“Blue Thunder, 1983”

“Catch ya later!”

Blue Thunder, 1983 (Roy Scheider), Columbia Pictures

The disclaimer at the beginning of Blue Thunder swears up and down that the technology used in the film is real. So, it’s really more of a “claimer” and strikes at the very heart of director John Badham’s paranoia with regard to new technologies. It isn’t so much that there are whisper-quiet helicopters and other advanced weaponry utilized by the Military, but that these technical marvels can be used for more nefarious, fascistic purposes like spying on citizens and controlling the population. Hot-shot Vietnam veteran Roy Scheider and scruffy young partner Daniel Stern are helicopter cops (or”heli-cops” – neat huh?). I’m not sure how long helicopters have been in use for law enforcement. We hear them once in a while around here, and because of this movie, I tend to draw the shades. When Scheider and Stern aren’t busting the scum of Los Angeles, they’re checking out naked ladies doing naked yoga in skyscrapers. This is a fun job! Shenanigans are interrupted by a rape-in-progress and Scheider and Stern come to the rescue.

I still don’t understand the level of effort rapists put into their work, and this is after I had to watch five Death Wish movies for Extreme Cinema. Crabby boss Warren Oates (in his final film role) busts Scheider’s balls (and deservedly so) for peeping on Encino’s hottest, and Scheider suffers ‘Nam flashbacks – a lot of them involving rival pilot Cochrane (mustache-twirling douche Malcolm McDowell). This goes to Hell pretty quickly. The woman who was raped turns out to be a big-shot congresswoman and political big-wig. She was shot in the process and died in the hospital. Roy is taken to a top secret government installation where he inspects a brand new experimental helicopter called “Blue Thunder.” In the test, the helicopter maneuvers remarkably well, and mows down targets efficiently. Test pilot McDowell misses a lot of targets and cuts down mock-ups of innocent civilians.

Scheider goes on a test run with McDowell. McDowell sabotages his helicopter for no reason other than to kill him, but we didn’t need this detail to know they have mutual hatred for one another. We get that McDowell has an axe to grind, but does he have to be completely evil? There’s no talk of “the greater good,” or the need for advanced firepower. The movie is just one big thrill ride. Scheider and Stern get under the blades of “Blue Thunder,” and go on a test flight to check out the hardware, which includes highly-sensitive microphones and video recording technology. Once again, they use this incredible technology to check out girls, and listen to their cop buddies have sex. While snooping in the Federal database, Scheider discovers a connection between McDowell and the mysterious Project THOR. They tail McDowell to the Federal Building in downtown Los Angeles. They record a clandestine conversation between McDowell, some Defense Department cronies, and one of the participants in the politician’s murder.

They all agree to “delete” Scheider, and they kill Stern. This is gripping! They pin Stern’s murder on Scheider, and Scheider is suddenly a man without a Country. Before he was killed, Stern hid the incriminating tape for Scheider, who gets his able-bodied girlfriend, Candy Clark (telegraphed early on driving like a maniac), to retrieve the tape (from a drive-in movie theater dumpster) and get it to a television station in a brilliantly edited and suspenseful sequence. This leads to some amusing helicopter battles, and what floors me is that all of this was done without the use of green screens or digital computer effects. Blue Thunder ends with a thrilling helicopter fight between Scheider and McDowell that leaves most of Los Angeles in ruins. This is a seriously exciting movie, directed by Badham, who would shortly follow-up this movie with WarGames (another techno-horror movie) less than a month later!

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.

“Time After Time, 1979”

“Ninety years ago I was a freak. Today I’m an amateur.”

Time After Time, 1979 (Malcom McDowell), Orion Pictures

Let’s get this out of the way first. Before you can jump into Time After Time, you have to accept Nicholas Meyer’s curious (and entertaining) propensity for mixing real life and history with fiction. His novel and subsequent screenplay for The Seven-Per-Cent Solution permits us the conceit of imagining a world where Sigmund Freud co-exists with Sherlock Holmes. His follow-up, The West End Horror, also merges real people with fictitious characters as well. Once we get that out of the way, it’s easier to enjoy his clever directorial debut, Time After Time, based on an unpublished book by Karl Alexander. It isn’t enough for H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell resembling an owl) to be the celebrated author of The Time Machine, he must actually own such a device, which he proudly displays to colleagues and friends, among them a curious surgeon named John Leslie Stevenson (creepy David Warner).

In short order, Stevenson is revealed to be none other than Jack the Ripper when blood-soaked gloves are discovered in his medical bag, following a particularly vicious murder of a prostitute in Whitechapel. Stevenson, putting two and two together, uses Wells’ time machine to move forward into the future. The machine returns, minus one psychotic doctor, but he leaves a trail of breadcrumbs indicating where he went in time. Wells takes it upon himself to pursue Stevenson to the future, arriving in San Francisco in the year 1979. Wells considers himself a progressivist; a believer in “free love” but also eugenics. He thinks he will have no trouble adapting to what he assumes will be a new socialist utopia. He is horrified to discover quite the opposite, and interestingly, what terrifies him about this future, pleases Stevenson. When Wells confronts him, Stevenson informs him this future of violence and unrestrained sexuality is pretty much a shopping market for people like him.

Despite the rather bleak narrative, there are many moments of humor to be had in Time After Time. Wells must “barter with the natives,” so he hocks some antique jewelry. He goes to McDonald’s and is delighted to see that they serve (in addition to Big Macs and pommes frites) tea. He tracks Stevenson to a British bank where he exchanged currency with employee Amy Robbins (cute Mary Steenburgen). Amy, being a modern woman, flirts with and ultimately picks up Wells. She moves fast, and Wells is almost appalled at her advances and the gender-role switch, but he happily assents to her desires. Meanwhile, a rash of murders (similar in M.O. to Stevenson’s early Whitechapel work) are occurring in San Francisco, but are buried under the miasma of horrific violence in this future. Wells takes Amy three days into the future to convince her his time machine actually works. They discover, by way of a newspaper headline, she will be Stevenson’s next victim.

Time After Time is a fun, exciting movie–a time odyssey and a love story. McDowell and Steenburgen make for a surprisingly sexy, amiable couple. They would eventually marry, but then divorce after ten years. Meyer has an eye for unusual details. When Wells sells his jewelry, he notices the man examining the items has tattooed numbers on his arm, which he considers peculiar. While Wells would be considered a genius in 1893, he is uneducated and unprepared for what our future has in store. McDowell shows he can play against type. At the start of his film career, he specialized in portraying angry, disenfranchised young men. Warner would continue to play creepy characters. The next year, Steenburgen’s performance in the brilliant Melvin and Howard would win her the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Meyer would next direct Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and the chilling made-for-TV movie, The Day After. Meyer would serve as executive producer for the short-lived 2016 television series based on the 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.

“The Neverending Story, 1984”

“We don’t even care whether or not we care.”

The Neverending Story, 1984 (Barret Oliver), Warner Bros.

It used to be that if you had a few bucks, you made a movie. You had a little more money in the coffers, you’d make something tantamount to extravagant. If you had a ton of money, you’d make an epic movie. “Epic” (in the old days) used to mean 3-plus hours; usually a historical narrative – a Gandhi, a Lawrence of Arabia, a Ben Hur. It was a special night to go out and see an epic movie. Nowadays (here come the old man pants!) every movie is a damned epic and for no good reason (and they’re not good at all). There’s no earthly reason the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit (not even counting the extended editions on home media) movies have to clock in at three hours a-piece. Wolfgang Petersen’s The Neverending Story is an epic fantasy adventure movie on Slimfast. It’s a lean, economical 96 minutes. It tells a great story and then quickly gets the hell off the screen so we can go home and process.

Admittedly, because we are separating literature from film, The Neverending Story relies on a conscious form of contrivance. A literal absence of matter and energy known in legend as the “Nothing” is devouring the Universe and is about to engulf the land of Fantasia. The leaders of Fantasia summon a young warrior by the name of Atreyu (Noah Hathaway) to rescue an ailing Empress (Tami Stronach) who will stop the “Nothing,” provided she is given a new name. The kicker to all of this is that the story is being read (from a book entitled The Neverending Story) by a boy named Bastian (Barret Oliver) in our present-day world. Bastian is a Spielberg-type child: smart, but lonely, from a broken home with a parent (Major Dad’s Gerald McRaney!) who doesn’t understand him and even scolds him for mourning his dead mother. Jeez.

The rubrics of the story require Bastian to be a bullied introvert so that he can exact revenge on his tormentors; in this case, three psychotic little pricks who drop him into a dumpster. I’ve never understood the bully logic. How do you build on the thrill of terrorizing children? How come wonderful stories of enchanted lands are never experienced by horrifying, spoiled little bastards? Perhaps they would learn not to be spoiled little bastards if confronted with furry luck dragons and ridiculous giant turtles. Speaking of contrivances and dragons, Atreyu, in a moment of danger, is saved by said luck dragon, Falkor (possibly my favorite character in the film). Astride the giant creature, Atreyu can reach his target before the “Nothing” devours the world, but (in a great bit) they require the help of Bastian, who they know is reading their story.

It’s like if you took all the best parts of a book, or a story, or a ballad, and put them into a movie knowing you only had a limited amount of time to get it done, to get the movie’s adaptation down, and the audience satisified. The best movies work on their own terms with cinematic language. The worst adaptations are slavishly faithful to the literary source material. This is the movie Peter Jackson wanted to make. The early ’80s were an awesome (even gnarly) time for fantasy films: Conan the Barbarian, Legend, Willow, Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, etc. It also harkens back to a time when movies were made with hands, not microchips. The creatures in the movie are astonishing to behold and it’s wonderful to see players interact with them on an actual physical level. Director Petersen’s next movie (a personal favorite) would be 1985’s Enemy Mine, starring Dennis Quaid and Louis Gossett, Jr.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

“The Golden Seal, 1983”

“Men who owe money have souls that float face down.”

The Golden Seal, 1983 (Steve Railsback), The Samuel Goldwyn Company

Steve Railsback is a creepy guy! I can’t get past his chilling portrayal of Charles Manson in the 1976 television mini-series, Helter Skelter, nor his turn as Duane Barry in two memorable X-Files episodes, and even the comparatively sweet, sentimental charms of a “family” movie like The Golden Seal do little to assuage my anxiety. He’s a fiery, dynamic presence – always memorable – in every role he plays. Here, he’s salmon fisherman Jim Lee, who lives quietly with his young wife (Penelope Milford) and their son, Eric ( (Torquil Campbell) on the Aleutian Islands off the treacherous coasts of Alaska.

Times are tough. Jim’s getting pennies on-the-dollar for his hard-fought bounty. Salmon fishing is rough. His peers give him a hard time for not retreating to “the city (whatever that is).” For years, he’s heard stories about a mythic “golden seal” (not golden, according to my wife, who chimed in many times as we watched the movie). It is golden, when roaming the sea, and when the sun hits it just right. Jim swears to have seen one of these beauties seven years before. During a particularly intense, frightening storm, Eric is separated from his father (who persists in calling him, “Boy,” which is unusual) and spots the creature, which is a pregnant female. He offers it shelter, feeds it, and assists it in giving birth to a pup.

When the kid returns home with stories of the golden seal, Jim’s eyes light up (for reasons that are not explained until the climax of the second act). Meanwhile, Michael Beck’s shifty Crawford enters the camp on the pretense of losing his boat in the storm. While our initial impression is that he’s simply another rooster in the hen-house (given his come-ons to Penelope), we quickly realize he’s out there to find the golden seal. Their pelts apparently fetch a pretty penny. Eric shows the seal and her pup to Jim, who tries to shoot them. The child protects and defends the seals. You just don’t get it, Kid! Times are tough!

Pretty, pretty seal!

The third act sets up a revelatory conflict. When Beck grabs his own gun on a mission to assasinate a couple of golden seals (apparently Olivia Newton-John did nothing for him), Jim must protect his son by protecting the seals. He must eschew his bloodlust for the seals and their pricey pelts, and beat the crap out of Michael Beck (he could use a muse right about now), and this is when your “traditional” Railsback performance kicks into gear. He may be a loving, sweet father and husband to his family, but if you piss him off, Charlie and Duane better watch out! The Golden Seal is a well-made, beautifully shot movie that takes it’s time setting up a story.

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.

“Nate and Hayes, 1983”

“Can’t trust women – even when they’re dead!”

Nate and Hayes, 1983 (Tommy Lee Jones), Paramount Pictures

Big “Bully” Hayes tells his story to a writer hours before he is to be executed. He had been busted and betrayed by repugnant Brit Ben Pease (whose balls he had “shot off” at some point in the back-story) after trying to sell guns to backward natives on a remote island. He talks about the time he had been paid to ferry Reverend Nate (Michael O’ Keefe, wearing a ridiculous hat) and his intended, the gorgeous Sophie (luscious Michelle Pfeiffer lookalike Jenny Seagrove) to an island in the South Pacific his Aunt and Uncle govern.

Sophie hints she’s warm for “Bully’s” form (he’s kind of like the bad boy all chicks dig), but before she can do anything about it, the wedding is interrupted by the sleazy Pease and his cohorts, who murder Nate’s family, leave him for dead, and abduct Sophie so he can sell her off to a Samoan king. “Bully” comes back (presumably to liberate Sophie from her impending domesticity) but he discovers the island has been ransacked and the peaceful villagers have been taken away to be slaves. Meanwhile Nate, assuming “Bully” to be the principal architect behind the massacre, sets off to exact revenge.

After several days without food and water, he very nearly dies, but he is then rescued by Hayes. They join forces to rescue the (improbably) brave Sophie, who has to fend off Pease, his men, and and an inept German Count (Grant Tilly). The reason I say Sophie is improbably brave is because her character is obviously written to be, while no-nonsense and a realist, of aristocratic background and something of a porcelain doll, but because of our burgeoning feminist sensibillites (for the time) and a script co-written by John Hughes, she comes over as a tough chick. I don’t have a problem with it because it feels natural. If anything his script is stronger for it’s anachronisms.

Lovely Jenny Seagrove

The movie was, inexplicably, renamed Savage Islands (perhaps to cater to fans of exploitation movies), produced as a “tax shelter” movie with New Zealand money, and then sold to Paramount as a negative pick-up, which may explain the spotty distribution of the film to other formats. This is one of a handful of movies to trigger the MPAA’s PG-13 rating due to scenes of graphic violence too intense for children. Obstensibly an attempt to cash in on the action and pulp adventure boom of the early ’80s, the film failed at the box office.

A daring rescue!

Nate and Hayes was my “white whale” for a time in pursuit of those hard-to-find movies that received endless play on cable television.  This was a movie I spent years trying to track down, and even existing in chunks at places like YouTube, those chunks were soon deleted.  I finally gave up and found a VHS tape of it thanks to Captain Ziggy.  I thought I was getting a well-worn tape, but imagine my surprise when I find the Captain had sent me a sealed Paramount Home Video tape made in 1990 (possibly the last time the film was released on VHS for home exhibition)!  There are two other “white whales”; one film I managed to find, the other is still elusive.

Special thanks to Captain Ziggy!

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.

“King Kong, 1976”

“He was the terror, the mystery of their lives, and the magic.  A year from now that’ll be an island full of burned-out drunks.  When we took Kong, we kidnapped their god.”

King Kong, 1976 (Jeff Bridges), Paramount Pictures

Once upon a time, movies were made for fun. There was the promise of riches, of course, but technicians took an interest in telling stories, entertaining the masses, and weighing the benefits of big box office grosses and shelf life. There was no room for philosophy or a filmmaker’s personal responsibility. When Jaws brought the fervor and potential of explosive summer movie box office openings to a fever pitch, producers scrambled like mad to make big movies for wide release. The system is still in place today, but with nowhere near as much zeal or child-like enthusiasm as it once had. It’s become a more cynical market for big budget genre movies.

With Kong: Skull Island now making the rounds in theaters, there have been at least 18 incarnations of the “creature who touches Heaven,” and there will be more for sure. We saw the movie last week, and while I was grateful the writers and producers made an all-out monster movie this time around, I was dismayed at the lack of creative enterprise. This was by-the-numbers computerized filmmaking, and so much thought was put into Kong’s appearance that very little effort was left to write a compelling story or develop interesting characterizations, but I don’t want to write about Kong: Skull Island. I call this column Vintage Cable Box for a reason.

Dreamy scientist Jeff Bridges stows away aboard greedy industrialist Charles Grodin’s merchant tanker as it sets a course for an uncharted island obscured by a mysterious fog bank somewhere in the North Pacific. Along the way, they receive a distress call from a sunken yacht and pick up aspiring actress Dwan (delicious Jessica Lange), and it isn’t long before the two most attractive people in the entire cast become attracted to one another. They pierce the white veil of fog surrounding the island and make for shore on an expedition for oil (an interesting narrative choice considering the gas shortage of the time).

The explorers run afoul of unpleasant natives who demand blondie Dwan in exchange for six of their own women so she can be used for a strange marriage ritual. They refuse and set off a light-show with guns to scare off the natives. Later that night, they abduct Dwan, drape her in gowns and offer her up to our titular primate. At times, their courtship is quite endearing. Kong is initially furious with her because of her stubborn streak, but he grows to like (and then, admittedly inexplicably) love her. For Dwan’s part, she spends most of her time with Kong in fear, either of his temper, or the other various creatures and dangerous situations on the island. She ultimately develops an affection for the enormous ape. Rick Baker (in the ape suit) and Carlo Rambaldi (responsible for the expressive mechanical makeup effects) create an incredible character in Kong that we feel for, and ultimately pity.

After tests indicate the petroleum isn’t ready for drilling, Grodin doubles down and captures Kong to save his job by making the big guy part of an advertising campaign akin to the Esso “Put a Tiger in Your Tank” promotion.  He takes Kong to New York, and of course, the ape goes … well … ape.  Kong takes Dwan to the top of the World Trade Center and is killed by helicopters.  The movie does a great job of negotiating the terror of the beast with the ethical quandry of removing him from his habitat without the proselytizing quasi-bestial leanings of Peter Jackson’s overblown (and unnecessarily epic) 2005 remake, or Merian C. Cooper’s rambling, unintentionally funny ode to the “white male reality.”  This movie is the “Goldilocks” of all the King Kong movies, for me.  It’s just right.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

Vintage Cable Box: “The Blues Brothers, 1980”

“We’re so glad to see so many of you lovely people here tonight. And we would especially like to welcome all the representatives of Illinois’s law enforcement community that have chosen to join us here in the Palace Hotel Ballroom at this time. We certainly hope you all enjoy the show. And remember, people, that no matter who you are and what you do to live, thrive and survive, there’re still some things that makes us all the same. You. Me. Them. Everybody. Everybody.”

The Blues Brothers, 1980 (John Belushi), MCA/Universal

So Jake (John Belushi) got pinched and served three years of a five year stretch  at Joliet Correctional.  His brother, Elwood (Dan Aykroyd) arrives to pick him up.  They greet each other and take off in Elwood’s souped-up cop car.  He traded the old (legendary) Bluesmobile for a microphone.  First stop is a visit to the Penguin.  Not the umbrella-toting supervillain, but a nun (Kathleen Freeman) from the orphanage where the Blues brothers grew up, who informs them she (and the Lord) are displeased with Jake’s incarceration.  She also tells them the County Assessors Office has tendered a bill for the property in the amount of $5,000.  This is when Jake gets it into his head that he and his brother are on a “mission from God” to save the orphanage.

Their next assigment is to get the band back together.  The band (composed of Tom “Bones” Malone, Donald “Duck” Dunn, Lou Marini, Matt “Guitar” Murphy, Steve Cropper, “Mr. Fabulous”, Willie Hall and Murphy Dunne) had splintered off after Jake’s incarceration.  Some formed their own lounge band, while others retired completely and took up respectable jobs.  I’m convinced (after I don’t know how many viewings), Jake’s true talents are reserved for manipulation and charm.  He convinces the guys to get the band back together.  He obviously charmed an unhinged “Mystery Woman” (Carrie Fisher) into marrying him before ditching her at the altar.  He extorts their former manager, Maury Sline (Steve Lawrence) into finding them a hall and promoting a performance that will yield at least $5,000 in gate money.

What we next witness is truly a comedy of errors and escalation.  Everything that goes wrong gets worse.   Everything that goes bad becomes terrible.  Jake’s Mystery Woman is thwarted on several occasions, attempting to kill him and his brother with an escalating series of weapons (including machine guns, flame-throwers, and explosives).  Jake and Elwood run afoul of the Illinois Nazi Party (headed by Henry Gibson) and an errant country/western band called The Good Ol’ Boys (with frontman Charles Napier), not to mention corrections officers, cops, state troopers, and the National Guard.  Of course, all of this could’ve been avoided if Elwood had not run a red light one night on an open road in Cook County, and I have to wonder if this is truly a “mission from God” since there are so many obstacles put in Jake and Elwood’s path.

I miss you, Carrie.

On the night of the big show, they have to sneak in to their own gig, where they play two songs and then beat a hasty 106 mile retreat back to Chicago so they can pay the Assessor’s office before they get arrested.  Bringing up the rear are the cops, the angry musicians, and the Nazis.  The stunt-work and car crashes exponentially increase and I wonder if this is why Aykroyd and co-writer/director John Landis wanted to make the movie.  The Blues Brothers exists as a separate entity when compared to other movies with regard to characters from Saturday Night Live.  The Blues Brothers characterizations were not controlled by Saturday Night Live creator/producer Lorne Michaels, therefore he had no creative input on the project.  This was an oversight he would correct for future film productions.

There’s a certain magic to The Blues Brothers.  It’s a musical-comedy-action film, expertly directed with incredible guest turns by living legends like Cab Calloway, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Ray Charles, and John Lee Hooker.  There are also a number of left-field cameos (as in all John Landis films) from Frank Oz, Twiggy, Steven Spielberg, Chaka Khan, Stephen Bishop, and John Candy.  The endless cacophony of improbable car crashes and enormous pile-ups coupled with unbelievable automotive acrobatics makes The Blues Brothers almost a mythic fairytale.  Landis and Aykroyd were reunited for Blues Brothers 2000 with John Goodman and Joe Morton.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

Vintage Cable Box: “The Deep, 1977”

“If his tongue moves again, CUT IT!”

The Deep, 1977 (Nick Nolte), Columbia Pictures

While scuba-diving in Bermuda, good-looking couple Nick Nolte and Jacqueline Bisset discover trinkets from a sunken Spanish galleon and curious ampoules of amber-colored liquid (later revealed to be medicinal morphine) from a warship called the Goliath.  They take their finds to freelance adventurer Romer Treece (colorful Robert Shaw), who feigns disinterest, but absconds with their morphine.  They run afoul of local drug dealer, Haitian Henri “Cloche” Bondurant (mustache-twirling Louis Gossett, Jr.), who terrorizes them with voodoo and warns them to leave the island.

Anybody who reads me regularly (or has read my A Year of Vintage Cable Box special commemorative article) knows I had a serious crush on Jacqueline Bisset as a result of her scantily-clad appearance in this movie.  The wet t-shirt scene at the beginning of the movie is breathtaking.  Treece shelters the couple as they set about studying ship logs and manifests so that they can trace the “provenance”, or the chronology of the ownership, custody, or location of a historical object.  While Nolte and Bisset are more interested in uncovering secret treasures from the deep, Gossett, Jr. simply wants the morphine so he can make heroin and push it in the States.

Treece makes a side deal with “Cloche” provided he leave the young couple alone. He’ll find the morphine in exchange for a million bucks. “Cloche” is looking to protect his own interests, so he bribes Treece’s associate, Adam (Eli Wallach), the last survivor of the wrecked Goliath, who, in turn, betrays Treece and the kids for a cut of “Cloche’s” action. Treece and the kids have to do some detective work (they didn’t have a Google back then). Bisset discovers the jewels were secreted on a French tobacco ship where they were to be sent to mystery woman, “E.F.” (the Dutchess of Parma) as a dowry for a proxy marriage to the Governor of Cuba.

The Deep is exciting adventure filmmaking.  A modestly successful follow-up to author Peter Benchley’s Jaws (though nowhere near as popular at the box office), The Deep was shot on location in the British Virgin Islands near the sites of actual shipwrecks.  The underwater scenes are some of best shot for movies of the time.  Nolte and Bisset make for a sexy couple, and Shaw’s presence in the movie provides credibility.  His Romer Treece is an interesting variation on Quint, the eccentric shark fisherman of Jaws.  Peter Yates would go on to direct Krull in 1983.

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.