Second Union

Second Union

VINTAGE CABLE BOX: All Night Long (1981)

“I’m not a fire you can put out!”

All Night Long, 1981 (Gene Hackman), Universal Pictures

Burned-out corporate bulldog Gene Hackman has a nervous breakdown and throws a chair out of his office window. Rather than being fired on-the-spot (like most people), he is demoted to a night manager’s position at his company’s all-night drug store chain. He lives in a Stepford-like suburban bedroom community. At a funeral, he meets Barbra Streisand’s Cheryl, telegraphed as a bit of a free-spirit that people find odd. In my case, I would find her annoying and probably keep my distance, but I’m not in this movie. Hackman is intrigued. He discovers his idiot son (Dennis Quaid) is screwing Cheryl on the side. He takes exception at this and tells his son to stay away from her. Quaid is supposed to be 18, but he looks a lot older.

At his new job, Hackman comes across all manner of eccentric character – people who do their shopping in the middle of the night, strange men who shop-lift pantyhose, conspiracy nuts, and incompetent rent-a-cops. I’ve worked night shifts all my life. I’m kind of a night person. In fact, as I write up this review, it is three in the morning. Cheryl pops in, tells Hackman Quaid is upset at his being “grounded” from sex. He is immediately taken with her. She is a bit of a tease. They start spending time together because her firefighter husband spends most of his nights on duty. This sets up an interesting conflict between Hackman and Quaid. Hackman moves out of his house, and his wife (Diane Ladd) is contemplating divorce.

Hackman nails the mid-life crisis neuroses, but Streisand’s flighty extrovert with aspirations of being a country/western singer can grate. What is essentially a romantic comedy for insomniacs with interesting fleshed-out characters is overshadowed by the presence of Barbra Streisand. The film was originally cast with actress Lisa Eichhorn as Cheryl. The film was directed by Jean-Claude Tramont, the husband of Streisand’s agent at the time, Sue Mengers. A few weeks into filming, Eichhorn was fired and replaced with Streisand. I can only speculate Tramont wanted a bigger budget and Mengers convinced Streisand to take the role. Eichhorn complained about her dismissal and the producers invented a story about her having no chemistry with Hackman, which killed her film career.

All Night Long plays like a mid-sixties sex comedy. Streisand’s character reminds me of Marilyn Monroe from The Seven Year Itch and she is always the focus of every scene she is in, even though this is a movie about Gene Hackman and his character’s woes. The script has many amusing moments and good performances, but lacks the single-character focus you would expect from a small domestic comedy like this. Despite my complaints, I really did enjoy this movie the many times it played on cable television, mainly for Gene Hackman, one of our great treasures in cinema. Even with all the behind-the-scenes intrigue, he’s having so much fun in this movie.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties. 

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