Eugene Martone (RALPH MACCHIO) is a classical guitar prodigy studying at New York's Julliard School.
He worships the great blues musicians of the 1930s and 1940s and considers this his true calling, despite not being born to the culture.
He takes a job at a local nursing home in order to track down a harmonica player named Willie Brown (JOE SENECA), the last man alive who might know Robert Johnson's lost song. Note: his name is also Blind Dog Fulton and Smokehouse Brown depending on which part of the movie you're watching).
Willie agrees to teach him the song if Eugene helps him escape, so they bust out of the nursing home early one morning and begin to hobo their way south picking up a tough young runaway named Frances (JAMI GERTZ) along the way. There is a brief romance between Eugene and Frances before she leaves suddenly, teaching the kid another harsh lesson about love and feeding the emotion in his blues playing.
With little real experience, the kid learns many things on the road about life, racism and love. He soon discovers that there is no lost song, but Willie has a rendezvous down there to pay his dues to the devil. That's right, all of a sudden we have a strange blend of the supernatural in this musical fable. Amidst unexplained flashbacks, there is a brief appearance by the devil's assistant (JOE MORTON) whose sinister manner works well in the film.
It's up to the kid to outplay the devil's main guitar wizard Jack Butler (STEVE VAI) to save Seneca's soul.
Eugene enters the contest to 'Cut Heads,' and a ferocious guitar duel ensues.
The acting and direction is solid, Seneca does a terrific job as the conniving old man who uses the kid as a way to get out of the nursing home. Macchio's passion for the blues is believable and he does an outstanding job with the technical miming of the guitar parts. Walter Hill, who specializes in the sort of myths seen in movies like "The Warriors," & "Streets of Fire," gives the movie a unique look and a definite character, though he could have done without the flash back sequences which really did nothing for the tale.
[Mike Weeks updated to add: The flashbacks were essential to the film to deliver a relative vantage point of Historical Mississippi life in the 30s and provide spiritual context. As far as the philosophical points go, the professor at Juilliard made it very clear that the blues was "cultural" not the embodiment of everyone's truth. Eugene had the revelation of taking his professors advise at the moment in which it counted and relied on his "cultural" upbringing to reveal his true gift.]
Surely one of the most bizarre films of Walter Hill's catalogue. A musician's dream, but not as satisfying for the general public as it could have been. There are obvious parallels to draw with Macchio's 1984 movie, "The Karate Kid," which also was the story of a young man's apprenticeship with an older master. It also features the same 'against the odds' Rocky syndrome which was so vogue in the 1980's.
The writing was generally strong, but one thing that has always disappointed me about the film was the philosophical error made by the makers of Crossroads. The credo which was apparent throughout was that the blues is a truth, an emotional and honest feeling expressed in music, the ANTITHESIS to the heartless, and rigid forms of the classical masters in which Eugene has been trained.
Why, then, did they choose to abandon this in the final scene where it is not the emotion and true musical connection with the blues by a young white kid which enables him to win the contest, but rather, a neoclassical Pagannini variation (on a Mozart theme), played with plenty of overdrive and dazzling technique?
Verdict: Spectacle and Soul, great for guitarists.
and direction from Walter Hill
Great guitar scenes for musicians and music fans.
Great miming from Macchio
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