I don’t know what the future of streaming media looks like, but I do know that we’re living in the golden age of choice when it comes to old movies and television. I’m always going to be a proponent of physical media (my bursting, buckling media shelves can attest to this), but sometimes you either can’t spend the dough on a movie or, frustratingly, the movie you want isn’t even available on either DVD or Blu-ray. That’s when streaming, for all its faults (and there are many), can be a bit of a life saver.
I’m constantly amazed at the plethora of long-gone, mostly or entirely forgotten films and shows that are on free platforms like Tubi, Freevee, or Pluto TV. Pluto rocks because on top of on demand free stuff, it actually has programming as well, with devoted channels including for various ge res and sub genres. They have one for classic TV where I binge reruns on the 24 hour (!) Three’s Company channel, among countless others. As paid subscription services go, Amazon Prime can compete head to head with those apps when it comes to depth of catalog offered—and you don’t have to sit through commercials on Prime like you do on the freebies. Between those four apps alone, the amazing array of long forgotten films and TV series is truly remarkable.
So in the spirit of acknowledging modern technology while still reveling in my love for all things retro-nostalgic, I’m starting a new series here, Lost and Found. Each installment will offer a recommendation for an older movie or show that deserves a little attention. I’m hoping a lot of the selections for this series will be ones you’ve never even heard of before. Some might be pretty subpar, but that’s kind of the point: a lot of these movies and shows were forgotten for a reason, but there’s often still some good value in them to find, which is always rewarding to me as a viewer.
Alright, so first up is the 1983 telefilm This Girl for Hire. I stumbled across this one on Prime recently, then spent a pleasant hour and a half watching during an extended lunch break on the couch (don’t tell anyone). Apparently it was a failed pilot about a female private investigator that never got picked up for a series. That’s too bad because while the movie isn’t perfect it’s a lot of fun, with a witty and sexy lead performance by Bess Armstrong (My So-Called Life) as Barbara “B. T.” Brady. Even though the movie appears to be set in then-contemporary 1983 Los Angeles, Brady dresses and acts like a tough-talking gumshoe from the 1940s. She’s an anachronistic, retro girl at heart!
The gender swapping is key to This Girl For Hire’s success. From what I recall, it was still considered unusual when this came out for a woman to play a traditionally male role like a noir P. I., and to get to do all the things male characters did. For instance, the script doesn’t waste any time making clear that Brady is proudly sexually active, thanks to her noir-style opening narration where she playfully complains of being sore from doing too much “touch football” with the LA Rams quarterback that hired her for a case. Hey-o! Then she says she’s going to order her (male) secretary to give her a back rub to work the kinks out. Right off the bat, we know B. T. is taken straight from the old school noir P. I. mold, fedora and all, only she’s a beautiful blonde with legs for days.
Speaking of Bess Armstrong’s legs, the opening credits are a nearly three minute long tribute to them. As names come and go on the screen, sexy saxophone music plays (hello, eighties neo-noir!) while the camera slowly pans up a series of still shots of Armstrong’s body, over and over, and showcasing what are apparently her character’s two greatest assets as a private eye: a pair of legs that just won’t quit. This slow-jazz-scored, modeling shoot opening would be comical if it wasn’t so damned hypnotic, thanks to Armstrong’s amazing stems. The movie keeps reminding us about them, too. At one point, Brady was clearly directed to awkwardly hop out of a car while making sure her legs are on maximum display. Most of the gratuitous camera leering happens early in the movie, but thankfully the actress is just as game for all this silliness as she is for whatever else the script calls for. Her performance is light and airy, with a fun wink and nod to the historical noir roots of her character.
Okay, so what about the rest of the telefilm, you ask? It’s just plain fun! It lags a bit in the final act, but the central murder mystery involves a lot of characters, which keeps you guessing. Speaking of the supporting cast, it’s a veritable who’s who of Old Hollywood, with Ray Walston, Roddy McDowell, Celeste Holme, José Ferrer, Beverly Garland, Elisha Cook Jr., and more popping up all over the place. Brady’s home life, living with her eccentric, former actress mother (Holme), with whom we learn she watches classic noir films like The Big Heat, is just wacky enough and such a contrast to her detective work that I wanted to see more of it.
Alas, this was B. T. Brady’s first and last case, which is a shame because with the Hollywood noir setting, a strong supporting cast, and Armstrong’s endearing combination of droll humor and killer gams, it absolutely would’ve been a series I watched regularly in the eighties. Oh well, at least we’ll always have This Girl for Hire.
This Girl for Hire is currently streaming, free with Prime.