Diane Lane: The Early Years

Sure, everyone loves the stunning and talented Diane Lane. What’s not to love? However, who really cares about movies such as Nights in Rodanthe, Must Love Dogs and Under the Tuscan Sun? (Though, I will say I kind of liked Unfaithful, which netted her an Oscar nomination. The snow globe scene was pretty hardcore, even though it had nothing to do with Lane). The Diane Lane that I know and love is the young and vibrant actress who set the screen ablaze during the ‘80s. Even though she was young, I was younger, and I fondly remember her as one of my first celebrity crushes. So, I figured I would pay tribute to the enduring Lane by focusing on the early days of her career with this humble entry.

I first remember seeing and learning of the beautiful Lane in director Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of the S.E. Hinton novel, The Outsiders. Lane plays the fetching redheaded rich girl from the other side of the tracks, Cherry Valance. Even though she wasn’t an outsider, she was still kindhearted enough to talk to and help the “greasers.” It wasn’t a very big role. How could it be? The screen was incredibly crowded, as the film about social class warfare helped to launch the careers of many young actors such as C. Thomas Howell, Rob Lowe, Ralph Macchio, Tom Cruise and many others. (The cast of The Outsiders has been widely discussed ad nauseam, and even I briefly mentioned it in my tribute to the late Patrick Swayze, so I won’t beat the dead horse of how awesome the movie is here). However, there was just something about those flowing red locks of Lane’s that did something for me and made me remember her even amongst all the star power. In fact, talk to just about any red-blooded American boy my age and they’ll surely recall Cherry Valance with a gleam in their eye. The character was even semi-recently referenced and immortalized in the song “Time Won’t Let Me Go” by The Bravery. Anyway, fortunately for me, I would learn as a young man that Lane had a few other films that she did before The Outsiders.

1982 saw Lane turn heads in Six Pack alongside the gambler himself, Kenny Rogers, and Ladies And Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains. Now, I’m certainly not going to pretend that Six Pack is a great, or even good movie. Actually, it’s just about abysmal. I think everyone would freely admit that the attempt to turn successful country singer Rogers into an actor was a mistake, and that casting him as a stock car racer for Six Pack was really just a marketing ploy to make hard-working citizens of the southern United States part with their cash. However, I remember having fun with it as a youngster, the supporting cast is totally enjoyable (with Erin Gray, Terry Kiser and a very young Anthony Michael Hall), and Lane’s talent is apparent as the put-upon teen sister taking care of her five orphaned younger brothers, who tries to glom on to Rogers while he gets his racing career back on track. Besides, any movie featuring both Lane and Gray (another of my first boyhood crushes… Buck Rogers In The 25th Century, anyone?) will definitely get me to watch it. Furthermore, Lane’s attempted seduction of Kiser (y’know, Bernie from Weekend At Bernie’s) in the film is downright eye-popping.

Now, Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains is quite a different story. Yes, I realize that in spots this film is almost as silly as Six Pack, but it has a style and charm that’s completely genial. The movie has amassed a cult following for solid reasons, especially considering the influential rock ‘n’ roll personalities involved such as director Lou Adler (a top record producer), and bit players Paul Cook and Steve Jones from The Sex Pistols and Paul Simonon of The Clash. They play the fictional band, The Looters, in the production, along with a young Ray Winstone as the singer. The film actually just missed my cut for the best celluloid efforts about rock ‘n’ roll. Anyway, Lane is the lead as a troubled young girl who gains overnight stardom with an all-girl punk band, The Stains, after realizing that her prospects for a successful life in a dead-end Pennsylvania town seem dim, especially after losing her mother to cancer. The opportunistic Lane manages to manipulate herself and her band mates (sister, Marin Kanter and cousin, Laura Dern) onto a tour with The Looters and an aging glam act aptly named The Metal Corpses (with Fee Waybill of The Tubes), due to her status as a local celebrity and despite possessing very little talent. However, Lane’s offbeat style (check out that hairdo) and underhanded business practices combined with some media coverage is all The Stains need to steal the spotlight, although they learn some valuable lessons along the way. The fact that all the mass hysteria and drama seemingly goes down in a matter of days is utterly ridiculous, but the film has a rebellious attitude and semi-satiric vein that make it totally worthwhile. It’s difficult to imagine a generation of angst-ridden female rockers without LAGTFS.

Later, after The Outsiders, Lane again co-starred with Matt Dillon in another S.E. Hinton adaptation, Rumble Fish, about a street hood (Dillon) living in the shadow of his older brother (Mickey Rourke). Lane plays Dillon’s well-intentioned girlfriend who makes an effort to be a positive in an otherwise dark and brooding (but still enjoyable in a teenage-art-house kind of way) black-and-white film. Next up is director Walter Hill’s rock fable Streets of Fire, where Lane is impressive and sexy as a popular singer who’s kidnapped by a motorcycle gang led by Willem Dafoe. It’s then up to her ex-boyfriend Michael Pare to come her rescue. Plenty of action, music and visuals then ensue. I was surprised to eventually learn that Lane was only 19 at the time of filming. She seemed much older to me at the time, but that could either be a credit to her ability or my imagination (or both). SOF was pretty much reviled by critics at the time of its release, but over time many have seemed to soften their stance a bit, which is fortunate because the movie is truly unique and fun.

The last film that I’ll venture to mention in this shout-out is the underappreciated little gem The Big Town. Once again, Lane finds herself featured opposite Matt Dillon for the third time, as Dillon essays the role of a professional gambler looking to make it big in the high-stakes game of craps in 1950s Chicago. However, this film was a bit of a departure for Lane. It’s believed that Lane turned down the Rebecca De Mornay part in Risky Business because her father (an acting coach) would never let her play a prostitute. That’s why I find it odd that it would be alright for her to play a stripper with a bad reputation in TBT. Regardless, Lane proved that she can handle any type of role with this film, as the girlfriend of a nefarious club owner (Tommy Lee Jones) who is Dillon’s foil. Of course, Lane eventually gets mixed up with Dillon, endangering his well-being. The film is simple and straightforward (in a good way) with a tremendous ‘50s flair, moving music, and a great supporting cast that also includes Bruce Dern, Tom Skerritt and Suzy Amis. I had never seen this film until recently, but I wish I had because it probably would have made my tribute to gambling films. Obviously, Lane would go on to have a great career and star in such projects as the Lonesome Dove miniseries, Vital Signs, Knight Moves (with then husband Christopher Lambert), and Indian Summer. Whether the movies were good or not, I always found myself liking them simply because Lane was featured. However, the wife of Josh Brolin will always be Cherry Valance to me.