Rockin’ in the Film World #20: EDDIE AND THE CRUISERS (Embassy 1983)

You couldn’t go anywhere in 1984 without hearing “On the Dark Side” blaring from a car radio or your neighborhood bar’s jukebox. That’s thanks in large part to audiences rediscovering 1983’s EDDIE AND THE CRUISERS via repeated showings on HBO, turning the film into an instant cult classic and veteran Providence-based rockers John Cafferty & The Beaver Brown Band into FM-radio favorites. The film hadn’t done well when first released to theaters, but exposure on the fairly-new medium of Cable TV garnered new fans of both it and Cafferty’s soundtrack album.

Investigative reporter Ellen Barkin looks into the mysterious death of Eddie Wilson (played by Michael Pare’), lead singer of The Cruisers, whose death in a car accident is shrouded in secret, as the body was never found. Was it suicide? murder? or is Eddie still alive? She digs deep to uncover the facts about what happened that fateful night at the recording studio, where the band was putting together an LP titled “A Season in Hell”, based on the dark poetry of Arthur Rimbaud.

Her journey of discovery takes her to Eddie’s bandmates: lyricist/keyboard player Tom Berenger, now a high school Literature teacher; former manager Joe Pantoliano, a New Jersey DJ; bitter ex-bass player Matthew Laurence, leader of a Cruisers tribute band; background singer (and Eddie’s steady) Helen Schneider, a choreographer; drummer David Wilson, working in an Atlantic City casino. She also discovers the fate of saxman Michael “Tunes’ Antunes (the sax player for Beaver Brown, who was born RIGHT HERE in New Bedford, MA!), who tragically died of a heroin overdose (the more things change… ).

Director Martin Davidson (who also cowrote the screenplay) made his debut with 1974’s THE LORDS OF FLATBUSH, a 50’s-set drama that was an early hit for Sylvester Stallone and Henry “The Fonz” Winkler. His films are mainly of the low-budget variety, but well worth seeking out: the Gen-X coming of age tale ALMOST SUMMER, the John Ritter superhero comedy HERO AT LARGE, the sorority life drama HEART OF DIXIE (with Ally Sheedy, Phoebe Cates, and Virginia Madsen), and the Sissy Spacek romantic comedy HARD PROMISES (steer clear of the Davidson-penned, Joe Brooks-directed bit of treacle IF EVER I SEE YOU AGAIN though!). Davidson also worked extensively in TV, helming episodes of CALL TO GLORY, PICKET FENCES, CHICAGO HOPE, and JUDGING AMY, and a pair of TV-Movies starring Miss Madsen: the true-crime drama A MURDEROUS AFFAIR: THE CAROLYN WARMUS STORY and the baseball comedy LONG GONE.

Still rockin’ after all these years: John Cafferty, Michael Antunes, and the Beaver Brown Band

John Cafferty and Beaver Brown enjoyed enormous success after EDDIE AND THE CRUISERS found its way to cable TV, not only with “On the Dark Side”, but the FM hits “Tender Years” and “Wild Summer Nights”. Their follow-up album contained more hits (“Tough All Over” and “C-I-T-Y”), and they recorded the theme to the 1986 Stallone action flick COBRA (“Voice of America’s Sons”). The film’s sequel EDDIE & THE CRUISERS II: EDDIE LIVES!, tanked at the box office (and frankly isn’t very good), but that hasn’t stopped Cafferty and his bandmates from rockin’ and rollin’ after 40-plus years on the road. I’ve seen and enjoyed them several times, and they always manage to get the crowd movin’ and groovin’ (and stole the show from headliners Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes last time out!). The Beaver Brown Band are true rock’n’roll road warriors, and EDDIE AND THE CRUISERS is a must-see for die-hard rockers (like yours truly!).

 

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