The 80s, in retrospect, was a decade that provided more than its fair share of "Cult Classics". Films like They Live, Blue Velvet, The 'Burbs, Strange Brew and Heavy Metal pop into my head initially but I'm really just scraping the surface. Some of the films did better than others at the box office while others floundered and found their cult status later on premium movie channels and video rentals. That worked out very well for Michael Paré twice. The first was Eddie and the Cruisers, a film which tanked hard upon its initial release and then became a sensation a year later when the film appeared on HBO. Suddenly you couldn't turn on the radio without hearing John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown band. In fact, a few years after Eddie in the Cruisers failed at the box office, a sequel was made which also tanked...but could not be salvaged by its appearance on the various movie channels or video tape. Too bad because, although not as good as the original, its not a bad film and Paré was great as usual.
Meanwhile, Paré went on to star in another film that only found a real audience later, along with a number of great performers like Diane Lane, Willem Dafoe and Bill Paxton, in Streets of Fire. A film which failed at the box office, and for the life of me, all these years later I do not know why. It literally had everything an 18 year old male would want in a film - action, music, car chases and a beautiful heroine. Although Dan Hartman's song I can dream about you and its video did get both radio air time and some rotation on MTV, the film floundered and by the end of the summer of 1984 it was only a hazy memory. Hollywood is full of these sad stories and the stories bounce around my head when I'm in LA - so many great ideas that come to Hollywood to die while another Transformers movie is in the works. It's a logic game you cannot win.
The film, written by Walter Hill and Larry Gross (and directed by Hill) tells the story of a "Rock and Roll Fable". Soldier (mercenary?) Tom Cody(Michael Paré) returns home at the urging of his sister Reva (Deborah Van Valenburgh)...a home that has no name, and looks like a run down factory town from the 1950s. Reva calls Tom home because his ex-flame, Ellen Aim (Diane Lane), a hometown girl who made good, has been kidnapped by a biker gang called The Bombers, lead by Raven Shaddock (played note perfect by Willem Dafoe). Soon, Cody and Ellen's manager, Billy Fish (Rick Moranis) come to an agreement and Cody sets out to rescue Ellen. Along the way he teams up with McCoy (Amy Madigan) to make a late night assault on Torchie's, a bar in the Battery, where Fish used to book bands.
To add heft to an exciting story is the music in this picture. Two of the best known songs, Nowhere Fast and Tonight is what it means to be young were written for the film by the always brilliant, if not occasionally inconsistent, Jim Steinman. Although originally slated to be used in the film was Springsteen's Darkness at the edge of town, Springsteen pulled permission to use the song when he found out it would be recorded by other artists. Honestly, this was a lucky break. The Steinman songs used to replace Springsteen's are far better and add to the "another time another place" feel of the movie. I think a known song would have detracted from the ambiguity of the time and location.
The film is the direct result of the success of Hill's 48 Hrs. It was the financial success of that picture that made it possible for Hill, Lawrence Gordon and Larry Gross to approach Paramount with what Hill thought would be the perfect film for a teenager saying he wanted to include things he'd enjoyed when he was younger "and which I still have great affection for: custom cars, kissing in the rain, neon, trains in the night, high-speed pursuit, rumbles, rock stars, motorcycles, jokes in tough situations, leather jackets and questions of honor." (Streets of Fire Production Notes". MGM Press Kit. 1984). And he was right - that was pretty much a list he could have pulled from my head in 1984 (or, now for that matter - I'm old not dead).
Despite everything right with the film, it opened on 1 June 1984 to a poor reception at the box office. In its first weekend in release it only managed to bring in 2.4 million dollars. In fact, Joel Silver made a joke "Tonight is what it means to be Young? Tonight is what it means to be dead". Ultimately the picture pulled in roughly 8 million on a 15 million production. And in the 80s no one really counted on overseas monies to make up a shortfall. The film was a flop.
I loved it when I saw it that summer - it was like the film had been made entirely for me. And, as I was the only person in attendance at the theater I watched it in, there really was the impression that was indeed the case. However, when I saw Eddie and the Cruisers take off after being on cable I held out hope that perhaps the same would happen for Streets of Fire and I'd see more of Tom Cody.
As has often been the case....I was disappointed.
Oddly enough, a 2008 film called Road to Hell is a thing; and the trivia included on IMDB indicates "The film is a spin-ooff of 'Streets of Fire': Michael Pare returns in his role as Tom Cody and Deborah Van Valkenburgh as his sister". I've not seen this film yet (although I will track it down) but Paré is credited only as "Cody" and Van Valkenburgh as "Sister". I'm sure that was as close to skirting the rights to the original production writer Cynthia Curnan and director Albert Pyun (a fave of mine) were willing to come.
Most of the cast of Streets of Fire went on to huge and successful careers however. Although Paré never fully enjoyed the stardom he still deserves. Always a great actor in every role. Happily Paré has worked very steadily in both mainstream productions like The Lincoln Lawyer and less mainstream work like those directed by Uwe Boll (I have a real love/hate relationship with his work - don't get me started). As long as Paré is out there, I still think he'll snag that role that will make him a household name..and an Oscar someday. And I'll have an insane smile on my face when that happens.
Shout! Factory has recently released a gorgeous Blu-ray edition of this film. It is stunning and has some interesting extras on it. Michael Paré returned for interviews but most of the other cast members are sadly absent from the extras. I'm hopeful they were simply busy because this film should in no way, shape or form be considered a blemish on one's resume - the film was simply ahead of its time.
Check it out if you haven't already - you'll thank me.
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Miss you Pops.