Vintage Cable Box: “The Man Who Knew Too Much, 1956”

“Sorry we were gone so long, but we had to pick up Hank!”

The Man Who Knew Too Much, 1956 (James Stewart), Paramount Pictures

In what may have been (for the time) the boldest examination of American exceptionalism and “xenophobia” (though I hate to bandy that term in the wake of overuse), The Man Who Knew Too Much provides thrills and agonizing suspense. Indiana tourists in Marrakesh witness the murder of an new acquaintance. Before the man expires, he imparts information about a planned assassination of a statesman in London to wide-eyed patriarch James Stewart. In order to keep this revelation a secret, double agents disguised as a British husband and wife abduct Stewart’s (and wife Doris Day’s) young son, Hank.

Fearing reprisal, Jimmy and Doris take it upon themselves to rescue their son without the aid of local authorities. They keep mum on the assassination plot, travel to London (where former singer Day is given a hero’s welcome), and follow up on clues given to Stewart by the dead man. In an amusing twist, Ambrose Chapel is revealed not to be a person, but a place. Stewart causes havoc on the namesake taxidermist, and it takes a while before he can clear up that misunderstanding. Notice how briskly this plot unfolds? We’re in Marrakesh for a little while, and then we’re in England. Stewart and Day next meet up at the chapel where Hank is being held.

The assassination will occur at the clash of symbols during the allegro agitato’s climax of Arthur Benjamin’s Storm Clouds Cantata at the Royal Albert Hall during a performance for the visiting Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is to be the target. Doris Day lets out a blood-curdling scream that distracts the would-be killer and alerts the audience to the situation. Later, she uses her showcase song, “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)” (introduced in this movie), to let Hank know she and his father are nearby. Jimmy and Doris find themselves to be reluctant heroes in a story of political intrigue, and that’s what makes The Man Who Knew Too Much an incredibly fun movie to watch.

What is most intriguing about The Man Who Knew Too Much are the unusual character motivations at play. Even before the thrills begin, Doris Day’s character is revealed to be paranoid (she’s always commenting on curious onlookers) and somewhat insecure in her decision to marry a doctor, though she does want to have another baby. Jimmy Stewart’s character seems to have little patience or respect for cultures and practices outside of his perceived friendly and familiar American traditions (his adventure in a Marrakesh restaurant is particular cringe-worthy). British and Moroccan law enforcement is portrayed as downright lackadaisical, inefficient, and incompetent.

Between the years 1954 and 1956, Alfred Hitchcock made two movies per year; an incredible body of work from Dial M for Murder to The Wrong Man. After this highly energetic, creative period, he would begin to slow, averaging one movie every year until 1960’s Psycho (his most commercially-successful film) and the resulting cloud of notoriety that would dog his steps until his death in 1980. Because of Psycho, Hitchcock’s name would become synonymous with psychological horror and shock. He attempted to revise his legacy with an old-fashioned monster movie in The Birds (1963), and another case study of neurosis with Marnie (1964) before returning to political intrigue and espionage with Torn Curtain and Topaz, but none of these films would equal the financial and critical success of Psycho. In a way, he was consumed by his own success.

That about does it for Alfred Hitchcock month. The five “missing Hitchcocks” were re-released to theaters starting in October of 1983. The next year, the movies made their premieres on cable television as part of a Hitchcock retrospective on The Movie Channel. This was my Hitchcock education for a time until home media increased his popularity even more. For more fun stuff about Hitchcock, check out the “Missing Hitchcocks” episode of my podcast, Two Davids Walk Into A Bar, as well as David & David and Gene & Roger: A Siskel & Ebert Podcast.

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. 

Advertisements

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! “Inquiring Minds Want To Know”

This is interesting; it’s a VHS dub, Nelson Entertainment, even has the FBI Warning (remember those?) and we have Adam Baldwin and Roy Scheider in Cohen and Tate, music by Bill Conti, and it’s an unusual score, like old time horror, like Dead Heat – that’s what it reminded me of, but first I wanted to ask if you remember the movie, My Bodyguard, also with Adam Baldwin. I did a write-up of it recently for Vintage Cable Box. This is unusual in that we pick up mid-story, a nine-year-old kid witnesses the murder of a mobster, and he is under protective custody as the movie starts, right?

This is the kid from The Believers? The kid wants to know when he can get back to his normal life, but his Dad tells him that’s never gonna happen. Shifty agent George has sweat on his upper lip. He’s nervous. I feel like something’s about to go down. I think Mom is in the kitchen. This house is like the TARDIS from Doctor Who, it’s much bigger on the inside. Uh-oh, phone’s not working. This is bad news. Something terrible is about to happen, and everybody’s nervous when George takes off. The wife looks familiar to me. They sit at the dinner table and Bill Conti goes nuts on the soundtrack. They have a spoken prayer at the dinner table. I’ve always found that creepy. The family dog takes and the kid gives chase. Roy Scheider and Adam Baldwin enter and kill the kid’s family! This is weird. I always ascribe Scheider and Baldwin to good-guy parts, but not here. Scheider makes a phone call and says, “It’s done.”

So we’re discussing some of the select work of Eric Red, writer and filmmaker, probably more famous for his scripts, The Hitcher and Near Dark than his work as a director. We talked about Cohen and Tate, and we’re going to talk about Body Parts with Jeff Fahey, as well as talk a little about Blue Steel (written with Kathryn Bigelow) and The Hitcher (directed by Bob Harmon), but I would like to say I think I knew where you were going when you suggested Eric Red for the podcast. He has a style that is very similar to Larry Cohen, the writer/filmmaker we both have enormous respect for; Eric Red is very similar. He’s a very gifted writer, because I think he writes with an eye toward shooting. He’s thinking about making the movie as he is writing it. If it came down to it, if he had no financing or support, he could do it himself. That’s what I think.

So, Blue Steel comes out in 1989, directed by Kathryn Bigelow, and I remember the critics hailing it as progressive, remember we were talking about Tyne Daly in The Enforcer last time, this affirmative action placing her character firmly in danger and she has to work to get the respect of Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan. This is a slightly different prospect with Jamie Lee Curtis, who, from a purely aesthetic sense, seems a lot tougher than Tyne. Isn’t that strange? That we can size people up (particularly females) in this way?

I miss the Tri-Star horse, don’t you? This takes me back, and I also remember that HBO produced the movie, and that The Hitcher was released by HBO on home video – Thorn/EMI HBO Video in the clamshell. We have another bit where a driver falls asleep at the wheel, like in Cohen and Tate, and I think he picks up Rutger Hauer just to keep himself from falling asleep. I could make a really terrible joke about Eric Red at this point, but I won’t. Remember when C. Thomas Howell was a teen heart-throb? He was all over the magazines in the early ’80s. And then came Soul Man. The movie was remade recently with Sean Bean in the title role. I love Sean Bean, but he’s no Rutger Hauer. Hauer is absolutely menacing, he’s just about perfect casting; he’s creepy, he’s inappropriate – the only problem is that he (and Sean Bean) are just too good-looking to be serial killers, don’t you think? Nine minutes in, he threatens C. Thomas Howell, right? Wow. You believe him. C. Thomas is kind-of a beta male up against an alpha male. It’s funny when the road worker calls them, “sweethearts.”

Opening credits for Body Parts, 1991 (with Jeff Fahey) are a collage of drawings of musculature, arms, legs, and torsos, which reminds me of some of Bronwyn’s drawings. As an artist, she’s constantly drawing hands and arms and feet. Frank Mancuso, Jr. ran Paramount for a time; he supervised several of Paramount’s franchises including the Friday the 13th movies. Fahey plays a criminal psychologist and a teacher. Can we stop for a moment to show Jeff Fahey a little love? He’s one of my favorite actors, ever since, I think Psycho III; he’s always interesting.

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: 1:33:36

This is a mini-bit tacked on to the end of the previous episode about Eric Red.

Eric Red was found to be at fault in a car accident that caused two deaths after he drove his truck into a crowded bar in Los Angeles on May 31, 2000. After the accident, Red apparently exited his vehicle, and attempted suicide by slitting his own throat with a piece of broken glass. Red survived the incident and was taken to the hospital under an alias and released weeks later. No criminal charges were brought, but a jury in a civil suit found that he had acted intentionally. The suit, which awarded over a million dollars to the families of the two men killed in the accident, was appealed to state and federal courts, which confirmed the original jury finding.

Andrew and I discuss the incident, and the L.A. Weekly article.

LA Weekly story: Death Race 2000, by Paul Cullum 01-13-2006, LA Weekly

Addendum Running Time: 15:27

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! “Is It Safe?”

Would ya do me a kindness? Don’t slam the fuckin’ door!

So, we usually talk about movie directors on the fringe with their respective peers. The first episode we recorded was about the deceased David A. Prior, low-to-no budget filmmaker, Deadly Prey and The Deadliest Prey. Fred Olen Ray, Mark Goldblatt, Rowdy Herrington. Tonight, we’re talking about an Academy-fuck-Award winner, John Schlesinger. Midnight Cowboy. Billy Liar. Far from the Madding Crowd. Sunday Bloody Sunday, and the four movies we’ll talk about tonight. I think we both agreed on Schlesinger because you put forth Eye for an Eye as a prime example of exploitation film-making. Upon further analysis, we saw a very eclectic, unusual, iconoclastic film-making career. Mr. Schlesinger passed away July, 2003, but his work remains for us to dissect. He truly was a maverick film director, along the lines of a Sam Peckinpah or a Bernard Rose.

We were messaging the other day and you wrote something interesting: “Schlesinger reminds me of another director we’ve always kind of made fun of…a guy with very few (if any) common threads among a varied body of work, with some ‘classics’ under his belt and a bunch of mediocre warmed over, but technically competent other stuff.

Let’s get to know the man, and we’ll start with Marathon Man from 1976.

“Why don’t you just try acting?”

Marathon Man is famous in acting circles for an often quoted and misquoted exchange between Hoffman and Olivier concerning a perceived difference in their approaches to acting. Hoffman later set the record straight in a retrospective interview, explaining:

“When we got back to Los Angeles [Olivier] said, ‘How did your week go, dear boy?’ And I told him we did this scene where the character I was playing was supposed to be up for three days. He says, ‘So what did you do?’ I say, ‘Well I stayed up for three days and three nights.’ And [Olivier’s] famous line was, ‘Why don’t you just try acting?’ … It became kind of legend. It’s been quoted so many times, at least in the acting circles. And the truth is I was the first one to quote that line … They leave out the reality and just put in what feels more provocative or a better story. And what accompanied him saying ‘Why don’t you just try acting?’ … He laughed, because he said, you know, “I’m one to talk.” And then he was actually the first one that told me about risking his life every night jumping whatever it was twenty feet in the last act of Hamlet. And the truth of it is I didn’t just stay up three days and three nights for the scene; it was a good excuse, because these were the days of wine and roses in Studio 54″.
— Hoffman, Dustin (Actor). Marathon Man (DVD).

Moving on to 1996’s Eye for an Eye starring Sally Field, Ed Harris, and Kiefer Sutherland.  Ed Harris and Sally Field were both in Places in the Heart. Nice to see Beverly D’Angelo, who was also in Pacific Heights, directed by Schlesinger. So far, scenes of a bucolic life with twinkly music. I get the feeling this is going to be bad.  This is a bit much. Sally’s daughter is being attacked while on the phone with her mother. We can’t get a good look at the attacker. We have a big panic situation, much like Marathon Man. This is effective but weird. Here we have an ice sculpture killing a woman instead of a coffee machine. They should really outlaw these things!

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: 1:36:46

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: Jaws 3-D, 1983

cable-box-001-2696

“White sharks are dangerous. I know ’em. My father, my brother, myself. They’re murderers.”

jaws3dposter1

Jaws 3-D, 1983 (Dennis Quaid), MCA/Universal

Jaws III (in 3-D) was one of my purest, truest pleasures as a child.  There was a long line around the Sam’s Place theater chain on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia waiting to get in, sit down in the dark in an air conditioned auditorium on a hot July day in 1983.  We used to go to Sam’s Place all the time, at least twice a week.  Tickets (first-run, mind you) ran about two bucks each, maybe a buck-fifty for kids and seniors.  We got our tickets and 3-D glasses, our popcorn and soda, got out of there without spending ten bucks.  If I remember correctly, even the previews were in 3-D, which was unusual (even though the most recent 3-D movie, Spacehunter, was released a few months before).  I vaguely remember, one of my earliest memories was watching the original Jaws at a drive-in.  I remember having nightmares.  Jaws 3-D might be considered schlocky celluloid junk to purists, but it was incredible fun for me.

When Jaws 3-D came to cable television (retitled Jaws III, denoting the lack of 3-D effects), it lacked the punch of the big screen in your face, wearing the glasses and watching such items as severed arms, bifurcated fish, and papier-mâché sharks flying off the screen, but the movie still worked as schlock-horror.  Dennis Quaid plays Mike Brody (Chief Brody’s oldest), all grown up and working as an engineer for Calvin Bouchard’s (Louis Gossett Jr.) SeaWorld.  His girlfriend, Kay (Bess Armstrong, again!), the senior marine biologist at the park, wonders why her dolphins are so scared and flighty (dolphins can sense sharks, you know).  Meanwhile, Mike is investigating the disappearance of one of his employees, drunken ne’er-do-well Overman.  Kay and Mike conduct a search, but are soon beset by a great white shark.  They capture the shark, but Brouchard puts it on display, but it promptly dies in captivity.

Pretentious naturalist filmmaker Philip FitzRoyce (an appropriately douchey Simon “Manimal” MacCorkindale) and his trusted unintelligible assistant, Jack Tate are there to document the opening of SeaWorld’s underground tunnels, so that spectators can view sea life from inside the water (actually a great idea).  Overman’s remains are found, but Kay ascertains that their shark didn’t do the damage.  It’s mother did!  A big bitch they estimate to be about 35 feet long, the shark gets into the park and attacks performers.  The sharks blocks the park’s filtration system, so Brouchard tries to flush her out, but she won’t budge.  FitzRoyce, using himself as bait, tries to blow her up with underwater grenades.  He is eaten.  The shark finally breaks through (a very bad 3-D effect) the window of Brouchard’s underwater control room.  Now, why would you put a control room under water?  This park is supposed to be a triumph of engineering, but you put sensitive electronic equipment under the water?

There are some surprisingly good character beats in a script about an enormous shark terrorizing a theme park.  Quaid and Armstrong are exceptional as a couple not quite ready for a long-term commitment.  The running subplot of their relationship has them wondering which partner will give up his/her livelihood to join the other in a great job opportunity.  There’s a great bit where Quaid’s Basset Hound is eating on the kitchen counter and Quaid is holding the dog’s floppy ears up, so the dog doesn’t make a mess.  Quaid’s kid brother, Sean, visits and hooks up with a cute Lea Thompson.  FitzRoyce flirts with Armstrong.  These are nice beats in an otherwise flawed piece of entertainment.

jaws3d-window-1024x441

Despite some of the 3-D pitfalls and gaps in logic, this movie is a lot of fun.  The effects aren’t as bad as in The Man Who Wasn’t There (a film that didn’t really require 3-D visual effects), and admittedly it is a cheap gag to sell a Jaws franchise movie in 3-D, but they look a lot cleaner than previous attempts.  Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone was probably the most successful in terms of the visual quality, but that movie’s inflated budget killed the concept for a time.  Friday the 13th Part III,  Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn, and Amityville 3D were also released around this time, to mixed results.  In 2003, 3D enjoyed a resurgence with James Cameron’s Ghosts of the Abyss.  The Polar Express and Cameron’s Avatar would follow in the years to come.  Now, it seems every action or animated film is released in 3D.  I don’t like this particular process (a kind of photographic layering of disparate elements in the foreground) as it makes me somewhat dizzy and a little nauseous.  Give me Jaws 3-D over Avatar any day!  It’s a lot more fun and a hell of a lot less preachy.

Next time, I keep the 3D glasses on for the third installment in the Friday the 13th franchise; Friday the 13th Part III (in 3-D!).

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: Deadly Eyes, 1982

cable-box-001-2696

“The son-of-a-bitch was THIS BIG!”

deadly-eyes-poster

Deadly Eyes, 1982 (Sara Botsford), Warner Bros.

Divorced, destitute teacher Sam Groom (great name, like something out of a Mickey Spillane story) takes his class to a museum to hear a lecture about rats.  While an interesting study, the kids are obviously bored, so they begin passing around notes.  What are they?  Like five?  No, this is supposed to be high school, and the kids, while well-dressed and reasonably intelligent, are all about getting laid.  This was the early ’80s, for crying out loud.  Ever since the revelations of Animal House, higher education took a back-seat to sex.  No-nonsense Health Inspector Sara Botsford is issuing summons and taking names, while hapless truck driver Scatman Crothers (who gets a special appearance by credit here)  laughs at big balls of fire.  Wait.  What?  There’s something wacky about the editing here.

I’m not a fan of rats.  They can hide and get into places we can’t.  I don’t think I’m much of a fan of movies about rats, either, but my job here at Vintage Cable Box is to remember those movies I watched as a kid on cable television (which unfortunately means I’ll be watching Of Unknown Origin as well).  An idiot is playing electric broom air guitar while dreamy cheerleader Lisa Langlois looks bored.  Lisa has a thing for Groom (she’s almost psychotically obsessed with bagging him), which can’t end well.  If I’m understanding the story correctly, Botsford orders grain to be destroyed (the fire I mentioned) because it contains harmful amounts of steroids.  I don’t know how that happened, but I’m going with it.  A rat infestation grows to humongous size.  They flee the fire and take to the streets.

I remember a few years back, when I was a kid living in Philly, there was a garbage strike which went on for weeks.  Despite the fact we were living in a luxury apartment at the time, we could hear the rats scuttling around inside those walls as the garbage piled up.  There’s a terrible scene early in the movie with a child in a high-chair and a cluster of enormous rats (actually dachsunds wrapped in fur) that tip the chair over for a late snack.  Did I mention I hate rats?  In this movie, they tend to be way more predatory than in any given realistic set of circumstances.  Most rats I’ve seen in real life scurry away when discovered.  I did see an enormous rat one time walking across a train platform in Williamsburg.  Imagine that!  Just walking around like it had a Metrocard!

Back to the movie, Lisa tells Groom she’s in love with him.  Seriously, they’re going to get into a lot of trouble.  She honestly doesn’t understand his rejection of her.  I don’t either, but that’s me.  I love me some Lisa Langlois!  Apparently, they were gonna make him God, but he was too good-looking!  The movie turns into a little bit of Jaws when one of Groom’s students receives a nasty bite from a mysterious source.  Seems like it could be a rodent, but we can’t be sure, damnit!  At the hospital, he meets Botsford (whom you may remember as the killer in Still of the Night) and they hit it off fairly quickly.  Botsford orders the Scatman to inspect the tunnels before the grand opening of a new subway line.  He does so, under protest, but he bites it.  Rather, they bite him!  Scatman is always dying in horror movies.  Why?

rats7

This is an incredibly silly movie.  The “visual” effects (that of dressing those poor dogs to look like rats) fail, especially in close-up shots of rodent-like faces chewing, gnawing, and screeching accompanied by Henry Manfredini-like violin stings.  In wider shots, they run in packs but their strides don’t resemble those of rats, but … well … dogs.  It reminds me of a call-back to the movies of Bert I. Gordon.  Gordon was known for movies about giant spiders, giant tarantulas, giant ants, giant teenagers (yes, giant teenagers), and made with just as much care for reason and believability.  In the middle of a serious movie about a lonely high school teacher, forbidden lust, and health inspections, we have giant rats.

Legendary director Robert Clouse (Enter the Dragon, Game of Death) directs a screenplay based on the book, The Rats, by James Herbert.  Herbert was a writer I enjoyed immensely.  He was known for writing disaster/horror novels with characters that ran the gamut from insane to altruistic, who would then turn, behaviorally, into polar opposites.  Among the books I enjoyed from him were The Survivor, Sepulchre, Lair, Domain, Haunted, ’48 (a stand-out for me), and his bizarre, libidinous fairy epic, Once.  He passed away in 2013.

Thanks for reading! Next time, I watch and dissect the first sequel in a big franchise; Friday the 13th Part 2 from 1981.

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.