Blue Steel (1990): Kathryn Bigelow’s Thriller Starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Ron Silver

After “Near Dark,” her stunning solo debut, Kathryn Bigelow received numerous scripts for high-school comedies. “That seemed to be the only avenue for women directors at the time,” Bigelow told Vogue, “So, in response, I tried to define a path that was antithetical to that. I was trying to make it very clear that I wanted to do something else.”

Far more than European or American women, Bigelow was determined to shatter gender stereotypes, to push the envelope of women’s filmmaking. In an age when female directors are still expected to make “women’s film”–small, modest, sensitive “Relationships” stories–she proceeded with flamboyant pictures like the cop-thriller movie Blue Steel, followed by the action-thriller Point Break.

Women directors have rarely been given the chance to explore psychosis from a female point of view, which is what Bigelow set out to do in “Blue Steel,” a stylish, intermittently suspenseful thriller.

During her first night on the job, New York policewoman named Megan Turner (Jamie Lee Curtis) breaks up a store robbery and kills the gunman.  Unfortunately, his pistol gets into the hands of Eugene Hunt (Ron Silver), a customer.  Soon, Megan becomes the object of obsession of Hunt, a disturbed Wall Street broker, who turns into a psycho stalker (he inscribes Megan’s name on the bullets).

A second, less involving story, depicts Megan’s troubled relationship with her mother, Shirley (Louise Fletcher), who is herself obsessed by her husband (Philip Bosco, the great New York stage actor).

The tale takes the wrong turn, when Megan becomes smitten with Hunt, who courts her with expensive meals, nice presents, and nocturnal rides in heliocopter over town.

Often absurd on a narrative level, “Blue Steel” inadvertently became a visual exercise in erotic violence, turning uniforms and guns into fetishism.  Despite its strong female protagonist and art-world decorations, the movie, co-written with Bigelow’s collaborator Eric Red, lacks logic–even by movie standards–and falls apart in the last, violent reel.

Labeling “Blue Steel” a Dirty Harriet movie, the critic David Denby wrote in New York magazine: “I can’t see that much has been gained now that a woman is free to make the same rotten movie as a man.” Bigelow chose the kind of narrative done with greater skill by Don Siegel in Dirty Harry and by the star of these movies, Clint Eastwood. Concluded Denby: “Blue Steel proves definitely that testosterone-crazed movie violence is by no means the sole province of male directors.”

Detailed Synopsis

Megan Turner (Lee Curtis), a rookie NYPD patrol officer shoots and kills a suspect (Tom Sizemore) with her revolver while he’s holding up a neighborhood market. The suspect’s handgun lands on the floor as the suspect is blown backward through the front window.

She continues to the checkout area, nearly stepping on the suspect’s handgun in front of Eugene Hunt (Silver), a commodities trader, who might also be a psychopath. Hunt takes the gun and slips away, using it in some bloody and brutal murders. The robber’s weapon was not found at the scene, and Turner is accused of killing an unarmed man.

While the officer attempts to clear her name with Assistant Chief Stanley Hoyt (Kevin Dunn) and her superiors, Hunt begins to romance the suspended Turner in a twisted love fetish. Turner arrests him but he is freed by his attorney, Mel Dawson (Richard Jenkins). He begins to stalk Turner at her family home, a place where Turner remembers her mother being physically abused by her dad.

Turner fights to keep her badge and solve the murders with the help of Detective Nick Mann (Clancy Brown), while trying to figure out her relationship with a killer. Hunt turns up at her apartment, injures Turner and kills her best friend, Tracy (Elizabeth Pena), leading to Turner’s emotional breakdown.

She spends the night with Mann, her fellow officer, who is later ambushed by Hunt when he goes to the bathroom; Turner doesn’t hear the muffled shot. Hunt attacks and rapes her, and she shoots him, but he runs off. Mann is unconscious and taken to the hospital.

Determined to find Hunt, Turner finally shoots and kills him after a long, violent confrontation and a bullet wound to her shoulder.


Produced by Edward Pressman, Oliver Stone, and Michael Rausch

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow

Screenplay: Bigelow and Eric Red

Camera: Amir Mokri

Editing: Lee Percy

Music: Brad Fiedel

Production design: Toby Corbett

Costumes; Richard Shissler


Running time: 102 Minutes