Retro Movie Review: Streets of Fire (1984)

May 5, 2011

Streets of Fire posterby Peter Nielsen

We all have movies we watch over and over again, right? The ones where we know every damn line by heart? In most cases the movies we do treat like this, are not your typical academy award winners, but the ones that fall more under the forgotten flicks category. Am I right in that assumption? I’d like to think so.

Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not frowning down on any movie. I’m just saying that in most cases the movies we watch many times are the ones that fall just under the norm.

Hell, I can’t explain it, you all know what I mean, right?

Streets of Fire is one of those movies. At least for me! I watched it three times in the theatre and subsequently many times on VHS and DVD. I bought the soundtrack on vinyl and later on CD too. It’s by Ry Cooder, so that one is kind of self explanatory. It also features music by The Blasters, among others, so again… it’s a keeper!

Don't you just love my hair?

Don’t you just love my hair?

The movie opens on rain-soaked streets with the neon-lights reflecting in the wet asphalt. People are hurrying along to see Ellen Aim giving a concert in her hometown. During this concert, Raven Shaddock and his leather-clad motorcycle gang The Bombers, kidnaps her and at the same time trashes the block.

Ellen’s old boyfriend and bad boy, Tom Cody, is called back to rescue her. A simple and classic story, but in the hands of Walter Hill it’s transformed into so much more. He’s created a town that isn’t in any specific time or place. It’s almost like a fantasy version of the 50’s. The guys are tough-talking, the gals are pretty, the music is great and I love every damn frame of it.

After settling in with his sister Reva, Tom goes to the local bar where he meets McCoy, a soldier and mechanic, who needs a place to crash. He promises her the use of his sister’s couch and a new friendship is born. The next day Tom meets up with Billy Fish, Ellen’s manager and present boyfriend, to discuss the rescue mission. He, very reluctantly, agrees to go along as a guide and McCoy is hired as the driver.

Ellen Aim and The Attackers in concert.

Ellen Aim and The Attackers in concert.

Billy Fish is brilliantly played by a tough-talking and hilarious Rick Moranis (Ghostbusters I & II, Little Shop of Horrors and many more).

To make a long story short, the mission is a success and Ellen is safely returned home. Raven doesn’t take to kindly to this of course and demands a showdown between Tom and himself. “Mano y mano!” Since the weapons of choice are Spike Mauls (correct technical term), the ensuing fight is brutal and intense.

Michael Paré (Eddie and the Cruisers I & II and Bad Moon among many) might not be the best actor around, but he’s absolutely perfect for the role of Tom Cody. He’s like a western hero coming home to save the day. He even wears a brown duster and shoots a Marlin lever-action rifle.

Willem Dafoe (Platoon, The Last Temptation of Christ, Triumph of the Spirit and many, many more) is a great villain in this. Raven is like a weird combination of the 50’s and the present and almost feels alien at times. He’s a guy who takes what he wants, when he wants it, but come to think of it, so does Tom Cody. I suppose they’re a lot alike in some ways and as Raven points out when they first meet: “Well, it looks like I finally found someone who likes to play as rough as I do.”

It's hammer time!

It’s hammer time!

Diane Lane (Rumble Fish, Cotton Club and Under the Tuscan Sun to mention a few) is absolutely stunning as Ellen Aim, the object of Raven’s desire and Tom Cody’s former girlfriend. She’s the rock-star who’s going places and Tom wasn’t satisfied with just being the guy who tagged along carrying her cases. So he left and joined the army, but… of course they never stopped loving each other.

One of my favorite characters is Clyde the bartender, played by the excellent Bill Paxton (Aliens, Near Dark and Frailty are just some of his career choices). He’s only a minor character, but he’s so damn funny and he does NOT like McCoy. The reason for this is that she knocked him out when he refused to serve her more liquor at one point.

McCoy is played by Amy Madigan by the way, who’s also been in Uncle Buck and Fields of Dreams.

Streets of Fire is a rock & roll fable told by Walter Hill who had a great run in the late 70’s and all through the 80’s with such classics as The Warriors, 48 hours, Brewster’s Millions, Southern Comfort and Crossroads to name a couple. He had a certain visual style that could turn a simple enough story into something riveting and interesting, which is exactly what Streets of Fire is. With a great musical score to boot!

And on that note I’ll leave you, so until next time my friends…

Streets of Fire Trailer


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