Sunday, July 29, 2012

Summer of 1982: AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN and NIGHT SHIFT (July 30, 1982)

AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN was perhaps 1982's stealthiest blockbuster.  It opened with little fanfare on July 30 and didn't have its biggest week until September.  It remained in the top five until December, only taking the top spot twice, but it made just under $130 million to became the third highest-grossing film of the year.  The film, directed by Taylor Hackford (THE IDOLMAKER) and written by Douglas Day Stewart (THE BOY IN THE PLASTIC BUBBLE, THE BLUE LAGOON), is predictable and manipulative (especially the storybook finale), but it's got some strong performances and for the most part, it's aged well.  Aimless, troubled, and angry Zack Mayo (Richard Gere), still not over his mother's suicide when he was child, joins the Navy as a way out of his dead-end life with his drunk father (Robert Loggia), whose idea of bonding is getting a prostitute for the two of them to share.  He befriends fellow recruits Sid Worley (David Keith) and Casey Seeger (Lisa Eilbacher), clashes with drill sergeant Foley (Louis Gossett, Jr), and falls in love with local factory worker Paula Pokrifki (Debra Winger) who, along with her best friend Lynette (Lisa Blount) dream of finding a Navy man to whisk them away from their dead-end jobs so they can see the world.   Gere is very good as the irresponsible Mayo (aka "Mayo-naise," aka "Mayo the Wop"), who finally learns how to be a man once he's away from his loser father (fourth-billed Loggia exits the film before the opening credits, and spends most of his screen time scratching his balls), and it's he and Winger's considerable onscreen chemistry that made this the massive hit that it became.  That, and the hugely popular Joe Cocker/Jennifer Warnes theme song "Up Where We Belong." 

The song got an Oscar, and the Best Supporting Actor Oscar went to Gossett, who's fine in the role, but there's really nothing exceptional in his performance (and the Oscar curse led him straight to 1983's ill-advised JAWS 3-D).  Of course, this was before R. Lee Ermey rewrote the book on cinematic drill sergeants five years later in FULL METAL JACKET (some of Ermey's dialogue seems to have been taken from here, as Gossett mentions "steers & queers," and threatens to gouge out Sid's eyes and "skullfuck" him).  Winger first gained notice in 1980's URBAN COWBOY and helped provide the voice of E.T.: THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL, and received the first of her three Oscar nominations here, and this film was big enough for her that it managed to get her top billing over established stars Shirley MacLaine and Jack Nicholson in the next year's TERMS OF ENDEARMENT.  Winger, who famously clashed with MacLaine and quickly earned a reputation for being "difficult," has never been as vulnerable and appealing as she is here.  Gere, coming off of AMERICAN GIGOLO, has been in a lot of big movies but has never really gotten the respect he's deserved as an actor.  Watching the film again after many years, I was surprised at how good Gere is in this--not just in his interaction with Winger, Keith, or Gossett (the boot camp scenes are beyond formulaic), but most impressively in the scene where Mayo sacrifices his chance at the obstacle course record to help Seeger over the wall.  It's audience manipulation at its most blatant, but Gere and the charming Eilbacher (why was she never a bigger star?) sell the hell out of it.  But was it necessary for Mayo and Foley to settle their differences with a martial-arts match-up?

Ron Howard previously directed and starred in 1977's GRAND THEFT AUTO for Roger Corman, but NIGHT SHIFT was his first theatrical feature as a director since leaving HAPPY DAYS to focus on a career behind the camera.  Working from a script by regular collaborators Lowell Ganz & Babaloo Mandel, Howard brought along his TV co-star Henry Winkler and created one of the most immensely likable comedies of the year.  It would probably rank as a comedy classic if it didn't lose momentum in the last third and drag on a bit longer than necessary.  Winkler stars as Chuck Lumley, a mild-mannered night shift attendant at the NYC morgue, but from the very moment he's introduced, the film belongs to a debuting Michael Keaton in a star-making performance as his new assistant, fast-talking "idea man" Bill "Billy Blaze" Blazejowski. 

With the help of Chuck's prostitute neighbor Belinda (Shelley Long), Chuck and Bill begin running a profitable prostitution ring out of the morgue.  Winkler and Keaton are a great team, and after several years of doing stand-up and assorted TV roles, Keaton immediately established himself as a major new comedic talent, and in the coming years, would prove to be just as adept in serious roles as well.  Long was a few months away from starring in CHEERS, and the film also features appearances by Bobby DiCicco (who gets the immortal line "Oh, that Barney Rubble...what an actor!"), Richard Belzer, Joe Spinell, Nita Talbot, an ass-baring Michael Pataki, Vincent Schiavelli, Cassandra Gava (the witch in CONAN THE BARBARIAN), a young Shannen Doherty as a girl scout, and Kevin Costner as "Frat Guy #1" (he's at the party in the morgue, behind Keaton as he's balancing a beer bottle on his forehead), in addition to the inevitable Clint Howard. 

The soundtrack features songs written by Carole Bayer Sager and Burt Bacharach, including the title track by Quarterflash (still riding high on "Harden My Heart"), Al Jarreau's "Girls Know How," and Rod Stewart's version of "That's What Friends Are For," which became a chart-topping charity single for Dionne Warwick and Friends (Elton John, Gladys Knight, and Stevie Wonder) in 1985.  Other songs on the soundtrack include Van Halen's cover of "You Really Got Me,"  Talk Talk's "Talk Talk," and two songs by Riggs, a band that Warner Bros. got on the HEAVY METAL soundtrack as well, and were thoroughly unsuccessful at convincing the world to give a shit.

Also in theaters this weekend was the Chuck Norris thriller FORCED VENGEANCE.  Norris was slowly building a name for himself with drive-in hits like BREAKER! BREAKER! (1977), GOOD GUYS WEAR BLACK (1978),  A FORCE OF ONE (1979), and THE OCTAGON (1980).  AN EYE FOR AN EYE (1981) moved him closer to mainstream action and SILENT RAGE (1982) mixed Norris action into a sci-fi/horror story.  Four months after SILENT RAGE hit theaters, Norris was in theaters again with FORCED VENGEANCE, which finds him in more familiar surroundings as a casino security guard taking on the crime syndicate of Hong Kong.  The relentlessly busy Norris next did LONE WOLF MCQUADE (1983) and then had his first bona fide box office smash with MISSING IN ACTION (1984).   FORCED VENGEANCE was directed by Clint Eastwood protege James Fargo, who served as an assistant director on several Eastwood films throughout the '70s before the star let him direct THE ENFORCER (1976) and EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE (1978).  Fargo left the Eastwood stock company in 1978, doing the box-office bombs CARAVANS (1978) and GAME FOR VULTURES (1979).  FORCED VENGEANCE grossed $6.5 million and was the closest thing Fargo had to a hit without Eastwood, and by 1984, he was directing Pia Zadora in VOYAGE OF THE ROCK ALIENS before settling into a TV career (directing episodes of THE A-TEAM, SCARECROW AND MRS. KING, and HUNTER), with occasional B-movie assignments.  After directing a low-budget 1998 kids movie called SECOND CHANCES,  Fargo went MIA but finally emerged from obscurity after 13 years with BORN TO RIDE (2011), a straight-to-DVD SONS OF ANARCHY knockoff, with Casper van Dien and Patrick Muldoon reuniting from STARSHIP TROOPERS.

TEX was the first of a string of S.E. Hinton adaptations to hit screens from 1982 to 1985.  Directed by Tim Hunter, who went on to make RIVER'S EDGE (1987), TEX stars Matt Dillon and Jim Metzler as two teenage brothers whose father (Bill McKinney) abandons them after their mother dies.  It's a typical Hinton coming-of-age drama, with younger brother Tex (Dillon) forced to grow up fast and big brother Mason (Metzler) shouldering the responsibility of raising his little brother.  The fine supporting cast includes the great Ben Johnson, Meg Tilly, and a young Emilio Estevez as a friend of Tex's.  Dillon and Estevez would become almost the de facto faces of S.E. Hinton on the big screen, starring with an army of young, promising talent (Patrick Swayze, Tom Cruise, Rob Lowe, and others) in Francis Ford Coppola's THE OUTSIDERS (1983) and Dillon would also star in Coppola's second Hinton adaptation, RUMBLE FISH, later in 1983.  Estevez wrote and starred in 1985's THAT WAS THEN...THIS IS NOW, leaving 1988's Taming the Star Runner the only one of Hinton's young-adult novels that hasn't been made into a film involving either Matt Dillon or Emilio Estevez.

TOP TEN FILMS FOR THE WEEKEND OF JULY 30, 1982 (from www.boxofficemojo.com)

10. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (re-release)

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