By Vernor Rodgers
Find out where it's playing
1980: ONE OF MY FAVORITE YEARS
With movie theaters still in shutdown mode,
it is difficult for those of us who enjoy film to go through the
withdrawal from the in-house movie experience. Although films are
available via pay TV and streaming, it just is not the same, not
being able to take in a movie on a nice big screen, surrounded by
I have found myself becoming nostalgic as I
recall all my movie experiences and lately I realized that 1980 was
40 years ago. That year was a watermark one for me as a movie fan. I
was early in my career as a journalist and that was the first full
year I was living on my own. On my days off I usually gravitated
toward the theater to take in a movie and ended up viewing 80 movies
that year. It turned out to be one of my all-time favorite years of
movie viewing. Here are some highlights.
"ALL THAT JAZZ"
One cannot accuse Bob Fosse, movie director
("Cabaret") and dance choreographer, of not being self-aware. "All
That Jazz" was essentially an autobio-pic Fosse directed and
co-wrote -- with Robert Alan Aurthur. Roy Scheider was nominated for
an Academy Award for his portrayal of Joe Gideon, Fosse's alter-ego,
a director and choreographer pretty much burning a candle on both
ends. He is in post-production of his latest movie, "The Stand Up"
-- based on Fosse's "Lenny" -- while also designing dance routines
for a new musical that will be featuring his ex-wife Audrey (Leland
Palmer) -- obviously patterned after Gwen Verdon -- and pursuing his
insatiable appetite for sex.
In between all this, Gideon also is not very
successful at being an attentive father to his daughter and holds a
double standard against his gorgeous girlfriend Kate (played by
Fosse's real-time lover Ann Reinking) -- HE can cheat on her but she
cannot on HIM -- while having spiritual and often candidly critical
self-analysis sessions with Angelique (read: Angel of Death), played
by Jessica Lange. Everything gets sidetracked when Gideon suffers a
heart attack, and despite the seriousness of his condition continues
to tempt his fate.
A few years ago I got a chance to meet and
chat with actress-dancer Sandahl Bergman about the "air-rotica"
dance that Gideon designs and features Bergman. She was delighted to
talk about it.
Gideon goes out in style in a big production
number at the end in which he gets to say goodbye to all those he
encountered in his energetic lifelong pursuits before rising up to
meet Angelique for all eternity. Unfortunately for Fosse, his end
did not arrive so glamorously, as he suffered a fatal heart attack
on Sept. 23, 1987, while walking down a street in New York. He was
60 years old.
"THE CHINA SYNDROME"
A gut-wrenching story about a nuclear power
plant engineer, Jack Goodall (Jack Lemmon, who received an Academy
Award nomination for this role), who after surviving a near
catastrophic incident at the plant is compelled to become a
whistleblower on the potential dangers at the plant because of
shoddy construction. He teams up with a TV reporter, Kimberly Wells
(Jane Fonda, also nominated), a fluff reporter who earns her chops
covering this ultimately tragic story about misinformation and
betrayal. Michael Douglas co-stars as Richard Adams, Kimberly's
"THE BLACK MARBLE"
A little-seen and under-appreciated movie
based upon LAPD novelist Joseph Wambaugh's novel -- he also wrote
the screenplay. Robert Foxworth was excellent as a tormented police
officer of Russian descent, A.M. Valnikov, who teams up with Sgt.
Natatlie Zimmerman (Paula Prentiss) as they tackle the pressures of
police work in the City of Angels. The two have to battle through
their cultural differences while in pursuit of a dog-napper, Philo
Skinner (Harry Dean Stanton). That neither Foxworth nor Prentiss
received any nominations for this caused ire among the movie's fans.
Wambaugh did win an Edgar Allan Poe Award for the screenplay,
"WHERE THE BUFFALO ROAM"
Not a well received movie among many
critics, it proved that movies based on gonzo journalist Hunter S.
Thompson's books are an acquired taste. John Kaye had the tricky
task of adapting Thompson's work for the screen, and certainly Bill
Murray as Thompson and Peter Boyle as his sidekick Lazlo have some
nutty moments together, but as a whole you had to be an unforgiving
Thompson aficionado to like this venture.
One of the few movies I viewed in which I
was sorely tempted to demand a refund. Michael Lembeck and Dennis
Quaid star in this goofy comedy about the antics of a group of
waiters at a Jewish summer camp in upstate New York. My only
recollection of the movie was Lembeck's totally out of control
This adaption of the Stephen King novel not
only has weathered the test of time but actually has managed to
become accepted as a classic horror movie. King himself hated it and
critics were not very complimentary but now it is iconic. The
majestic Overlook Hotel in Colorado presents a creepy venue for a
great ghost story. And who cannot enjoy over and over again Jack
Nicholson's searing performance as the recovering alcoholic
teacher-turned-writer-turned-hotel caretaker Jack Torrance slowly
going crazy during a snowed-in winter at the Overlook because of his
haunted ties to the historical hotel. Torrance's leering and crazy
"Heeere's Johnny" is now one of the most famous scenes in movie
history. To this day Lisa and Louise Burns, who played the
tragically doomed Grady twins, make the rounds at horror
conventions. For Lia Beldam, the woman who steps out of the bathtub
to tempt Torrance and horrifically transforms into a decaying old
lady, this was her only appearance in a movie.
AND THEN SUMMER ARRIVED AND ....
EMPIRE STRIKES BACK"
The second "Star Wars" movie although it was
Episode 5 in the saga. It remains my favorite of the "Star Wars"
franchise. Although Episode 4, "A New Hope", ended on an upbeat
note, the fortunes of the rebel alliance have fallen and now they
are confined to a godforsaken ice planet, Hoth, as Darth Vader is
using all of the resources of the Empire to track down Luke
Amid this good vs evil dynamic are the
sub-plots, notably the soap-operish drama of Princess Leia (Carrie
Fisher) and her affections for Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Han
Solo (Harrison Ford). Not to mention the love-hate interplay between
C3PO and R2D2.
Pre-release of "Empire" included the secrecy
surrounding the appearance of Yoda, the Jedi Master. While in the
process of dying of hypothermia on Hoth after a nasty encounter with
an abominable snowman, Luke is visited by Obi Wan Kenobi (Alec
Guinness) in spirit form, who tells the young man to go to the
Dagobah System to learn from Yoda. He does this once the rebels
successfully flee from Hoth. Meanwhile, Han, Leia and C3PO are busy
trying to elude Empire ships in the Millinneum Falcon and engaging
in a pre-romantic dustup (3PO excluded, of course). Leia is in
denial she could possibly be drooling over a mercenary,
self-absorbed, scruffy-looking nerfherder like Han.
Luke turns out to be something of a
troublesome student under the guidance of Yoda, always doubting the
teachings, sometimes doing the opposite of Yoda's directions. Then
on top of that, Luke ditches class so he can go rescue his friends,
who have encountered Darth and a cast of thousands of stormtroopers
at Lando Calrission's cloud city. Inevitably, Luke and Darth face
off, and then after slicing off Luke's hand, old Darth delivers the
stunner: sorry about your hand and by the way, I am your father.
"Empire" ends with a stunned Luke dealing
with his newly discovered family roots, Han sealed in carbonite and
being shipped to crime boss-blob Jabba the Hut and the rest of us
wondering how Leia is going to reconcile her feelings for Luke while
finally admitting to being in love with Han. That's a lot to leave
the viewers hanging with, especially with the next movie not due FOR
I have a friend who claimed that as he was
leaving the theater after viewing "Empire" and strolling by the line
of people waiting to get inside for the next showing, he blurted the
spoiler "I can't believe Darth Vader is Luke's father." Do I believe
he did this? Nope. Had it been true, he would not have lived to tell
This movie benefited greatly from being part
of the previews package shown before "The Empire Strikes Back" and
as a result became the second smash film of the summer. The
brainchild of Jim Abrahams and the Zucker brothers David and Jerry,
"Airplane!" was a delight, sort of an anti-Woody Allen movie. No
sophisticated humor, just sight gags, silly dialog and puns. Another
act of genius was casting veteran actors known for dramatic and
action roles -- Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges, Peter Graves and Leslie
Nielsen -- and letting them deadpan the funny lines, and having an
L.A. Lakers superstar (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) play an airline pilot.
Robert Hays and Julie Hagerty enjoyed a brief moment in the film
world's limelight as the troubled lovers, Ted and Elaine, trying to
resolve their shaky relationship amid the pending disaster of a
commercial airline flight being endangered as the flight crew is
disabled via food poisoning.
There are so many sight gags it takes
multiple viewings to catch them all. Lines of dialog have endured in
the mainstream to this day ("Surely you're not serious." "I am
totally serious. And don't call me Shirley.") Peter Graves
reportedly was uncomfortable initially with his character, the
perverted flight captain Clarence Ovuer, trying to lure the young
boy passenger Joey (Rossie Harris) into some dirty dialog with such
leading questions as "Have you ever seen a grown man naked?" "Have
you ever been in a Turkish prison?" Leslie Nielsen enjoyed a career
resurgence, teaming up with the Zuckers and Abrahams in the "Police
Squad!" comedies, and catching talk show hosts off guard with a fart
machine during live interviews. Interestingly, I saw Robert Hays at
a convention a few years ago and was surprised he was not drawing
very many people to his table for autographs. A shame.
"DRESSED TO KILL"
Brian DePalma was a director who shook me up
when I was younger with his sometimes shocking and terrifying murder
scenes in his movies, notably "Sisters" and this movie "Dressed to
Kill." DePalma was a fan of Alfred Hitchcock, and Kate Miller's
(Angie Dickinson) brutal murder by slashing in an elevator after a
tryst in a taxicab is a much more explicit homage to Marion Crane's
(Janet Leigh) stabbing death in the shower in "Psycho." Nancy Allen,
who was married to DePalma at the time, plays Liz Blake, who teams
up with the nerdy Peter Miller (Keith Gordon) in trying to track
down a serial killer. Michael Caine is delicious as Dr. Robert
Elliott, who exploits his position as a psychiatrist to achieve his
STEVE MCQUEEN'S SWAN SONGS
Steve McQueen died of cancer in November
1980, and his final two movies were released in the latter part of
1980. Sadly, neither one will be remembered among his better work.
"Tom Horn" was a solid if not particularly
accurate retelling of a former Army scout hired to track down cattle
rustlers but ultimately is convicted and hanged for the killing of a
young boy despite some questions regarding his guilt. McQueen's
portrayal of Horn is mostly a sympathetic one although in reality
Horn was not a nice person and quoted as saying, "Killing men is my
specialty. I look at it as a business proposition, and I think I
have a corner on the market. "
The final McQueen movie was "The Hunter," in
which he plays Papa Thorson, who hunts down bail jumpers. It was in
this movie McQueen acknowledged he was getting too old for these
adventures. After a particularly long foot pursuit, he is seen lying
on his back, gasping for breath, a very different visual from that
in "Bullitt," wherein after chasing a suspect across a San Francisco
airport runway, calmly and not out of breath and nary a bead of
sweat on his forehead, he guns down the bad guy.
Peter O'Toole received an Academy Award
nomination for his role as Eli Cross, an eccentric and demanding
movie director who cares little for the costs financially and
physically as long as he gets the desired shot. Steve Railsback, so
good as Charles Manson in the TV movie "Helter Skelter," is Cameron,
who is fleeing from police but latches on to Eli's movie production
as a stuntman. While matching wits with the egomaniac Cross, Cameron
finds himself falling for the leading lady on the film, Nina
Franklin (Barbara Hershey). This is a visually energetic film with
quite a few twists along the way.
As fall arrived, so did some of the movies
hankering for Academy Award nominations and this one was one of the
more successful efforts. Based upon the Judith Guest novel and
directed by Robert Redford, it was definitely an emotional wringer
of a movie. Timothy Hutton won an Academy Award in what has been his
only nomination, playing Conrad, a teen with a major case of
survivor's guilt in the aftermath of a boating accident that killed
his older brother Buck that he revered. Following a suicide attempt,
Conrad tries to get back to a normal life. But the stigma of trying
to commit suicide and a frigid relationship with his emotionally
vacant mother Beth (Mary Tyler Moore, who picked up an Oscar
nomination) hamper his recovery. One of the biggest oversights was
that Donald Sutherland, as Calvin, husband of Beth and father of
Conrad, did not get a nomination despite a heartbreaking performance
as a man caught in the middle of an alienated mother-son
relationship while trying to salvage a crumbling family. What is
truly worthy of mentioning was that the scene at the end of the
movie, wherein Calvin is distressed as he admits to Beth that he may
not love her anymore, had to be reshot, with only Sutherland present
and no Moore from which to play off of.
"ANY WHICH WAY YOU CAN"
It's hard to resist a movie in which Clint
Eastwood beats up people, Glen Campbell sings, Ruth Gordon finds
love late in life and an orangutan named Clyde is everybody's best
buddy, well except for some bad guys.
This was the second and final of the Philo
Beddoe films (the first one was titled "Every Which Way But Loose")
in which Eastwood plays Philo, who scraps cars with his pals Orville
and Clyde and makes money on the side taking on foes in bare-fisted
fighting. Philo, being pursued by an inept, revenge-driven
motorcycle gang, the Black Widows, led by Cholla (John Quade), has
managed to secure the affections of singer Lynne Halsey Taylor
(Sondra Locke) while Ma (Ruth Gordon), who sort of rules over the
house of Philo, Orville and Clyde, falls in love. Philo agrees to a
high-stakes fight with a renowned brawler named Jack Wilson (William
Smith). But the fight attracts all kinds of seedy and greedy people,
putting Philo and his family at risk. In the end, Philo gains
unlikely allies as the Black Widows and Wilson team up with him and
they vanquish the bad guys and later celebrate at a nice, homey
Country Western bar.
This was kind of a mess of a movie, directed
by Robert Altman, he of improvisation in his movies. But seeing
super talented Robin Williams as the sailor with the huge,
steroid-like-juiced arms, try to fit in with the town of Sweethaven,
basically run by the intimidating Bluto (Paul Smith) is a fun
experience. Shelley Duvall was born to play the thin-as-a-rail and
emotionally wacky Olive Oyl (who, engaged to the menacing Bluto, can
only sing this praise of him, "He's large"). Pretty much panned by
critics, there are some good moments. For me it is when Popeye
single-handedly takes out a group of bullies -- led by Spike (Dennis
Franz) -- in what apparently is the town's only restaurant.