Prince in Under the Cherry Moon

Welcome to Flopcorn, where Reader writers and contributors pay tribute to our very favorite bad movies. In this installment, digital managing editor Karen Hawkins celebrated this weekend’s Super Blood Wolf Moon by watching Under the Cherry Moon, Prince’s follow-up to Purple Rain, with her sister Valerie, cousin Diane, and partner Samantha. She hopes they someday find it in their hearts to forgive her.

For black Americans of a certain age, seeing Under the Cherry Moon (1986) in the theater was a rite of passage, right up there with being burned by a hot comb for the first time. My sister Val and cousin Diane remember it clearly; Val saw it at Evergreen Plaza, where theater management became so alarmed by the rapidly growing Prince-hungry mob gathering for the first showing that they let everyone in early—which is how she saw the last half of Labyrinth surrounded by a group of very confused black teens. Diane, the biggest Prince fan I know, remembers sitting in the theater in utter shock. “Why? The movie was scored by a musical genius, but was painfully bad to watch. Prince is a brilliant musician and dancer but a horrible actor. Way too much overacting. But if you don’t take the movie seriously, it’s hilarious!!! You must look at it as comedy even though Prince has dramatic moments in the film.”

I’m, ahem, younger, and my enduring memories of the movie are being entranced by the costumes, obsessed with the soundtrack, and traumatized by the ending (no spoilers). Sam, well, Sam’s white and had never seen it before. She’s also never been burned by a hot comb, so there you go.

Under the Cherry Moon is a drama that documents the wild life and tragic end of Christopher Tracy (Prince), an American gigolo in Paris who supports an extravagant lifestyle by wooing, bedding, and hustling wealthy sugar mamas. He is joined in these misadventures by his partner in crime, Tricky (Jerome Benton), who attends Christopher’s music gigs at a bistro and identifies potential marks. It is Tricky who spies an article about Mary Sharon (Dame Kristin Scott Thomas in her first film), a socialite set to inherit $50 million on her 21st birthday, the party for which they decide to crash. Fantastic music, gorgeous scenes of France, heavy-handed class commentary, and many high jinks ensue, and your main reward for slogging through all 100 minutes is the trippy in-the-clouds video for “Mountains.” Or, as Diane put it: “The best part of the movie—the end.”

Prince both stars and directs, and legend has it that after the massive success of Purple Rain, the studio greenlit the project without seeing the script by first-time screenwriter Becky Johnston. While UTCM has a few redeeming moments of humor and music, overall this plan did not go well.

My fam and I watched the movie together remotely—me in Chicago, Val in the burbs, Diane in Louisville, Sam in Seattle—and posted comments MST3K style on a private Facebook event page. My sister, a screenwriting major with years of library experience, peppered the page with reviews and bits of trivia, which made the whole viewing MUCH more bearable.

Here’s our (very condensed) take on what makes UTCM so unfortunate that folks called it Under the Cherry Bomb.

The dialogue is . . . bad.

“Mirror mirror, seventeen fold, who’s the sexiest <<stomp-stomp>> dressed in gold?”

“You selfish son of a biscuit eater!”

“I’m my own man . . . just like Liberace.”

“Only confused men wear loafers.”

“Honey, don’t you know that I will slap the waves outcho’ head!”

Christopher: “I must have that disease . . . what’s it called?”
Mary: “Stupid.”

The acting is . . . even worse.

Sam: Prince’s performance as “Christopher” reminds me of Faye Dunaway’s performance as Joan Crawford.
Me: With more eye makeup.
Sam: But the shoulder pads are about the same size.

It was filmed in color but the final version . . . isn’t.

Diane: Why was this movie in black and white?!?!?!?!
Val: I rented it later and [our late brother] Aaron had questioned having fireworks in a black and white movie.

Even for the 80s, and even for Prince, the increasingly elaborate outfits are . . . outlandish.

Diane: Only Prince would walk around Paris in a ruffled shirt. Everyone else looks normal.
Sam: And Lestat!

It’s only 100 minutes but feels . . . longer.

@ 45.27 Sam wishes she, like Mary, could go home. But Sam knows that she can never go home and will never be whole after watching this disaster.

The songs, though . . . are still some of my favorites (“Kiss,” “Girls & Boys,” “Anotherloverholenyohead”). Even though it gets a little meta.

Diane: Is it weird that Christopher Tracy is jamming to Prince’s music 🤣?

Should you subject yourself or your loved ones to Under the Cherry Moon, my family recommends following it up—quickly— with Purple Rain or Sign ‘o’ the Times as a palate cleanser.