“Ben” by Don Black and Walter Scharf, from Ben (1972)
You all know this song: it’s the Michael Jackson ballad that goes:
Ben, the two of us need look no more
We both found what we were looking for
With a friend to call my own
I’ll never be alone
And you, my friend, will see
You’ve got a friend in me
What you might not have known, however, is that Ben is a giant, killer rat.
That explains the second verse, which begins:
Ben, you’re always running here and there
You feel you’re not wanted anywhere
The movie Ben is a sequel to the movie Willard (you might remember the 2003 remake starring Crispin Glover). Willard was about a socially awkward young man who trains an army of rats to kill for him. But when he decides to destroy his minions, they turn on him and gnaw him to death. Roll credits. This seems like unlikely material for a sequel, but that’s what they said about Weekend At Bernie’s.
Ben focuses on a bullied child who is befriended by the rats from the original. At the end of the film, Ben (the head rat) leads his colony on another murderous rampage. But despite everything, the boy still loves his pet, and he saves him from the police. So it’s… sweet, I guess? Certainly, I can’t think of another horror film with a chart-topping ballad.
The song was originally written for 15-year-old Donny Osmond. But when Donny proved unavailable, they gave it to 14-year-old Michael Jackson. To me, those are very different singers, but if you needed a young boy to perform something in the early 1970s, they were your best bets. Jackson got to sing the song at the Oscars, but it lost to an even worse piece of schlock from The Poseidon Adventure.
Incidentally, I really love the 2003 remake of Willard, which makes me wish Crispin Glover got more work. The filmmakers found a tremendous way to work “Ben” into the film. Apologies to the cat-lovers out there:
And that YouTube ad that just popped up makes it TRIPLE your daily dose of irony. Call your doctor.
“On the Road Again” by Willie Nelson, from Honeysuckle Rose (1980)
I was surprised to hear this one was written for a movie, because it’s very explicitly about being a musician on tour:
On the road again
Just can’t wait to get on the road again
The life I love is making music with my friends
And I can’t wait to get on the road again
So what kind of movie, I wondered, could this song have been written for? Wikipedia provides the obvious answer:
Buck Bonham (Willie Nelson) is a country singer, with a good family, struggling to find national fame. He juggles his music career with his responsibilities to his wife and son.
Keep in mind, this does NOT count as “pulling a Crazylegs,” since Willie Nelson is technically not playing Willie Nelson. Surprisingly, the New York Times film critic Janet Maslin has some praise for Mr. Nelson’s performance:
He seems too odd, too solitary, for all the intimacy forced upon him by the story line. But he brings tremendous authority to every gesture, and his character is the only thing in the movie about which the audience is bound to want to know more. Mr. Nelson accomplishes all this in a role with very little dialogue, which makes his sheer force of personality seem all the more impressive.
I would not have expected this from his work in The Dukes of Hazzard. But nevermind that. You ever wonder who would win a fight between Willie Nelson and Slim Pickens?
Correct answer: EVERYONE.
“Endless Love” by Lionel Richie, from Endless Love (1981)
This Diana Ross/Lionel Richie duet is one of the all-time classic love songs. And it turns out it’s about a 15-year-old girl, played by Brooke Shields.
Completely unrelated note for those who just watched the video above: I MUST WATCH TILT AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. HOW DO I NOT OWN THIS MOVIE?
Italian director Franco Zeffirelli made Romeo and Juliet in 1968. Thirteen years later, he figured it was worth trying the “teenagers hooking up over their parents’ objections” thing again. In Endless Love, the parents of the girl are weird hippie bohemians, because the book it’s based on was written in the 1960s. They are the kind of hippies who have rock parties in their living rooms, during which “Endless Love” is first performed diagetically.
But soon, Jade is so busy having sex that her grades begin to slip. I swear this is a real plot point. David is banned from the house, and responds by lighting the porch on fire, with the idea that he can warn the family and be welcomed back as a hero. Instead, the place burns to the ground, and David is convicted of arson. After two years in an insane asylum, David gets out and goes to find Jade. He finds her dad first, who chases him through the streets before getting fatally hit by a car. Later, Jade and David are on the verge of renewing their endless love, when her older brother (James Spader!) fingers him for their dad’s death. Somehow (Wikipedia is vague on this) David goes to prison forever, although I’m not exactly sure why. In the movie’s closing moments, Jade walks to the prison to visit him, and the Diana Ross/Lionel Richie song swells on the soundtrack as the end credits roll, and WHOA is that Tom Cruise listed in a minor role at 1:00?
And DOUBLE WHOA, note the credit for Robert Altman. Yes, it’s that Robert Altman, in one of the three acting roles he ever took on. I have no idea how this happened, but I’d love to find out. Maybe he just wanted to meet Brooke Shields, and can you blame him?
A couple interesting things here. I don’t know if there’s a black person in this entire film, but the theme song is sung by two huge African-American stars… and performed by a white girl in the film. Kids, there’s an easy college paper to be written about that.
Also, this song was used on Glee, during the episode where Rachel crushes on Mr. Schuester. I don’t think Ryan Murphy knew that Endless Love was about an underaged girl, but it’s a cute coincidence.
“It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” by Freddie Perren and Christine Yarian, from Cooley High (1975)
Let there be no doubt about it: Boyz II Men really loves this movie. Not only did they name their first album Cooleyhighharmony, the second single was an a capella cover of the movie’s one original song. Cooley High was a coming of age story about a group of African American teens at Chicago’s inner city Cooley High School. The two main characters are “Preach,” the slacker who dreams of being a Hollywood writer, and “Cochise,” the basketball phenom. One of these characters may not make it to graduation day, and it ain’t the one who’s a stand-in for the screenwriter.
I always figured this song was a breakup song, but it turns out to be a little darker than that.
I don’t think I’ve ever heard this song with, you know, instruments. It’s kind of nice. The singer is G. C. Cameron, who was the main guy for The Spinners.
“Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)” by Phil Collins, from Against All Odds (1984)
First off, if I go to see a movie called Against All Odds, I want it to be about something really goddamned amazing. I want to see somebody build a spaceship in his backyard, or climb Mt. Everest despite being a double amputee, or cut down a bit of her belly every day by using this one weird old tip. Something really amazing. But this movie is just about the Dude trying to bring James Woods’ girlfriend back from Mexico, but falling in love with her in the process. That’s hardly against all odds. But I suppose Mildly Unlikely isn’t a very punchy title.
This is actually a loose remake of Out of the Past, one of the all-time classic noirs. Terry and Jessie just want to be together and have their little From Here to Eternity makeout scene reenactment, but they both have dark secrets that they can’t escape. At the end of the film, they have to go off to live separate lives, with the vague hope that there still might be a chance for them. Cue the lingering glance and the Phil Collins:
It’s kind of an amazing final shot, actually. About a minute of her just looking into the distance, smiling coyly at the camera, wiping away a tear in perfect time with “even shared the tears” (at 1:10), and generally being cryptic. This was directed by Taylor Hackford, who was nominated for an Oscar for directing Ray. He should have been nominated for The Devil’s Advocate, but the world ain’t fair.
Okay guys, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going on E-Bay to buy Tilt. But commenters, what did I overlook this time?