Night Shift, 1982.
Directed by Ron Howard.
Starring Henry Winkler, Michael Keaton, Shelley Long, Richard Belzer, and Clint Howard.
Ron Howard’s second directorial effort, Night Shift, comes to Blu-ray via the Warner Archive Collection. It’s a lesser-known 1980s comedy that showcased Henry Winkler’s ability to play more than Fonzie on Happy Days while giving Michael Keaton and Shelley Long a springboard for the stardom that was right around the corner for both of them. Kevin Costner, Rochard Belzer, and Shannen Doherty even show up in minor roles.
When I was a kid, our next-door neighbor messed with the cable box shared by both houses, which resulted in us getting free HBO. (I imagine the statute of limitations has run out by now.) As a kid on the cusp of my teenage years, I was thrilled, although my mother didn’t approve of me watching anything with an “R” rating.
Night Shift was one of the movies I saw advertised that I never got a chance to watch, but by the time I was able to do so, I just didn’t get around to it until now. I’m sorry my 12-year-old self didn’t get a chance to see a movie that only earned its rating due to some topless women, which was a huge deal for young boys during those pre-Internet days, but I’m glad I had a chance to see it now, for other reasons.
Aside from being Ron Howard’s second directorial effort (it directly preceded him hitting the big time with Splash and Cocoon), Night Shift is also notable as a starring vehicle for Henry Winkler, Michael Keaton, and Shelley Long. Winkler was trying to show he was more than his character Fonzie on Happy Days and Keaton and Long were both about to break through in their careers: the former had a big hit the following year in Mr. Mom while the latter was about to debut as Diane Chambers on Cheers.
Winkler and Keaton star in Night Shift as Chuck Lumley and Bill Blazejowski, respectively. Chuck is a nebbish who works at the county morgue, having burned out as a financial planner, and is moved back to the night shift to make way for his supervisor’s entitled nephew. Bill shows up as his fast-talking new overnight partner, a self-described “ideas man” who starts looking for ways to make extra cash on the side.
The pair soon hit on the idea of becoming pimps, thanks to Chuck’s neighbor Belinda (Long), whose previous pimp recently met his untimely demise. She helps them recruit her, shall we say, co-workers, and soon the operation is bringing in plenty of cash. Chuck uses his financial acumen to give the women fair compensation and benefits, and of course Belinda turns out to be the stereotypical hooker with a heart of gold who could be a better fit for Chuck than his overbearing fiancé.
The story by screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel gives Keaton plenty of opportunities to showcase his comedic chops, in particular his ability to play a lovable doofus, while Winkler gets to be his straight man and deliver more understated jokes in a deadpan style. The humor is very much of its era, which means you may feel right at home if you’re a Gen Xer (like me) or a Boomer, but it could seem quaint to younger viewers.
Night Shift is also notable for the sheer number of recognizable actors who fill out the supporting roles, including: Richard Belzer as a hit-man; Ron Howard’s brother Clint as one of Chuck and Bill’s clients; Kevin Costner in a “blink and you’ll miss him” part as “Frat Boy #1”; Shannen Doherty as a Bluebird (the movie’s version of a Girl Scout); comedian Charles Fleischer as a fellow prisoner; and character actor Vincent Schiavelli as a delivery guy.
Warner Bros. has issued the movie on Blu-ray as part of its Warner Archive Collection, which brings lesser-known films to the format. There’s no indication that Night Shift was restored for this release, but the print looks solid, with a light amount of grain, as expected. It’s set in early 1980s New York City, which was a pretty dingy environment, so there aren’t a lot of bright colors that can pop of the screen, but this is a transfer that does the film justice.
Unfortunately, the only bonus feature is a trailer that clearly shows its age, both in terms of the video quality and in the way it takes its time setting up Winkler’s character before pushing the “wild and crazy” aspect of the film. It would have been nice to see a short retrospective interview, even with a crew member, but if you’re in the mood to discover a lesser-known comedy from the 1980s and enjoy it in high-def, you can’t go wrong with Night Shift.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★★ / Movie: ★★★