By Richard Winters
My Rating: 3 out of 10
4-Word Review: These guys are crude.
I’ve been a fan of author Joseph Wambaugh ever since I was fourteen and read ‘The Onion Field’, which I found to be incredibly gripping. Wambaugh, a former policeman turned author, usually writes stories about cops that are laced with drama as well as humor. ‘The Choirboys’ novel had all of these ingredients and rose to the top ‘New York Times’ bestsellers list. Unfortunately the film version did not do quite so well. Wambaugh hated it and continues to lambast it even in interviews today.
Most others disliked the film as well although there are a few who liked its outrageous humor. As any good reviewer I wanted to be open-minded. The film has languished in obscurity for decades. It was released to theaters just two days before Christmas in 1977 and then faded out quickly. It has never been shown on broadcast television. It was released to VHS on 1993, but copies of it are rare. It has never been released on DVD, but just recently it has become available on the Netflix streaming option as well as Starz Play. So if you still want to see this film after reading this review, then that is where you can find it.
The film, like the novel, starts out with a scene from the Vietnam war where we see a soldier trapped in a cave and panicking as the enemy moves in. It then cuts to the present day where a group of policemen who, after a grueling day of work, routinely let loose by having what they call ‘choir practice’ in the evenings. This is simply a code word used as an excuse for hard partying and practical jokes, which takes up the whole first half of the film. The second hour turns dramatic as that same soldier that was trapped in the cave, and is now one of the policemen, has a frightening flashback which leads to tragedy. His police buddies try to cover it up and the rest of the movie deals with the subsequent investigation.
One of the biggest drawbacks to the film is the incessant amount of pranks and juvenile behavior that is shown, which quickly becomes redundant. I did like the part where one of the jokes goes too far and one of the men yells out “let’s get out of here before somebody calls the cops”. I also like the statement George DiCenzo’s character says to a prostitute as he is having sex with her. It is very anti-PC, but a laugh-out-loud moment nonetheless. The rest of the pranks are dull and unimaginative. Director Robert Aldrich could have cut ninety percent of it and still made his point. It all ends up making cops look like inane buffoons without balancing it with their humanity like the novel did.
The second hour deals more with the drama, but really isn’t much better. The lighting is dark and shadowy. The shot composition has no visual flair and ends up looking more like a cheap TV show than a movie. The editing is very choppy and the film fails to find a good pace or momentum.
There are a few bright spots. I really liked the Burt Young character. Many people remember him best from the Rocky movies. Here he plays an incredibly grungy, crass police sergeant who exposes a tender side at a completely unexpected moment. I also liked Don Stroud’s performance as the unhinged policeman. In many ways I felt he carried the majority of the movie. Perry King is also good as a cop hiding a dark side. He does real well in these types of parts and reminded me of his performance in The Procession of Joel Delaney. The movie also stars the very durable Charles Durning, which is also a good thing. As of this writing he is now eighty-seven years old and has four, yes four, projects on his slate for this year alone.
The film though does not live up to the novel and reading the book in this case would be the much better choice. Normally I dislike Hollywood’s recent penchant for remaking old films, but in this instance I would applaud it.
My Rating: 3 out of 10
Released: December 23, 1977
Runtime: 1Hour 59Minutes
Director: Robert Aldrich