BQB’s Classic Movie Reviews – Night Shift (1982)

Jumpin Jack Flash, 3.5 readers.

BQB here and my corona movie marathon continues, taking the time to watch movies I otherwise probably would have never seen again.

This time it’s the 1982 comedy “Night Shift” starring Henry Winkler and Michael Keaton.

Winkler plays chuck, a financial genius who gave up his job as a stock broker because he couldn’t handle the stressful, fast pace of Wall Street.  He trades his shot at big money for a job working the night shift at the city morgue.  For a wimpy, wishy washy man who won’t stand up for himself, it’s the perfect gig.  No supervisors, very little to do and the customers, well, they’re dead so they can’t complain.

You’d think he’d be happy to live a quiet life but still, there’s something burning inside him.  His mother nagged his father into an early grave, and he fears he will meet the same fate at the hands of his bossy fiance, Charlotte.

All this changes when Chuck’s new morgue coworker, Billy Blaze (Michael Keaton) comes on the scene.  While Chuck worries about everything, Billy worries about nothing.  Billy is a schmuck, but he fancies himself a fast talking con man.  He quickly sees that when there’s no bosses around at the morgue, this is his chance to run scams out of the office.

Many of those scams fall flat until Billy learns that Chuck’s neighbor, Belinda (Shelley Long) is a prostitute.  She and her fellow ladies of the evening are out of luck, as their rare benevolent pimp, Franklin, who watched their backs, has been put on ice by the local mob.

Scared that he’ll end up like his old man, Chuck takes a risk for once in his life and joins Billy in running a prostitution ring out of the morgue.  Billy drives the ladies and arranges the “meetings” while Chuck handles all the money, managing the moolah so well that the ladies become rich beyond their wildest dreams.

All seems to go well until Shelly and Chuck fall in love and well, Chuck will have to figure out whether it’s easier to stand up, be a man, and take more risks, or if he’ll sit back and let others push him around.

This movie was always on when I was younger and obviously, I didn’t understand the plot other than it was just two guys acting silly.  Prostitution and crime aside, there is a message buried somewhere in there about standing up for yourself, not letting yourself be bullied, being willing to take the risks.  Maybe you’ll get what you wanted but if you don’t, you tried, so accept the consequences and move on.

Sounds dumb, but I recall this movie being the first example where I realized what actors can do.  I had always known Winkler as “The Fonz” on Happy Days, the low voiced cool guy with the leather jacket who always gets all the chicks.  Yet in this movie, he’s a mousy, mealy mouthed man who is afraid of his own shadow.

Amazing transformation, but I hate to say it, unless I’m forgetting a role somewhere, Winkler pretty much stuck with playing wimpy dudes, with The Fonz being his once chance to play an awesome dude, and this movie being the one chance to be a wimpy guy that we all felt for, maybe even saw a little bit of ourselves in.  You may think you’re not a wimp, but how many slights do you put up with a day, just to avoid causing trouble?  Probably more than you realize.

Keaton is great too, playing a dopey slime ball.  He’s got that long hair where he’s going bald up front in this one and as I watched it, I thought, huh, the 1980s was the last decade where a man with a receding hairline could be recruited to play Batman.  Not knocking Keaton’s looks, it’s just, there was a time period in Hollywood where people didn’t get knocked for being human.  Bad hair is something many of us suffer from.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy.  Directed by Ron Howard, Winkler’s buddy Ritchie Cunningham.  Shelley Long seems too intelligent to be a prostitute, though the underlying premise is that life is hard and a lot of people have to do a lot of things they don’t want to do just to get by.  Bonus points for Rolling Stones music as Billy is a fan and plays their tunes throughout.

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3 thoughts on “BQB’s Classic Movie Reviews – Night Shift (1982)

  1. Michael Keaton was the best Batman too, in my opinion. You’re reviews have brought to mind “Demolition Man”. The sanitary sex scene in that movie may be one of the most prescient portrayals of our modern world which science fiction has ever offered us.

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