Think Ralph Macchio, and the name evokes wax on/off and the risible crane-kick finale of 1984’s The Karate Kid. Think a little harder, though, and you might remember the ageless Hollywood man-child for his other role of the period, as doe-eyed guitar student Eugene Martone, in 1986’s Crossroads.
There are joyless folk who will tell you that Crossroads combines ham acting with cheddar sentiment, and labours under a plotline that meanders like the Mississippi River. Ignore them. The first case for the film’s defence lies in the brilliant original soundtrack by Ry Cooder (featuring late harp legend Sonny Terry), with the guitarist’s own cuts like See You In Hell, Blind Boy woven around benchmarks including Noah Lewis’s Viola Lee Blues.
Moreover, the story that some call hokey, scholars of the genre find hugely endearing. Screenwriter John Fusco was a genuine intinerant blues musician before he wrote the Crossroads script at film school in New York, and you feel his passion in this tale of Martone’s hunt for Robert Johnson’s crossroads and his mythical ‘missing song’.
It’s a classic blues morality tale: the kid is technically impeccable but soulless – remind you of anyone? – until he has his heart broken by Jami Gertz’s comely hitchhiker, and takes down the Devil’s guitarist (Steve Vai) in the climactic head-cutting play-off.
With Macchio cinema’s most bankable young star circa 1986, there’s an argument that Crossroads drew a generation into the legend of Robert Johnson (and from there, the blues genre). And with Amazon asking just a fiver for a copy in 2014, you don’t have to sell your soul to revisit it.