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Risky Business (1983)

A pair of tighty-whities and some of that old time rock and roll made Tom Cruise a star 40 years ago. The iconic image of him dancing to Bob Seger’s classic (by George Jackson and Tom E. Jones III) has tended to upstage the many considerable merits of this social satire, written and directed by Paul Brickman.

Like many popular teen comedies in the 1980s, Risky Business opens with a high school student (Cruise) left alone while his parents are out of town. He has two things on his mind: sex and getting into Princeton to study business. (What could possibly go wrong?) Where this film differs from those other comedies is in Cruise’s means of achieving his goals. After an encounter with an enterprising prostitute (Rebecca De Mornay), he turns the family manse into a brothel for the weekend, making the film a biting commentary on the power of money.

Brickman had only two writing credits to his name—The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training and Handle with Care (both 1977)—when he started shopping around the script for Risky Business. Although it was too edgy for the major studios, the Geffen Company (recently formed by music producer David Geffen) picked it up, though they insisted on a more upbeat ending. Shooting mostly at night, Brickman gave the film a chic feel with cool colors, backlighting, and an electronic score by Tangerine Dream. Cruise’s look in the film—sunglasses and a sports jacket worn over a t-shirt—anticipated the “Sonny Crockett” look a year before Miami Vice premiered. In addition to Cruise, De Mornay and Joe Pantoliano, as Guido “the killer pimp,” got career boosts out of the picture.

d. Paul Brickman, 99 minutes, DCP

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Classics