“My Favorite Year, 1982”

“I’m not an actor! I’M A MOVIE STAR!”

My Favorite Year, 1982 (Peter O’Toole), Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

In 1954, amiable young nebbish Benjy Stone (Mark Linn-Baker) is a junior writer for the King Kaiser Comedy Cavalcade when his childhood hero, movie matinee idol Alan Swann (Academy Award-nominated Peter O’Toole) guest stars on the show. This is a dream come true for Benjy, but it quickly turns into a nightmare when Swann proves to be an immature drunkard and an unprofessional hack who can’t rise to this most auspicious of occasions. Swann is a has-been with a genuine shot at becoming relevant again, but as we know from recent news, movie stars are unlikable douchebags. Didn’t we always know that? Benjy is heartbroken to see that his hero is a skirt-chasing alcoholic, even as he assesses him with the filters of his youth. Joseph Bologna’s Stan “King” Kaiser is no saint either. An unrepentant jack-ass in his own right, Kaiser is deluded as to his comic chops, but what he lacks in talent he makes up for in his bravery. In strict defiance to crooked Union boss, Karl Rojeck (the great Cameron Mitchell!), Bologna portrays a popular parody of him on his show every week. Rojeck retaliates with intimidation and sabotage on his set.

When Swann shows up late (and drunk) for his first call, Bologna fires him on the spot. Benjy sticks up for Swann. Bologna agrees to take him back under the proviso that Benjy keep an eye on him for the duration of rehearsals and the show, which is to be broadcast live. Swann is wheeled into a posh hotel room at the Waldorf Astoria because nobody can trust him to stand on his own. He has “breakaway” clothing that can be easily removed as he refuses to undress for his bath. His able-bodied chauffeur clues Benjy in to Swann’s lack of funds, secret stashes of booze, and an strained relationship to his estranged daughter, Tess, who lives in Connecticut. Yet, as pathetic as he appears, Swann still knows how to fill out a tuxedo. Meanwhile, Benjy awkwardly pursues production assistant K.C. (Jessica Harper), who keeps shooting him down. Swann advises the young man on how to better improve his position with her. This is a 1954 romanticized by Benjy Stone; a New York City we only see in classic films. Big beautiful cars. Men and women dressed impeccably. Automats. Through a haze of nostalgia, we see that people behave very much (as written, that is) like they do today, especially with regard to the behavior of celebrities.

We get into the day-to-day details of working on a comedy show, and remember this was way before the trappings of 30 Rock (coincidentally where the Comedy Cavalcade is shot). There are some wonderful character beats. Lainie Kazan (as Benjy’s mother) wonders why her son would hide his Jewish heritage with a pseudonym. Anti-semitism being as prevalent back then as it is today required many people to hide their ethnicity behind banal surnames. Swann masks his profound depression with booze and flamboyant theatrics. Kaiser seems to suffer selective Tourette’s and the only way to calm him is to hit him over the head with his script. Benjy’s affection for K.C. borders on harassment in turns with his jealousy and obsession, but then he arranges for a big dinner of Chinese food (boxes filled with dumplings) in the office, which is sweet, and then he charms her with his tutilege on how to properly tell a joke. They screen old Alan Swann films and he annoys her by reciting the dialogue verbatim (a tactic I use to annoy my long-suffering wife). Luckily, she shuts him up by kissing him (a tactic my wife uses to shut me up sometimes). The film moves along briskly and Swann excels at rehearsals. Benjy takes Swann home to meet his bizarre family in Brooklyn.

When pressed by Benjy’s Uncle Morty about the latest gossip surrounding him, Swann confesses, “People like me wear targets. I’m blamed for a lot of things I had absolutely nothing to do with. On the other hand, because of who I am, I get away with murder in other areas. I suppose it all balances out in the end.” As he is idolized and fawned over by Benjy’s family and residents of their apartment building, Swann becomes depressed and must drink. The morning after, Swann absconds with a police officer’s horse and takes Benjy for a galloping tour of Central Park. Benjy encourages him to repair his relationship with his daughter. Swann hilariously freaks out when he realizes the show is to be performed live rather than taped. Rojeck and his goons crash the live broadcast and Swann with Bologna fight off the bad guys in front of a thrilled audience. This is a fun, charming movie produced by Michael Gruskoff for Mel Brooks’ Brooksfilms, directed by Richard Benjamin from a script by Norman Steinberg and Dennis Palumbo. It was a wise move to have Benjamin direct the movie rather than Brooks, as Brooks would, most assuredly, have placed more emphasis on the sight gags and comedy and less on the living drama O’Toole summons in his performance. Benjy’s sunny epilogue feels out of place. The movie is populated with character actors from Brooks’ (and colleague Carl Reiner’s) movies. This is a refreshing change of pace from last week’s dismal Misunderstood.

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.

“Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, 1982”

“You’ve managed to kill just about everyone else, but like a poor marksman, you keep missing the target!”

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, 1982 (William Shatner), Paramount Pictures

Considered the best of Star Trek movies, director Nicholas Meyer wisely applied the lessons learned from the first film to launch the popular television franchise and utlized television production techniques to craft this clever sequel to Star Trek: The Motion Picture. To say that Star Trek II is faithful to the NBC television series is obvious even down to the story, which sequelizes not only the film series, but also the first season episode, “Space Seed.” Star Trek II brings back Khan Noonian Singh (electrifying Ricardo Montalban), a product of 20th century genetic engineering, who we last saw being shipped into exile with his crew by Kirk at the end of the episode. Unfortunately, a short time later, the disruption of a nearby planet causes Khan’s new paradise to become a desert filled with horrid, mutated creatures.

Khan captures the U.S.S. Reliant (a science vessel on alert for appropriate planetary bodies upon which to experiment) by means of hideous slug-like creatures inserted into key personnel Chekov and Terrell’s ears to control their minds. Khan and his crew travel to space station Regula 1, where Doctors Carol (Bibi Besch) and her son, David Marcus (Merritt Buttrick) are developing the “Genesis” device, which can turn any lifeless astronomical body into a fertile garden. Khan wants “Genesis” (for reasons that are never adequately explained – perhaps he feels he has it coming to him), but he has to get through Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner) to take it. Kirk, obstensibly on board the U.S.S. Enterprise to supervise a training assignment under Captain Spock (Leonard Nimoy), assumes command of the ship to rescue his former lover, Carol, and their son.

This presents difficulties for Kirk, who is “celebrating” his birthday. For the first time in his life and career, he is confronted with his own mortality, which turns out to be a much greater foe than Khan, or an irate Gorn, or a community of sadistic telepaths. With Spock and McCoy serving as advisers (and even more fascinating, Jungian extensions of his subconscious in the form of wisdom and logic), Kirk must fight an enemy who swore vengeance upon him fifteen years before, as well as form a temporary truce with his new family in the form of Carol and David. For his part, David is an angry genius who would like to flatten his father for what he perceives as abandonment. The “Genesis” device represents an analogy for our own atomic bomb; utilizing science that could’ve saved us, the bomb has the power to kill us all. Nicholas Meyer’s next project would be The Day After for ABC.

The beginning of a successful trilogy that ended with Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home in 1986, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is a rare case of a cinema adaptation that succeeds and then eventually improves upon it’s source material (in this case, the television series) by embracing the finest aspects of the original material. All of the narrative beats are there: the fundamental conflict between Spock and McCoy (DeForest Kelley), which would be turned on it’s ear for the sequel, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, a great villain in Khan, a hysterically angry and passionate Kirk, excellent visual effects and battle scenes, and a complex moral/philosophical argument embodied in “Genesis.” This is what a Star Trek film should be.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is being re-released to theaters for two nights only, September 10th and 13th, as part of a 35th anniversary event. I recall seeing the film upon it’s first release in June of 1982.

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.