Today’s feature is a somewhat forgotten film from 1982 that stars Batman and the Fonz, and is directed by none other than Opie: “Night Shift.”
“Night Shift” was directed by Academy Award winner Ron Howard, and was only his second directorial feature after the Roger Corman produced “Grand Theft Auto” in 1977, which he also starred in. Those with a keen eye might spot Howard in “Night Shift” as well, though he only appears briefly while obnoxiously playing a saxophone.
The screenplay for “Night Shift” was written by the duo of Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, who went on to pen “A League of Their Own” and “City Slickers,” among many other memorable films. The “Night Shift” cinematography was done by one James Crabe, who is best known for his work on “Rocky” and the first two “The Karate Kid” movies, making for an overall very interesting team behind the film.
“Night Shift” had two primary producers: Ron Howard’s now long-time partner Brian Grazer, and a man named Don Kranze, for whom this was his last film credit. Kranze was primarily an assistant director in the 1950s and 1960s, working on acclaimed films like “12 Angry Men,” “The Hustler,” “The Graduate,” and “A Face In The Crowd.”
The music for “Night Shift” was provided by Academy Award and Grammy Award winner Burt Bacharach, who has, to date, written 73 US top 40 hits over his long career. The ending theme for “Night Shift”, “That’s What Friends Are For,” later became a #1 hit after being covered by a super-group led by Dionne Warwick for the charity American Foundation for AIDS Research.
The cast of “Night Shift” most notably features acclaimed actor Michael Keaton in his first major film role. It also starred Ron Howard’s “Happy Days” cohort Henry Winkler, at arguably the height of his powers (in the middle of “Happy Days,” though after his infamous shark jump). In the years since “Happy Days,” he has more often played zany characters and self parodies in supporting roles, such as in “Arrested Development,” “The Waterboy,” and “Scream.” Meanwhile, Keaton has become iconic for his work in both comedies and dramas, including “Beetlejuice,” “Batman,” and the recently acclaimed “Birdman.”
The supporting cast of “Night Shift” includes Shelley Long (just before the start of “Cheers”), Gina Hecht (“Mork & Mindy,” “Seinfeld”), and character actor Clint Howard, as well as a few recognizable pre-fame background players in Kevin Costner and Shannen Doherty.
The story of “Night Shift” follows two late-night employees at a city morgue, who, through a series of unlikely shenanigans, wind up running an underground prostitution ring while on the job. Predictably, this leads them into conflict with local organized crime, the law, and each other before long.
Critics generally liked “Night Shift,” (Rotten Tomatoes score of 95%) and specifically the central performances by Keaton and Winkler. The movie suffers a little bit by comparison to similar features (namely “Risky Business”), and is certainly not a polished work in comparison to Howard’s later work. Still, the main players have all seen at least a moderate amount of success in the years since “Night Shift,” and it has gained a bit of cult popularity.
The popular reception to “Night Shift” was good, but not great. It currently hold a Rotten Tomatoes audience score of 61%, and an IMDb rating of 6.5. The movie grossed over $20 million in its theatrical release. Though I wasn’t able to dig up the film’s budget, I would be shocked if that number didn’t make for a significant profit on it.
I generally enjoyed “Night Shift,” though it certainly falls off in the second half as far as the pacing goes. The conflicts between the characters drag on a little longer than they need to, and the run time of over 1 hour 45 minutes could certainly have used some trimming. The movie also isn’t as much of a black comedy as you might expect for a film about a morgue prostitution ring: it is actually a bit tame, and Keaton relies more on zany, frenetic comedy than anything else. There is also some really uncomfortable attempts at comedy around Gina Hecht’s character that just don’t fit in the movie or land, though it is arguably necessary to demonize her somewhat to make Winkler stay likable and sympathetic throughout the story. That said, Keaton and Winkler are excellent, and their chemistry really drives the film.
Overall, “Night Shift” is a pretty good watch, but mostly on the merits of the individual parts rather than the product as a whole. Without the context of the careers of Ron Howard, Michael Keaton, and Henry Winkler, I think this movie would be more forgotten than it is. Michael Keaton’s return to prominence with “Birdman” has brought this back into the public consciousness on some level, and gave me the motivation to go dig it up. There is some entertainment value to it, but not as much as I expected, and certainly not in the way I expected. If it sounds like the sort of movie you would enjoy, then you probably would. Otherwise, you are not missing much here.