Streets of Fire
|Streets of Fire|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Walter Hill|
|Produced by||Lawrence Gordon
|Written by||Walter Hill
|Music by||Ry Cooder|
|Editing by||James Coblentz
Freeman A. Davies
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|Release date(s)||June 1, 1984|
|Running time||93 minutes|
Streets of Fire is a 1984 film directed by Walter Hill and co-written by Hill and Larry Gross. It was described in previews, trailers, and posters as "A Rock & Roll Fable". It is an unusual mix of musical, action, drama, and comedy with elements both of retro-1950s and 1980s. The film stars Michael Paré as a soldier of fortune who returns home to rescue his ex-girlfriend (Diane Lane) who has been kidnapped by Raven (Willem Dafoe). Some of the film was shot on the backlot of Universal Studios in California on two large, elaborate sets covered in a tarp 1,240 feet long by 220 feet wide so that night scenes could be filmed during the day.
The film was promoted as a summer blockbuster but failed critically and commercially, grossing only US$8 million in North America, compared to a production budget of $14.5 million. However, its dynamic musical score by Jim Steinman, Ry Cooder, and others, as well as the hit Dan Hartman song "I Can Dream About You", has helped it attain a cult following.
In an unnamed city, Ellen Aim (Lane), lead singer of Ellen Aim and The Attackers, has returned home to give a concert. The Bombers, a biker gang, led by Raven Shaddock (Dafoe), enter the auditorium and kidnap her.
Witnessing all of this is Reva Cody (Van Valkenburgh), who wires her brother Tom Cody (Paré), an ex-soldier and Ellen's ex-boyfriend, to rescue her. Tom arrives by elevated train and, after taking Reva home, checks out the local tavern, the Blackhawk, where Clyde (Paxton) tends bar. He is annoyed by a tomboyish ex-soldier named McCoy (Madigan), a mechanic who "could drive anything" and who is good with her fists, as evidenced when she knocks out Clyde. They leave the bar and McCoy asks Tom for a place to stay for the night. That night, Tom and Reva plan to rescue Ellen; Reva is to contact Billy Fish (Moranis), Ellen's manager and current boyfriend, to meet at the diner in the morning.
While Reva and McCoy go to the diner to wait for Billy, Tom acquires a cache of weapons that includes a pump action shotgun, a revolver, and a lever action rifle. Tom and Billy meet at the diner and Tom agrees to the rescue on the condition that Billy pays him $10,000 and that he goes with Tom back into "the Battery" to get Ellen. Billy agrees, and Tom hires McCoy to drive for 10%.
In the Battery, they visit Torchie's, where Billy used to book bands. They wait under an overpass until night, watching bikers come and go. Raven has Ellen tied up in a bedroom upstairs. As Tom, Billy, and McCoy approach Torchie's, Tom directs Billy to get the car and be out front in fifteen minutes.
McCoy enters and is stopped by one of the Bombers. McCoy, pretending to like him, follows him to his special "party room," just down the hall from where Raven is playing poker. McCoy pulls a handgun and knocks out the biker. Tom explores the building across from the bar until he is directly across from Ellen's window. Tom starts shooting the gas tanks on the bikes, then slides down and runs up to Ellen's room. He cuts her free and, with McCoy's help, escapes just as Billy arrives at the front door.
As the others jump into the convertible, Tom sends them off to meet at the Grant Street Overpass, then blows up the gas pumps outside the bar as a diversion. Raven appears out of the flames and chaos to confront Tom. After learning who he is, Raven warns he will be back for her and for him, too. Tom escapes on the one motorcycle that survived destruction. Billy is persuading Ellen to wise up, telling her the only reason her ex-boyfriend rescued her was for money. Tom arrives and jumps into the car, and McCoy explains to Billy that Tom used to be Ellen's boyfriend.
Ditching the street rod in a parking garage, Ellen follows Tom up the stairs while Billy and McCoy take the elevator. Ellen and Tom fight as Billy and McCoy go back and forth once again about Tom and Ellen's love affair. When they all meet up on the street, they are in the Battery. The group returns Ellen safely home where she initially rejects her home town as well as Tom. Later, he goes to the hotel where Ellen and Billy are staying to collect his reward. He only takes McCoy's cut and throws the rest in Billy's face. He then tells Ellen that there was a time he would've done anything for her but no more. As Tom storms out, Ellen follows and the two embrace in the rain.
Meanwhile, Raven informs Officer Ed Price (Lawson), the head of the police department, that he wants Tom to meet him alone. If he agrees he will leave the Richmond alone. Price tells Tom to get out of town. Tom, Ellen, and McCoy leave on a train. He knocks out Ellen and returns to town for a climactic battle with Raven. Tom defeats Raven and the defeated gang carries their leader away. Later that night, Tom says a final goodbye to Ellen and rides off with McCoy.
- Michael Paré as Tom Cody
- Diane Lane as Ellen Aim
- Rick Moranis as Billy Fish
- Amy Madigan as McCoy
- Willem Dafoe as Raven Shaddock
- Deborah Van Valkenburgh as Reva Cody
- Richard Lawson as Officer Ed Price
- Rick Rossovich as Officer Cooley
- Bill Paxton as Clyde the Bartender
- Lee Ving as Greer
- Stoney Jackson as Bird (The Sorels)
- Grand L. Bush as Reggie (The Sorels)
- Robert Townsend as Lester (The Sorels)
- Mykelti Williamson as B.J. (The Sorels)
- Elizabeth Daily as Baby Doll
- Lynne Thigpen as Subway Motorwoman
- Marine Jahan as Torchie's Dancer
- Ed Begley, Jr. as Ben Gunn
- John Dennis Johnston as Pete the Mechanic
The concept for Streets of Fire came together during the making of 48 Hrs. and reunited director Walter Hill with producers Lawrence Gordon and Joel Silver, and screenwriter Larry Gross, all of whom worked together on that production. According to Hill, the film's origins came out of a desire to make what he thought was a perfect film when he was a teenager and put in all of the things that he thought were "great then 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".
The four men began planning Streets of Fire while completing 48 Hrs. Afterwards, Gross and Hill worked on the screenplay, writing ten pages a day. When they were finished, they submitted the script to Universal executive Bob Rehme on a Friday (in January 1983) and by the end of the weekend, the studio had given them the go-ahead to make the film.
The film's title came from a song written and recorded by Bruce Springsteen on his 1978 album Darkness on the Edge of Town. Negotiations with Springsteen for rights to the song delayed production several times. Originally, plans were made for the song to be featured on the film's soundtrack, to be sung by Ellen Aim at the end of the film, but when he was told that the song would be re-recorded by other vocalists, he withdrew permission for the song to be used. Jim Steinman was brought in to write the opening and closing songs and "Streets of Fire" was replaced by "Tonight Is What It Means to Be Young". The studio claimed that they replaced Springsteen's song because it was a "downer".
When it came to casting the movie, Hill wanted to go with a young group of relative unknowns. He heard about Michael Paré from the same agent who recommended Eddie Murphy to him for 48 Hrs. At the time he was cast, in March 1983, the actor had appeared in two films, Eddie and the Cruisers and Undercover, which hadn’t even been released. For Hill, Paré "had the right quality. He was the only actor I found who was right for the part ...a striking combination of toughness and innocence." Paré said of his character, "He's someone who can come in and straighten everything out."
The character of Ellen Aim was written as a 28-year-old woman and Diane Lane read for the part when she was 18. Hill was reluctant to cast her because he felt that she was too young for the role. Hill met Lane in New York City and she auditioned for him in black leather pants, a black mesh top and high-heeled boots. He was surprised with her "total commitment to selling herself as a rock 'n' roll star". The actress had been in more than 10 films by the time she did Streets of Fire. She described her character as "the first glamorous role I've had". Hill was so impressed with her work on the film that he wrote additional scenes for her during the shoot. Amy Madigan originally read for Reva, Cody's sister, and told Hill and Silver that she wanted to play the role of McCoy which, she remembers, "was written to be played by an overweight male who was a good soldier and really needed a job. It could still be tough and strong and have a woman do it without rewriting the part." Hill liked the idea and cast her.
Production began on location in Chicago in April 1983, then moved to Los Angeles for 45 days and finally two weeks at a soap factory in Wilmington, California, with additional filming taking place at Universal Studios. Shooting wrapped on August 18, 1983. All ten days of filming in Chicago were exteriors at night on locations that included platforms of elevated subway lines and the depths of Lower Wacker Drive. For Hill, the subways and their look was crucial to the world of the film and represented one of three modes of transportation—the other two being cars and motorcycles. While shooting in Chicago, the production was plagued by inclement weather that included rain, hail, snow, and a combination of all three. The subway scenes were filmed on location in Chicago at many locations, including: LaSalle Street (Blue line), Lake Street (Green line), Sheridan Road (Red, Purple lines), and Belmont Avenue (Red, Brown, and Purple lines). The Damen Avenue stop (Blue Line, at Damen, North, and Milwaukee Avenues) was also used.
Production designer John Vallone and his team constructed an elevated train line on the backlot of Universal Studios that perfectly matched the ones in Chicago. The film crew tarped-in the New Street and Brownstone street sets to double for the Richmond District setting, completely covering them so that night scenes could be filmed during the day. This tarp measured 1,240 feet long by 220 feet wide over both sets and cost $1.2 million to construct. However, this presented unusual problems. The sound of the tarp flapping in the wind interfered with the actors’ dialogue. Birds who had nested in the tarp provided their own noisy interruptions.
The exterior of the Richmond Theater where Ellen Aim sings at the beginning of the film was shot on the backlot with the interior done in the Wiltern Theater in L.A. for two weeks. The factory scenes that take place in the Battery were filmed at a rotting soap factory in Wilmington, California, for ten nights. The Ardmore Police roadblock was filmed near 6th street in East Los Angeles near the flood basin. Though only three districts are seen, the city has a total of five districts: the Richmond, the Strip, the Battery, the Cliffside, and the Bayside.
The production employed 500 extras to play the citizens of the Richmond District. Cinematographer Andrew Laszlo shot the film with very low light, giving the images a stark, "low-tech" quality. The choreography for the two songs Ellen Aim sings and the one by the Sorels was done by Jeffrey Hornaday. The lighting for these concert scenes were done by Mark Brickman, who also lit concerts for Bruce Springsteen and Pink Floyd. The car that Cody drives in the movie is a 1951 Mercury that was chopped, channeled, nosed, and decked. In addition, 12 1950 and 1951 model Studebakers were used as police cars. More than 50 motorcycles and their drivers were featured as the Bombers and were chosen from 200 members of real L.A.-based clubs like The Crusaders and The Heathens.
According to cinematographer Andrew Laszlo, the film's style was dictated by the story. The Richmond's look was very soft and the colors did not call attention to themselves. The light in The Battery was contrasting and harsh, with vivid colors. Argyle prints and plaids are used in the Parkside District, and neon lights color the Strip.
|Streets of Fire|
|Soundtrack album by Various artists|
|Released||May 29, 1984|
Jimmy Iovine produced five of the songs for the film and the soundtrack album. For Ellen Aim's singing voice, he combined the voices of Laurie Sargent and Holly Sherwood. The Attackers were the real-life (Face to Face) bandmates of Sargent, who provided the lead vocals on Ellen Aim's songs "Never Be You" and "Sorcerer" and supporting vocals on "Tonight Is What It Means to Be Young". The version of "Sorcerer" on the actual soundtrack album was performed by Marilyn Martin (written by Stevie Nicks).
Two Wagnerian rock songs written by Jim Steinman were part of the soundtrack: "Tonight Is What It Means to Be Young" and "Nowhere Fast", both performed by Fire Inc. with Holly Sherwood as lead vocal. The title of the former was used as the tagline on some promotional materials for the film. Dan Hartman's "I Can Dream About You" is the most successful song from this movie and became a Billboard top 10 hit in 1984. In the movie, the song is performed onstage at the end of the film by "The Sorels", a fictional doo-wop style group consisting of actors Stoney Jackson, Grand L. Bush, Mykelti Williamson, and Robert Townsend. However, the song was actually sung for the film by Winston Ford, whose vocals were convincingly lip-synced by Jackson in the movie. There are thus two versions of the song, but the most popular was sung by Dan Hartman for commercial release. Ford's entire version has never been released commercially.
- Fire Inc. – "Nowhere Fast" 6:02
- Marilyn Martin – "Sorcerer" 5:06
- The Fixx – "Deeper and Deeper" 3:45
- Greg Phillinganes – "Countdown to Love" 3:00
- The Blasters – "One Bad Stud" 2:28
- Fire Inc. – "Tonight Is What It Means to Be Young" 6:58
- Maria McKee – "Never Be You" 4:06
- Dan Hartman – "I Can Dream About You" 4:07
- Ry Cooder – "Hold That Snake" 2:36
- The Blasters – "Blue Shadows" 3:17
Streets of Fire fared poorly at the box office, opening in 1,150 theaters on June 1, 1984, and grossing US$2.4 million. After ten days it made $4.5 million while Star Trek III: The Search for Spock grossed $34.8 million in the same time. The film went on to make $8 million in North America, compared to a production budget of $14.5 million. It retains a cult following today, in part due to its Wagnerian rock soundtrack.
The film received mostly negative reviews from critics when it was first released. It currently has a 60% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Janet Maslin of The New York Times criticized the film's screenplay as being misogynistic and "problematically crude". Gary Arnold in the Washington Post wrote that as "romantic leads, Paré and Lane are pretty much a washout", and that "most of the action climaxes are treated as such throwaways that you begin to wonder if they bored the director." Jay Scott in The Globe and Mail newspaper wrote, "when Streets of Fire is speeding by like Mercury on methedrine, the rush left in its wake cancels out questions of content. But the minute the momentum slows, it's another story—a story about a movie with no story at all." In a lengthy essay for Film Comment, David Chute wrote, "It's probably impossible not to enjoy the movie. No director holds a candle to Hill for sheer visceral expertise. But the moods didn't linger. It's such a hard-shelled picture that it barely has moods." However, Roger Ebert, in his Chicago Sun-Times review, praised the film's dialogue. He wrote, "the language is strange, too: It's tough, but not with 1984 toughness. It sounds like the way really mean guys would have talked in the late 1950s, only with a few words different—as if this world evolved a slightly different language."
Awards and nominations
- Best Foreign Language Film—Readers' choice: 1985
- Best Actress: Amy Madigan (1984)
- Worst Supporting Actress: Diane Lane (1984)
Possible sequels and Road to Hell
Streets of Fire was intended to be the first in a projected trilogy called "The Adventures of Tom Cody" with Hill tentatively titling the two sequels The Far City and Cody's Return. However, the film's eventual failure at the box office put an end to the project. In an interview, shortly after the film's release, Paré said, "Everyone liked it, and then all of a sudden they didn't like it. I was already worried about whether I should do the sequel or not." An unofficial sequel called Road to Hell was made in 2008 directed by Albert Pyun and with Paré playing Cody.
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