Under the Cherry Moon

US | 1986 | Directed by Prince

Logline: A con artist, working as a pianist in the Riveria, along with his brother, attempts to scam a beautiful young women out of her wealthy inheritance, but falls in love with her along the way.

Prince’s first foray into filmmaking was an abandoned project known as The Second Coming, which was to be a documentary-style movie incorporating footage from the 1982 Controversy tour with a storyline in-between the songs. A year later he was knee deep in the production of the Purple Rain album and movie, which became a huge success in 1984. Now Prince had a serious taste for cinema storytelling, and within a year he was entrenched in the making of the Parade album and his first movie as director, Under the Cherry Moon

There are vanity projects and then there are vanity projects like Under the Cherry Moon, with Prince starring as musician, womaniser, and diehard romantic, also a scam artist and prankster, and a clown to boot. All wrapped up in the extraordinary wardrobe design of Marie France and finished off with Champagne and extravagant facial expressions. Under the Cherry Moon is an opulent disaster, a failed romance, a mostly unfunny buddy flick, and a musical that never really takes off. But, it stars Prince at, arguably, the height of his excess and success, and the music is sensational, even if much of it is just snippets and excerpts from the studio recordings that feature on the Parade album, or the b-sides of the singles. 

“Once upon a time in France there lived a bad boy named Christopher Tracy …”

Christopher Tracy (Prince) and his brother (from another mother) Tricky (Jerome Benton) living the Nice, in the south of France, living it up big time as dirty rotten scoundrels, wining, dining (and no doubt sixty-nining) the scores of uber-wealthy women, such as Mrs. Wellington (Francesca Annis), who pass through the Riveria looking for a little love action. They’ve done pretty well for themselves, “pretty” being the operative word, as both these gigalos seem to spend more time preening themselves than they do laying the ladies. 

In fact, there is a curiously strong level of homoeroticism that exists between them. They prance and dance around like a couple of immaculate queens, calling each other “honey” and “darling”, Tricky even states he doesn’t need friends, he’s his own man, just like Liberace, while Prince pulls more duck faces than an iGen white trash trying to take a selfie. It’s rampant. But this is the imp’s style. He’s having fun. Maybe it’s the movie’s biggest scam? Anyone watching Under the Cherry Moon looking for serious drama and romance has come to the wrong town, this is a “comedy” of manners, a "wrecka stow", indeed! 

Mary Sharon (Kristen Scott Thomas) is about to have a lavish twenty-first birthday party and is set to inherit $50 million smackeroos. Christopher and Tricky learn of this event and gate-crash with the intention of wooing Mary and swindling her wealth. Both brothers vie for Mary’s attention, but it’s Christopher who wins her affection, and he falls head over four-inch-heels for her. Mary’s father,  Isaac (Steven Berkoff) is not impressed, and he makes certain Christopher doesn’t elope with his naive daughter. 

Christopher drives a huge white Buick convertible with the numberplate “LOVE”, and claims that he does nothing professionally, only things for fun. At the Venus De Milo club he sits at an ivory flake K. Kawai grand and tickles the ivories playing An Honest Man. He tangoes Mary on the club balcony to the crooning guitar of Alexa De Paris, he makes love to her on a coastal retreat to the sweet sounds of Mountains

Mary Lambert, at that stage only known for a couple of promo clips for Madonna, was the movie’s original director, but Prince had her fired after a week over creative differences. Warner Brothers felt comfortable with their star taking over the reigns, but apparently legendary cinematographer Michael Ballhaus supervised much of the mise-en-scene and camerawork, uncredited, and certainly the two editors Éva Gárdos and Rebecca Ross would’ve had their work cut out for them in post. 

I’m very curious about the screenplay though. It’s credited to Becky Johnston, and it was her first produced screenplay. She went on to receive an Academy Award nomination for The Prince of Tides, so she's capable, but I wonder just how much influence Prince would’ve had, even though he isn’t credited with any of the story or screenplay? Indeed, it's easy to pull Under the Cherry Moon's screenplay to pieces, but the performances are all over the show. Prince and Jerome appear to be playing themselves, and relishing it. Kristen Scott Thomas has nothing good to say about her experience, and as her feature debut she’d probably prefer to leave it off her resume. Originally Prince’s fiancée, Susannah Melvoin, was cast in the role of Mary, but it was apparent very quickly that she couldn’t act. It's obvious Kristen struggles with much of her dialogue, but her ripe delivery is nowhere near as bad as Steven Berkoff. Terence Stamp was originally cast as Isaac, but he quit two weeks into production. Wise decision.

Under the Cherry Moon is a movie for Prince fans and no one else, and in that purple light, it shines. There’s a small booty of Prince treasures to be found within it, such as Sheila E.’s Sister Fate record cover in Christopher Tracy’s bedroom, or trying to listen out for Old Friends 4 Sale (it’s listed in the end song credits, but no one can locate it), or watching how many times Prince drinks. 

And, let’s not forget one of the most hideous kisses in screen history when Christopher plants his chimp lips on Mary in the phone booth and smooches away like there’s no tomorrow. Ewwwww! 

But hey, it's the thirtieth anniversary of Under the Cherry Moon this week, and Prince passed away a couple of months ago. I'm still mourning. 

“We had fun, didn’t we?”