Second Union

Second Union

VINTAGE CABLE BOX: Doctor Detroit (1983)

“I make adjustments to the human spine.”

Doctor Detroit, 1983 (Dan Aykroyd), MCA/Universal

Doctor Detroit was a movie I had not known about until it premiered on cable television; Cinemax specifically. I had not seen advertisements or trailers for the movie, but I knew if Dan Aykroyd was in it, it had to be funny. He can make the most painfully bad movie much more palatable – even Loose Cannons. In reviewing the movie, and looking at my notes, I came to the conclusion that most movies are given MPAA ratings for tone more than content. There have been more than a few movies I’ve seen recently that appeared harmless to me but were given restricted ratings for tone. A few simple edits and these movies could be seen by children. Of course, this movie is about pimps and prostitutes, so you should probably exercise caution.

Every morning Dan Aykroyd’s professor, Clifford Skridlow, power-walks six miles to Monroe College, where he teaches comparative literature. Smooth Walker, a big-time pimp (played by Howard “Johnny Fever” Hesseman) and his gaggle of Benetton-Ad prostitutes, run afoul of a local crime boss, “Mom” (Kate Murtagh). He owes “Mom” $80,000, and he tells her he can’t pay because he’s already into another seedy character for much more money: the fictitious “Doctor Detroit”, which he makes up on-the-spot, referencing a photograph and a calendar in Mom’s office.

Now it’s up to Hesseman and his bevy of beauties to create the man behind the myth, and they choose none other than our power-walking professor, who has problems of his own, not the least of which is making sure a top endowment for his University is received before the college is closed. He shows them a good time at an Indian restaurant, and Hesseman shows Aykroyd an even better time in his penthouse apartment later than night, which ends with a bacchanal in a hot tub.

The next morning, a hungover Skridlow is called to action when one of the girls is arrested. In a hilarious bit, he assumes the identity of a southern lawyer, complete with Colonel Sanders bow-tie and affected accent. After a quick trip to the college’s drama department, he assembles a costume (the contents of which are a wild wig of hair, glasses, shiny white shoes, a knight’s gauntlet, and vambrace, and a lime-green leisure suit) and shakes “Mom” down, putting her in the hospital. He has a dream straight out of Freud that recalls the character he played on Saturday Night Live: Fred Garvin, Male Prostitute as well as one-half of the Wild & Crazy Guys with Steve Martin.

Would-be-pimp movies were a common theme in the early eighties. We had Risky BusinessThe Rosebud Beach Hotel, and Night Shift, but Aykroyd’s talent carries these proceedings. If it were not for the content, this could’ve easily have been a Peter Sellers movie. Aykroyd is having tremendous fun in this role and in the various characters he concocts. An amazingly gifted actor, writer, and comedian, Aykroyd can be at times funny and tragic, intellectual and ineffectual, a hedonist, and a Zen monk, a poet, and a soldier.

T.K. Carter (of John Carpenter’s The Thing) plays Walker’s chauffeur, Diavolo. The girls that make up Walker’s ladies of the night are Fran Drescher (The Nanny), Donna Dixon, the future Mrs. Aykroyd, who appeared with him in Spies Like Us and The Couch Trip, Lynn Whitfield, who appeared in Eve’s Bayou, and Lydia Lei, who had previously appeared in Hammett. Michael Pressman would later direct Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze. Look for cameos from Blackie Dammett (National Lampoon’s Class Reunion) and James Brown.

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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