Welcome to an exciting year-long project here at The Nerdy. 1983 was an exciting year for films giving us a lot of films that would go on to be beloved favorites and cult classics. It was also the start to a major shift in cultural and societal norms, and some of those still reverberate to this day.
We’re going to pick and choose which movies we hit, but right now the list stands at nearly four dozen.
Yes, we’re insane, but 1983 was that great of a year for film.
The articles will come out – in most cases – on the same day the films hit theaters in 1983 so that it is their true 40th anniversary. All films are also watched again for the purposes of these reviews and are not being done from memory. In some cases, it truly will be the first time we’ve seen them.
This time around, it’s March 18th, 1983, and we’re off to see High Road to China, Bad Boys, and Max Dugan Returns! (Those last two came out on March 25th, but we moved forward to split up that very busy day a bit.)
Quick side note: Since we launched this series this year, we’ve discovered that Vintage Video Podcast is doing the exact same project with two differences: First, it’s audio (naturally), and second, they are doing every major film. We’ve listened to numerous episodes and it’s fun checking off their thoughts against my own. Check them out over at Vintage Video Podcast.
High Road to China
High Road to China could have also been titled “Indiana Jones and the Poor Man’s Ripoff.”
It’s well-known now that Tom Selleck tried out for Indiana Jones, and it didn’t work out. Two years later, he would get his crack at a vaguely similar character in Patrick O’Malley. A drunkard pilot who is hired to assist heiress Eve “Evie” Tozer (Bess Armstong) in locating her father before he is declared dead, and she loses access to the family fortune.
High Road to China tries desperately to make itself seem sweeping and enormous in scale and ends up just looking pretty while accomplishing nothing. We find out towards the end of the film that her fortune was never in any real danger and it just so rapidly deflates any tension in this film that you just don’t care about anything that happens from that point forward.
There is such a desperation to this film of ‘love us like you loved Indiana Jones’ that it’s offputting. The best thing about the film, easily, is Armstrong, and the rest of it is pretty much easily forgettable dribble that is just pretty to look at.
The early 1980s were rife with exploitation films of all different stripes. With that came a lot of prison films that felt more as if they were trying to satisfy some animal instinct in audiences to see people less fortunate than themselves, and feed into almost a gladiatorial niche ofentertainment. Bad Boys is not entirely devoid of this, especially the ending, but it is saved by some very well performed parts across the entire board.
Mick O’Brien (Sean Penn) is sent off to a juvenile correctional facility where he meets all of the usual tropes of kids gone wrong, but what we discover throughout the film is that he isn’t as bad as he makes out to be, despite his constant attempts at being so. He does what he feels he has to to get by, and by the end of the film he has shown real growth as he choces the more humane choice when faced with the ultimate decision.
The film is about as basic as they come story-wise, but the performances save it along with some interesting filming choices in what could have been an even more claustrophobic environment.
It’s worth your time and is a different look at the early part of Sean Penn’s early career when you consider the success of Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
Max Dugan Returns
There is no question that Neil Simon is a genius. His body of work is amazing, and he has hit out of the park more times than you can count.
So you have to wonder what happened with Max Dugan Returns.
The story follows Nora McPhee’s (Marsha Mason) father, Max Dugan (Jason Robards), suddenly reappearing in her life. After being absent for decades, now only has he reemrged, but he has a satchel of money in tow as well that will solver all of her money problems. Problem is, he’s wanted by both the mafia and the police.
The pairing of Simon and Mason was a staple of the 80s, and it should have worked. But compared to their other collaborations this just feels so empty. There’s nothing surprising here. No life-changing character growth, it’s just a short, basic story that feels really empty. There’s nothing wrong with it, it just feels… “there.” It exists. And it is sadly almost immediately forgettable.
1983 Movie Reviews will return on March 25, 2023 with The Outsiders, Spring Break, and Tough Enough!
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