29 user 15 critic

The Idolmaker (1980)

Based on the life of rock promoter/producer Bob Marcucci, who discovered, among others, Frankie Avalon and Fabian.


Taylor Hackford

On Disc

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Won 1 Golden Globe. Another 2 nominations. See more awards »





Cast overview, first billed only:
Ray Sharkey ... Vincent Vacarri
Tovah Feldshuh ... Brenda Roberts
Peter Gallagher ... Caesare
Paul Land ... Tommy Dee
Joe Pantoliano ... Gino Pilato
Maureen McCormick ... Ellen Fields
John Aprea ... Mario Vacarri
Richard Bright ... Uncle Tony
Olympia Dukakis ... Mrs. Vacarri
Steve Peck Steve Peck ... Mr. Frank Vacarri (as Steven Apostlee Peck)
Leonard Gaines Leonard Gaines ... Luchetti
Deney Terrio Deney Terrio ... Jerry Martin
Charles Guardino Charles Guardino ... Jesse
Michael Mislove ... Ed Sharp
Kenneth O'Brien Kenneth O'Brien ... Walt Bennett


1959. Twenty-seven year old Vinnie Vacarri works as a waiter at his older brother Mario's upscale Italian restaurant in Brooklyn, but much to Mario's chagrin, Vinnie lets work at the restaurant slide whenever opportunities arise to achieve his dream of being in the music business. Along with his best friend and music partner, pianist Gino Pilato, Vinnie writes songs, and believes he has everything but the most important thing to make it big, namely the look, he most self-conscious about his receding hairline. As such, he and Gino are looking for someone to perform their songs on their own terms. He thinks he's found the person in his friend Tomaso DeLorusso, a saxophonist who has been struggling himself in the club scene to find his niche. With Gino largely staying in the background, Vinnie begins a professional association with Tomaso, who he reinvents as rock singer Tommy Dee, this the beginning of Vinnie's foray into talent manager, he knowing the look and sound he wants, with his ... Written by Huggo

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


The crowds, the cheers, the top of the charts. They don't just happen. He makes them happen. See more »


PG | See all certifications »


Official Sites:





English | Italian

Release Date:

14 November 1980 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

A Sombra de um Ídolo See more »

Filming Locations:

Los Angeles, California, USA

Company Credits

Production Co:

Kirkwood, Koch Company See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


| (TCM print)

Sound Mix:



Color (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


First time that actor Ray Sharkey sang on the big screen. Sharkey performs himself the film's final song, "I Believe It Can Be Done". Actor Peter Gallagher also performs on the film's soundtrack singing two songs, "Baby" and "However Dark The Night", the latter being an homage to Elvis Presley. See more »


The body style of the Ford Thunderbird didn't become available until the 1964 model, but when Caesare plays in Memphis, the date on the banner is March 17, 1961. See more »


Vincent Vacarri: Hey, I'm not dumb! You don't even know me and you call me dumb. Wanna know what's dumb? The last eight covers in a row you did on Elvis in the army, with the badges? That's dumb. And that's boring.
See more »


I Can't Tell
Music and Lyrics by Jeff Barry
Sung by Colleen Fitzpatrick
See more »

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User Reviews

Plugging Into The Teen Dream Machine
3 July 2006 | by slokesSee all my reviews

Nearly a quarter-century before directing Jamie Foxx in "Ray," director Taylor Hackford paid his first respects to the power of early rock 'n' roll in this equally galvanizing, sadly overlooked film.

It's the end of the 1950s, and struggling songwriter/impresario Vinnie Vacarri (Ray Sharkey) is trying to find someone he can mold into a rock singer, filling the void left by Elvis Presley's Army stint. He discovers a young sax player who has the right look and voice, and recasts him as teen sensation "Tommy D." Now Vinnie is riding high. Trouble is, Tommy's a creep and Vinnie's hungry to prove he can do it again. Can he, or will he lose everything he has trying?

"Success has no conscience, Vincent," says his father, a rich man who abandoned him and his mother. Vinnie doesn't believe that, though, and unlike 99% of the agents and promoters you see in movies, he actually tries to do right by his young stars and their fans. Sharkey challenges himself and us by essaying a character who's compelling for both his slickness and decency. His control freakiness may grate, but he's hard not to like, especially as Sharkey plays him with such electricity he comes through the screen.

Sharkey won a Golden Globe, and deserved an Oscar nomination at least for what should have been a breakthrough performance. Whether he's paying payola to a crooked DJ or saving Tommy D from an underage fling, Sharkey does it with panache and charm. He lights a mean cigarette but lets us in with his eyes, "the windows" as Vinnie calls them.

Of course, the irony of Vinnie is that unlike most agents, he actually has more talent than his stars. He just doesn't have the right look and knows it, so he must convince others to play the roles he creates. Maybe the film suffers a bit from the fact it's the thinly-disguised autobiography of Bob Marucci, the real-life impresario who broke Fabian and Frankie Avalon. I'm sure Fabian and Frankie would have different takes on who made who, but Sharkey's so consistently involving and engaging you don't care.

In addition to Sharkey, "The Idolmaker" is lifted by a killer soundtrack by Jeff Barry that is blended with some fantastic staging, lighting, and dancing. Like Poseidon-3 noted in another review here, the songs are hardly vintage-sounding, fed through a 1980 pop sensibility that utilizes more chord changes and orchestration than the teen-idol songs of Fabian's day. That's actually a good thing, especially as the score begins with the coy but catchy "Here Is My Love" and keeps getting better from there. It's a shame the songs never found a home on radio, or they'd be remembered still. Yes, "The Idolmaker" flopped in theaters in late 1980, but so did "The Jazz Singer" and "Xanadu," and they had hits. What kept out the brilliant Spectorized "However Dark The Night," with Peter Gallagher's terrific vocal performance? Gallagher's great on screen, too as Vacarri's second project, kind of doing Mick Jagger as lost choirboy and giving Vinnie his greatest star. If this film had come out just three years later, when MTV was established, Gallagher's looks alone would have sold the film.

The plot is the film's weakness, not bad but labored. There's a romantic subplot between Sharkey and Tovah Feldshuh that goes on too long, as when she asks "Where are you, Vincent? I'm looking for the human being and I can't find him anywhere." Maybe if the film didn't stack the deck so heavily in Vacarri's favor, those trite words might have a little more resonance, instead of feeling tacked on to create the impression of moral ambiguity in Vinnie's character.

Frankly, Sharkey doesn't need the help. You watch him here and wonder why he didn't turn out to be one of the 1980s' biggest stars, instead of a drug casualty lost to AIDS. Maybe he had too much passion to keep inside. But here, for this one film, he found the perfect channel to let it all out. "The Idolmaker" is a fitting monument that way, as Sharkey centers an entertaining spectacle worth your time.

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