“Lassiter, 1983”

“Cooperate and you’re a free man, Lassiter. Cross me and you’ll do twenty hard years.”

Lassiter, 1983 (Tom Selleck), Warner Bros.

A little jaunty piano-driven music kicks in and I think I’m watching The Sting, but no, we have Tom Selleck in Lassiter! This movie was very hard to find. Right up there with The Buddy System and Nate and Hayes. Selleck is some kind of a cat burglar. He’s not a very good cat burglar, and no he doesn’t steal cats. I thought the point of having jewels was to wear the jewels, and not lock them up in a safe, but whatever. A rosey-rumped British tart covers for him when he is caught snatching the family jewels. You might say she waxes his mustache, so to speak. This is cute. He’s a scam artist by trade, working in concert with Jane Seymour (and her beautiful ass!), who may or may not be his wife, girlfriend, or paramour. Jane bruises her feet nightly dancing with rich British bastards.

Lassiter is extremely hard to follow. It feels, to me, like whole sections of the movie were removed in editing, as well as a lot of character development. Our government, working with Scotland Yard corrals “expert” cat burglar Nick Lassiter into stealing “Nazi” diamonds. We’re not completely sure because the movie jumps all over the place pretending to be light comedy, international intrigue, and deadly boring cop drama. Jane Seymour is wasted in the movie, truly lighting up the screen with her beauty but relegated to being a long-suffering housewife-type. Meanwhile, we have Lauren Hutton running around killing men while she has sex with them. She’s apparently the keeper of the secret Nazi diamonds, but she leads a rich inner life. Okay, I’m with you, Movie!

The nudie cutie Hutton killed previously turns up dead and naked in an alley where head copper Bob Hoskins declares the investigation will be done the “hard way.” In other words, his way. Damnit! He’s a good cop! Hutton makes eyes (and thighs) with Selleck, which drives poor Jane up the wall. Scotland Yard wants Lassiter to steal $10 million worth of these Nazi diamonds or else they’ll send him to jail. What? My wife informs me this is Nazi money, therefore it’s a good thing to steal. Lassiter decides it’s time to hang it up, so he takes Jane Seymour with him, but is stalled by Hoskins who assures him he has his number. Okay. He extorts Tom to get the damned diamonds. I gather Lauren Hutton is a Nazi, and a man-killer, but the movie never lets us have any details. Everything is painted in broad strokes.

There’s a lot of hand-wringing and a good deal of fake moral ambiguity here with regard to Lassiter doing the right thing for his country. He nails Hutton, loots her safe, but can’t find the diamonds. We finally get to the feline thievery as Lassiter climbs a wall, slips in, and opens a safe. Nothing in there so he ducks (or cats, heh) out under the cover of night while dogs bark in the background. Lauren leads him to the real diamonds, cleverly hidden in a hideous bust of Hitler. Lassiter steals the real jewels. Hutton catches him and he punches her lights out. Nice. We get a “clever” Sting-style switcheroo where he fences the diamonds for cash and eludes the cops. In the end, Selleck gets the money and the girl. Lassiter is an editor’s nightmare. If this review appears redundant and disjointed, it’s only because the movie was redundant and disjointed. What a mess!

Sourced from the original 1984 Warner Bros “clamshell” VHS release. Fabrique au Canada! “A master thief sets out to steal a Nazi fortune!” The movie received a brief DVD release as well as appearing on laserdisc, but is unavailable in newer formats. “It’s clear from Lassiter that Selleck is ready for anything – especially the critical and popular acclaim his performance here deserves. Move over, Sean Connery and Roger Moore: there’s a new high-roller in the game of international intrigue!” I’ll stick with Runaway, thank you very much.

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.

“Starman, 1984”

“You are at your very best when things are worst.”

Starman, 1984 (Jeff Bridges), Columbia Pictures

In 1977, the Voyager space probe was launched containing examples of Earth’s excellence, not the least of which is a golden vinyl pressing of The Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” The disc includes examples of our DNA, maps, photographs, and message from the children of Earth. A few years later, an alien spacecraft crashes in a Wisconsin bay, near the home of the recently widowed Jenny Hayden (Karen Allen), who spends most of her nights mourning her dead husband, Scott (Jeff Bridges) by drinking herself silly and watching old home movies. An alien lifeform (what appears to be a glowing silver ball) emerges from the crash and enters the Hayden homestead. The lifeform finds a photo album and clones itself from a lock of Scott’s hair. In a terrifying bit, Jenny wakes from her drunken stupor to see a naked infant quickly grow into full manhood. She promptly passes out under the weight of what must be a hallucination.

In short order, our Military is tracking the crash of the ship. NSA director George Fox (Richard Jaeckel) and SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) scientist Mark Shermin (Charles Martin Smith) rush to recover the craft and determine the plotted trajectory of the alien ship to be the Barringer Crater near Winslow, Arizona. “Starman” essentially abducts Jenny and forces her to drive him to Winslow so he can make an important rendezvous. Their dynamic is built on her fear of this familiar-looking creature: an alien made to resemble her husband. You can see the torment in her face as she tries to reconcile the fact that this creature is a child in man’s body; a new life in a dead man’s body. She attempts to ditch him, and she tries to run. He tells her he means her no harm, and she believes him. The dynamic changes to one of mutual fugitives on the run from the law, and we get into familiar John Carpenter territory. Up until this point, other than the cinematography and synthesizer-driven score, this movie could’ve been made by Steven Spielberg or James Cameron.

John Carpenter has a specific gift for ratcheting up the tension, and he tells the story from the point of view of a confused and lonely protagonist in Jenny Hayden. Karen Allen is truly one of our most underrated actresses. Her only other big role in this time period was as Marion Ravenwood in Raiders of the Lost Ark; a role she would reprise in 2008’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. If there was one word I would use to describe her, it would be “real.” She is perfect in the role of the audience’s surrogate as she reacts to all of “Starman’s” antics. Her wide, expressive eyes marvel at miracles, large and small, and the movie clings to her chemistry with Bridges. As she begins to possibly remember her attraction to her husband via “Starman,” she tries to leave him again with her money and her keys in the hopes he will go undetected without her accompanying him the rest of the way. Bridges learns the meaning of self-sacrifice. “Starman” and Jenny make love in a train car and she becomes pregnant, despite her infertility. Later, with no money and no car, they arrive in Las Vegas, where Bridges tinkers with a slot machine and wins them $500,000.

Charles Martin Smith is hot on their trail and places Fox’s men around the diner where they are eating. As Fox had revealed his intention to study the alien by means of autopsy even though the aliens were technically invited to study Earth, Smith has had misgivings about his assignment. When “Starman” tells him he finds humanity to be beautiful, Smith decides to let them go. In a hilarious bit, they both kiss him and thank him for letting them go. The movie is in turns scary, tragic, and humorous. Pretty much the human condition right there. Think of Starman as a sexy version of E.T., but I would argue Starman is the better movie for offering a richer story about adults rather than children. Starman was nowhere near as successful as E.T. at the time of it’s release, but it was a popular HBO exclusive and video rental. The Jeff Bridges performance is one of innocence and curiosity. The closest analog, for me, would be Brent Spiner as Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Both characters embrace humanity and learn to mimic it, with difficulty. The only difference being that “Starman” can produce a child biologically with Jenny Hayden. Bridges received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. Every day John Carpenter isn’t making a film is a loss to us all.

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.

“Reckless, 1984”

“Whatever happened to you, Rourke? You used to be normal.”

Reckless, 1984 (Aidan Quinn) MGM/UA

Aidan Quinn (in a recurring bit) finishes a can of Iron City beer, places the dented can at the edge of an overlook. He kick-starts his motorcycle, runs the vehicle to the edge of the railing, swerves and boots the can off the edge. He shouts in victory. You might say he’s … reckless. Daryl Hannah likes to drive with the top down even in the early winter. This looks like a steel town on a Saturday night, and Aidan’s looking for the fight of his life. There’s a definite separation of classes here: the rich but powerful minority, and the rest which we would classify as the “working poor.” Daryl’s boyfriend Adam Baldwin (in a change of pace) is a privileged kid with a nice job waiting for him after high school, courtesy of his old man. There’s a lot of familiar faces in Reckless; Haviland Morris, Jennifer Grey, Dan Hedaya, Cliff De Young. Other than Quinn and Hannah looking way too old to inhabit the bodies of high schoolers, Reckless is an endearing and genuine movie, less Breathless and more Baby, It’s You in the category of tormented rebels. This was a popular sub-genre in ’80s teen movies.

Baldwin and the popular kids do their level best to humiliate Quinn, especially after Baldwin notices his interest in Hannah after he watches her practicing her gymnastics. After Quinn and Hannah are randomly selected as “dates” to an upcoming dance (I don’t know how that’s supposed to work), despite Baldwin trying to rig the dance, the two kids get to know each other. Quinn’s old man (a fantastic Kenneth McMillan) gives him a five for the dance. He’s not up on economics. A five won’t even get you a pack of Trojans. At the dance, Daryl’s all dolled up in a hot red number, and Quinn’s wearing his Dad’s best blazer. Quinn swaps out Larry Graham for Romeo Void, and we get a great, classic ’80s dance sequence, which plays as more of a ritual mating practice than entertainment. Baldwin, in a jealous rage, tries to break up the dance but he’s playing with the fires of passion! She hops on the back of Quinn’s motorcycle, and they’re off to the races. He takes her to his favorite spot: the overlook, where he tells her he likes being scared, which isn’t creepy at all. Quinn plays the street-punk asshole with her, which only makes her more curious about him. Why do the good girls always like the bad boys?

After a nice burst of story and tension in the first act, the movie settles in for some remarkable character examination. Baldwin is a control freak who routinely affronts his prize girlfriend. Quinn’s old man is a raging alcoholic in danger of losing his job (and his life) at the plant. His football coach (De Young) tries to bust his balls but finds himself humiliated by Quinn’s sharp wit, so he cuts him from the team. Believe me, I know how that feels. The Quinn performance works because you understand what he’s going through, unlike Richard Gere in Breathless, who comes off as unnecessarily obnoxious. He gets thrown out of his house by his Dad after he chews him out for spending his day off from work with a floozy. Meanwhile, Hannah can’t seem to cope with the lack of adventure and excitement in her life. They meet up and break into the school, dig through the confidential files, get drunk and vandalize school property while Kim Wilde’s “Kids in America” plays in the background. This is the one scene I remember verbatim from this movie. It’s an exceptional moment right up there with The Breakfast Club for de-coding teen angst. Their love scenes are crazy-hot and feel real to me.

It seems Hannah and Quinn are on divergent paths. She’s on the fast track to college, credit cards, and adulthood, and he is going nowhere doomed to be trapped in the town that killed his father. They clash when he calls her out for perceived privilege and a “fake” existence. It’s been done a million times before and after, but Reckless is a superior example of this kind of culture clash. This movie knocked me on my ass. Working from Chris Columbus’ (yes, that Chris Columbus) script, James Foley’s directorial debut is remarkably confident. He knows he has lightning-in-a-bottle with Quinn and Hannah, so he keeps the focus on the two young leads while other characters dance around them. The movie was edited by Albert Magnoli, who would only a short time later direct Purple Rain. The beautiful naturalistic photography was achieved by Michael Ballhaus. Foley would go on to direct At Close Range, Glengarry Glen Ross, and later, the Fifty Shades of Grey sequels. Columbus, of course, would later direct the first two Home Alone movies, Mrs. Doubtfire, and the first two Harry Potter movies. I guess Kevin Smith was right. In Hollywood, you kind-of fail upwards.

Happy New Year from Vintage Cable Box!

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.

“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. 

“Somewhere in Time, 1980”

“Forgive me. I have never known this feeling. I have lived without it all my life. Is it any wonder, then, I failed to recognise you? You, who brought it to me for the first time. Is there any way that I can tell you how my life has changed? Any way at all to let you know what sweetness you have given me? There is so much to say. I cannot find the words. Except for these: I love you”.

Somewhere in Time, 1980 (Christopher Reeve), MCA/Universal

Danny Peary, in his excellent Guide For The Film Fanatic, suggests that because Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour are so appealing in Somewhere in Time, the filmmakers should have dispensed with the script and simply shot the two leads making love in every room of the beautiful Grand Hotel. While a flippant and hilarious observation, I don’t know that I agree with Peary. The film was shown constantly on cable television. As a 12-year-old, I was bored with the movie. I didn’t understand the pacing and I had to ask my Mother why the narrative was so unusual. It’s supposed to be about time travel, so I think I was expecting something along the lines of Time After Time. She told me it was “romance,” and as such, followed the tropes and calculations of a fantasy/romance story.

An old woman slowly approaches aspiring playwright Reeve, hands him a pocket watch and whispers, “Come back to me.” Reeve is disturbed by this, to say the least, but he begins to feel a bizarre connection to the old woman. We flash forward some eight years later. Reeve is now a success but suffering writer’s block and a recent break-up, so he goes to the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, located between the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and St. Ignace on the mainland. I’ve been to Mackinac Island. The journey requires a treacherous (not to mention nausea-inducing) ride on a catamaran, but once you get there, it’s quite a sight. Despite the presence of modern automobiles in the movie, cars tend to be forbidden in keeping with the turn-of-the-century vibe, so generally you would see only horse-and-buggies.

At the hotel, Reeve spots a portrait of a beautiful woman with a mysterious smile on her face. With the help of an old bellhop (Bill Erwin), he discovers the woman in the photograph was an actress named Elise McKenna (Seymour) and that she was the old woman who gave him the pocket watch eight years before. Among her personal possessions, she kept a book about time travel, written by Reeve’s old college professor. He looks up the professor, and drops the ridiculous question, “Is time travel possible?” The professor clears his schedule for the day and runs Reeve through the basics of his theory of time travel. Let’s just put it this way: there is no time machine in this movie, but for Reeve’s horny brain! Basically, the idea is to “will” yourself into the past. You put on the right clothes for the time period, remove all extraneous reminders of the present-day from your field of view (this is important), and put yourself into a hypnotic trance. Rinse and repeat.

Reeve wakes up in 1912 at the Grand Hotel just in time to catch the final performance of a play starring Jane Seymour. He goes down to the lake front where she stands staring at the water. To his surprise, she sees him and asks, “Is it you?” It turns out she had been expecting to meet a man who would change her life forever. Her obsessive, controlling manager Robinson (Christopher Plummer) keeps trying to drive a wedge between Reeve and Seymour; all but telegraphing some kind of unrequited love and devotion under the pretense of protecting her interests, but it is striking to me how fiery and independent McKenna is as she rebels against him.

You made a time machine … out of a De Lorean?

Jeannot Szwarc directs an uneven script from Richard Matheson (based on his own book, Bid Time Return) and the movie suffers from the same problems a similar Matheson adaptation would have in the 1998 movie, What Dreams May Come. Spectacular, in a visual sense, and passionate at their respective cores, both movies cannot negotiate any dramatic strength and instead treat us to beautiful images and provide no explanation for the fantastical elements of the story, nor is there much in the way of logic to guide us through Reeve’s tormented psyche. The two leads are thoroughly engaging and they work hard to sell the idea, but it isn’t enough to carry the movie. I think Matheson (one of my favorite writers) deviated too much from his source material, yet his paradoxes (such as the pocket watch and the bellhop) are still intriguing.

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.

“An Officer and a Gentleman, 1982”

 “Damn you! Goddamn you! Nobody D.O.R.’s after 11 weeks! NOBODY!”

An Officer and a Gentleman, 1982 (Richard Gere), Paramount Pictures

Zack Mayo ditches his good-for-nothing Dad (Robert Loggia) to join the Navy so he can “fly jets.” This first plot development is given no explanation other than Mayo’s repeated jets refrain and a series of quick flashbacks revealing Zack’s youthful vulnerabilities. This is what he tells everybody who asks why he would do such a thing, from fast friends like Sid (David Keith) to his no-nonsense drill instructor (a wonderful Louis Gossett, Jr.) and his girl (fiery Debra Winger). Long-haired wife-beater wearing Richard Gere inhabits Mayo in a much more endearing way than he would with the following year’s Breathless. He’s much more earnest and passionate, therefore believable, in Taylor Hackford’s An Officer and a Gentleman than in most of his later films.

When Zack is lined up with fellow recruits, we see how these people looked before they officially enlisted in the Navy: all long hair and blue jeans, and I wonder why they chose to serve their Country (instead of “bad-mouthing it” as Gossett, Jr.’s drill instructor would accuse them) in this manner. Gossett, Jr.’s Sergeant Foley tells them every year he gets a batch of new, raw recruits, and that many of them go “D.O.R.” or dropped on request because they can’t handle the rigors of their training. Foley doesn’t expect this bunch to be any different. He assigns them nicknames, shaves their heads, and builds them into dedicated, tenacious fighting soldiers.

We learn very quickly that in the small town where this Naval base is located, there are women waiting to run off and get married to officers; Debra, and her friend, Lynette (Lisa Blount), being two of them.  Foley warns the men (not Lisa Eilbacher’s Seeger) that these women will try to trap them with marriage and children, as their mothers had done previously.  Debra’s mother tried the same tactic with her biological father.  While Zack is an emotionally guarded young man, his friend Sid isn’t so street-smart and savvy.  Sid is locked into a relationship with Lynnette and when he terminates his training contract and buys her a engagement ring, she coldly tells him she never loved him and just wanted to be married to an officer.

“My grandmother wants to fly jets!”

Given the emotional heft of the story, Gere’s Mayo is a profoundly interesting character because, in some stretches, he is unlikable when confronting his girlfriend’s needs, and truly inspiring in his attempts to improve his condition and develop discipline when faced with the opposition of his peers and his top sergeant.  Foley correctly determines that Mayo needs him and his Navy to become a better person.  In the early ’80s, there seemed to be an abbreviated wave of films where previously lazy, irresponsible people joined some section of the Armed Services and then became better, more studious (or at the very least, resourceful) people.  Examples include Stripes, Private Benjamin, and Purple Hearts.  Douglas Day Stewart’s script is a shining example of a successful character study brought to life by marvelous performances from Gere, Winger, Gossett, Jr. (for which he won an Academy Award), and Keith.  The ending always leaves me cheering.

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.

“Swing Shift, 1984”

“Blame it on the war – it’s everybody’s excuse.”

Swing Shift, 1984 (Goldie Hawn), Warner Bros.

Goldie Hawn’s husband (Ed Harris) leaves for war after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and rather than wait for him to return, she takes a job as a riveter in a munitions factory. Jonathan Demme’s 1984 film, Swing Shift, brings to the forefront the iconic image of Rosie the Riveter: a call to arms for women who were not required to serve in the Armed Forces but, nevertheless, wanted to help the war effort. The Government, at that time, launched enormous promotional campaigns on the home-front, including victory gardens, rationing stamps, and war bonds. It was a way of not only boosting confidence stateside but also reducing waste and bolstering local resources.

Goldie, while initially loyal and devoted, begins to see the War taking a toll on her fellow employees. Co-worker Holly Hunter receives news that her husband has died. This is when she begins to spend more time with leadman on the line, “Lucky” (Kurt Russell) and eventually has an affair with him. Unfortunately, the way the film is edited, there is very little remorse for her actions. I assume women at the time of the movie’s release saw Goldie’s irresponsible attitude regarding her infidelity as a ticket to enlightenment and self-reliance. Audiences would probably assume Ed Harris is dead, thus leaving her free to pursue her romantic entanglements. It doesn’t happen that way.

Ed Harris does indeed return home in one piece and very quickly figures out his wife has been unfaithful. Because of various issues with the editing of the film (according to lore, Hawn and Demme fought over the tone, where she wanted Swing Shift to be a light romantic comedy), another clandestine affair conducted between “Lucky” and Goldie’s friend, lovelorn Hazel (excellent Christine Lahti), is virtually swept under the rug. As a result, “Lucky” comes over like an asshole, which is an interesting choice for a movie like this. There is a fascinating character piece hidden inside this expensive period costume drama, and while I have no doubt Demme envisioned a smaller drama, he simply didn’t have the clout he would ferment in later years to effectively see his ideas come alive.

Sourced from the original 1984 Warner Bros “clamshell” VHS release. 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.  The accompanying essay takes great pains to promote Swing Shift’s cinematography, production design, and costumes, as well as Jonathan Demme’s interesting vision of film.  “But perhaps the most moving thing about Swing Shift is its unique tone — the same gently ironic affection Demme displayed in his earlier hit Melvin and Howard.  ‘I’m after a reflection of life,’ Demme explains, ‘which is not exactly comedy and not exactly drama, but a blend of both.'”

Perhaps that’s my central complaint in the majority of Demme’s work.  His films shift uneasily from comedy to drama to horror to psychological terror, and while I understand that life is often a mixture of these conditions, it makes for an unnerving cinematic experience. Something Wild springs to mind  as another example of this problem, as Andrew and I noted on our podcast Extreme Cinema when we discussed Demme’s films.  Demme’s is a career interrupted by mass appeal and pop culture distraction. Those who create the work do not succumb to that work. They simply continue until they die. I always felt Demme had a masterpiece in him, but he never had the chance to realize it.

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.