Vintage Cable Box: “National Lampoon’s Vacation, 1983”

“O God, ease our suffering in this, our moment of great despair. Yea, admit this good and decent woman into thine arms in the flock in thine heavenly area, up there. And Moab, he laid its down by the band of the Canaanites, and yea, though the Hindus speak of karma, I implore you: give her… give her a break.”

National Lampoon’s Vacation, 1983 (Chevy Chase), Warner Bros.

There’s no tradition like a new tradition, and I think I’m creating a new tradition. There are holidays, and there are holiday movies, and there are movies we play on certain holidays. We’ll watch A Christmas Carol or Scrooge or even Scrooged on or around Christmas. I know people who love to watch the Star Wars franchise movies on May 4th (we usually run them around New Years), but I have an idea for a Father’s Day tradition: National Lampoon’s Vacation. It is just about the perfect movie to play to commemorate the struggles of loving, responsible dads out there, and Chevy Chase is our embodiment of a hero despite his complete inability to achieve his goal. He has one goal: to take his family to “Walley World” (the most famous “Disney World” analog in the history of cinema).

Clark W. Griswold (Chase) is on a mission; a quest, a “quest for fun.” Roughly three-quarters of the way into the film, Clark sits down with his son, Rusty (Anthony Michael Hall), and shares a beer with him. As Rusty drinks the whole can down, Clark tells him about how he never had fun on all the vacations his father planned. This time, he’s determined to have fun and, at this point, he doesn’t care what he has to do to have that fun. His stubborn-streak and capacity for maintaining his composure in the face of his outright idiocy is truly inspiring to watch. Audiences tend to take comedy for granted: if it’s funny, it works. Chase’s performance is one of his most tragic, and he manages to create a fully-realized character even as the first frames of the film are unspooled. He takes Rusty to a dealership to get the new car, a “little sports thing,” for the trip. Salesman Eugene Levy cons him into buying the Family Truckster in “metallic pee.”

Clark plans out the whole trip on the computer. He has foreseen every contingency, every circumstance, every situation that might pop up, but that’s where the comedy kicks in. Comedy is like God, and we are the chorus. If you want us to laugh, tell us your plan. Of course, nothing works out as planned. They get off on the wrong exit in St. Louis. In one of the funnier (but also politically incorrect) sequences, Clark asks for directions back to the expressway, but is given a ridiculous runaround as his hubcaps are stolen and the words, “Honky Lips” are spray-painted on the Family Truckster. Next up is Dodge City, where he, unwittingly, antagonizes a barkeep who shoots him with blanks that causes their daughter, Audrey (Dana Barron) to go temporarily deaf. After that, they make the requisite trip to their white trash in-laws, headed by Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid).

Staged publicity photograph!

Eddie and his family are there to frighten Clark and his wife, Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo) and keep them struggling in the middle class, paying taxes and behaving like good citizens. Eddie and his family represent those twisted few who fall between the cracks in a system designed to keep people trapped in collective “caste” systems in our nation. Clark loans Eddie some money to keep his crew afloat. From there, his finances are scuttled. Ellen is no help. While I absolutely adore Beverly D’Angelo (she’s very easy on the eyes, as they say), she is largely unsympathetic. I’m convinced her job, in the film, is to antagonize Clark, poo-poo his plans, and then cut him down when he suffers personal setbacks. Beverly, being a serious dish, makes it hard to stay mad at her. Eventually, she does give in to her husband’s lunacy, but only when she feels less desirable because of Clark’s infatuation with a “Mystery Girl” (Christie Brinkley) in a hot, red Ferrari who flirts with him on the open road.

Too often in today’s media and pop culture, fathers are given short shrift, treated as annoyances, regarded as morons with impossibly beautiful, open-minded, ethereal wives. It makes you wonder how these couples found each other in the dating pool, and then what made them decide to marry and have children. While Chase makes easy work of Clark Griswold, he also provides moments of reality and introspection in his wacky world. He bursts into tears at the thought of missing out on his children growing up. He wants to be desired, loved, and trusted, and he barely holds onto his sanity by way of the trip to “Walley World.” Director Harold Ramis directs a very funny script from John Hughes, with inspired bits from Levy, John Candy, Brian Doyle-Murray, and Imogene Coca that compliment the madness of his original source material: a short story he wrote for National Lampoon titled “Vacation ’58.” Released 34 years ago on July 29, 1983, National Lampoon’s Vacation is still one of the funniest movies ever made.

Sourced from the original 1983 Warner Bros “clamshell” VHS release, which was among our first movie purchases on tape. The movie continued to receive different format releases, and is available in Beta, DVD, Laserdisc (using the same art design as the clamshell release) and Blu Ray formats. The accompanying essay gives us a crisp synopsis while promoting the National Lampoon legacy. “After 2,000 miles of madcap calamities, the Griswolds ultimately arrive at Walley World. Again, alas, their quest for “fun” is riotously derailed in an action-packed comedy finale.” I have both the original Warner clamshell, and the recent Blu-Ray release. This is very interesting to me, because while I complained about the pan-and-scan format of a movie like Sudden Impact (filmed with the Panavision process), what we see in Vacation is what was shot; an open-matte format that gives us more visual information than the Blu-Ray release, which crops the top and bottom of the image in order to fill the 16:9 viewing area of modern televisions.

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. 

Extreme Cinema! “I’d Buy That For a Dollar!”

Tonight, we discuss the selected work of Paul Verhoeven, from 1983’s De Vierde Man to his most recent movie, Elle, which earned Isabelle Huppert an Academy Award nomination in 2016.

The credits appear to be a fly caught in a web, interspersed with images of Christ on the crucifix. A spider catches the fly and rolls him up for a late snack. Regan watched the opening title with me; she was fascinated. She asked me what it meant, and bluffing, I told her it was symbolism. What do you think? Jeroen Krabbe doesn’t seem to age. This is an early movie, and he still looks the same today. He seems racked with guilt. I wonder if he’s a priest. He’s got a lot of religious crap in his house. Holy crap, he’s not wearing underwear. I just saw his dick! I didn’t need to see his dick.

In Robocop, from the start, we’re inundated with media; a news report interrupted by a commercial for fabricated transplant organs, and then we go back to the news where the report is about the rising tide of violent crime. Next up, we’re at a police precinct with a scumbag lawyer bitching about his scumbag client’s rights. The acting is very “big” here, and we see a rare glimpse of Peter Weller without all the makeup, appliances, and armaments he would soon wear for not only this but two sequels. It’s interesting that in the midst of all the yelling and the big acting, Weller maintains his typical cool composure. 

Total Recall comes from Studio Canal, Tri Star Pictures, and Carolco; on a budget of $65 million dollars, Total Recall starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sharon Stone, Rachel Ticotin, Michael Ironside, and Ronny Cox – this is such an over-the-top movie, even more than Robocop, which is saying something, even the titles are insane. We start on the red planet – Mars, extending us a welcome! It’s a very nice process shot. This is Arnold and Rachel holding hands, looking longingly at each other – he falls down a cliff, breaks his helmet and just as his head is about to explode, he wakes up, and he’s in bed with Sharon Stone. Total Recall is the movie that made her career, remember? I won’t lie; she’s fucking hot in this movie, but I’m more of a Rachel-guy, I have to say. We’re in the future; it’s not that similar a future to Robocop. 

Elle begins with a rape, and it sounds incredibly brutal. When we fade up, we see the rapist wipe himself off and exit. They are surrounded by broken objects, including a couple of wine glasses, which is interesting. In the aftermath, she has a black eye and a swollen lip. She seems nonplussed. Does she not report this? It seems like she doesn’t. Huppert plays (what I believe is) a computer game designer or programmer. She runs the company. She’s very bossy (I hate to use the word, because I know the ladies hate it) and aggressive. She gets a physical and an STD panel. Somebody just dumps their food on her, calls her “scum.” What the Hell?

Written by David Lawler and Andrew La Ganke.
“Love Theme from Extreme Cinema” composed and performed by Alex Saltz.
Introduction written by Bronwyn Knox.
Narrator, “The Voice”: Valerie Sachs.
Artwork by Bronwyn Knox.
Head Title Washer: Ben Lauter.

Running Time: 1:47:52

Any and all images, audio clips, and dialogue extracts are the property of their respective copyright owners. This blog and podcast was created for criticism, research, and is completely nonprofit, and should be considered Fair Use as stated in the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. section 107. It is not an official product, and it should not be sold nor bought; this is intended for private use, and any public broadcast is not recommended. All music clips appear under Fair Use as well. If you’re thinking of suing because you want a piece of the pie, please remember, there is no actual pie. We at BlissVille have no money, and as such, cannot compensate you. If anything, we’re doing you a favor, so please be kind. We do this ’cause it’s fun, and nothing else.

Extreme Cinema! “Go Ahead, Make My Day!”

Clinton “Clint” Eastwood Jr. (born May 31, 1930) is an American actor, filmmaker, musician, and political figure. After earning success in the Western TV series Rawhide, he rose to international fame with his role as the Man with No Name in Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy of spaghetti Westerns during the 1960s, and as antihero cop Harry Callahan in the five Dirty Harry films throughout the 1970s and 1980s, which is what we’re going to talk about tonight.

I was thinking about how fortunate we are, and how lazy we are because of Blu Ray, because of 1080p or more, we have ultra 4k or higher, I’m told. This is why we don’t go to the movies anymore. We don’t rush out to see a movie anymore, because we’ve turned our living rooms into little movie theaters where we don’t have to be disturbed; that’s incredible to me. Remember how we were talking about the Gladiator transfer? About how it probably looked superior to when the movie came out? This Dirty Harry transfer – it’s not that I don’t think it was superior, I wouldn’t know, but I told you it looked “faithful” to the original movie, I suspect. I like that they didn’t try to bring up the brightness. Cinema was dark back in the day, it was dark and detailed, and I was hoping they didn’t have like a millenial do the transfer, screaming, “It’s too dark! Bring it up!” They stayed faithful to the original release. Good transfer.

This is where we introduce “Dirty” Harry Callahan; December 23rd (a Christmas movie), 1971 – directed by Don Siegel. Harry and Rita Fink created the character with John Milius, Dean Riesner, Terrence Malick, Clint Eastwood, and Joe Heims, and all of those writers contributed to the script.

Magnum Force was released two years later, Christmas Day of 1973, the first sequel to Dirty Harry. This is the first Dirty Harry movie I saw. I saw it a few weeks before Sudden Impact, which was about to premiere on cable television. I remember thinking it was one of the coolest movies I had ever seen up to that point. I really liked it. It was really well-made and I think superior to Dirty Harry, although I asked Bronwyn, and she said she preferred Dirty Harry of the first two movies. This is about a group of rookie motorcycle cops who serve as a vigilante death squad serving under Hal Holbrook.

The Enforcer, directed by James Fargo, written by Stirling Silliphant and Dean Riesner, came out December 22, 1976 – another Christmas movie, that’s threee movies in a row released around Christmas – does the Dirty Harry franchise strike as something festive? “Kids! Another Dirty Harry movies, let’s put a .44 Magnum on the tree this year!” So here we have an SLA-Patty Hearst-type group of revolutionaries. I messed up when I was watching the movie with Bronwyn, because I got it into my head Patty Duke was a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army – Patty and her twin, can you imagine that? A hot dog makes her lose control. So, you have this psycho in the group, just a crazy-ass killing machine guy in the group, and they kill Harry’s partner, played by John Mitchum, who was in the first two movies. He dies, so Harry gets a new partner, played by Tyne Daly.

1983’s Sudden Impact, released on December 9th, was directed and produced by Clint Eastwood; the only Dirty Harry entry officially directed by Eastwood, though it’s rumored he helped direct Magnum Force because he had creative differences with Ted Post, and he might’ve assisted Buddy Van Horn directing The Dead Pool, but Van Horn was Clint’s good friend and works on every film Clint makes. This is still my personal favorite of the five. Mostly because we’re looking at the movie, the plot unfolding from the eyes of our heroine, who is really the bad guy when you think about it, right?

The Dead Pool came out in 1988, July 13th. I think there must’ve been issues with the production because I remember seeing trailers for the movie when I still living in Philadelphia, we moved up to New York City in February of 1988; perhaps they were gearing up for a Christmas, 1987 release (all of these Dirty Harry movies are Christmas movies) and they had issues in post-production, or it could’ve been related to issues with Eastwood’s former lover, Sondra Locke. Maybe Ratboy bankrupted Malpaso, who knows? The running time is 91 minutes, so I think some re-editing was done as well.

Written by David Lawler and Andrew La Ganke.
“Love Theme from Extreme Cinema” composed and performed by Alex Saltz.
Introduction written by Bronwyn Knox.
Narrator, “The Voice”: Valerie Sachs.
Artwork by Bronwyn Knox.
Head Title Washer: Ben Lauter.

Running Time: 1:35:13

Here’s a good overview of the Blu-Ray box set.

Any and all images, audio clips, and dialogue extracts are the property of their respective copyright owners. This blog and podcast was created for criticism, research, and is completely nonprofit, and should be considered Fair Use as stated in the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. section 107. It is not an official product, and it should not be sold nor bought; this is intended for private use, and any public broadcast is not recommended. All music clips appear under Fair Use as well. If you’re thinking of suing because you want a piece of the pie, please remember, there is no actual pie. We at BlissVille have no money, and as such, cannot compensate you. If anything, we’re doing you a favor, so please be kind. We do this ’cause it’s fun, and nothing else.

Vintage Cable Box: “Silkwood, 1983”

“It doesn’t matter whether you work in plutonium or dog food because they ain’t gonna give you a thing, there’s nowhere left to go! You close this plant down and then what? You’re gonna be up in Washington, but we’re gonna be down here outta work!”

Silkwood, 1983 (Meryl Streep), ABC Motion Pictures

Karen Silkwood is a trouble-maker. At Kerr-McGee, she handles the processing of plutonium and uranium dioxide as it is converted into fuel pellets for nuclear reactors. The interesting idea about Silkwood and her co-workers is that they are not scientists, but technicians working on an assembly line. Nuclear power is a job of work, not ideals and definitely not science. They know enough to do their work, and very little more. She and her co-workers are overworked and underpaid; they complain about having to work extra hours on short notice and the power plant runs efficiently with no-nonsense supervisors and bitchy subordinates.

Though depicted as lazy and irresponsible with self-destructive qualities, Karen (as portrayed beautifully by Meryl Streep) is fiercely independent and defiant (even at the cost of her own safety and well-being). She loves her estranged children, her co-dependent lesbian roommate, Dolly (Cher), and her on-again off-again boyfriend, Drew (Kurt Russell). She almost seems to work hard at making terrible mistakes, which I find oddly fascinating, especially with regard to the way strong female characters are written in films these days. Women written today, by contrast, appear to be perfect, beautiful, patient, and unrealistically saintly creatures. By humanizing a character like Karen Silkwood, we can more readily identify with her and her struggle.

One day, Karen’s co-worker, Thelma, is “cooked”, meaning she’s been exposed to radiation, and is forced to undergo a humiliating cleaning process involving vigorous use of steel wool.  Karen worries about cancer as she relentlessly chain-smokes.  Boyfriend Drew has a plan to one day quit the power plant and set up his own small bait-shop dealership, but Karen thinks he’s just dreaming.  You get the sense most people employed in this part of the Country have very few options.  One night, after cleaning up, Karen tests positive for radiation and is required to provide urine samples for the next few weeks.  She begins to notice her supervisors are falsifying reports and re-touching photographs of faulty welds in fuel rods.  She checks her union manuals, does her homework, and figures out she and her fellow employees are being deceived.

As Kerr-McGee management clamps down on union meetings, Karen decides to take her complaints to Washington and the Atomic Energy Commission.  When she tells her representatives (Ron Silver, Josef Sommer) about the re-touched photographs, they realize they have a case against the plant.  Oddly, the narrative is broken up with episodic moments, such as Dolly’s latest girlfriend, a snooty funeral home beautician (Diana Scarwid), and Karen’s brief dalliance with Ron Silver in Washington and resulting break-up with Drew.  She gathers up enough physical evidence to meet with a reporter from The New York Times, but she never arrives for her interview.   She was found to have died in a mysterious car crash.

Silkwood, the movie, is a strange case.  The movie was given a DVD release, but went out-of-print, and has never enjoyed a Blu-Ray run, though it had been transferred to 1080p for HD broadcast television.  This is a movie that received five Academy Award nominations, including Best Actress, Best Director (Mike Nichols), and Best Original Screenplay (credited to Nora Ephron and Alice Arlen).  Nichols does his usual best (for the time) at letting his actors direct his film.  He gives enormous creative license to Streep, Russell (in his first dramatic role), and Cher in bringing the patina of the surroundings to life.  Rising stars Fred Ward, Craig T. Nelson, Anthony Heald, and David Strathairn all make memorable appearances in the film.

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: “Krull, 1983”

“Power is fleeting.  Love is eternal.”

Krull, 1983 (Ken Marshall), Columbia Pictures

American novelist Stephen King once described Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of his book, The Shining, as a “… great big beautiful Cadillac with no engine under the hood.  You could sit in it, enjoy the smell of the leather upholstery … the only thing you couldn’t do was drive it anywhere.”  Krull from 1983 is the Cadillac of science fiction/fantasy motion pictures.  Derek Meddings’ production design is an incredible feast for the eyes.  James Horner’s Star Trek-like musical compositions are appropriately epic in scope.  The visual effects and photography are awe-inspiring.  Lysette Anthony is unbelievably beautiful  as the damsel-in-distress Princess Lyssa.  Unfortunately, the movie takes us nowhere but the back-alleys of Star Wars retreads.

When the Princess is abducted by the evil “Slayers” interrupting her wedding to Prince Colwyn (Ken Marshall, resembling a young Richard Chamberlain), he summons the power of the “Glaive”, the five-bladed handheld pinwheel that looks like an over-sized throwing star seen in the film’s promotional advertisements (and which I’ve always wanted to own), from the top of a mountain and bands together with a motley crew of criminals (among them Liam Neeson and Robbie Coltrane in early roles) in a bid to rescue her.  While we have our requisite laser light show, Krull is a movie that favors swordplay, Errol Flynn-style leaps from balconies, and swinging from chandelier ropes.  The strange, slimy, tentacled “Beast” informs the Princess that she is to marry it, perhaps to destroy the prophecy of the “girl that shall become queen.”

Colwyn is tutored by the wizardly Ynr (Freddie Jones as “The Old One”), collects his “merry” men, and heads for the Black Fortress, the stunning starship/castle that appears to be built out of a mountain.  In a narrative reminiscent of Bert I. Gordon’s The Magic Sword, Colwyn and his band of mercenaries must overcome disparate “challenges”, such as a misanthropic (and rather unpleasant) cyclops, various illusions conjured by the Beast, and assorted Slayers sent to assassinate Colwyn.  Meanwhile, Ynr must monitor his sands of time (given to him by ex-girlfriend, The Widow of the Web); for when the last of the sand diminishes, he will die.  It’s nice to know when you’re gonna go, is all I’m saying!  I remember being frightened by the giant spider in the movie when Ynr traverses an enormous web to to see his old squeeze.  Giant spiders freak me out!

It can even core an apple!

An enormously expensive movie (for the time) when produced, Krull would’ve benefited from substantial rewrites.  As it stands, the performers merely serve as window-dressing for truly beautiful art direction, cinematography, and stunning action set pieces.  Krull is everything I love in science fiction and fantasy, except that it lacks substance.  The story is a lazy mix of Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Clash of the Titans (another early cable favorite of mine), with a little bit of Robin Hood and Jason and the Argonauts thrown in for good measure.  Recently, I watched an excellent high definition transfer of the film, and as much as the technical aspects of the film are heightened by it, the deficiencies of the editing and screenplay are displayed as well.

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: A Christmas Story, 1983

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“Aunt Clara had for years labored under the delusion that I was not only perpetually 4 years old, but also a girl.”

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A Christmas Story, 1983 (Peter Billingsley), MGM/UA

It used to be that you would unknowingly discover a film, and with such an innocuous title as A Christmas Story, you’d likely flip to the next channel. Very little money was spent on marketing movies already past their prime release dates in theaters. Cable television channels would advertise movies making their broadcast premieres. You might find occasional print advertisements in TV Guide, but more often than not, movies would disappear down a hole, until they were discovered many years later. It would take years to see a movie released to videotape, so word-of-mouth was often all a filmmaker could depend on to get his or her movie seen.

A Christmas Story was not a critical and only a marginal box-office success upon initial release, grossing $19 million against a $3 million budget, but it was purchased by Ted Turner when he acquired MGM/UA’s back-catalog and holdings in 1985. Revisionist film critics now consider it a modern-day classic, and marathon showings of the movie dominate basic cable to this day. Watching the movie non-stop last Christmas, I was struck by how hypnotic the whole enterprise can be. The movie is a string of episodes and those episodes are in constant rotation. It’s like watching the old “yule log” presentations on Channel 11 – it just keeps going … and going … and going. Thanks to digital archivists like Rolando Pujol, that yule log has thankfully returned to channel 11.

So it’s the 8th of September and we’re in the middle of another heatwave here in New York, and I am sweating, but I try to conjure up images of snow and bitter cold and Flick’s tongue frozen to a pole and I’m almost there. I like Christmas. My daughter was born on Christmas Day, and while it may be a drag for her, it’s easy for her mother and me to put together a mega-birthday celebration complete with a tree and some lights, a cake, and a mountain of gifts. We all take a day off from being jerks, mostly because we’ve got a nice big meal and presents waiting for us when we get home. Humanity sucks in general, but for one day out of the year, we don’t suck as much.

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Based on a collection of stories and anecdotes by Jean Shepherd, A Christmas Story introduces Ralphie (a brilliant Peter Billingsley), a nine-year-old with a simple request.  All he wants is a Red Ryder BB gun (with a compass in the the stock, and a sundial).  He gets the easy, infuriating brush-off: “you’ll shoot your eye out” over and over from everybody he makes this request to, including a mean-spirited department store Santa Claus.  The “episodes” or anecdotes in the movie include a hideous yet indescribably beautiful lamp shaped like a leg Ralphie’s dad (Darren McGavin) wins in a contest, the hillbilly Bumpus dogs that terrorize McGavin every chance they get, the bullies Farkus (with his maniacal laugh) and Dill (the toadie), the triple-dog-dare, the bunny suit (the pink nightmare), the furnace, the curse word, and the aforementioned adventure with a frozen pole.  In the end, Ralphie gets what he wants.  Even if you haven’t seen the movie, you can still guess what happens.

It’s interesting to me that family movies were not as big in those days as they are today.  I only remember a few of them.  In fact, family movies are all Hollywood has to depend on to put keesters in the seats.  Movies based on toys, video games, and cartoon products are the movies that make the big bucks, because they are made (seemingly) for the whole family.  In 1983, it was a different story.  Most of the money was being made from sex comedies and horror movies.  “Family”-oriented movies were relegated to made-for-television status.  Disney had suffered major financial overhauls due to their creation of a cable television channel, and they were not making many animated features.

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Jean Shepherd’s narration is quaint. He sounds like he is describing the peculiar activities and rituals of the human race to aliens from other planets. Of course, the characters (especially those from Ralphie’s family) are quite familiar to us. His dad is well-meaning, somewhat temperamental, and often wrong. His mother (played by adorable Melinda Dillon) is the voice of reason, and a good sport to put up with her husband’s antics. His little brother, Randy, is an idiot and an anorexic in potentia. The bullies are monsters. I never understood why two kids (one of them a half-pint) could scare four moderately-sized kids so much they had to run in opposite directions.

So leave it to Bob Clark, of all people, to craft a sweet and wonderful holiday movie for children and adults to enjoy. He had just finished Porky’s 2: The Next Day and did a complete about-face with A Christmas Story. I’ve always been impressed with directors who try to broaden their horizons by working in multiple genres. In addition to the Porky’s movies, Bob Clark made horror movies (Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things), thrillers (Murder By Decree), and social commentary (Turk 182). He also made some stinkers, but his body of work more than made up for it. He died in 2007.

I’ve had several conversations with some very interesting people over the last few weeks with regard to their respective roles in the concept (not the holiday with religious implications) of Christmas.  I came to the conclusion that Santa, that Christmas is for everybody.  It’s mainly for children.  Christmas is a child’s holiday.  It’s about presents and trees, and ornaments, and decorations.  It’s about a delicious meal.  It’s about tipping your hat on a cold night to a stranger.  Christmas is for everyone.

Merry Christmas Everybody!

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: Octopussy, 1983

cable-box-001-2696

“Mr. Bond is indeed of a very rare breed… soon to be made extinct.”

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Octopussy, 1983 (Roger Moore), United Artists

Graphic and intense violence was crucial to mid 1970s-early ’80s action films, and Roger Moore’s final three James Bond films were no exception. These were cranked up; shot and edited in the fashion of American action and exploitation cinema, and reflecting new sensibilities in younger audiences at the time. I disagree with the commonplace notions that the Moore series of films playing this character were not as riveting as the Connery series, because of Moore’s British upbringing. His predecessor, Sean Connery, being Scottish, exuded a different kind of magnetism and charisma, but where Connery was often brutal in the punishment he dealt his enemies, Moore was almost bloodless in his actions (though there is a nifty head-shot in this movie), and maintained a stiff, British upper-lip. Most Bond fans in my age bracket prefer Moore over Connery for the very simple reason that they (as I) grew up watching Moore’s cycle of espionage thrillers.

In a humorous pre-credits sequence, Bond almost single-handedly deposes a Castro-like despot with the help of a pretty lady and a personal jet fighter.  After his mission is accomplished, he stops the jet at a gas station on a lonely dirt road.  He tells the owner to “fill ‘er up!”  Cute.  Next we move into the montage of naked ladies and guns set to Rita Coolidge’s theme song, All Time High (the lyrics to which I have never forgotten).  I’ve always enjoyed the fact that “Cubby” Broccoli put the majority of his crew credits at the beginning of his Eon Productions Bond films even after an unofficial agreement between motion picture studios (circa 1979) put into practice to relegate those credits to the end of the picture.  It’s sort of a tip of the hat to the people that work hard on these films.

In pre-Glasnost times, evil general Orlov wants more power and influence.  In Soviet Russia, pajamas wear YOU!  Orlov wants to expand the hypothetical Soviet Empire, and his superiors think he’s mad.  The art direction and cinematography of this scene recalls Doctor Strangelove’s war room.  SIS Agent 009 (dressed in a clown suit) is found dead with a Fabergé egg in his possession.  The egg turns out to be fake, but Bond finds the real egg, plants a bug in it for his latest conquest, Magda, to steal and return to the evil Kamal Khan (an appropriately sleazy, eyeball-eating Louis Jourdan – yuck!).  Bond learns that Orlov has been working with Khan, selling “priceless” fake Russian treasures (the aforementioned egg) and smuggling the genuine articles across the Iron Curtain by way of a bizarre woman (Maud Adams as “Octopussy”, in her second Bond film) with a serious octopus fetish.  When I say serious, I mean serious.  Her bed looks like an octopus.  Her tables look like assorted octopi.  Her curtains … well, you get the point.  She’s an extremely beautiful, fabulously wealthy smuggler (and circus owner) with a private army of hotties.  It takes a while, but Jimmy finally sets his sights on her.

Orlov’s true scheme is to smuggle a nuclear warhead by train to a United States Air Force Base in West Germany (remember West Germany, kids?), where it will detonate in the middle of one of Octopussy’s circus shows.  Orlov’s ultimate goal is to create destabilization and doubt in neighboring nations where he can easily take control and thus, expand the Soviet empire.  Ultimately, Bond masquerades as a clown (like Agent 009), and removes the detonator before the warhead can explode and spoil a decent circus.  I secretly hoped the bomb would go off, because I have a (admittedly irrational) fear/hatred of clowns, but the good guys must prevail.  The baddest of the bad, Jourdan and his evil (again with the evil!) henchman abscond with Octopussy and escape in a small aircraft, but not before Bond (or his incredibly obvious stunt double anyway) can jump on the roof and mess with their engines, and rescue the damsel.

all-in-the-wrist
“It’s all in the wrist.”

This is truly a fun movie with lots of action (expertly directed by John Glen, who helmed five Bond movies).  Glen started on the Bond series as an editor, cutting On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in 1969.  The set pieces are thrilling, and I noted infrequent use of blue screen as most of the visual effects were shot in-camera.  Octopussy would be followed by Moore ‘s last Bond film, A View to a Kill in 1985, and then Timothy Dalton would take over the role for two movies.  There is an interesting bit of trivia here in that Dalton (along with James Brolin) were suggested to replace Moore in Octopussy when his contract was up.  Later in 1983, Sean Connery appeared in the non-canon Bond film, Never Say Never Again, directed by Irvin Kershner.  When Never Say Never Again (with Connery) was announced, the producers renegotiated with Moore to keep him on in direct competition with that film.

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.