Category Archives: Police Drama

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

Fort Apache, The Bronx (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Cops on the beat.

Murphy (Paul Newman) is a middle-aged cop working a beat in a tough Bronx neighborhood while partnered with Corelli (Ken Wahl) who is much younger. Murphy has become jaded to the corruption around him, but still feels a sense of purpose about coming forward when he witnesses a fellow cop killing an innocent bystander. Corelli, who also witnessed it, feels they should keep quiet about it, fearing the backlash they will inevitable get if they don’t, but Murphy quarrels with his conscious and considers risking his own safety and career in order to do the right thing.

While the film opened to mainly positive reviews and did quite well at the box office it was not without controversy as author Tom Walker, who had written the novel ‘Fort Apache’ which had a similar theme and storyline as this one, sued the production company claiming they had stolen many ideas from his book. However, the courts decided in the film’s favor arguing that the movie was filled with a lot of generalized stereotypes that is present in just about every cop film and therefore could not be signaled out as copyright infringement, which seemed more like a backhanded victory as it admits that a lot of what  you’ll see here is just one giant cliche.

From my perspective though I still enjoyed it especially the street scenes where the two protagonists find themselves dealing with petty crimes that makes up a lot of what real-life policemen have to deal with, as opposed to the sexy murder mysteries that cops in other police dramas get to investigate. The scene where Newman chases a suspect, but then runs out of breath and is unable to catch him nicely examines the exhausting physical nature of the job as well.

My biggest gripe has to do with a scene that comes right away, which involves a prostitute, wonderfully played by Pam Grier, who shoots and kills two unsuspecting cops sitting inside a squad car. The excuse is that these two were rookies and therefore not seasoned enough to catch the warning signs of what was going on, but I felt right away that something was off by the way the prostitute was fishing around her purse making me sense even before it happened that she was going for a gun and if I the viewer could’ve caught on to this then the two cops, whether they were new on the job or not, should’ve too.

Spoiler Alert!

I was disappointed that this storyline involving the psycho prostitute does not get fully played-out as she ends up getting killed in the middle of the film in a very random and uninteresting way, which ruins the anticipation/suspense of seeing her and Newman ultimately confront each other, which is what the viewer is primed into believing will happen.

The storyline dealing with the cop killing a defenseless man gets botched too as it occurs during the middle, but with no satisfying conclusion. We never get to see how Newman’s decision to come forward ultimately effected his life and safety.

I had problems with the sequence of events concerning Newman’s girlfriend, played by Rachel Ticotin, as well as we see her die from a lethal drug overdose, but this occurs before some gunmen take over the hospital where she worked as a nurse and held everyone hostage. It would’ve been far more suspenseful had the viewer at least thought that the girlfriend was one of the hostages instead of knowing upfront that she wasn’t, which ultimately makes this sequence less emotionally compelling.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Newman as usual gives a great performance and this marked the last role he played where his age was not a factor as his roles after this all dealt in some way with him becoming elderly. However with that said he still looks very much to be in his 50’s and he states at one point that he’s divorced with two daughters making me believe that they were most likely young adults, but instead we see a brief scene where he picks them up from school showing that they’re still young children, which given his very middle-aged appearance looked ridiculous.

Wahl is good as his young partner, but I felt his character should’ve been the one that was idealistic and wanted to go to the authorities while Newman, being older and more desensitized the one who tries to talk him out of it. Ed Asner, as the cantankerous new police chief gets wasted as does Pam Grier who’s real creepy and should’ve had both her character and motives explored much more.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: February 6, 1981

Runtime: 2 Hours 5 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Daniel Petrie

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD

Two-Minute Warning (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Sniper at football game.

Based on the novel of the same name by George LaFountaine the story centers on a lone gunman (Warren Miller) who for reasons that are not clear decides to massacre spectators at a football game with his high powered rifle by sneaking into the clock tower of the L.A. Coliseum during a championship game. Eventually he gets spotted by a TV crew and the police and S.W.A.T. team are brought in to stop him before he creates any carnage.

While it may sound like I’m going off on a tangent by complaining about the unimaginative uniforms used by the football teams since the game itself is only a minor subplot it still hits-home how every little aspect of a film is important and if one part of it is sub-par it drags down the rest. Since the NFL refused to give permission that would’ve allowed them to use logos of actual football teams they were forced to make-up their own, but what they come up with is quite bland including having fans in the stands waving flags for the Los Angeles team, which are colored black and yellow while the colors of the uniforms of the team on the field are maroon and gold. The fan atmosphere isn’t authentic either as the spectators come-off looking more like people going to church with none of them immersed in their team’s insignia, which would include body and face paint that you usually see at most ballgames. Even the name of the game is boring since they weren’t able to use the Superbowl title so it gets called a very uninspiring ‘Championship 10’ instead.

The cast is made up too many people looking well over 50, almost like this was a movie made by aging old farts for aging old farts, and at least one of the three leads should’ve been a young person in order to give it balance. While I liked John Cassavetes as the S.W.A.T. team captain as he gives the film a unique intensity, I felt Charlton Heston as the police chief, who always comes off as a stiff who conveys his lines like he’s orating a lecture, could’ve been replaced by Beau Bridges, one of the few cast member who was in his 20’s and who gets wasted as a dopey unemployed father who doesn’t have all that much to do with the plot.

The rest of the supporting players are made up of B-actors and include David Janssen and Gena Rowlands as a benign bickering couple and an aging Walter Pidgeon, in his second-to-last film, as a pickpocket. Jack Klugman is somewhat interesting as a desperate gambler, who doesn’t appear here wearing his usual wig and I kind of enjoyed seeing David Groh hitting on Marilyn Hassett, who at the time was married to the film’s director, while her jealous boyfriend (Jon Korkes) is unable to do anything about it.

Spoiler Alert!

The plot is mildly interesting, but it takes too long, a full hour, just to construct the basic set-up. The second half is spent watching how the authorities plot to stop the sniper without panicking everybody in the stands, which might’ve been more riveting had they not, despite all of their best efforts, failed at it. This also creates an unintentionally funny moment where one of the S.W.A.T. team members gets shot by the sniper and his body dangles by a rope from the stadium lights, but the crowd is so into the game they fail to notice the bloody, bullet-riddled body hanging just above their heads.

The most frustrating aspect though is the fact that we learn nothing about the killer or what motivated him. I don’t mind it being a mystery initially, but at some point the viewers deserves some answers. There’s just too many questions that demand explaining like how did the killer know where to go to get into the the stadium tower and how did he know to bring along raw meat in order to quiet the guard dogs? It almost seemed like he might’ve been a former employee of the stadium, which is a backstory that eventually needed telling.

End of Spoiler Alert!

The part of the film that actually does work are the scenes dealing with the panicked crowd that becomes an out-of-control mob once the shooting starts. Many films have tried to recreate the mob atmosphere and have failed, which isn’t surprising since you’re forced to work with a lot of extras who have no acting training, but here director Larry Peerce somehow manages to pull it off making these moments quite intense and memorable and helps to overshadow its other faults.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 12, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 56 Minutes (Theatrical Version)

Rated R

Director: Larry Peerce

Studio: Universal

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

Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Police Chief kills prostitute.

Dottore (Gian Maria Volante) is the police chief in the homicide division of his department. He is by all measures a man above suspicion and decides to one day put this to the test by killing his mistress (Florinda Bolkan) who was also a prostitute. To make the challenge even more interesting he plants obvious clues, which should lead to his indictment, but they don’t. Instead the police inspectors come up with a maddening array of warped reasons why the police chief is not the killer even when the evidence clearly points to the fact that he is.

This film, which won the Academy Award for best foreign film of 1970, touches on an issue rarely seen in American cop movies outside of maybe The Fugitive, where the police get a tunnel vision on who they think the suspect is, in this case the woman’s gay husband, and tune-out all other potential angles in their zeal to ‘get their guy’.  This is something that happens in real-life cases much more often than people realize where inspectors, in an effort to get the case solved and move-on, will make the evidence fit their own preconceived narrative instead of vice-versa.

The story also analyzes how having a rigid protocol system can be dangerous. What on the surface may seem ‘orderly’ can underneath be covering up all sorts of corruption. Everyone is so afraid of keeping their jobs and saving the reputation of the police department that all sorts of corrupt acts are allowed to pass through unhindered as everyone becomes ingrained with the yes-man mentality. Even having some of the most cutting edge police technology in the world doesn’t help if it falls victim to human overseers whose subjectivity only allows them to see what they want to see.

Gian Maria Volante, who in real-life was known as a left wing radical and was arrested many times during the 70’s by police for taking part in political demonstrations, is excellent as the reactionary authority figure. His piercing stare is more than enough to own every scene that he is in and ironically he played just three years earlier in the film We Still Kill the Old Way  done by the same director, a character is on the opposite end who fought corruption to get to the truth over a murder.

Elio Petri’s direction is nothing short of excellent and had his life not been cut short by cancer he most assuredly would’ve gone on to become one of the greats of Italian cinema. Ennio Morricone’s distinctive score is terrific too. Normally I tend to prefer as little music in films as possible, but the soundtrack here helps accentuate the film’s stylish presentation and gives it a real attitude and should’ve been played-up even more including over the film’s opening credits, which are strangely silent.

The film’s only defect is the fact that since we already know who’s committed the crime there’s not a lot of tension. It might’ve worked better had the police chief not been the main character and the perpetrator of the crime remained a mystery until later on. One of the lead investigators could’ve been made the protagonist who follows the evidence, which eventually leads to the police chief, but then he finds stiff resistance to his findings from the department, which could’ve been more impactful, but the film still has its share of strong scenes including its surreal-like ending.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: February 12, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 55 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Elio Petri

Studio: Euro International Film

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Criterion Collection), Amazon Video, YouTube

…tick…tick…tick (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: New sheriff faces racism.

Citizens of a small southern town get on edge when the current sheriff (George Kennedy) gets voted out and replaced by a black man (Jim Brown).  As the new sheriff Jim faces stiff resistance even from fellow members of the black community, but he forges on. When the son of a rich white man from a neighboring town runs over and kills a young white girl while he was driving drunk, Jim has him put into jail, but the young man’s father demands that he be released and when Jim refuses it creates the beginning of a potential race riot that forces the white citizens of the town to make a hard choice; do they continue with their racist behavior, or join the black sheriff in defending their town from corrupt outsiders?

The film starts out on the cheesy side by showing up close an egg frying on a sidewalk. The problem is that I tried this last year in Austin, Texas when the temp was 110 (actual temp and not a heat index figure), but I couldn’t get it to work even though I did it on asphalt and in direct sunlight. Some say that the egg has to be put in a frying pan and then have the pan put on the cement and maybe so, but that’s not how the film shows it and what’s worse is that it looks like the egg is already in a fried state even before it hits the pavement.

It’s also annoying that despite having the Deep South as the setting it was actually filmed in Colusa, California where the topography looks much different. I also had to wonder why everyone is constantly glazed over in sweat even when they were in bed at night and only small, little fans to cool them. The story’s time period is the present day (1970) and air conditioners were invented in 1902, so why the hell doesn’t anyone in this hot southern town own and use one?

The soundtrack features loud, poorly sung songs that not only get played over the opening and closing credits, but during a lot of the film as well, which gives the entire production a very B-level movie feel. I also got tired of hearing the sound of a clock ticking in the background that permeates just about every scene during the first 30 minutes and becomes heavy-handed and annoying.

The only thing that saves it is Jim Brown who’s really good here and looks better and younger without his trademark mustache. Kennedy on the other hand doesn’t seem up to the challenge with many of his scenes, particularly the one were he accosts a young man who was harassing him, coming off as unintentionally funny.

It’s sort-of fun seeing Frederic March playing a goofy mayor as well as Mills Watson, in his film debut, playing a racist deputy a decade before playing his most famous role as the bungling deputy Perkins in the ‘Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo’ TV-show.  I also liked how Clifton James and Anthony James (no relation) who had both played racist southern types in other films get roles here where they’re more level headed and help suppress the racist behavior of others instead of stoking it.

The film gets marginally better as it goes along and the ending is okay even a bit unique for this type of genre, but overall it’s just a cheap imitation of In the Heat of Night, which was much better. The only really surprising thing about the movie is that it received a G-rating despite having the N-word spoken throughout by several of the characters.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: January 9, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated G

Director: Ralph Nelson

Studio: MGM

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

Shoot to Kill (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Chasing killer through wilderness.

Warren Stantin (Sidney Poitier) is a veteran police officer who goes after a jewel thief when he kills his hostages while the two were negotiating for their release. Stantin feels like he failed them (the hostages) and must make restitution by personally seeing their killer brought to justice. The problem is that he doesn’t know who the killer is as he never saw his face. In an attempt to escape the authorities the killer then joins a group led by Sarah (Kristie Alley) who are hiking through the rugged forest terrain of northern Washington. Stantin joins forces with Jonathan (Tom Berenger)  an outdoorsmen who knows the area well and can lead Stantin on foot to where the hikers are as no one in that group realizes that one of them is a dangerous criminal.

The story is the inspiration of Harv Zimmel who wanted to incorporate his lifelong enthusiasm for hiking into a an exciting police story and for the most part it works. The story itself is kind of formulaic as cop thrillers go, but the vivid wilderness setting adds an extra element with a lot of hair-raising scenes including the point-of-view shots of Berenger dangling hundreds of feet in the air on a thin rope over a gulch and getting swung violently into the side of a rocky hill.

One of the coolest aspects of the film is the fact that the viewer, at least for the first half, has no idea who the killer is, which lends extra intrigue as you try to guess which one of the group members he is. In order to make it more interesting director Roger Spootiswoode cast actors who had played villains in past thrillers although I would’ve done the opposite by hiring actors who didn’t seem like killers at all and therefore making the ultimate reveal even more surprising and it’s a shame that the killer’s identity couldn’t have been kept a secret until the very end.

Poitier, who had spent the previous decade working behind-the-scenes as a director, is excellent in his first acting role in 11 years. He was 60 when he did this, but you’d never know it and he gets a few comical moments here too. It’s also nice that his skin color never comes into play as most of his other film roles always made his race a center issue. Berenger offers adequate support, but I was actually much more impressed with Alley who comes off as tougher and more resourceful than all of the other men.

There’s very little to complain about although one of my quibbles is that we never get to see Stantin’s personal life. Most cop films will always show a brief glimpse into a policeman’s home life in order to make him more ‘human’ or multi-dimensional. Here we see briefly Poitier talking on the phone with someone, supposedly his wife/girlfriend, but it would’ve been nice to have had a scene  showing the face of his significant other.

The film also has way too much music that lacks distinction and gets played over just about every scene. The story is exciting enough and there’s no need for a booming score to accentuate what we’re already caught up in. Since the majority of the pic takes place in the outdoors it’s best to allow the natural ambiance to work as the background sound and adding in anything above that comes off as heavy-handed.

Overall though the film is slick and exciting that starts strong and never lets up and includes a very unique final shootout that takes place underwater.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: February 12, 1988

Runtime: 1 Hour 50 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Roger Spottiswoode

Studio: Buena Vista

Available: DVD

Sharky’s Machine (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Cop tracks hooker’s killer.

Tom Sharky (Burt Reynolds) is a veteran cop who gets demoted to the vice division after getting involved in a drug deal bust gone wrong. It is here that he begins a 24-hour surveillance of high-class hooker Dominoe (Rachel Ward) who’s seeing a candidate for Governor that may have mob ties and could threaten not only her life, but Sharky’s as well.

This film marked Reynolds thankful break from his yahoo car chase comedies and helped albeit briefly revitalize his career and return him to being an actor who could parlay various genres as opposed to an aging actor relegated to lame B-comedies. For the most part his foray into this Dirty Harry clone is effective and proves he could still act when given the right material. As opposed to some of his earlier cop flicks such as Shamus his character here is not the source of any of the humor, but instead he plays it completely straight while simply responding to some of the goofy people and situations around him, which works just as well.

This also marked his third stab at directing, which is effective. I liked the gritty feel that permeates just about every shot and there’s some good, exciting, hard-edged action. I also like the leisurely pace that takes its time in telling the story and focuses at least somewhat on the investigation aspect of police work particularly the forensic end, which I wished had been extended more. What got me though and which gets a bit excessive is the obsession with the Westin Peachtree Plaza, which at the time was Atlanta’s tallest building, and the way the camera slowly zooms in on the skyscraper almost like it wants to make love to it.

Reynolds surrounds himself with an aging cast, men well over the age of 50 and 60, which I think was intentional because by comparison it makes him, who was 45, appear much younger. However, in retrospect I think this idea was a mistake. It’s not like these old pros were bad because they’re not in fact Charles Durning is quite amusing as Reynolds’ superior who gets off listening to the dirty talk between a hooker and her customer as well as looking over the luxurious apartment of a crime kingpin and stating “I think we’re working on the wrong side”, but these veterans do not help bring in younger viewers, which could’ve broadened Reynolds appeal and the whole reason why his star status tumbled during the 80s because his fan base was getting older while newer audiences weren’t being brought in.

Spoiler Alert!

The story is entertaining, but eventually jumps-the-shark when Domino supposedly gets shot and killed only to have it turn out to be some minor character named Tiffany instead, which doesn’t make a  lot of sense as dental records would’ve identified who the real victim was during the autopsy. It also would’ve made Sharky’s obsession to nab the shooter more compelling and personal had the victim really been Domino, who he was starting to have feelings for, instead of some woman he knew nothing about.

Their romantic angle might be the first time that a hooker falls-in-love with a vice cop. The fact that she’s initially defensive towards him, but then this leads to romance after he gets on top of her and slaps her across the face while also stating during a heated exchange “Don’t make me have to say what you really are!” is probably the most absurd thing of all.

Casting Henry Silva as the psycho gunman is boring because he’s played this type of role too many times and it’s just no longer interesting seeing him do it. Also, Reynolds main nemesis throughout the film was Vittorio Gassman who orchestrated the crimes and that’s who Reynolds should’ve been chasing down at the end instead of the lowly gunman who was simply carrying out orders.

The record breaking stunt showing Dar Robinson (doubling as Silva) doing a 220 foot free-fall from Atlanta’s Hyatt Regency Hotel really isn’t as impressive as it sounds. I remember watching a behind-the-scenes documentary showing what lengths the film crew went to capture it, but you end up only seeing a few seconds of it in the actual film making it seem like it really wasn’t worth the effort to put in.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 18, 1981

Runtime: 2 Hours 2 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Burt Reynolds

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, YouTube

Brannigan (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: The Duke in London

Jim Brannigan (John Wayne) is a gruff Chicago cop hired to extradite mob boss Ben Larkin (John Vernon) from London back to the states, but Brannigan finds that England’s more restrained form of policing doesn’t conform to his and is at immediate odds with British police commander Charles Swann (Richard Attenborough) from the beginning. Things become even more problematic when Larkin gets kidnapped forcing the police to engage in a ransom drop in order to get him back. Brannigan must also avoid a very aggressive hit-man named Gorman (Daniel Pilon) who was hired by Larkin to kill him.

This was Wayne’s second attempt at playing a modern day tough guy policeman, which was mainly in response to being snubbed from the starring role in Dirty Harry. His first flick as a cop was McQ, which was quite derivative and made The Duke look like an old, sickly walking corpse ready to keel over at any second. Here though Wayne is strangely reinvigorated and seems much spryer on his feet. He also doesn’t take himself quite as seriously and spends most of the time eliciting humorous quips and comebacks, but by the end the London scenery and array of supporting characters start to overshadow the big guy until he becomes almost like a co-star in his own movie.

The story is a bit different from a typical Wayne vehicle in that the first half has virtually no action and consists mainly of the police surveillance of the kidnappers and trying to figure out what they’ll do next. One drawn out scene even deals with Wayne and lady cop friend Jennifer (Judy Geeson) following a mail truck around London in order to see where the ransom money, which they think is in the truck, will be taken.

While this subdued approach may annoy the more action addicted Wayne fans I found it to be a refreshing change of pace and I liked how the film analyzed the boring aspects of police work instead of just glamorizing the sexy shootouts. Unfortunately the second-half devolves back into the familiar formula, which includes not only an uninspired car chase, but a big barroom brawl as well. The brawl, which was filmed at the exclusive Garrick Club, is the most off-putting because it’s done in a comically slapstick way that drains all the grittiness and realism that the film tried so hard to create in the first-half right out of the movie altogether.

The sleek looking, dark glasses wearing hit-man, who drives a ritzy looking sports car seems like a character straight out of a James Bond movie. The segment done in slow motion as well as the running joke of having every hotel room that Brannigan stays in get destroyed by those who is after him only helps to cement this as being just another whimsical, uninspired cop outing that despite a first half that showed some promise has nothing edgy or original about it.

The idea of having Brannigan essentially trying to ‘save’ a mobster’s life just so he can bring him back here to go to trial isn’t a very riveting plot point to begin with. The Larkin character is completely unlikable, so the viewer could care less whether he can escape the clutches of his kidnappers or not and the story would’ve been far more compelling had Brannigan been out to save a kidnapped child instead, which along with the other misguided ideas described above probably explains why this thing ended up tanking badly at the box office.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: March 26, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 51Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Douglas Hickox

Studio: United Artists

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

Death Wish 4: The Crackdown (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Vigilante battles drug dealers.

Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) is now living in L.A. and in a relationship with Karen (Kay Lenz) who has a teen daughter Erica (Dana Barron). Erica wants to become an architect like Paul and interns at his office, but she is also dating a boyfriend (Jesse Dabson) who is into drugs. His friendship with a drug dealer gets Erica to experiment with crack cocaine, which ends up killing her. In a rage Paul returns to his vigilante ways by killing the dealer, which then gets the attention of billionaire Nathan White (John P. Ryan) whose own daughter also died from a drug overdose. He recruits Paul into tracking down the biggest dealers in L.A. and killing them, but Paul eventually realizes that Nathan has ulterior motives.

This was the first film in the series not to be directed by Michael Winner and instead the duties were handed over to J. Lee Thompson who had worked with Bronson on several other projects previously. The script by Gail Morgan Hickman tries to take the vigilante theme in a new direction and starts out with a diverting dream sequence in which Paul sees himself as one of the victims that he shoots, which brought up a potentially intriguing subplot involving the psychological pressures one must assuredly develop when they’re constantly killing people even if it’s for ‘justice’, but the film then never goes back to it, which was disappointing.

The overall scenario, which transports Paul from dealing with ordinary street gangs to sophisticated crime families, does not work and fails to give the already tired series a new breath of life. It no longer even resembles a vigilant theme at all, but instead becomes more like an episode of ‘Miami Vice’ but without the trendy attire.

Paul is no longer just an ordinary guy with a gun either, but instead has become a sort-of James Bond incarnate who uses with all sorts of elaborate weaponry and gadgets better made for a seasoned CIA agent. He’s also able to get himself out of just about any nerve-wracking jam like when he miraculously fights off over 20 men in warehouse who are shooting at him, or magically getting himself out of a car that he is driving just seconds before it’s riddled with bullets.

Bronson looks more like he’s 45 instead of 67 and matching him up with a young girlfriend makes him appear more virile, but you know right from the start that it’s only a matter of time before she ends up dying violently. It starts to seem like Paul Kersey is a walking, talking curse as anyone who befriends him turns up dead or like the cinematic version of Jessica Fletcher.

I kept wondering when it would all start catching up with him. How can he continue to work a regular job while still spending so much time tracking down the bad guys? When does he sleep? And exactly how many people does he have to kill before the police eventually nab him, or quit allowing him to walk away from it without consequence?

Unlike the first three films this one fails to elicit any type of message or statement. It seems simply intent at being a profit making venture to cash in on those who like mindless shootouts and car explosions and nothing more.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: November 6, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Rated R

Director: J. Lee Thompson

Studio: Cannon Film Distributors

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

Death Wish (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Architect becomes a vigilante.

In connection with the Eli Roth/Bruce Willis reboot that is set to be released to theaters this Friday I thought now would be a good time to go back and take a look at the original. The story centers on Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) who works as an architect and lives a comfortable life with his wife Joanna (Hope Lange) and adult daughter Carol (Kathleen Tolan). One day while he is at work his New York apartment gets invaded by three thugs (Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Logan, Gregory Rozakis) who kill his wife and rape his daughter. Paul becomes outraged that the police can’t seem to make any headway on the case and decides to take matters into his own hands by becoming a self-styled vigilante shooting random thugs on the street late at night, which in turn has him becoming a cult hero to the many residents of the crime ridden city.

The film is based on the novel of the same name by Brian Garfield. Garfield was inspired to write the story after his car got vandalized. He initially fantasized about tracking down the criminals and killing them before eventually speculating what would happen if someone actually went through with these feelings and decided to take the law into their own hands. The main difference between the novel and film is that in the book the vigilantism becomes more of the problem while in the movie it’s considered the solution.

Many critics at the time gave the film unfavorable reviews as they felt it advocated violence, but I found the movie to have a certain uplifting quality. While the message is certainly simplistic and one-sided it still nicely conveys the idea that ordinary citizens can make a difference and it is up to us, the American public, to foster change and not to simply leave it up to someone else. The film doesn’t completely promote violence as the solution either as there is one scene where an old lady (Helen Martin) scares off her attacker simply by using her hat pin.

The problem that I had with it was why does Bronson constantly get harassed by these thugs in the first place? Whether he is at a restaurant or on the subway the bad guys constantly hone in on him for no apparent reason even when there’s plenty of other people around. In the book it made more sense because the title character would intentionally set traps for the thugs like abandoning his car and putting an ‘out of gas’ sign on it, so the criminals would try to rob the vehicle and then when they did he’d shoot them. Of course this would make the character’s motives more questionable, which the film wanted to avoid, but in the process it becomes less believable.

While this has become Bronson’s signature role it still would’ve worked better had a less brawny actor played the part. In the book the character is a meek accountant and someone like Jack Lemmon, who was originally considered for the role, would’ve been a more authentic fit. Bronson’s image is so entrenched as a ‘tough guy’ that his presence here seems like just another of his action themed vehicles. Chuck should’ve also not known how to use a gun right away either and maybe even been initially clumsy with it as it would’ve made the character arch from peaceful novice to sharp shooting vigilante stronger.

I liked Michael Winner’s directing particularly the way he shot the interiors of the apartments and his grimy portrayal of the urban New York setting that perfectly played-up the city’s crime ridden paranoia at the time. This is also a great chance to see some young performers before they were famous including Christopher Guest as a patrolman. I also found it amusing that Paul Dooley and Vincent Gardenia share a brief scene together as they both went on to play the dad character in Breaking Away. Dooley portrayed him in the movie version while Gardenia played the part in the short live TV-series.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 24, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Winner

Studio: Paramount

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