Where Bob Dylan's Terrible 1987 Movie Hearts of Fire Was Filmed in Toronto
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Where Bob Dylan’s Terrible 1987 Movie Hearts of Fire Was Filmed in Toronto

At his 1980s nadir, Dylan starred in a Toronto and Hamilton-shot musical drama from the director of Return of the Jedi.

Toronto’s extensive work on the silver screen reveals that, while we have the chameleonic ability to look like anywhere from New York City to Moscow, the disguise doesn’t always hold up to scrutiny. Reel Toronto revels in digging up and displaying the films that attempt to mask, hide, or—in rare cases—proudly display our city.
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Hearts of Fire is not a famous movie and not a good movie. It’s not a cult movie and, truth be told, it’s barely a Toronto movie. But, it’s too awesome for us to ignore for one reason: lead actor Bob Dylan.

Dylan’s made a few movies—none of them are really good—but few are as utterly forgettable as Hearts of Fire, made during mid-80s nadir.

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As we said, not a good movie. But, look who was involved in it. Director Richard Marquand‘s career is mostly of that of a journeyman, but four years prior to this he directed a little film about tiny bears and a big, slug-like gangster that did big business. Sadly, he died shortly after this film came out.

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Iconoclastic writer Joe Eszterhas would go on to write Basic Instinct, Showgirls, and several books about Hollywood, one of which describes Hearts of Fire as the movie that killed Marquand. Oh…

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Cinematographer Alan Hume shot Return of the Jedi, not to mention A Fish Called Wanda, and A View to Kill. When a movie’s opening credits roll over something as bad-ass as a tollbooth, you know you’ve got good stuff in store! Doesn’t this stunning shot totally recall the smoky confines of Jabba’s Palace or how the blazing lightsabers lit the monochromatic darkness of the Emperor’s lair? Yeah, we didn’t think so either.

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If that’s not enough 007 cred for you, the score is by a guy who’s written some stuff you might recognize.

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Instead of some grand American interstate, it looks like these tollbooths are actually the ones at Woodbine Racetrack, dispensed with when they added slots and didn’t want people wasting their money outside. Oddly, the credits pay a special thanks to the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission so perhaps they took the actors through a boot camp for, you know, authenticity.

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But, we know who works there—it’s the late, great thespian Maury Chaykin.

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How cool is Dylan in this movie? So cool that his entrance constitutes rolling up on his Harley and telling the tollbooth attendant that the music she’s listening to (“Tainted Love”!) sucks.

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The female lead, by the way, is Fiona. Remember Fiona? We didn’t either. But if you want to hear her covering the likes of “Cinnamon Girl” and “Proud Mary,” this is the movie for you.

She plays in this club and we can’t say we know for sure where the interior was but…

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…we do know who’s pouring shots there. It’s Second City veteran Tony Rosato! He’s had quite the journey since those days.

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Moreover, we can ID the exterior here.

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Working backwards, we have the landmark Playhouse Theatre across the street, which is still standing on Sherman Avenue North in Hamilton.

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That means this parking lot is here

So, the club is now this tire shop. The beveled glass is still there and everything.

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Did you catch the none-too-subtle Dylan Easter egg on the marquee?

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Sadly, Farr’s Coach Lines went under following an accident a few years ago, but (contrary to the Pennsylvania signage on the bus) they used to serve Hamilton and the Niagara Peninsula.

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Sometimes it’s amazing what you can find on the internet. Now we know this bus, #71, was a 1984 MC-9 and it’s gone AWOL.

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Somewhere out there, someone could be driving the bus in which Bob Dylan pretended to hijack using a harmonica as a weapon.

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Okay, but where are we?

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It looks like we’re on Ottawa Street, south of Barton. You can still see some textile shops (if not the one here) along the strip and the mountain down the street.

Working backwards, that would seem to put the bus terminal where a Wal-Mart/big box complex now stands.

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Interior concert scenes were shot at Copps Coliseum (just like the equally amazing pop star vehicle Glitter!)…

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…and you can see some of its always-distinctive seats here.

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Nothing so distinctive to spot but other concert scenes were shot here in town at the old General Electric plant in the Junction, which is now (naturally) the Foundry Lofts.

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The middle of the film actually takes place over in England and involves a pop star played by Rupert Everett, a full decade before he achieved actual fame with My Best Friend’s Wedding. He’s the one singing that terrible “Tainted Love” cover at the start.

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Hey, here’s Julian Glover, one of those Brit actors who’s been in everything. You may remember him from such films as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and his more bearded turn as Grand Maester Pycelle on Game of Thrones.

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Released direct-to-video and never put out on DVD, it’s hard to find Hearts of Fire. It took us forever. But, we kept on trying. For you, dear reader.

But, not all is lost. We insist you enjoy this four-minute documentary clip where an amazingly casual Dylan chats up fans at a Hamilton parking lot. (We’re pretty sure it’s this one) between shots of the bus scene.

Every second is priceless, whether he’s asking some kids about the metal music they dig (“How about Ratt?”), giving an annoying fan a bemused side-eye while he tries to take a picture, or hanging with wrestler Grizzly Smith (also the father of Jake “The Snake” Roberts), who’s there for some reason. All in all, it’s as wonderfully random as anything you’ll see this year. Especially involving Hamilton.

UPDATE (AUGUST 29, 2016): This story has been updated to include the location of the tollbooths at Woodbine (thanks to Torontoist contributor Sean Marshall for pointing this out) and the location of the Hamilton parking lot (thanks to reader bjhtn for pointing this one out).

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