' ' Cinema Romantico: Which Movie Used “Holding Out For A Hero” Best?

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Which Movie Used “Holding Out For A Hero” Best?

Recently, my friend Daryl mentioned how he felt the semi-memorable, though I remember it fondly, 1989 John Candy comedy “Who’s Harry Crumb?”, which, as you might recall, but probably (understandably) do not, concerned a requisitely buffoonish private detective on the trail of some second rate thieves, contained the best use of Bonnie Tyler’s stalwart 80s anthem “Holding Out For A Hero.” I nodded. But later, I wondered…was it the best use? Hmmmmmm.

“Holding Out For A Hero” was featured on Tyler’s 1986 album Secret Dreams & Forbidden Fire, back in those glorious days when albums really had names, but it first appeared on the soundtrack for “Footloose” (1984), released by Paramount Records, because it was specifically written by Dean Pitchford and Jim Steinman and performed by Tyler for Herbert Ross’s film. You know Ross’s film, the one where Kevin Bacon’s majestically monikered Ren McCormack moves from the Big City to a Small Town where its Scripture-bound city council has outlawed dancing and rock music only to have Ren, as he must, shake, rattle and roll his way to change. He begins the ascent on the town’s norms via a game of chicken conducted aboard tractors that is scored to Tyler’s hit.

And so that it was composed specifically for “Footloose” should give it a built-in advantage, yes, except that “Who’s Harry Crumb?” smartly implemented Tyler’s righteous tuneage in much the same way. I say smartly because the urgent rhythm of “Holding Out For A Hero” lends itself to action and so “Who’s Harry Crumb?” fires it up for the climax when Harry, attempting to chase down the principal villains aboard a plane as it taxis on the tarmac, ascends a stair car being driven by his amateur sleuthing cohort and new bestie Nikki (Shawnee Smith, winning).

The stair car is key. This application of the stair car arrives years before “Arrested Development’s” more ballyhooed application of the stair car (“You’re gonna get hop ons”). And because “Who’s Harry Crumb?” is decidedly much squarer than “Arrested Development” that marks it as something like Bill Haley to Elvis. Still, a game of chicken tractor, not exactly a staple of the cinema, deserves novelty points too. (It also deserves points for having the song not simply laid out over the scene in question but cued up on a boombox, “Holding Out For A Hero” au naturel.)

“Footloose”, however, is a drama while “Who’s Harry Crumb?” is a comedy, meaning the latter trots out the stair car to be funny while “Footloose” wants this game of chicken tractor to be taken seriously. And while “Footloose” does take it seriously, rendering it with admirable brio, refusing to concede to the outward ridiculousness, it simultaneously draws the ploughing showdown out to such absurd lengths that it becomes comical, an unintentional precursor to the “Austin Powers” steamroller scene. I laughed at “Who’s Harry Crumb?” too, but I was mostly moved. Because in “Who’s Harry Crumb?”, there is a burgeoning mentor/protégé, father/daughter relationship between Harry and Nikki that culminates with the stair car, her essentially propping him up, meaning that a sequence taking itself less seriously than the one in “Footloose” nevertheless yields more significance.

And Ren, meanwhile, merely wins the game of chicken because of divine interference, with his shoelace becoming tangled in the tractor’s gears so that he cannot leap to chicken-ish safety as much as he might want to, while Harry Crumb, who seems like someone who would only stay at the top of that stair car because his shoelace got caught, stays there of his own noble volition. Look, Ren McCormack dances up a storm when he needs to, and right on, but that comes much later in the movie. Calling Harry Crumb a “streetwise Hercules” might be a stretch, true, and if he tried to sweep you off your feet, well, it would obviously end in a pratfall. But in this face-off between stair car and tractor, we know who is really racing on the thunder.

Editor’s Note: There has been moderate pushback regarding the omission of Tyler’s anthem in “Short Circuit 2” (1988). While the staff of Cinema Romantico would like to make clear that it is absolutely biased in favor of John Candy, always and forever, it did consider “Short Circuit 2” before eliminating it from contention. This is because “Short Circuit 2” could also easily have made the cut for Movies From Our Era Of Cinematic Innocence That We Didn’t Like.

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