Ooooh, it’s all changed here. Look how lovely and clean it looks on here now.
The Yorkshire Ripper was caught, the Delorian was invented, Britain became the Summer of riots, Ric Flair beat Dusty Rhodes to win his first world title and John Hickley Jr makes the most romantic gesture of all time by shooting the American President just to impress Jodie Foster (didn’t work). (“Yet” – Mike)
More importantly 1981 had some awesome movies released. As usual here are three movies released that year that meant a lot to me on some level, and a WTF? moment where something unforgettable weird, bad or inappropriate happened in our cinemas that year.
Raiders of the Lost Ark
English people who are old like me may remember a TV show called The Krypton Factor, where four contestants would compete against each other in a series of physical and mental challenges. One of the segments would be and observation round, where a clip of a usually not yet released movie would be shown and questions asked about it. One particular week the clip in question featured Harrison Ford who I of course recognised from Star Wars, in a sequence with him facing off against a swordsman. The swordsman went through a long show of twirling the sword and throwing it back and forth from hand hand to hand and when he finished I naturally expected a fight to commence but instead Ford nonchalantly took out his gun and killed the swordsman with one shot. (My mind may be playing tricks with me but I’m sure the clip was aired without music, which made the action even more causal and half hearted and even funnier).
Me and my Dad howled with laughter and I knew there and then that this character who’s name I had missed was just as cool as Han Solo and even though this was not a film with aliens and spaceships (well not yet) I had to see this movie.
This moment has been called one of the greatest in movie history and legend has it was completely by accident. The story goes that director Spielberg had prepared a long, intricate duel of whip vs sword between Indiana Jones and the swordsman but on the day of filming Ford was ill and couldn’t face a long, complicated fight scene. Ford asked if he could just shoot the swordsman and inadvertently mined screen gold there and then.
When you think about it’s actually a cold blooded, brutal moment. But then again Raiders of the Lost Ark is from a lost time, when sensibilities were not so easily shaken, when censors didn’t freak out if a child saw a bit of blood on the screen and when a PG rated film had a real bite to it and a family film was something adults and children could enjoy together.
Because by today’s standards, Raiders of the Lost ark is a really violent movie. Take the shoot out in the bar where Indy and Marion (played as a total badass by Karen Allen) battle a team of thugs for the medallion that will lead to the Ark of the Covenant) where we see Marion inches from being branded, villains shot in the head, men set on fire, bottles smashed over heads, vicious punches landing with sickening impact and gunshots that roar like cannons.
And the action is relentless. Indy takes an absolute battering at the hands of a Nazi mechanic in a brutal fight (just check out the combination of wild swinging hooks that Indy throws that smash the hell out of the guy’s nose), before dispatching his foe into the blades of a plane. Not long after he’s taking a beating from a Nazi commando in the driving seat of a truck, being punched repeatedly in a shoulder that he’s just been shot in.
When Indy finally gets a respite from non stop battling and killing Nazi’s (and the massive use of Nazi’s and swastikas probably would have studios baulking today) he is bloodied, bruised, exhausted and in a mess like we’ve rarely see an kid’s action hero.
This is a violent movie, and we’ve not even mentioned melting faces, exploding heads, booby trap victims with spears through their faces and the nightmare scene where Marion is bombarded with mummified bodies falling on her from every direction.
Once again this was considered a PG movie and I thank God I grew up in a time when films were so. The 70’s and 80’s were glorious for young film fans. Although sadly the TV cuts absolutely butcher the film, making some scenes clumsy and incomprehensible, such as when Indy loses the Golden Idol and by cutting the scene where he recovers it from the body of his betrayer who has been caught in a brutal boobytrap makes him seem to get it back with no explanation.
Just like Star Wars was his Flash Gordon, so Indiana Jones was George Lucas’s homage to the action serials of the 30’s and 40’s (and I watched so many of those after school as a kid on BBC-2, you know the ones Annie Wilkes went apeshit over in Misery) and it hits the tone perfectly. Raiders of the Lost Ark has the non stop action of those shows, flipping from fight scene, to trapped peril scene to chase scene, brilliantly taking every possible scenario from adventure films and pulp novels. Giving the quest for the Ark and the fight to keep it out of Hitler’s hands an added weight with the romance between Indy and Marion. The chemistry between them is off the charts, one minute in love the next arguing and yelling at each other (although let’s maybe stir clear of the disturbing idea Spielberg had for the ages of Marion and Indy when they had their first romance).
It’s also wickedly funny. Such as the Gestapo interrogator coat hanger, the Nazi saluting monkey, the banter between Indy and Marion (when seemingly facing certain death, Indy is more annoyed by the dress Marion has been giving by his so easy to hate rival the creepy Belloq) and Indy’s crippling fear of snakes.
This is the perfect bank holiday movie. Action, adventure, romance and Harrison Ford kicking the fuck out of Nazi’s. It should be a required rites of passage for parents to show this to their kids when of the the right age. Although I implore you all to show the film at the most on DVD, not on Blu Ray of any super HD format, because Raiders was not filmed to be shown in such clear detail and because of it the film suffers when shown on these format. I once started watching the film on pristine HD and had to stop because the costumes, sets and special effects suffer greatly, especially the iconic boulder scene which looks like Indy is running from a mass of paper mache.
Raiders was also something of a lost concept today, as it was an original character created for the screen and not an adapted license. Naturally Indiana Jones became a franchise and a prequel of sorts followed with the Temple of Doom which I loved but has mixed views amongst fans. The Last Crusade was universally loved but contrarian that I really disliked, finding Sean Connery as Indy’s Dad really nauseating (although the “No Ticket” gag was great). After a twenty years absence Indy returned in Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls and by God do we wish he didn’t. An absolute misguided pile of shite that ruined the wonderful mysterious ending of Raiders where the Ark is seen being hidden away in a vast labyrinth of crates. For years fans speculated on this mysterious warehouse, could it be Area 51 perhaps? Well Crystal Skulls killed all the mystery, confirmed it was Area 51 and showed the Ark with all the majesty of an Ikea kit.
But nothing can kill the memories of Raiders of the Lost Ark which in it’s own ways captured the imagination in such a beloved manner as much as Star Wars. What’s more it makes the blockbuster look so easy, with action scenes that never bore and a story that is simple but compelling and fast paced and works.
By the way, I heartily recommend checking out the documentary “Raiders” which details a group of kids efforts to create their own shot by shot remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark. A feat that took them thirty years to complete. It’s a compelling story of film passion, friendship, obsession and the trappings of adulthood.
If do-gooding parents found the melting Nazi’s too much to bear for their delicate little children, then thankfully there was a live action Disney movie they could go as a family to instead. All that they had to worry about was young girls being sacrificed to a Dragon, a death by an arrow through the chest and some underwater tits and ass.
That’s right, a Disney PG movie had some female nudity (and to be fair a guy’s bare ass) in it. Although it should be said there is a storyline reason for this, as it’s here that we get the reveal that the character Valerian is in fact a woman who has been disguised as boy by her father to prevent her from being entered into the lottery to determine which virgin females will be offered as sacrifice to the dragon Casidodorus. I mean, how else could she be discovered to be a woman without getting her kit off?
Despite the nudity, Dragonslayer is very much a kids movie, but again is an example of how edgy films for youngsters were as opposed to today. It’s very much a sword and sorcery film, with a young magician’s apprentice attempting to save a city from the terror of a dragon, only kept at bay by the sacrifice of a virgin lass twice a year. One such sacrifice we actually see early on, as the terrified girl is stalked and toyed with by the dragon before been burnt alive.
Our young hero, Galen, as well as raging a campaign against the Dragon also has to battle the corrupt King and establishment, who at times seem to have a vested interest in keeping threat of the Dragon to keep the citizens in line as well rake in the bribes paid by the wealthy to prevent their daughters from being included in the lottery. While it’s pretty standard good vs evil, Dragonslayer does play around with the gender roles associated with heroism. Galen is one of the most bumbling, awkward heroes seen in a kids fantasy film. It’s hardly Conan the Barbarian we get to follow going one on one with the dragon, but a young Peter Macnicol who is probably more recognisable as the weaselly villain Dr Janoz in Ghostbusters II and as the “funny little man” in Ally McBeal. Yep, that’s our hero.
If Dragonslayer was made today, Twitter would no doubt be awash with rage by male activist types with such a un-Alpha male hero, while the young lass Valerian is portrayed as decidedly more kick ass due to her tomboy persona. Also swinging in with female empowerment is the Kings daughter, Princess Elspeth, who on discovering that she has been protected from being a sacrifice, rigs the lottery and willingly goes to her death at the flames of the Dragon to atone for the actions of her Father.
The real scene stealer is of course the Dragon “Vermithax,” which by todays standard the puppetry and stop motion effects look primitive, but back in the 80’s looked great to young eyes. The scenes in the dragon’s lair were particularly impressive with caves full of rivers of fire and I remember feeling a twinge of sympathy for the Dragon as it examined the corpses of it’s dead younglings. It’s most breathtaking moments are in the flying sequences towards the end of the film, where the dragon soars through the sky with the grace of an X-Wing fighter, firing streams of fire along the way. It’s not surprising to know that much of this footage was shot at the studios of ILM.
Dragonslayer was a creative and daring movie for the house of the mouse and sadly did not pay off at the Boxoffice. Audiences were not sure how to take such a dark Disney movie and officially bombed taking in only 14 million against it’s 18 million budget. Fortunately for the movie, it came out at the explosion of the home video market and garnered a new audience through video rentals (as well as seeing Dragonslayer on video it was also shown at my junior school at the end of the school year and no the teachers did not freak out and kick the projector over at the sight of bare bottoms, we English kids of the 80’s were used to seeing Samantha Fox’s bare breasts every morning in the papers after all). (Mike: I got to read Garfield.)
Dragonslayer would never match the terror and stunning aura of the T-Rex in Jurrassic park, but for kids of the early 80’s it did it’s job and provided a movie that didn’t treat the youngsters with kid gloves.
“Perhaps you would like me to come in there and wash your dick for you? you little shit!”
“You spoiled little bastard!”
Two quotes alone that make the comedy Arthur unmissable, as they are both uttered by the great thespian actor and darling of the stage Sir John Gielgud. Gielgud delivers these lines, swear words and all, with the English pomposity and snobbery that he exudes for the entire film in an absolutely hilariously witty performance.
Gielgud plays Hobson, a butler and companion to Arthur a playboy millionaire heir, who spends all his days getting drunk, sleeping with hookers and spending the money of his pompous father. Played with a childlike sweetness by Dudley Moore, Arthur even when drunk is incredibly likeable being so good natured and funny. His carefree life gets complicated in the midst of him being forced into a marriage with Susan the daughter of a ruthless business man to cement an alliance with his father’s company. While resigned to the marriage to keep his inheritance and trustfund, Arthur unexpectedly falls in love with a working class girl Linda (who first meets when she shoplifts a tie for her father’s birthday) played by Liza Minelli.
Arthur is one of the funniest comedies I’ve ever seen. It was so loved in my household as a child that my parents rented it about four times from our local video shop. When it finally appeared on British television one Christmas we were overjoyed that we’d finally be able to record a copy to keep, only to be horrified when the words “Dick” and “Shit” were bleeped out of Gielgud’s famous line.
At times Moore owns entire scenes as if they are standup routines, with non stop gags and selling them with riotous facial expressions. Such as when he’s taking a hooker out to a exclusive restaurant (“You’re a hooker? Jesus, I forgot, I thought I was doing great with you”), meeting with his frightening future father in law (Arthur distracted by a Moose head in the meeting is hysterical), proposing to Susan (when she claims a real woman could stop him drinking he replies “she’d have to be a real big woman”) or trying to find Linda’s apartment in the middle of the night while drunk.
Moore is brilliant as Arthur, but it’s two relationships he has that really make the movie.
The first is with Hobson. It’s clear from early on that Hobson is more than just a butler, he’s a father figure (it’s hinted at that Hobson was employed from Arthur’s birth) and also Arthur’s only friend. For all the sniping and annoyed sarcasm that Hobson delivers at Arthur, it’s clear he’s protective of him (he tells a loudmouth badmouthing Arthur to “Go screw yourself”) and is the only person who knows him and wants him to be happy, playing cupid with him and Linda. When Hobson falls ill and is about to die the scenes with Arthur are incredibly moving and the two refer to each other at separate times as father and son.
The other relationship is the romance between Arthur and Linda and the chemistry between Moore and Minnelli is one of the greatest Rom-Com partnerships I’ve ever seen. Minnelli plays off Moore so effortlessly in their banter that at time it feels like a fair amount of ab lib is going on. They are a couple you’re really rooting for and you almost want to cheer when Arthur finally mans up and decides to sacrifice his fortune realising it’s Linda who will ultimately make him happy.
Arthur was a massive success at the box office, raking in 95 million against 7 million production costs. It also gained Gielgud a best supporting actor at the Oscars while the theme “Best that you can do” saw the team win best original song.
Sadly a follow up in 1988 Arthur 2: On the Rocks did no where near as well critically or financially. It’s carried again by the banter between Linda and Arthur (and a sequence where Gielgud returns as a ghost, the actor only agreeing to do it when producers flew him in on Concorde), but the story of them conned out of their fortunes in another bid by the families attempts to force Arthur to divorce Linda and marry Susan, takes a dark turn with Arthur on the streets and lacking the lovable persona he had in the first film.
Worse was to come in a remake in 2011 with Helen Mirran playing Hobson and the rule of Arthur being played by Russell Brand who came across as simply obnoxious in the role. Even with large swathes of dialogue ripped from the original it simply did not have the magic or fairytale element to it.
Arthur though remains one of my favourite comedies of all time and manages to hold up well.
WTF? Superman kills ZOD????
Remember in Man of Steel in 2013 when Superman snapped Zod’s neck to stop his murderous rampage? Remember how fans where outraged, OUTRAGED, because Superman killing went against everything the character was about.
You know, like the wholesome Christopher Reeve version of Superman. The one that in Superman II KILLED GENERAL ZOD!!!!
But not killing Zod in a desperate last resort to stop him frying innocent citizens with his lazer eyes. Oh no this so so much worse, because Christopher Reeve Superman kills a depowered General Zod. Yes this Superman effectively murdered a defenceless human being.
Long story short in Superman II, the Man of Steel in a standoff and outnumbered by three other Kyrptonians beats Zod’s crew by robbing them of their powers and making them regular humans. So he’s won right? He can just say “Sorry Zod, I’ve took away your powers, you can’t do anything against me now, game over, off to jail with you.”
But no! He milks this for all it’s worth, let’s Zod think he’s won and that it’s Superman who has lost his power. He bows down as instructed by Zod and takes his hand in surrender.
And then crushes Zod’s hand, picking him up and throwing him to his death down an ice shaft. Again, he doesn’t have to do this, he can easily restrain Zod and take him in to face trail for his crimes. With Zod gone the non too bright Non is next to die, although it’s really his own fault for trying to fly without powers and falling to his death. This just leaves Ursua, who’s a woman and surely Superman won’t stoop so low as kill a defenceless lady? It’s ok, because Lois Lane is on hand to knock her out and send her too plummeting to her death.
And you know how much outcry there was over this slaughter by Superman of three defenceless humans (albeit it villains) in a torturous, petty manner? ABSOLUTELY NONE. Why not? because it was an awesome moment, bad guys getting their just deserts, done with humour and style. Because this was the 80’s and back then we didn’t bellyache because our childhoods had been destroyed by having Superman dish out some hard justice. If you’d have told us back then that one day, oh so easily offended souls would be crying and whining because Batman was killing a few bad guys in BVS in 2015 we would never have invented the 90’s and stayed well clear of the pissy little 21st century sensibilities.
Superman II may appear dated next to the evolved, mature Superhero movies of the last fifteen years, but it has more in keeping with the comic book roots than the Marvel and DC movie universes. Like it’s predecessor, Superman II looks like a comic book come to life, it has the charm and innocence of a comic strip of the time. Just compare the attack on New York in the first Avengers movie as citizens flee in terror from the carnage with the Superhero slugfest over Metropolis (which at the time had young fans like me watching in awe at what looked like an epic battle) where the citizens actually watch excitedly, whooping and cheering Superman on.
Superman II is a blast and while many of the modern day comic book movies are superior in every way, you’ll struggle to find as uplifting a scene as when the newspapers with headlines decrying the disappearance of Superman start fluttering in the wind and the Superman music starts to play as the man of steel appears and flys up to the window of the Daily Planet to offer Zod to step outside!
If that moment doesn’t get you in goosebumps the first time you see it, then go watch the fucking English Patient or some shit.
Next time out I’ll be following 1981 with 1982…or will I? Cos that’s what you’d be expecting me to do.
While finishing off this article, I learnt of the sad news that John Schnep, most famous for being a presenter on Collider Heroes and making of the Superman Lives documentary had passed away after suffering from a stroke. Schnep was a passionate lover of films and comic books and it was the enthusiasm and positivity of presenters like him that inspired me to air my own love of movies on these here pages.
Schnep was a colourful, down to Earth character who’s love for all things “sweaty” (his affectionate term for nerdy) was wonderfully infectious and I’ll miss seeing him on the culture of youtube style shows.
RIP Mr Schnep