By Marc S. Sanders

The outcry of teen angst in the 1980s comes through predominantly in the dramatic talking piece called The Breakfast Club.  I look at the film as a mature interpretation of Charles Schultz’ Peanuts Gang actually, and maybe an extension of some of the themes found in Steven Spielberg’s E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.  The children are heard.  The adults are present but are mostly muffled and out of consideration.  Writer/Director John Hughes wanted the five teenagers destined to occupy a Saturday in the school library for detention to completely undo their armor.  With adults in the way, kids can never truly be themselves.  Lies, exaggerations and attempts at acceptable image come first but as his script progresses, the teens are reduced to expressing how they value themselves and each other. 

Having grown up watching The Breakfast Club by myself on many Friday nights after some challenging weeks of school, I was always looking to sit on the floor with this pack and share my own demons and fears.  Sometimes it worked.  Sometimes I felt as if the brain (Anthony Michael Hall, as Brian), the athlete (Emilio Estevez as Andrew), the basket case (Ally Sheedy as Allison), the princess (Molly Ringwald as Claire) and the criminal (Judd Nelson as John) spoke back to me and told me when I was wrong or when I was justified for having felt like I did. 

Nearly forty years later, some of the thought processes the five endure of themselves seems outdated and inappropriate, however.  For example, in Hughes’ film the female characters are sexually harassed, harshly criticized and/or they succumb to stepping outside their comfort zone and changing their appearance to please a male character.  Had this film been released in a post Me Too era, I think both sides of the political aisle would protest its content.  The Breakfast Club is certainly a movie of its day where it’s treated as comedic escapism to have Nelson’s character commit a fellatio act upon Ringwald’s panty covered crotch.  Do not mistake me.  I am not crying foul and demanding censorship or calling for torches and pitchforks.  The contents of The Breakfast Club should certainly remain preserved and viewed upon as what was a mindset of films in the 1980s, and perhaps how the opposite sexes treated one another then.  Sadly, it is still happening all too often.

The success of the film relies upon the differences in the characters.  None of them have the same interests.  Yet, if you allow them to live among themselves without any outside influences, they will open up to one another.  Hughes’ film begins where the characters hardly speak.  John gets the ball rolling as the troublemaker looking for shock value as he attempts to urinate on the floor in front of the others and then succeeds in unifying the students when he causes the library door to remain shut keeping Mr. Vernon (Paul Gleason), the teacher/antagonist, out of reach of them.  Why should the five work together against Mr. Vernon?  They don’t know or have respect for each other.  Why?  Because one generation will stand arm and arm against another generation, specifically a domineering entity. 

Now that they are isolated, Hughes writes in set ups allowing the five to shed their skin.  In one scene, the ladies empty the contents of their purses while the men’s wallets are exposed.  John sleeps around.  Allison may be mentally ill.  Claire lives off the vanity that comes with makeup and perfumes.  Brian’s middle name is revealed.  (“Ralph, as in puke.”)  The kids lie about their sexual conquests only to be cornered into telling how little experience some of them actually have.  Maybe the most common plane they share are their home lives.  Each uncovers how they relate to their parents and none of them have an ideal upbringing.  Rather, they are disregarded or abused or forced into an appearance they really are not passionate about.  Before the film ends, the five will have their battle cry of dancing individually first, and then lined up together, unified, to a song titled, We Are Not Alone

Hughes even allows enough time and subtlety to demonstrate how Mr. Vernon seems to suffer.  There’s a quick moment, where Vernon commits John to two months of detention.  As Vernon storms out of the room, John screams out “Fuck You!” and Hughes keeps a closeup on Vernon letting out a weary sigh.  His exhaustion of being the authoritative adult is wearing on him.  Yet, after twenty-two years of teaching it is also the only pedestal he has left to stand on; to rule over five misfits on a boring isolated Saturday.  Later, he’ll only feel his most powerful when he has John imprisoned away from the others and he can antagonize and threaten him with the intent of elevating his stature over a punk kid.  (Ironically, this moment also reveals how weak John is and not the intimidating bully he holds himself to be in front of the others.)  Later, Vernon tells the janitor how he’ll have to worry about these kids growing up to look after him when he is elderly.  He’s been so occupied with being sadistically cruel, he has not allowed time to carve out a balanced future.

The Breakfast Club is an important piece to watch for uncovering teenage mentality and the subconsciousness.  How do teenagers function by themselves, with outsiders, with their peers, and with their parents?  What’s best celebrated in many of John Hughes’ films are when he allows his characters not to hinder how they truly regard one another.  While I won’t spoil how these five consider each other by the end of this particular Saturday, as an adult and one who analyzes story more carefully than I did at age fourteen, I am disappointed with how Hughes concludes his film.  At least for four of the characters, it doesn’t seem right.  While I’m let down though, that doesn’t mean the movie is wrong. 

Teenagers will not always act upon what is right or more precisely what they know to be right or just.  Our teenage years are an opportunity to commit and then learn from our mistakes.  In our adolescent years, we explore what is forbidden with misbehavior and risk whether it be rebelling against authority, daring to drink and do drugs, acting upon sexual impulse or exacting bullying and peer pressure.  Even sneaking through the hallways around school is a game of cat and mouse where the goal is not to get caught by the teacher.

I’m inclined to recommend that parents watch The Breakfast Club with their kids when they are mature enough for the material.  Yet, I really don’t want to.  The whole point of the film is to cut off these kids from the outside world of parents and teachers and peers who expect something different of them than how they truly see themselves.  If my daughter were to watch this movie with mom and dad sitting right next to her, then she might not unequivocally respond to what Andrew, Claire, Allison, Brian and John really have to say.  To get in their minds, my daughter would have to watch without any outside influence where the conversation she has with the film is private between The Breakfast Club and her.  Perhaps, then she’ll see another teenager’s honest point of view.


By Marc S. Sanders

I would love to be friends with Arthur Bach. Sure I’d be wined and dined, living a lifestyle where money is no object, toy trains are at my disposal, and drinks on a serving platter are brought to me constantly. Arthur has got it all. Well, not all of it. He’s never been in love. He hates his cold hearted father and he only has one friend, his dependable butler, Hobson.

Dudley Moore’s greatest role is Arthur from 1981. The best protagonists in comedy are the ones who go against the order. Arthur is a spoiled kid in an adult’s body. He lives to smile and laugh and drink and play and drink some more and more. It’s easy when you are sitting on three quarters of a billion-dollar fortune. Imagine though if you could lose all of that money. The only way to hold on to wealth is to marry a woman named Susan (Jill Eikenberry) that you are not in love with, simply to merge two wealthy families together for even more industrial power. Arthur is made to be a pawn by his own unloving father, as well as Susan’s ruthless father (Stephen Elliott) who is proud to share how he killed a man when he was eleven years old. No matter. Arthur will just marry Susan and cheat on her, as his elderly grandmother Martha (Geraldine Fitzgerald) suggests.

All seems easy until Arthur becomes over the moon in love with a woman named Linda (Liza Minnelli) who is caught shoplifting a tie in Bergdorf’s in New York City. Arthur can’t stop thinking about Linda but the family would never approve. Linda is a waitress dreaming to become an actress, but lives a poor life with her unemployed father (Barney Martin).

Dudley Moore and Liza Minnelli have one of the best on screen chemistries ever in film. They look like they belong with one another, and their timing is perfectly solid. When they share moments together their on-screen laughter shows up naturally and intermittently. I imagine no matter how many times they rehearsed their scenes together it was never the same way twice.

As an individual performance, Moore works like a great stand up comic having the best show of his life. His drunkenness is hilarious with his slurs and infectious non stop giggles and outrageously loud laughter. He gives The Joker a run for his money in the laughter department.

Early on, he escorts a prostitute to dinner at The Plaza Hotel and his interactions with family members and those of the wealthy social circle are a great contrast in comedy. Throughout the film, Dudley Moore will use every prop he can get his hand on to make his inebriated state all the more funny from simply a telephone to a mounted moose head. Moore is also a helluva piano player.

The most special relationship though is Arthur’s connection to Hobson (beautifully played with blue blood dryness by Sir John Gielgud). A man like Hobson is not one you’d expect to associate with a man as immature and childish as Arthur, but you find a nurturing dimension to Hobson’s character. He’s Arthur’s surrogate father. He teaches Arthur to be practical about his good fortune. At the same time, he doesn’t dismiss Arthur’s happiness. Gielgud is at times surprising and positively touching. He also has some of the best lines in the film. After agreeing to run Arthur’s bath, he retorts with “Perhaps you’d like me to come in there and wash your dick for you, you little shit!” His impression of Linda: “Normally one would have to go to a bowling alley to meet a woman of your stature.”

As Hobson becomes ill, so must Arthur finally learn to grow up. The moment I lost my mother eight years ago, the very first thing that occurred to me was that I am no longer a child. I actually got my first grey hairs immediately after mom unexpectedly passed. No longer was there the protective guidance to make decisions and therefore as Hobson continues to deteriorate, Arthur becomes aware of tough decisions he must make regarding sobriety, wealth and most importantly love. With Hobson by his side, Arthur Bach is a beautiful character arc of comedy and sadness. As a kid growing up in the ‘80s, Arthur Bach was one of the first to demonstrate the change in a character’s arc for me. I really started to recognize depth and dimension; different angles and perspectives that a well written character faces.

The film is over 40 years old, but still has its magic to make you laugh and cry. Arthur is just an enormously touching comedy.


By Marc S. Sanders

The long lasting appeal of Die Hard really stems from so many sources. Most importantly though is the performance of Bruce Willis.

Watching it this evening in a theatre commemorating its 30th anniversary, I found myself still laughing and relishing the fantastic set pieces of editing for great sound and visuals from Director John McTiernan. Yet, tonight Willis is what stood out for me. There’s not much dimension to New York cop John McClane but there is a great transition from being a reserved nervous flyer to an estranged husband with feelings of awkwardness at his wife’s Christmas party and finally to deliriously unhinged and reckless when faced with going up against a superbly brilliant villain from Alan Rickman, his very first film role. Willis goes wild against Rickman’s team of terrorists that hail from all different nationalities and races. (Hans Gruber was an equal opportunity employer.) The mouth on McClane doesn’t hold back for any kind of authority. It’s fun. It’s hilarious and you can’t help but pound your fist in the air with a “right on!”.

Rickman is great as well. His well tailored and groomed persona is a perfect counterbalance to Willis’ lack of class and style. Both are at the top of their game but using different devices to fight with. The playing field of a high rise tower is equal for them. Yet their tactics are different.

McTiernan offers up plenty in side humor from ego minded FBI guys both named Johnson (love that joke) to conniving reporters, to a coked up yuppie hostage and henchmen who all carry themselves differently. McTiernan bravely stops the approach to action to allow his audience to realize the setting on Christmas Eve with great note reminders from a film score by Michael Kamen and even a run through the roses only to have a kick ass swat officer get pricked. A terrorist takes a moment to snack on a Nestle Crunch before a firefight. Porno pictures on the walls of a construction area give Willis an opportunity to offer a glimpse. Great lines as well are so celebrated (“Yippee Kai Yeah Mother Fucker”).

But Willis is the real fun stuff as he gets into hand to hand combat with terrorist Alexander Godunov, he offers a promise to “kill ya, and cook ya” with his “had enough” delivery.

Roger Ebert always took issue with naivety of the law enforcement officials in the film especially actor Paul Gleason as an dumb antagonist. That’s okay and he’s not wrong. However, this is Die Hard where an 80s Los Angelos offers gas for .74 cents and ever relies on their characters getting caught up in a scenario they never fathomed. Had Die Hard been made in post 9/11 it wouldn’t carry that smirk inducing charm. It wouldn’t be fun.

We were fortunate to get one of my favorite Christmas movies when it did come before the age of cell phones and social media.

There were action films long before Die Hard. Yet the original 1988 film set the standard by what most films of action offered in subsequent years. More often than not, they were all fun films in their own right but whether you liked those films or not, they often remain comparisons against Die Hard. That’s the best compliment any film could receive.

FUN TRIVIA: Die Hard is the first of McTiernan’s teddy bear films. Can you name the other one that shows a giant teddy bear with its hero?