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Moonlighting (Blu-ray Review)

22 Jun, 2015 By: Mike Clark

$29.98 Blu-ray/DVD combo
Rated ‘PG.’
Stars Jeremy Irons, Eugene Lipinski, Jirí Stanislav, Eugeniusz Haczkiewicz.

Leaving indisputable auteurs aside, I’ve always felt that once a filmmaker who’s not a household name defies production odds or frugal budgets to fashion one great film, the odds of him doing it a second time increase exponentially, even if it takes a number of years to do it. Ever since Jerzy Skolimowsky’s 1970 Deep End first knocked me on my behind way back when, I wondered throughout the rest of the decade when he might come through to such a degree again, even though the Polish filmmaker (then living in England) didn’t get to direct all that much and gave at least the impression that he was the type who really had to scrape things together to realize a project. Though Moonlighting didn’t exactly hit me full force the way Deep End did, it is by its nature more quietly observational and ironically humorous than the earlier portrayal of hopeless sexual obsession, so it marched to a different beat. Though somewhat forgotten today thanks in part to limited exposure, Moonlighting made a slew of 10-best lists in that very good year, 1982 — of E.T., Tootsie, The Verdict and more.

A political movie but probably not the kind that, say, Andrzej Wajda would have ever made, it involves a Polish construction crew that probably thinks it’s being offered a good deal for a London assignment but is likely getting ripped off by the party official who has hired them during the days of Solidarity. If these workers can successfully smuggle their professional tools through customs — I kept thinking this time around of the recent New York state prison escapees and their ability to obscure their unlikely possession of power equipment — they’ll have an illegal job awaiting them renovating the official’s flat for about a quarter of the price Brit laborers would charge. Hence, the need to smuggle what they’ll need to bust up the joint and then refurbish it for relatively little in return — though from their vantage point, certainly a lot more than they have.

All but one of these guys are indistinguishable (and, in fact, can’t speak English), though you do get the sense from a scene or two that they’re not exactly teetotalers. The brains of the outfit is played by Jeremy Irons, whose character can speak English, has relative polish to go along with his organizing skills and who’s equipped with a conniving streak that not only serves him well but is probably essential if the crew is to have a prayer of pulling off the scheme. 

There’s nothing in-your-face here about the humor, but Skolimowski does sometimes play the situation for subtlely droll comedy that proves ticklish to Irons (the real one) when he offers intermittent commentary on this release’s alternate audio track. The actor even notes here that Polish sense of humor differs from its British counterpart — but also that it is one he finds personally funny (I long ago pegged Irons as one whose mirth button was a tad twisted when I caught him “getting into” his participating performance in Put Down the Duckie on an old Sesame Street episode that aired when my kids were little). Every once in a while, we’ll hear Irons emitting a muted chuckle over something one of the characters does, and once or twice he refers to them as the “Four Stooges.”

This is quite the story of isolation, and the workers’ meager food/recreation stipends that the boss has provided only make it tougher to bear (what in the world would they do if anything happened to Irons?). Their entire entertainment budget is quickly blown on a second (or maybe eighth)-hand TV set that goes bust almost at once. Irons then uses this as an excuse or maybe a sign to work the men harder; eventually, he’ll set the flat’s clock ahead a couple hours so that the men will arise early, thinking that they’ve gotten a couple more hours’ sleep than they have. This is not, however, merely for slave-driving purposes. Money is running out, the men have to have food, and even the creative scams he’s come up with to shoplift eats from a nearby store (these are really good scenes) will only go so far. Complicating matters big time is the Polish government’s martial law reaction to the Solidarity protests — shutting down even the airlines the men will need for their return trip. This last is an inconvenient fact that Irons (conveniently for him) neglects to mention to his news-ignorant crew — a conscious act that will eventually have repercussions.

In addition to its being un-letterboxed, I remember Moonlighting having one of the most lackluster laserdisc transfers of any movie from the era of its caliber, and I momentarily thought the same when I mistakenly popped in the DVD of this release, thinking it was the Blu-ray. But catching my mistake, I started over, and the result pretty well replicates memories of my theatrical experience back in ’82; the colors finally have some heft to them for viewing at home. As for Deep End — the movie that still suggests Jane Asher may have held a few keys to the universe in the ’60s and early ’70s — it has never gotten a U.S. release in any format since its limited theatrical run over here (I doubt that Paramount still controls it, but even if they do, it would be a miracle if those running today’s show have ever even heard of it). Fortunately, the BFI has released an excellent multi-disc set, which (unusually for them) plays in all Regions.

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