Quantum Geek: Streets of Fire (1984)

Jump in the cockpit and start up the engines, move all the wheel blocks, there's no time to waste. And welcome to another piece of geek movie history with the Quantum Geek. This month of June, we have a lot of awesomeness to be thankful for. Today's article is no different, as you're about to discover!

Nerdgenious.com's Quantum Geek reviews Walter Hill's Streets of Fire

Hands up who hates musicals... Oh wow, there's a few of you. Right then, I suppose there's no arguing with you. I have tried in the past. If someone hates musicals, there isn't any convincing them that musicals can be good entertainment. If a hilarious politically incorrect superhero musical starring Alan Arkin and Christopher Lee won't catch your attention (The Return of Captain Invincible) and if you can't even bear a duet between Family Guy's Stewie and Brian, then I'm willing to bet that a comic book-styled neon-drenched retro action movie from the maker of The Warriors isn't going to make you say something like WHAT THE ABSOLUTE FUCK???

Original Patric Leger poster art Walter Hill's Streets of Fire

Introducing Walter Hill's 1984 action movie musical Streets of Fire, starring Michael Pare (Eddie & The Cruisers), Diane Lane (Judge Dredd, Man of Steel), Willem Dafoe (dude, Willem Dafoe) and Rick Moranis (DUDE!!!), a movie that sunk faster than a brick at the box office but went on to be a true cult classic, if you ever want to write musicals off the list for good, at least try this before you do!

Hill, also the director of Red Heat, The Driver, 48 Hours, Johnny Handsome and Extreme Prejudice, was a defining filmmaker of the '80s and one that paved the way for many of today's successful filmmakers. Known also for his writing credits on the likes of The Getaway, Alien, Prometheus and Deadwood, he is one of the last of a breed of gruff workhorses that made action movies the way they were always intended to be; dirty heroes, devilish villains, warm beer and cold women existing in seedy underworlds of grit, steam and rock music.


Streets of Fire is billed as a "Rock 'n' Roll Fable" and at first glance, you know this ain't Grease. In fact it sets out to wash its hands of Grease on a dirty old rag. Beginning with the line "a different time, a different place" Hill's rock opera, if anything, is an Off-Broadway telling of a story that happens somewhere else in the same universe The Warriors are from. Of course, this isn't an all-out musical where people dance and sing their way through the odd scene of drama. It's done very differently.

Tom Cody (Pare) is an ex-soldier turned mercenary who returns home to a dirty, seedy city caught somewhere between the '50s and '80s, to find that his ex-girlfriend - singer Ellen Aim (Lane) - has been kidnapped by the Bombers, a motorcycle gang lead by the psychotic Raven Shaddock (Dafoe). His job is to get her back, relive a little raunch from the past and knock the shite out of some bikers. It really is that simple, but with Hill's writing, you know that this is going to be a movie chock full of quotable one-liners for when you just don't feel too friendly with the world.

Mercenary Tom Cody in Streets of Fire
"Just steppin' out for a pint of milk, luv..."
Visually, it stands somewhere between disgusting and stunning, in that way that Hill and his creative team could romanticise a bin bag in an alley. Saying that, Streets of Fire rarely sits still. It's a very kinetic and colourful movie, in all senses, and if you're left bored, it's only going to be a matter of personal taste. With Hill also being best known for action, that is something this movie delivers in bunches, and that also provides a great deal of the film's comedy relief, such as Pare bitch slapping a gang member with a flick-knife.


When it comes down to performances there are a lot of surprises that really catch you off guard. For a start, it isn't often you see Rick Moranis of Little Shop of Horrors and Ghostbusters in a serious role. Secondly, holy shit, Willem Dafoe defines his crazy self even as a babyfaced young actor. This was only his fifth film and it's no surprise he bagged such a big role in Oliver Stone's Platoon two years later. That's one scary face, though. Speaking of familiar faces, you may also recognise The Warriors' mercy as Tom's sister Reva. The diner waitress outfit really is an improvement on the dirty pink dress.

Deborah Van Valkenburg as Tom Cody's sister in Streets of Fire

Michael Pare, who enjoyed a great start to a career that unfortunately went straight to video by the time the '90s rolled around, plays effortlessly the typical antihero so expected of these movies and he does it by injecting a huge dose of Brooklyn into his character. I get the feeling that this was a movie that could have belonged to James Remar, because the two are quite similar, but Pare makes for a heart-throb the ladies can appreciate. Remar was more for playing bad guys at that time anyway.

Sure, there are some really soppy moments in there. This is a musical, girls are allowed. But like I say about dialogue, there is something so funny and yet cool about how lead characters in Walter Hill movies seem to be very wary of women, to the point where they will love them and leave them at the best of times. For an urban rock 'n' roll oriented movie, it has a huge Western feel to it, confirming Hill's affinity for Sam Peckinpah and Howard Hawks.


Let's be honest, you're reading this because you like your film collection to have something a little different here and there, and you're running out of original movies to watch after having seen almost everything under the sun. Streets of Fire is something you should try if anything I mentioned so far struck a chord. It also sports a great original soundtrack including Jim Steinman, Dan Hartman and Hill's longtime collaborator Ry Cooder, cementing its status as a true gem and a rare one at that.

So, how did Streets of Fire influence the future of entertainment, exactly? Providing that you exclude Cody from arcade classic Final Fight (seriously, his profile is taken straight from Tom Cody's character, it's his girlfriend you have to save from the biker gang)? Take a look at any other Joel Silver action movies from Lethal Weapon to The Matrix and you will see just how much they owe their visual style/cinematography to this movie. You might not think it makes the difference, but this stuff is textbook to all successful filmmakers today!

Biker Raven Shaddock, the leader of the Bombers
Learn it or we unleash Dafoe's temper!
Hope you give this movie a try some time in the future, and you may just realise that you've seen this someplace before. Put it on your list for a true retro '80s movie night and Quantum Geek will return soon enough. Thanks for reading and feel free to drop us a line.

-Dan Ashley
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