General Hospital

  • videoarchives
  • April 25, 2023

The Video Archives Podcast is the wrath of the lamb! Quentin & Roger call an ambulance and head straight to Arthur Hiller’s The Hospital, where chief of medicine George C. Scott must solve a string of murders while confronting his own personal and professional impotence. Then, we’ll flash back to the Arizona of the Old West for the brutal and bloody Ulzana’s Raid, before coming together to build a skyscraper with the Magnificent Seven of the construction world in 1979’s Steel. I’m building my own skyscraper out of VHS boxes and movie posters on today’s Counter Talk, so let’s get hammerin’…

First of all, a note from the Counter Talk Corrections Department – last week, I claimed the story of Sergio Corbucci’s The Con Artists couldn’t compare to “William Goldman’s perfect script for The Sting.” The Oscar-winning screenplay for The Sting was of course written not by Goldman but by the venerable David S. Ward. Apologies to Mr. Ward, and to Mssrs. Tarantino and Avary – next time I’m triple and quadruple checking my facts!

I’ve also got an incredible artifact to show you, sent in by listener Tim, who bought some classic New Beverly calendars on eBay and received an unexpected bonus – a copy of a Video Archives check from 1987, written to Quentin himself! Look at that logo, as handsome as ever…it makes me want to get some custom checks printed:

We don’t often cover Oscar-winning ‘prestige’ pictures on Video Archives, but 1971’s The Hospital is a real art film that got Academy attention. It was a major comeback for its writer, Paddy Chayefsky, who became a star after his first film, Marty, but struggled to build on that breakthrough in the 60s. The Hospital nabbed him an Oscar, and momentum that he would ride to his next and most famous script, Network. One of the true auteur-level screenwriters, you sense that The Hospital is his film first and foremost from scene one (with a monologue spoken by an uncredited Chayefsky).

The Hospital also continued Scott’s ferocious post-Patton run, getting him another Oscar nomination. Between 1971 and 1972, he made They Might Be Giants, The Last Run, The Hospital, The New Centurions and Rage back to back. We’ve now covered three of those five, and the other two feel like Video Archives selections waiting to happen!

The Hospital looks great on Key Video’s classic rainbow box, with a bedraggled, befuddled (but still hot) George C. Scott taking up the length of the cover.

As the back of the box makes clear, The Hospital equally aims to “make you laugh” and “make you think”; it’s pretty grim for a comedy, but quite silly for a medical drama. The many posters for The Hospital each strike a slightly different balance between the film’s two modes. This is one of a few variants that juxtapose an offbeat Chayefsky quote with a bodybagged corpse, evoking the script’s bitterly comic voice.

This one really places the film in its era, with a cartoony style somewhere between MAD Magazine and Ralph Steadman’s illustrations for Hunter S. Thompson, a good analogue for The Hospital’s swerves between manic humor and dark melodrama.

The Hospital’s mix of tones is also reminiscent of Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H - and this poster is happy to foreground that comparison, while showing Scott and Rigg in alternately serious and playful poses.

The French poster leans into deadly serious art film territory - the severe photo frame with the yellow toe tag accent is clear and striking.

Nothing beats this MGM DVD cover for The Hospital, though. With the jaunty title typeface, the heart-rate-monitor underline, and a drop-shadowed Scott on a blank white canvas, it could be a direct-to-video Patch Adams sequel. No notes!

Ulzana’s Raid continues another theme that keeps coming up on Video Archives - the power of the revisionist, cynical 70s Western. It’s also the second excellent screenplay of the episode, from Alan Sharp, who wrote Ulzana’s Raid as his take on The Searchers shortly after writing The Last Run. Star Burt Lancaster would later say the only “first screenplays” he really loved were Birdman Of Alcatraz and Ulzana’s Raid. There were two slightly different cuts of the film made, an American version cut by director Robert Aldrich and a European cut overseen by Lancaster, so be sure to know which one you’re getting before watching.

The MCA video box for Ulzana’s Raid paints Lancaster and the Arizona of the Old West in sunburnt yellow and red:

The VHS art centers on Lancaster, but this Japanese poster highlights Joaquin Martinez as Ulzana, whose piercing gaze overlooks the film’s bloody action.

I also appreciate this Italian poster for giving us a closer look at Jorge Luke’s Ke-Ni-Tay.

Steel (not to be confused with the Shaq vehicle of the same name) boasts a pretty irresistible one line pitch, tailor-made for the coming high-concept 80s. What if you set a feel-good sports movie, where a team of colorful characters comes together and beats the odds to win the big game, in the world of commercial construction? Steve Carver’s film pays off that premise in spades – so why wasn’t it a bigger hit?

The film hit a series of unlucky breaks on the way to the box office. It was produced at the height of Lee Majors’ stardom, but sat on the shelf for years, so by the time it was released, Majors’ show The Six Million Dollar Man was off the air and his fame had faded. Legendary stuntman A.J. Bakunas (who doubled Burt Reynolds’ fall in Hooper) also died performing a high-fall stunt for Steel; the tragedy darkened the film’s release, and forced the studio to change the title from the more lurid Look Down And Die. (I prefer the title Steel, honestly.) Today, the movie is largely forgotten and hard to find, but the Video Archives crew can attest it’s a ten-ton blast, and well worth seeking out.

Quentin, Roger & Gala watched Steel on film, but there was a Vestron Video VHS release…the tagline on the back cover is unbeatable.

Perhaps no movie has ever been better suited to the extra-tall daybill poster format - look at this beauty:

Only the Japanese poster goes for the high-angle shot to capture the dizzying heights of the film. The action poses of the workers here are so evocative.

By the way, Kincaid Towers, the buildings under construction in Steel, are an actual pair of skyscrapers in Lexington, KY that still stand today…and the site is dedicated to Bakunas.

Next week, you’ll definitely want to tune in to the After Show with Gala, because we’re finally tackling a film we’ve teased since even before the show officially began! Until then, make sure to follow us on Twitter and Instagram – check out our fan-led group on Facebook, too, where I hear they just hit 499 members. Rate and review us on Apple, Amazon and Spotify as well. Thanks and see you next week!