After a long hiatus from the 1980s film review, thanks to end of year and decade distractions and a thousand other things, I return to continuing my look at a select number of films, going from 1980 to 1989 that I had overlooked before and never seen until now. I’m saving explicit horror titles for the Halloween season in September and November.
Bear with me as all of the films I saw for this chapter of my retrospective series I saw months ago. I would’ve done this part sooner had it not been for a screw up in the Netflix delivery order where I got Revenge of the Ninja before White Dog. Normally, White Dog would be the sixth film I talk about on this article but the slip up led me to postponing my thoughts on White Dog until the eventual ‘part IV’ of this series. Safe to say my next part will be a fun as hell detour into Cannon-Globus’ Ninja trilogy before I get there.
We’re still in the 1981/2 era so let’s start with a picture that reflects my major in college: journalism.
Absence of Malice (1981)
(Paul Newman and Sally Field are on a boat. That is all.) Image from I draw on my Wall
Based on what I remember from when I saw this Oscar nominated feature, it was about a young Miami Herald reporter(Sally Field) digging into a local Miami businessman’s curious connection with a notorious crime boss. She meets up with him and gradually and against her own professional standards, falls for him.
Even though the guy( Paul Newman at his vintage middle age height of cool) is ultimately considered innocent in a murder committed by that crime boss, her fraternization with the suspect for the story puts her,rightfully so, in deep trouble at her job. I forget if she’s fired or not.
It’s a breezy, enjoyable drama about how the human condition often gets in the way of objectively seeking out the truth when doing journalism. That is a lesson that matters more nowadays I would say then it did in 1981. There are other “bang your head against the wall” reasons for why modern journalism in America largely sucks, mostly in mainstream sources, but I definitely digress.
Again, the details of this movies elude me. All I know it was a cute little time capsule of a bygone era of not so much journalism standards but how journalism was done before the digital era. I could not tell you honestly, speaking as a reporter in training, if the techniques are better or worse now. Efficiency isn’t always quality.
Well, despite the morally grey nature of their relationship, not to mention the age gap between the two, Field and Newman’s characters do hit it off well. To be fair, If I was in Field’s shoes and either female or gay I would find fifty-something Paul Newman more than easy on the eyes. And even then.
Give it a watch, certainly, especially for some small but great side roles from Bob Balaban and Wilford Brimley. You know, the guy who everyone thought coached the Chiefs to victory at this year’s Superbowl.
Sorry, impossible to resist.
Clash of the Titans (1981)
(Perseus and the Red-shirts search for Medusa.) Image from Parkway Theater
Despite having been remade a decade ago, Clash of the Titans is still a film you couldn’t get away with nowadays as it was back when the Gipper was entering the oval office 39 years ago.
How so? Well aside from Ray Harryhausen’s curtain call feature having some still impressive stop motion effects, with the fight against Medusa being damn amazing even now( just with the use of stop motion and reflecting light properly), there was something else much more noticeable.
While this is a pre-PG-13 PG film, it involves scenes of male and female nudity, albeit in a non sensual manner. We see Greek hero Perseus being breastfed by his mother with a spare,open breast visible. A pre-adolescent Perseus and his mother walk stark naked from the back for what I am hoping is some swimming or a bath.
Finally, we see from the back a naked Andromeda being prepared for sacrifice to Harryhausen’s iconic version of the Kraken, however inaccurate. First, in a bathing room and then when being lead to the coastal cliffs. How scandalous! Where was the moral outrage for a film generally aimed at appealing to starry-eyed children having such a liberal expression of the human anatomy?
Beats me. Anyway, Clash of the Titans is a lot of fun, even to a jaded, CGI-weary millennial like myself, maybe more so for that reason. There is a fun, purposeful sense of adventure as Perseus is bread-crumbed his way by Zeus(Laurence Olivier) and those wily Gods in Olympus to take on a journey to save the beautiful Princess Andromeda (Judi Bowker) from the cursed son of another Olympian,Thetis, played by Maggie Smith.
Who knew deity infighting could be so much fun? Well, considering how old the tale of Perseus and Andromeda is, I guess we have known for thousands of years. To be brutally honest, not all of the effects in the original COTT still hold up. Aside from the awesome Harryhausen stuff, like the aforementioned Medusa and Kraken, the non stop motion stuff looks super fake, but not in the cool way.
The sinking of the City-State Argos at the beginning, with super obvious green-screen with the human figures sticking out supremely well against the flowing waves of water, look hokey rather than awe-inspiring. It’s not a deal-breaker, but much worth pointing out.
What makes Clash of the Titans so worthwhile to me getting around to it was it not only being the final work of a legendary effects artist, but also for it almost certainly inspiring a popular PlayStation line of games: God of War.
In the second game, released 27 years after Clash of the Titans, buff, god killing anti-hero Kratos comes across Perseus searching for the same thing as the angry Spartan: the Sisters of Fate( or the Fates), in hopes of changing his history to save his beloved Andromeda.
It just so happens that Perseus in God of War II looks like and is voiced by Harry Hamlin, Clash of the Titans’ Perseus. Kratos, under the player’s control, proceeds to beat the godly crap out of the legendary hero who is in his way. It’s that kind of loving tribute to a classic movie.
Whether you’re in to God of War or Greek mythology or not, Clash of the Titans is an aged epic that’s still worth your time, especially as a reminder of an old craft for special effects.
The Sword and the Sorcerer (1982)
(Sword-guns before Final Fantasy made it cool.) Image from Cinapse
The only version of this movie I could find to watch was the Rifftrax version available free for Amazon Prime users. I do wish I could’ve also watched the original cut but whatever.
Because of Mike, Kevin and Bill’s constant, humorous riffing of the film, it was hard to maintain focus entirely on what was happening or follow the plot, such as it was. Based on my recollection, an heir to some kingdom’s throne goes into hiding after a coup that kills his family and becomes a dashing mercenary outlaw with his sorta-neat sorta-stupid three bladed sword that can be fired not unlike a spear gun.
The other stuff involves another kingdom(I think) being taken over by an evil usurper, aided by a just as evil adviser who is really an ancient reawakened sorcerer. During the coup portion of the film he gave the successful advice to the usurper that ruined our hero’s childhood, killed his family and forced him into hiding.
After the victory against the kingdom, the usurper instantly turns on the malevolent sorcerer and he went into hiding, eventually disguising himself as the aforementioned evil adviser to the ruling monarch.
Now, the prince turned merc leader must stumble his way to rescuing the princess and getting her into bed( I first thought they were siblings and of the same kingdom, but apparently not, thankfully) and it eventually results in a low-budget cheesy melee in the castle and a fight with the three-blade sword wielding hero and the sorcerer(Gasp).
For a stupid, surprisingly profitable B or C list movie, The Sword and the Sorcerer has one of the most needlessly elaborate plots that does reach some definable conclusion. Its poor pacing and inability to focus on any one character long enough such as our puckish rogue protagonist is the biggest reason that of the five films for this entry in my retrospective, this is the one I least recommend.
Sure, there is the Rifftrax version, which is a mostly hilarious enough time, with a great callback to one of latter day MST3K’s best episodes, “Space Mutiny“. “Rest in peace, Blast Hardcheese”. For those aware of that ep, you will know it when you see it.
I’m not saying don’t check it out if you find a service that has the non-Rifftrax edition, but of the early 80s dark and high fantasy movies, Dragonslayer, Excalibur, Clash of the Titans, and Time Bandits are much better options.
$39 million American domestic is impressive for a film like this. Must have been riding off the success of Ahnold’s Conan the Barbarian of the same year with nearly the same box office returns. Other than that, that it made that much is the biggest fantasy come to life this film has to offer you.
(Being the 1% isn’t always as awesome as you would think, if this one film is to have you believe.) Image from Go into the Story-The Black List
Never judge a book by its cover. That is a lesson that applies to the titular protagonist of this romcom smash success that inspired a not at all smashing sequel and a remake with Russell Brand that people either hate or have forgotten even exists.
It also applies to my knowledge of the film before watching being just the theatrical poster for the movie with Dudley Moore’s Arthur lounging in a soapy tub with a top hat and some bubbly in his hand.
For reasons that escape me, I thought Arthur was the story of a homeless man who manages to somehow become rich to be in the position where he can do what he is doing in the poster. Maybe it was the top hat, which I thought was some hand me down he wore destitute before becoming rich.
I was completely off. Arthur is the nearly middle-aged and drunk off his British arse son of some wealthy businessman living the high life in New York, annoying his ever disappointed butler, Hobson, who to the surprise of no one, is more Arthur’s father than his actual father.
Eventually and slowly, Arthur begins turning his life around and understanding the values of living a life poorer financially due to his growing crush on a middle-class lady from Queens, played by Liza Minnelli. Got to be honest, save for a change in vocals or jaw shape, Minnelli might as well be the female Sylvester Stallone, though perhaps not in style of movies.
The two hit off quite well, which is obviously critical for a romcom, especially involving those of different class structures falling in love with one another. For a comedy, I didn’t find Arthur that laugh out loud funny. It’s at best a respectable comedy where internally I found it just fine if a little too sappy occasionally.
The best parts were honestly the surrogate father-son relationship between Arthur and Hobson, especially as the former makes the latter’s last days as comfortable as possible in the hospital. That is where Arthur’s redemption from a silver spoon rich kid loser lifestyle really crystallizes for me.
It’s not the kind of film that I see myself returning to any time soon, but I can kind of see why it was among 1981’s most successful films, nearly making a $100 million in early 80’s dollars. Give it a watch, if only just for John Gielgud’s Hobson and Minnelli’s Linda. They were the ones who carried the film for me more so than our debauched lead.
(Venkman and Egon join the army before they were Venkman and Egon.) Image from What’s after the Credits
I remember around the time I first saw Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day on DVD watching and rewatching the trailer for one of Bill Murray’s earliest hit comedies, Stripes. Also an early vehicle for the dearly departed Harold Ramis and John Candy. I found the trailer at least to be a hilarious romp that I couldn’t wait to one day see, when I was much older, around 18 at the earliest.
Well, it took until I was 25 turning 26 to get around to it and it is…pretty good for the most part. Not quite as funny as I remember the trailer selling it as. I certainly get why it got an R-rating and to be brutally frank there is some line crossings in Stripes that wouldn’t work as well today as it did then.
There’s one part about Murray’s John Winger cracking a sly joke to Ramis’ Russell Ziskey about one moment in the past where he “sort-of raped someone”. Ha ha ha. I’m not saying rape is impossible to make funny, it’s just very, very hard and heavily context dependent. Even then.
Aside from that, I, by accident, got from Netflix the extended cut version of Stripes which makes it one of the longest comedies I can remember. To be fair, I think it managed to stay consistent and good for its entirety, so that’s saying something.
What is Stripes about for those who don’t remember or haven’t seen it? Murray’s Winger gets fired from a job and after watching a TV ad about the army decides to rope himself and his roommate Russell into enlisting.
This reminded me of that one Futurama episode where Fry and Bender join the military just so the former can get an army discount on gum. That classic episode’s more about satirizing Starship Troopers and M.A.S.H. than Stripes, but I make my extended point.
So the duo enter the corps and enter training alongside a battalion of doofuses that make up their outfit, with Candy’s Dewey “Ox” Oxberger being the most memorable addition by far. Well, it is John Candy.
There are also two female M.P’s played by P.J. Soles and Sean Young, one year out from Blade Runner and much further out from going crazy and ruining her career. I heard a story once about her scaring Tim Burton and Micheal Keaton into hiding in the dressing room during the casting call of Batman Returns. I would almost want a movie about that, if it weren’t so sad.
Aside from the ratio of what I did or didn’t find funny, and no the latter is not exclusively about the stuff that may not have aged well, if you know what I mean, what strikes me about Stripes is its odd framing of acts. This is likely coming from the longer than usual cut of the film I viewed.
The first part involves John and Russell enlisting and getting selected into a group for basic training. The second part involves those zany hijinks involving the party training terribly in a way that of course wouldn’t be acceptable nearly as long in the real world. “But that’s the joke son!”, says Foghorn Leghorn.
There is a third part that I think was just included in the extended cut where John and Russell accidentally take a CIA mission based flight to Central America and end up getting friendly with the local guerrilla movement. Aside from showing off Russell’s lingual talents, as he was an English teacher to immigrants before enlisting, I can’t tell you what purpose it served aside from more jokes.
Eventually, they go on an excursion to a military base in Italy, and a set of hilarious mistakes and misunderstandings involve Murray’s merry band of idiot cadets going on a rescue mission for the two female M.Ps, who they think are stuck in Soviet occupied Czechoslovakia. They’re not, it becomes the other way around. Cue genuine hilarity.
The final act acts as reminder that the Cold War was happening back then and I could not tell you if Stripes is comedically sending up the Cold War or in their own juvenile way supporting America’s role in it. Director Ivan Reitman is one of Hollywood’s more conservative figures.
Ghostbusters has been identified as a Conservative comedy, more so in the financial/ governmental mentality than the cultural one, certainly. With that knowledge, make up your own mind.
If nothing else, Stripes and Ghostbusters both serve as a reminder that conservatives could actually be funny or know how to be more than competent film-makers. Not all of their humor lands of course like the “rape” part I mentioned earlier but my point stands.
If the “conservative” stuff somehow keeps you away, that same third act behind the iron curtain involves a Winnebago that doubles as an undercover armored personnel carrier/tank that is loaded to bear. If that doesn’t catch your interest, nothing ever will.
Next time: My delightful deep dive into Cannon’s Ninja trilogy: cheesy ninjitsu awesomeness at its peak. The reason ninja Halloween costumes are likely a thing will be REVEALED.