Category Archives: 1980’s Flashback

80s Flashback: The Jewel of the Nile

the jewel of the nile french poster

Rekindling my love for Romancing the Stone propelled me onward. My wife and I tossed in the much maligned sequel Jewel of the Nile, a movie I remembered as trite but entertaining. An innocent lark that didn’t live up to expectations. Or was that just widespread popular consensus encroaching on personal taste? I ordered up the Blu-ray from Netflix and hunkered down to complete the Turner/Douglas/DeVito trilogy.

jewel of the nile
Obligatory proof of physical media because PHYSICAL MEDIA.

Jewel: What are you doing?

Joan Wilder: In my last novel, ‘Angelina and the Savage Secret’ Angelina used a nail file to chip away at the bars of her cell to remove them and escape to freedom.

Jewel: How long did this take?

Joan Wilder: Two pages.

Jewel of the Nile Elevator Pitch

Romance novelist Joan Wilder sails the seas, explores exotic ports of call with newly-minted man of leisure Jack Colton until the restless, writers-blocked Joan sets off for North Africa with the first man who takes her seriously as a writer. It just so happens he’s a cruel authoritarian dictator who wants her to write propaganda or die so he can put on a Laser Floyd show and convince everyone he’s some sort of mystical cleric. Meanwhile Jack and his new partner-in-crime Ralph set out to maybe rescue Joan but definitely find the mysterious and fabled Jewel of the Nile.

No Sheep is Safe Tonight!

Foggy images of Danny DeVito in a makeshift turban. The only trace memory left about Jewel of the Nile. Much of it came flooding back during my viewing, but not exactly as I’d recalled.

Director Lewis Teague carved out a niche in the horror genre during the early 1980s having directed Alligator, Cujo and Cat’s Eye. When Teague attempted to break away from the genre and prove he was more than just another hack horror director from the Corman filmmaking machine, he displayed the hammer-fisted nuance of someone who hadn’t apprenticed under Sydney Pollack or edited films for Monte Hellman and Jonathan Demme.

the jewel of the nile
Lewis Teague proved capable of showcasing extraordinary vistas, but little else in this big-budget misfire.

Robert Zemeckis had abdicated the director’s chair, presumably because he’d already begun production on Back to the Future. Not that Jewel had ever been a desirable property for the up-and-coming director. 20th Century Fox had been blindsided by the $115million international success of the $10million Romancing the Stone and immediately rushed Jewel into production. By giving an 18-month start-to-finish turnaround time for the sequel, Fox alienated its writer and stars and made Zemeckis’ return an impossibility.

Once More Into the Breach (of Contract), Dear Friends!

Fox exercised the sequel option embedded in the contracts of both Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas. Douglas approached Stone writer Diane Thomas about penning the sequel. Due to some combination of money, timing and/or commitments to Steven Spielberg (her script for him would become Always), Thomas wouldn’t come aboard this anti-pleasure cruise.

Douglas, stuck in the dual roles of reluctant star and reluctant producer, had to carry on with Jewel pre-production while filming A Chorus Line for Richard Attenborough. Douglas approached writers Mark Rosenthal and Lawrence Konner — a writing duo that had nothing but TV credits to their names. (They would go on to write scripts for Superman IV: The Quest for Peace an Star Trek V: The Undiscovered Country.

[Insert audible groans here.]

Despite her contractual obligation, Turner tried to back out of the project, calling the script “terrible, formulaic, and sentimental.” Fox threatened Turner with a $25million breach of contract lawsuit, and Turner returned only after Douglas promised rewrites on the script.

Douglas and Turner attempted to cobble together something resembling an acceptable script from various drafts while in their Moroccan hotel as The Jewel of the Nile prepared to shoot. In her Vulture interview, Turner indicates that she never found any comfort in their efforts to resuscitate the dead fish penne by Konner and Rosenthal.

When the Going Gets Tough

From there the production went further downhill. First, there was the oppressive heat. The production also had to bribe local officials to push filming equipment through customs. A plane crash killed production designers Richard Dawking and Brian Coates while scouting locations. Even Douglas and Turner had an air scare when severe winds made for a tense a landing in Morocco.

And now we’ll return to Lewis Teague. Teague, who’d been weened on small, tightly controlled productions found the demands of a rushed Hollywood blockbuster unwieldy. After hours of staging and preparing a complicated night scene, the director discovered that they’d neglected to put film in the camera. The shoot had to be rescheduled entirely as the film crew scrambled to find more film stock.

Despite tepid reviews and unhappy fans, The Jewel of the Nile’s ($75.9million) domestic box office rivaled that of Romancing the Stone ($76.5million).

Bonus Points for Timeliness?

Some of the spirit of adventure and banter remains, but The Jewel of the Nile is a desperate, tiresome movie shadowboxing its far superior predecessor.

The Jewel of the Nile

Like Romancing the Stone, Jewel opens with a scene from Joan’s novel in progress, a swashbuckling pirate adventure on the high seas. The scene in Stone developed the hopeless (and gullible) romantic inside Joan Wilder and set our expectations for the inevitable arrival of Jack Colton (only to have them undermined by the less than chivalrous reality of a treasure-hunting mercenary).

The Jewel of the Nile uses this scene as a gag that fails to propel or inform anything that subsequently happens in the story. It’s an empty recall. The writers failed to grasp how the scene served the film. This, unfortunately, becomes a common theme.

Jack Colton becomes a Budweiser swilling, woman-ignoring man of leisure while Joan reverts back to cat-lady Joan with sunscreen plastered on her nose, slaving away all day on a book she can’t finish. Somehow, the writers of The Jewel of the Nile managed to transpose the moldy, 1950’s “man of the house” relationship onto these exotic adventurers.

While the narrative certainly proves problematic, Turner could have used a rewrite on this dress.

The movie takes liberties with the characters in the name of narrative convenience. Jack catches a case of petulant jealousy. Joan seizes her latent need to become a serious writer and, rebelling against Jack’s condescension, accepts the first offer that comes her way.

Obvious fascist potentate: Hi. You don’t know me. I’m a great admirer of your work, Joan Wilder. I’m also a great great great great man who is not entirely dangerously full of himself at all. Won’t you write my biography?

Joan: YES! YES! A THOUSAND TIMES YES.

Jack: Maybe you should rethink this.

Joan: YOU JUST DON’T THINK I’M GOOD ENOUGH.

Jack: Maybe that’s the way it came out because the movie needed to manufacture artificial drama by making me the ignorant man, but I honestly, really, truly think that you’re making a poor decision running off with this man that is clearly a dictator.

Joan: GOODBYE, JACK. Dick.

Jack: FINE. I’LL JUST COME GET YOU IN A MINUTE, THO. WE’LL ENJOY SOME AWKWARD POTENTIALLY RACIALLY PROBLEMATIC ADVENTURES THROUGH NORTH AFRICA!

[/scene]

The Tough Get Going

Some spoilers ahead.

Much of The Jewel of the Nile fills me with disinterest, but there’s a creative spark that prevents me from dismissing it. The hook that the Jewel isn’t actually a gem, but a person, elevates the film over the pusillanimous goings-on. Avner Eisenberg, the American vaudevillian/magician/mime, steals the show. He’s a gifted comic performer and the only reason (other than Turner’s spirited performance) to endure the final third of the film.

There’s such a cacophony of noise and destruction in the wake of Jack and Joan’s travels that the mild-mannered clowning performed by Eisenberg feels refreshing and earnest. A grounded plane levels a city, Jack makes stuff explode for the fun of it (showing none of the guile that allowed him to survive the Colombian wilds), and armadas of camel-born insurgents blast Whodini’s “Freaks Come Out at Night” on a boombox. (Where do they get all the batteries?)

I’ll admit to enjoying the last part.

But this criticism highlights the major problem with The Jewel of the Nile. Like Romancing the Stone, the pleasures are to be found in the smaller moments. Barbed dialogue, the wit and charm of its actors, and comfortable genre familiarity. The Jewel of the Nile amplifies the aspects of the original that had been limited by budget at the expense of creative ingenuity and the chemistry between Douglas and Turner. In other words, all the worst tendencies of a sequel.

Cue Billy Ocean.

James David Patrick is a writer. He’s written just about everything at some point or another. Add The Jewel of the Nile to that list. Follow his blog at www.thirtyhertzrumble.com and find him on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook.

Disclaimer: I earn rewards from DVD.Netflix.com, which has thousands of movies to choose from, many that you won’t find on streaming services. I do this because the availability of physical media is important. The popular streaming notion of “everything available all the time” is a myth. We are always our own best curators. #PhysicalMedia #DVDNation #ad

80’s Flashback: Romancing the Stone

Joan Wilder: You’re the best time I’ve ever had.
Jack Colton: I’ve never been anybody’s best time.

romancing the stone poster

Romancing the Stone Elevator Pitch

Romance novelist fish-out-of-waters through the Columbian wilds as she attempts to ransom her sister from smalltime schemesters by delivering the map to a jewel called El Corazon, meets Indiana Jungle Jones and winds up afoul of not only the schemesters but a faction of the Colombian army — all hell bent on taking the jewel for themselves.

Those Were Italian!

Few movies sew those nostalgic oats quite like Romancing the Stone. The movie implanted one of my earliest moviegoing memories that didn’t involve Star Wars. Robert Zemeckis’ 1984 adventurer wasn’t my very first theatrical live action film experience, it often feels like it. An early moment in the film indirectly reminds me what it was like to be six years old and staring up at the big screen in wonder.

Jack grows tired of Kathleen Turner’s romance novelist hobbling around the South American jungle. He takes his machete and chops the heels off her shoes.

Joan Wilder: Those were Italian.
Jack Colton: Now they’re practical.

What did I know about women’s shoes? Not a thing. I probably wore velcro Kangaroos with the little pockets to the theater. Still, 6yo me marked that down as hilarious. I remember using that “Those were Italian!” line in many different circumstances. I might accidentally break something and exclaim “Those were Italian!” like a catch-all expletive. You get the picture. I never succeeded in making “Those were Italian!” my own personal catchphrase, but the scene itself acts as a time capsule. I’m instantly granted the gift a piece of me as I was in 1984.

Nostalgia’s a wonderful thing in moderation. We can never go home again, but cinematic moments like these, the ones we latch onto for whatever reason, grant us a fleeting reprieve from the bustle of adulthood.

romancing the stone kathleen turner

Kathleen Turner Overdrive

After reading Kathleen Turner’s nuclear interview by David Marchese of Vulture, my wife and I began winding through Turner’s filmography. I started with a first-time viewing of The War of the Roses (1988) and then returned to the beginning of the Douglas/Turner/DeVito era with a Romancing the Stone refresher.

Over the years, Stone has become comfort food for this 80’s soul. Unfortunately it seems that younger viewers don’t appreciate the simplicity of Stone‘s form and function. My observations come purely from casual browsing of Letterboxd.com, so please don’t @ me with demographic studies that show most women aged 18-25 rate Romancing the Stone four stars or higher (unless of course those demographic studies support my remedial investigation).

war of the roses

Turner just goes for it. In every film. That was never more apparent than in The War of the Roses where she gives an absolutely savage performance. I’ve always felt that Romancing the Stone was a Michael Douglas movie — the charmer, the expat vigilante treasure hunter. I had it all wrong. Turner’s romance novelist makes the journey from a fainting woman of words to an action hero. Without Turner’s commitment to both sides of Joan Wilder, the scripted character could have remained nothing more than a distressed damsel. She made more of the character than was on the page.

 Misplaced Treasure of Classic Cinema

While Romancing the Stone proffers a style of entertainment rooted in the trends of the 1980’s, it also recalls screwball films and swashbuckling action/adventurers of the 1930’s. Michael Douglas’ Jack Colton character might be a less studious Indiana Jones, but he’s, at heart, an amalgamation of many matinee idols. Gary Cooper or Johnny Weissmuller without the patina of glossy perfection. And it’s hardly a stretch to imagine Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn as Jack Colton and Joan Wilder slashing through a soundstage populated by ferns and palms and verbal barbs.

the philadelphia story
Take Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story and just add jungle.

The Grant/Hepburn substitution feels natural. Robert Zemeckis directed Romancing the Stone with the pretense of propping up the charisma of his stars as the main attraction, a decidedly old school filmmaking methodology. Stone sells the pretense of action and stuntwork, but the focus remains small and the danger never feels entirely real (owing to the cartoonish pursuit by the hyperbolic DeVito) and his megalomaniacal-ish cousin Ira (Zack Norman). Though the stunts occur in regular beats, none of them take the form of a centerpiece — except perhaps the escape from Juan’s compound. Even that, however, stands out as a result of the comedic talents of the great character actor Alfonso Arau.

romancing the stone alfonso arau

It’s entirely understandable hen someone says that Romancing the Stone didn’t live up to their expectations. Stone retains its status as a certified 80s classic. As a result viewers’ expectations likely skew bigger and broader. Raiders of the Lost Ark, the standard-bearer for 1980’s adventure cinema, casts a long shadow over other similar films of the era.

Character and Spectacle, Take 2

Best known for the Back to the Future films, Robert Zemeckis makes character-driven narratives within the modern iteration of the Hollywood dream machine. At its most basic component, behind the flash and spectacle of a time-traveling DeLorean, Back to the Future, like Romancing the Stone, is high concept narrative buoyed by the establishment and development of character.

romancing the stone

I’ll forgive first-time viewers that didn’t have their expectations met, but I’ll also suggest they go back for a second ride once their initial disappointment has evaporated. Focus on the interplay between Douglas and Turner. Focus on how their screwball banter and evolves beyond the idol worship of shadowy matinee man of action and romance. Consider how Romancing the Stone and Douglas then undermine the notion of the soft-focus man meat that inhabits Joan Wilder’s romance novels.

If all else fails, just give it another chance to appreciate Hollywood’s discovery of Kathleen Turner, superstar. She’s the real gem here, not the costume jewelry macguffin Joan and Jack rescue from a cave.

romancing the stone

On the next episode of 80’s Flashback, I’ll exorcise some demons and discuss my disappointment with The Jewel of the Nile.

Shoot to Kill (1988)

Shoot to Kill 1988

Everybody else up here acts like they’ve never seen a black man before. Why should the bear be different? –Sidney Poitier as FBI Agent Warren Stantin in Shoot to Kill (1988)

As I aim to fill in some of the fleeting gaps in my 80’s moviewatching resume, I’ll report on my progress in this general space. I believe I owe this viewing to a recommendation from Brian Saur of Rupert Pupkin Speaks and the Pure Cinema Podcast. His thoughts on Shoot to Kill prompted me to adjust my Netflix  queue accordingly.

Shoot to Kill Elevator Pitch:

A black FBI agent teams up with a grizzled white woodsman/tracker to hunt down a murderer who’s assumed the identity of a hiker and joined a group of weekend hikers in the Pacific Northwest and taken Kirstie Alley (she’s on a break from Cheers) hostage. It’s the bizarro 48 Hrs.!

Shoot to Kill lobby card

It’s Tom Berenger’s World After All

But this 1988 thriller has another claim to fame. Shoot to Kill boasts Sidney Poitier’s first big screen appearance in 11 years. After 1977’s A Piece of the Action (which he also directed), Poitier went behind the camera for his next three movies. During this time period Poitier directed Stir Crazy (1980), Hanky Panky (1982) and the dance battle flick Fast Forward (1985).

Meanwhile Berenger’s star had reached it’s zenith at the tail end of the decade after starring in Oliver Stone’s Platoon (1985) and Ridley Scott’s underrated (and steamy) thriller Someone to Watch Over Me (1987).

Who couldn’t love a face like that?

The buddy cop premise, a reliable holdover from 1970’s cinema, held strong throughout the 80’s. Tossing two mismatched characters together on a quest to achieve a common goal often creates instant tension and comedy. The concept done well results in entertainers like the aforementioned 48 Hrs. (1982), Lethal Weapon (1987) and Midnight Run (1989). Also, I’d like to throw out a special mention for the The Nice Guys (2016) just because it’s always worth the keystrokes.

Race Relations of the 1980s

Racial tension regularly figures into these scenarios, and Roger Spottiswoode’s Shoot to Kill offers its share of quips about a black man lost in the woods. Spottiswoode’s film never turns Poitier into a racial caricature because it already established Poitier’s FBI agent as hardboiled and utterly capable of navigating urbanity. He’s just city folk, and Knox (Tom Berenger) is a reclusive woodsman whose irascible personality has earned him few friends where there were already few friends to earn.

Though I do take a small issue with the film’s comical insistence on making FBI agent Warren Stantin an action hero. Poitier, who was in his 60’s by this point, hurdles over police cars (when running around them would have clearly been faster) and spends large portions of the film sliding and leaping and running. Even though I know the legendary actor’s still with us, I legitimately felt concern for his retrospective health. It’s not that Poitier’s giving a bad performance here — it’s just that he seems constantly uncomfortable handling the required and sometimes unnecessary physicality.

Humor comes easy between the actors. I’ve always felt that Berenger had a natural gift for understated drollness. As the two are forced to pursue the murderer (the always terrific Clancy Brown) and his hostage through remote wilderness, the isolation brings out the dramatic and comedic best in both.

Shoot to Kill Verdict:

As a genre film, Shoot to Kill excels at expeditiously delivering its premise. The mismatched heroes begrudgingly work together for the moral good and come to respect each other during the process. Ruminate too hard and you’ll expose plenty of questionable narrative decisions. Filling the gaps likely would have killed the film’s momentum. (Can a handgun kill underwater? Wouldn’t Sidney have broken a hip with a leap onto a departing ferry? Why don’t we have more FBI agents on this case?)

Rides like Spottiswoode’s Shoot to Kill don’t need airtight logic; they just require charismatic leads navigating escalating tension with a few laughs about their incompatibility. In that respect, anyone looking back to 1988 with any eye on “a bandanna-clad Tom Berenger hauling 61-year-old Sir Sidney through the woods” thriller won’t be disappointed.

Fine genre entertainment, even beyond those of us who wax nostalgic for the days when Tom Berenger headlined action thrillers.

Shoot to Kill (1988) is available on a ragged 2003 DVD from Amazon. It is at the very least anamorphic, but the print could use significant cleanup. Considering it was released by Touchstone Pictures (Disney), I don’t have much hope that this will reach Blu-ray anytime soon.

 

James David Patrick is a writer. He’s written just about everything at some point or another. Lately it’s been movies. Follow his blog at www.thirtyhertzrumble.com and find him on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook.

shoot to kill netflix

Disclaimer: I earn rewards from DVD.Netflix.com, which has thousands of movies to choose from, many that you won’t find on streaming services. I do this because the availability of physical media is important. The notion of “everything available all the time” with streaming is a myth. We are our own best curators. #PhysicalMedia #DVDNation #ad