Retro Movie Review: Racing With The Moon (1984)

April 4, 2011

Racing with the Moon posterby Peter Nielsen

I have a confession to make.

I absolutely friggin’ adore the movie Racing with the Moon! It’s one I’ve seen many times and fell in love with the very first time I watched it. It’s also one I hadn’t seen for some twenty-odd years before deciding to rewatch it the other night. I was a bit nervous that I would be let down, but boy was I surprised. Not only did it hold up extremely well, but I fell in love with it all over again.

The story centers round the two childhood friends Hopper (Sean Penn) and Nicky (Nicolas Cage). It’s 1943 and they only have six weeks left before joining the marines and going to war. They both work at the local bowling alley and more or less take each day as it comes. Nicky is the more rambunctious of the two and drinks a lot. He has no intention of coming back once the war is over, so he basically tries to make the most of the weeks he has left.

Hopper is the brooding type and takes an interest in Caddie, the newcomer in town, played by Elizabeth McGovern. One day he follows her home and upon seeing her entering a large and beautiful house, wrongly believes her to be rich. Their love-story is sweet and touching and feels real. Actually, the whole movie feels real, largely because you have a great script and a fantastic cast.

Nicky (Cage) & Hop (Penn) hustling pool.

Nicky (Cage) & Hop (Penn) hustling pool.

Sean Penn and Nicolas Cage were young and more or less just getting started on their careers in 1984, but they are absolutely amazing and so is Elizabeth McGovern. It’s also worth mentioning John Karlen who plays Mr. Nash, the father of Sean Penn’s character. He’s a very sympathetic man who seems to understand his son’s emotions and what he’s going through, and gives advice when needed. He strikes me as being a good father who also took care of Nicky when he was a kid and had just lost his mother.

There’s no real plot as such, we just spend some time with these great characters and get a brief glimpse into their lives. It’s also a story about the loss of innocence when Nicky gets a girl pregnant and how they deal with that and the subsequent abortion. There’s the issue with their imminent departure for the marines and how they come to terms with this big step in their lives.

Caddie (McGovern) & Hop (Penn) in the library.

Caddie (McGovern) & Hop (Penn) in the library.

The director Richard Benjamin, whose acting career includes Westworld, Love at First Bite and The Sunshine Boys among other things, has done an excellent job in making a movie that gives you a warm fuzzy feeling inside without making it overly “mushy”.

The era is perfectly caught both in costume and sets and he seems to really have a knack for directing actors into giving their best too. My Favorite Year starring Peter O’Toole and City Heat starring Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds are just two of the many movies he’s also directed.

Racing with the Moon boasts some great cameos too. Crispin Glover plays a wealthy and annoying “Gatsby boy” in a brief scene and Michael Madsen is a war victim whom Hopper encounters when he’s handing out library books at a veterans hospital together with Caddie.

The lovely Carol Kane plays the prostitute Annie and Michael Talbott is a Navy guy named Bill whom Hopper and Nicky tries to hustle in a game of pool. I suppose he’s mostly known for his part as Stan Switek in the TV show Miami Vice and maybe for being in the Jack Reed movies opposite Brian Dennehy.

The first time I watched this was with my dad back in the mid or late 80’s. We rented a lot of movies together after he and mum got divorced. Some we both agreed on and some we didn’t. Racing with the Moon was one of the former. He loved it as much as I did and I hope that when I show it to my kids, they too will enjoy it. Well, maybe not my son… he’s more of an action-kinda guy, but I think my teenage daughters will.

So, if you haven’t seen it yet, give it a try and if you have seen it… Why not watch it again?

I know I will!

Racing With The Moon Trailer

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