AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Modern Problems
Director: Ken Shapiro (Dir)
Release Date:   25 Dec 1981
Premiere Information:   Los Angeles and New York openings: 25 Dec 1981
Production Date:   began 6 Apr 1981
Duration (in mins):   90
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Cast:   Chevy Chase (Max Fiedler)  
    Patti D'Arbanville (Darcy Carson)  
    Mary Kay Place (Lorraine)  
    Nell Carter (Dorita)  
    Brian Doyle-Murray (Brian)  
    Mitch Kreindel (Barry)  
  and Dabney Coleman (Mark [Winslow]) as
    Arthur Sellers (Mobile supervisor)  
    Sandy Helberg (Pete)  
    Neil Thompson (Controller #1)  
    Carl Irwin (Controller #2)  
    Ron House (Vendor)  
    Buzzy Linhart (The tile man)  
    Henry Corden (Dubrovnik)  
    Christine Nazareth (Redhead)  
    Luke Andreas (Tough guy)  
    Jan Speck (Brunette)  
    Vincenzo Gagliardi (Singer)  
    Francois Cartier (Pianist)  
    Pat Proft (Maitre'd)  
    Jim Hudson (Doctor)  
    Tom Sherohman (Waiter)  
    Frank Birney (Man in lobby)  
    Reid Olson (Principal dancer)  

Summary: A storm begins as Max Fiedler, an air traffic controller, drives home. Stuck behind a poultry truck, he is pelted with rain and feathers through his broken sunroof. At home, his girlfriend, Darcy Carson, has left a message that she has moved out because she can no longer handle Max’s jealousy. Max dines alone at a restaurant and a woman at the next table flirts with him. He buys her a drink, but her boyfriend returns to the table. Max notices every couple in the restaurant seems to be flirting with someone other than their partner and leaves. Darcy is waiting when he returns home, but they are unable to resolve their issues. The next day, as Max goes bicycle riding with his ex-wife, Lorraine, they encounter Max’s high school friend, Brian, who is in a wheelchair. Brian introduces his helper, Dorita, a native of Haiti, and reveals he was injured during his military service in Vietnam, but is now a successful publisher. He invites them to a book signing party for his client, Mark Winslow, a therapist and author of several self help books. At the party, Lorraine speaks about Max’s situation with Mark Winslow, who sees Darcy as manipulative and Max as weak. Darcy and her friend, Barry, unexpectedly arrive and Max wants to leave, but Lorraine is attracted to Brian and stays. As Max drives away, he pulls behind a nuclear waste truck. The lid on a tank is loose, and toxic green liquid spills through Max’s sunroof, causing him to glow green. As he sleeps the glow disappears, but he has nightmares of flying out of control while Darcy mans the air control tower, but instead of helping Max, she has a romantic liaison with Barry. As Max crashes in his nightmare, a picture of Darcy flies across his apartment. The next morning, Max is surprised as items float around the kitchen. Later, he tells Brian that he sees things floating and believes he is responsible. Brian thinks Max is upset about his situation and destroyed the items in anger. Later, as Max showers, the soap flies across the room and he telekinetically retrieves it. That evening, Darcy is upset to find Max at the restaurant where she and Barry are dining. Max wants to speak with her, but she believes he is jealous of Barry, whom she declares is just a friend. Barry also claims he is merely Darcy’s friend, but it is obvious that he wants to romance her. When Darcy goes to the ladies room, Max uses his newfound powers to give Barry a bloody nose. A doctor insists on taking Barry to the hospital, and when Darcy returns, Max escorts her home. He asks her to move back with him, but she does not believe he can change. He asks her out to dinner the following evening, and she says it is a possibility and promises to telephone him. The next day, he calls her from the break room at his office, but she cannot go on their date, having forgotten she agreed to attend the ballet with Barry, who scored a coup by signing a noted principal dancer to the ballet company. Max declares she lied to him and never intended to go on their date. As his fury builds, an airplane ashtray flies around the room and crashes into the wall. That evening, Darcy, Barry, Brian, Lorraine and Winslow attend the ballet together. Max is also in the audience and telekinetically causes the principal dancer to trip, slide across the stage and fall into the orchestra pit. The dancer jumps back on stage, but Max sends him flying into scenery, then causes his genital area to swell and pop. Later, Barry asks to be invited to Darcy’s apartment, but she reminds him that she only considers him a friend. As Darcy reaches her apartment building, Max surprises her and she punches him. Later, they go to bed, but she is too tense to make love and closes her eyes. Max uses his powers to satisfy her sexual needs and with her eyes closed, Darcy is unaware that Max is not touching her. She claims it was the most incredible sexual experience of her life, but he tries to explain it was not real. She wonders why he is sabotaging their evening, so he tells her to ignore him because he has a lot on his mind. Insisting he needs to relax, Darcy invites him to go away for the weekend. Lorraine is going to Brian’s beach house and they are also invited. En route to the beach, Max asks Darcy if she believes in telekinesis, but she says no, and his spirits are low when they are greeted by Lorraine, who announces she is in love with Brian. She introduces Darcy to Dorita, who analyzes chicken guts in the kitchen and predicts a “big ruckus” during the weekend. Meanwhile, Brian asks Max if he still sees things move, and Max declares he is telekinetic. As Lorraine shows them to their room, Mark Winslow arrives and insists that he must stay in the guest room, and they can sleep in Dorita’s room. Darcy stands up to Winslow, but Max acquiesces to the author’s demands. Dorita’s room is a colorful mess, filled with Haitian items and voodoo dolls. Max is depressed and wants to rest, so Darcy walks on the beach. Winslow approaches her and denigrates Max, but Darcy says she loves Max and walks away. When Darcy offers to help prepare dinner, Dorita claims Max’s aura is green with yellow spots. Upstairs, Max is very pale and multiple items are floating. Darcy knocks on the door and everything falls before she enters. She kids him about his green aura and when he looks in the mirror, Max’s reflection is green with yellow dots. He panics, but she tells him to relax, it was just a joke. As Darcy heads downstairs, Winslow calls her into his room. He is wearing only a towel and drops it, claiming they would be magic together. Disgusted, she insists her idea of magic with Winslow is for him to disappear; but Max sees her leaving Winslow’s room. At dinner, Winslow pompously lectures them, but Max pays no attention, so Winslow teases him about his “powers,” and insists that he stop trying to attract attention with a phony illness. Angry, Max levitates Winslow, then spins him over the table and drops him onto the food. Embarrassed, Winslow declares Max is a freak, then heads for the shore. Max returns to his room and Darcy follows, while Lorraine chases Winslow and stops him from drowning himself by reminding him that he just bought a new Porsche. Upstairs, Max levitates, insists that he misbehaved, and smashes a vase on his head. Darcy runs downstairs to call a doctor, but Dorita agrees to help. She orders the demon to leave, to no avail. Then Dorita spreads her deadly “demon powder” around the bed, but Max snorts the powder, and floats Dorita upside down. Winslow races in with a gun and shoots, but Max stops the bullet and sends Winslow into the ceiling. When Darcy begs Max to stop before he kills someone, he races to the roof turret, and she follows. Max admits that he is a monster, but she refutes his claim. Downstairs, Dorita watches television while packing to leave. As Max and Darcy cling to the antenna on the roof and profess their mutual love, green energy shoots down the antenna, through the television, and into Dorita. Max and Darcy kiss on the roof, while a newly empowered Dorita enjoys a drink and the kitchen cleans itself. 

Production Company: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.  
Production Text: A Shamberg-Greisman Production
A Ken Shapiro Film
Distribution Company: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.  
Director: Ken Shapiro (Dir)
  Wilbur Mosier (Prod mgr)
  Gene Law (Asst dir)
  James Herbert (2d asst dir)
  Joanne Karr (DGA trainee)
Producer: Alan Greisman (Prod)
  Michael Shamberg (Prod)
  Douglas C. Kenney (Exec prod)
Writer: Ken Shapiro (Wrt)
  Tom Sherohman (Wrt)
  Arthur Sellers (Wrt)
Photography: Edmond Koons (Dir of photog)
  Jonathan West (Cam op)
  John Goode (1st asst cam)
  Bob Altman (2d asst cam)
  Randolph Glass (Gaffer)
  Frank Tobin (Best boy)
  Thomas Prophet, Jr. (Key grip)
  David Anderberg (Grip)
  Dave Wachtman (Grip)
  Douglas Bolder (Best boy grip)
  Ron Batzdorff (Still photog)
  Joe Kent (Elec)
  J. T. Lee (Elec)
  Ousley Lee Jr. (Elec)
  Dave Morton (Elec)
Art Direction: Jack Senter (Prod des)
  Jack Johnson (Prod illustrator)
Film Editor: Michael Jablow (Ed)
  Jonathan Lapidese (Assoc ed)
  Joanna Cappuccilli (Asst ed)
  Vaune Kirby (Apprentice ed)
Set Decoration: Anne D. McCulley (Set dec)
  Richard M. Rubin (Props)
  Everett Olson (Const coord)
  Bob Wray (Set des)
  George Eckert (Set des)
  George Luxemberg (Asst prop master)
  James B. Olson (Asst prop master)
  Margaret Cooper-Fischer (Lead person)
  Richard Watts (Swing)
  Charles Peck (Painter)
Costumes: Jeanne Malone (Cost supv)
  Kathy Brodbeck (Women's costumer)
  Kimon Beazlie (Men's costumer)
Music: Dominic Frontiere (Mus)
  John Harris (Mus ed)
  John Neal (Scoring mixer)
Sound: Petur Hliddal (Sd mixer)
  Hudson B. Marquez (Boom man)
  Randy Johnson (Cableman)
  Godfrey Marks (Dial ed)
  William Hartman (Sd ed)
  Richard A. Sperber (Sd ed)
  David M. Ice (Sd ed)
  Don S. Walden (Sd ed)
  G. W. Davis (Sd ed)
  Theodore Soderberg (Re-rec mixer)
  Paul Wells (Re-rec mixer)
  Douglas Williams (Re-rec mixer)
Special Effects: Ira Anderson, Jr. (Spec eff)
  Donald Puck (Spec eff asst)
  Al Broussard (Spec eff asst)
  Triplane Films, Inc. (Spec visual eff)
  Jane Simpson (Des/Supv, Spec visual eff)
  Movie Magic (Opticals by)
  Deborah Ross (Titles by)
  Triplane (Titles by)
Dance: Los Angeles Ballet (Ballet seqs performed by)
  John Clifford (Artistic dir, Ballet seqs)
  Steven Jacobson (Managing dir, Ballet seqs)
  Joseph Gunches (Company mgr, Ballet seqs)
Make Up: Jack Wilson (Makeup artist)
  Gloria Montemayer (Hairstylist)
Production Misc: Lynn Stalmaster - Toni Howard & Associates (Casting)
  Nancy Klopper (Casting)
  Alan Greedy (Scr supv)
  Beverly Setlowe (Prod coord)
  Mary Jane Schillerstrom (Asst to prod)
  William Bowling (Loc mgr, Los Angeles)
  Myron Adams (Loc mgr, New York)
  John Hood (Transportation coord)
  Lydia Telo (Auditor)
  Mel Asch (Pub)
  Karen Vanek (Secy to prod)
  Christine Nazareth (Secy to dir)
  Carol Pulcifer (Casting secy)
  Michael Paventi (Transportation capt)
  Keenan Haight (Cinemobile/honeywagon driver)
  Ernest Lauterio (Craft service)
Stand In: Jim Winburn (Stunt coord)
Animation: Lorraine Bubar (Anim)
  Diana Wilson (Rotoscope)
  R & B EFX (Anim cam)
Color Personnel: DeLuxe® (Col by)
  Bob Hagans (Col timer)
MPAA Rating: PG
Country: United States
Language: English

Songs: "Gonna Get It Next Time," performed by The Tubes, arranged and produced by David Foster, courtesy of Capitol Records, lyrics by Adrienne Anderson, music by Dominic Frontiere; "She Takes All Of Me," lyrics by Adrienne Anderson, music by Dominic Frontiere.
Composer: Adrienne Anderson
  Dominic Frontiere
Source Text:

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation 3/2/1982 dd/mm/yyyy PA127236

PCA NO: 26438
Physical Properties: Sd:
  Lenses: Panaflex® Camera and Lenses by Panavision®

Genre: Comedy
Subjects (Major): Chemicals
  Romantic rivalry
  Super powers
Subjects (Minor): Air traffic controllers
  Personality change
  Publishers and publishing

Note: End credits include the following statement: “The Producers wish to thank The Carlton House of New York and Lancel of New York.”
       Production notes in AMPAS library files reported that after director Ken Shapiro presented an outline of the concept to producers Michael Shamberg, Alan Greisman and Douglas C. Kenney, partners at Three Wheel Productions, Shapiro developed the screenplay with Tom Sherohman and Arthur Sellers. On 25 Jan 1980, HR and DV reported that Modern Problems was scheduled to be the first of several projects developed for Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. by Three Wheel Productions, with Shamberg and Greisman credited as producers and Kenney as executive producer. However, Douglas Kenney died prematurely on 27 Aug 1980 in HI, prior to the start of principal photography. The 11 May 1981 DV reported that his partners promised he would posthumously receive executive producer credit on Modern Problems.
       On 25 Jan 1980, DV noted that principal photography was planned for Apr 1980, but the 25 Mar 1980 DV reported a new start date of 13 Oct 1980. According to the 9 Apr 1981 DV and the 10 Apr 1981 HR, however, principal photography began 6 Apr 1981. An article in the 1 Jul 1981 Var reported that reasons for the delay included an extended shooting schedule for Chevy Chase’s previous film, Under The Rainbow (1981, see entry), and the 1980 Screen Actors Guild (SAG) strike, which lasted from Jul 1980 through Oct 1980. The 1 Jul 1981 Var reported a budget of $8 million, and the 2 Apr 1980 Var noted Modern Problems would film in New York City and Los Angeles, CA. According to production notes, the film had a ten-week shooting schedule, and New York City locations included Kennedy Airport, Central Park, and Battery Park. In CA, a façade of the Victorian beach house was built on the beach in Oxnard, CA, while sound stages and a Victorian mansion in Los Angeles were utilized for the beach house’s interiors. Articles in the 18 Jun 1981 DV and the 8 Dec 1981 LAT reported that Chevy Chase was taken to the hospital after receiving an electrical shock during filming of a fantasy sequence in which he pretended to be a plane landing at an airport. Chase soon returned to work, but stated that he was in pain for several weeks.
       On 3 Aug 1981, real-life air traffic controllers went on strike, and the 12 Aug 1981 LAT reported that the filmmakers were uncertain whether to exploit the publicity resulting from the strike or to downplay that element of the script. The producers also considered that the crisis might not be an issue by the film’s Christmas 1981 release date.
       LAT articles on 9 Dec 1981 and 14 Feb 1982 reported that Modern Problms initially received an R-rating from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), but Twentieth Century-Fox had based their promotional campaign on a PG-rating and chose to re-cut the film and edit scenes containing sexual humor in order to obtain the PG.
       Twentieth Century-Fox released the film on Christmas day, 25 Dec 1981, with no advance press screenings. In its list examining the “Last Releases of 1981,” the 23 Jan 1982 Village Voice claimed Modern Problems was a “Borderline Case” with a gross of $14 million. However, the 6 Jan 1982 DV and the 14 Feb 1982 LAT reported that despite negative reviews from critics, Modern Problems was successful at the box-office. DV noted the first ten days grossed $14,611,644, and LAT reported that the film had grossed more than $25 million as of 14 Feb 1982.
       Items in the 31 Mar 1981 DV and the 3 Apr 1981 HR reported that Brian Doyle-Murray would make his feature film debut in Modern Problems. However, Doyle-Murray had previously appeared in Fuzz (1972, see entry) and Caddyshack (1980, see entry). According to the 9 Apr 1981 DV and the 10 Apr 1981 HR, Nell Carter would also make her feature film debut in Modern Problems. However, Carter was credited as a musical performer in Hair (1979, see entry) and also appeared in Back Roads (1981, see entry), which opened on 13 Mar 1981, several months prior to the release of Modern Problems.

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Daily Variety   25 Jan 1980.   
Daily Variety   25 Mar 1980.   
Daily Variety   31 Mar 1981.   
Daily Variety   9 Apr 1981.   
Daily Variety   11 May 1981.   
Daily Variety   18 Jun 1981.   
Daily Variety   26 Jun 1981.   
Daily Variety   6 Jan 1982.   
Hollywood Reporter   25 Jan 1980.   
Hollywood Reporter   3 Apr 1981.   
Hollywood Reporter   10 Apr 1981.   
Hollywood Reporter   29 Dec 1981   p. 2.
Los Angeles Times   12 Aug 1981.   
Los Angeles Times   8 Dec 1981.   
Los Angeles Times   9 Dec 1981.   
Los Angeles Times   28 Dec 1981   p. 5.
Los Angeles Times   14 Feb 1982.   
New York Times   28 Dec 1981   p. 16.
Variety   2 Apr 1980.   
Variety   1 Jul 1981.   
Variety   30 Dec 1981   p. 16.
Village Voice   23 Jan 1982.   

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