Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Hi-De-Ho (1947)

All-American Entertainment, 1947
Starring Cab Calloway, Ida James, Jeni Le Gon, and William Campbell
Directed by Josh Binney
Music and Lyrics by Cab Calloway and others

Cab Calloway's career went back to the late 20's, when he got started playing at night clubs and cafes in Chicago. His band eventually moved to New York in 1929, where they were a hit in Harlem show spots like the Savoy Ballroom and the Cotton Club. Calloway became the first African-American to have his own radio show, and one of the first to lend his voice to cartoons. He appeared in small roles in movies like The Singing Kid with Al Jolson and larger ones in short subjects with his name on the title. He even released a dictionary of "jive" in three versions. By 1947, however, his gambling and bad financial decisions had caught up with him, which is likely the reason for his starring in this smaller independent B musical. Is it worthy of "Minnie the Moocher," or should it be left standing at the club? Let's begin with Calloway (himself) and his girl Minnie (Le Gon) and find out...

The Story: Minnie is furious when Calloway hires Nellie (James), a female manager, to help him get his band going. Nellie's doing good things for him, including getting him and his eight-man band booked into a brand new club. Minnie would rather he focused on her and spent a lot less time with his very pretty manager. She goes to local gangster Boss Mason (George Wiltshire) and his hit man Mo the Mouse (James Dunmore) to eliminate Cab, while she tries to head off Nellie. As it turns out, Minnie is wrong about Cab and his feelings for Nellie, but she may be too late to fend off Mo before tragedy strikes.

The Song and Dance: Calloway's ongoing financial problems don't prevent him from really getting into his numbers here. He even had a hand in most of the songs. Wiltshire and Dunmore are the only ones who get near him as the menacing "fixer" and his genuinely menacing hired killer. I also give them credit for going a little darker than usual for these "race" musicals. I genuinely did not expect the hit man subplot or the tragic twist near the end of the film.  

Favorite Number: "Minnie was a Hepcat," supposedly  his song for Minnie, is played at least three times during the film, including in the night club after Calloway and his orchestra get the job there and for Minnie after tragedy strikes. Calloway really romps through the more dramatic "St. James Infirmary" and "At Dawn Time." "Hey Now" is his first number with his expanded orchestra. 

He opens the big finale with his hit "Hi-De-Ho Man," then joins singer Elton Hill to sing about how "I Got a Gal Named Nellie." Dusty Fletcher gets "Open the Door, Richard." The ample and ample-voiced Peeters Sisters sing "Little Old Lady From Baltimore." One then dances with one of the male dancers while singing about "A Rainy Sunday" before finally shoving him off the set! We also get some decent tap routines by The Miller Brothers and Lois done on top of blocks and stands in front of the orchestra.

What I Don't Like: Calloway's music may be terrific, but he's no great shakes as an actor. His reaction to that dark twist is too hammy for words. Most of the cast isn't even at that level. The ladies are especially stiff, with Le Gon wavering between waxy and shrill and James fading into the woodwork. The music is the only reason to see this. The costumes aren't bad, with some decent suits for the guys and James and gowns for Le Gon, but the sets are obviously B-movie level. While the copy currently at Tubi is slightly better than what they have for Boarding House Blues, it's still not great. Wish someone would take a crack at preserving these bits of black cinema history.

And I wish the movie had ended with Calloway holding Minnie. The montage of his success and big happy finale directly afterwards rings false after the violence and darkness earlier. 

The Big Finale: If you like Calloway or the "race" films of the 1930's and 40's, you'll want to give this a try for the musical numbers alone. 

Home Media: It's in the public domain, so it's easy to find anywhere. It's currently free with commercials on Amazon Prime and Tubi.

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Animation Celebration Saturday - Tom & Jerry and The Wizard of Oz

Warner Bros, 2011
Voices of Grey DeLisle, Joe Alasky, Spike Brandt, and Rob Paulsen
Directed by Spike Brandt and Tony Cervone
Music and Lyrics by various

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was far from the first franchise Warners dumped Tom and Jerry into. They appeared in six direct-to-home-media "movies" before this, including the previous crossover Meet Sherlock Holmes. That one went over well enough for them to try inserting the cat-and-mouse duo into one of the most famous musicals of all time. Does it work out better than their visit to Willy Wonka's domain did, or should it have a house dropped on it? Let's begin in Kansas, where a certain cat and mouse (Brandt) chase each other while Dorothy Gale (DeLisle) laments that no one listens to her, and find out...

The Story: Tom and Jerry are shocked as anyone to be caught up in a Kansas twister. Also along for the ride are Dorothy and her dog Toto, who land in Oz ahead of them. The cat and mouse duo first encounter Munchkin mouse Tuffy (Kathy Soucie) when they arrive. He leads them down the Yellow Brick Road to find Dorothy and her new friends the Scarecrow (Michael Gough), the Tin Woodsman (Paulsen), and the Cowardly Lion (Todd Stashwick). On the way, they steal the wand of the Wicked Witch of the West (Larraine Newman), incurring her wrath. No one is happy when the Wizard (Alasky) sends them to capture the witch, least of all Tom and Jerry! They'll have to work together to save Dorothy and figure out who the Wizard really is.

The Animation: At least someone did their homework. This is made to resemble the Hanna Barbara and Tex Avery shorts of the 1940's and 50's. Dorothy looks like a younger Red Hot Riding Hood, while Tom, Jerry, and Winkie Guard Droopy closely resemble their versions from the late 40's-early 50's. It's obviously cheap and it doesn't move very well, but at least it's colorful and relatively suits the characters.

The Song and Dance: I will say that Tom and Jerry work slightly better in Oz than they did in Willy Wonka's domain. Oz is already a fantasy world filled with flying monkeys and talking lions. They're also integrated slightly better, notably helping the others figure out how to get rid of the Wicked Witch of the West. (In fact, Tuffy comes up with a great idea to scare off the Winkie guards that I wish they used in the original film!) The colorful animation suits Oz, the characters, and the time period this was set in well. 

Favorite Number: Even Tom and Jerry (briefly) stop their antics long enough to watch Dorothy sing "Over the Rainbow," though Tom can't resist trying to eat some of the bluebirds who gather to listen. A frustrated Tuffy sings "If I Only Had the Height" in Munchkin Land, since he's too small to be considered a full munchkin. "We're Off to See the Wizard" is heard twice, when Tuffy, Tom, and Jerry head off to find the others, and after they've caught up with them near the Emerald City. We get the ensemble number "Merry Old Land of Oz" when they've all arrived in the Emerald City. The original "If I Only Had a Brain/Heart/Nerve" is heard over the end credits, along with "Off to See the Wizard." 

What I Don't Like: Tom and Jerry do fit in a little better...but that doesn't mean this should have happened in the first place. You don't really get to see much of Dorothy and her friends, or hear the original score. Often, what you do get is a rehash of the much-better live-action movie. DeLisle tries hard, but she's no Judy Garland, and Gough isn't Ray Bolger, either. Newman's Wicked Witch is an improvement, but she still lacks Margaret Hamilton's menace. 

The Big Finale: Tom and Jerry's trip to Oz isn't great, but it's still a lot sweeter than their venture into Road Dahl turf. Fun for kids who are Tom and Jerry and/or Oz fans. 

Home Media: Easily found in all formats. 

Thursday, February 15, 2024

A Hard Day's Night

United Artists, 1964
Starring The Beatles (John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr), Wilfred Brambell, Norman Rossington, and John Junkin
Directed by Richard Lester
Music and Lyrics by John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison

We stay in England, but jump back a few decades to honor the 60th anniversary of the Beatles making their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. The Beatles' phenomenal success couldn't be contained within mere live performances. United Artists was thrilled to get them, but they weren't interested in the movie itself. They thought the soundtrack would make a lot more money. 

As it turned out, they were both gold mines. The film was shot in sixteen weeks for less than $500,000 and would make three times that. It proved to be a landmark in film musicals and continues to be influential to this day. Does it deserve that praise, or should it be mobbed by the crowd? Let's begin with the Beatles (themselves) barely evading a platoon of screaming fans at a train station and find out...

The Story: On the train to London, they're joined by Paul's grandfather John (Brambell), who, despite the guys insisting he's a "clean" old man, is constantly making trouble. He first sets their manager Norm (Rossington) and road manager Shake (Junkin) against each other, then gets into a gambling club using an invitation sent to Ringo while the Beatles sneak off to a party. A comment from Grandfather also rattles the director of the TV show they're supposed to be appearing in (Victor Spinetti). Ringo ends up being assigned to keep an eye on Grandfather, but the wily old man insists Ringo go and see life instead. This just lands Ringo and Grandfather in jail. The Beatles have to get them out quickly, just in time for their big TV performance to go on.

The Song and Dance: The quick-cut, cinema verite style still looks darn good to this day. All four of the Beatles shine in a very funny script that was deservedly nominated for Best Screenplay. John has my favorite scenes, goofing off in the bath and with comedienne fan Anna Quayle at the TV studios. George gets the single best line in the film when a reporter asks him about his haircut, along with the sequence where he's cornered by a group who thinks he's an actor and want him to be in a commercial. Ringo gets the most dramatic sequences during his afternoon on the town, including his attempt to help a lady over a hole.

The real-life filming gives us London in all it's swinging 60's glory. That's a real train station the Beatles arrive at, with real screaming fans. Ringo has drinks in a real pub, and the quartet romp in an actual playing field. It gives you a real "you are there" feeling and adds to the intimacy that makes it feel like you really are eavesdropping on these four successful and very funny rock stars. 

Favorite Number: We open with the title song and one of the most famous chords of all time as the Beatles' fans chase them across Marleybone Station. "I Should Have Known Better" is their number on the train as we see them interact with their fans. "All My Loving," "I Wanna Be Your Man," and George's "Don't Bother Me" are heard briefly at the party. 

"If I Fell" is John's number at the TV studio when they do their first rehearsal. The first version of "Can't Buy Me Love" has the quartet jumping and running around on that playing field as a crane follows their puppyish movements. "And I Love Her" and "I'm Happy Just to Dance With You" bring them back to the TV studio. "Ringo's Theme (This Boy)" is a montage of Ringo wandering around London, dodging a tire rolled by a child and trying to help a lady across puddles by putting down his coat. 

"Can't Buy Me Love" pops up again as the background for half the cops in London chasing the Beatles back to the TV studio after they manage to break Ringo out of prison. The boys finally get to their smashing TV performances of "Tell Me Why" and "She Loves You," along with reprises of "Should Have Known Better" and "If I Fell." The movie ends with a reprise of the title song as they head off in a helicopter and toss Grandpa's final attempt to profit off their fame - photos with forged signatures - to their fans below. 

Trivia: Three songs, "I'll Cry Instead," "You Can't Do That," and "I Call Your Name," were cut from the final film. "Cry Instead" was used in a 1982 prologue that was supposed to honor John Lennon. It was removed during the film's restoration in 2000. 

Brambell was best known at that point as the title character of the BBC sitcom Steptoe and Son, who was often referred to as a "dirty old man." That's why they constantly call him a "clean old man" in the film. (And yes, Steptoe and Son would later be remade in the US as the even-more-successful Sanford and Son.)

Oddly, the group's name is never referred to in the film.

The film's jump cuts and cross-cutting would later inspire everything from The Monkees TV show to MTV music videos to commercials. 

The title was apparently inspired by an off-the-cuff comment of Ringo's. 

What I Don't Like: Once again, story is not the film's main concern. If you want to learn more about the real Beatles. you'd be better off looking for one of the many documentaries released on them. This movie is strictly to capture how it was during the early days of Beatlemania. Paul seems to be slightly underused compared to the other three. He mainly seems to be there to scold his grandfather. And it probably does help to be a fan of theirs to understand their personalities and why they're so popular. 

The Big Finale: Honestly, if you want to know what the Beatles were about and why they were so huge in the mid-60's, this and the film's soundtrack album are probably the best places to start. Great way to learn more about the film styles of the swinging mid-60's, too. Highly recommended, especially for Beatles and British Invasion fans. 

Home Media: Easily found on streaming and on disc, the latter from The Criterion Collection.

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Happy Valentine's Day! - Been So Long

Netflix, 2018
Starring Michaela Coel, Arinze Kene, George MacKay, and Joe Dempsie
Directed by Tinge Krishnan
Music and Lyrics by Arthur Darvill

We celebrate the most romantic of all holidays with one of the sweetest recent musicals. This one was based on a 1998 play and apparently debuted in a West End fringe house in 2009. Netflix bought the US rights when it debuted in its single-biggest acquisition of an English movie at that point. Were they right to spend all that money on this, or should it be dumped in a bar? Let's start at a festival in Camden Town, London, as single mother Simone (Coel) navigates through the eager crowds with her wheelchair-bound daughter Mandy (Mya Lewis) and find out...

The Story: Simone is a hard worker who rarely has time for meals, let alone going out with her friend Yvonne (Ronke Adekoluejo). Yvonne finally talks her into a night out on the town, which she eventually spends playing checkers with handsome and mysterious Raymond (Kene). Raymond has his own problems. He's on parole from prison and is being stalked by the insane knife-wielding Gil (MacKay). Simone, meanwhile, is still smarting from her divorce with Kestrel (Dempsie), Mandy's father, and is afraid to open her heart again. It'll take Gil openly attacking Raymond and seeing their friends come together for the duo to finally understand the healing power of relationships.

The Song and Dance: This is such a sweet movie. Kene and Coel walk away with the movie as the lovers trying to navigate the dating waters again, and both have gorgeous voices to boot. Adekoluejo is a hoot as Simone's party-loving girlfriend Yvonne who gets the ball started by taking her out and encourages her romance, and MacKay is a genuinely scary Gil. Beautiful location shooting in the real London adds to the feeling of intimacy. It's almost more like looking in on people's lives than a typical musical. 

Favorite Number: We open with Kene performing "Love Is" as Simone wanders through a local fair with Mandy, pulling her away from sweets and ignoring all the dancers and merriment around her. "What U Sayin'" is Yvonne's big rap number as she talks Simone into going out with her. She sings "I Want a Fella" while at the bar. Raymond gets "Primus Humanus (Man of Steel)" after he meets Simone. Gil's "Smile" is a more terrifying look at why he's after Raymond. "Thunder and Gold" and "Fire" are duets for Raymond and Simone before and after their meeting on the bench in the park. "Closing Time" is the big finale as everyone, including the back up singers seen in numbers throughout the film, meet in the bar again...except Simone and Raymond, who are content to quietly walk off in each other's arms. 

What I Don't Like: If you're looking for a stronger plot or a darker take on romance, you won't get that here. This is just a sweet, simple series of love stories. It comes off more like a BBC soap opera than a movie at times. To be honest, not a whole lot happens besides the musical numbers until Gil attacks Raymond near the end. It's slow-moving and can be wordy, especially in the second half when the romances get more melodramatic.

The Big Finale: This charming romance is one of the better musical offerings currently on Netflix. Give it a whirl this Valentine's Day or when you feel the need for a little love in your life.

Home Media: It's a Netflix exclusive at the moment. 

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Honoring Chinese New Year - Over the Moon

Netflix, 2020
Voices of Cathy Ang, Phillipa Soo, Robert G. Chiu, and Ken Jeong
Directed by Glen Keane
Music and Lyrics by Christopher Curtis, Marjorie Duffield, and Helen Park

We celebrate Chinese New Year with this lovely animated film, the third released by Netflix. This retelling of the Chinese myth of the rabbit in the moon was released during the pandemic that year, meaning it went straight to streaming with a release in a few theaters. Does the sweet tale of a teen girl who hopes to prove that the goddess of the moon is real continue to work now? Let's begin with cook Ma Ma (Ruthie Ann Miles) telling her daughter Fei Fei (Ang) the story of the moon goddess Chang'e (Soo) and find out...

The Story: Unfortunately, Ma Ma takes ill and dies when Fei Fei is 11. By the time she's 15, her father Ba Ba (John Cho) is remarrying a woman named Mrs. Zhong (Sandra Oh). Although she's a nice lady, Fei Fei doesn't handle this well. She's especially not fond of Mrs. Zhong's annoying son Chin (Chiu) who insists he can run through walls and his pet frog. 

Fei Fei creates a rocket that'll take her to the moon so she can prove Chang'e is real. To her consternation, Chin sneaks along. Beautiful Chang 'e is obsessed with returning to her true love Hou Yi (Conrad Ricamora), who lacked her immortality. She thinks the children came to deliver a gift that would bring her love back. Fei Fei goes to search for the gift with three "Biker Chick" Lumarians, while Chin challenges Chang'e to a ping-pong game. Fei Fei thinks she's found the gift, but the bikers take off with it. With the help of exiled Lumarian Gobi (Jeong), she and Chang'e finally learn how to heal and let go of the past.

The Animation: While the character animation is well done, the big thing here is Chang'e and the Lumarians' world. It's all bright neons and huge shining spires and magenta glitter. There's some amazing designs, too, especially on animals like the giant frogs and dog who bites into the moon. Chang'e's elegant and colorful costumes were created by Chinese fashion designer Guo Pei, and they certainly look like haute couture, from the sparkly layer dress she wears at her concert to the dramatic red number with the enormous collar seen on the poster.

The Song and Dance: This charming and sweet film may have been especially important when it debuted, given how many people lost loved ones in 2020. You really feel Ang's heartbreak over her mother, especially early in the film when she's trying to deny that her father has moved on. Soo also does well as the fickle goddess who is heartbroken over her lost love one minute, charming to her people the next. Chui and Jeoung get a few good moments as the goofy little brother who basically thinks he has superpowers and the exiled Lumarian who believes in the good change can do.

Favorite Number: We open with "On the Moon Above" that gives us the story of Chang'e and how much Fei Fei adored her mother. They sing about making "Mooncakes" for the big Moon Festival, even as Ma Ma is dying. Fei Fei hopes her "Rocket to the Moon" will take her to Chang'e, so she can prove she's real. Chang'e appears in a huge concert, complete with back up Lumenettes dancers, insisting that she's "Ultraluminary." 

"Hey Boy" pits Chin against Chang'e in a ping pong game that leaves him wondering if he's in over his head. Gobi tells Fei Fei how he thinks their ride on giant frogs - and the ability to change and move on - are "Wonderful." Hou Yi briefly joins his wife for "Yours Forever" in the beautiful forest of her memories. Chang'e and Fei Fei break out of depression by admitting that it's not so bad to "Love Someone New."

What I Don't Like: Ok, so the story is a tad cliched. It starts off coming-of-age and veers more into sci-fi action territory on the moon. Critics complained that this had a little too much Disney in it, with its huge castle and princess-like goddess, likely the result of director Keane being a former Disney animator. Once they get on the moon, the mood goes from contemplative to annoyingly frantic, not helped by all the padding with the unnecessary ping pong game and Gobi's antics. The ending is sweet, but getting there is more tooth-itchingly sticky. Not to mention, a good chunk of the voice cast is actually Korean rather than Chinese, and a lot of the music apes the Korean pop that's so huge right now. 

The Big Finale: Despite the strange and sometimes conventional story, this is still recommended for older elementary-schoolers and pre-teens who have any interest in Chinese culture or have lost someone recently.

Home Media: This is a Netflix exclusive at the moment. 

Thursday, February 8, 2024

Krush Groove

Warner Bros, 1985
Starring Blair Underwood, Sheila E, Joseph Simmons (Run D.M.C), and the Fat Boys
Directed by Michael Schultz
Music and Lyrics by various

Our second look at early rap culture has a lot of things in common in Beat Street. It was also set in the Bronx, is very much a capsule of its era, and gives a rare look at several R&B and rap artists who don't often turn up in films. This one, however, is based on the true story of how rap label Def Jam Recordings got started. Def Jam began in 1983 as a haven for rap, hip hop, and R&B and really helped bring a new type of music into the public eye. How does the fictional story of its origins look today? Let's begin at Krush Groove's studio with Run D.M.C recording their latest hit and find out...

The Story: Russell Walker (Underwood) has signed all the hottest hip hop and R&B acts in the Bronx, including the Fat Boys and Run D.M.C, featuring his brother Run (Rev Run). Desperate to press more albums and get their latest hit to the public, he borrows money from street hustler Jay B. (Richard Gant). He also falls for feisty rapper and drummer Sheila B. (herself), but Run does, too. Russell has to figure out how to date her without hurting his brother's feelings, then where to get that money when Jay B. comes calling and wants it yesterday...

The Song and Dance: Obviously, story is not this movie's strong point. It's also not that heavily into the breakdancing that was a big part of Beat Street. This one is all about the music, performed by some of the most popular acts from Def Jam's roster. There's some genuinely good songs here, some of which became hits in their own right. 

Underwood made his debut as the charming and driven Walker. He's the backbone of the film, whether he's trying to get the albums out, hire more acts, or adorably falling for Sheila. At the very least, this makes a lot more sense than Schultz' previous attempt at an all-star rock musical, the ridiculously bizarre Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

Favorite Number: We open in the studio with Run D.M.C recording "King of Rock." Their music and Krush Groove Records spread throughout the Bronx, encouraging groups to breakdance and leave their jobs to try their own songs at the studio, ending with Run D.M.C doing the number at a concert. After being sent to the principal for rapping in class, the Fat Boys gets their whole school moving with the infectious "Don't You Dog Me" on the stairs. 

We're introduced to Sheila B. in a club with her hit "A Love Bizarre" (which she sang with Prince in its original version). She's having such a great time strutting her stuff, it's no wonder both Walkers fall hard for her. Sheila proves to the guys that she can do whatever the boys can do in her "I'm Sheila E" at the Walker's home. Kurtis Blow picks things up at a rap concert with "If I Ruled the World" in top-hat, a very 80's tux, and with dancers in elaborate 20's-style costumes. Sheila blows the audience away with her driving "Holly Rock" before Run D.M.C finally get onstage to claim "their house" with "It's Like That." 

Nayobe performs part of her R&B hit "Please Don't Go" at Krush Groove Studios, and even what little we see is good enough for them to sign her. LL Cool J shows off part of his early song "I Can't Live Without My Radio." New Edition was huge at the time, as was their R&B number "My Secret," done at the talent show in flashy glittering suits. The Fat Boys finally get in long enough for their second number, "Pump It Up - Let's Get Funky." They also eat every bit of food in a Sbarro's when they see an "All You Can Eat" sign in the film's strangest and most music video-like number. 

We get Run D.M.C's "Can You Rock It Like This?" before teenager Chad launches into a rollicking cover of "I Want You to Be My Girl" at the second talent show. The "Fat Boys" end up winning it all with their self-titled number. "Tender Love" appropriately covers Sheila and Blair's big sex scene. The movie ends with all of the bands performing "Krush Groovin'" at a benefit dinner to earn the money Russell needs. 

Trivia: Film debuts of Blair Underwood and LL Cool J. 

What I Don't Like: Like I mentioned above, plot is not this movie's strong point. It has very little to do with the actual beginnings of Def Jam Records, which continues today as a rap and R&B imprint of Universal Music. Real owner Russell Simmons was related to Run DMC member Rev Run (Joseph Simmons), but neither had a relationship with Sheila B. Simmons was upset that the writers took so much of the focus off the romantic triangle and Walker's financial struggles and onto the antics of the Fat Boys, and...yeah, he does have a point. The movie lurches from hard-hitting drama with Simmons trying to earn the money to soft-focus romance to the Fat Boys' antics with very little rhyme or reason. The dialogue is negligible, the acting from everyone besides Underwood is worse. These rap artists were terrific singers, but they weren't really actors. 

The Big Finale: That said, this and Beat Street are still important movies for a lot of reasons, not the least being two looks at rap's beginnings. Despite the confusing tone and so-so acting, this is still highly recommended for fans of early rap or black cinema from the 1980's. 

Home Media: It's currently on DVD via the Warner Archive Collection. It's also easily found on streaming, often for free.

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Beat Street

Orion Pictures, 1984
Starring Guy Davis, Jon Chardiet, Rae Dawn Chong, and Leon W. Grant
Directed by Stan Lathan
Music and Lyrics by various

This week, we dive into early rap culture with two musicals from the mid-80's. By 1983, rap, hip-hop, and breakdancing were just starting to come off the streets of major cities and into dance clubs like the ones in this movie. Record companies were starting to take notice, too, as were several major movie studios who saw the success of those clubs. How well does this do in representing that new culture, seen through the lives of four young men living in the South Bronx? Let's begin on the streets with the kids and their breakdancing and find out...

The Story: Kenny Kirkland (Davis) is a DJ and aspiring composer. His best friend Ramon Franco (Chardiet) is a graffiti artist who tags himself "Ramo," and wants nothing more than to decorate one unmarked subway car with his work. Ramon's girlfriend Carmen (Saundra Santiago) wants him to marry her and help her take care of their child. 

Kenny's brother Lee (Robert Taylor) is a member of one of the breakdancing gangs. He first turns up when he DJs for a party to rumble with another local breakdancing gang, then at the Bronx nightclub the Roxy. Fellow composer Tracy Carlson (Chong) is impressed with his moves and invites him to try out for TV dance show. He's rejected, and Kenny accuses Tracy of being a snob. She goes to his house to make up, and they end up falling for each other. 

Things begin to look up when Kenny gets a job at the Burning Spear Club, and Ramon finally gets an apartment for him and his family. Kenny's not as happy when he first catches Tracy with her professor (Duane Jones), then he accidentally erases his creation on their equipment. Ramon's having his own problems. There's an artist named Spit (Bill Anagros) who keeps defacing his work, and job interviews are keeping him from the art he loves. His attempt to make one last try at that unmarked train leads to a confrontation with Spit that ends in tragedy. Kenny, however, will never forget his friend or the lasting impression he left on his music, his family, and their community.

The Song and Dance: This one has a lot in common with Saturday Night Fever, from the New York Boroughs setting to its use of actual Bronx locations (including the real Roxy nightclub). Chardiet is by far the best thing here with his intense performance as the tough youth who sees beauty in his art where others see something damaging or criminal. Some of the dancing is genuinely amazing too, both in the breakdancing sequences and at the TV show audition Tracy wrote a song for. 

Favorite Number: We open with "Breaker's Revenge" over a montage of Lee and his friends breakdancing in the streets of the Bronx and Ramon. "Son of Beat Street" and "Baptise the Beat" are the dance numbers at the house party. Juicy performs "Give Me All" and over the end credits "Beat Street Strut." "Santa's Rap" is Lee and two of his buddies (The Treacherous Three) singing a comic Christmas rap number as Santa and two kids complain about his gifts. Jake Homes sings the R&B ballad "Strangers In a Strange World" as Kenny takes Tracy home. "Frantic Situation" is Afrika Bamaataa's goofy jungle routine at the Burning Spear Club. "Battle Cry" is the number that gets Lee and his buddies into trouble when they're practicing a dance routine, and the cops think they're actually trying to hurt each other. 

The huge finale involves Davies and almost every rap group in the film dressed in the most 80's collection of tulle, sequins, chains, and vinyl saluting the life and death of Ramon with "Beat Street Breakdown." A gospel choir finishes off with "Believe."

Trivia: Filming locations included the actual Roxy (which has since been demolished), the City College of New York, and the Bronx subway.

Most of the graffitti used in the movie wasn't real, but actual graffiti artists were used as consultants. 

What I Don't Like: It has a lot of the same problems as Saturday Night Fever - namely, it was made to represent a certain time and place, and hasn't aged well beyond that. New York and rap culture have changed a lot in 40 years. The crazy costumes at the clubs and in the finale alone scream "New York 1984." There is some bad language (though not to the degree of Fever) and violence, not to mention that tragic ending. Most of the artists here probably aren't remembered by anyone but huge fans of 80's rap, too, and neither the actors, nor the plot are really all that interesting. 

The Big Finale: If you want to learn more about early rap culture or rap in New York in the 80's or are a fan of the rap and R&B musicals of the mid-80's, this one is worth checking out for some of the numbers alone.

Home Media: Easily found anywhere; it's streaming for free on The Roku Channel and Pluto TV.