You couldn’t go anywhere in the summer and fall of 1990 without hearing the Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody.”
The reason could be summed up in one word: “Ghost.”
The film, which was released 25 years ago Monday, was a runaway success. It was nominated for five Oscars (including a win for supporting actress Whoopi Goldberg), ended up the second-highest grossing film of the year and cemented the star power of its leads, Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore.
The plot of “Ghost” combines a sometimes supernatural love story with a thriller. Sam Wheat (Swayze), a New York banker, has an idyllic relationship with his beloved wife, Molly, an artist. After uncovering some financial chicanery, he’s killed but continues as a ghost, drafting Goldberg’s Oda Mae Brown — a phony psychic — to protect his devastated wife while he gets to the bottom of the fraud.
For all that, when it comes to memorable moments from the film, one stands above the others: Moore and Swayze at the potter’s wheel, hands and bodies entwined, while the Righteous Brothers’ lush, Phil Spector-produced 1965 version of “Unchained Melody” plays on a vintage jukebox.
“(They were) the sweetest, sexiest love scenes I’ve ever been involved with,” Swayze said in a 1990 interview with AP Television.
The reason they worked, he added, was that he and Moore were determined to make the scenes about “the connection between two human beings,” not just sex.
The pottery scene was so powerful that two versions of “Unchained Melody” — a reissue of the original and a new recording — hit Billboard’s Hot 100. Both made the Top 20.
It was also widely parodied.
“Ghost” was far from the first film to make use of dreamy pop songs to accentuate emotions.
Three years earlier, Swayze starred in “Dirty Dancing,” which included a new song — “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” — sung by Righteous Brother Bill Medley with Jennifer Warnes.
Like “Unchained,” it became a favorite at weddings.
Other love songs, such as “An Officer and a Gentleman’s” “Up Where We Belong,” “Top Gun’s” “Take My Breath Away” and “Titanic’s” “My Heart Will Go On,” have become as representative of their films as any of their characters’ romances.
But then, movies have a long history of turning music into lovemaking gold.
“Lara’s Theme,” from 1965’s “Doctor Zhivago,” was turned into “Somewhere My Love” and is inseparable from scenes of Omar Sharif and Julie Christie’s love affair; “Love Story’s” theme, which accompanies Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw in the 1970 movie, was turned into at least three Top 40 hits in 1970-71.
By Todd Leopold