Vintage Cable Box: “Rope, 1948”

“By what right did you dare decide that that boy in there was inferior and therefore could be killed??!! Did you think you were GOD, Brandon!!?? Is that what you thought when you choked the life out of him??!! Is that what you thought when you served food from his grave!!?? Well I don’t know what you thought or what you are but I know what you’ve done!!! You’ve murdered!!! You’ve strangled the life out of a fellow human being who could live and love as YOU never could and never will again!!!” 

Rope, 1948 (James Stewart), Warner Bros.

Rope is an insane film, and it’s made on the presumption of a gag, a practical joke, perpetrated by master filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock on his unsuspecting audience. This fits into Hitchcock’s theory of suspense. When questioned about the ideas of suspense, Hitchcock offered a simple scenario: two men sitting at a table talking while a bomb (that the audience can see) ticks away underneath. The audience wants to tell the men at the table to get out of there because a bomb is about to go off. That is suspense to Alfred Hitchcock. In Rope, it is not a bomb, but a dead body. I wouldn’t know how to begin describing what unfolds unless I did it from the false beginning, the anonymous entry of our two leads; these young men, Brandon and Phillip, college pals and roomies in a beautiful New York apartment, who decide, for no other reason than lazy curiosity and “moral superiority,” to strangle their friend, David, to death.

While Brandon (John Dall) is enthralled, amused, and satisfied by the act, his partner-in-crime, Phillip (Farley Granger) is horrified and disgusted, so we get two sides of a strange yet symmetrical coin. These are two “privileged” kids. They get everything (all the basic necessities and more) they want in life, and we, as the audience, are supposed to hate them. They (mostly Brandon, the obvious leader) decide to keep the body in a trunk with the rope that was used to strangle David, and then to use that trunk as the centerpiece for a dinner party they are throwing at which they have invited all of David’s closest friends as well as his mother and father, and their school housemaster (James Stewart). Phillip is unhinged, mainly because, I believe, he is worried about being caught. We never do get into Phillip’s head, while we, perversely, understand Brandon’s motivations, and his curious vanities.

The guests file in and the “fun begins,” to quote Brandon. He wants to make this a mad experiment. Perhaps he wants clinicians and psychologists to analyze this moment until the end of time, even as he rots away in a jail cell or a padded room. He wants to know why his victim, David, was so important to all of the invited guests: a young lady engaged to David, a former suitor to David’s betrothed, the victim’s parents, and the victim’s teacher. This creates a drama in Brandon’s head, and he enjoys it. This is like a dry-run of American Psycho, wherein we see these respected, wealthy socialites conferring with one another as despicable acts are committed. Strangely enough, the tone of the movie suggests black comedy, while the abbreviated sets and long takes suggest theater, at it’s broadest. It makes you wonder what other horrid acts Brandon and Phillip are capable of.

Jimmy Stewart acts as the anger and the conscience of the audience. Since the remainder of the guests are blissfully ignorant, Stewart’s character (who had previously speculated with the young killers on the nature of evil and the imposed eugenics of murder in a socialized structure) easily comes to the conclusion. He suspects Brandon and Phillip have done something terrible, unforgivable. He chastises his young charges, repudiates their callous indifference, and sentences them to death in his eyes for their misdeeds, and you’re damned if you’re not with him as he destroys them with his words. He has such power in his words that he owns the movie for as long as he’s in it. Stewart plays games with the attendees, questions them, and makes dubious statements, but what it all comes down to is watching Brandon and Phillip collapse under his interrogations. Rope is a powerful statement.

I received a very nice message from the administrator at the Vintage HBO Guides Facebook group, and I wanted to take this opportunity to thank all of my readers.  I’m forever grateful my work is being enjoyed.  Thanks!

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: “Vertigo, 1958”

“She’ll be talking to me about something. Suddenly the words fade into silence. A cloud comes into her eyes and they go blank. She’s somewhere else, away from me, someone I don’t know. I call her, she doesn’t even hear me. Then, with a long sigh, she’s back. Looks at me brightly, doesn’t even know she’s been away, can’t tell me where or when.”

Vertigo, 1958 (James Stewart), Paramount Pictures

There’s a story about writer Pierre Boileau, watching a newsreel in a packed movie-house some time post-war in Paris, and swearing he sees an old friend (whom he believed long dead) in the newsreel. His “logic brain” tells him this can’t be his dead friend, but the more irrational brain conjures images of ghosts and beseeches him to do some digging and find his friend. He must be alive! This is the seed of D’entre les morts, the source material for what could, arguably, be Alfred Hitchcock’s greatest movie, Vertigo. Personally, I think Hitch was drawn to the more perverse aspects of the story, but knew a top-notch mystery had to catalyze his effort at unraveling his romanticized fantasy world of San Francisco. Jimmy Stewart is his muse (and alter-ego) in this adventure.

After enduring a personal (and highly publicized) tragedy involving the death of a fellow policeman from a fall, Stewart’s John “Scottie” Ferguson suffers vertigo, a loss of balance and coordination as a result of his fear of heights. His best friend (and former lover obviously still in love with him), “Midge” (Barbara Bel Geddes) tries to help him in his recovery. He has retired from being a cop. He gets a call from an old school chum, Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore) to keep tabs on his neurotic wife, Madeleine (Kim Novak), who goes off by herself on long journeys, but seems to suffer a selective amnesia about where she goes each time. Sometimes she goes to a museum and stares at a painting of a woman who bears a striking resemblance to her. Stewart diligently follows her and takes notes.

Stewart becomes attracted to her, and being that he has no real job anymore, he obsesses over her, to “Midge’s” annoyance. “Midge” doesn’t want to hear about the pretty little rich girl with mental problems, and I can say I hardly blame her, but she is kind-of barking up the wrong tree here, and she can’t get a clue. Stewart follows her to the base of the Golden Gate Bridge, where she jumps into San Francisco Bay (ostensibly a suicide attempt). He rescues her, takes her back to his swingin’ bachelor pad, undresses her, and puts her in front of a roaring fire. She wakes, claiming to have no memory of the incident, quickly dresses, and gets the Hell out of there, yet she keeps leaving him a trail of crumbs to continue their developing relationship. As wounded (emotionally and physically) a person as Stewart is, what happens next is not only devastating but cruel.

Madeleine lures him to a Mission, jumps from a bell tower, and this time (we’re led to believe) successfully kills herself. This sends “Scottie” into a spiral of deep depression, catatonia, and self-hatred. He blames himself for Madeleine’s death. With “Midge’s” help, he slowly recovers, but then he begins to notice a woman with fiery red hair who bears a striking resemblance to Madeleine. Her name is Judy Barton (also played by Kim Novak), who’s more of a “common-sense” girl; smart and sarcastic. He tries to pick her up, but she sees right through it, so he takes the more “gentlemanly” approach by courting her. In a scene that nearly derails the movie, “Judy” comes clean to the audience (but not to “Scottie”) by writing him a note, confessing that she truly is Madeleine, and that she was paid off by Elster to pretend to be Madeleine, as Elster concocted a plan to kill his real wife and take her money. After writing the note, she thinks about it and rips it up.

Maybe “Judy” thinks she and “Scottie” can have a life together. Maybe she thinks he’ll overlook the whole murder thing and be her man for all time, but then as convicted assassin Arthur Bremer once said, “How many things go right in this crazy world?” This is where “Scottie” goes nuts, or so we assume. He makes “Judy” over. He has her wardrobe changed. He changes her makeup. He has her hair bleached and dyed blonde, and puts her in those expensive outfits Madeleine wore. When the effect is complete, it’s hideously staggering. “Judy” just wants his love, and he abuses her with his compulsion. All that’s needed to complete the effect is the necklace “Judy” brandishes. It appears to be the same necklace worn by the woman in the painting.

This seals the deal for Stewart so he drives “Judy” to the Mission where he leads her to the bell tower. “Judy” confesses to her crimes, and just when you think these crazy kids could make it work, a nun startles her and she falls to her death. This is the textbook definition of a “downer” ending; a powerful statement in the burgeoning modern film industry, but depressing as all Hell. Defeated by the failure of The Wrong Man, he had many projects in development, but he chose Vertigo, his darkest, most romantic movie (surpassing Rebecca). He was a brave filmmaker. North by Northwest would be his next trick on audiences. Stewart is sympathetic, despite some of his character’s more grotesque choices – he’s unusual here, not the strong voice of moral authority and compassion, but a flawed human. This would be his and Hitchcock’s last collaboration as Hitch had blamed Vertigo’s poor box-office performance on Stewart’s age as a romantic leading man against the much younger Novak (though Novak and Stewart would subsequently appear in the much more successful Bell, Book & Candle). Vertigo is my favorite Alfred Hitchcock 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. 

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.

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Vintage Cable Box: “Eddie And The Cruisers, 1983”


“They’ll find a way to screw us, they always do. Guys like you and me, they strike oil under your garden and all you get is dead tomatoes.”


Eddie And The Cruisers, 1983 (Tom Berenger), Embassy Pictures

We start off with a live, rousing Springsteen-esque anthem, “On The Darkside”. Sultry rock journalist Ellen Barkin gives us the exposition. They were the biggest, baddest band in the land! Eddie and The Cruisers! Barkin wants to write a story based on her wild theory that Eddie is still alive. His car went off a bridge one night when the band was in free-fall after recording a concept album called A Season In Hell; a follow-up to their successful debut. The label refused to release the album and dropped the band. Barkin wants to find the tapes that went missing a day after Eddie’s disappearance.

Keyboardist Tom Berenger (affectionately known as “Word Man”) teaches high school literature. While a fulfilling job, it doesn’t hold a candle to those lost nights of his youth performing with the band. He flashes back to the Jersey Shore, 1962, where he first encounters hot backing vocalist Joann Carlino (Helen Schneider), boyfriend and front-man Eddie Wilson (Michael Paré), douchebag bass player Sal Amato (Matthew Laurance), and the rest, including a drug-addicted saxophonist, and a frenetic personal manager named “Doc” (Joe Pantoliano). Impressed with Berenger’s musical acumen, Eddie asks him to join the band.

Barkin dogs Berenger for her story (pun!). She wants to know what happened that fateful night of Eddie’s disappearance. Berenger returns to his trailer home to find the place has been ransacked. Obviously somebody’s looking for those tapes. He hooks up with “Doc”, now working as a disc jockey spinning oldies but goodies. He wants the tapes so he can get a cut of the loot from sales and promotion, and he wants to bring the group back together, but Berenger ain’t buying what “Doc” is selling.

Berenger seems to be taking a trip through his past, touching base with “Doc”, Sal (who has revived the act with an impostor Eddie), and finally, Joann, with whom he consummates their long-standing mutual infatuation. In a particularly charming scene that traces the evolution of their hit song, “On The Darkside” from a simple keyboard riff to a fully-realized and produced pop song, Berenger listens to Sal’s revival and can only bemoan the lack of charisma and energy. Flashing back to the past, Berenger remembers the band’s initial success. “Wild Summer Nights” and “Tender Years” become big hits.

Things take an inevitable down-turn.  Eddie spies “Word Man” and Joann getting friendly, which causes a rift in their relationship.  Wendell, the saxophonist, drops dead of a drug overdose, and the band is in ruins.  Back in the present, Joann tells “Word Man” she keeps getting strange phone calls, and her place is also ransacked.  She tells him about the last night she spent with Eddie after the acrimony at the studio in the wake of A Season In Hell.  He takes her to a bizarre junkyard museum.  Joann tells him she took the tapes and hid them in the museum.  Together, they retrieve the tapes, but somebody’s been watching them this whole time.  Is it Eddie?


Eddie And The Cruisers is a fast-paced rock n’ roll mystery movie. It’s a movie I watched constantly on cable. While given a small release in theaters, all but forgotten, the film became enormously popular on cable television. In fact, the success of the movie played in constant cable rotation inspired a sequel, Eddie Lives in 1989. As Eddie, Michael Paré is a charismatic and good-looking front-man. He almost made me believe he was truly singing the John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band signature tunes that energize this movie’s soundtrack.

Martin Davidson directs (from a script he wrote with Arlene Davidson) with a sure hand and a love of music and music lore. Frequent collaborator Joseph Brooks produced the movie. Brooks also wrote the nausea-inducing, “You Light Up My Life”, and was charged with sexually assaulting eleven woman in his East Side apartment between 2005 and 2008. He committed suicide in 2011. His son, Nicholas, was sentenced to 25 years to life for the murder of his girlfriend, Sylvie Cachay in 2011. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.

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: “Somebody Killed Her Husband, 1978”

New VCB Logo

“When I was a kid, my father had one word of advice he gave me, I’ll never forget it.  You know what he said?  ‘Jerome, if ever you are in seriously desperate trouble, remember … that … God, in his infinite wisdom has ordained that I’ll be playing pinochle and you’ll handle the whole thing yourself’!”


Somebody Killed Her Husband, 1978 (Jeff Bridges), Columbia Pictures

There’s a special place in the bottomless bin of lost cinema for a movie like Somebody Killed Her Husband, Reginald Rose’s Edgar®-nominated screenplay directed by Lamont Johnson and starring two bonafide stars of their time, a heavily-bearded Jeff Bridges and Farrah Fawcett-Majors. They meet-cute in the toy department at Macy’s, where Bridges works. He’s a frustrated writer concocting a bizarre children’s story about a caterpillar that saves the world. Like me, he tends to talk to himself, spouting ideas in public, and not caring whether people think he’s crazy. He falls in love (so to speak) at first sight with Farrah, chats her up and has lunch with her and her child in the park.

Bridges and Fawcett-Majors are trapped in relationships with boring, selfish nitwits so it’s only natural they start to enjoy each other’s company. They fall in love almost immediately, and I wish I could say this was strictly and exclusively a film’s narrative device in order to advance the plot, but I’ve had those feelings, and witnessed them in others. Here, it seems completely normal, and ignites some memories for me. Seriously, there’s nothing like falling in love. It’s almost like a glorious drug.

One night during their tryst, Farrah’s husband arrives home early with an unseen guest. As Bridges and Fawcett-Majors prepare to deliver the news of their love to her husband, they see that he has been stabbed to death in her kitchen. This is a well-executed scene, which effortlessly glides from romantic comedy to sheer terror. While Farrah wants to call the police, Bridges (being a typical New York City paranoid personality) believes they’ll be framed for his murder, so he resolves to solve the crime himself. They stuff the body in the refrigerator and get to work. With his fully-functioning writer’s mind, he tries to break down the events leading up to the murder, or any possible suspects.

Complicating matters are Farrah’s housekeeper (Mary McCarty) and her husband’s new secretary (John Glover), as well as nosy neighbors and acquaintances. While Farrah searches for her dead husband’s personal papers, Bridges must play babysitter to her son. He bounces ideas off the child as to who would possibly kill the man. Suspiciously, a plainclothes detective shows up to check the apartment because of a broken window. This has never happened in my experience living in the big city. Bridges discovers the apartment is being bugged, and this is where matters get tense. The people secretly recording Farrah are her bizarre neighbors (John Wood and Tammy Grimes).

Bridges connects the dots and figures the neighbors had the fake cop bug the apartment. While attempting a switcheroo and bugging the neighbors with their own recording equipment, he finds that they’ve been killed! They find jewelry and listings for insurance payments based on a scam to “steal” jewelry and divide the proceeds from the cash value while keeping the jewelry. Yes, it all sounds convoluted, but it is a movie, after all. It shouldn’t work at all, but it does for me, and Bridges and Fawcett-Majors make for an engaging, amiable pair. The movie has a refreshingly old-fashioned feel to it, as though it could’ve been made in the 50s or 60s.

Based on some of the reviews I read, critics were not particularly kind to Somebody Killed Her Husband, mostly because of Fawcett-Majors, as she recently departed the popular television series Charlie’s Angels to start a movie career. Others cited parallels to Charade, and in fact, the movie was re-titled Charade ’79 for release in Japan. As in the case of Get Crazy, the movie was pre-sold with an inflated budget by it’s investors expecting it to flop so they could earn a quick profit. I’ve always enjoyed this movie. There is a wonderful conversation between Bridges and the killer at the film’s climax which is well worth the experience. Bridges outlines the killer’s plan and the killer is impressed with Bridges’ acumen. That this movie remains in the bottomless bin of lost cinema is tragic, although I could’ve done without the Neil Sedaka song!

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: “Deathtrap, 1982”

New VCB Logo

“I want a short-cut, Sidney. And I really don’t care whose yard I cut through, if you understand me.”


Deathtrap, 1982 (Michael Caine), Warner Bros.

Michael Caine’s Sidney Bruhl, a successful playwright who specializes in the macabre is livid over the terrible reviews for his latest play, Murder Most Fair. His somewhat dizzy, weak-hearted but wealthy wife, Myra (Dyan Cannon), cannot understand his anger. Protégé and fan Clifford Anderson (Christopher Reeve) sends him his latest manuscript, Deathtrap; the unqualified genius of which drives Caine to the breaking point as he contemplates murdering him and claiming the work for his own. He invites Reeve out to his house in Montauk.

After “killing” Reeve and covering up all evidence of the crime, Caine attempts to soothe his distraught wife. Reeve recovers, obviously not dead, attacks Caine and drives Cannon to have a heart attack. It is then revealed that Reeve and Caine were co-conspirator’s in Cannon’s death, in order to take her vast fortune. Weeks pass and Reeve and Caine collaborate on another play. Cannon has left her fortune to Caine. Paranoia and suspicion sets in as Caine begins to convince himself (with the aid of his lawyer played by Henry Jones) that Reeve is looking to take his money, or planning to extort him. He discovers that Reeve has written a play about Cannon’s death and the machinations involved, and he has titled it Deathtrap.

Caine’s world-reknowned psychic next-door neighbor (whom had previously foresaw the death of Cannon) arrives on a stormy night and informs Caine that Reeve will attack him, fueling his panic further. In a scene filled with baited anticipation, Reeve and Caine are working out stage blocking when Caine pulls out a gun and tells him he can’t be permitted to finish the play. Caine has set up Reeve, leaving all the proper clues to implicate Reeve in his wife’s death. Of course, Reeve sees it coming and removes the bullets, turning the tables on Caine.

As deliciously convoluted as this stage play-turned-suspense-thriller is, you can see that this is a playwright’s own murder fantasy. It was originally written for the stage by Ira Levin, and played a record 1,793 performances; the longest running thriller on Broadway to this day. With the exception of a few short scenes in the city and on the grounds, the entirety of the movie takes place in Bruhl’s house, the living room specifically, so visually the palette is limited, but Sidney Lumet, the film’s director, cut his teeth in studio television production, so he knows how to get the most out of his limited sets.


Writers are a bitchy group. With enormous egos and leanings toward a kind of creative psychopathy, they live in fear of a lack of originality. I know I’ve been through that myself. I’ll write a million pages and then toss them, flagellating myself for not being “original” enough. It’s hard enough to negotiate, but even harder when I see that originality is a limited and precious commodity in today’s creative marketplace. Writers often accuse each other of plagiarism because they know they can only be creative for so long. Writers live and breathe the construction of their characters, so it’s only fitting that Sidney Bruhl have murder on his mind.

In one particularly tense scene, Caine outlines the definition of a sociopath to Reeve as “one who has no sense of moral obligation whatsoever”. Reeve can only gloat, and his performance in Deathtrap conjures up images of what could have been. He is so confident, so assured, and so human, it makes me wonder what turn his career would’ve taken had he not put on the big red cape. He was a brilliant actor, forever typecast as Superman, and as such, serious work was hard to come by.

Sidney Lumet’s first foray into pictures was 12 Angry Men and every few years, he would make a masterpiece like The Pawnbroker, or Serpico, or Dog Day Afternoon, or Network. Incredibly prolific, he book-ended Deathtrap with Prince of the City and The Verdict in the space of three years. In 1970, he said, “Every picture I did was an active, believable, passionate wish.” Lumet died in 2011.

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: “Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen, 1981”


“Absence of suspicion often denote presence of danger.”


Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen, 1981 (Peter Ustinov), American Cinema

Peter Ustinov puts on the spirit gum to play the immortal Chinese Sherlock Holmes. Richard Hatch (Apollo from the original Battlestar Galactica) plays Charlie Chan’s Number One Grandson, Lee Chan. He is about to be married to the very beautiful Cordelia, played by Michelle Pfeiffer. Lee Grant, as Hatch’s mother, is concerned that the girl he intends to marry is neither Chinese nor Jewish. Hatch is infuriatingly clumsy. He slices through his tie trying to cut a bagel in half, and he wreaks general havoc everywhere he goes.

Unusual murders have been occurring in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Brian Keith is the stressed-out, ulcer-ridden detective on the case. Charlie Chan arrives to offer assistance. There seems to be a connection between the recent killings and the titular curse of “The Dragon Queen” (Angie Dickinson) she bestowed upon the Chan family for three generations (Why not four? Or forever?) when Chan accused her of a murder in the past, but the curse doesn’t make much sense given that “The Dragon Queen” has been present at all of the locations where the recent killings have occurred, so it really isn’t a curse, is it?

Created by Earl Derr Biggers in 1926, Charlie Chan was played by four different actors before Peter Ustinov, and only one of them was Asian. These serials and movies were serious and often intense mysteries with some humor, but not enough to overpower any existing narratives. The decision to make Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen almost a spoof of the character is haphazard; especially since the filmmakers try too hard to make it funny. There’s so much chaos and slapstick, you’d think it was less Clive Donner and more Mel Brooks, but there is one crucial difference. Mel Brooks would’ve been funnier.

There is much to commend, however. The cinematography is gorgeous and the set design and wardrobe are impeccable. It’s unfortunate that the technical aspects of the film (not to mention the casting) were wasted with a ridiculous and incompetent script.


Michelle Pfeiffer is almost distractingly beautiful, and she makes it very difficult to concentrate on the movie. Roddy McDowall is wasted in the role of a handicapped butler. How practical is it to have a servant confined to a wheelchair? There is one funny gag in the movie that made me chuckle. Lee Chan and Cordelia are tied up in an attic, with the old candle burning through the rope trick that would send an anvil down on their heads. Further, they’re being watched by a big guard dog. So they come up with the idea to sing “Happy Birthday” to the dog to get him to blow out the candle before the rope can snap, and it works!

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.