Friday, July 1

35 years ago: ‘Cobra Kai’ star Ralph Macchio kicked the devil in ‘Crossroads’

After appearing strongly in multiple Karate kid movies and countless flashbacks across three seasons of Cobra KaiThe 1984 All Valley Karate Tournament match between Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence today feels as exhaustively scrutinized as the Zapruder movie.

However, imagine a version of this iconic showdown where Ralph Macchio trades guitar hits instead of karate kicks with a demonic guitarist instead of handsome boy William Zabka, all in a hellish roadside bar with no Patrick Swayze in sight. .

This is the climax of Crossing, a 1986 film directed by Walter Hill (The Warriors, 48 hours). Today, the film’s search results are buried underneath those of the 2002 Britney Spears vehicle (and Jonathan Franzen’s new bestseller) of the same name; however, the 1986 Crossing, which bombed upon its release, is a worthwhile alternate universe sequel for The Karate Kid where Daniel-san swaps his gi for a guitar and demonstrates his heavy metal mettle to win his soul instead of a trophy (and Elisabeth Shue).

A single song is thin material on which to base a feature film. (Have you ever seen one of The player Movies for TV?) For his BA thesis, screenwriting student John Fusco cleverly combined the story of “selling your soul to the devil for talent and fame” from Robert Johnson’s 1936 blues song (famously covered by Eric Clapton with Cream in the 1960s) with a helping of “The Devil Gone to Georgia” to produce a script that went into production at Columbia Pictures while he was still in college. By casting the Karate Kid himself for the title role, the producers were no doubt hoping to have a similarly sized hit on their hands.

Photo: © Columbia Pictures / courtesy Everett Collection

We meet Eugene (Macchio), a talented classical guitar student at Juilliard whose teachers are dismayed by his obsession with Delta’s blues music. Eugene discovers that the “Willie Brown” character referenced in Johnson’s “Crossroad Blues” is not just a real septuagenarian lamenting the harmonica and living in a nearby nursing home; You may also be the last person alive to know of a legendary lost Johnson song that Eugene hopes to record and ride to blues stardom.

Joe Seneca (later to become a Spike Lee regular) plays Willie in the role of a wrinkled mentor similar to Mr. Miyagi. Unlike Miyagi, whose restored deck and waxed convertible were mere perks that went along with imparting priceless life lessons, the irascible Willie only cares for himself, specifically his mortal soul, which he also sold at the crossroads of a musical career. . That never bloomed Seneca garnered praise for the role, infusing Willie with wicked humor along with the emotional scars of a life suffered under the prejudices of the South. Like Eugene’s electrified Telecaster, the film comes to life when on screen, rooting out its young counterpart (who gets the blues to handle “Lightnin ‘Boy”) and dying for its eternal destiny.

Most Crossing is an episodic road movie in which Eugene takes Willie out of the nursing home and the two “wander” to Mississippi, where Willie promises to teach Eugene the lost song, but secretly plans to renegotiate the terms of his Eternal Contract. Often underused in movies like Lost Children Y Tornado, Jami Gertz gets perhaps her best on-screen role as a cunning runaway who can match wits with Willie, but falls in love with the innocent Eugene and eventually teaches him the true meaning of the blues. It’s melodramatic in turns, but it’s packed with Hill’s nice rough touches, great dialogue, and authentic slide guitarist-supervised score. by excellence Ry Cooder.

In the film’s final act, Willie and Eugene finally reach the literal crossroads where Willie made his deal decades earlier. Eugene foolishly accepts a double-or-nothing deal with Ol ‘Scratch and suddenly finds himself “chopping off heads” in a supernatural duel with the devil’s timbre (played by renowned guitar hero Steve Vai, magnetic in a speechless role that supposedly got him consideration by Lestat’s part in Interview with a vampire).

Cooder recalled that director Hill asked him to score the duel “as a shootout,” and the 10-minute sequence is really exciting. Willie’s regret and fear, palpable throughout the film, are finally revealed to be 100% legitimate and we feel the stakes as Eugene’s hands desperately fly over the fingerboard.

And then, as in The Karate Kid, when all seems lost and our heroes face certain defeat after Vai sweeps leg with his satanic loner, it’s Eugene’s one-in-a-million callback to a technique from a previous scene that brings salvation, and The coup de grace lands that may not have had a massive audience cheering, but nonetheless offers a catharsis. Not bad, Lightnin ‘, not bad.

Todd Wicks is a resident of Troy, Michigan, home of the 70s rock legends, Stillwater. He currently records and performs with his band. All over the store.

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