“Let The Light Shine In The Morning” by Gerard McMahon.
“Hot Town Streets” by Gerard McMahon.
“Bad Times” by Gerard McMahon. 80s soundtrack mainstay Gerard McMahon did the songs for this movie. You may best know Gerard for his song “Cry Little Sister” from the Lost Boys soundtrack or the ton of other 80s movies he had songs in.
Interesting Dated References: Scavenging in the sewer pipes, taking matters into your own hand, being a seaman.
Best Line: Uttered to a bartender by Jan Michael Vincent in reference to New York city — “I hate this place. I can’t even breathe here.”
Social Context: There was a lot of relevant social context going on back when the movie was made. Crime was pretty rampant and a lot of people were feeling frustrated and wanted to take matters into their own hands. Now there is no crime and we are all totally safe.
Summary: The late 70s represent the best time in modern society. So many things were at their glorious peak in the late 70s: AC/DC’s creative output, cocaine use, women’s fashion and sexiness, etc. Another thing that was at a creative peak throughout the late 70s was the Loner-Revenge genre of filmmaking. From Death Wish to First Blood to Walking Tall, the list goes on and on. Not only does that list go on and on, but the list of bastardized amalgamations of the above mentioned films goes on and on. I have visited films like this before, some better than others, and I’m sure I’ll visit this genre again. Usually they involve Vietnam veterans, but the protagonist of Defiance is not a Vietnam veteran.
The always stellar Jan Michael Vincent is a seaman who gets docked for fighting and is forced to rent a shitty apartment in New York. Then Danny Aiello chases a kid who stole his giant fish. I know it sounds confusing but that’s really what happens. After Danny Aiello gets his fish back, he has a little verbal exchange with Vincent. As luck would have it, later that night Aiello is having an awesome party with his friends. They are listening to original music made for the film Defiance, which sounds like a really Born To Run-era Springsteen, which of course means that Gerard Mcmahon did the soundtrack. Vincent lives next door and is trying to learn Spanish so he can get back to being a seaman. Of course, this music disturbs him and he asks Aiello’s conveniently multi-ethnic circle of friends to turn it down. They refuse because they are rocking out so hard and drinking Schlitz tall-boys. Vincent makes them shut up by repeatedly throwing a basketball at the wall. Apparently the tall-boys of Schlitz looked so appetizing Vincent buys himself a 6-pack the next day.
He makes small talk with a local shop owner (Art Carney, not that it really matters because it’s a really small role) and then a “gang” comes in and steals stuff. The shop owner explains to Vincent these guys are ruining the neighborhood. He also explains their name is the “Savage Souls,” which is supposed to incite fear, but is really just awesome. I think their logo even has a skull in it. Skulls mean people are tough. I guess that makes everyone tough because everyone has a skull.
Later on, Vincent is walking through the subway and is mugged by this same gang. Apparently this gang is really into Bedazzler-ing the fuck out of their jeans. I mean, every single member is all Bedazzler-ed to high heaven. So after he gets mugged, he crawls back to the apartment building and the girl who lives upstairs finds him. So in the morning she talks with him before he goes to work and we are able to see…
…her awesome Kris Kristofferson poster located in the upper left of the frame. Vincent befriends a kid who lives in the building. This kid happens to live with a retired old boxer who is semi-handicapped and named “Whacko” and is played by the guy that was Luca Brasi in The Godfather. Vincent hangs out with them by large sewer drains and goes to a porno movie with them. Then he asks the chick from upstairs out on a date and takes her bowling. They make love immediately that night. Everything seems to be running very smooth for Vincent. The next day he gets in a fight with the Savage Souls while they are harassing Whacko. Then he gets drunk with Danny Aiello at some type of bar/men’s club that looks like the most depressing place on earth (not to be confused with that time I lived in my mom’s basement). Later on, the Savage Souls rob a bingo tournament that looks like it’s being held in a basement apartment. After the cops show up, none of the apartment dwellers initially want to file a complaint against the gang, but eventually the store owner decides he will speak up.
A day or so later, the gang shows up at the shop to beat up the owner in all their Bedazzler-ed glory. Vincent takes action and attacks the gang with a stick. He cuts off one of the members’ ponytail. He also kicks their boom box.
Later when Vincent is showering, the gang breaks into his place and tells him he is a dead man. Vincent doesn’t even really try to cover up his genitals, or anything. Granted you don’t see them on camera, but you can tell he’s standing there naked and only half-assed trying to cover up. After that, Vincent gets his assignment for a new ship and tells the chick he is leaving. Then he says his goodbyes to the kid and Whacko. He also gives a dramatic speech to Aiello about how he “doesn’t belong here.” That night Whacko tries to fight the gang dressed in his old boxing garb, complete with velvet robe. In the morning Vincent sees the kid running down the street as he gets into a cab. He jumps out and sees that Whacko is dead. Aiello and Vincent man up and go after the gangs’ cars while Hot Town Streets blares away. They agree to meet up later at “the shaft.”
Aiello returns to the most depressing bar ever and tries to rally his friends to join in the fight. There’s not even any music playing at this bar, just a bunch of dudes sitting around drinking Schlitz tall-boys at a Formica countertop. One of those dudes is Tony Sirico who was on The Sopranos. Things reach a dramatic conclusion when the Bedazzler-ed Souls show up to fight the makeshift apartment gang. Eventually the apartment dwellers start throwing bottles and shit at the Souls and corner them. It looks like a bad precursor to the Beat It video. Aiello gets shot and Vincent gives the gang leader a chase. Fisticuffs and falling down stairs ensues. Eventually Vincent kicks the guy’s ass and the cops arrest all the bad guys. Then Vincent hugs the kid and the chick, and the credits roll. Even Danny Aiello survives his gunshot wound. Jan Michael Vincent is awesome.
Defiance was directed by John Flynn who explored similar territory in Rolling Thunder. Apparently he must have wanted to keep exploring the same themes. Then he went on to direct Stallone in Lock Up. The writer of Defiance promptly went on to write Quicksilver and then practically fell off the face of the earth. Jerry Bruckheimer showed up in the credits as a producer.
Poster and Box Art: The poster for this movie is like a lot of the other revenge films of the era. High contrast image? Check. Main protagonist holding some type of weapon all alone? Check.
Availability: Defiance is available as part of that MGM Limited Edition DVD series. I’m not sure what that’s all about but I know they are putting out a few good titles as part of that series. You can get it here. You can also watch it on Amazon Instant Video.