“48 Hrs., 1982”

“We ain’t partners. We ain’t brothers. And we ain’t friends. I’m puttin’ you down and keepin’ you down until Ganz is locked up or dead. And if Ganz gets away, you’re gonna be sorry YOU ever MET me!”

48 Hrs., 1982 (Nick Nolte), Paramount Pictures 

They call it a “buddy picture,” but these two are not buddies. Psycho James Remar (from director Walter Hill’s The Warriors) gets sprung from a prison chain gang by his cohort. After killing a couple of cops, they set about looking for their lost loot and a guy named Luther, who helped them steal a half a million bucks. The lone survivor of the shoot-out, embittered Inspector Jack Cates (perpetually intense tough guy Nick Nolte), arranges to have a member of Remar’s running crew, Reggie Hammond (electric Eddie Murphy, in his career-making debut), released from prison for 48 hours to help him track down Remar and his boys.

With Murphy, it’s just one complaint after another. He rails against Nolte’s mistreatment of him. He complains endlessly about his need for “female companionship.” As a result, Murphy’s character is extremely annoying and irritating. They test each other with constant games of machismo. The movie has a refreshing (if off-putting) streak of misogyny running throughout. Nolte sends him into a cowboy bar so he can masquerade as a cop (without a gun) to get information on Remar. He causes a scene, insults the patrons, and exits with a John Wayne-style swagger. Nolte and Murphy play off with each other with an explosive chemistry, which is more dangerous than dynamic. Nolte is your typical Dirty Harry; gravel-voiced and stormy. Murphy is a con-man, spared of any ethical quandry. While the characters bond, it’s only a temporary bond, and both parties will return to their respective roles at film’s end.

Nolte’s Cates is at his wit’s end in his dealings with Hammond.  It’s obvious Hammond is leaving out crucial information with regard to his association with Remar.  Nolte sucker-punches him and they have a good-old-fashioned street-fight.  It’s interesting to me watching Murphy hold his own (even though it makes no sense, Nolte is twice his size), but Hammond comes clean.  The missing money is in the trunk of his car.  They stake out the parking lot and see Luther (David Patrick Kelly, also from The Warriors) make off with Hammond’s car.  Luther takes off with the money.  Cates and Hammond give chase, which leads them into the subway system, where Remar is waiting.  This is a great, suspenseful set-piece.

On the hunt for … “female companionship.”

Unfortunately, so much time is spent developing Nolte and Murphy’s characters that very little running time is left to explore Remar, his twisted Indian cohort, Luther, or even Nolte’s girlfriend, Elaine (the gorgeous Annette O’Toole). My guess is Hill knew he had lightning-in-a-bottle with the two leads, therefore he ripped out whole chunks of the otherwise excellent script (credited to Hill, Roger Spottiswoode, Steven E. de Souza, and Larry Gross) and put the emphasis on their story. Because of that, 48 Hrs. feels strangely unbalanced. Despite this serious flaw, 48 Hrs. was extremely influential for action movies in the ’80s. The polished graphic violence and gun-shot explosions recall Sam Peckinpah (for whom Hill wrote The Getaway).

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.

“Sudden Impact, 1983”

“Go ahead, make my day.”

Sudden Impact, 1983 (Clint Eastwood), Warner Bros.

Clint Eastwood returns as “Dirty” Harry Callahan in this, the fourth installment of the popular crime/drama franchise. While negotiating punks and malcontents, he stumbles upon a series of vigilante misadventures all involving men shot once in the groin and once in the head. He very quickly figures out these murders are being perpetrated by one person or group. After causing collateral damage (this happens in every movie) during a botched diner hold-up, Harry is put on vacation by his superiors so he takes up residence in idyllic coastal town, Santa Cruz. Meanwhile, the vigilante murders are occurring with greater dispatch in this town. It seems trouble follows Harry wherever he goes.

We’re introduced to the hauntingly beautiful Sondra Locke, a successful artist who has also moved into the town under the pretense of restoring a carousel for the local amusement park, but what she really wants is revenge for her sister and herself. All of the murdered men were involved in a brutal gangrape of Locke and her sibling, which left her sister catatonic and unresponsive. Locke isn’t finished marking names off her list, so she visits the remainder of the men (and their lesbian cohort, played with appropriate sleaze by Audrie Neenan) one by one. Her flashback to the rape is one of the most terrifying and seemingly accurate depictions I’ve ever seen.

The avenging angel.

Though officially “on vacation,” Harry conducts his own investigation into the killings, runs afoul of Police Chief Pat Hingle (who has a personal stake-by-proxy of his traumatized son), and makes time with a surprisingly soliticous Locke.  The “foreplay” of their conversation telegraphs a mutual understanding of the failings of law enforcement and the hypocrisy of the justice system.  As Locke airs her grievances, Harry becomes more interested in her.  It’s a fascinating scene.  Eventually Harry puts the pieces together.  When the other rapists catch on to Locke’s activities (rather than turning tail and running off into the night), they abduct her.  Harry rescues her (in a famous “resurrection” bit evocative of his old westerns), and then covers for her.

Sudden Impact is a fun and atypical Dirty Harry movie that places our sympathies with the “bad guy” (Locke) and transforms her into a reluctant hero because we relate to her and her sister’s  victimization.  Clint Eastwood directs this installment with remarkable assurance.  He had already established himself as an excellent filmmaker, and had a hand in directing sequences from Magnum Force after a falling out with original director, Ted Post.  He’s fascinated and invested in Locke’s character, and uses effective close-ups of her wounded eyes.  According to Locke’s memoir, the film originated as a separate script with no connection to Dirty Harry.  Eastwood would return to the role in 1988 with the inferior follow-up, The Dead Pool.

“Go ahead, make my day.”

Sourced from both the original 1984 Warner Bros “clamshell” VHS release and the Dirty Harry Ultimate Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray box set. The movie continued to receive different format releases, and is available in Beta, DVD, Laserdisc (using the same art design as the clamshell release) and Blu Ray formats. As with most (if not all) WEA VIDEO CANADA clamshell releases of Warner properties, the paper is flimsier than U.S.A. releases. The paper also has wax stains, and the label on the tape appears to have been printed for Beta tape (as with my previous review of Swing Shift). “Two killers are at large. One of them is Dirty Harry.” The essay on the back of the box reminds us of the previous three movies: Dirty Harry (1971), Magnum Force (1973), and The Enforcer (1976). Clint himself gives us a blurb: “People are a little edgy about the rights of criminals taking precedence over the rights of victims,” Eastwood says, “I think the public is interested in justice, and that’s what Harry stands for. He’s unique because he stood for the same principles from the beginning, when it wasn’t terribly fashionable.”

Be sure to catch the latest Extreme Cinema: Action and Exploitation Movies with Andrew La Ganke and David Lawler podcast, in which we discuss the Dirty Harry franchise in honor of Clint Eastwood’s birthday! You can also find the original, unaltered episode at BlissVille.

Special thanks to Bethany Robertson Heinlen for the Blu-Ray box set.

As to the inevitable comparisons between the original VHS tape and the Blu-Ray, the differences are staggering.  This is a discreetly clean-up transfer from original negatives that preserves the clarity of cinematographer Bruce Surtees’ compositions without the need to “improve” the visual quality by artificially brightening the image.  The Panavision process is staggering in four of the five Dirty Harry movies on the set.  As for the VHS videotape – other than myself and curious cinephiles, I don’t see any reason to watch the movie in standard (read: low) resolution, panned-and-scanned to 4:3 for televisions.  Here’s a good overview of the Blu-Ray box set.  

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: Scarface, 1983

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“I always tell the truth, even when I lie.”

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Scarface, 1983 (Al Pacino), MCA/Universal

Let’s get the history out of the way first. Between April and October of 1980, 125,000 Cubans emigrated to the United States. Not knowing whether these Cubans represented their nation’s best and brightest, or if they were common criminals discarded by Castro’s regime, our government housed them in prison-like Little Havana communities, while they awaited vetting, processing, and eventual naturalization. Fictitious Tony Montana (electrifying Al Pacino) is one of these detainees. He and his friend Manny (Steven Bauer) are given green cards after executing a former high-ranking Cuban politician. Tony lectures his friend about the “American dream”, which boils down to money, power, and respect.

Scarface’s narrative is fairly straight-forward from there. Tony rises to power as a drug kingpin. Unlike his cronies, he possesses a sense of honor. He refuses to bow to notions of mindless revenge. He will not kill innocent people (i.e. women and children). He is fiercely protective of (as well as harboring incestuous desires for) his young sister, Gina (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio). When his friend, Angel, is killed in a drug burn, he suspects his employers, sleazy Omar Suarez (F. Murray Abraham) and Frank Lopez (Robert Loggia). Suarez is killed by cocaine supplier Sosa, and when Tony starts making deals without Lopez’s approval, Lopez tries to kill him. Tony kills Lopez, marries Lopez’s girl, Elvira (Michelle Pfeiffer), and takes over the business.

From there (and with the help of montage), Tony Montana becomes the go-to-guy for cocaine. Growing increasingly paranoid from his own cocaine usage, he builds a custom state-of-the-art counter-surveillance system, and his mansion is built like a fortress. He alienates his friend, Manny, and berates his wife for her own burgeoning cocaine addiction. Don’t get high on your own supply, Elvira. When Tony is threatened with jail time for money laundering and tax evasion, Sosa steps in to offer him a solution, if only he will have an influential journalist killed. Tony refuses when he sees he is required to kill the man’s wife and children. Sosa retaliates, sending hit squads to his mansion.

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Scarface was unfairly marginalized during it’s initial release. Critics believed the film to be a glorification of excessive violence, while advocacy groups protested the film’s depiction of Cubans (prompting a hastily-added disclaimer at the end of the picture). The MPAA certified Scarface for an X rating three times before cuts were made to the infamous chainsaw scene, although to hear director Brian De Palma tell the story, he made very few edits to the scene, which was played and photographed more for tone than explicit violence. Over the years, Scarface has attained an enormous cult following. Pacino’s Montana character struck a chord with disenfranchised hispanic and black youth, as well as becoming a huge influence on most crime-drama films being made today.

Coming out at a time when it did, Scarface was not quite a transitional piece for De Palma. A year later, he would make Body Double, still absorbed in “Hitchcockian” motifs and themes while retaining his talent for individuality as a filmmaker. His “Hitchcockian” period had started in 1973 with Sisters, as well as directing occasional studio projects such as Carrie and The Fury. Watching Scarface, one can sense the bending (if not breaking) of the chains of style. De Palma utilizes shots and cinematography evoking Hitchcock (the use of cranes and back projection), bold primary colors and fascinating fashion choices meant to make his characters stand out in eloquent composition. Watching the movie (for the umpteenth time) with my wife, I was instantly reminded of scenes from Frenzy and Torn Curtain.

Scarface originally premiered on The Movie Channel in 1984 as part of a Brian De Palma retrospective, which included Carrie, Home Movies (a personal favorite), Get To Know Your Rabbit, Phantom of the Paradise, and Dressed to Kill. A few of these films will pop up in Vintage Cable Box. In addition, The Movie Channel ran the original 1932 Scarface with Paul Muni for comparison.

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.