Streets of Fire

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Release Date: June 1, 1984
Runtime: 93 minutes
Rating: R
Studio: Universal Pictures
Director: Walter Hill
Cast: Michael Pare; Diane Lane; Willem Dafoe; Rick Moranis; Deborah Van Valkenburgh; Amy Madigan


Although this film is pure 80’s in the music, it’s a throwback to 1950’s ‘good-guys vs. bad-guys movies’ in plot, dialogue and costumes.  Adopting the tone and visual style of an old-time comic book, “Streets of Fire” clues us in to the fantasy motif right up front, by indicating that the film takes place in ‘Another time, another place.’

After a bravura opening sequence (and looooooooong opening credits crawl), the movie proper gets started.  The plot: Ellen Aim (a young Diane Lane), superstar rock singer, is kidnapped onstage during a show by a group of thugs led by Raven (Willem Dafoe).  Soon enough, Ellen’s old flame, Tom Cody (Michael Pare – not the best actor in the world, but pulls off the gruff “I don’t give a hoot about anything” act decently), is summoned to rescue her for the cool amount of $10,000. He eventually teams up with Ellen’s manager/current squeeze, Billy Fish (Rick Moranis – effectively scummy, yet sorta lovable), who’s the one paying Tom to rescue Ellen, and McCoy (Amy Madigan), a former soldier who latches on to Tom like a little sister.  Once Ellen’s rescue is assured, it’s time to do battle with the Bombers (Raven’s gang) for control of the streets.  That’s primarily it.  There are some fruitless attempts at establishing the back-story for Tom and Ellen, but we get it in a couple of lines: they were lovers, he took off for the Army, her singing career took off, they grew apart but never really stopped loving each other.  In a movie like this, it’s not really the story that’s involving us…it’s the style and the music.  And style and music there is!!

Walter Hill has always been one of my favorite directors.  His films are short (relatively), compact, energetic, and interesting.  He knows how to imbue a formula story with terrific flourishes of pizzazz and rhythm…in short, he knows how to make great entertainment (“Last Man Standing” is great fun).  I love the way he underscores many scenes in “SOF” with Ry Cooder’s rock/folksy score.  He also knows how to not complicate his films or make them needlessly deep and message-y.  The dialogue here, for instance, is very by-the-numbers and simplistic: an asset rather than a deficit because heavy dialogue would just detract from the film’s comic book tone and needlessly complicate the story.  In addition, the fight scenes, while well choreographed and violent, are not extraneously bloody, keeping the focus on the movie’s style and pace, rather than the reality of gang fights.  (You want real gang fights?? Check out Hill’s 1979 flick “The Warriors.”)

Now, the music.  Terrific!!!!  Amazing Ry Cooder score, with a little help from Jim Steinman (also one of my favorites) among others.  While this film is not a traditional “musical” in the sense that people break into song, it is a musical in the same way that “Flashdance” is a musical, i.e., the music is an extremely important part of the work.  It underlines the story, rather than just reinforcing crucial plot points.  Hill keeps Cooder’s upbeat soundtrack running throughout much of the film, yet it is never distracting, but rather energizing…it sort of acts as a “personal tour guide” for the film (Cooder’s music had the same effect on me in “Last Man Standing”).  I loved it!!  And Jim Steinman’s typically theatrical, thunderous songs help bring the audience “up” at both the beginning and the end of the picture.

All in all, my friends, although this was a theatrical flop in 1984, and effectively put an end to a series of planned Tom Cody movies, “Streets of Fire” is severely underrated.  A great piece of pop entertainment.


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