Just Some Guys from Jersey

Eddie_Cruisers_1983_3

To view Eddie and the Cruisers click here.

In the past week or so, my illustrious peers at StreamLine have written with knowledge and insight about international classics like Mon Oncle (1958), rare foreign films such as Black Jesus (1968), and key films by notable auteurs Douglas Sirk and Richard Lester. But, not me. Today, I am writing about Eddie and the Cruisers (1983)—make that happily writing about Eddie and the Cruisers.

I didn’t realize how much I adored Hollywood movies from the 1980s until I taught a section on them in one of my classes last spring. I discovered that it is an era as distinct as the ones before and after, with specific characteristics and genres associated with it. And, it serves as a transition from the serious content and experimentation of the Film School Generation to the wholesale corporatization of Hollywood by the early 1990s. One of the characteristics that I like most about some of the films of this era is the interest in mythic protagonists who are larger than life, including action heroes, genre archetypes or self-aware characters. The title character from Eddie and the Cruisers, which is currently streaming on FilmStruck, falls into that category.

This musical melodrama is a fictional version of all those legends about rock stars who died too young and left behind a mystery, unfinished business or an unexplained tragedy. Structured like a rock ‘n’ roll Citizen Kane (1941), the story begins in the present as TV reporter Maggie Foley, played by Ellen Barkin, investigates the disappearance of 1960s rock star Eddie Wilson (Michael Paré). Eddie’s story unfolds in flashbacks as Foley tracks down and interviews the surviving members of the Cruisers, including keyboardist and lyricist Frank Ridgeway (Tom Berenger), bassist Sal Amato (Matthew Laurance) and singer Joann Carlino (Helen Schneider). As the story goes, the band had become successful after their first album, but Eddie reached too far on their second go-round by insisting on a concept album titled after Rimbaud’s A Season in Hell. The band members struggled with the new music, prompting Sal to moan, “We’re just some guys from Jersey.” As the band crumbled from within, and the label rejected A Season in Hell, Eddie took off in his car, crashing over a bridge and disappearing into rock ‘n’ roll folklore.

Eddie and the Cruisers (1983) Directed by Martin Davidson Shown: Ellen Barkin

The cast includes several actors who populated films of the 1980s. In interviews, Barkin is the only cast member who is openly critical of the film. She claims the production was chaotic and no one seemed to be in charge during the two weeks she was on set—a slam at director Martin Davidson. Perhaps Davidson was too busy riding his star Michael Paré, who was appearing in his first starring role. At one point, Davidson threatened to give Paré the boot, but the rest of the cast rallied around him. Despite his issues with Davidson, Paré considers Eddie and the Cruisers a kind of signature role, and he is currently writing a third film in the series. (A sequel was released in 1989.) Rick Springfield, who was hot from his success with “Jesse’s Girl” and a stint on General Hospital, had wanted to play Eddie Wilson, but Davidson wanted an unknown.

I became a Michael Paré fan after seeing this film in the theater; I liked his screen persona—a working-class variation on the strong, silent type. Decades ago, I visited the old Warner Bros. studio, which had been renamed The Burbank Studio, while an episode of Paré’s television series Houston Knights (1987-1988) was being shot. He was the most handsome, charismatic man I had ever seen. When he was on set, you couldn’t take your eyes off him—like he was lit from within. That quality made him a perfect choice for mythic Eddie Wilson, an archetypal figure representing all of the Jim Morrisons, Elvis Presleys and Hank Williamses who never really died—at least in the eyes of fans who could not let them go. As such, Eddie and the Cruisers oozes a nostalgia irresistible to those of us who remember the legends and recall the tales spun about them. Other cast members include Tom Berenger in an early role and character actor Joe Pantoliano as the band’s hustling manager. Matthew Laurance, who played Sal, is now a radio sportscaster in Detroit. The only two musicians in the cast were Helen Schneider and saxophonist Michael Antunes who stepped in to play Wendell Newton, essentially a version of himself onscreen.

The decade of the 1980s also saw the rise of independent film production. I was surprised to discover that Eddie and the Cruisers was an indie film, given its slick veneer and well-worn plotline. Davidson optioned the novel by P.F. Kluge with his own money and financed the film through an independent production company. After the film was completed, Davidson circled around three distributors before going with Embassy. Unfortunately, Embassy opted to release the film in September 1983—after its target audience of teenagers and college students had returned to school. The film was in theaters for only three weeks, earning dismal reviews from critics who were apparently immune to Paré’s good looks and unmoved by nostalgia for rock ‘n’ roll legends. Eddie and the Cruisers grossed less than $4 million.

Eddie and the Cruisers (1983) Directed by Martin Davidson Shown: Michael Paré

However, during the 1980s, it was not unusual for cable and the home-viewing market to find an audience for a film, especially those that did not get a fair shake in the theaters. When Eddie and the Cruisers aired on HBO during the summer of 1984, it garnered a huge following of fans. This, in turn, resurrected the soundtrack by John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band, whose Springsteen-like tunes were too modern for a 1960s band like the Cruisers. Fans of the film didn’t mind. Only those pesky, cranky critics seemed to care, and they were rude enough to complain, dubbing Cafferty “the K-Mart Springsteen.” The joke was on them, because the album made it into the Top Ten and was certified triple platinum.

I can’t claim that Eddie and the Cruisers is a forgotten gem, or an unappreciated classic. But, it is a good example of a mid-budget 1980s film with burgeoning stars, a romanticized protagonist, an appealing soundtrack and a collection of tropes designed to appeal to enthusiasts of pop culture history. As an enthusiast, I am proud to say I wore my Eddie and the Cruisers t-shirt until it disintegrated.

Susan Doll

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3 Responses Just Some Guys from Jersey
Posted By Doug : October 2, 2017 8:13 am

When I moved to Las Vegas in 1987 one of the first TV shows (along with Married With Children and the Tracey Ullman show) that I recall seeing was “Duet” starring Matthew Laurance. It was ‘Friends” before “Friends”.
The image of Ellen Barkin plus Susan’s mention of ‘the interest in mythic protagonists who are larger than life, including action heroes, genre archetypes or self-aware characters.” brought to mind the wonderful “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension” in which she played Penny Priddy.
I feel like I saw “Eddie and the Cruisers” back in the day, but I’m not sure-it has been a while.
“I am proud to say I wore my Eddie and the Cruisers t-shirt until it disintegrated.”
I had such a shirt from an event in Vegas which was well on it’s way to disintegration when a girlfriend threw it out. And so it goes.

Posted By jojo : October 2, 2017 10:25 am

Paré certainly looked good, but Brando he wasn’t. Although, he was the lead in another ’80s greaser nostalgia flick, Walter Hill’s utterly bizarre and awesome Streets of Fire.If you’re going to limit yourself to one Paré movie, that’s the one to pick.

Related anecdote: A few years ago I was involved in a rep-house series on the films of 1984, and I was ECSTATIC to discover there was a 70mm, 6-Track print of Streets of Fire available. However, a 70mm projector was not so available, so we had to settle for a 35mm. Another movie in the series I kind of wanted to show in 70mm was the Bill Murray version of The Razor’s Edge. We could have ran an entire sub-program entitled “Big Format, Big Flop”

Posted By AL : October 2, 2017 7:07 pm

This is another on my list of “I Thought I Was The Only One” You did it again, Susan The Uncanny One…luvya!

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