Sometimes I smile at private jokes
Between not two
But me and myself
Sometimes I smile at private jokes
Between not two
But me and myself
What I’ve Been Watching: Into the Night (1985).
Who’s Responsible: John Landis (director), Ron Koslow (screenwriter), Jeff Goldblum, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Richard Farnsworth (stars).
Why I Watched It: Underdog favorite.
Seen It Before? Many times.
Likelihood of Seeing It Again (1-10): 10.
Likelihood the Guys Will Rib Me for Watching It (1-10): 5.
Totally Subjective BOF Rating (1-10): 8.
And? I periodically revisit Trading Places (1983) and Coming to America (1988) as a reminder that both Landis and Eddie Murphy once made excellent (and successful, which is not the same thing) movies; this was among the mixed bag of projects Landis worked on in between those hits. It was his first feature after the debacle of Twilight Zone—The Movie (1983), which may have contributed to what I believe was its commercial failure. Right from Ira Newborn’s main-title theme—sung by B.B. King, whose spirited rendition of “In the Midnight Hour” over the closing credits brackets the movie—this has a funky, bluesy vibe aptly suited to its offbeat, underused leading man, whom I’ve always loved.
Ed Okin (Goldblum) has a boring job in the aerospace industry and chronic insomnia—even before learning that his wife is cheating on him—which he offsets with late-night visits to the airport. During one such visit, a screaming woman, Diana (Pfeiffer), lands on the hood of his car, fleeing the four Iranian thugs who have just killed her companion, and after she climbs inside, Ed sensibly beats a hasty retreat. This sets in motion a series of chases and confrontations that need not be enumerated in specific detail but display the Hitchcockian devices of an ordinary guy whose life is threatened when he is caught up in extraordinary events and an obligatory MacGuffin: six priceless and smuggled emeralds.
Aptly, Landis gives himself a non-English-speaking role as one of the thugs, but also, in the spirit of ’80s excess, casts an amazing number of fellow filmmakers in parts ranging from cameos to full-fledged supporting roles. These include Jack Arnold, Rick Baker, Paul Bartel, David Cronenberg (who directed Goldblum in The Fly), Jonathan Demme, the dreaded Carl Gottlieb (who, per Richard Matheson, ruined his script for Jaws 3-D), Jim Henson, Lawrence Kasdan (who directed Goldblum in The Big Chill), Paul Mazursky, Daniel Petrie, Waldo Salt, Don Siegel, and Roger Vadim. Ed and Diana also encounter David Bowie, Irene Papas, Carl Perkins (in his only film), and various federal agents, many of whom manage to wipe one another out by the film’s sanguinary climax.
The other vein the story taps into is The Maltese Falcon, because the dialogue repeatedly implies that, like Dashiell Hammett’s Brigid O’Shaugnessy, Diana is a femme fatale who will bed and manipulate any man who can be of use to her, with Ed ready to follow in the fatal footsteps of his predecessor at the airport. But Pfeiffer, in one of her earliest leading roles, is luminous and loopy and endearing enough that we’re relieved, if not surprised, to find out that she’s a bit better than that. She spends much of the movie trying to contact a friend and possible Sugar Daddy with the improbable name of Jack Caper (the ever-great Farnsworth), from whom she is now being blocked by his greedy wife, Joan (Vera Miles).
It’s a mystery to me why this film didn’t do better, and when Madame BOF watched the second half with me the other night after we finished an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (her new favorite viewing ritual), she agreed with me. I hadn’t seen it for a while, after watching it repeatedly as cinematic comfort food back in the day, but it held up as well as ever; Goldblum’s non sequiturs are hilarious, and Pfeiffer is utterly disarming in moments like the stray shot of her apparently inserting her diaphragm (?!). The film also contains one of my all-time favorite lines when Ed asks Fed Clu Gulager, “Are we under arrest, or what?,” and he gruffly responds, “I’d say you fall into the ‘or what’ category.”
In an oblique tribute to Levon Helm’s recent passing, I present this version of my favorite song by The Band, which can be heard here. (Yeah, I know, it was already available on my lyrics tab above, but who pays any attention to that?) R.I.P., sir…
I pulled out my manuscript, and I started to revise again;
I haven’t got a contract, but I’ve surely got a pen.
“Hey, Richard, can you tell me what you wrote in ’58?”
He just sent a fax and said, “No, but boy, you’re doin’ great.”
Put a quote in, Matty, put a quote for free;
Put a quote in, Matty, and (and) (and) you can quote him indef’nitely.
He wrote for Jack Arnold, ‘bout a dude called the Shrinking Man;
Then Al Zugsmith told him, “I will hype this if I can.”
He said, “Al, a shrinking man is incredible enough.”
But the title stuck and Al said, “Buddy, that’s just tough.”
Sailed off to London to adapt his most famous book.
But the censor threatened him, and his screenplay got the hook.
“Well, don’t you fret, we’ll find something else for you.”
So he wrote for Christopher, and Tallulah Bankhead, too.
Television beckoned, and he jumped into the Twilight Zone.
Wrote about a gremlin, and a ghost that’s on the phone.
He did Captain Kirk, and the girl from U.N.C.L.E., too.
Had to feed his family, while his novel’s overdue.
A young guy name of Spielberg, he was lookin’ for a hit.
He said, “A crazy trucker? Now, that is surely it!”
Then it’s on to Mr. Kolchak, and the rest is history.
You can read all about it when the book is there to see.
A friend recently sent me this YouTube video, which is a series of dance clips featuring Rita Hayworth and synchronized to one of Madame BOF’s favorite songs, “Stayin’ Alive” (which makes this as good a time as any to be thankful that Robin Gibb awoke from his coma). It’s a brilliant mash-up, but also a welcome reminder of one of my all-time favorite screen goddesses, who was so beautiful it brings tears to my eyes—admittedly not much of an accomplishment. The contrast between the smoldering sexuality she displayed in her rendition of “Put the Blame on Mame“ from Gilda, and the elegant, lyrical romanticism of her “I’m Old Fashioned” number with Fred Astaire in You Were Never Lovelier, is simply breathtaking…as was she.
Although I am neither an expert on nor a particular fan of Dark Shadows, I would be beyond remiss if I did not note the passing at 87 of its star, Jonathan Frid; after all, creator Dan Curtis soon afterward became Richard Matheson’s most frequent collaborator. I was going to say that I was unfamiliar with Frid’s oeuvre outside the genre when I discovered that, aside from his prestigious stage career, he didn’t have one: of his five IMDb entries, three are manifestations of Dark Shadows (the original 1967-71 ABC serial; the slam-bang 1970 theatrical compression, House of Dark Shadows, which I heartily enjoyed; and a cameo in Tim Burton‘s imminent travesty). The others are The Devil’s Daughter, a 1973 TV-movie from Somewhere in Time director Jeannot Szwarc that I have yet to see, and Seizure, Oliver Stone’s indescribably bizarre 1974 feature-film directorial debut, in which Frid co-starred with Martine Beswick and Hervé Villechaize (’nuff said).
Be that as it may, my experience with Dark Shadows was restricted mainly to catching occasional episodes when what was then the Sci-Fi Channel showed two every weekday morning in the early ’90s, at which time–to be blunt–I finally gave up because, no matter how many monsters it featured, it was still a soap opera, with all of the glacial pacing that entailed. But I saw enough to know that no matter how shaky the sets, silly the scripts or amateurish some of the acting may have been, Frid was always a class act, investing his character of Barnabas Collins with a complexity rare in screen vampires. As Curtis himself once said, “In most of my horror [stories], I try to find an additional dimension to the monster. Sometimes you actually end up feeling sorry for him. We certainly did that with Barnabas,” and that he was able to so successfully is, in many ways, a tribute to Jonathan Frid.
Proving that I still have a pulse, I would like to wish you all a belated Happy Easter. It’s belated because our weekend was so overbooked with religious, familial, and social obligations that it felt more like some sort of bizarre endurance test than a holiday, which is not to say that we didn’t enjoy the activities themselves. My wife, as usual, bore the brunt, heroically baking six cheesecakes amid all the chaos for a fund-raising church bake sale…right before which our oven died and had to be replaced about a week ago.
I would also like to draw your attention to yesterday’s Marvel University, and even had you already done so, you might want to take another look, now that my missing final paragraph has been restored. If it were just another regular weekly post to which I had contributed, I wouldn’t bother, but this is an honest-to-Stan essay by yours truly, somewhat similar to the “Snapshots” I have done in the past, but even more anecdotal and subjective. In fact, I had planned to run it here, yet the forever-young Professor Pete (aka Paste-Pot) got so boyishly excited when I told him about it that I couldn’t deprive him of the pleasure of posting it, especially when I knew he’d throw in some snazzy visuals, including one of my very favorite covers EVER.
Meanwhile, Madame BOF and I celebrate our wedding anniversary tomorrow, and we’ll be marking the occasion with a nice, quiet dinner at one of our favorite places, Bangkok Restaurant, the first Thai eatery in Connecticut. It’s been 24 years since we were married, 31 this past Valentine’s Day since our first date, and 33 since we became friends in our high-school choir, headed by the future founder of the prestigious Connecticut Master Chorale (of which Movie Knight Musketeer Chris Blake is a proud member). Believe me, we’re just getting warmed up.