Wounds Of Love: Ten Reasons I’ve Seen Tuff Turf Over 100 Times

Published on November 29th, 2008 in: Issues, Movies, Retrovirus, Top Ten Lists |

By Less Lee Moore

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If you’ve never seen Tuff Turf, the 1985 film starring James Spader and Kim Richards, then this list of reasons I’ve watched the movie over 100 times might pique your curiosity and prompt you to watch it. Maybe not over 100 times, but at least once. If you have seen the movie, this list will probably be at best, comical, and at worst, puzzling. Hopefully, however, this list will explain why I was thrilled when this movie was released on a (markedly bare bones) DVD a few years back. It meant that my original, recorded-from-HBO VHS tape could finally get a break.

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10. The Setting

Tuff Turf takes place in some unnamed suburb of Southern California. IMDB lists the filming locations as Culver City and Los Angeles, but from the looks of things, it was at least partially filmed in Reseda (if you’ve never been to Reseda, think about where Daniel lived in The Karate Kid and allow your imagination to run wild). When I first saw Tuff Turf, I was at my grandma’s friend’s house. She was babysitting my sister and me and took us along with her to play cards. The friend put HBO on and voila! There was Tuff Turf, which had come out in theaters the year before. Little did I know that within about a year, I would move to the equally-boring Southern California suburb of Simi Valley. There is a sign in the background of one scene that mentions Canoga Park, another So Cal suburb. Canoga Park High School is famous for being one film location used in Fast Times At Ridgemont High. Poor Tuff Turf got stuck with Reseda instead.

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9. The Story

I had just recently seen Rebel Without A Cause, so the idea of a hot young WASP moving to a new town and causing trouble with the local high school troublemakers was vastly appealing to me. (Plus, James Dean was dead, while James Spader was still very much alive and likely to appear in more movies.) As banal as it might seem, teenagers like that storyline. This is why it gets used over and over again. Granted, Tuff Turf isn’t as high quality as Rebel Without A Cause, but in 1985, I took what I could get. In addition, Spader’s character, Morgan Hiller, was well-read and smart, something which was not really explored in Rebel, but which was hugely appealing to me, the well-read, smart, yet woefully geeky and boyfriend-less 15-year-old.

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8. The Fashion

James Spader’s wardrobe looks like what a rebellious rich kid would wear, while Frankie (Kim Richards) and her girlfriends apparently all shopped at Wet Seal, Contempo Casuals, or Stuart’s (before it got “classed up” a few years later). In Tuff Turf, it’s all about ankle socks with pumps, chains, braided headbands, fishnets, and roach clips. There is a scene where Frankie is trying to find the least-slutty outfit in her closet while simultaneously attempting to create a sophisticated-yet-innocent makeup look to impress Morgan’s parents. She’s got pages from a magazine tacked to her bedroom mirror, pages which I recognized from an issue of Teen Magazine I actually owned at one point in time.

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7. The End Credits

One of the features that sets Tuff Turf apart from and above other teen movies of the time and what solidifies it as my personal favorite, is the end credits sequence, in which Morgan, Frankie, Jimmy (Robert Downey, Jr.), and Ronnie go to the Club 60s to celebrate. (No spoilers here!) Jack Mack and the Heart Attack sing “So Tuff” and everyone seems to be sincerely having an awesome time. They all get on the stage and mime trumpet playing with the band, in a cute bit of what I hope was impromptu joie de vivre. Although Club 60s is probably an actual bar, and not some incredibly forward-thinking teen hangout, one can just assume they had a particularly liberal door policy.

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6. The Dancing

My mother started dancing when she was about four years old and then quickly went on to perform in dance troupes, teach dance, and manage a dancing school with her childhood dancer friend. So from birth I was well-versed in tap, ballet, and jazz, not to mention musicals. Even though I had stopped taking classes the year before, a decade of dance lessons wasn’t going to evaporate from my blood overnight. Unlike its ’80s teen movie peers, Tuff Turf has lots of choreographed dancing, including one particularly amusing, slightly bizarre, and extended sequence in an abandoned warehouse while the Jim Carroll Band is playing. What’s really crazy is that after we moved to So Cal, my sister took dance classes from one of the extras in that scene. I’m sad to report that the dancing in the Club 60s scene with Kim Richards was performed by a body double (shades of Flashdance). It’s fairly obvious as Kim’s Crystal Gayle-length tresses were nearly impossible to duplicate and the double is wearing a crimped, blonde wig. However, it doesn’t make that scene any less dynamic.

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5. The (Bad) Acting

Considering the material he had to work with, James Spader is remarkably good as Morgan, or at least remarkably convincing. Kim Richards is somewhat less so, although she’s cute enough to make Morgan’s obsession with her believable. Olivia Barash (Repo Man) plays Frankie’s horny friend Ronnie and Vidal Sassoon’s daughter Catya plays Feather. (Catya would die in 2002 of a drug-overdose-induced heart attack. She was 33.) Frankie’s sleazy, creepy, 40-year-old teenager boyfriend Nick Hauser is portrayed by Paul Mones, who had appeared in Streets Of Fire the year before and then basically went nowhere after Tuff Turf. It’s kind of a shame, since he plays a sleazy creep so well. I’m not sure how the filmmakers expected us to believe that frizzy-haired Claudette Nevins (Page Hiller) and scraggly Matt Clark (Stuart Hiller) could produce a son as strikingly handsome as James Spader, but that’s Hollywood for you.

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4. The Music

I can thank Tuff Turf for introducing me to “Green Onions,” by Booker T. and the M.G.s as well as Jim Carroll. The two Carroll tunes featured in the warehouse dance scene are “Voices” and “It’s Too Late,” the latter of which references Sharon Tate and blowjobs. Whoa! I’ve always loved Carroll’s look in this movie (which is extremely reminiscent of that other red-haired musician I like whose name is Jim) and his brief snippet of dialogue, uttered in his amazing and authentic Noo Yawk accent: “Connecticut? What’d you do for fun back there?” Also notable is the fact that Robert Downey, Jr. plays drums in the band. The other Jim Carroll song in the movie’s soundtrack is the iconic “People Who Died,” which I would hear often on L.A.’s KROQ when I moved to Simi Valley a year or so later.

I should also mention the multiple performances of Jack Mack and the Heart Attack, a supremely cheesy bluesy bar band that I had actually heard of before I saw Tuff Turf. They are the house band at Club 60s and look as though they are all permanently 55 years old. The song playing during the opening credits, and one that is echoed throughout the score, is the surprisingly great “Love Hates,” written by Jonathan Elias and performed by Marianne Faithfull. Elias, who is a well-known composer and producer, apparently co-wrote “I Do What I Do,” the John Taylor-sung song from the 9½ Weeks soundtrack. You know, the one where John sings like Ethel Merman?

No discussion of the Tuff Turf soundtrack would be complete without a discussion of “I Walk The Night,” which Morgan sings to Frankie in the country club scene. Unfortunately, this song does not appear on the soundtrack (which I have on vinyl and which is scratched up enough to indicate the many hours I have spent listening to it). And what’s worse is that the end credits only list Jonathan Elias as the songwriter, with no performer credit whatsoever. I can’t find proof of whether or not James Spader actually sings the song, but in a perfect world he does. How can you top lines like, “We lick our wounds as light rips through the night?” Answer: You can’t.

The Surfin’ Dead review of Tuff Turf (which is great, by the way) includes a link to a downloadable MP3 of “We Walk The Night.” Listen if you dare!

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3. The (Cheesy) Dialogue

Two of the most (unintentionally) hilarious scenes in the movie (which have provided endless in-jokes for my sister and me) are when Daddy Hiller gives Morgan a pep talk after Nick and his gang buddies beat the crap out of him. “Cut out all that self-pitying crap! I don’t want you to be Brian, I want you to be you!” The speech ends with some fairly useless hippy dippy claptrap:

Right now, you do what you… really wanna do. Do whatever it is that you know is right. That you believe in. That’s all. And feel good about it! Look, son. Life isn’t a problem to be solved. It’s a mystery to be lived. So live it.

The other scene includes Morgan’s brother, the Brian referenced above, who is played by the almost unbearably wooden and dorky Bill Beyers. You’ve never heard of this guy for a reason. His self-righteous spiel after Morgan starts a fight with Mommy Hiller is the stuff of which bad acting classes are made. It’s not even listed on IMDB’s “Memorable Quotes” for the movie, which is regrettable, because it’s easily the best bit of bad dialogue in the whole movie.

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Nick gets lots of bad dialogue himself, though. I’m particularly fond of, “Oh yeah, if I ever catch you near Frankie again, I’ll take you out so fast, you won’t even have time to spit.” (This is one of many bits that I frequently quote in my daily life, regardless of whether or not other people have a clue as to what I’m on about. In fact, Tuff Turf may be the most-quoted movie of mine, not in terms of frequency, but in terms of the fact that I have almost the entire script memorized and can quote it whenever I get the urge.)

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2. Robert Downey, Jr.

I’ve shied away from mentioning Downey until now because his performance as Jimmy is an integral part of why I love Tuff Turf so much that it has to be Reason Two. I’ve often wondered what in the hell the guy would do if he wasn’t an actor; his wit, charm, and magnetism are overwhelming onscreen in just about everything he’s ever done. He’s just a natural. I don’t know for sure that his dialogue here is mostly adlibbed, but in certain parts of the movie (like the country club scene) it seems so. He absolutely steals the show. Tuff Turf and Weird Science kept me faithful that he would one day stop dicking around with drugs and courtrooms (a perfect example of how his natural charm has swayed others) and get back down to business.

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1. James Spader

When I was a teen, I just wanted to find a guy like Morgan Hiller: the sexy, smart rebel with a heart of gold. And a spade tattoo. And washboard abs. I can’t recall if I saw Tuff Turf on cable before or after Pretty In Pink came out in 1986, but at any rate, it started a massive James Spader crush that continued for years and years. Not all of his movies are top notch (The New Kids, for example) but when he’s good he’s really good. Besides being hopelessly beautiful, there’s something charismatic, something mysterious about him that comes through in every role he plays (okay, maybe not in Mannequin). He just commands attention. And then there’s the voice. It’s like velvet. I’ve seen most of his movies by now but Tuff Turf remains my favorite (with Secretary as a close, close second). And when he went on to win so many awards for his outstanding portrayal of Alan Shore on Boston Legal, I was thrilled that others were finally taking notice of what I’d been seeing all along.

20 Responses to “Wounds Of Love: Ten Reasons I’ve Seen Tuff Turf Over 100 Times”

  1. Chelsea:
    December 5th, 2008 at 7:46 pm

    James Spader looks like Evil Dave Foley.

  2. Popshifter:
    December 5th, 2008 at 7:49 pm

    Haha, I never noticed that before! You know who I think really looks like James Spader? Jensen Ackles from Supernatural. If they ever make a James Spader biopic he should play him. It’s uncanny.


  3. Mike H.:
    December 8th, 2008 at 6:43 pm

    I’m not sure who is more obsessed with this movie…you or I. It’s a good thing it’s not a competition….most people I know aren’t familiar with it, but they always love it when I show it to them.

    I also have a WELL WORN vhs version from the 80s, taped off some network…and a few years ago I wrote a song based on the movie called SPADER VS. EVERYONE EXCEPT DOWNEY JR.

    You can host an MP3 of it here, if you like. Let me know!

  4. Popshifter:
    December 8th, 2008 at 6:46 pm

    Wow, not being in contact with you for a few years means I really missed out! Of course, I want to hear/host an MP3 of this song; are you kidding?


  5. deeky:
    December 9th, 2008 at 12:11 pm

    thanks for the link. and yes, come download “We Walk The Night” or any other crap i have available.

  6. Kataomoi:
    December 11th, 2008 at 3:50 pm

    LOVELOVELOVELOVE all of this. Your top two reasons are big places in my heart. I love RDJ and since Iron Man, I love seeing how everything is FINALLY coming together for him. That, and how Spader is FINALLY getting recognition, too. He doesn’t command a big screen blockbuster as well as he does just “movies” and just “television”. He’s a great actor, even if he’s no Blockbuster Will Smith or Keanu Reeves (how in the hell does that work–a robot actor is better than Spader?)

  7. Richard:
    April 5th, 2009 at 11:23 pm

    Other film location is the Highland Park. The Highland Park Liquor is located at 5900 N Figueroa St and it was used as Frankie’s house in the movie. I’d like to go to LA to see this place and take a picture there.

  8. Popshifter:
    April 6th, 2009 at 11:26 am

    Wow! That’s a great photo, Richard. Thanks for sharing!


  9. onekey:
    April 11th, 2009 at 5:38 pm

    I loved your countdown to #1. This is a movie that is so bad that it is fun. Thank goodness the music and the talent of James Spader and Robert Downey Jr were able to carry the very heavy baggage that was the rest of the film. These two actors have such wonderful charisma and charm, even when playing unlikeable characters. It is just fun seeing them at the very beginning of their long careers. HAIL…HAIL, to Spader and Downey…now and forever!!!

  10. Popshifter:
    April 11th, 2009 at 10:59 pm

    Thanks onekey and Kataomoi for your praise! I’m glad we can share in the Tuff Turf love!


  11. Sharon:
    June 16th, 2009 at 4:50 pm

    I love watching this movie and guessing the filming locations. I found the burger joint (photo above) its in the 6200 block of Lankershim in North Hollywood. It was closed up the last time I saw it, a year ago or so, but the BURGERS sign was still up. I also know where the alley chase scene was filmed where Morgan thinks Nick is chasing him, but it’s Jimmy – that was in Culver City around Sawtelle & Hannum, near the Blanco Park mall. I have been wondering where that high school was filmed. Pleeease post it if anyone knows. Also, Morgan’s house would be interesting to see.

  12. Richard:
    June 26th, 2009 at 1:20 am

    Sharon this is amazing! I was looking for that burger joint during a long time. Thanks for sharing this information with us.
    I also love guessing the Tuff Turf filming locations.

    July 23rd, 2009 at 5:32 am

    The “Hiller” residence is located at 12951 panama street Los Angeles, ca. (right off Culver city blvd.)

  14. John Frazee:
    October 13th, 2009 at 11:55 am

    The high WAS located at 1935 Manhattan Beach Blvd. in Redondo Beach, Ca. It was formerly known as the Redondo Beach “Aviation High School”. Sorry Tuff Turf fans, it was torn down and is now the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, Finding this location just about killed me.

  15. John Frazee:
    October 13th, 2009 at 12:03 pm

    Photos of the high school being torn down are available at: http://www.barrsam.com/AHS.HTM

  16. Popshifter:
    October 13th, 2009 at 12:22 pm

    Wow, that is a real bummer. Thanks for the info and that link!


  17. Popshifter » Destroy All Movies!!! The Complete Guide To Punks On Film:
    January 30th, 2011 at 11:04 pm

    […] deserving fare, such as Back to School, Basket Case, The Last American Virgin, Savage Streets, and my favorite cult movie of all time, Tuff Turf. They have a genuine love of and appreciation for fringe films and it shows. Hell, […]

  18. kate:
    April 26th, 2016 at 6:19 am

    I’m obsessed with this movie too, I’m only 20 but I must admit that I have an insane attraction to James spader, especially here…he’s so hot and charismatic…And i also love Kim Richards, she’s beautiful and perfect for the role of the bad girl with a kind heart hidden inside of her…the soundtrack is amazing…this movie is just great 🙂

  19. DJ:
    August 23rd, 2016 at 2:51 am

    My too 10 favorite movie of all time! I loved all the characters! Also, totally agree with the author here, this movie is how I found out about Jim Carroll. Spader’s role in Mannequin isn’t the norm, but I thought he was Hilarious!

    All in all, I’m proud to know this movie quite well, and own it on VHS, DVD, and Amazon Digital Video. Oh yeah, note the soundtrack is different on VHS. There’s a song that comes on when they’re all driving in Beverly Hills and it’s different than the other two formats.

  20. Rene:
    November 16th, 2017 at 1:10 am

    I have also seen this film at LEAST 75 times, and I totally agree with all your reasons. I was a teen growing up in Florida when it first came out on HBO. I, too, had an epically warped recorded—from-TV VHS that finally died. I now live in SoCal and after rewatching last year, I decided to do a little location digging. Imagine my absolute THRILL to discover the restaurant scene, where Frankie and Ronnie are having burgers while Nick is in jail (and Morgan and Jimmy show up in Nick’s car) was a mere ONE BLOCK from my house in North Hollywood! I walked the block and have photos I took that day. I can send if you want them. The “Burgers” sign is still there! It’s now a used car lot. The same building was used for the Pig Burgers restaurant in Better Off Dead. I was beyond thrilled!

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