About a year ago I participated in the 2015 version of The Great Villain Blogathon. You can read that entry by clicking here. I had such a blast putting that post together that I just knew I would do it again when the 2016 version rolled around. Here it is. And here I am.
In lots of movies the villain wants to take over the world. To do so, he or she concocts an elaborate scheme, employs loyal henchmen, and tries to maneuver everyone in the story around like pieces on a chess board. This is precisely what Morris Day tries to do in Purple Rain. However, his ambitions don't include the entirety of Earth, the country, or even the city in which he lives. His world is First Avenue, the nightclub where he and his band, The Time, are part of the roster of regular performers. We meet him as he's just starting to put his plans in motion.
Morris's plan for world domination begins with him getting another group onto the stage at First Avenue, one that he controls. He's already got a girl group in the works. We sit in on one of their rehearsals. As if there were any doubt what type of group this is going to be, Morris tells them "Let's have some action! Let's have some asses wigglin'... I want some perfection!"
The group isn't coming together quite like Morris hoped. In his words, "the bitches are okay," but there's something missing. He surmises the new girl who has been hanging around First Avenue, "that Apollonia babe is that something. Of course, there are real life parallels all over the place. The two girls Morris already has are the remaining members of Vanity 6, named after former lead singer Denise "Vanity" Matthews. Most people assumed she would appear in the movie. Instead, she did not get a part and left, or was jettisoned from Prince's inner circle, in some order due to some circumstances we'll not get into. Guess who steps in to be the lead singer. And the first time anyone ever saw them was right here in Purple Rain. But how does she get to that point?
Morris starts his conversation with Apollonia the way he apparently always talks to women, by overtly trying to get into her pants. Included in this is one of my all-time favorite pick-up lines that I would never have the courage to say with any degree of seriousness: "Your lips would make a lollipop too happy." When that proves unsuccessful, Morris drops some rare straight talk on her. Within this, he asserts that The Kid will never help her career because he just doesn't care about anyone besides himself. This is Morris maneuvering pieces to his advantage. His endgame is getting The Kid out of First Avenue. To do this he needs to get his girl group in. To get his girl group in, he has to get Apollonia to join them.
For Morris, it's all business. One of the things that sets Morris apart from most movie villains is that he never develops a real personal beef with the hero. He's just looking for someone to squeeze out so he can get his new act in. He has to get someone out because Billy, the club owner, told him "I have three acts. I don't need a fourth." The Kid is the most logical target. His band is in disarray and threatening to walk out on him. The music The Kid is performing is increasingly self-indulgent and has gotten to the point where "he's not packing 'em in like he used to." Therefore, Morris leans hard on The Kid. Apollonia is a trophy in all this. She'll be icing on the cake for Morris if he can steal both The Kid's gig and his girl.
If you've seen Purple Rain, you may be picturing Morris as an angry, domineering taskmaster barking commands in the most threatening way possible. Nothing could be further from the truth. He's actually kind of a clown who laughs at his own jokes. Therefore, everything he says comes out like it's the funniest thing he's ever heard, or said, as he often underlines his punchlines by belting out a chickenesque "ba-caw!" This is usually accompanied by a congratulatory hand-slapping with bestest buddy/loyal henchman Jerome. Often, the two operate like a comic duo and get the lion's share of the film's laughs. Their high point comes early, though. Morris needs a password so Jerome can subtly let him know that the lovely Apollonia has arrived at the club. He needs this because Jerome just saying it plainly "wouldn't be cool if I was with one of my other babes," as he puts it. What follows is pure Abbott and Costello as they try to decide what the password will be. Hint: I've already given it away in the prior sentence.
Jerome doesn't just do jokes, by the way. He's down to put in some dirty work, as any good henchman must. When a conquest of Morris's confronts him on the street and lets him know what a jackass he is, it's Jerome who scoops her up and literally throws her in a dumpster. Later, after a particular song The Kid performs hit a little too close to home for Apollonia, it's Jerome who approaches The Kid and lets him know how screwed up it was. Jerome also throws a couple tickets at The Kid, inviting him to the next night's show at another club where Apollonia and her group will be performing, in lingerie no less. Just as a bit of extra needling, Jerome implores The Kid to bring a date.
Despite how intimate this all sounds, there is very little interaction between Morris and The Kid. Even though they're often both in First Avenue at the same time, and at the other place for Apollonia's performance, but they only briefly come into contact with one another on a few occasions. The most extensive scene doesn't even involve the two of them talking. Apollonia and Morris drunkenly stumble toward his car after her show. The Kid zooms by on his motorcycle and kicks Morris onto a heap of trash. The Kid then demands Apollonia get on the bike and the two ride off. The other, more impactful interaction contains one of only a couple of lines of dialogue exchanged between them. What a line it is! It comes from Morris because he's feeling particularly good about himself at the time. Apollonia 6 killed it the night before. Back at First Avenue, he and The Time are just off the stage after a raucous rendition of "The Bird" and walking back to their dressing room. The Kid and his band are in theirs with the door open. The word is appropriately somber since The Kid's dad is still in the hospital after having tried to kill himself. The Time is strutting down the hall, loudly mocking songs The Kid and his band, The Revolution, played earlier in the movie as they pass that open door. Suddenly The Time all gets quiet and back up until Morris can poke his head in the opening. He looks directly at The Kid and says "How's the family?" The group then proceeds down the hall in riotous laughter, except Morris. He lingers in the hall overcome with remorse after realizing he has just went a step too far. For the first time we in the audience recognize him as a human being.
Morris's moment of solitude proves to be the start of his redemption as a character and his defeat as a villain. There is no big showdown between he and the hero. In that regard, Morris is robbed of his God-given right as the bad guy to speechify his intentions while having the good guy in a compromising position. Morris succumbs to a man armed only with love and a sparkling white guitar. Morris is clearly put under the same spell as the rest of us once The Kid puts that guitar to use in a powerful solo to end the song from which the film took its name. During The Kid's encore, a lively two song set of "I Would Die 4 U" and "Baby I'm a Star," it's none other than Morris we see in the crowd pumping his fist and cheering the hero's every move. His evil intentions have thwarted by a drenching purple rain.