Color, 1985, 93 mins. 38 secs.
Directed by Norbert Meisel
Starring Robert Forster, Nancy Kwan, Joe Spinell, A Martinez, Aarika Wells, Wayne Woodson, James McIntire, Russ Courtney, Frankie Hill
Fun City Editions (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Anchor Bay (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Lurking behind a bad title you can find a lot of great little movies, and a good case in point is Walking the Edge. What sounds like a generic made-for-TV movie is a solid and entertainingly grungy slice of L.A. crime mayhem, originally shot in 1982 but held until 1985 when it was sold to Empire Pictures. However, its original date of production makes it the ideal movie to watch as a West Coast companion to William Lustig's Vigilante with which it shares not only two of the lead actors but another superb electronic score by Jay Chattaway, here channeling his inner Giogio Moroder with a vengeance.
Christine Holloway (Kwan, wife of director Norbert Meisel) finds her nice home invaded one night by a gang of thugs who hold her and her young son captive until her husband comes home, claiming that he's actually a high-end drug dealer who ticked off the wrong folks. Sure enough, her husband gets blasted to bits when he walks in the door, but the son gets caught in the crossfire as well with Christine barely escaping with her life. Somewhere else in town, harried cab driver Jason Walk (Forster) has just about had it with being pushed around and generally dismissed, with his cheating live-in girlfriend being the final straw. However, his life takes a bizarre turn when he picks up an afternoon fare from Christine, who pays him to drive around town so she can discreetly blow away the dirt bags responsible for her family's deaths. (If that sounds a lot like Collateral, well, it is for about ten minutes or so.) Unfortunately Christine gets in over her head when she tries to rub out Brusstar (Spinell) and his cronies at an auto shop, which sends her and Jason retreating to safety at his place. As he comes to understand her point of view, he finds himself becoming violently entangled with her targets and ultimately shares her plan for revenge.
Though it more than fits the bill as an exploitation crowd pleaser with some very gory kill scenes and a bit of nudity, Walking the Edge offers more than that thanks to the sympathetic and fascinating characterizations of Forster and Kwan, both pros who were obviously really invested in their characters here. However, it's also a fantastic record of early '80s Los Angeles, much of which still looks the same but with a few fascinating moments capturing storefronts that have since disappeared. The whole thing has a great Hollywood hangout vibe to it with some great tangy dialogue by first-time writer Curt Allen, who went on to write Bloodstone, the underseen Forster vehicle Hollywood Harry, and the sadly Forster-free Alligator II: The Mutation.
Financed with Germany money and barely show in theaters, Walking the Edge hit VHS from Lightning Video in late '85 and turned up a few times on HBO but never seemed to amass much of a cult following. (If ever a film cried out for a retitling, this is it.) Very early in the days of Anchor Bay in 2000 we got a DVD featuring a decent widescreen transfer and a really wonderful audio commentary with Forster, Kwan, and Meisel chatting with Dave Szulkin about the creation of the script, the found props used in the film (including a look at Forster's taste in paintings), the creation of Kwan's role especially for her, and some great insights from Forster about the ebbing and flowing nature of his career over the decades. After that the film pretty much dropped off the map entirely for a couple of decades until Fun City Editions brought it back on Blu-ray in 2021 in a greatly expanded new special edition. Featuring a crisp and beautifully grungy 4K restoration from the 35mm original camera negative, the film looks much, much better here than it ever has before, all the better to study all those fantastic location shots including some fine background detail. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 mono track (with optional English SDH subtitles) sounds very solid and really makes you wish Chattaway's score would get a soundtrack release one of these days. The original audio commentary is carried over here (it would be a crime not to!), but you also get a new track recorded with Temple of Schlock's Chris Poggiali and La-La Land Records' Matt Verboys (producer of King Cohen), who obviously come at this from a very different perspective two decades later (with Forster no longer with us). They have a lot of fun reacting to the film and going location crazy while also chatting a lot about the cast, the fun little motifs in the script (like some baseball nods), pinpointing dates on the wonderful 1982 movie billboards that pop up here and there, and other '80s L.A. noirs like 52 Pick-Up. In "Scoring the Edge" (12m50s), Chattaway chats over Zoom about his jazz music career leading up to this point before he got into film, his fateful job with Lustig that ended up leading to this film after Maniac and Vigilante, and the early electronic sequencing methods he used in the score. Then in a treat for '70s crime movie fans, “Det. Jurgensen Remembers Forster and Spinell” (23m50s) features a new interview with Randy Jurgensen, the retired NYPC cop and frequent bit actor (Cruising, Sorcerer, Vigilante) best known for being part of the real-life inspiration for The French Connection. Here he talks about his entry into the film world and his exposure to the indie movie world in the early '80s, including tales about "ball of dynamite" Spinell and his memories of the production of Maniac, his memories of Forster on Vigilante, and anecdotes about a few other experiences like Nighthawks (which is a saga unto itself). Finally, the video essay "Breaking Point" (10m37s) by Chris O’Neill hones in on Forster's character and, accompanied by a pulsing electronic soundtrack, parses out the film's running themes of emasculation and the reaction to it manifested by violence, with parallels to earlier noir films. Also included are an image gallery (6m2s) of promotional material and sometimes bloody behind-the-scenes photos and the very, very red-band theatrical trailer, while the package comes with an insert with a new essay by Jim Hemphill about the film's production.
Reviewed on July 2, 2021