Wednesday, July 29, 2015

80's Watch: Stripes (1981)


I didn't see Stripes in 1981 when I was six.  I know I was in middle school, and I'm pretty sure I watched this one sometime after my dad figured out I could watch an rated-R movie with him without blowing our cover when it came to the content of whatever it was we were watching.  After all, both of us knew The KareBear could be a little sensitive about language, violence and nudity in movies, and Stripes provides a bit of all of the above.

The movie is from an era in Hollywood when they were trying out these SNL alums as movie comedians and releasing the Second City performers into the wild.  It was also the era when female nudity made its way into movies in a big way, with a seeming prerequisite for many a comedy to include unnecessary shower scenes.

So, hats off to us, Dad, for silently agreeing to not discuss the many topless scenes in this movie with Mom.


The movie has a shockingly great cast, from Bill Murray and Harold Ramis to PJ Soles and Sean Young.  Of course you get The Great One (or, John Candy, as you may think of him), Judge Reinhold, John Laroquette and others.

In a post-Vietnam era, it's hard to say how this movie fit into the picture.  The draft was over.  For a lot of my life, except for Desert Storm and then pretty much everything as of September 12, 2001, the military was sort of looked at as a jobs program for the US.  We weren't going to have a land war with Russia, so joining the military could just be a way to kill a few years, maybe live in Germany or Korea for a bit, make some dough and get on the GI Bill for college expenses.  So, a movie that doesn't paint the Army as a walk in the park, and where one's gonzo, antihero antics were received as a mixed bag was a not-that-surprising order.  The Army may have even seen this as a recruiting tool.  After all, it's got a happy ending.

I'll be honest, between this movie and Full Metal Jacket, I lost any interest in doing time in any uniform that didn't have a Mickey Mouse "M" on the letter sweater.   Whether they threw Sean Young at me or not.  I was pretty aware the fate of Private Joker was more likely to await me (or I'd end up like Animal Mother) than enjoying wacky hi-jinks with Harold Ramis in a really decked out RV.  Or, I'd just be really, really bored guarding a pile of rocks or something for four years.

So, does the movie hold up?

You know, I think it does.  It was on in rotation constantly for a couple of years there once my brother duped it from a rented copy, and I think I accidentally inherited his tape a year or three ago when my parents handed me several boxes of their VHS tapes.

Some aspects of the movie have aged.  I think you can drive safely into Czechoslovakia these days.  It's no longer okay to make fun of the military, so that's out.  Jamie and I literally paused the movie to have a 5 minute conversation on the gender and power roles in the movie during the "Aunt Jemima Treatment" scene.  But I think we can all agree that John Laroquette in lederhosen is still pretty good, and John Candy as a lean, mean, fighting machine is still solid.

Bill Murray as Bill Murray - always good.  It's true I think he's not yet at the levels of perfection he'd hit in Ghostbusters nor at the dimension piercing level he'd hit in Rushmore, but he's a fully-intact Bill Murray.  And Harold Ramis - a guy I thought was pretty clever then, man... now I really appreciate what he was doing in a way I wish had twenty years ago, because he's absolutely hilarious in this movie in a weird, understated way that never points to itself as overtly jokey.

And, of course, I have a special place in my heart for Warren Oates as Sgt. Hulka.  Sadly, he died shortly after the release of this movie.  He's pretty amazing.

Also, in the course of writing this, I learned that Sean Young has a really weirdly outdated webpage, that's equal parts "we know who you are, Sean Young, why is this site designed like you need to tell people about your work?" and "it is not 2001 anymore, it may be time for a site refresh".

Dear god... do you think Sean Young manages her own website?

5 comments:

JAL said...

I never looked at an ice cream scooper the same way again.

Ryan Steans said...

Indeed.

Simon MacDonald said...

@Ryan you know sometimes I think we are quantum entangled or something. Our experiences with this movie are eerily similar as I was too young to see this in theaters as well but later on ended up watching it with my Dad. I remember my Dad looking at me during one memorable scene and realizing he was communicating "let's not tell Mom about this" with only a look.

Stuart Ward said...

"What kind of training, son?"

"Aaaarmy training, sir!"
"-ARMY TRAINING, SIR!!"

Ryan Steans said...

@Simon - my folks aren't prudes, but it's always good to make sure you're keeping that sort of thing on the QT. It builds a quiet alliance with The Old Man, most certainly, and, yeah, if you have to say anything about it, you can kind of count on the fact that it's all going to fall apart sooner or later, so just zip your lips.