Thursday, April 15, 2010

Stealing a Few Laughs

Ahhh, the 80s. Fans of this era owe it to themselves to check out today’s featured movie Thief of Hearts. A feast for the senses, the inherent tackiness of the venture goes down like drawn butter while the ears are stimulated by the heavily synthesized score, the eyes are pelted with lots of big, permed hair along with the era’s fashion and the tongue hangs in the breeze at the sight of Cuban sensation Steven Bauer using his chest (and other things) to fertilize a potential film career.

Bauer plays an ex-con who is currently operating a burglary ring with his slimy cohort David Caruso. Caruso is a valet parking attendant who alerts Bauer when wealthy patrons are at his restaurant and, thus, not home. Bauer then descends on the unoccupied houses, making off with artwork, jewelry and other treasures, usually in the $100K range per pop, which was a fair amount of dough in 1984, the year of the film’s release.

John Getz and Barbara Williams play a married couple whose spark has left their relationship. He’s a children’s book author/illustrator and she’s a burgeoning interior designer who has yet to make much of a splash. While he’s busy typing away, she tends to take long baths and write elaborate fantasies in her journals. The journals are so private that she keeps them under lock and key in a small trunk.

When Bauer comes to their home to pilfer everything of value, naturally he takes the case, too, and, as any sensitive, sentimental robber would do, he proceeds to read all of her mushy meanderings. Not content to just read them, he begins to fall for their author and starts making himself over into the type of man she has fantasized about! When she says she hates a man who smokes, he stubs out his ciggie in an ashtray. Later, hilariously, he throws his smokes to the ground whenever he’s about to see her as if she couldn’t still smell it on him!

One day, they meet “accidentally” at a small grocery store where he knocks all of her products (including the obligatory loaf of French bread sticking out of the top of one bag) onto the ground and then is there to help her pick them all up. She’s vulnerable enough from the recent burglary and from the neglectfulness of her dweeby husband, to find herself enthralled by the younger and sexier guy and, before long, she’s in the store desperately hoping that they will bump carts in the night!

Caruso is only interested in robbing more houses (the money from said enterprise mostly going up his nose in cocaine or to pay for prostitutes!) while Bauer is clearly beginning to develop a conscience. This is demonstrated in a scene that has Bauer, besotted with Williams, unable to make it with a hooker he’s been paired with. Wishing for her the same bliss he’s stumbled into, he throws her several hundred-dollar bills, telling her to buy herself an expensive dress. (Oh, and Bauer’s own personal Cuban cigar makes a brief appearance here as he’s slipping on his boxer shorts!)

Eventually, Bauer hires Williams to redecorate his mammoth loft, thus affording her the ability to come and go as she pleases and him the chance to woo her even further. He takes her out on his boat where he rubs suntan lotion on his hairy pecs, treats her to meals at outdoor establishments and shares sunny rides with her in his snappy, red Mercedes convertible.

However, what eventually turns her on and persuades her to throw caution to the wind is a trip to the gun range (!) where she tries out the weapon she found in his desk during a brainstorming session over décor. As she fires away at the target, he begins steadying her hands and before long is undoing her top and her bra! The whirlwind secret courtship now consummated, Little Steven makes another quick appearance as the couple makes love back in his loft.

It goes without saying that their sexcapades are everything they have ever dreamed of and the pair ecstatically writhes in passion unheard of. (The home video VHS version of this movie included an extra minute of "European Release" love scenes that had been deemed to sultry for US audiences.) Publicity photos for the film strive for an artistry that yearns to smooth over the potentially tawdry subject matter.

Her husband Getz begins to suspect that something isn’t right. First, his wife shows up after a business meeting with sunburn in the shape of bra-straps. (Even the viewer should be puzzled by this as she was wearing a heavy sport coat and a flouncy silk blouse on the boat!) Then she won’t let him see the things she’s writing in her diaries. He confides his suspicions to his obese beer & tennis pal George Wendt and they decide to check out Bauer’s background. Wendt (on Cheers at the time) was big even then, struggling to walk up a hillside without passing out, but I can’t pick on the man too much. He told my best friend (female) and me last year that he had never witnessed two people have more fun on a dance floor than we were having that night and I imagine he’s seen a lot of people dance at one bar or another!

Things start to come to an ugly end when Getz figures out who Bauer is while, at the same time, Caruso is angry at Bauer for ceasing the periodic night raids. Williams is distraught at the fact that her dream lover is not what he appears to be. (In yet another insanely hilarious script detail, Bauer had claimed to be heir to a school supply company!)

Things return to the beginning in a way when Getz and Williams come home from an evening out (again at Caruso’s restaurant!) and hear a prowler upstairs. This time, however, Williams has had a little bit of training with a gun (in between the fondling and fornicating that the arousing shooting lessons led to!) Not everyone in the story is going to enjoy a happy ending.

Bearing the extraordinarily surprising production credits of Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer (the gentlemen who brought the world Beverly Hills Cop and its sequel, Top Gun, Days of Thunder, Crimson Tide and The Rock), it should be noted that they first had worked together on Flashdance. Taking that into consideration, it’s less of a jolt.

Bauer had just made a splash the prior year in Scarface as Al Pacino’s right-hand man (scoring a Golden Globe nomination) and seemed poised for big things in the cinema, but it wasn’t really to be. A stormy marriage and divorce from Melanie Griffith and other issues kept him from realizing his full potential. It must be said, though, that he stayed pretty busy nonetheless and won a SAG Award as part of the ensemble of Traffic in 2000. He’s busier now than ever, with roles of one size or another in TWELVE different 2010 films! It’s a logical progression that he got naked in this film when you note that in the publicity shots for Scarface, the corona of his penis head was visible through his pants! The director of that film, Brian de Palma, used Bauer again in 1992's uneven Raising Cain and Bauer also had a teeny part in de Palma's Body Double, which starred his then-wife Griffith.

Canadian Williams hasn’t had quite as much success, but has also kept pretty busy over the years in many TV and movie projects. She married political activist Tom Hayden, who had previously been married to Jane Fonda, in 1993 and, like he did with Fonda, he and Williams adopted a child (he and Fonda also had a son together naturally, actor Troy Garity.) Some reviewers have cited a resemblance to Barbra Streisand or Jennifer Grey. For some reason, I can never quite get it through my head that I’m not watching Patti Lupone in the movie!

Getz (who had starred in The Coen Brothers' cult favorite Blood Simple this year as well) went on to roles in many TV shows and in movies such as The Fly and its sequel as well as the cinematic milestones Men at Work (with Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez) and Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead. He's been a familiar face on popular shows such as Mad Men, Grey's Anatomy, Prison Break and Criminal Minds. In this flick, he has a sort of doughy John Ritter quality.

Caruso, of course, later had a massive TV hit in NYPD Blue until he famously left it in midstream to pursue a big-screen career. That avenue having gone awry rather swiftly, he was back on TV in 2002 where he has successfully remained ever since on the series CSI: Miami. Interestingly, his greatest successes on television have been as policemen of some sort while in films he's been most effective when playing slimeballs!
Appearing in a smallish supporting role is Christine Ebersole as Williams design firm partner, a sexually hungry woman who encourages the affair. In what has to be one of the all-time contrasts, she had also appeared that year in the Oscar-winner for Best Picture Amadeus! In the scene that features their amazing design work, a kitchen is shown in which it’s next to impossible to find any of the appliances!! Very innovative. You go to open the refrigerator and can’t locate it. I haven’t studied it all that heavily, but I also never saw a sink and I believe the stools look quite insecure and uncomfortable.
The music throughout is bouncy, fully-electronicized pop by Harold Faltermeyer (with songs by a few others.) He would soon become famous for his hit Beverly Hills Cop theme song “Axel F.” Regarding the title song written by him for this movie and performed by Melissa Manchester over the closing credits, if you listen to it once, you will feel an odd sensation that sort of makes you want to hear it again as well as the desire to hear more brain-slaughtering 80s synth. If you listen to it TWICE, the melody will enter your head like an earwig and for the rest of your life, whenever no other song is in residence in your mind, you will hum it ad nauseum until you die. You have been warned.

On an entirely different note, this entry marks the 100th time that I have put forth my babblings for your alleged enjoyment. It’s hard to believe that I have made that many posts, but the computer doesn’t lie! Actually, I would love to do more, but it is increasingly more difficult to steal the time to devote to this. My company is minus 30% of its staff now and I’m busier and busier with each day. Sadly, for The Underworld, I usually prefer not to work on it very much when I’m home. In any case, thanks, as always, for reading! I still, believe it or not, have plenty of topics to blather on about. It’s something of an accomplishment, I think, that, as a gay man, I made it through 100 posts without mentioning Steel Magnolias and only today mentioned Barbra fleetingly for the first time (I think!) and have only one tag for Judy Garland. Wow.


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