Category Archives: Police Drama

Assault (1971)

assault1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Schoolgirls attacked by rapist.

One day after school Tessa (Lesley Ann-Down), a teen who attends a local British high school in rural England, decides to cut through the nearby woods as a shortcut on her way home. As she treks through the forest an unseen assailant attacks her, which leaves her in a catatonic state. A few days later, despite the warnings, another female student goes into the woods and is later found murdered. The police inspectors (Frank Finley, James Cosmo) have idea who it could be and are unable to come-up with any leads, which frustrates the local teacher Julie West (Suzy Kendall). She decides it’s up to her to nab the culprit, so she uses herself and some of her students as bait to lure the killer out. She drives into the woods in a station wagon, but then the car gets stuck. While she tries to back it out she gets a glimpse of the perpetrator’s face as he deposits another of his victims, but when she describes to everybody what he looks like, saying he has the face of the devil, everyone thinks she’s gone mad.

This is another one of those British thrillers where in an attempt to gain more interest in the film the studio would release it under different titles. In the US the film was known as ‘In the Devil’s Garden’ to take advantage of the possession craze that was occurring after the release of The Exorcist and then a few years later it got re-released under the title ‘Satan’s Playthings’ and billed as a provocative story with erotic overtones. In either case the plot, which is based on the novel ‘The Ravine’ by Kendal Young, comes-off more like a cop drama/mystery than a horror flick.

That’s not to say it’s bad as director Sidney Hayers throws in some good touches. The attack on the girl is well handled using a hand-held camera that makes it seem unrehearsed and sudden. For a British thriller it’s even kind of racy. Normally films from England are quite timid about showing nudity, blood, or violence, but this thing does push-the-envelope a bit, far more than I was expecting, while still remaining ‘tasteful’ enough not to come under the ire of the British censors. The pounding music score helps create an urgent mood and grabs your attention at the start though it gets overplayed by the end and resembles a score heard on a cop TV-show.

The acting is good, but seeing Down looking so young and appearing much different from what we’re used to seeing her now kinda threw me off as you’d almost think she’s a completely different person. Kendall, who became a British scream queen for all the horror movies and thrillers that she was in, is quite appealing and I loved seeing her in glasses, which gives her a certain sexy look. The male actors are okay, but there’s more of them than are necessary and I think this was only done to create more suspects to choose from though their 70’s haircuts complete with long sideburns gives the film a very dated quality.

I was able to guess who the culprit was with about 20-minutes to go. It’s not that hard to figure out and the film gives-off a few too many clues to the point that it would be hard for someone not to know who it is. The story itself is standard. Not much thrills or chills though the electrocution via a cable that the victim touches while climbing up an electrical tower is admirably realistic and probably the most impressive part of the movie.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: February 11, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sidney Hayers

Studio: J. Arthur Rank Film Distributors

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Hustle (1975)

hustle2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Father searches for killer.

Phil (Burt Reynolds) is a police lieutenant who’s in love with a beautiful French prostitute named Nicole (Catherine Deneuve) and the two live together in Phil’s swanky hilltop Malibu home. Unfortunately Phil can’t handle that Nicole continues her business practice even as the two are in a relationship and this threatens their love affair. As this goes on Phil also gets embroiled in a police investigation when a group of school children find a dead body of a 20-year-old woman washed up on the beach. The victim’s father (Ben Johnson) insists it was murder even after the autopsy says it’s a suicide. Phil and his partner Louis (Paul Winfield) are ready to close the case, but when the father starts his own investigation the two  decide to pursue it further, which leads them to many unsettling conclusions including that the daughter starred in several porno films financed by the sleazy Leo Sellers (Eddie Albert) a rich older man who also happens to be a client of Nicole’s.

This film was the second collaboration between Reynolds and director Robert Aldrich as the two had just completed the highly successful The Longest Yard a year earlier. While that film met with critical acclaim this one received only a so-so reception. There were certain elements that I liked, but I did find Reynolds’ presence to be a detriment. His boyish looks where he doesn’t have the mustache or the wavy hair, which always made him look like he was wearing a wig, is a plus, but his character is too detached. It’s only after repeated cajoling by the father that he even agrees to look into the case more and the movie would’ve been more compelling had it revolved around the father from the very beginning.

Reynolds’ relationship with Deneuve is boring and the scenes between them aren’t sexy or provocative as intended. We should’ve seen how they became a couple from the start as their attachment brings out all sorts of questions that never get answered. For instance, where did they first meet? Was it during a sexual rendezvous where Burt paid for her services, or possibly a cop raid? Why did she fall for Burt as this woman had been with a lot of men, so what made him special over the others and why would a cop think getting serious with a woman who routinely sleeps with other men be a good idea, or even work?

The movie tries to be chic by creating a character who’s initially ‘open-minded’ about prostitution, but then contradicts itself by having him turn around and demand she must give it up. If this were truly a modern thinking guy he would’ve liked the fact that she was financially independent and slept with other men because she gave herself for free to him while she made the others pay. He might even get-off watching her having sex with others, as there are some husbands/boyfriends who do, and the fact that the film doesn’t think to go into this area makes it far less ‘hip’ than it thinks it is.

There’s also a very violent moment where Reynolds refuses to let her leave, physically slaps her, and even refers to her as a ‘bitch’ several times. He then pins her to the bed and forces himself onto her. While she initially resists he continues to do it until she finally gives-in and acts like she’s enjoying it. Today’s audiences will be rightly turned-off by this and it will make Reynolds, the intended ‘good guy’, look much more like an abuser. It also might allow some men to think that being violent with women is ‘okay’ as they’ll ultimately give in and ‘learn to enjoy it’, which is the wrong message to be sending.

As mentioned earlier Ben Johnson’s character is the only thing that keeps it interesting. The scene where his eyes tear-up after watching his daughter, played by real-life adult film actress Colleen Brennan, perform in a porn film is similar to the one in Hardcorebut far more impactful here. I was amused why he even took the part as he had complained about being in The Last Picture Show, which is the film he won the Oscar for as Best Supporting Actor, because of the ‘foul language’, but then he ends up swearing quite a bit in this one. In either case I’m glad he took it as his presence raises the storyline above its otherwise seedy level and even helps give it a few memorable bits.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 25, 1975

Runtime: 2 Hours

Rated R

Director: Robert Aldrich

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Killer’s Delight (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Detective tracks down killer.

Inspired by the Ted Bundy case the film centers around Danny (John Karlen) a middle-aged man with mommy issues who wears different disguises in order to entice young women into his rundown old van where he then promptly assaults and kills them. Vince (James Luisi) is the police detective who, despite having an affair with Carol (Susan Sullivan), is also a dedicated family man with a teen daughter himself and who spends his waking hours trying to track down this killer that the rest of the cops in his department seem almost ambivalent about.

The film tries to take a different approach from the exploitive nature of other 70’s thrillers by emphasizing more the police work than the actual killings although there’s still moments of nudity and violence. The main problem is that the detective work that gets shown and the clues that he finds isn’t all that interesting and comes along a little too easily. At one point Vince breaks into the suspect’s house without a warrant, but any good defense attorney would have any evidence seized during an illegal search thrown out and a competent cop would know this. I also found it hard to believe that Vince would be the only policeman pursuing the case as I’m sure with the media pressure there’d be a whole department working on it much like in the real Bundy case that even included a network of police departments in several states.

The killings are very routine and ultimately comes-off like the same scene get replayed over-and-over again with each new victim that comes along. It seemed hard to believe that any rational person would want to get into such a junky van driven by such a creepy-looking guy anyways. Bundy at least was handsome and in many cases feigned a disability like pretending he had sprained his arm and wearing a sling, which would then make his intended victims feel more at ease, but the guy here doesn’t do any of that. The ultimate explanation for what motivates him to do what he does is straight out of the Norman Bates book of psychology and is cliched as hell. With the real Bundy it was much more complicated and to some extent no convenient explanation at all other than he may have simply been ‘wired wrong’ from birth.

The film’s only bright spot is Susan Sullivan, who looks quite beautiful here, but even she ended up getting on my nerves when her character stupidly forgets to lock her front door allowing the killer to easily walk right into her apartment. What kind of idiot, knowing that she is a mark for the killer and fully aware that he knows where she lives, would forget to do this?

Overall this is just a sleazy excuse for entertainment that is no better than the myriad of other grade-B schlock out there and in some ways is even worse because it pretends to take a more elevated approach to the potentially exploitive material, but it really doesn’t and it’s also painfully predictable at every turn.

Alternate Titles: The Dark Ride, The Sports Killer

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: August 7, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 25 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Jeremy Hoenack

Studio: Intercontinental Releasing Corporation

Available: DVD

Deadly Hero (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bad cop stalks witness.

Sally (Diahn Williams) is a beautiful cellist living alone in a New York apartment. One day while returning home she gets abducted by an assailant named Rabbit (James Earl Jones) who forces his way at knifepoint into her apartment. Mrs. Broderick (Lilia Skala), a concerned neighbor, calls the police  and soon officers Lacy (Don Murray) and Billings (Treat Williams) arrive at the scene. When Rabbit tries to leave with Sally Officer Lacy stops him at gunpoint. Rabbit holds a knife to Sally’s throat threatening to kill her, but Lacy persuades him drop it. When he does Lacy then shoots him in cold blood. During the subsequent investigation Lacy insists that Rabbit was coming after him with a knife and had no choice but to shoot. Sally though knows the truth and while she’s reluctant to come forward at first she eventually does causing Lacy to begin stalking her and threatening her life unless she agrees to recant.

The film, which was directed by Hungarian native Ivan Nagy, has a wonderful New York City vibe that brings out the ambience of its neighborhoods and street culture better than most other films that were directed by Americans. The Seamus Murphy Dance Troupe, which makes up the artists who perform the dance numbers in the play that Sally plays her cello in, helps add an eclectic moody vibe that I liked.

The acting isn’t too bad either. Murray comes-off as a bad cop caricature, but he does it so well it can almost be forgiven though I didn’t like the segment intercut into the first act showing him speaking at a campaign rally for a local politician (George S. Irving) as he had not met this man until after the shooting when he gets deemed a ‘hero’ and therefore this scene should not have been interjected into the film before the story actually got there.

Williams is alright as the victim in what should’ve capitulated her into more film work, but during filming she found herself at constant odds with director Nagy prompting her to leave the acting profession and pursue a law career instead where she’s known as Diahn McGrath. There’s an interesting supporting cast here too including Jones who gives a colorful performance as the thug and brief glimpses of Danny DeVito and Debbie Harry in bit parts.

The main issue with the film is that the characters are not fleshed-out enough for us to understand what motivates them, or why they do what they do. Why is Lacy so angry and why does he decide to shoot an unarmed man? We’re told that he’s  had violent tendencies in the past, but we’re never shown it, nor any explanation for a possible cause. He’s also seems to be in a happy marriage with a younger woman, but you’d think such a psychotic person would be unable to hide his ugly side from his wife and yet the film portrays the spouse as being completely clueless to his dark nature.

Sally’s need to come forward with the truth even when faced with strong pressure not to adds more questions than answers. Why does she feel so compelled to put Lacy away even if so doing could risk her career and life? Many people would get intimidated and back-off on their pursuit for justice when given all the drawbacks, so what is it about her character that decides to forge on when others wouldn’t? This needed insight unfortunately never comes.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending devolves into a standard psycho-on-the-loose formula in which Lacy tracks down Sally and takes her to a remote farm in Upstate New York where he plans to kill her, but his reasoning doesn’t make sense. If she disappears he’d become the prime suspect and it’s very unlikely, whether she testified or not, that his job would ever get reinstated, so why then even bother?

The film’s first two acts examined the inner politics of a city police department and did it in a vivid, realistic manner, which is where the focus should’ve stayed. A far creepier ending would’ve had the corrupt police brass refuse to believe Sally’s allegations, which would allow Lacy to remain on the force despite his many transgressions, so she’d not only have Lacy as her threat, but all of his police friends as well.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 14, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ivan Nagy

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Psychic Killer (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killing through astral projection.

Arnold (Jim Hutton) finds himself behind-bars for a murder he did not commit. He conveys his dilemma to fellow inmate Emilio (Stack Pierce) who informs Arnold that he has special powers that can help Arnold get out of his predicament and once Emilio dies he promises to transfer those powers to him. Then 2 days later Emilio jumps to his death and later Arnold receives a small box that has an amulet inside of it. Arnold puts the amulet necklace on and discovers that he now can kill his enemies through astral projection without him having to be present when it occurs. Police Lt. Jeff Morgan (Paul Burke) suspects what Arnold is doing, but can’t seem to prove it.

The script, which was written by Greydon Clark, who went on to write scripts for many other interesting low budget films, has definite potential and I liked the idea, but the concept isn’t thought through well enough and ends up leaving many more questions than answers. For instance how is Arnold able to know where his victims are when he tries to kill them? All of the killings take place with Arnold sitting in the comfort of his own bedroom in a comatose state, but if that’s the case then what signals him to make the automobile one of his victim’s is driving in go haywire, so that it crashes? How would he know that the victim was for sure driving in it when he mentally causes the car to go bonkers?

How was Arnold able to learn the art of astral projection so quickly? This seems like something a person would have to hone their skills a bit to completely master and yet Arnold acts like a pro at it instantaneously. Also, if Emilio initially had the amulet with all these massive powers then why didn’t he use it to get himself out of jail instead of wasting away in a cell when he really didn’t have to?

With the exception of a death that occurs inside a butcher shop the rest of the killings aren’t all that impressive or gory and in many ways cheesy stuff better suited for a TV-Movie. This could be better categorized as a tacky sci-fi flick than a horror one anyways especially when one the deaths, where a man gets crushed by a giant cement block, gets played-up more in the comical vein.

Ray Danton, a former actor turned director, manages to keep it somewhat lively by introducing a variety of different settings, which is good. However, the outdoor shots get compromised by looking like they were filmed in some studio backlot, which includes a scene where a rich elderly man (Whit Bissell) takes a young chick (Judith Brown) to his isolated cabin hideaway, but cabin’s front yard looks like a giant gravel pit that nobody would either build or buy a place with that type of outdoor eyesore.

While I enjoyed Della Reese and the verbal sparring that she has with Neville Brand inside a butcher shop, the rest of the acting, which gets made up entirely of B-actors on the decline of their careers, isn’t too interesting. Hutton’s presence though is an exception. He had been a rising star in the 60’s doing light comedies, but here he takes a stab at something much darker and he delivers. I thought this would’ve helped him get more movie offers, but instead he got relegated to TV assignments afterwards before eventually dying just 5 years later from cancer at the age of only 45.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: December 12, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Ray Danton

Studio: Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Cops and Robbers (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Cops become the robbers.

Tom (Cliff Gorman) and Joe (Joseph Bologna) are two New York City policemen who are tired of their jobs and want to retire from the working world, but can’t because they need to support their families. They decide the only solution is to commit a heist by working with a local mob boss (John P. Ryan) to rob a Wall Street brokerage firm out of  bonds that cannot be traced. The two come up with an elaborate scheme  to pull it off during the day while the place is still open and they’re still in uniform. At first things go smoothly, but then two other cops show up forcing Tom and Joe to destroy the bonds they’ve just gotten their hands onto in order to avoid getting caught. While this helps them out of their immediate jam it still gets reported to the press that the place was robbed making the crime boss believe he has been taken advantage of and compelled to get revenge.

What stands out is how different this is from the conventional cop flick. Instead of having a loud, pounding score the music here is soft and tranquil like the breezy, warm climate of a tropical island, which is where both Tom and Joe wish they were. The cops aren’t portrayed as being authority figures either or compromised victims of a corrupt system, but just regular suburbanites trapped in a dead-end job like many people and looking for a way out.

The crime is done differently too. Usually, in most other cop flicks, once the robbery gets going you’ll see the pace speed up with fast edits, but here it gets played-out in real time, which actually makes it more intense. I enjoyed the camera cutting back and forth from showing things from Tom and Joe’s point-of-view as well as from the black-and-white monitor seen by the security guards. The authentic office atmosphere has many of the employees not even knowing a robbery is going on while the two main people who do realize what Tom and Joe are up to, well played by the elderly Shepperd Strudwick and a much younger African American actress named Ellen Holly, display odd reactions and facial expressions that doesn’t conform to the situation, but eventually gets explained by the big twist that comes later.

Gorman gives an awesome performance, which is made all the more impressive when you realize just 4 years earlier he was the highly effeminate gay character in The Boys in the Band, but here he’s a macho heterosexual. I kept waiting for him to reveal mannerisms of his past role, but instead he successfully pulls off being two diametrically different people with no connection to the other a feat not every actor, even some of the good ones, are able to do.

Bologna goes against type too. Usually he’s loud and brash, but here more quiet and nervous. In the Kino Lorber DVD bonus section he recounts a funny incident that happened to him during the production when he was forced to make a call home to his wife (actress Renee Taylor) in real-life. Since there were no such things as cellphones at the time he had to go to a nearby phone booth while still wearing the cop uniform of his character. It was there that he noticed a thug beating up a victim on the sidewalk and he shouted at the man to stop it. Since the man presumed Bologna was a cop it was enough to get him to run away, but then the other pedestrians started to harass Bologna for not chasing after the bad guy and arresting him. He tried to explain that he was just playing a policemen in a movie, but no one believed him.

The film’s final segment, which takes place in Central Park, is well choreographed and features a unique car chase.  It’s just a shame that Aram Avakian who burst onto the film scene with the provocative, ahead-of-its-time cult favorite End of the Roaddidn’t go on to direct more movies as he did only one more, 11 Harrowhouse, after this one before retiring to become the head of the film department at the State University of New York where he worked until his death in 1987. His approach here makes all the difference as he relies not on the typical cop formula action, but instead on the nuance.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: August 15, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Aram Avakian

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD

The Super Cops (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Arresting the drug dealers.

David Greenberg (Ron Leibman) and Robert Hantz (David Selby) join the police force hoping to be active in cleaning up the streets from drug dealers. Unfortunately for them once they go through the basic police training and graduate they’re assigned low level jobs like directing traffic, which they find boring. They decide to start using their off-duty hours to make arrests on their own, which gets them into trouble with their department, but their continuing efforts impresses the residents and soon makes them media heroes known as ‘Batman and Robin’.

The film, which was directed by Gordon Parks who also did Shaft, has plenty of engaging moments and I liked how it starts with the two going through the police training, which allows the viewer to see a full transition of the characters from average citizens to street cops. There’s also a lot of quirky comedy that really works including having the two hiding out inside a trash dumpster and ready to make an arrest only to have a large amount of garbage dumped on them just as they do. The bit at the end where two dueling factions of the police department try to arrest each other, even though neither side is sure which side has committed the worst crime, is quite amusing too.

The characters and situations are based loosely on real life events and it’s interesting how the actual Greenberg and Hantz are shown right at the start being interviewed about all of their arrests and then they appear later in the story playing two corrupt cops that get into a big fistfight with their film counterparts. Initially I thought Leibman looked too scrawny and outside of his bushy mustache didn’t resemble Greenberg all that much, but he makes up for it with a highly spirited performance. Selby is good too and I liked how there’s a contrast in personalities between the two although in real-life they had been best friends since childhood while the film makes it seem like they meet and become friends while in training.

The main problem with the film is that we never learn what makes these guys tick. Why are these two so motivated to arrest drug dealers even more so than a regular cop? Did they have a friend or family member die of a drug overdose in the past? And what about their private lives? Are these guys married, single, or gay? None of this gets shown or addressed, which ends up creating a placid effect. While the viewer may admire the relentlessness of the protagonists we’re also never emotionally tied-in to anything that goes on.

Showing the politics that occurs behind-the-scenes inside a police force and how this protocol system can sometimes stymie innovation or individuals that may want to work outside of it is commendable, but also ends up having a defeating quality to it. Every time these guys make any progress they end up falling back into the hands of the same administrators that want to make life miserable for them, and this gets repeated all the way until the bitter end making the viewer feel frustrated when it’s over instead of inspired.

It’s also interesting to note that Greenberg and Hantz weren’t exactly virtuous in their real-lives and ended up getting caught doing the same things that they arrested other people for doing here including Hantz who was forced to resign from the police force in 1975 after getting caught in possession of marijuana. Greenberg also spent two stints in jail once in 1978 for nine months for mail fraud and then again in 1990 for 4 years for insurance fraud.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: March 20, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated R

Directer: Gordon Parks

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), Amazon Video

Freebie and the Bean (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Protecting a state’s witness.

Detective Sergeant Dan Delgado (Alan Arkin) is ‘Bean’ while Detective Sergeant Tim Walker (James Caan) is known as ‘Freebie’. Together they are two San Francisco cops investigating a well-known racketeer named Red Meyers (Jack Kruschen). Just when they think they have enough evidence to bring him in they find that there’s a hit-man ready to kill him and it is now their job to keep the cantankerous Meyers alive until they can bring in a key witness to testify against him, which proves difficult.

The script was written by Floyd Mutrix who shopped it around to many studios before finally selling it to Warner Brothers because he felt he could trust then Studio Boss Richard Zanuck to keep the story in tact only to have the script go through massive rewrites once it was handed over to Richard Rush to direct. The story was originally conceived as being in the serious vein, but during rehearsals it was found that Caan and Arkin had a good comic chemistry together, so the dialogue took on more of a humorous take.

In many ways I liked the comic spin. This was in the age of Dirty Harry and The French Connection where cops had taken too much of a serious tone, so having something making fun of the trend is refreshing. The story itself remains gritty, which culminates in this odd dynamic where you find yourself laughing one minute and then cringing the next. My only complaint is that it seemed like Freebie and Bean where getting away with too much, the destruction of police property and reckless driving was one thing, but the way they would freely rough-up suspects under their care was another. Their ethical boundaries were so loose that real-life cops in the same situation would most certainly end up  getting reprimanded, at least hopefully.

The stunt work is worth catching as the car chases create a true adrenaline rush. The best one starts inside a dentist’s office, then goes out onto the streets where Caan, or at least his stunt double, rides a motorbike over the roofs of several cars in his pursuit of the bad guys, then proceeds to go through an outdoor art exhibit only to culminate inside the kitchen of a ritzy restaurant.

The supporting cast includes Loretta Swit as the wife of the crime boss who initially seems to have a very insignificant role, but it eventually works into being an integral part by the end. I also enjoyed Christopher Morley, who is a well-known female impersonator best remembered for playing Sally Armitage a character that was known as a woman who eventually came out as a man on the daytime soap opera ‘General Hospital’ that later inspired the movie Tootsie.  Here he plays a transvestite that Freebie meets briefly early on. Due to his small body frame Freebie initially considers him a ‘lightweight’ only to get the shock of his life when later on Morley proves to be far more able to defend himself than Freebie could’ve ever imagined in a unique fight sequence that I wished had been extended.

The casting that I had an issue was with Arkin and Valerie Harper as his wife. Usually these are great actors, but here they play Hispanic characters even though both were actually Jewish. Hearing Harper speak in a fake Spanish accent is quite annoying and the scene where the two bicker at each other would’ve had far better energy had it been played by actual Hispanics.

Spoiler Alert!

The part where Bean gets shot is problematic too. Normally I don’t mind having some reality seep into a story,  but here Bean being put out of commission is all wrong. The two had done everything together up to this point, so it cheats the viewer and the film’s chemistry with him missing during the climactic fight. Having him then miraculously recover after he’s taken away in the ambulance and pronounced dead makes the whole scenario ridiculous and implausible.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 25, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 53 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Richard Rush

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

The New Centurions (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rookies on the force.

Roy Fehler (Stacy Keach) is a young law student who decides to join the LAPD until he can complete his degree. After graduating from training he gets partnered with Andy Kilvinski (George C. Scott) a veteran with almost a quarter of a century of police work under his belt. Roy likes Kilvinski’s unique approach to cop duty and enjoys his police work more and more to the point that he puts his law studies on hold, much to the consternation of his wife (Jane Alexander). Then one night Roy gets shot while on-duty forcing him to go through a painful recovery, but his determination to return to the force puts a major strain on his marriage and when his wife leaves him he turns to liquor for solace.

The film is based on Joseph Wambaugh’s debut novel, which he wrote in 1970 and based loosely on his own experiences and observations while working as a cop. The novel though differs greatly from the film in that there were three main characters in the book while the film focuses mainly on Keach while leaving the other two, which are played by Eric Estrada and Scott Wilson, as only secondary players that are seen only sporadically. The novel also delved into the Watts Riots at the end, which the movie completely ignores.

The film though does succeed at humanizing those that work on the force as we see them as regular people who just so happen to wear a badge as opposed to authority figures. The story thankfully avoids police cliches and seeing how Keach’s job affects both his home life and personality is quite interesting and something I wished had been explored even more.

The best moments come during the first act as the viewer gets thrust onto the street scene along with Fehler and Kilvinski where in almost cinema vertite style we see what an average night patrolling a poor African American neighborhood in Los Angeles is really like. Some of the time their experiences are quite lighthearted like when they pick up a group of black prostitutes, one of which is played by Isabel Sanford, who later went on to star in the TV-Show ‘The Jeffersons’, who get put into a paddy wagon where they drink hard liquor and tell bawdy stories. Other moments though become tense and serious particularly when they have to wrestle a crying infant away from his abusive mother.

Keach plays his part quite well and one of the reasons that the film is successful, but his character isn’t well defined. We have no understanding why he enjoys patrolling the streets so much and ignores his family life the way he does. Without any insight to what drives him it makes his obsession to return to the force after his shooting injury seem bizarre and confusing. In the novel he was portrayed as being quite arrogant and thinking he was smarter than everyone else, which gets toned down considerably here.

Spoiler Alert!

Scott’s character is another confusing mess. For most of the film he’s shown as being rather laid-back only to suddenly shoot and kill himself without warning after he retires. Yet the character is not fleshed-out enough making what he does senseless. The film seems to imply that he was bored in retirement, which is what lead him to do it, but do other policemen who retire also kill themselves at a high rate? I haven’t heard of that many who do so it seemed to me there needed to be a better reason than just that and without one being sufficiently supplied it makes the scene come-off as unnecessarily jarring that creates confusion instead of clarity.

The segment where Fehler joins the vice squad are quite funny and manage to be both outrageous and believable at the same time. However, his sudden descent into alcoholism gets too rushed and the film would’ve worked better had it reflected the same structure as its source novel where the character’s lives are examined every August of each succeeding year after graduating instead of keeping the time period undefined, which makes everything that occurs look like broad composites instead of a fluid situation.

The scene where Scott Wilson’s character shoots and kills an innocent black man gets poorly presented too as we never get to see the aftermath of his actions as the subsequent investigation is never addressed at all. We simply see him back on the force in later scenes like it never happened. The moment is startling, so not answering the question of what penalty he may or may not have faced is frustrating.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: August 3, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Richard Fleischer

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD

I Walk the Line (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Sheriff covers for moonshiners.

Aging Sheriff Henry Tawes (Gregory Peck) has always been a strong pillar of his community, but recently has found himself bored with his domestic life and looking for diversion. He becomes smitten with Alma (Tuesday Weld) a young woman half his age, who lives on the poor side of town with her father (Ralph Meeker) who runs an illegal distillery. Despite the risks Henry begins an open affair with her with her family’s blessing as long as Henry agrees not to report their distillery, but then a federal agent (Lonny Chapman) arrives in town threatening to shut down every moonshiner he finds. Henry’s deputy Hunnicutt (Charles Durning) also becomes suspicious of Henry’s shady actions, which forces Henry to take some calculated risks, which all backfire on him in shocking ways.

This film is a perfect testament to something that I’ve mentioned before on this blog, which is how shooting a film on-location in an actual small town versus one being built on a studio backlot can make all the difference on whether it succeeds at the box office, or not. This one was done in the tiny hamlet of Gainesboro, Tennessee, which has just over a 1,000 people and in fact its downtown, which includes the prominent courthouse, barely looks any different now then it did when principle photography took place in October of 1969. Director John Frankenheimer makes good use of the townsfolk focusing in on their old, weathered faces at the beginning and glum expressions, which helps accentuate Henry’s bored and static life as well as the abandoned, decrepit house the lovers meet-in, which illustrates their empty, vanquished souls.

The script by Alvin Sargent, which is based on the novel ‘An Exile’ by Madison Jones, allows the visuals and action to do most of the talking while keeping the dialogue subtle and concise. I even enjoyed the music interludes by Johnny Cash. Some critics at the time complained that there was no need for this as Johnny’s words that he sings seem to be simply explaining what the viewer is already seeing onscreen, but the music still conveys a raw southern flavor and Cash’s singing style makes it seem more like he’s talking to the viewer and like he’s another character in the film.

Peck’s performance is good here despite the fact that Frankenheimer wanted Gene Hackman for the role, but was forced to settle with Peck because he was already under contract with the studio. Normally Hackman would’ve been the better choice, but here Peck’s usual stiffness and detached delivery brings out convey his character’s inner turmoil. Durning is outstanding as his nefarious deputy and with his energetic and impulsive presence because an interesting contrast to Peck’s more reserved one.

Spoiler Alert!

Weld is great too even though the part she plays seems very similar to the one that she did in Pretty Poison although here at least the character isn’t portrayed as being completely evil, but instead somewhat naive and sheltered, which helps make her more multi-dimensional. Her motivations though are confusing and the film’s one major drawback. I could not understand, and the film never bothers to make clear, why she’d want to stay stuck with her family and their dismal, impoverished situation. Granted she didn’t really love Henry, which is obvious, but she had already manipulated him quite a bit,  and even had sex with him,so why not run off with him like he wanted and use his money to live a better life while also siphoning some of it back to her family to help them too?

Even if one would argue that she had a close-knit bond to her family it still doesn’t make sense. Many young woman have close ties to their family, but at some point they still leave the nest especially when vanquished to abject poverty otherwise. With her good looks a lot of doors could be opened, so why not see what else is out there? It comes out later that she’s married to another man who’s in jail, but the film glosses over this like she’s not any more in love with him than Henry and still doesn’t help to explain much. It also would’ve worked better had the viewer been left in the dark until the end as to whether she was really in-love with Henry or not instead of making it obvious that she was playing him, which lessens the shock effect for what occurs at the end.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: October 12, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: John Frankenheimer

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube