Vintage Cable Box: “The Trouble With Harry, 1955”

“He’s asleep. He’s in a deep sleep. A deep, wonderful sleep.”

The Trouble with Harry, 1955 (John Forsythe), Paramount Pictures

Young Jerry Mathers hears gunshots and arguing in the idyllic Vermont countryside. He stumbles across a dead body. It’s a body everybody seems to know, with the exception of the strange artist Sam Marlow (John Forsythe). Along the way, he picks up various tid-bits, little nuggets of information with regard to the owner of the dead body, a disreputable sleaze from Boston named Harry. Introducing the cuddly, fiercely intellectual Edmund Gwenn, hunting for rabbits, mistakenly believes he has shot Harry dead when he comes across him. Along the way, he makes a date with neighbor Mildred Natwick for some blueberry muffins and elderberry wine.

Jerry runs home to tell his mom (cute Shirley MacLaine), and before Edmund can dispose of the body, they’re up to see Harry. Shirley seems awfully happy Harry has bitten the dust, as it were. Edmund can’t seem to get any work done, because the entire town trapses through; among them, an absent-minded doctor who trips over him, and a drifter who steals the dead man’s shoes. Enter the handsome Sam, who barters his art for supplies and food at the general store. Nosy sheriff Calvin Wiggs (Royal Dano) aims to level a fine at whomever he catches shooting off guns on his “posted” land. You get the feeling this is a small town, because everybody knows everybody.

The Trouble with Harry is an unusual film, even for Alfred Hitchcock. He (and his writer John Michael Hayes) make sure not to make enemies of his leads, even the shifty Wiggs. It’s almost a slice-of-life about small-town folk who get to know each other in a more intimate way as a result of a body being dropped in their collective lap. Out sketching later, Forsythe comes across the body. Being an annoying artist-type, he sketches the body. Edmund confesses to the crime he possibly couldn’t commit, whereas Forsythe speculates Harry was destined to die at this particular place, at this particular time, and that Edmund did the Universe a favor. When we’re having discussions about existentialism, we’re not especially interested in a murder-mystery. The Trouble with Harry is a black comedy.

Forsythe makes an agreement with Edmund that they’ll dispose of the body if they can prove Shirley’s innocence in the matter. To that end, Forsythe gets chummy with her. They have a mutual attraction for one another, as much as she tries to dissuade his interest. She’s not good with men. That won’t stop Sam. He loves her and he loves her son. They have a strange, flirtatious first encounter. I wonder if this movie would be a good companion piece with Rope; wherein we have characters debating treacherous action under the guise of intellectualism. Where Rope was more in the vein of melodrama, this movie is played strictly for uncomfortable laughter.

Negotiating Shirley’s scatter-brained take on her relationship with Harry, Forsythe (probably against his better judgement) courts her, and bands together Natwick and Edmund to create a more appropriate death scenario for Harry so that no one will face criminal repercussion. It complicates matters when each character takes it upon themselves to conceal Harry’s body without telling anyone else their plans. Along the way, love stories develop; one young and one old, and these are very charming entanglements. If a less experienced, perhaps younger filmmaker were to tackle The Trouble with Harry, he would, almost certainly, be accused of not understanding the value of tone in storytelling. In the hands of a grand experimenter, The Trouble with Harry is great fun and makes perfect sense.

Two Davids Walk Into A Bar presents a very special episode devoted to the five “missing” Alfred Hitchcock films re-released to theaters in 1983, and on home media in 1984 and 1985: Rear Window, Vertigo, The Trouble With Harry, Rope, and The Man Who Knew Too Much.

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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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. 

Vintage Cable Box: “Irreconcilable Differences, 1984”

“This Civil War ain’t gonna get me down. I’m taking my act to a brand new town. This belle rings in old Atlanta. I’m gonna find myself a brand new Santa!”

Irreconcilable Differences, 1984 (Drew Barrymore), Warner Bros.

At the end of a particularly biting monologue delivered by Drew Barrymore to her befuddled, self-absorbed parents (Ryan O’ Neal, Shelley Long), she tells them they have “irreconcilable differences.” My mother jumps up, points at the screen and shouts, “What a little bitch!” I’m like, “Why?” I don’t think she gave me an answer, except to say Drew should have respect for her parents. In her world, parents were always right. Children were meant to be seen and not heard. Shut up, Drew! I don’t agree, and I am a parent. She has a valid point to make. When a child commits an atrocity; something we read about in the morning papers, my first question is always, “Where were the parents?” This must be the disconnect between the baby-boomer generation and their generation X offspring. They were too busy living second childhoods to care. Drew, essentially, takes her parents to court so that she can emancipate herself or, at the very least, get the Hell away from them.

Generation X-types aren’t completely innocent in the exchange either. They tend to spend way too much time playing video games, brandishing new tattoos, and reading comic books when they should be perfecting basic skills like combing their hair and shaving their neck-beards, but I kid! I didn’t mean for this to become a speech, but I always mean for my tone to be sarcastic. Little Casey Brodsky (Drew) hates her parents, or maybe she tires of their antics. Dad Albert is an up-and-coming filmmaker. His wife, Lucy, assists him to the point of rewriting his scripts (while not receiving credit). It must irk her to see their success attributed only to her husband. After a couple of hits, Albert is the toast of the town. He hires aspiring actress, Blake (Sharon Stone, in an early role) for his next film, and when it becomes obvious to Lucy he has subscribed to the Peter Bogdanovich playbook, she divorces him.

Bogdanovich (for those of you who don’t know) famously courted the beautiful Cybill Shepherd despite being married to production designer Polly Platt. The affair destroyed several relationships and killed Bogdanovich’s career after the failure of his bizarre musical, At Long Last Love. Married (at the time) writing couple, Nancy Meyers and Charles Shyer parody this opus with Atlanta, a musical version of Gone With The Wind. I was never a fan of Gone With The Wind (I think it’s a terrible movie), but I think I would’ve been interested in seeing Atlanta. This misstep also kills Albert’s career and Blake dumps him. As the meteor of his success collides with Earth, Lucy’s star rises. She writes a tell-all memoir of her time with Albert, hilariously (and subversively) titled, He Said It Was Going To Be Forever, which becomes an enormous hit. There’s a nice bit of visual symmetry with all of Albert’s belongings being shuffled out of his mansion in a U-Haul as Lucy moves her stuff in.

What charms me about the movie is that Albert and Lucy still love each other, and they do love their daughter, even if they don’t know how to show it. They seem to use Casey as ammunition in their feud. Albert suffers what appears to be a heart-attack. Lucy rushes to his side at the hospital. She leaves in a huff after learning it was an anxiety attack. Albert seduces Lucy into a one-night-stand so that he can get the option to direct her memoir, which infuriates her. This is enough material for the court to determine that their housekeeper, Maria, should be given guardian status of Casey. My mother’s instinctive reaction to the material is not an isolated story. Irreconcilable Differences divides audiences along age boundaries, and if you examine the film closely, you’ll see that whenever Ryan or Shelley are on the screen together (or even separately), Drew is shunted off to the side, filling the background of the scene.

Meyers and Shyer craft an interesting take on the dissolution of a marriage, drawing on inspiration from old Hollywood fables and the break-up of writers Nora Ephron and Carl Bernstein in Ephron’s languid memoir, Heartburn, but told from the point-of-view of a child. As an adult, it is difficult to understand Drew’s predicament. She wants for nothing. She’s obviously given adequate shelter and safety, and we must always remember that children tend to be preoccupied (to a pathological level) with their creature comforts, yet I don’t agree with the “little bitch” assessment. She’s more precocious than anything else. She’s wonderful to watch in the movie, though she has a tendency to mumble and not seem to understand much of what she says, but she was nine years old at the time of shooting, so I can’t fault her. She is, at her core, genuine.

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: “Richard Pryor: Live in Concert, 1979”

“What-choo takin’ my picture for? Who you gonna show it too? ‘I got a picture of Richard Pryor!’ ‘Who gives a fuck?’ Sit yo ass down! Motherfucker, sit down! You know you ain’t got no film in the camera. You just bullshittin’ just flashin’, ain’t nothin’ flashing. Sit yo ugly ass down!”

Richard Pryor: Live In Concert, 1979 (Richard Pryor), Special Event Entertainment

Comedians (Jon Stewart among them) have long made reference to a “holy trinity” of stand-up comedy, Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, and George Carlin, who had paved the way for modern comedians to practice their particular skill. The stand-up comedian tells a story, transforms the story into a joke, and waits for his or her audience to respond, often with laughter. Lenny Bruce is a bit before my time, so I understand the variations of Bruce and the evolution of his humor with Carlin. Carlin’s emphasis in his performance was in the machinations and manipulations of our common language. Bruce, from what I’ve seen and heard, placed his emphasis in shocking the audience; much like the way modern comedians shock their audiences. Richard Pryor’s considerable talents are invested in heartbreak, isolation, and anguish.

To say I was shocked, or floored into submission to Pryor’s incredible brand of levity upon first seeing Richard Pryor: Live In Concert would be a dramatic understatement. I had never, ever seen anything like this before, and most likely, will never see it again; even as more and more comedians attempt to shock and inspire us. Louis C.K. came close, but, compared to Pryor, he is a pale imitation, and a pretender (as talented as he is) to that specific throne. When I say I was floored, I mean (upon first viewing) I was on the floor, laughing so hard it hurt. This is the funniest (hence the greatest) stand-up comedy film I have ever seen. The film is a moody, unpretentious, raucous journey through the life and personal turmoil of a man with failings; either in his personal life, or his difficulties as a husband, and a father, or professional foibles as an entertainer. Yet, he can make you think, and make you feel good about yourself.

The Terrace Theater in conservative, predominantly white Long Beach, California sets the stage for the invasion of Pryor. He even makes fun of his predicament; to see a swarm of his black fans among his white fans shows that comedy can bring us all together. To see whites laughing alongside blacks (with no virtue signalling or judgments being made from either party) makes me feel good. It gives me hope. Language being more elastic in 1978 as opposed to these heady times, he makes repeated and unrepentant use of the “n” word, and despite what Ice Cube thinks about the subject, no one person or group can own a word, and to take that word away is to take away our understanding and appreciation of the word, as delivered with the master craftsmanship of Richard Pryor. Pryor would recant somewhat in later years for his liberal use of the word, but he railed against censorship, even when it was self-imposed. These words belong to all of us. It’s just that some people are better at using them. Pryor’s humor was rooted in his danger, his capacity for self-deprecation, and his emotional and chemical dependencies.

Pryor tell stories about his family; growing up the child of an extended poor family in Peoria, the tutilege and discipline (“Go get me something to beat yo ass with!”) of his grandmother, the bizarre wisdom of his father, and his various brushes with death. He speaks of an experience where he had suffered a heart attack, and thought he had died. In the hospital room, he opens his eyes and sees a bunch of concerned white faces looking down at him and he thinks, “Ain’t this a bitch. I done died and wound up in the wrong motherfuckin’ heaven.” In this new age of heckling and overly-sensitive, unoriginal comedians, Pryor works with ease, talks to the crowd; even when interrupted by his adoring fans, he engages them and you feel that there is no wall between him and the people in the seats. He completely owns the Terrace Theater. Comedy seems to be such an incredibly subjective art (horror movies are the same – they live or die based on our direct, subjective impressions of either what’s funny or what is terrifying to us) that everybody’s top ten lists on the subject will be different person to person, but Richard Pryor: Live in Concert is always on everyone’s list.

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 Picture Frame”

“What’s My Motivation?”

“The Picture Frame” starts out with the “Hurray for Hollywood” sound-alike incidental music and the sign for the fictional Mammoth Studios, first used in “I’ve Got a Little Song Here.” Some previous episodes where the Monkees tried to break into show biz were “Captain Crocodile,” “Find the Monkees,” “Monkees at the Movies,” and “Monkees in Manhattan.” Mike, Micky, and Davy wander onto a soundstage and meet Harvey and J.L., who tell the Monkees that they want them to play bank bandits in their picture. Harvey and J.L. are wearing berets, and it amuses me that berets are what crooks think will let them pass for legit Hollywood producers. The film flips over and the three Monkees appear in gangster-wear with guns, cigars, suits and hats, etc. (It’s probably a sign of illness on my part, but I find them sexy here.) Other episodes where the boys pose as gangsters include: “Monkees in a Ghost Town,” “Monkees à la Cart,” “The Monkees on the Wheel,” and Micky in “Alias Micky Dolenz.” In all those cases however, the Monkees were trying to fool crooks into thinking they were of their kind.

J.L. asks the Monkees for a picture to see “how they photograph” and Davy whips out a baby picture. J.L. throws it away and asks for something more recent. Micky grabs a medium format camera to take a picture of the crooks with Mike and Davy, despite J.L.’s protests of “no pictures.” They get an instant picture which J.L. tosses in the same trashcan. J.L. tells them they’re all set up to shoot “the bank stick-up scene” at the 9th National Bank. He tosses scripts at them and explains they use the “hidden camera technique” so they won’t see the film crew. The Monkees, who have perpetuated dozens of cons aren’t suspicious of any of this.

“The Picture Frame,” directed by James Frawley, originally aired on September 18, 1967. The filming dates for the main episode were April 5-7, 1967, not long after they finished Headquarters. Jack Winter wrote “The Picture Frame” as well as “Everywhere a Sheik, Sheik,” “Monkee Mayor,” “Hitting The High Seas,” and “The Monkees In Texas.” The first three on that list were among the group of leftover first season scripts. Musical numbers in this episode were part of the Rainbow Room performances, shot on August 2, 1967.

Back to the story, the Monkees awkwardly enter the busy bank, guns drawn. Some highlights of this scene include the squeaky voiced bank teller (Joy Harmon) who keeps asking Davy, “Do you have an account here, sir?” Micky’s brief Cagney impression, and Mike’s magic power to speed up time and open a safe by imitating a clock. The bank Vice President was played by Ronald Foster, who was also the Rolls Owner in “Success Story” and the Courtier in “Prince and the Paupers.” As they leave, the boys read the “scripted” lines, telling the bank customers and staff not to move or say anything. The “extras” put their arms down once the door shuts, but then Micky sticks his head in to say “cut, print that’s a wrap” and they all put their hands back up.

Mike, Micky, and Davy are back on the soundstage. Peter arrived, having gone initially to the wrong stage at the wrong time. J.L. congratulates them, gives them each $100 bucks, and tells them they’ll call tonight about tomorrow’s shoot. Mike offers to take the stuff back but J.L. tells him the “prop people” will handle that, as the Monkees are going to be “big stars.” As they leave, J.L. tells Harvey he’s going to make an anonymous call to the cops.

There’s stock footage of police cars with sirens blazing. Outside the Monkees house is Dort Clark as the Sergeant, previously in the “Monkees à la Cart” episode in a similar role. He’s a funny actor and I wish they’d used him as well for “Alias Micky Dolenz” (though Robert Strauss did a fine job as the Captain.) The Sergeant is with two uniformed policemen. Peter thinks they want his overdue library book, so he crawls to the door and puts the books outside. The Sergeant tells them to stop fooling around. Davy goes up to the lookout window and repeats the gag from “Monkees à la Mode” where he opens it even though he’s too short to see out. Somehow he reports what’s out there: cops, lights, etc. Mike decides it must be tomorrow’s shoot moved up to tonight.

The Sergeant sends one of the uniformed cops in, after some comic uncertainty on the their part. The cop goes into the Monkee pad, stammering and telling them to follow him. Micky says that’s no good and starts directing him how to hold the gun and to be more steely-eyed. Cute, unintentional meta-moment because the cop is played by Robert Michaels, who was also in “The Frodis Caper,” Dolenz’ directorial debut. The cop exits and re-enters, accidentally scaring the Monkees and himself by shooting up the place. The editors cut to stock footage of planes crashing, cars crashing, etc.

At the police station, the Sergeant shows the Monkees the film of themselves robbing the bank. They’re disappointed that it’s black and white, but I think it’s actually improbably good for security camera footage. Mike tries to decide what movie star he looks like: Barry Sullivan, Paul Newman, Marlon Brando, while Micky and Davy also admire their own performances. Not getting that they’re in deep trouble, they agree it is them on film. Peter walks in with popcorn and the scene becomes a clever parody of a movie audience, with a lady in a hat, a couple making out, a guy sleeping in sunglasses. The Sergeant tells them he’s booking them for the robbery of the 9th National bank. The Monkees are confused. Davy explains, “We were shooting a movie. Some cat came up and said ‘do you want to shoot a movie?’ We said, ‘yeah, we’ll shoot a movie’ So we shot a movie.” Mike realizes the trap they’ve fallen into and has a nervous breakdown, with hilarious facial expressions.

Now we have the comic sequence of Taking Everything Literally. The Sarge tells the three busted Monkees to “start talking” and so they mutter lyrics to “Zilch,” the isolated vocal track from Headquarters. Sarge tells them to change their tune, so Mike blows a pitch pipe and talks in a higher pitch (okay, not technically changing their “tune.”) He threatens them with the 3rd degree so Micky passes out three diplomas. The cops bring over the bright light but the Monkees respond by pulling out dark glasses and sun-tan lotion. Sarge asks them if they’re ready to spill the beans, and of course the Monkees pour out cans of beans. The Sarge loses it and says to throw the book at them. The cop tosses a book. In the shot where Mike catches it, he’s not wearing his glasses but back in the closeup he’s wearing them again. I’m thinking this is not an accidental continuity error but a deliberate one so he could see to catch the book. In a callback gag, the book is Peter’s overdue library book.

The Monkees, minus Peter, are now pacing around a jail cell. Peter brings them a file, which turns out to be an emery board instead of the expected metal file. Peter unleashes this nonsensical gem, “I don’t think you’re guilty. I just don’t see how you could possibly be innocent.” He found a lawyer from the classifieds but the lawyer won’t attempt get them off, “With that kind of evidence? No chance.” He points to Davy, “him maybe with the cute face.” The not-so cute faces of Micky and Mike are told to plead guilty. The lawyer wants $40,000 to represent them, which they don’t have. The lawyer states the seemingly obvious, “Of course you do, you just robbed a bank, didn’t you?” The lawyer was portrayed by Art Lewis, who was the missing persons inspector in “Find the Monkees.”

Now, the court scenes. The judge asks the Monkees if they’re represented by council. They say yes, but clearly they don’t have a lawyer. She asks them to bring in the first prospective juror. The DA calls in Philip Jackson. It’s actually Mike playing a similar character to the janitor he played in “Captain Crocodile.” The DA objects on the grounds that “Mr. Jackson“ is one of the defendants. The judge scolds Mike for trying to pull a fast one. Mike starts flirting and pulls out some flowers for her. She melts (as do I) as Davy and Micky look on hopefully.

Meanwhile, Peter is back on the soundstage, snooping for evidence against the actual crooks. He has the Sherlock Holmes hat that Micky used in “Monkee See, Monkee Die” and a sleuth-cliché magnifying glass. Peter runs into Harvey who correctly guesses that Peter is snooping. If this were logical, Harvey could have gotten rid of Peter right there, but instead he watches him snoop. Peter finds a picture in the wastebasket and is happy/excited with this evidence. Harvey calls J.L. and tells him what Peter has found. J.L. assumes it’s the incriminating picture of them with the Monkees and orders Harvey to keep Peter there.

Back at the court, Micky adopts a British Barrister persona and questions the bank VP on whether he can be sure Mike was the one who held him up. The bank manager is sure, so Micky asks him a bunch of irrelevant trivia questions (What is the capital of Nova Scotia?) Micky wants to dismiss on the grounds that it is late and everybody’s hungry. The judge joyfully claps her hands for food and Mike and Davy are suddenly ballpark vendors with hot dogs and popcorn. The prosecutor freaks, “Your honor, this is outrageous!” as the judge obliviously enjoys her hot dog.

Mike argues that the dynamite that they supposedly threatened to blow open the safe with was actually harmless. There was no bit like that in the robbery scene, but just roll with it. He lights it, and it goes out as it burns down the wick. The prosecutor objects and grabs the dynamite. Of course it explodes, leaving him not blown to bits, but covered in soot and smoke, a la Daffy Duck. It is to laugh. The judge overrules his objection because this is all insanity anyway.

Peter tries to leave the studio but J.L. comes in with a gun and tells him to hand over the picture. This launches a romp to “Pleasant Valley Sunday” (Goffin/King) with Peter running all over the soundstage area we saw in “I’ve Got a Little Song Here” and in and out of the “Mammoth Studios” area. This is mixed with Rainbow Room footage of the Monkees performing the song. The gangsters catch Peter in the shower at one point and he pretends to be offended. If this was meant to make sense, they could have shot him a while ago. Outside the soundstage, Peter drives a Monkees logo golf-cart. He seems to have evaded them by climbing the chain-link fence but they simply open the gate.

Somehow he gets to the courthouse with the picture. The music is still playing as Peter runs all over the courtroom with the gangsters chasing him. The Monkees protect Peter while the police grab the gangsters. Romp over, J.L. yells at Harvey for not emptying the wastebasket (or you know, shredding the picture, destroying the negative etc.) Mike, Micky, and Davy crowd around Peter hoping he’s got the picture they need, but naturally it’s the baby picture. They hand it over to the judge anyway who gasps at the cuteness and decides they’re “obviously innocent.” That was certainly in keeping with the ridiculous logic of everything else in this story.

Next up is more Rainbow Room footage of “Randy Scouse Git” (Dolenz). This series of song performance film clips were shot in the summer of 1967, in the middle of the Monkees concert tour. Due to race riots taking place in both Milwaukee and Detroit at that time, a couple of the Monkees performances were cancelled so they ended up with some extra time in Chicago. The Monkees producers booked time in Fred Niles Studios (later Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Studios was there; sadly it is now torn down). In the Fred Niles Studies room with a robin’s egg blue and rainbow background, the Monkees filmed promo clips for “Daydream Believer,” “She Hangs Out,” “No Time,” “Randy Scouse Git,” “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” “Love Is Only Sleeping,” “What Am I Doin’ Hangin’ ‘Round?,” and “Salesman.” If you look at the recording dates of these songs, some of them were not complete yet so the Monkees were lip-syncing to rough versions. More about this here.

I enjoy all the Rainbow Room performances, they have an iconic look and are the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Monkees performance clips. Last summer I was lucky enough to be invited to discuss the Rainbow Room with a panel of smart Monkees fans on Zilch! A Monkees Podcast. Check it out here.

The Monkees are in great form in this story, working together with crack comic timing to create mischief in the justice system. With the dynamite, the literal sight gags, and the absurd plot points, “The Picture Frame” would certainly get my vote for Most Cartoony. It’s a tightly put-together farce, with it’s own insane sense of logic that builds up to a wacky finish. The solution with the baby picture certainly isn’t any more ridiculous than the Monkees just tying up the bad guys at the end of the romp like they usually do. “The Picture Frame” has one laugh-out-loud scene after another and it’s certainly worth watching for entertainment value.

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: “Eating Raoul, 1982”

“Personally, I draw the line at golden showers.”

Eating Raoul, 1983 (Paul Bartel), 20th Century Fox

Paul Bartel sets up his anarchic exploration of sociology, Eating Raoul, like a pseudo-documentary commenting (with his narration) on the evils of Hollywood; the debauchery, the desperation, and the unusual marriage of food and sex. Mild-mannered snob Paul Bland (Bartel) runs a cash register at a liquor store and (to his manager’s ire) advises his clientele to stay away from cheap alcohol. His wife, Mary Woronov, works as a nurse fending off the advances of her patients. They dream of opening up their own restaurant one day, but the high cost of living (and an absurd rent increase) keeps them from saving the money they need for such a venture.

An amorous swinger attacks Mary and Paul kills him with a frying pan.  They manage to cover up the crime and take the money out of his wallet.  This is what entrepreneurs call the “genius” idea.  While Mary has to deal with lecherous bank officers, Paul is stiffed by prospective buyers of his vintage wine.  Paul and Mary have a natural aversion to sex, but they contemplate making Mary into the image of a dominatrix, and then murdering her clients.  The city, being full of “rich perverts”, is a smorgasbord for Paul and Mary’s financial woes.  They interview a dominatrix, who coaches them on various techniques.

Hot-blooded locksmith and part-time hustler Raoul (Robert Beltran) gets wise to their scheme and offers to dump the bodies, and for a time, the three have an easy partnership.  The Blands, though initially amoral, find themselves trapped in an ethical dilemma as they observe Raoul’s obvious opportunism when he extorts them and sets up his own outside deals.  When a client (Ed Begley, Jr. decked out as a hippie) attempts to rape Mrs. Bland, Raoul comes to her rescue and then subsequently seduces her.  Mary, though locked in for the long haul with her sexless marriage to Paul (who she loves dearly), enjoys a sexual awakening with Raoul, who schemes to drop Paul from their partnership.

The “genius” idea.

Bartel’s direction is unsettling. The smutty nature and appeal of the story is juxtaposed (uncomfortably) with the “screwball comedy” texture of the performances. Some of Bartel’s shots recall Douglas Sirk coupled with the subversive stylings of John Waters. Strangely, the movie works as a piece of sexual exploitation even as it parodies such movies. There are some serious laugh-out-loud moments in the film. Paul discovers Raoul is scamming them, jacking the cars of their victims and selling their remains to a dog food company called “Doggie King.” Bartel would later make the companion piece, Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills, which reunited him with Woronov and Beltran. Eating Raoul was adapted as a stage musical in 1992.

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: Boarding School, 1978

“You look like a strong boy.  Do you think you could help me with my luggage when we arrive?”

Boarding School, 1978 (Nastassja Kinski), Atlantic Releasing 

The first image of 1978’s Boarding School (renamed from the more snooty The Passion Flower Hotel for smutty U.S. audiences) shows a young woman’s flaccid, flat nipple slowly becoming erect when exposed to a poster of Marlon Brando as he appeared in his iconic The Wild One.  The other girls count off how long it takes before the fleshy pearls become rigid – like a contest?  It’s an unusual qualification for entry into womanhood, or at the very least hetero-normative womanhood.  What if Brando doesn’t rock your world?  What if you’re a Bogart girl?  Saint Clara’s School for Girls, 1956 is a hotbed of libidinous tarts; as in Barbarella, it becomes a vehicle for feminine empowerment, but is ultimately nothing more than dirty old men ogling jail-bait.

We join American girl Deborah Collins (Nastassja Kinski) en route to Saint Clara’s in a train occupied by clergy.  Who was Saint Clara?  Patron saint of hot and horny young women?  Actually, no.  There doesn’t seem to be a Saint Clara, but there was a Saint Clare.  Canonized two years after her death, Clare was the patron Saint of among many other things, eye disease, laundry, and television.  Huh?  Anyway, Deborah arrives and, almost immediately, starts influencing the girls in the ways of love and sex (although she was originally assigned by the headmistress to keep the girls in check).  Tall and imposing, but with a look not dissimilar to Ingrid Bergman, Kinski’s gum-chewing strumpet quickly sizes up her authority figures, and we are left to wonder if Europeans presume “Americans” to be nothing more than sex-obsessed misfits.

I’m not sure what to make of the girls in Boarding School, except to say upon entering high school, I knew not one girl who behaved in this way.  They were neither oversexed nor undersexed.  They existed as entities with breasts with suspicious, darting eyes and long hair.  Some girls were more developed than others (as with boys) but none of them looked like Nastassja Kinski!  If I must get intellectual on your collective ass, I would say the repression of the parochial authoritarian as represented by the headmistress, her staff, and the various members of the clergy wandering about in juxtaposition to the “latest American craze”, the rock and/or roll music the kids love creates an intriguing sociological groundswell.  In other words, if the kids like to dance, they’ll also enjoy screwing.

In a minor departure from the source material, the best-selling book, The Passion Flower Hotel by Rosalind Erskine (a revelatory pseudonym for Roger Erskine Longrigg), the girls plot to lose their virginity to the boys in the private school across the lake.  In the book, however, the story becomes an exercise in capitalism as the girls sell their services to the boys.  They have a product, and it’s a seller’s market, if you know what I mean!  While the idea of prostitution is debated, the fulfillment of their sexual needs is paramount.  I love the idea of the girls working out a “tier” system of services and specific pricing.  This movie is proof-positive women belong in the workplace.  Sorry.  At least in management and production.

I wonder if there is a place in the world of film today for a movie like Boarding School.  I think the trivialization of such a hot-button issue as underage sex and willful prostitution would trigger (hate to use that word) massive protests and outrage.  If a movie like this were being made today, the material would have to be handled with sensitivity and sympathy, which would drain all the life out of it.  Think of Boarding School as a reverse-gender variation on Screwballs, except, you know, good.  In fact, the only issue I have with the film is the hideous dubbing on the American version.  I would love to see a cleaned-up European version of the movie.  Erotic movies of this nature received endless play on cable television, specifically The Movie Channel, but because of their pedigree being produced and distributed overseas, they often attained higher notoriety than domestic fare.

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.