sot.” Really, it says that in the will. Lance looks offended. He collapses and Twiggly leads him out by holding a flask of booze in front of him. The plot is a re-written version of “Monkee See, Monkee Die” in which the Monkees go to the will reading for some old nut, and Davy’s love interest will only inherit the mansion if she spends the night in the creepy place where greedy folks are trying to kill her. That was a funnier episode. Oh, and this is also similar to “Success Story” in which Davy might have to abandon the others for some familial or childhood obligation. Coslough Johnson wrote “Monkees Mind Their Manor” clearly without worrying about originality. Peter Tork mentioned in the DVD commentary that this was one of the older scripts rejected from the first season. It shows. I guess when he was choosing what to direct there were slim pickins’.

Outside, Twiggly and Lance get into a white car. According to the Imdb, this is an MGB Coupe Roadster, owned by production assistant Marilyn Schlossberg. They flopped the frame in editing to put the driver’s side on the left, proper for England. Lance is confused all the same “Somebody’s stolen the steering wheel.” Thankfully, there was no way in hell Twiggly would have let him drive. They discuss their deal: Lance sells the property, and Twiggly gets a large commission.

Back inside, Davy frees Mike, Micky, and Peter from the sarcophagi. Friar introduces his daughter Mary to Davy, the “new lord of the manor.” He introduces the others by their sign, Pisces (Micky), Aquarius (Peter), and Capricorn (Mike). Cute reference to the album. It would have been nice if Thorkelson had lined them up in that order, but they do raise their hands when their “sign” is called. Mary, who has shorter hair than they do, says “Oh, a sister act.” They look deeply insulted. The Monkees mock Lance as a “stiff.” Mary says they shouldn’t make fun of a drunkard. She explains that everyone was getting bombed during the war; he just never stopped. I guess I should have gotten the hint right here about how this story would end, but I didn’t.

The nearsighted butler arrives to show the Monkees to their room. He grabs the suit of armor instead of Davy. Don’t make fun of a drunkard kids, but making fun of a visual handicap is A-okay! The Butler tells them to follow him. Peter helpfully defines this as, “you mean go where you go.” The Butler bumps into the couch and crashes into both sides of the doorframe, and all the other actors in the scene do the same in a line behind him, accompanied by the tune “Three Blind Mice.” This is probably a very funny sight gag if you’re about five years old or so. Even I smile a little.

The Monkees sit in their room and complain of boredom. Mary enters and sits down on the bed. Davy asks her what the young people do for excitement. Answer? They move to the big city. She mentions that last year the biggest excitement was a mole in the lawn. Cut in of that scene of Reptilicus yet again; giant lizard and my vote for 6th Monkee. (After James Frawley, of course.) Twiggly marches right in to give Davy the contract to inherit the estate. True to character, Mike grabs it from him. Twiggly tells them if they’re bored, they can always leave the village for the villagers. Mary restates the plot point that the villagers don’t have that kind of money, and if Davy leaves, they’ll lose their homes. Friar enters just in time to pass out. As with “Don’t Look A Gift Horse” with the fainting old lady, I have to assume fainting was considered hilarious in the 1960s.

Mary and the Monkees fret about their dilemma. Davy states the two options: They’ve got to talk Lance out of selling the estate (this gets a big smile from Mary) or they’ve got to raise the money for the villagers. Mike comes up with an idea:

Cut to the miraculously tossed together fair. Micky and Peter collect admissions fees, but it seems they are nowhere close to the amount needed. Small wonder as it looks like there’s all of 50 people at this fair. Friar approaches and says they’ll make the money betting on the “Grand Championship” The winner of three contests, jousting, dueling, and mace and chain. Friar tells Davy that as the lord of the manor, he has to compete. Davy faints; I curse at my computer. Friar makes a wager with Twiggly on the Grand Championship, agreeing on “monumental” as the final bet. Twiggly tells Friar he’s a jousting champion and then cracks me up as he tangos off-screen with a young lady. Don’t know if I should credit that to Thorkelson or Fox, but it was funny.

Mike gets Davy ready for jousting in one of the suits of armor from “Fairy Tale.” Twiggly picks up two lances and orders Davy, “choose your Lance.” Davy grabs Lance Kibee, “I’ll choose this one here.” Twiggly starts poking at Lance until Lance commands him to stop. Twiggly concedes the contest to Davy, “you won by a pun.” [That’s cute. – Editor’s Note]

For the duel, Mike and Peter prepare Davy in his boxing outfit from “Monkees in the Ring,” despite the fact that it’s a fencing duel. You can see the faded “Dynamite Davy Jones” label on Davy’s robe. They forget Davy has some dueling experience from “Prince and the Pauper” and “Royal Flush.” So this ain’t his first rodeo. (“The Monkees at the Rodeo.” That should have been an episode.) Davy takes the saber in his boxing glove. Twiggly and Davy’s duel turns into a waltz; there’s a cut in of an old movie clip with people waltzing in 19th century costume. Twiggly disarms Davy and wins the contest. The crowd, which includes Valerie Kairys, boos Twiggly. Lance mishears this as “booze!” I don’t enjoy this drunken humor any more than I did with the hotel guest in “Monkees in Manhattan.” I don’t know if it’s just too dated or they didn’t do it right. Maybe pot humor is the new drunk humor.

Twiggly declares the next contest is mace and chain. The blind Butler approaches with his deaf father (William Benedict), who corrects Twiggly that the fair attendees get to choose the contest, according to the traditional rules. (And he is apparently old enough to know.) The Butler suggests to the crowd that they choose a singing contest, and they cheer. I guess they don’t want to see Davy maced and chained. Well, we’ve already seen him chained in “Too Many Girls,” and that didn’t turn out so well for him.

In an aside with Lance, Twiggly complains that he can’t sing. Lance lays it out for him that if he doesn’t, there will be no wager, no money, and no commission. Bernard Fox turns to the camera and sings (pretty well too!) “In the bloom of the night….” He gets another big laugh from me.

Cut to Micky announcing the Troubadour-ing contest, in his best radio/TV announcer voice. Twiggly sings “Greensleeves” off-key and flat, and he messes up the words. Micky cuts him off. An onscreen caption appears for those who wish to vote for him, “In the sticks call Hayseed 7-4000.” Wow, The Monkees even parodied future television shows like American Idol. How prescient. Davy goes next and nails it, though with the help of a pre-recorded track, complete with over-dubbing echo effect and a string arrangement. Micky declares Davy the winner. This episode is pretty much all Davy, all the time. The rest are merely supporting players.

Friar and the Butler count the money; they’ve only made 10,000 pounds even with the wager. They are 40,000 pounds short. Kind of makes the contest anti-climatic. They relieve Davy of his obligation to stay however. Out of nowhere, timid Mary turns to Lance and dresses him down: he’s a jellyfish, mean, rotten, and evil etc. Being insulted apparently turns him on, because he suddenly takes off her glasses and declares his love. She feels the same and they start making out. Lance announces that he’s canceling the sale and will stay with his wife-to-be. I have to admit, when I first saw this episode, I didn’t see that one coming. Yet, this is one of the many episodes that ended with a couple united, others being “Monkees Marooned,” “Hillbilly Honeymoon,” and “Wild Monkees.”

Mike does some sort of closing wrap-up, interrupted by Peter who wants to give a Christmas message about “love and peace.” This irritates Mike, who points out that the episode airs in February. (Although it was shot in early December.) This is followed by the performance clip of “Star Collector” (Goffin/King) previously used at the end of “Hitting the High Seas.”

When I thought back over the episodes, this is not one that I remembered clearly. There are no memorable lines, no witty dialogue. It mixes in with too many others as I mentioned above. It’s sort of like, if I were talking about “Monkees Mind Their Manor” to other Monkees fans, I would say “Do you remember the episode where there was a reading of a will and the Monkees had to stay in a mansion (“Monkee See, Monkee Die”) and there was a lot of fainting (“Don’t Look a Gift Horse”) and lawn contest of some kind (“One Man Shy”) and Davy almost had to leave the Monkees behind (“Success Story”).” It runs together with other better episodes without standing out in any way. It’s only notable because it was directed by Peter H. Thorkelson. Also, Bernard Fox, may he rest in peace, was one funny man.

*Note that the Imdb has incorrectly credited the wrong Jack Good as the actor in this episode.

by Bronwyn Knox

Every couple of weeks, “Monkees vs. Macheen” examines the crazy, spirited, Ben Franks-type world of the Pre-Fab Four: David Jones, Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, and Peter Tork alias The Monkees.

“Rollover, 1981”

“You’re gonna need a partner.”

Rollover, 1981 (Jane Fonda), Orion

With 1981’s Rollover, I gather I’m watching a movie about people who are obsessed with money. It’s never been my bag, but I’m willing to go along for the ride. Clean-shaven Kris Kristofferson (fresh from shooting the Harvard prologue in Heaven’s Gate) is a banking bag-man, meaning he is retained by banking institutions to solve their problems. I always though he looked evil without the beard. With the value of the dollar plummeting, Hume Cronyn orchestrates buy-outs, and some pointed comments are made about the distribution of wealth. Jane Fonda’s husband is killed, and she becomes the de-facto head of his conglomerate, a “petrochemical” concern.

This is a classic Alan Pakula formula involving people in expensive suits with looks of concern on their faces. Kristofferson is a work-horse. He pours over the books of a large New York bank sniffing out anomalies. He could’ve been a detective. He discovers Fonda’s company is in enormous debt, but rather than allow herself to be bought out, she wants to invest. This role is no stretch for Ms. Fonda, reunited with her Klute director, Pakula. Here, she plays a former actress married into finance; something she would actually do in a few short years. Kristofferson gives her tips on how to solidify her status as CEO. They play a crazy game of flirtation.

Fonda is surrounded by corporate sharks looking to rip her company to pieces. Kristofferson has a special interest in her for obvious reasons (Jane’s a dish in this movie), but their mutual chemistry seems to be based in a lust for transactions. Of course this wouldn’t be a Pakula film without a decent helping of paranoia. All of the principal parties are being watched. Then the movie haphazardly thrusts us into a romance that removes us from the main story. Jane needs a half a million dollars, so Kristofferson arranges meetings with rich Arabs to get financing. It turns out, everybody’s in hock to the Arabs. The Arabs (wisely, in my opinion) make her put up her own stock as collateral. If her company fails, she loses everything. Fonda doesn’t like being dependent on other people’s money (you go, girl!) to keep her interests afloat.

We get back to the love story, and the relationship thrives as a partnership with benefits, until Jane begins to suspect Kristofferson is playing both sides. The only problem (for me) is that all this banking talk is very dry, and we find we need the love story to grease the story. It seems some interested third parties are screwing with her deal, and these parties might’ve been involved in her husband’s murder. The Arab money is not coming through, and the bank brokering the deal is in danger of defaulting, as are all banks in this movie. While emptying out her husband’s cigar box, she finds a micro-cassette which implicates her husband in a scheme to bail out the banks with money from overseas. This is a real Scooby Doo mystery!

A whole bunch of money is going into one specific account. Fonda has a “deep throat” encounter with a paranoid gentleman in a parking lot (another Pakula device, and not as sexy as it sounds). This source also tells her to follow the money, as in All the President’s Men. Apparently, Fonda’s husband was aware of low-interest “loans” designed to keep the banks solvent, not unlike the recent real estate crisis. The rich exist to keep themselves rich, but frankly, we didn’t need the movie to tell us that. Rollover is a big, boring letdown considering all of the talented people involved.

Sourced from the original 1982 Warner Bros “clamshell” VHS release. The box sports a distinctive white plastic clamshell-design case, different from the standard black. The front cover design is a promotional photograph of Kristofferson and Fonda.  There is a tiny “behind the scenes” picture on the back of the box with Pakula directing Fonda and Kristofferson.  At the end of the tape, there are brief video trailers for Sharky’s Machine, Personal Best, and Body Heat. Rollover was released on DVD as part of the Warner Archive Collection. “A doomsday thriller of high-finance intrigue.” “Rollover is a realistic, provocative drama of the ultimate financial catastrophe – and the elite group of men and women whose wealth and influence control the economic empire that controls our destiny.” The aforementioned “catastrophe” occurs in the final moments of the movie, and the audience is not given sufficient warning, at least not enough for us to care.

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.

Vintage Cable Box: “The Road Warrior, 1982”

“You wanna get outta here? You talk to me.”

The Road Warrior, 1982 (Mel Gibson), Warner Bros.

This is the movie that re-invented the wheel. Australia’s post-apocalyptic wasteland depleted of natural resources serves as the perfect backdrop for director George Miller’s dissection of survival and intelligence. The Road Warrior (aka Mad Mad 2) continues the saga of a nomad, his dog, and his kick-ass car. Narrated by, we assume, the Feral Boy who has been stalking Max (Mel Gibson, in his career-making role) and a rag-tag group of survivors living in an improvised fortress with the last bits of gasoline (a form of currency). The Road Warrior is a logical progression from the first Mad Max movie released in 1979.

Mad Max (also directed by Miller, who was inspired by watching car crash victims being wheeled into emergency rooms at his day job) shows the breakdown of structured society. Max’s wife and child are killed, and he takes to the road in search of gasoline. His once noble profession of policeman has been supplanted with that of a scavenger. 1985’s Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome continues this progression with an attempt to rebuild society and re-introduce religion to the masses.

The fortress survivors are terrorized on a daily (and nightly) basis by the psychotic soldiers of Humongous, who pleads with them to abandon their posts and their gasoline, and then there will be no more war. The stragglers argue amongst themselves until Max provides them with a solution: he will ferry the gasoline in a tanker he spotted down the road for a nominal fee – all the gas he can carry. The deal changes when he is co-opted into driving the tanker to what the survivors call “paradise.” Their idea of paradise is nothing more than a travel brochure.

The rest of the film is taken up with an unparalleled chase, so spectacularly photographed and edited that just about everything else pales by comparison. George Miller, understanding this, takes it a bit too far with his 2015 re-boot, Mad Max: Fury Road. That movie is nothing but spectacular chase scenes and improbable visual effects with very little story to glue the whole enterprise together. Miller knows his audience and because of that, Mad Max: Fury Road was an enormous hit, critically and commercially.

Sourced from the original 1983 Warner Bros “clamshell” VHS release in a hideous pan-and-scan format from a remarkably worn-out print. The box sports a distinctive silver/metallic gray color scheme. The movie continued to receive different format releases and is available in Beta, DVD, Laserdisc, and Blu Ray formats. “A lone hero battles for the future of mankind.” The writer of the accompanying essay on the back of the box doesn’t understand the nihilism at the core of The Road Warrior (especially with regard to the film’s bleak ending). Yes, these are honorable people fighting a losing battle, but everything they (and Max) do comes from sheer desperation and pragmatic necessity. “Thanks to Max, the new order is born. Civilization struggles up again from the ashes – and after The Road Warrior goes its way, you’ll never quite forget it.” Wow! What a movie!

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.

Monkees vs. Macheen: “The Monkees in Paris”

“The summer of love meets the city of love.”

“The Monkees in Paris” was shot in two parts: the main action in June of 1967 in Paris and the wrap-around segments with James Frawley on December 24, 1967. These were the last bits of any Monkees episode filmed. Bob Rafelson wrote and directed this one, which is really more like an extended romp. There’s not a lot for me to recap here, even less than I had to work with for “Monkees on Tour.” The Imdb technical specs state that it was filmed on 35mm like the other episodes but I wonder if that is correct; this one looks like it was shot on 16mm with an outdoor film stock, even the indoor scenes shot later with James Frawley. The episode has a cinema vérité feeling, similar to the extra footage that was shot and used in the first season romps (The Monkees on the beach in the red swimsuits, the Monkees riding the unicycles). It is also similar in feel to the Mardi Gras/New Orleans/Acid trip sequences in Easy Rider (1969), which was produced by Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson.

To start things off, Mike, Micky, and Davy have a friendly game of checkers. Peter rushes in with a threatening letter. Something about getting off the ranch and returning the microfilm, in other words a mishmash of old episode plots. The Monkees ignore the “bad guy” who sneaks up behind them. He has a mustache, a foreign accent, and the usual television clichés.

James Frawley enters the scene and breaks the fourth wall to direct them to do the “Monkees scare.” He’s playing himself as the director even though he didn’t direct this episode. The Monkees are bored and complain they’ve been doing the same thing over and over, which is a valid argument. Davy mentions that there’s always a tall heavy and a small heavy. He doesn’t mention a smart and a dumb one but that would also be accurate. Frawley tries to convince them that it’s all great and to keep going. They rebel; they’re going on vacation while he works out the show’s problems. They head for Paris and leave him in the lurch.

This does reflect the behind the scenes feelings the Monkees had about the repetitive nature of the show’s plots. In the Micky Dolenz autobiography, I’m a Believer, he wrote “Quite frankly, we were getting a little jaded with the show as it existed, Every week Davy [Jones] would fall in love with some girl or Peter [Tork] would be kidnapped by some bad guy, or some guy spy would hide microfilm in somebody’s something or other.” That is a fair statement, after looking at over 50 of these episodes, I can relate.

They were more interested in getting on with their first and only feature film, Head, which began shooting the same day this episode aired, February 19, 1968. The next day, February 20, NBC announced their fall line-up and The Monkees was notably absent. The Monkees didn’t want to continue the show in the same way; they wanted a variety show with musical guests every week, an idea that was sort of tested by the episodes towards the end of the run where Davy, Micky, and Mike got to have musical guests of their choice included. The network wanted them to continue on with the sitcom format, so there was disagreement on how the show would have continued.

After the titles, the Monkees arrive in Paris and drive scooters around until some young women catch sight of them and start chasing them. There’s no dialogue, just action and music. The very 1960’s score gives way to “Love is Only Sleeping” (Chip Douglas, Bill Martin). The streets are wet and rainy and the Monkees run through an outdoor market on foot. The young ladies chasing after them were hired models, and the Imdb doesn’t list their names. The website monkees.coolcherrycream.com however has screen captures that identify them as Carine (Davy’s girl), Véronique Duval (Micky’s girl), Françoise Dorléac (Peter’s girl), and Carole André (Mike’s girl).

In reality, the Monkees were not famous in Paris, so they were able to film scenes without any fans bothering them. They hired the girls to pretend to be crazed fans. This contrasts with their popularity in Great Britain. According to The Monkees Day-by-Day by Andrew Sandoval, they had to cancel shooting part of the series in Manchester because, according to Rafelson, “They are just too well known here.” In Paris, the Monkees were even able to take a day off and do some sight-seeing.

Back at the pad, James Frawley is on the phone with Bob (Rafelson), complaining that the Monkees left. It’s cute that they’re pretending that red phone is connected to a real phone line. Frawley suggests they put on half an hour of commercials like The Johnny Carson Show. Burn.

I wish I knew Paris but I’ve never had the good fortune to go, so there’s not a lot of meaning for most of these locations for me. The four models corner the Monkees at a drawbridge. Then suddenly, they’re at an amusement park where they ride some little tricycles. There’s no attempt at continuity or a story. They go on some more rides and now each Monkee is paired up with a girl. They ride different styles of toy cars around. The Monkees are at a flower garden, walking around holding hands canoodling with their girls. “Don’t Call on Me” (Michael Nesmith, John London) is the music.

This entire episode has a very 1960’s vibe. I mean yes, I know this was all from the 1960s but I’d give this episode the prize for most dated feeling. I don’t have objective facts for this, it’s just the atmosphere created by the way this was put together with the music and the ’60s fashions are the only element to focus on. In the episodes with plot and dialog there’s a more timeless feel because they rarely got topical. They were youthful and rebelled against authority and the status quo, and those are timeless concepts, not restricted to a particular decade. In Monkeemania by Glen A. Baker, Mike Nesmith talks about Raybert and their progressive-for-the-time ideas about how to make The Monkees innovative. “What they really wanted was a show that mirrored the times without actually being part of it.” It’s funny that Rafelson directed this one because it’s very much part of the times. [He probably did it for the free trip to Paris – Editor’s Note] Most of the time the show made fun of hippies, if anything. But in “Monkees in Paris” all these lovely shots of them walking around in nature, arm-in-arm, seem like manufactured “love and peace.” They don’t seem organic, nor does it seem that they were intended to be humorous or ironic.

“Star Collector” (Goffin/King) plays as the Monkees do some clowning around, falling face forward out of a truck trailer. They’re back on the scooters at some kind of street fair. The girls chase them around again. Davy fools around at a clothing stand. Micky gropes his girl on a stack of mattresses. Peter tries to impress his girl with his violin playing. My only real laugh-out-loud at this episode comes from his facial expressions as he strives to get her attention. Next, they’re all at typewriters. Whatever they typed and show to the girls gets them slapped. They try again and get hugs. How many Monkees would it take to accidentally type Hamlet?

Next song is “Goin’ Down” (Dolenz, Jones, Tork, Nesmith, Hildebrand). A bigger group of fans chases the Monkees through cobblestone streets with cops–or gedarmes following behind. Mike looks like he’s having a great time. The fans catch Micky at some point and try to tear his shirt off until the gedarmes break it up, two of whom are David Pearl and Ric Klein. There’s an abrupt tone change where they walk around a cemetery with organ music in the background. The music goes back to “Goin Down” and groups of females continue to chase them through the streets. Mike drives some kind of three-wheeled truck type vehicle and the other three ride in the back. Micky, Peter, and Davy scare the girls and the police by taking their shirts off. Sure, that makes sense. The four girls from before join them on the little truck. The Monkees take a boat ride with their girls and the soundtrack plays a banjo instrumental of that often-used “Where the Old Folks at Home” (Foster) tune. There’s a sequence with Peter and Davy in old-timey swimsuits with their girls by a pool. It would have been clever if they’d switched to black and white film for that.

The Monkees and the girls ride through the city in a jeep as the music switches back to “Don’t Call on Me.” They manage to break the hood off their vehicle and cause a traffic jam. The French must have loved them. About the song, Michael Nesmith wrote it with his friend John London in their folk singing days, before the Monkees. The version of the song on Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd. has an intro and fadeout that invokes a performance in a piano lounge somewhere. Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork, Davy Jones, and Bob Rafelson all participated in the ambiance recording. Mike’s vocal performance is different than usual on this song; instead of having his customary country-rock sound; he sounds like a smooth ballad singer. When I first heard the song I didn’t even recognize it as him. The four models chase the boys around and up the Eiffel tower while an instrumental “Alouette” plays. They climb all over it, making me dizzy. They all squeeze into a tiny box at one point. Cozy!

Back at the pad, the Monkees play checkers again. The scene begins the same way with Peter and the threatening letter. The Monkees aren’t having it. Mike complains to “Jim.” Frawley justifies that the actor has no mustache or accent and is asking for “the secret apple.” Mike and Micky promise to see us next week with something better.

Back to Paris, there’s a final montage of shots of the Monkees kissing and hugging the models. Micky puts a fur hood on two girls heads and pushes them together, then grins as though they were kissing. If I’m interpreting that correctly, I can’t believe that got past the censors. He also affectionately hugs an old lady, which is very sweet. There you have it, naughty Micky and nice Micky. There’s a random shot of Micky with Samantha Juste, his future wife [You are tearing me apart, Lisa! – Editor’s Note], holding him as he sleeps on a bus.

I have to admit when I used to catch the run of episodes on MTV and Nickelodeon back in the mid-eighties, I wasn’t too excited when this one came up in the rotation. I tuned into the Monkees for the funny dialogue and weird plots, to see the Monkees talk to me by breaking the fourth wall, etc. This episode is cute but it’s never going to be a favorite. As a teen I admit I did enjoy seeing them run around with the pretty girls. There is a fun romance element to it. Unfortunately the film stock they used was awfully washed out so any beautiful or interesting scenery is not getting the appreciation it deserves. My DVD’s are no improvement on how it looked on television. They did restore it on the Blu Ray box set apparently, according to the Monkees YT channel. Here’s a sample of the restoration. As I said in my intro, “Monkees in Paris” is an extended romp; it’s pretty and fun but ultimately pointless.

by Bronwyn Knox

Every couple of weeks, “Monkees vs. Macheen” examines the crazy, spirited, Ben Franks-type world of the Pre-Fab Four: David Jones, Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, and Peter Tork alias The Monkees.


Vintage Cable Box: “Brainstorm, 1983”

“Why do you have to die to let go?”

Brainstorm, 1983 (Christopher Walken), MGM/UA

Where does our yearning for technology originate? Is it the most foolish form of narcissism; the desire to create “artificial” life to earn god-like stature in the pantheon of universal nature? Where does virtual reality fit? Is that our fatal flaw as humans? That, rather than experience life through the natural receptors of our eyes we, instead, want to replicate reality through the circuitry of a computer’s architecture? As Brainstorm opens, scientist Christopher Walken samples a technology that allows him to experience the reactions of another. In this case, a goofy co-worker who tries a piece of steak with marshmallow sauce and a cherry on top. As a gag, he substitutes his interface for that of a chimp, which nearly fries Walken’s brain, but the test is successful. It’s a wonderful moment that also points to the inherent dangers of going down rabbit holes, or in this case, up jungle vines. It’s interesting to me the connection to primates, as I tend to view our human relationship with computers comparable to lower primates and their relationship to us.

Removed from the movie’s staggering science, we plunge into Walken’s strained relationship with his wife, Karen (Natalie Wood, in her final role). It’s never clear to me why they are separated, other than the requisite work-obsessed husband who doesn’t give enough of his soul to his marriage, or that Wood, while initially a warm person, is emotionally distant from her husband. Meanwhile, aforementioned rag-a-muffin/science dork prankster Gordy has the most fun, working flight simulators, riding horses and driving race cars all while recording the experiences for the software. Karen works out the marketing for the device. Her problem is to make the unit much smaller than it presently is (basically a motorcycle helmet with a lot of circuitry attached). She convinces Walken to reduce the circuitry so that it can be worn in something similar to a bicycle helmet. The applications of this device are off-the-wall. Machiavellian CEO of their firm, Alex (Cliff Robertson) is blown away by the system and immediately sees dollar signs. Walken and colleague Louise Fletcher are understandably worried about long-term effects on the brain and other consequences.

Let’s go back to the fatal flaw. Why do we put so much time and work into replicating and simulating life experiences rather than enjoying them on our terms? I understand practical applications. The movie takes pains to explain that the Military would love to get their hands on the technology, but there’s also the obvious “harmless” application: games. Unfortunately, as the movie pre-dates virtual reality technology being made today, it also makes recent attempts by Google and Microsoft look primitive by comparison. While somewhat cost-prohibitive right now, I can see a future where everyone will wear devices like these on their heads, perhaps experiencing simulated “life” while simultaneously engaging in the more mundane aspects of their real lives. Maybe parachuting into an active volcano while grabbing a carton of milk at the supermarket? Our friend, Gordy, produces the virtual reality equivalent of a “sex tape,” which he proffers to a co-worker, who then goes into what I can only call an orgasm-induced state of catatonia. If computers are perfect, yet imperfect man creates perfect computers, then computers aren’t really perfect, are they? Doy.

In the muddle of Walken and Wood’s domestic troubles, there was the very interesting (and disturbing) idea that feelings could be recorded along with the sight stimulation. I don’t think we ever go further than that, except to finally see that we, as humans, can become irredeemably lost in our thoughts and feelings, and that the computer will never know when to stop destroying us with our fears. There’s a lot to admire in Brainstorm, but the movie feels oddly cold, lacking the true human connection we need from Wood and Walken; the best scenes are when Wood relives their courtship and marriage, and the couple reconcile as she sings a song to him under a bed-sheet. It’s such a beautiful (and sad) moment, you wish there were more scenes like these. MGM and director Douglas Trumbull swore up-and-down all of Wood’s scenes were shot before her untimely death, but she feels like a ghost in this movie. Walken, with his unusual mannerisms, makes for an interesting protagonist. You never know what he’s thinking. Fletcher is exceptional and was robbed of an Academy Award nomination. Her death scene is spectacular. As she dies of a heart attack, she records her experiences on the virtual reality software. Brainstorm could’ve been an incredible movie with a little more heart.

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.