All the Right Moves (1983): Small-Town Melodrama Starring the Young Tom Cruise

This middling, clich-ridden small-town saga featured Tom Cruise in a lead role just before he became a box-office star.

Cruise plays high-school football star Stef Djordjevic, a restless youngster who yearns to escape his stifling mill town existence through a sports scholarship, but he runs afoul of the tough coach Vern Nickerson (Craig Nelson).

Scripted by Michael Kane, “All the Right Moves” announced the feature directorial debut of brilliant cinematographer Michael Chapman, who had shot, among other films, Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver.”

Though shot on location, in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, where regional coach Donald A. Yanessa acted as the production technical adviser (and also appears as an opposing coach), but authenticity of location can’t compensate for the safe narrative and its familiar Horatio Alger story.

Hard on the edged but soft (and a bit sentimental) at the center, “All the Right Moves” was an old-fashioned fable about ambition and will power, set against a backdrop of a small stifling town.

Highly compromised, the picture want to have it both ways, underline the precarious economic conditions, the limited career options, the life-sapping work and yet show in a fake happy ending (that negates most of what precedes it) a more optimistic outlook to the point where the characters become vessel of ideas rather than full-fleshed individuals.

The love interest is modestly played by the charming Lea Thompson, as Lisa Lietski; there’s nice chemistry between her and Cruise. Cruise plays a working-class version of his yuppie Chicago protagonist in the comedy “Risky Business,” a better film, also made in 1983, that catapulted him to major stardom, a status that would be reaffirmed in Tony Scott’s “Top Gun” (1986).