Adventures in Babysitting (Touchstone Pictures, 1987 ) ...And the Award for Best Use Of Music in a Conventional Motion Picture Goes to a Movie of Most Unconventional Quality


Photos and Video Courtesy of Touchstone Pictures

Gems From the Movie Shelf:
One measure of a good movie is how it holds up over time. The first time I saw Adventures in Babysitting was in 1988 when I rented the VHS tape to play with my kids in a Jersey beach motel. At the time, we knew nothing about the movie except for the premise of its title. We not only thoroughly enjoyed it, but I'm here to say that it is one movie that gets better with repeat viewing, and still looks and sounds great on DVD, now 35 years later.

Like many ostensibly similar night in the city mishap movies (Into the Night) the premise is simple. Elisabeth Shue plays high school senior Chris Parker who, as the movie opens, is preparing for a big date. When her boyfriend shows up, he cancels the date with the excuse that he has to take care of his sick little sister. Suddenly without plans for the evening, Chris reluctantly accepts a babysitting job. 

At the job, the parents had not been gone a half hour when Chris gets a call from her best friend who is stranded in downtown Chicago. So Chris loads the kids into her mom's station wagon and they set out. At this point, I will resist the urge to recount the entire plot, but suffice it to say that the movie more than lives up to its title.

Why do I love this movie? For starters, it has an imaginative plot together with a well written screenplay. Adventures in Babysitting is extremely well cast, acted, and directed. In addition to all that, what really sets this movie apart is the way it uses music.

Tons of movies have good soundtracks but the music may only tangentially relate to the story. In Adventures in Babysitting, the music selections are exceedingly well chosen. Plus, they fit perfectly with the scene(s) in which they appear. In fact, if you didn't know that "25 Miles" was a 60's hit for Edwin Starr ("War") you might think the song was written and recorded specifically for this movie. Beyond the soundtrack song selections, the movie has a great score by Michael Kamen. 

On top of all that, there are two live performances that make this movie extra special. When Shue and her charges are on the run from some bad guys, they find a back alley door and duck into it. They immediately find themselves on stage with Albert Collins (playing himself) and his band performing in one of Chicago's famous blues clubs. "Nobody leaves this place without singing the blues," Collins announces. As Chris starts to explain, each sentence is punctuated by those familiar blues chords until they're all singing "Babysitting Blues." When the song ends, the four hustle off of the stage and the bad guys come in through that same stage door. Collins greets them by announcing, "Nobody leaves this place without singing the blues." It's a sweet and memorable scene.

The other live music performance is one that might slip by most of the audience, but sharp eyed viewers, music obsessives and the like, won't miss this one. When our heroes stop in to a college frat party (to use the restroom), there is a band playing there. That band is Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. The two songs they play are rarities, in the sense that they don't appear on any of their regular albums. They cover The Soul Survivors 6os hit "Expressway To Your Heart," which is followed by the original song "Future In Your Eyes." When Adventures in Babysitting came out, this pair of live Southside Johnny tracks were unique to the movie. They were recorded as demos for the pre-production of the movie. The demos were subsequently made available on the extremely limited release, Found In A Closet. The two demos later appear on Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes' JukeBox, a five CD set that collects a mess of their rare tracks. I've heard it and you get the complete songs without any film dialogue. In any case, it's a moment worth savoring and it only adds to the coolness of this movie.

The songs used in the soundtrack make a great selection of 60s R&B. Those songs, along with the live music that is unique to the film, would have made a great OST album. For whatever reason, no soundtrack album that would include these songs has ever been issued.

Regarding the cast, there are several actors that were relative unknowns when this movie was released, but ten years later it was another story. This movie starred Elisabeth Shue in one of her earlier roles. She went on to make Cocktail, two of the Back to the Future sequels, among many others, including an Oscar nomination for best actress in Leaving Los Vegas (1995). 

The next two totally blew my mind when I came back to this movie years later. Chris and the kids were on the Chicago subway when all of a sudden two rival gangs approach from opposite ends of the car. The leader of one of the gangs, played by Clark Johnson, has a let's say, meaningful interaction with them that includes his knife, you will recognize him immediately if you ever watched "Homicide: Life On The Street" (NBC) or "The Wire" (HBO). When our group goes to pick up their repaired car, the proprietor of the garage is a guy named Dawson, played by a young Vincent D'Onofrio. Although I was quite familiar with  D'Onofrio from his work in the series "Law and Order Criminal Intent" (NBC), I never would have recognized him except by his voice, which is a dead giveaway. As Dawson, he is young, muscular, and has long blonde hair. 

I would have no problem making a list of favorite moments in this movie. One of the moments I truly loved comes when Dawson refuses to return their car because they are $5 short on the price of a new tire. The little sister character, Sara, hands something to Dawson. He then tosses the keys to Chris and tells them to get out of here. Then Dawson turns to Sara and gives the item back saying "I've got one of these at home."

One last thing. You might want to know that I am a compulsive credit watcher. When I am at a movie theater, the crowd starts exiting at the first sign of credits. Watching home video is similar in that someone usually turns it off when the credits roll. I love it when movies reward the credit watcher beyond the nuggets that you might find right there in the credits, like in School of Rock when the credits roll right on top of the last scene. Folks don't know what to do. Adventures in Babysitting places a little scene at the end of the credits. That's all I'm going to say.

Watch the theatrical trailer for Adventures in Babysitting

Siskel & Ebert "At the Movies" 

Review of Adventures In Babysitting (1987)


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