Walter Hill – Part 3
48 Hrs (1982) was Hill’s biggest box-office hit. Originally conceived for Clint Eastwood and Richard Pryor, the film was eventually made with Nick Nolte and most famously, Eddie Murphy in his first film. Nolte plays Jack Cates, a bad-tempered, tough San Francisco cop on the trail of two escaped convicts; Cates needs the help of their former colleague and currently incarcerated prisoner Reggie Hammond played by Eddie Murphy. Cates manages to get Hammond on a supervised release for 48 Hrs… They establish an immediate dislike and mistrust of each other and remain antagonistic throughout the whole film. An action film with humour rather than a traditional comedy, the laughs in the movie spring from the tension and constant sniping between the leads. The movie was a critical and huge commercial success, 48 Hrs paved the way for the slew of copycat buddy-cop movies over the following few decades.
After this huge commercial success, Hill could make what he wanted. He wanted to make ‘Streets of Fire’ (1984), subtitled on the poster as a ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll fable. Incredibly stylish, the fifties themed film starred newcomers Michael Pare, Diane Lane and Willem Dafoe. Stylistically, the film was in some ways an extension of what Hill had done with ‘The Warriors’ five years earlier, neon lit, rain swept streets and a pounding musical score, highlighted by the bike gangs bar band ‘The Blasters’. The movie was initially a box-office failure but has gained a cult following and a greater degree of commercial success in the years after its release. This is true of many if Hills films, especially during the home video boom in the 80’s.
After missing out working with Richard Pryor only a few years earlier, he and Hill finally worked together on ‘Brewster’s Millions’ (1985), Hill’s only mainstream comedy. Hopeless baseball player Montgomery Brewster (Pryor) finds out that he is to inherit hundreds of millions of dollars; the problem is that he must spend $30 million in thirty days to get his hands on it. The reason being that the relative who leaves him the money wants him to realise that it isn’t the money that makes you happy, it can be a burden. Not very funny, the jokes misfire and it is probably the one movie in Hills filmography that doesn’t appear to belong on the list.
He followed the disappointing Brewster’s Millions with another film that didn’t fare too well at the box office but has since generated a cult following, ‘Crossroads’ (1986). The film features Ralph Macchio as a young blues guitarist on a road trip with a legendary bluesman played by Joe Seneca. They are on their way to the ‘Crossroads’ of the title where years earlier the bluesman sold his soul to the devil in return for success. He wants his soul back and to win it, Macchio’s character must engage in a guitar battle with the devils representative played by rock guitar superstar Steve Vai. It’s a fun film that is mostly remembered for the guitar duelling on the soundtrack of Ry Cooder and Steve Vai.
After the relative commercial failure of his previous two features Hill returned to hard-nosed action with ‘Extreme Prejudice’ (1987). Based on a script by John Milius, it is a contemporary western set on the Mexican border which reunited Hill with Nick Nolte and Powers Boothe as childhood friends on opposite sides of the law. It’s a stylish and violent movie that pays homage to Peckinpah in the final showdown.
In 1988 Hill returned to the buddy-cop genre that he helped to create with ‘Red Heat’, a movie he wrote, produced and directed. Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Belushi as a stoic Soviet cop teamed up with his slovenly Chicago counterpart on the trail of a Russian drug dealer. Big action set pieces and often funny asides regarding East-West differences during the Cold War make for an entertaining movie.
He ended the decade with the neo-noir ‘Johnny Handsome’ (1989) starring Mickey Rourke, Morgan Freeman and Ellen Barkin. It went fairly unnoticed. A sequel to 48 Hrs followed at the start of the nineties. ‘Another 48 Hrs’ (1990) was almost a retread of the original but this time around Eddie Murphy was the star. It was a massive commercial success.
‘Trespass’ (1993) featured Bill Paxton and William Sadler as firemen facing off against rappers Ice-T and Ice Cube for stolen money in an abandoned St Louis tenement building. The movie was originally called ‘Looters’ but unfortunately the L.A. Riots broke out just before release and the movie had to be renamed and the release date pushed back. It didn’t fare very well and was Hill’s last urban movie.