“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.

Vintage Cable Box: Trading Places

“I had the most absurd nightmare. I was poor and no one liked me. I lost my job, I lost my house, Penelope hated me and it was all because of this terrible, awful Negro.”

Trading Places, 1983 (Dan Aykroyd), Paramount Pictures

Eddie Murphy’s Billy Ray Valentine lives on his wits. He masquerades as a homeless amputee Vietnam vet. He owes money all over town, and he boasts of limousines, “bitches”, and an unsurpassed knowledge of Karate. He proves to be the perfect, unknowing subject of a dual experiment initiated by the evil multi-millionaire Duke Brothers, Randolph (Ralph Bellamy) and Mortimer (Don Ameche). The Duke Brothers want to know if a man’s success, personal and financial, is largely dependent on his upbringing or the lifestyle he enjoys – in other words, heredity or environment. They (with the help of unscrupulous security specialist Clarence Beeks), destroy top employee, Louis Winthorpe III (Dan Aykroyd), his reputation, and his finances, and put him on the street. They give Valentine Winthorpe’s life, his job, and his luxurious Philadelphia townhouse.

Aykroyd is arrested for possession of PCP (planted on him by corrupt cop Frank Oz!), his credit cards are confiscated and his assets repossessed by the bank.  He is taken in by kindly hooker, Ophelia (Jamie Lee Curtis), who helps get him back on his feet provided he reimburses her.  Meanwhile, Valentine thrives in his new position at the Duke Brothers’ financial firm.  He becomes the toast of the business world, while Aykroyd has to fend for himself for the first time in his life.  He sells his expensive Roche Vouceau watch to a pawnbroker for $50, buys a gun and, in a drunken stupor, tries to frame Valentine.

For his part, Valentine stumbles onto the Dukes’ “science experiment” and the modest wager (one fucking dollar!) between the brothers.  Lost in all of this is the ultimate outcome.  Valentine proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that a man can succeed in the right climate if he has business acumen.  Winthorpe can survive in an alien environment when he learns the acquired wisdom of compromise.  Putting their heads together, Aykroyd and Murphy concoct a scheme to supply a false crop report to the Dukes, who have retained the continued service of Beeks (an appropriately evil Paul Gleason) for a little bit of their own insider knowledge as they plan to corner the market in frozen orange juice futures.

Director John Landis’ best-reviewed film, from a clever (probably too clever for it’s own good) script by Timothy Harris and Herschel Weingrod; some 33 years on, it still hits hard, but with a positive message – the people at the top will never understand the problems of the poor or disenfranchised, but if they care, there might just be a little hope on the horizon.  Note Eddie Murphy’s disposition throughout the movie.  He seems happy-go-lucky, but always suspicious – a character-beat prevalent in the movies of Preston Sturges, the godfather of the screwball comedy.  Dan Aykroyd’s character, once blissfully ignorant, has to live on the charity of decent, kind-hearted people; people he would never acknowledge in his former life as a master of the universe.  He discovers the downtrodden; particularly the exceptional Ophelia, can also have a head for business in addition to navigating their lives with very few resources.

Trading Places was a rare (for the time) literate comedy that became a box-office hit.  By telling the story from both sides of the financial (and cultural) divide, we are privy to the trappings of screwball comedy as viewed from a modern sensibility with fresh eyes.  Landis makes good use of distinctive Philadelphia locales.  The audience develops a working knowledge of how the Stock Market works and what brokers do (which seems more depressing to me than anything else), and how that system can be easily manipulated.  It’s quite frightening actually.  So frightening, in fact, that “The Eddie Murphy Rule” came to pass in 2010 when the Commodity Futures Trading Commission approved a ban of “misappropriated government information to trade in commodity markets.”  Wow.

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.