Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Your father's HBO lineup was nothing to write home about

Next up in these few scattered posts from the November 13, 1975, edition of The Scranton Tribune is this advertisement for HBO. I'll be honest: Even though I've been reminded a few times over the years that HBO launched in 1972, in my headspace it only dates to about 1980. Because a thing clearly does not exist until such time as it appears in my memories.

Of course, HBO in the early and mid 1970s was not exactly the powerhouse subscription channel it would become in later decades. In fact, as we can see from this advertisement, it was fairly sad-sack.

The lineup of movies includes a lot of stuff that's not generally remembered as cinema's finest moments:

  • Executive Action (1973) stars Burt Lancaster in a JFK assassination conspiracy docu-drama that travels down some paths that Oliver Stone would (brilliantly) explore three decades later. But it has just a 6.7 rating on IMDb. In his two-star review, Roger Ebert wrote: "The characters are deliberately played in extremely low key, and they talk as if they were reciting peculiarly stiff PR releases."
  • I.F. Stone's Weekly (1973) is a 62-minute documentary that would probably not inspire someone to say, "Hey, I need to subscribe to that HBO thing."
  • The Last Snow of Spring (1973) is actually an Italian film titled L'ultima neve di primavera. It's generally well-regarded.
  • Lucky Luciano (1973) is a mafia biopic. Which you probably guessed.
  • Lepke (1975) also includes Lucky Luciano (portrayed by Vic Tayback) in its blood-and-guns tale that's headlined by Tony Curtis. It has a 5.6 rating on IMDb.
  • One Russian Summer (1973) is actually Fury, and it's a costume drama featuring Oliver Reed and a bunch of toxic masculinity that I really don't want to research further. It has a 5.1 rating on IMDb.
  • Paperback Hero (1973) has the log line: "A hockey player in a small town begins to lose his grip on reality, and starts to believe that he is a gunslinger in the Old West." I'll pass. So did viewers, as it has a 6.1 rating on IMDb.
  • Salty (1973) is a family film with sea lions and Clint Howard. The 1970s were a rough time for children.
  • 'Tis Pity She's a Whore (1971) has an X rating but wasn't that kind of X-rated film. It had real actors and artistic ambitions. But Ebert wasn't impressed in his two-star review: "It's a good film to look at filmed in warm earth colors and airy pastels. But it's not especially successful. Perhaps the acting is at fault. Nobody in the cast seems to have quite solved the problem of how to perform in a melodrama as violent as it is implausible, and still look believable on the screen."
  • W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings (1975) has Burt Reynolds as a "robber with a heart of gold" and Jerry Reed and Ned Beatty and James Hampton and Art Carney and, and, and ... I'm sorry but I have to erase this film from my knowledge banks immediately.

As the advertisement states, you got all of this "for only $7.00 a month." Accounting for inflation, that's the equivalent of $34 a month today, which would get you Disney+ ($8), Netflix ($9) and HBO ($15) combined, with $2 left over for a bottle of Frostie Root Beer. Maybe it's time to stop being nostalgic about the past.

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