Does anyone else remember “The Odd Couple” (1970-1974) growing up? I was too young to remember its original run, but it played endlessly in reruns in the early 1980’s. For a lot of us, it was a show our parents watched. It was based on an eponymous 1965 Neil Simon play, and Tony Randall was absolutely a household name.
Hearing that theme song — and seeing those priceless shots of early-70’s New York in its opener — absolutely takes me back to my gradeschool years. I can practically smell dinner cooking in the kitchen.
Turns out it didn’t have a lot of cultural staying power — with my generation, at least. When was the last time you heard someone make a pop-culture reference to “The Odd Couple?” Yet people still fondly remember things like “The Partridge Family” (1970-1974), “The Six Million Dollar Man” (1973-1978) and “Voltron” (1983-1985).
“The Beastmaster” (1982) was THE movie that captured the imaginations of grade-school boys in the 1980’s. There were summer afternoons when this was the single biggest topic of conversation.
I almost wrote here that the movie was an obvious knockoff of the far-better-remembered “Conan the Barbarian;” that is how I’ve always remembered it. But the Internet informs me that they hit theaters only months apart. Wikipedia also informs me that “The Beastmaster” was actually a commercial failure, and that its two sequels and its television adaptation (all in the 1990’s) were aimed at a subsequent cult following spawned by the original movie’s appearance on 80’s TV. (I’m pretty sure that’s how my friends and I saw it.) What the hell was wrong with 1982 audiences, anyway? Was it something in the water? “Blade Runner” and John Carpenter’s “The Thing” were also flops that year — and those were some the best science fiction movies of all time. Talk about pearls before swine.
Anyway, please understand — “Conan the Barbarian” was inarguably the better film. No matter how much it polarized critics and audiences, that dour, violent, R-rated movie was intended as a serious adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s literary source material.
“The Beastmaster,” on the other hand, was campier stuff that was firmly aimed at kids. (I was surprised to learn that it had its own literary source material, but its B-movie wackiness only followed those books very loosely.) It had a PG rating and was jam-packed with garishly grotesque monsters that would thrill a fourth grade boy — the animalistic berzkers were what really got under my skin; my friends were more unnerved by the … bat-people. (There is a simple but quite effective 80’s-era practical effect that show how these baddies digest a victim alive. You kinda have to see the movie to know what I mean.) Hell, even the witches were a little creepy, and witches were not high on our list of things that were scary. I honestly think the film’s success owes a lot to its successful incorporation of horror movie elements designed to impress the younger set.
“The Beastmaster” starred Marc Singer, who went on to star in another 80’s phenomenon, television’s “V” series. (I might have loved “V” even more than “The Beastmaster.”) The movie also starred Tanya Roberts, who was another quite popular topic among gradeschool boys in the 80’s. John Amos starred in a supporting role, and he did a really good job of it. A lot of my older friends will remember him as the grouchy Dad in the “Good Times” (1974-1979); 80’s kids might point him out as the owner of “McDowell’s” in 1988’s “Coming to America.”
I really am curious to find out how well “The Beastmaster” has held up over time. I was surprised to discover that there is a great copy of it here on Youtube. (Thanks, VHS Drive-In.) You can bet that I’m watching it this weekend.
“The Poseidon Adventure” (1972) and “The Towering Inferno” (1974) were two seminal big-budget disaster action flicks produced by Irwin Allen. They were both based on popular novels, they both had all-star ensemble casts, and they both found their way to network television fairly quickly. They were both pretty decent flicks, too, I think … although I admittedly only saw them broadcast when I was very young. (My best guess is that I caught them sometime around 1979 or 1980; I’d have been in the second or third grade.)
They both made a big impression on me. Although “The Poseidon Adventure” is probably the better known of the two, it was “The Towering Inferno” that truly got under my skin. It had its share of frightening sequences — at least by 1970’s standards.
The one I remember the most is one of its two famous “elevator scenes.” After the plot-driving fire breaks out to create the titular burning high-rise, some panicking partygoers try to take an elevator directly to the street, past the burning floors — even after they’re warned not to try such an escape route. The result (which you can see in the third video below) was pretty scary stuff, at least to a kid my age, just before 1980’s action films would thoroughly desensitize me to this sort of thing. (It was not a decade known for nonviolent movies.) The outcome of the scene sent a pretty big message to me about the importance of following the authorities’ instructions during a disaster.
Both “The Poseidon Adventure” and “The Towering Inferno” were also among the paperbacks that littered the backseat of my father’s car. (Cars and closets and coffee tables in the house where I grew up were veritable small libraries; my father wasn’t reading Joyce or Dostoevsky, but lord knows that man read a lot.) In the case of the latter film, “The Glass Inferno” was the name of the original book by Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson. Believe it or not, I can remember asking my Dad what the word “inferno” meant. And I remember being fascinated, for some reason, by the idea that filmmakers could change the name of a story when adapting it. (The people who made movies could do anything they wanted!)
They actually remade “The Poseidon Adventure” a few years back … I saw it, and I might have even reviewed it for this blog. I can’t say that it was memorable, though. Indeed, the only thing I can recall about it was the presence of the priceless Kurt Russell.
Or maybe it was terrific, and I just don’t remember that. I am getting old — after all, I was a second grader in 1979.
I was surprised when I recently discovered that “The Swarm” (1978) was a feature film; I remembered it as a made-for-television movie from my childhood. (After its theatrical release, it debuted on NBC with a hell of a lot of fanfare in February 1980.) I was also surprised to read that it was both a critical and a commercial flop, and is often named as one of the worst films ever made. I was in the second grade at the time, and — let me assure you — this was THE movie the kids in school talked about. We were in awe of it.
The people behind “The Swarm” had high hopes for it in 1978. The internet informs me that it was based on a best-seller by famed novelist Arthur Herzog. And it was helmed by director Irwin Allen, who gave us two classic 70’s film adaptations of disaster novels — “The Poseidon Adventure” in 1972, and “The Towering Inferno” in 1974. (Those were a pretty big deal back in the day.) And just look at the cast named in the trailer below. It’s like a who’s who of 1970’s cinema. Yet it all apparently just didn’t pan out … contrary to my memories of second grade, “The Swarm” went down in pop culture history as a train wreck.
Check out the bee-proof suits worn by the guys with the flamethrowers. Talk about an excellent G.I. Joe toy that was never made. (Of course we had “Blowtorch,” but he was 80’s rad, and these guys in white are 70’s kitsch.)