Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

Walter Hill’s ‘Crossroads’ is one of those movies from my teenage years that has always stuck with me in a very grand way. I don’t know if was because I was seeing the Karate Kid do something other than clean wax off of cars for the first time, or listening to the wonderful music that filled the movie, or the crash course in the legend of the blues, or maybe because this film was the start of my brief unrequited love affair with actress Akousa Busia, ‘Crossroads’ has always been a favorite. As I tend to do with movies I haven’t seen in a while that I enjoyed as a much younger, less bitter, less angry, less worldly person who life hasn’t had a chance to grab by the throat and throttle into submission, I decided to revisit Daniel-san and them to see how well this film holds up some twenty plus years after it’s initial release.

As the legend goes, Robert Johnson, played here by Star Trek:Voyager regular Tim Russ, has the desire to be the greatest blues player ever and meets up with Satan himself at the crossroads somewhere in Mississippi. Sure enough, next time we see Robert Johnson he’s in the studio cutting 29 of what are thought to be the greatest blues songs ever recorded.

Years later we are introduced to Eugene Martone (Ralph Macchio) who is a prodigy classical guitarist at the prestigious Julliard school of music in New York City, but has a passion for the blues and has done research which he believes has unveiled an as of yet unrecorded thirtieth song of the great Robert Johnson. Eugene’s research has also led him to discover that one or Robert Johnson’s close friends, Blind Dog Fulton, is holed up in a nursing home under his real of name of Willie Brown (the late Joe Seneca). Eugene tries to talk to the man, believing he’s the last person alive familiar with this lost song of Robert Johnson, but Willie is one incredibly angry, pissed off cantankerous old dude. Willie ain’t no fool though and quells his hostility towards Eugene long enough to grasp what he sees as an opportunity in the gullible twenty five year old high

school student. Willie promises to teach Eugene this song, but Eugene has to get Willie out of this nursing home and back to those Mississippi crossroads first. We will learn that similar to Robert, Willie also made a deal with a man who called himself Legba at the time, or rather his loudmouthed flashy assistant (the legendary Joe Morton), and he’s none too happy with how the deal turned out and wishes to contest it. Now Eugene’s life and his real world introduction to the blues will begin in earnest.

It will turn out be quite the adventurous road trip for Lightning Boy, as Blind Dog will christen him, as he gets himself shot at, gets in bar fights, has his first drink, gets an introduction to good ‘ol down south racism, meets a pretty girl on the run (Jamie Gertz), falls for the pretty girl and has the pretty girl abandon him all the while carting around a guitar and possibly the most hostile old dude in movie history. Eventually though the boy and the old man will find a place within each others hearts, leading to Lightning Boy putting his own soul on the line to save the soul of Willie Brown in a bet with Satan himself. Good luck with that.

So after Eugene closed one of his recitals with a blues riff, much to disdain of his teacher played by Alan Arbus who is still alive at ninety though a large number of the actors in this movie have moved on, he would tell Eugene that ‘Mastery of primitive music is cultural’, which seemed like a fancy way of him saying ‘white boys can’t pay the blues’. Of course considering that Ry Cooder provided a large portion of the spectacular music in this movie and Mr. Cooder being about as white as they come, we would have to disagree with that statement. Of course he also could have meant that boys from Long Island can’t play the blues too. As it so happens, twenty two years later, ‘Crossroads’ is still as mesmerizing to me today just as it was to me back 1986. Walter Hill has helmed quite a few movies that I’ve enjoyed such as ‘The Long Riders’, ’48 Hours’ and ‘Southern Comfort’ but ‘Crossroads’ is one of my favorite Walter Hill films, coming in just behind ‘The Warriors’. But a lot of films come in behind ‘The Warriors’. Joe Seneca is simply spectacular in this movie as Blind Dog Fulton, to the point one would think that Ralph Macchio was pissing him off for real. However one would imagine that an angry bluesman who sold his soul to devil would act, Seneca captured it beautifully. Macchio’s wide eyed underdog wonder worked better for him here than even in his ‘Karate Kid’ movies, though the similarities between the two characters are fairly obvious. Might I also toss in that actor Robert Judd, who passed away before this film was released, might be the best movie Satan EVER! Though he was only in a couple of scenes he just dripped calm cool evil. Hill’s signature gritty style fit this film incredibly well, especially when combined with the music, creating an atmosphere that you were actually in a jook joint watching these events unfold. The final battle scene between Eugene and the devil’s axe man played by the legendary Steve Vai is one of the best and most rousing final scenes of its kind.

Now 21 year old Jamie Gertz was certainly a cutie in this movie, made more noticeable by the fact at 43 she’s almost still as hot as she was back in ’86, but for me personally if the Good Lord gave that seventeen year old boy the tools and said "Christopher, go make you a woman", she’d look an awful lot like Akousa Busia in ‘Crossroads’. Sure she was only in one scene, and even as a kid I was never one to fawn over some girl on the tele, but with that beautiful face, large round dark eyes framed by her dark skin, full lips and tapered waist leading to those perfectly flared hips, I was smitten. Of course this has nothing to do with the movie, just watching her in that scene brought back a boys memories is all.

Some guitar player types have commented that Macchio’s fingering while playing looked fake, if that’s what they say then I believe them though Macchio appeared to do a good job pretending to play to me. I know fake piano playing when I see it since I’m a classically trained pianist, so if a guitar dude says it’s fake, it’s fake. But other than that I’m still impressed with ‘Crossroads’ as another childhood fave has personally passed the test of time yet again.

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