Tuesday, August 19, 2014
(July 1982, U.S.)
NIGHT SHIFT is a great example that even the greatest of us have rather simple and humble beginnings. Mind you, this wasn't exactly the beginning for Ron Howard, not even his first film (he'd previously directed a low budget car picture for Roger Corman called GRAND THEFT AUTO in 1977 while he was still on HAPPY DAYS). Still, when you're watching the rather silly lunacy of NIGHT SHIFT, it's hard to believe this is the same man who'd give us great future titles like BACKDRAFT (1991), APOLLO 13 (1995) and A BEAUTIFUL MIND (2001).
Even before I get into the contents of the film itself, I find it necessary to discuss my overall before and after interpretation of Henry Winkler first. You see, up until 1982, my exposure to this man had been one of a rather solid human being of strength and stamina, and I'm not just speak of the Fonz! Even as HAPPY DAYS was just in its infancy, he'd done a film called THE LORDS OF FLATBUSH (1974) in which he plays the same sort of 1950's greaser-type. During the show's run, he starred in HEROES (1977) as a struggling Vietnam vet and in THE ONLY AND ONLY (1978) as a wrestler; both characters of a certain degree of strength and stamina. Now all of a sudden in NIGHT SHIFT, Winkler plays a common, simple morgue attendant named Chuck who's (frankly) nothing short of a hopeless wimp! His mannerism has changed, his voice has changed and his entire sense of self-confidence has changed. In other words, Arthur Fonzarelli he is not! As a man of this rather "underground" profession, his displeasure at being demoted to the night shift supervisor is exacerbated by the unexpected and irrational exuberance of Bill Blazejowski (played by a young, unknown pre-Batman Michael Keaton), his new coworker. As they slowly and reluctantly become friends, both men soon become inspired by the unfortunate plights of Chuck's prostitute neighbor, Belinda (played by a pre-Cheers Shelly Long), to apply Chuck's M.B.A. education and Bill's entrepreneurial, if not unrealistic (edible paper and feeding mayonnaise to live tuna?? Hey, why not!) spirit to open a prostitution service with headquarters at the morgue. As pimps, these two guys are a whole lot more honest and gentle with the ladies and their money than your run-of-the-mill-average New York City asshole pimp. Then again, that's exactly what can get them into trouble with those very same pimps. You see, it's all cinematic silliness and sexual lunacy that was rather perfectly times during an era of the 1980s when sex comedies for young people was all the rage. And of course, there's love, too. Because clearly in the real world, morgue attendants fall in love with hookers (works for me!)!
Now bear in mind, despite the low budget silliness of NIGHT SHIFT, it's certainly not without elements that one would later expect from a Ron Howard film, or any other gifted director, for that matter. Winkler and Keaton actually deliver very good performances and feed off of each other's chemistry very well. As an example of a film that tries to combine elements of sex and comedy together, it's proves more effective than many other attempts of that period. As a comedy of prostitution, it may very well serve as a precursor to Tom Cruise's RISKY BUSINESS only a year later. There's also a good use of music during the right moments of the film that include a live version of "Jumpin' Jack Flash" by the Rolling Stones, "You Really Got Me" by Van Halen and a popular '80's tune called "Talk Talk" (band name is the same) during a nightclub scene. Somehow, by the time it all comes together, NIGHT SHIFT is very 80s and very funny, nonetheless.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Bill: "You tellin' me to shut up?"
Chuck: I'm telling you to shut up! I will tell your recorder so that you don't forget!
(picks up tape recorder and turns it on)
Chuck: "Hello, this is Chuck to remind Bill to SHUT UP!"