The First Deadly Sin (1980)

the first deadly sin

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Aging cop tracks killer.

Based on the best-selling novel by Lawrence Sanders the story centers around Edward Delaney (Frank Sinatra) a cop only weeks away from retiring who becomes obsessed with tracking down a serial killer who hits people on the back of their heads with a sharp edge hammer as they are walking down the street. The problem is he has only a few clues to go on and his wife Barbara (Faye Dunaway) is in the hospital suffering from a mysterious illness that causes him additional stress and strain.

The film takes a refreshingly different approach to police work than what you will usually find in most Hollywood cop pictures. Instead of emphasizing exciting car chases and thrilling shoot-outs it instead analyzes the meticulous and often times tedious work that goes into following up every little lead while working inside a rigid system and under superiors that aren’t always supportive.  For the most part this is done quite well and at times it is even enlightening, but the whole first half is spent with Delaney trying to figure out what type of weapon was used in the killing even though we the viewer know what it is since we are shown the actual murder at the very beginning thus making the first hour seem quite derivative.

Having the film cut back and forth between scenes of Delaney and the killer doesn’t work. The psycho is played by David Dukes probably best known for playing the man who tries to rape Edith Bunker in a classic episode of ‘All in the Family’. He is a good actor, but scenes showing him alone are clichéd and at times even unintentionally funny. Director Brian G. Hutton should’ve cut them out completely as having the viewer come to realize who it is along with Delaney would have deepened the mystery angle and made it overall more intriguing.

The scenes with the sick wife don’t work either. For one thing we never find out what the mysterious illness is, which is highly frustrating and annoying. It also doesn’t make the plot or character any more interesting. Dunaway is a superior actress and she makes the most of the role’s limitations, but I felt an actress who was more Sinatra’s age would have made it more realistic instead of casting a woman who was 27 years younger.

I have always enjoyed Sinatra in his detective roles, but the character here isn’t as caustic as in some of his older films. For the most part he is pretty benign and even kind of boring. Joe Spinnell though makes the most of his bit part as an overzealous doorman who believes in rigidly following the rules and taking great pride in his doorman duties, but quickly willing to bend them the minute he is given some bribe money.

The final showdown between Delaney and the killer is quite unusual and much more low-key than you might expect. I enjoyed the twist that comes with it, but it lacks a strong impact and the film would have been better served had it had just a little more action.

This movie is also famous as being Bruce Willis’s film debut. He can be seen at the 1Hour 34Minute mark coming into a bar as Delaney walks out. He has a cap over his head and covering his eyes, but you can clearly see just by looking at his mouth that it is him.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: October 3, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 52Minutes

Rated R

Director: Brian G. Hutton

Studio: Filmways Production

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

One response to “The First Deadly Sin (1980)

  1. Joseph Kearny

    Commits the first deadly sin of filmmaking; it’s deadly dull!

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