In 1983, Roger Ebert wrote of Martin Davidson’s Eddie and the Cruisers, “You know, they could have had a good movie. They had the cast and even the music…but the ending is so frustrating, dumb (and) unsatisfactory, that it gives a bad reputation to the whole movie.” Albeit; the finale to this rock n’ roller, catching a glimpse of a haggard Eddie Wilson, seemingly gone but not forgotten, and staring back at a reasonable facsimile of his younger self from a window display of TV screens, when the whole world thinks he took a header off a bridge in 1963, left me a little defeated too. It isn’t that the premise wasn’t truthful. There have been several high-profile celebs who walked off the earth, only to resurface years, sometimes even decades later. But mid-way through its scant 93 minutes, the screenplay, co-written by Martin and Arlene Davidson, based on a novel by P.F. Kluge, becomes disastrously embroiled in a McGuffin; a search for missing audio recordings and a mangled quest for the truth by an overzealous cub reporter, played with tepid enthusiasm at best by Ellen Barkin. Barkin would later openly admit to thinking Eddie and the Cruisers the worst movie ever made. Although initially there were few, fans ultimately disagreed. Author, Kluge would also weigh in on the movie’s reputation. “The novel and the film have been described as a rock and roll Citizen Kane. To this, I do not object. The first ‘Eddie and the Cruisers’ was directed by Martin Davidson. The sequel, Eddie Lives, is a talent-free embarrassment.”
I’ll simply confess to having missed Eddie and the Cruisers on its initial and all too brief theatrical run, even passing on the movie’s subsequent and virtually unthinkable resurrection on HBO, which caused sales of John Cafferty’s soundtrack to suddenly fly off the charts (in a sort of life imitating art scenario ripped directly from the movie). Through endless replays on cable TV, Eddie and the Cruisers developed the sort of enviable cult following few could have imagined back in 1983. Then, it was all but eviscerated by the critics and instantly forgotten by audiences. But time, as is so often the case, does exceptionally strange things to movie art - or even, movie dreck; Eddie and the Cruisers spawning a sequel six years later; the imperfect, though I would sincerely argue, still moderately enjoyable, if not nearly as iconic, Eddie and the Cruisers II: Eddie Lives! (1989). The chief selling feature for both movies is undeniably Brooklyn-born and blue-collar, Michael Paré (so described by producer, Tony Scotti as ‘sexy as hell’) who, despite being idiotically deprived of virtually any dramatic scenes in the original movie, and, given far too many to grapple with in the sequel, nevertheless manages to acquit himself rather nicely of this uneven material, lending credence to the roughhewn exterior of this hell-raising, leather-wearing, muscly greaser with a gravelly voice destined for super stardom. Not everything clicks as it should, either in the original or its sequel; but enough of what is here holds together – even inelegantly so – to compel an audience to keep watching. Perhaps, like the proverbial train wreck, it is impossible to turn away.
True confession #2: I only just finished watching both movies back to back in preparation to write this review and already I feel like streaming John Cafferty’s ‘On The Dark Side’ and ‘Pride & Passion’ for a second listen. Cafferty who, along with The Brown Beaver Band have a smoky/edgy Springsteen/Joe Cocker quality, keep the toes tapping long after the memory of each movie’s horrendous dialogue (written for the sequel by Charles Zev Cohen and Rick Doehring) has been mercilessly expunged from our collective memory. It is possible to separate the soundtracks from the movies and thoroughly enjoy those little jabs of pleasure that remind me of the sort of movie Eddie and the Cruisers might have been if only handled with just a little more care and compassion. But I fervently disagree with Roger Ebert’s claim Eddie and the Cruisers is “all buildup (with) no payoff”. The payoff comes…just not in the first feature. Watching the sequel as mere continuation does achieve a margin sense of finality for the character. In hindsight too, there’s something almost reassuring about the way Eddie and the Cruisers bounced back from its abysmal box office performance to become a gigantic hit on HBO.
We have to briefly reconsider what a mess the film business was back in the early 1980s, before its miraculous renaissance mid-decade; the seventies having effectively eaten up and spit out what entrails remained of the time-honored studio system from Hollywood’s golden age; MGM – gone, thanks to a hostile corporate takeover; United Artists – put under the earth by its epic expenditures on Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate (1980); the corporate shell game never ending: Paramount, bought out by Gulf + Western; Warner Bros., the subsidiary of a mortuary franchise. Some of it must have looked good on paper to the stockholders, but the image of Hollywood as a starlit mecca where anything was possible and dreams really did come true seemed far gone and nearly forgotten. Director, Martin Davidson was to discover this chaos firsthand in attempting to finance Eddie and the Cruisers.
It was initially sold to Time-Life; a fledgling operation by industry standards; amateurs, really, who couldn’t stay the course and closed up shop after only two theatrical releases. Next, Davidson had lunch with a former secretary who offered to shop the movie to her distributors, Aurora (another fly-by-night that would ultimately finance only three pictures – Eddie and the Cruisers being one of them). In the end, the movie was distributed by Embassy Pictures. Through yet another merger and acquisition, Eddie and the Cruisers would wind up the property of MGM/Fox Home Video. On a paltry $6 million budget, Davidson set about the impossible task of creating ambitious flashbacks, presumably set in 1963. He also made a fortuitous decision in hiring Kenny Vance, of ‘Jay and the Americans’ fame, who helped immensely in background research to mold the look of the picture.
In retrospect it is interesting to think about Michael Paré as the star of Eddie and the Cruisers, as he does, in fact, play the title character. And yet the original story is less involved with Paré’s iconic rebel and more about the impressions he left behind. These are recalled in flashback by surviving Cruiser, Frank Ridgeway (top-billed, Tom Berenger) who spends the bulk of the movie’s scant 93 min. tracking down other band members; Kenny Hopkins (David Wilson), still playing drums in Atlantic City; Eddie’s best friend and bass player, Sal Amato (Matthew Laurence), now fronting his own Eddie and the Cruisers ‘tribute band’; Eddie’s girl and lead back-up with a tambourine, Joann Carlino (Helen Schneider), now a semi-successful Wildwood choreographer, and, their one-time booking agent and manager - washed-up, frail and balding radio D.J., Doc Robbins (Joe Pantoliano), now spinning his records – and dreams – in Ashbury Park. Frank was an optimistic youth, sweeping the floors of a seedy New Jersey dance hall when Eddie picked his brain for compositions. Taking a chance, Eddie gave Frank his start as a composer, affectionately known as ‘word man’ to the other members and responsible for their hit single, ‘On the Dark Side’. But Frank would fall out of favor with Eddie after Joann took more than a passing interest in his other talents after hours. Alas, we never get to see any of this. One reciprocal smooch in public is all it takes to get Eddie’s juices flowing. Later, out of petty jealousy, Eddie at first refuses to introduce Frank on the piano during their campus concert at Frank’s old alma mater; then, begrudgingly calls him out as ‘Toby Tyler’.
In the present, Frank – the slightly rumpled and romanticized academic – is doggedly pursued by TV reporter, Maggie Foley (Ellen Barkin) who along with Satin label record producer, Barry Siegel (Barry Sand) would love to know what became of the master tapes of those recording sessions for Eddie’s last – and unreleased album; A Season in Hell. In 1963, Satin’s brain trust considered Eddie’s pop opera ‘too progressive’ – code for ‘junk’. But only a day after Eddie’s car went off the bridge, these tapes disappeared from Satin’s vaults. Eddie and the Cruisers would have something more relevant to say about rock n’ roll, the lifestyle and/or the self-professed musical genius of an Eddie Wilson, if only it wasn’t constantly trying to embroil everyone in its maladroitly plotted ‘who done it?’ But no – in the present, Frank returns from a day’s teaching to his trailer park home, only to discover the entire place has been tossed. By thieves? And what were they looking for? Nothing’s been stolen. After a late night rendezvous, catching up on old times with Doc, Frank returns to Doc’s apartment to discover a similar ‘once over’ has occurred. Later, Joann confides someone broke into her home too while she was out. Could it be the same someone who has been telephoning her in the middle of the night, playing tracks from the Cruisers’ chart-topping album?
The chief problem with Eddie and the Cruisers is it wants to spread out in all directions simultaneously, like spokes from the hub of what otherwise ought to have been a very simple wheel, spinning around Eddie’s mysterious disappearance and presumed death. At 93 min. there is just too much going on in the Davidson’s screenplay, stylishly so – thanks to Fred Murphy’s moodily lit cinematography – but without much substance to link it all together as anything better than a series of disinteresting vignettes. And yet, it isn’t the enigma wrapped inside a riddle, as presented by Berenger’s sheepish academic and Barkin’s probing info-babe (at intervals hinted to be having some sort of cerebral intercourse that may or may not lead to other things) that sticks like porridge to our ribs. It’s Michael Paré’s penetrating/wounded stares, his ability to perfectly lip-sync to John Cafferty’s vocal tracks, veins popping from his neck, spit occasionally showing as he shouts into the mic; Paré’s own speaking voice in perfect register with the songs and seamlessly convincing; the way he holds his own with a guitar and knows exactly how to work a room-full of impressionable, swooning girls. There’s just something magnetic about the guy – a presence, in fact, only partly accountable to his obvious good looks.
Eddie and the Cruisers begins to take shape inside a meeting room at Media Magazine, as Maggie Foley and her boss, Lew Elison (Kenny Vance) and Barry Siegel review some old footage of Eddie and his band performing back in 1963. Perhaps, in part, due to his limited budget, director, Davidson gets more than a little wonky with the particulars of his narrative timeline. Inconsistencies abound and are rife for ridicule – a futile exercise. But consider for one that the footage being screened herein is in color. Even if Eddie and The Cruisers had appeared on national TV back in 1963, this would have likely been shot on 35mm B&W film stock, as is the similarly carbon-dated faux newsreel footage of lead sax, Wendell Newton’s (Michael ‘Tunes’ Antunes) body being taken from the Ebb Tide Motel after a fatal overdose, and subsequent footage, showing Eddie’s finned Bel Air being pulled from the shallow waters off the Raritan Bridge. Maggie wants a story. Satin needs a hook to continue promoting the band’s only album – seemingly hotter than ever some twenty years later, despite changing times and tastes. So Maggie taps into a correlation between Eddie’s disappearance, the title of his unreleased album – A Season in Hell – and a biography on French author, Jean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud similarly titled; Rimbaud, who at the age of 19, ‘committed suicide’, as Maggie points out – not of the flesh, but of the mind and the soul. Translation: Eddie’s music meant everything to him. Satin’s refusal to release A Season in Hell led him to the brink of an impossible quest to discover his own ‘truth’ and ‘beauty’: by faking his own suicide.
Okay, so it’s a little far-fetched. Where would Eddie be hiding these many years and why? Even in an era before Instagram and cellphone cameras, how could a public figure as high profile as Eddie Wilson simply vanish without a trace and manage this twenty-year Houdini or, more apropos, Elvis Presley (if, as the Enquirer would like us to believe, Elvis is still alive)? Maggie’s first pit stop on this retro road tour is Frank Ridgeway; the Cruisers former keyboardist. But Frank is not interested – at first – in revealing what he knows to these prying eyes, even as Maggie makes the shallowest promise not to turn Frank’s quiet life into a carnival. We regress in flashback to the summer of 1962 and meet a ‘presumably’ much younger Frank (even though there appears to be no physical disparities between the man; then or now). Frank is sweeping floors inside Tony Mart’s seedy nightclub in New Jersey. After a discrepancy of artistic temperaments between Eddie and Sal, Eddie asks for Frank’s opinion on their music. His honesty aligns with Eddie’s musical perceptions. So, Frank trades in his mop for a chance to play back up with the band.
It all goes very well – for a while. Eddie has great respect for Frank’s talents, both as a composer and lyricist and, indeed, the band begins to take on more creative ballast, trying new things. Alas, friction begins to mount as Frank is drawn to Joann and vice versa. She’s attracted to what she refers to as his ‘touch of class’ and he finds her affected sense of dangerousness appealing. The obvious spark between them festers. In the meantime, Eddie, who is unaware of their blossoming ‘friendship’, employs Frank to write, as he puts it, ‘songs that echo’; “See, the stuff that we’re doin’ right now is like somebody’s bedsheets; spread ‘em out, soil ‘em, send ‘em out to laundry, you know? But our songs…I wanna be able to fold ourselves up in forever…you know?”
In the present, Frank visits Sal at the local Holiday Inn; Sal’s Eddie and the Cruisers tribute band still packing a ‘standing room only’ audience; the pallid strains of songs that once ‘echoed’ with Eddie’s more robust flavor, nevertheless taking Frank back to the best years of the band. Frank also finds Maggie in the audience. After the show, Sal is elated to see Frank. But his disdain for Maggie grows when Sal realizes her only interest in him is to find out what became of the missing ‘Season in Hell’ recording sessions. Despite the intrusion, Frank has no compunction about talking to Maggie now, reflecting on the last of the band’s golden moment in time; the Cruisers playing Frank’s old alma mater, Benton College. Eddie is not in favor of the venue, perhaps feeling a little insecure since he never went beyond high school in his own formal education. But the deeper wound comes from realizing Joann is no longer ‘his girl’ – catching a glimpse of Frank and Joann passionately locked in each other’s arms. They’re hardly conspicuous. At the concert, Eddie makes a point of not introducing Frank as a member of the band until he is forced by one of Frank’s old buddies in the audience to do so. Instead, Eddie introduces Frank as ‘Toby Tyler’.
The narrative timeline begins to wobble; the succession of flashbacks becoming more perfunctory as Frank is reunited briefly with drummer, Kenny Hopkins on the pier in New Jersey. Kenny reminds Frank of the bad times – the worst, the death of their sax player, Wendell Newton. The official story Frank has always believed was Wendell died of a heart attack at the age of 36. Now, Kenny bitterly reveals the truth; having discovered Wendell on the bathroom floor of his rented room at the Ebb Tide Motel, dead of a gruesomely fatal drug overdose. It is really too bad what ought to have been a particularly poignant moment of loss, instead translates in the movie as mere segue to another musical sequence. The real problem with Kenny’s ‘big reveal’ is it has been preceded by nothing; no hint of Wendell ever being a junkie, thus, no precedence for the overdose (i.e. an argument, a fight, a failed romantic relationship, a break-up with one or more of the band members, etc. et al). Wendell, a tertiary character at best – ever present in the background, but without ever being given a scene to distinguish his character – dies alone, all but forgotten as background filler of only passing interest to the rest of the story.
Frank and Joann are reunited in the present. She is very glad to see him after all these years and even suggests she has been carrying a torch for him all these many years. From this reunion we delve into the finale flashback; Eddie’s failed attempt to interest Satin’s Records in ‘A Season in Hell’ – his most progressive album to date, regrettably shelved and causing Eddie to fly off the handle. Together with Joann, who refuses to abandon him in his anger, Eddie goes to ‘the Palace of Depression’ – his personal retreat in times of crisis; actually, a junkyard in Jersey, once owned by an old codger whom Eddie befriended as a boy and who built elaborate sculptures from these caliginous and decaying metal relics collected over a lifetime. In the present, Joann confides in Frank that after seeing Eddie for the last time before his apparent suicide, she quietly snuck into Satin Records and signed out the master tapes for ‘A Season in Hell’ – hiding them inside one of the sculptures. It’s an interesting concept, until we pause and consider twenty years have passed since her thievery. In all this time no one has discovered the tapes? The junkyard hasn’t been bulldozed or been taken over by new management who, in demolishing the junk, either discovered or destroyed the tapes? The tapes themselves, housed in flimsy cardboard packaging, have not decomposed beyond recognition, turned to chalk and/or dust, especially given their twenty years of bad storage exposure to moldy outdoor elements – wind, snow, rain – corrupted by the relatively damp of this unsanitary environment? On a multitude of levels, it is a fairly absurd premise to believe Eddie’s swan song could have survived, much less still be in a condition ready for re-issue on vinyl.
Taking Frank to her home, a veritable shrine to Eddie and the band, Joann reveals she has been receiving mysterious phone calls in the middle of the night; someone playing the band’s album over the telephone. Given Frank’s own enduring desire to make love to Joann that now seems like an imminent prospect, he is determined to protect her from this mysterious intruder. So, Frank parks his car in an abandoned barn across the street from Joann’s house. But when he returns, he finds the usually put-together Joann inexplicably giddy with an almost hypnotic excitement. Eddie is coming over. It must be him. He honks the horn to a 57’ powder-blue Chevy Bel Air convertible the same way he used to when they were going steady. None of it makes much sense. Does Joann really believe Eddie’s alive? If so, how and why is she so instantly ready and willing, after so long a separation, to be reunited with him? Furthermore, the last act to Eddie and the Cruisers never entirely explains whatever became of Frank and Joann’s brief love affair back in 1963. After gravitating to Frank over Eddie, Joann simply came back to Eddie before his demise. But in all the intervening years since Eddie’s death, she hasn’t bothered once to get back in touch with Frank. Now she is happy to see him twenty years later, but then just as eager to ditch him when she hears the sound of Eddie’s car horn?!? This is one fickle gal!
Evidently, Frank is far more level-headed or perhaps merely thinking with his other head and frustratingly determined, once and for all, to puncture Joann’s dreams about Eddie still being alive. He hides behind a tree, then charges and assaults the driver of the Bel Air parked in front of Joann’s home, revealing him to be Doc, who has been after the master tapes all these years. Doc is the movie’s real tragic figure; destroyed by the band’s failure to launch a second album, discredited as a manager and since sunk to the abject sustainability of a guy desperate to relive the past; consumed by his need to keep Eddie and the Cruisers alive. Taking pity on Doc, Joann gives him the master tapes to ‘A Season in Hell’ – Doc, elated, vowing to do right by the band as he drives off into the night. As Joann and Frank stroll back to her house, presumably to pick up where they left off 20 years ago, we cut away to the end of Maggie Foley’s news report, no nearer to the truth than when she began her investigation; a montage of still photos of the band flashing across multiple TV screens set up as a display in the windows of a local department store; a crowd gathered around, including one bearded fellow, looking defeated, yet strangely pleased. We suddenly realize the man is Eddie Wilson. Eddie has indeed survived; implausibly so, living obscurely, unable to recall his header off the bridge, but strangely remembering, with sad-eyed clarity, these images in this tribute documentary. He turns away and walks down the street – no explanation given for where he has been all these years.
Tapping into the then ever-present nostalgia craze, Eddie and the Cruisers ought to have been a huge hit for Embassy Pictures. At the very least, it should have launched an impressive movie career for Michael Paré. It did neither. Instead, Paré, who began as a supporting cast member in episodes of TV’s then popular action/drama, The Greatest American Hero (1981-83) slipped into quiet obscurity as a B-movie actor. Although he has steadily worked in movies and on television since, Paré’s roster of screen credits is a woeful reminder of what the pall of one box office failure can do to crush a once promising career. Yet, in the interim, Eddie and the Cruisers was to take on a life of its own; endlessly revived on HBO – then a fledgling cable channel – where it suddenly caught fire and became one of their most popular movies of the week; its’ sudden and inexplicable surge in popularity causing Frank Cafferty’s soundtrack album to go quadruple platinum. Regrettably, this renewed success also caused independent film producers, the Scotti Brothers, to erroneously believe there were more riches to be mined from second visiting to the same well. Small wonder then, that when the opportunity came along six years later to do a sequel, Michael Paré emphatically jumped at the chance.
However, six years is a long time. In movie terms, it might as well be a century. Times and tastes do change. So do people: Paré’s boyish charisma and sinewy body reinvented with a more buffed up and slightly harsher masculine appeal. As producer, Tony Scotti assessed, “he’s still sexy as hell”; albeit, now hidden behind dark sunglasses and an unprepossessing moustache for most of the sequel. In some ways Eddie and the Cruisers II: Eddie Lives! is a more interesting picture than its predecessor; alas, afflicted by the same abysmal misfires along the way that otherwise would have sunk any other picture entirely, once again, if not for Michael Paré’s charismatic presence. Presumably, because there is nothing further to tell about the characters of Frank or Joann, neither appears in the sequel or is even referenced (except in flashbacks). Instead, screenwriters, Charles Zev Cohen and Rick Doehring have cobbled together an even more incoherent and implausible scenario to inveigle our wounded cult figure into a comeback, gradually coaxing him from his self-imposed exile. For the last twenty years Eddie has been working in construction under the non de plume Joe West in Montreal, Canada of all places; his memory of that other life as a premiere rock n’ roller stirred after seeing a television broadcast featuring his old band. It seems Satin Records has unearthed some ‘never-before-released’ recordings of Eddie playing with Fats Domino. Interestingly, the movie makes no reference to ‘A Season in Hell’. So, either Doc never managed to get those masters into the right hands, or he simply gave up and the masters died along with him in Ashbury Park.
One of the most disheartening aspects about Eddie Lives! is that if virtually abandons all of the narrative possibilities established in the first movie to attempt being its own stand-alone piece of fluff entertainment. As such, Eddie meets Diane Armani (Marina Orsini) while frequenting a seedy Montreal nightclub where Rick Diesel’s (Bernie Coulson) rock/pop band is playing. Diesel is a strictly wet-behind-the-ear kid with a guitar and a dream, but, as Eddie deduces, only a little talent and a lot to learn. After being dared by the band’s sax player, Hilton Overstreet (Anthony Sherwood) to prove his meddle, Eddie does exactly that, engaging the band in a soulful riff. Everyone is impressed, especially Diesel, who begs Eddie to join their motley crew. It’s a non-starter, as Hilton’s earthy sax painfully reminds Eddie of Wendell’s suicide. Presumably, Eddie has never been able to come to grips with Wendell’s loss. So, the plot shifts to Eddie and Diane’s burgeoning love affair. She’s an artist who wants to paint his portrait. He’s not interested – at first. Then, Diane drags Eddie…I mean Joe, back to her place. She’s preparing for her first public showing at a downtown gallery. Eddie’s not interested in art. But he definitely knows what he likes. So, after Diane’s premiere is a bust (she only sells three paintings, and one of them, her portrait of Joe, that she did from memory, back to him) the two share a steamy night of hot ‘mutual pity’ sex.
Unable to make up their mind about the crux of our story, the Cohen/Doehring screenplay toggles between Joe, working construction and endlessly pursued by Diesel with a puppy-dog’s devotion for its new chew toy (Joe’s musical genius), and, an up and coming contest being held in New York by Satin Records’ insidious promoter, Dave Pagent (Michael Rhoades) with Sal Amato’s complicity to find the perfect Eddie Wilson look-a-like. Satin’s hook remains their parceling out the newly discovered Eddie Wilson recordings, one at a time. Even in Canada, these unearthed treasures receive an unprecedented amount of playtime; all but ruining Eddie’s first real date with Diane at a roller skating rink. Miraculously, wannabe hardcore rocker, Diesel turns up there too, once again imploring Eddie to joint his band. Eddie tells Diesel the first thing he has to do is fire everyone he currently plays with – except Hilton – and recast the band from scratch. And so the auditions begin; Eddie acquiring drummer, Charlie 'Sexy' Tanzie (Paul Markle), keyboardist and classically trained pianist, Stewart Fairbanks (David Matheson), and backup guitarist, Quinn Quinley (Mark Holmes) to partake in the new venture. The acquisition of these band members is dealt with rather perfunctorily. They simply join, despite already having other lucrative prospects. No sense of loyalty there! And none of these characters are given any real playtime in the screenplay, apart from the moments when they perform together as the band. They’re not even given dialogue scenes.
We advance – or devolve (depending on one’s point of view) into a rather syrupy series of love scenes between Joe and Diane (you know the kind, conflicted, sweaty; Joe wearing nothing but a towel and Diane cleverly concealing her nipples beneath strategically placed bedsheets). Joe eventually reveals to Diane he is Eddie Wilson. She doesn’t believe him at first, but then comfortably – and predictably – settles into the idea she is having an affair with a presumably dead, forty year old rocker who, despite the superfluous camouflage of a moustache, still looks as though he hasn’t aged a minute beyond his twenty-sixth birthday. Diesel is encouraged by local festival promoter, Lyndsay (Kate Lynch) to capitalize on Joe’s uncanny resemblance to Eddie Wilson. Remarkably, after only briefly meeting Joe even she can see past his moustache – something none of the other band members, including Diesel, who have lived, breathed and sweated their art together, have been able to figure out. Okay, who says musicals protégés have to be smart too? And truth be told, apart from Diesel (who looks like a prepubescent kid next to these guys) and Hilton (perpetually covered up in long-sleeved shirts), the new band Eddie has put together is more about raw brawn than musical prowess; everyone well-muscled (Charlie, perpetually shirtless and steroidally flexed), showing off their more obvious physical assets to the groupies. Mercifully, they have John Cafferty’s genius to lip-sync and it is quite enough to compensate.
Diesel takes Lyndsay’s hint and secretly sends off a demo tape of the band to Satin Records. Naturally, Dave Pagent is impressed; enough to make the journey to Montreal to hear the band perform at the festival. Alas, Joe isn’t sure he wants to play this gig, his fear of success still stemming from his inability to accept Wendell’s death. Eventually, Hilton gets a clue about Joe and calls him out. Hilton knew Wendell; knew Eddie and the Cruisers too, and, also knew of Wendell’s crippling addiction. There was nothing anyone could have done to save him from himself. But there still might be something Eddie can do for this new band whose dreams are pinned on opening the rock festival. So, Eddie agrees to take the gamble. But first, he must truly confront his past. So, on a windswept beach in Jersey, Joe (I mean Eddie) materializes from the fog, sans moustache, and dressed in his old leathery duds, revealing to Sal he is still very much alive. Sal, who never waned in his loyalty to a fallen friend, is understandably stunned, shocked and then, momentarily enraged. He takes a few failed potshots and is subdued by Eddie. The two old friends now share a good cry and reconciliation.
Eddie claims to still not being able to remember what happened after he drove his car off the bridge 20 years earlier; only that he realized he could not go on with the Cruisers after Wendell’s death and the failure of ‘A Season in Hell’. Sal forgives Eddie and tells him “maybe this time you’ll get it right.” But Eddie’s anxiety nearly gets the better of him again when Diesel reveals, moments before they are about to go on at the festival, Dave Pagent is waiting to meet him. Dave instantly identifies Joe as Eddie. Recognizing Dave as the worm he is, only interested in taking advantage of Eddie’s comeback for the publicity it will garner, Eddie decks Dave on the steps of the stadium before attempting to make his getaway. Diane intervenes, bringing up the specter of Eddie’s first faked death and telling him that while the whole world will know tomorrow Joe West is Eddie Wilson, he has tonight and the opportunity to do what he set out to do twenty years earlier with Eddie and the Cruisers. Without ever disclosing his true identity to the other members of the band, who (apart from Hilton) presumably still do not know who he is, Eddie takes to the stage, mesmerizes the audience with ‘Pride & Passion’ then, reveals to all he is Eddie Wilson. It’s no joke – Eddie lives and he is back with a vengeance.
Eddie and the Cruisers II: Eddie Lives! doesn’t really hold up under closer scrutiny the way the original film does – even if it too is hardly the ‘Citizen Kane’ of all rock n’ rollers. René Verzier’s cinematography in the sequel is just flat; the few inserted flashbacks from the first movie, desaturated in their color-processing to remain in step with Verzier’s limpid hues and severely understated lack of gritty glamor in the sequel that ought to have added both depth and meaning to this backstage glorified music video comeback special. The Scotti Brothers, famous for their record-producing, not their film-making prowess, made no apologies at the time about where the focus of their movie remains – squarely on the music, or rather, a series of music video styled inserts, showcasing an all new score by John Cafferty. Cafferty (vocally a cross between Springsteen and Joe Cocker) and The Beaver Brown Band shot to the top of the charts following the rediscovery by fans of the original Eddie and the Cruisers on HBO. To some extent, setting the sequel in the 1980’s frees up Cafferty to explore the then reigning sounds of the decade and, in truth, he does come up with a few memorable singles that resonate, including the poignant ballad, ‘Just A Matter of Time’ and the head-banging finale, ‘Pride & Passion’.
But Eddie Lives! does not live up to our expectations on many levels. Foremost of the disappointments are the band members who remain little more than cartoon cutouts; Paul Markle’s frizzy-haired stud-drummer looking like a Twisted Sister reject with muscles, and, David Matheson’s effete pianist cast out of a Culture Club concert. The sycophantic devotion to Eddie, expressed by Bernie Coulson’s bright-eyed kid/rocker is queerly unsettling. He’s even willing to scale a high-rise under construction to follow his newfound idol. But there’s no camaraderie here either; and virtually zero chemistry between Michael Paré and Marina Orsini. Even the moment where Orsini’s Diane, either out of desperation, or even unknowing of what will happen, throws caution to the wind by taking to the dance floor with a nondescript college kid for a little bump n’ grind during one of the band’s concert gigs, incurring Eddie’s jealousy, is a dud. He pulls her aside in the middle of a set and chastises her for making him nuts. She says “oh yeah?” and then melts with an apology, reciprocated by Eddie before the two go off for some more passionate love-making. It’s dull, dumb and drippy moments like this that nearly sink Eddie Lives! Again, I didn’t find the sequel as idiotic as some. But I will concede it’s not the sort of follow-up to satisfy die-hards of the first movie.
Shout! Factory’s licensing of both movies for an Eddie and the Cruisers/Eddie Lives! double bill is commendable - mostly. The first film exhibits some very satisfying and rich hues. There is some mild built-in flicker sporadically scattered throughout. Also, at times, grain levels become marginally exaggerated. But otherwise the image quality is quite satisfying and, better still – incredibly free of age-related debris. Digital anomalies are a non-issue. Contrast is solid. Perhaps MGM/Fox, the parent company lending out these 1080p transfers, has done some marginal preservation work, but I doubt it. More than likely, the print masters were simply archived in impeccable condition. It shows and I am grateful. The results are not nearly as impressive on the sequel; exaggerated grain that veers dangerously close to becoming digitized, tepid colors, unnatural flesh tones veering toward the orange extreme, a lot of age-related debris, and some very obvious telecine wobble during the first two reels. Black crush is also a problem, the dimly lit club scenes becoming a sea of ‘floating heads’ bobbing about indistinguishable black ether. While both clarity and sharpness are fairly impressive on the first movie, the sequel suffers from a residual softness. Again, it’s not terrible – but it is extremely disappointing. Eddie Lives! is hardly high art, but it nevertheless deserved better than what is here.
The outlook for both movies is rosier when considering the soundtracks; a pair of DTS 2.0 tracks; surprisingly robust, particularly when showcasing John Cafferty’s score. Dialogue is crisp and clean, albeit, with a decidedly front channel focus. I was pleasantly surprised by the fidelity and dynamic range of these recordings; excellent, if not exceptional, but nevertheless capturing vintage 80’s sound recording with zero in the way of distortions or damage. So, good stuff. We get virtually NO extras on the original movie – sad – and a few superfluous junkets on the sequel. The ‘Behind-the-Scenes’ option is not a ‘making of’ featurette as one might expect, but some slapdash full-frame footage of director, Jean-Claude Lord shooting the climactic comeback (presumably, in Montreal, though actually taking advantage of a full-size venue erected in Vegas for a Bon Jovi concert). We also get vintage interviews with Michael Pare and producer, Tony Scotti, the latter given the most in-depth commentary on the making of the sequel and the reasons behind it. Bottom line: while neither is an outstanding contribution to the world of entertainment, the original Eddie and the Cruisers has found its niche as a cult classic worthy of the adulation. The sequel is inferior – as sequels generally are. Nevertheless, it rectifies the downer of an ending from the original, giving audiences a reason to root for the underdog Eddie Wilson yet again. Bottom line: recommended with caveats.
FILM RATING (out of 5 – 5 being the best)
Eddie and the Cruisers 3.5
Eddie Lives! 2.5
Eddie and the Cruisers 3.5
Eddie Lives! 2.5