They say rock ‘n’ roll never dies, but early one morning in 1964, Eddie Wilson’s car took a dive off a New Jersey bridge with the troubled rock idol at the wheel. His body was never found. Twenty years after the lead singer of Eddie and the Cruisers disappeared, the band’s songs are hotter than ever. And renewed interest in the band leads television reporter Maggie Foley to pursue a tantalizing mystery:
What if Eddie is still alive? The circumstances surrounding his death are just shadowy enough to make it a distinct possibility, and someone (could it be Eddie?) has been ransacking the homes of the surviving band members in a desperate search for tapes of the group’s visionary, never-released album. As Maggie interviews the former band members, the pieces of the puzzle start to fit… but only until still deeper mysteries begin to surface.
Eddie and the Cruisers is a 1983 American film directed by Martin Davidson with the screenplay written by the director and Arlene Davidson, based on the novel by P. F. Kluge. The film was marketed with the tagline “Rebel. Rocker. Lover. Idol. Vanished.”
About the Story
A television reporter named Maggie Foley (Ellen Barkin) investigates the mysterious disappearance of legendary rock star Eddie Wilson (Michael Paré). Flashbacks dramatize Eddie’s life and the rise and fall of his rock and roll band, Eddie and the Cruisers.
The band gets its start at a Somers Point, New Jersey club called Tony Mart’s. Not adept at writing lyrics, Eddie hires Frank Ridgeway (Tom Berenger) aka “Wordman” to be the band’s keyboard player and lyricist, over the protests of band manager Doc Robbins (Joe Pantoliano) and bassist Sal Amato (Matthew Laurance). Rounding out the Cruisers are saxophonist Wendell Newton (Michael “Tunes” Antunes), background singer and Eddie’s girlfriend Joann Carlino (Helen Schneider), and drummer Kenny Hopkins (David Wilson).
The band’s first album, Tender Years, became a major hit album. But recording their next album, A Season in Hell, turns out to be a nightmare. Inspired by the bleak, fatalistic poetry of Arthur Rimbaud, Eddie pushes his bandmates beyond their limits, musically and personally. Eddie wants to be great, but bassist Sal replies, “We ain’t great. We’re just some guys from Jersey.”
Eddie makes this clear that if the band cannot be great, there is no reason to ever play music again. A Season in Hell is ultimately rejected by Satin Records on the grounds that it is “dark and strange”. In the early morning hours, Eddie’s car crashes through the railing and over the Stainton Memorial Causeway. Eddie vanishes without a trace, his body never found.
Almost 20 years later, Satin re-releases the band’s first album, which charts even higher than it did originally. A television documentary is soon in the works, exploring the mystery of the band’s second album, which had disappeared from the vaults of Satin Records the day after Eddie’s disappearance.
All of the original Cruisers are set to participate in it except Eddie and Wendell Newton, who had died of an overdose in August 1963 at age 37. The others are now living ordinary lives: Sal Amato fronts a Cruisers tribute band. Ridgeway is a high school English teacher in Vineland. Doc works as a radio disc jockey in Asbury Park. Joann is a stage choreographer in Wildwood, and Hopkins works in an Atlantic City casino.
During the documentary interviews, the band expresses a desire to relive the past, even though many of their memories are humiliating. For example, during a concert at Benton College, where Frank was once a student, Eddie ridicules Frank repeatedly by referring to him as “Toby Tyler”. The other Cruisers members share similar stories.
Joann is able to complete the one piece of the puzzle that Frank could not: revealing what happened to the band’s second album. After storming from the studio, Eddie brought her to the Palace of Depression, a makeshift castle made of garbage and junk that he visited often as a child. She reveals it was in fact she who took the master tapes for the album from Satin Records, hiding them in the Palace of Depression, where she felt they belonged.
Eddie and the Cruisers (1983)
Directed by: Martin Davidson
Starring: Tom Berenger, Michael Paré, Joe Pantoliano, Matthew Laurance, Helen Schneider, Ellen Barkin, John Stockwell
Screenplay by: Martin Davidson, Arlene Davidson
Cinematography by: Fred Murphy
Film Editing by: Priscilla Nedd-Friendly
Costume Design by: Sandy Davidson
Set Decoration by: Christian Kelly
Art Direction by: Gary Weist
Music by: John Cafferty
Distributed by: Embassy Pictures
Release Date: September 23, 1983