It's easy to forget these days just how huge a star Burt Reynolds was in his prime, but perhaps the biggest testament to his popularity is that he's the one who finally, if only for a week, ended E.T.: THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL's reign at the top of the box office in the summer of 1982. And it wasn't just any Burt Reynolds movie. It wasn't a car chase comedy and it wasn't a cop thriller. It was a Burt Reynolds musical: the big-screen version of the Broadway smash THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS.
But in his day, he was a movie star in the truest sense of the word, and THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS finds him at a time when he was still bringing his A-game. Parton and director Colin Higgins were reuniting after their 1980 smash 9 TO 5, and longtime Reynolds pal Charles Durning got a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his role as the Governor. Reynolds' buddies Dom DeLuise and Jim Nabors also co-starred. THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS grossed just under $70 million, making it the ninth highest-grossing film of 1982 and the most popular movie musical of the decade.
George Roy Hill's THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP, based on the 1978 John Irving novel, also opened this weekend. Irving's book was considered unfilmable by some, but Hill had shown an ability to meet that challenge before with his 1972 film version of Kurt Vonnegut's SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE. Hill had several classics to his name--1969's BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, 1973's Best Picture Oscar winner THE STING, and the 1977 hockey comedy SLAP SHOT--and was working from a script by Steve Tesich, who won a Best Screenplay Oscar for 1979's BREAKING AWAY. GARP was an important film for Robin Williams, in just his second starring film role after 1980's POPEYE and the TV series MORK & MINDY, which had wrapped up its fourth and final season earlier in the year. Williams had many serious moments in this comedy-drama, but critics and audiences didn't seem quite ready to consider him anything but the wacky comedian they saw on TV, and much of GARP's acclaim went to two of Williams' co-stars: John Lithgow as transsexual ex-football star Roberta Muldoon, and veteran stage actress Glenn Close, making her big-screen debut as Garp's mother. Both Lithgow and Close received Supporting Oscar nominations for their work in GARP. Close immediately proved to be the real deal, earning Oscar nominations for her first three films, and by 1989, she'd made eight films and received Oscar nominations for five of them.
Williams' gained his earliest notoriety when his Mork was a guest character on HAPPY DAYS, which led to the spinoff MORK & MINDY. Another HAPPY DAYS cast member had a film opening this weekend with Scott Baio starring in the comedy ZAPPED. Baio joined HAPPY DAYS in 1977 and had developed a following as Fonzie's cousin Chachi Arcola, introduced as a love interest for a maturing Joanie Cunningham (Erin Moran). Joanie and Chachi's romance gave ABC the idea to give Moran and Baio their own show with JOANIE LOVES CHACHI, which was yanked after one season and the two actors returned to HAPPY DAYS until the show ended in 1984. While Moran tried to get a big-screen career going with the Roger Corman-produced GALAXY OF TERROR (1981), ZAPPED teamed Baio with fellow ABC series stars Willie Aames (EIGHT IS ENOUGH) and Heather Thomas (THE FALL GUY). Baio plays a science nerd who acquires telekinetic powers, leading to much wackiness and topless young women, which made ZAPPED a video store and cable TV favorite for the rest of the decade. It also starred Felice Schachter (one of the original girls on the first season of THE FACTS OF LIFE), Merritt Butrick (STAR TREK II and soon to be on TV's SQUARE PEGS), cult-movie regular Irwin Keyes, veteran TV actress Sue Ann Langdon, all-purpose nerd Eddie Deezen, LaWanda "SANFORD & SON's Aunt Esther" Page, and the great Scatman Crothers. ZAPPED led to the 1990 sequel ZAPPED AGAIN, with only Langdon returning from the 1982 film. Baio and Aames would become friends and take their ZAPPED magic to the small-screen for the long-running CHARLES IN CHARGE.
Also in theaters was the great John Frankenheimer's action thriller THE CHALLENGE, which featured the badass teaming of Scott Glenn and Toshiro Mifune, paired up to take on a bunch of Japanese bad guys after a rare sword. Co-written by John Sayles, THE CHALLENGE bombed in theaters and was made at a time when Frankenheimer (THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, THE TRAIN, SECONDS) was in a serious career slump and his battle with alcoholism took him to a personal low point. Frankenheimer went into rehab after finishing THE CHALLENGE and slowly began to rebuild his stellar career, which was back in solid standing when he died in 2002. THE CHALLENGE is hardly Frankenheimer's finest hour, but it's fast-moving and undeniably entertaining, and like ZAPPED, became a constant fixture on cable throughout the 1980s. Glenn and the incredible Mifune make a great team, as evidenced in this YouTube clip of all of their CHALLENGE kills.
TOP 10 FILMS FOR THE WEEKEND OF JULY 23, 1982 (from www.boxofficemojo.com)
1. THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS
2. E.T.: THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL
3. YOUNG DOCTORS IN LOVE
4. THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP
5. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (re-release)
6. ROCKY III
9. SIX PACK