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Vintage Cable Box June 1984: ffolkes/Eros America III/Breathless

ffolkes, 1980 (Roger Moore) MCA/Universal

“I like cats. I don’t like people who don’t.”

It’s good to see Roger Moore again. Like a meeting of old friends, not necessarily in the guise of something familiar like a secret agent for Her Majesty. Rather, he’s a counter-terrorism consultant with a fondness for cats and strict routine, but there is something distinctly familiar about him. He could be James Bond with a couple of embellishments, namely a scraggly beard and a penchant for casual sexism (he doesn’t think women belong in the military).

His name is Rufus Excalibur ffolkes. When Lou Kramer (Anthony Perkins) and his crew hijack a supply ship, ffolkes is called into action before he can detonate mines that will destroy an oil rig and a drilling platform in the North Atlantic, unless Kramer gets a £25 million ransom from the British government. How much is £25 million? Let me check my currency converter. Okay, it’s about $31 million, but in 1980 when the movie was made?

Holy crap! That’s $92 million! That makes me angry. Why do we have inflation? Anyway. As ffolkes and his superior officer, Admiral Brindsen (James Mason), are shuttled to the rendezvous point, the crew of the hijacked boat try their hand at rebellion by attempting to poison the terrorists with colchicine, commonly used for gout. The attempt is thwarted by the ever-resourceful Kramer and his right-hand-man, Shulman (Michael Parks).

ffolkes reminds me a little of Under Siege, the Steven Seagal action classic. Both leads (Moore and Perkins) are atypically energetic, given the roles with which they tend to be associated. Moore, particularly, is not calm and cool, but rather no-nonsense. His love of cats is a charming characteristic and unlike James Bond. He even leaves special dispensation for all of his cats in his will.

Perkins isn’t quite Norman Bates. He’s easily angered and given to shouting tantrums when he doesn’t get his way. He sizes up ffolkes and takes an immediate disliking to him. I don’t think he likes cats all that much either. In the end, ffolkes saves the day and is rewarded with three new kittens! What an adorable ending for a stiff-upper-lip British action movie. This is a fun, compact thriller that doesn’t go overboard—hey! I didn’t even realize I made a pun.

Eros America III, 1984 (Gina Wilson) HBO

“There is no keener pleasure than that of bodily love, and none more irrational. Love is a grave mental disease.”


Eros America was something that was of little value to an 11-year-old in 1984. Pre-dating HBO’s Real Sex by at least six years, this was a bi-monthly, half-hour documentary-style series that aired on Cinemax from 1983-1985 with repeat episodes that continued to be broadcast until 1988. The reason I preface my aged indifference is because the genie was already out of the bottle.

Porky’s had a fairly regular rotation on both networks. There were plenty of options for teen sex comedies, as well as the occasional erotic thriller. I remember grabbing Breathless at the time. That was considered “erotic” cinema for the content alone. Eros America presents itself as a documentary; something to be considered “informative” for Mr. and Mrs. Middle America.

“Well, Honey look at that. It’s the history of condoms! It’s Napoleon’s penis! Don’t forget to put the chicken away.” We start off with Mr. and Mrs. Nude California with second unit work done by none-other-than Barry Sonnenfeld. I guess it was his job to get all the shots of boobs and asses. That’s where I question the “documentary” part of this show. The camerawork is obviously meant to titillate, not educate.

Sonnenfeld got his start in porno movies before he became a high-profile cinematographer and film director. By the time the winner of the nude pageant is selected, we don’t really care. When it comes to the flesh on display, the majority of it is female. Another oddity: the judges all seemed to be senior citizens. We then move into a cute stop-motion film called Erotic Fruit. An orange and a banana dance together. They peel off their skins and cavort (as best as fruit can cavort).

At the end, the peeled banana um … mounts (?) the peeled orange. The End. God, that was fruity! Next up is a history lesson about condoms. Condoms were invented during the Egyptian dynasty, and they were made mainly from papyrus and newborn lambskin. Now that’s what I call recycling! “Wocka-wocka-wocka!” Quotes about love and sex from famous celebrities and scholars (Woody Allen, Gloria Steinem, Alfred Kinsey among them) comprise the next segment.

After that, we get an actual documentary segment about Madam Gina’s brothel in Nevada. Her neighbors love her. “She keeps her girls in line,” one of them proudly states. That’s nice to know. She probably got a lot of business after this premiered. I did some research and discovered she had to sell her business after she was accused of employing underage prostitutes. See, that’s no good.

Next up is Sex Facts, where we learn that in the enormous Vatican City Library, there is a box, and inside that box is Napoleon’s penis, which went to auction and was purchased by an American urologist. I am not making this up. Eros America closes out with another short film, this one titled 69 Positions in 60 Seconds, basically a reworking of a scene from A Clockwork Orange up to and including The William Tell Overture.

The couple in question actually get everything done in about 48 seconds, so it doesn’t quite live up to the title. All said, Eros America was an interesting journey, but next time–skip the oranges and the bananas. I think it took them longer than 60 seconds, but hey, they’re fruit!

Breathless, 1983 (Richard Gere), Orion Pictures

“Between grief and nothing, I will take grief.”

Richard Gere, what are you rebelling against? He’s the ageless and iconic (not to mention extremely annoying and inappropriate) scofflaw who hot-wires cars, reads comic books and seduces good little girls. He’s James Dean (another irritating icon who won’t go away) infused in weed and acid. I never understood these archetypes, even as an angry young man myself. I guess they’re the bad boys all women crave.

If you sat your daughter down and asked her what kind of guy she wanted, she’d show you Rebel Without A Cause, and you’d have to roll your eyes and promise yourself this is just a phase. On the lam after stealing the aforementioned Porsche, he accidentally shoots and kills a cop. In Vegas, he hooks up with a fling named Monica (Valerie Kaprisky), first breaking into her apartment, and helping himself to a shower.

He barges right into her class, removes a table, and makes a mess, but she’s delighted by his unruly behavior. Apparently, I’ve been doing it wrong all these years. If I were to emulate Gere’s Jesse Lujack, I would’ve had to beat off the babes with a stick! While Jesse might have certain personality quirks similar to Vincent Spano’s Sheik from John Sayles’ 1983 Baby, It’s You, Spano’s performance is much more sympathetic, because we like Sheik.

We know he’s trying. He might fail along the way, but damn-it, at least he tries. Gere is a dizzy, repulsive-yet-charming thug. Of course, it doesn’t take long for Monica to surrender to Jesse’s cheap advances. After pouring it on thick, he plays hard-to-get, and then she unfolds like the delicate flower she’s supposed to be, and a great deal of time is taken up with scenes of incessant, sweaty screwing.

The beautiful Kaprisky gets naked (as does Gere) quite a bit in this movie, but the sex gets boring! I have nothing invested in these characters. Kaprisky, while a competent actress in her own language, is lifeless in her attempts at English. Gere seems too old for this part. Jesse should be 20, and not 33 as Gere was at the time of production. Instead of a naive youth born under a bad sign, he comes over as creepy, and a unimaginative retread of the street thug he played in Looking For Mr. Goodbar.

In short, he’s not deep—he’s an asshole. Although, I was never a fan of the original 1960 film directed by Jean-Luc Godard and the auspices of the French New Wave, in turn influenced by classic American cinema, I did find it interesting that in Jim McBride’s remake (from a script by McBride and L.M. “Kit” Carson), the characters switch nationalities and locales.
I also admire McBride’s techniques, emulating much better films with his use of back-screen projection and vivid colors.

There is a retro feel to the movie. The soundtrack festers with Jerry Lee Lewis, Sam Cooke, and Link Wray. This is seriously style-over-substance. According to Jane Hamsher’s book, Killer Instinct, Quentin Tarantino wanted McBride to direct his script of Natural Born Killers and his influences (as well as those seen in Pulp Fiction) are, most assuredly, based in this movie.

The cops play cat-and-mouse with Jesse for most of the film’s running time. Jesse enjoys Silver Surfer comic books, and engages in debates with teenagers, and perhaps tries to see a little of himself in the Surfer. I suspect Kaprisky’s character is attracted to that element of danger I alluded to earlier, but she’s supposed to be a smart kid. Ultimately, she gets squeezed by the cops into revealing Gere’s whereabouts.

In the end, the cops catch up (spewing some incredibly cheesy dialogue on the way), and Gere finds himself cornered. While Michel in the original version is shot to death, McBride chooses to freeze-frame the action before Gere is (presumably) shot, much like Thelma and Louise’s car swan-dives into a canyon before the credits roll. I never liked that ending, but I sincerely hope Jesse got shot right in the nuts.

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. In June of 1984, HBO and Cinemax broadcast an incredible, eclectic assortment of movies. Vintage Cable Box returns to highlight each of those movies, as well as offering new appraisals and providing context into what was cable television in the mid ’80s. It was a different cultural landscape at the time, and these movies offered an education that went far and above film school. Vintage Cable Box explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties. Enjoy!

Special thanks to Dave Hooser for scanning the HBO/Cinemax guide and sharing these pictures.


David Lawler has written for Film Threat, VHS Rewind, Second Union, and his own blog, Misadventures in BlissVille. Lawler has produced several podcasts including That Twilighty Show About That Zone, Two Davids Walk Into A Bar (with co-host David Anderson), EQ Lawler/Saltz (with Alex Saltz), and Upstairs at Froelich's (with co-host John Froelich).

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