Crossroads (1986)

R | 98 mins | Drama | 14 March 1986

Director:

Walter Hill

Writer:

John Fusco

Producer:

Mark Carliner

Cinematographer:

John Bailey

Editor:

Freeman Davies

Production Designer:

Jack T. Collis

Production Companies:

Columbia Pictures, Delphi IV Productions
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HISTORY

       According to a 14 Mar 1986 NYT article and production notes in AMPAS library files, writer John Fusco based his screenplay on adventures that he documented as a sixteen-year-old keyboardist, songwriter, and blues singer touring in the South. A warning from a doctor concerning his seriously injured vocal chords ended his journey after five years, but redirected his creativity toward scriptwriting. Producer Mark Carliner was introduced to Fusco after he received first place for his original screenplay entry at the 1983 Nissan FOCUS Awards. The men forged a relationship that lead to the development of the Crossroads script. Fusco’s story was originally set in Louisiana, but Hill and executive producer Tim Zinnemann thought that the most dominant blues tradition originated in the Mississippi (MS) Delta, and felt that historically and visually, the region would be more interesting to film. A Mar 1986 Box article suggested that the title, Crossroads, was chosen because blues legend has it that aspiring musicians go there to sell their souls to the Devil in return for fame and fortune.
       A news item in the 29 Mar 1985 DV stated that actor-singer Sammy Davis, Jr., agreed to a screen test for a role in the picture, but he does not appear in the finished film.
       A 15 Jul 1985 People brief stated that actor Ralph Macchio spent four months learning how to play guitar per director Walter Hill’s suggestion. Macchio had no previous experience on the musical instrument, but became proficient enough to play notes although he did not learn to read music. Macchio’s guitar playing was dubbed ... More Less

       According to a 14 Mar 1986 NYT article and production notes in AMPAS library files, writer John Fusco based his screenplay on adventures that he documented as a sixteen-year-old keyboardist, songwriter, and blues singer touring in the South. A warning from a doctor concerning his seriously injured vocal chords ended his journey after five years, but redirected his creativity toward scriptwriting. Producer Mark Carliner was introduced to Fusco after he received first place for his original screenplay entry at the 1983 Nissan FOCUS Awards. The men forged a relationship that lead to the development of the Crossroads script. Fusco’s story was originally set in Louisiana, but Hill and executive producer Tim Zinnemann thought that the most dominant blues tradition originated in the Mississippi (MS) Delta, and felt that historically and visually, the region would be more interesting to film. A Mar 1986 Box article suggested that the title, Crossroads, was chosen because blues legend has it that aspiring musicians go there to sell their souls to the Devil in return for fame and fortune.
       A news item in the 29 Mar 1985 DV stated that actor-singer Sammy Davis, Jr., agreed to a screen test for a role in the picture, but he does not appear in the finished film.
       A 15 Jul 1985 People brief stated that actor Ralph Macchio spent four months learning how to play guitar per director Walter Hill’s suggestion. Macchio had no previous experience on the musical instrument, but became proficient enough to play notes although he did not learn to read music. Macchio’s guitar playing was dubbed in the film.
       According to a production chart in the 3 May 1985 HR, principal photography began 29 Apr 1985 in MS and Los Angeles, CA. Production notes stated that principal photography was completed on 31 July 1985 in New York City. The production began filming in Greenville, MS. About fifty miles north of the city, filmmakers found a crossroads with a long, dead tree that captured the chilling atmosphere where a blues musician might strike a deal with the devil. Other MS locations included the towns of Beulah, Bolivar, Chatham, Murphy and Winterville, down the road from Highway 61.

      End credits state: “Filmed on location in Mississippi, New York, and at The Burbank Studios.”
More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
29 Mar 1985.
---
Hollywood Reporter
3 May 1985.
---
Hollywood Reporter
11 Mar 1986
p. 3, 40.
Los Angeles Times
14 Mar 1986
p. 1, 11.
New York Times
14 Mar 1985
Section C, p. 8.
New York Times
14 Mar 1986
p. 15.
People
15 Jul 1985.
---
Variety
12 Mar 1986
p. 14.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Columbia Pictures presents
A Mark Carliner Production
A Walter Hill Film
From Columbia-Delphi IV Productions
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
DGA trainee
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
Exec prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
2d asst cam
Chief lighting tech
Best boy
Best boy grip
Key grip
Dolly grip
Playback op
Still photog
Still photog
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Asst film ed
Asst film ed
Asst film ed
Negative cutter
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set des
Set des
Prop master
Const coord
Const foreman
Const foreman
Gang boss
Propmaker foreman
Labor foreman
Labor foreman
Paint foreman
Standby painter
Leadman
COSTUMES
Men's costumer
Women's costumer
MUSIC
Mus/Blues guitar
Blues harmonica
Blues harmonica/Blues harmonica coach
Mus ed
Guitar coach for Ralph Macchio
Classical guitar coach
Main title harmonica
All mus prod
SOUND
Prod mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Supv sd ed
Sd ed
Sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Spec sd eff created by
Foley ed
Sd eff rec
Cable
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff coord
Title des
MGM Title
Opticals by
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Casting
Scr supv
Voice casting
Loc mgr
Prod office coord
Prod auditor
Unit pub
Extras casting
Prod assoc
Prod assoc
Asst to Mark Carliner
Asst to Walter Hill
Asst to Tim Zinnemann
Research consultant
Transportation coord
Transportation capt
Post prod facilities
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col timer
Col by
SOURCES
MUSIC
“Turkish March,” arranged for guitar and performed by William Kanengiser, written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
SONGS
“Crossroads,” performed by Terry Evans and Ry Cooder, written by Robert Johnson
“He Made A Woman Out Of Me,” performed by Amy Madigan, written by Fred Burch and Donald Hill
“If I Lose,” performed by Amy Madigan, written by Ralph Stanley
+
SONGS
“Crossroads,” performed by Terry Evans and Ry Cooder, written by Robert Johnson
“He Made A Woman Out Of Me,” performed by Amy Madigan, written by Fred Burch and Donald Hill
“If I Lose,” performed by Amy Madigan, written by Ralph Stanley
“Cotton Needs Pickin', ” performed by The Wonders, written by Richard Holmes, Otis Taylor, John Price, and Frank Frost
“Maintenance Man,” performed by The Wonders, written by John Price and Frank Frost
“Willie Brown Blues,” performed by John Seneca, John “Juke” Logan, The Wonders, and Ry Cooder, written by Joe Seneca and Ry Cooder
“Feelin’ Bad Blues,” written and performed by Ry Cooder
“Butler’s Bag,” written and performed by Steve Vai and Ry Cooder, Steve Vai appears courtesy of Capitol Records
“Head Cuttin’ Duel,” written and performed by Steve Vai and Ry Cooder, Steve Vai appears courtesy of Capitol Records
“Eugene’s Trick Bag,” written and performed by Steve Vai, reprise of “Turkish March” arranged by William Kanengiser
Steve Vai appears courtesy of Capitol Records
“Walkin’ Blues,” written and performed by Sonny Terry and Ry Cooder.
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
14 March 1986
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 14 March 1986
Production Date:
29 April--31 July 1985 in Mississippi, New York City and Los Angeles, CA
Copyright Claimant:
Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.
Copyright Date:
3 April 1986
Copyright Number:
PA294087
Physical Properties:
Sound
Dolby Stereo ® in Selected Theatres
Color
Lenses/Prints
Lenses and Panaflex® Camera by Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
98
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Blues musician Robert Johnson travels to a crossroads in Mississippi, then records his music for a producer in a seedy hotel. Many years later, aspiring blues musician Eugene Martone obsessively researches the life of Robert Johnson. One day, Eugene visits patient Willie Brown at a criminal rest home in New York City, but a nurse says that Willie does not want visitors, and he is turned away. Undaunted, Eugene takes a job as a part-time janitor to gain access and hears the musician play harmonica in his room. Willie wants to be left alone, but Eugene presses him to admit that his stage name was “Blind Dog Fulton” when he was touring from 1939 to 1968. Eugene believes Willie was friends with Robert Johnson, changed his name to Blind Dog and moved to Chicago, Illinois, after Robert’s tragic death, but Willie denies it. A few days later, Eugene reveals that Robert was supposed to record thirty blues songs during his famous Texas sessions, but only twenty-nine exist. Eugene hopes that Willie will help him find the missing song. The fact that Eugene is a blues musician from Long Island, New York, makes Willie laugh. Later, The Juilliard School professor, Dr. Santis, tells Eugene he was accepted to the school as a classical music student, but lacks passion. The professor hints that Eugene is not a blues musician because he was not born into it. Either way, Eugene must choose the course of his musical future. One day, Eugene gives Willie a photograph of Robert Johnson, Willie, and other musicians, then leaves. Willie remembers signing a contract with the devil in the guise of a slick record promoter at ... +


Blues musician Robert Johnson travels to a crossroads in Mississippi, then records his music for a producer in a seedy hotel. Many years later, aspiring blues musician Eugene Martone obsessively researches the life of Robert Johnson. One day, Eugene visits patient Willie Brown at a criminal rest home in New York City, but a nurse says that Willie does not want visitors, and he is turned away. Undaunted, Eugene takes a job as a part-time janitor to gain access and hears the musician play harmonica in his room. Willie wants to be left alone, but Eugene presses him to admit that his stage name was “Blind Dog Fulton” when he was touring from 1939 to 1968. Eugene believes Willie was friends with Robert Johnson, changed his name to Blind Dog and moved to Chicago, Illinois, after Robert’s tragic death, but Willie denies it. A few days later, Eugene reveals that Robert was supposed to record thirty blues songs during his famous Texas sessions, but only twenty-nine exist. Eugene hopes that Willie will help him find the missing song. The fact that Eugene is a blues musician from Long Island, New York, makes Willie laugh. Later, The Juilliard School professor, Dr. Santis, tells Eugene he was accepted to the school as a classical music student, but lacks passion. The professor hints that Eugene is not a blues musician because he was not born into it. Either way, Eugene must choose the course of his musical future. One day, Eugene gives Willie a photograph of Robert Johnson, Willie, and other musicians, then leaves. Willie remembers signing a contract with the devil in the guise of a slick record promoter at a Mississippi crossroads, where Robert told him he would find his fortune as a harmonica player. In the present, Willie continues his needling as Eugene plays the blues on his guitar. Then, Willie admits to being Blind Dog, but contends that Eugene has not "suffered enough" to play the blues. Eugene explains that he can acquire this experience after he graduates from Juilliard, but Willie insists there is no time to waste. When Eugene wants to record the missing song at the rest home, Willie proposes that Eugene help him escape to Fulton’s Point where he has property just outside Yazoo City, Mississippi, and then he will give Robert’s missing song to Eugene. At first, Eugene refuses to bargain, and Willie calls him a coward. Then, Willie shows him the money he has saved, and Eugene agrees to take him to Mississippi. The next day, Eugene and Willie evade an orderly, escape in a taxicab, and board a Greyhound bus, where Willie tells Eugene about his friendship with Robert. Although the men were friends from 1932 to 1938, they parted ways when Willie wanted to go to Chicago, and Robert wanted to return to Mississippi, where he died a few months later. Willie also reveals that he was imprisoned for the shooting death of guitar player, Snooks Jordan. When they reach Memphis, Tennessee, Eugene discovers that there is not enough money for a two-hundred-mile ride to Yazoo City, and the travelers must hitchhike. They do more walking than riding, and even jam a little. When Willie suggests his playing lacks a certain something, Eugene responds that maybe he will go to the crossroads and make his deal with the devil. Willie slaps him in the face. Later, Willie calls Eugene a know-it-all, who plays a beat up guitar because he thinks it makes him look cool. At a music store, Eugene tries out an electric guitar with a portable amplifier worth $400, and they barter Eugene’s $1,100 watch for it. Later, they take shelter from the rain in an abandoned house in the woods where a seventeen-year-old runaway named Frances threatens Willie with a knife. After Willie disarms her, Frances leaves to hitch a ride, and the musicians join her. On their journey, Frances propositions a bar owner named Lloyd, but Eugene does not like the situation and rescues her. However, Frances wants to steal Lloyd’s money before they leave the apartment, and orders Eugene to knock him out. Willie barges in with a gun as Eugene flails around. He orders Eugene, under protest, to steal Lloyd’s car keys. They tell Lloyd they plan to “borrow” his car for twenty-four hours. If he contacts the police sooner, Frances will accuse him of statutory rape, and trafficking in prostitution. On the road, they find a barn to stay for the night. There, Frances does not believe Willie is a famous blues harmonica player, who will lead Eugene to the missing song, and thinks Eugene is a fool to trust him. Eugene is angered by her cynicism, but apologizes and asks her to continue on the trip. They make love but are soon interrupted by sheriff’s deputies, who detain the friends. Sheriff Tilford sends them to the next county out of his jurisdiction. Later, Willie suggests Eugene play a few songs at a local bar, then use his gun to rob customers. Feeling uncomfortable, Eugene accuses Willie of being a con man, and Willie tells him to go home to his mother. Then, Willie goes to drum up some money at a bar frequented by black patrons. After Frances fails in her attempt to pick the pocket of a customer, the friends search for Willie inside the bar. Locals taunt Eugene and Frances until Willie gets on stage with his harmonica and invites Eugene to join him. They spontaneously launch into a set and people dance. Eugene is complimented by the bar owner, but Willie laces into him, claiming Eugene still has not acquired enough experience to be great. Later, Willie has nightmares about Robert Johnson’s ghost. In the early morning, Willie catches Frances before she leaves for Los Angeles, California, to seek her fortune as a dancer. He cannot convince her to stay, but gives her some travel money. When Eugene discovers Frances is gone, Willie will not discuss it. He does admit that there is no missing song. He lied so that Eugene would help him escape from the rest home. As Willie and Eugene get closer to Fulton’s Point, they stop at a former brothel turned boarding house, where Willie asks for directions to the crossroads from the granddaughter of a former lover. They get a ride to the spot and Willie instructs Eugene to play under a dead tree. Soon, the Devil appears in a new suit. Willie says their deal is off and asks that the contract be destroyed. He claims not to have received anything that he was promised, but the Devil responds that nothing ever turns out the way it should, and sees no reason to break their agreement. Willie offers money, but the Devil wants to put Eugene in a contest with another musician named Jack Butler. Willie does not want Eugene to cut any deals, but Eugene thinks he is helping Willie, and does not perceive a threat. At a club, as Willie and Eugene watch Jack Butler play, Willie gives a Louisiana voodoo charm to Eugene to bolster his confidence and help him win. The Devil takes a seat, and Jack throws down some heavy metal guitar licks. Eugene answers by playing his own power chords. It goes back and forth. When Eugene looks like he might be in trouble, Willie joins him on stage with his harmonica. Jack stirs up the crowd with his showmanship and theatricality, but Eugene responds by laying down some choice notes. Soon, Jack runs out of steam, puts down his guitar, and walks off the stage. Eugene and Willie resume their spirited playing, and end with a rousing finale. The next day, Willie and Eugene walk by the crossroads, and Willie says he is tired of Mississippi and wants to introduce Eugene to big time musicians in Chicago. However, he warns Eugene that after Chicago, he will be on his own. He insists that Eugene take the music some place other than where he found it. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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