Category Archives: Police Drama

The Take (1974)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Black cop accepts bribe .

Terence Sneed (Billy Dee Williams) is a San Francisco cop brought to Paloma, New Mexico to help take down local crime boss Victor Manso (Vic Morrow). The only problem is that Manso invites Sneed over to his place and offers him a significant amount of cash to get on his ‘payroll’ and thus allow him to get away with his crimes. Sneed is also informed that another top official in the police department, Captain Frank Dolek (Albert Salmi) is on the take as well. Sneed accepts the cash, but then double-crosses Manso by having Dolek secretly tailed where he finds out who all of Manso’s connections are and uses this info to try and bust Manso’s drug operation, which ends up being a tall order that gets Sneed in hot water not only with Manso, but with his police supervisor Chief Berrigan (Eddie Albert) as well.

The film is based on the 1970 British novel ‘Sir, You Bastard’ by Gordon Frank Newman, which became a bestseller and set-off a series of three books that he wrote around the Sneed character. There were though differences between the book and movie as in the novel Sneed was white and worked in Scotland Yard. The one thing though that remained the same was Sneed being unscrupulous and working outside the system.

The fact that the protagonist accepts bribes and most of the way it’s unclear whether he’s even a good guy at all is what makes the movie interesting and helps differentiate it from the other early 70’s cop action flicks. This is the complete opposite of Serpico where the cop refused all bribes and vigorously fought against it. Here we see the other angle. Instead of the main character being on the outside looking in he’s a part of the corrupt system and in order to survive in it must be willing to play along, which I found more realistic and insightful as someone who’s able to totally rise above the evil environments they’re in is rare and therefore we get more of an everyman’s perspective here. It also works against the ‘Save the Cat’ book, which has become the bible of today’s screenwriters, which insists that the main character must be likable for the movie to work. Here Sneed is anything but and at certain points when he forces an overweight suspect (Robert Miller Driscoll) to take-off his clothes and do jumping jacks in humiliating fashion to the amusement of the other cops he becomes downright nasty, but in-turn it makes the movie less formulaic, which too many movies today have become.

Williams’ skill as an actor helps to keep the character engaging and he gets great support not only by Eddie Albert as his exasperated superior, but also surprisingly by Frankie Avalon who has a small, but memorable bit as a drug dealer who initially comes-off as quite cocky, but melts dramatically once inside the interrogation room. Unfortunately for Vic Morrow, who’s played some classic villains in his career, his presence here doesn’t work. This is mainly from his get-up including dyed blonde hair and at one point a pseudo cowboy outfit, which looked campy. I also didn’t like that it’s shown right away that his character has heart problems, which telegraphs a major vulnerability that instantaneously sets the viewer into expecting that this will predictably lead to his eventual demise.

As for the action I felt it started well particularly the opening courthouse ambush, which is well choreographed with a funky score, but it becomes rather pedestrian after this. Having the main character misjudge things like when he tries the intercept Manso’s transporting of illegal goods, but ends up chasing down the wrong van each time, which were intentionally being used as decoys, was refreshing because in too many other police movies the hero cops always gets things right the first time and his hunches are never proven wrong, which again is just not how things work in reality. Either way it’s not as exciting as it could’ve been with a lot of car chases and action scenarios that ultimately prove to be generic in nature.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 5, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Robert Hartford-Davis

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD-R

Beverly Hills Cop II (1987)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Going back to L.A.

Captain Andrew Bogomil (Ronny Cox), Sergeant John Taggart (John Ashton), and Detective Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold) are working on a case known as the ‘Alphabet Crimes’ due to a monogrammed envelope in alphabetic sequence that gets left at the scene of each robbery. Billy decides to get the F.B.I. involved in order to have them help solve the case, but this upsets the new police chief, Harold Lutz (Allen Garfield), who demotes both Taggart and Rosewood to traffic duty and then suspends Bogomil when he tries to come to Rosewood’s defense. On his way home Bogomil gets shot and seriously wounded when he pulls over to help Karla Fry (Brigitte Nielson) who acts as a stranded motorist, but in reality is a part of the organization behind the crimes. When Axel (Eddie Murphy) hears about Bogomil’s shooting he immediately travels to L.A. and again hooks-up with Taggart and Rosewood to solve the case and avenge Bogomil’s assault. 

If  you can get past the overly complex crime mystery, which comes-off as a cheesy variation of Agatha Christie’s ‘The Alphabet Murders’, which apparently was the ‘inspiration’, this sequel, as 80’s sequels go, isn’t bad. Despite Leonard Maltin’s criticism in his review where he didn’t like that Bogomil and Axel had now become chummy and even planning a fishing trip together, I liked it. Maltin considered this ‘inconsistent’ with the first film where the characters were at odds through most of it, but I felt they had grown to like each other after what they had gone through previously and had no problem with it. What I didn’t like though was that Lisa Eilbacher for whatever reason doesn’t return and in her place they stick-in Alice Adair, who plays Bogomil’s daughter, that Axel is good friends with, but since she never appeared in the first one this relationship comes-off as quite forced. 

Having Ashton and Reinhold reprise their roles is great too, but they have little to do. In the first film they worked with Axel more as a team with each using their unique abilities to help take down the bad guys, but here Axel does virtually everything. This was most likely the result of Murphy co-writing the script where he vainly makes his character almost like a super hero and able to solve difficult clues and even at one point hacking into the criminal’s computer system while Ashton and Reinhold act as nothing more than observers who follow along, but add little input. I also didn’t like Reinhold’s character turning into a gun collecting nut, which was something that was never alluded to at all in the first one, but gets played-up here even though it makes the guy seem unintentionally creepy. There’s also a lot of talk about Ashton’s tumultuous marriage to the extent that I felt at some point we needed to see the wife, but never do. 

The humor is silly and doesn’t blend well with the action. What made the comedy work in the first one is that it remained on a believable level, but here starts to get downright stupid. A perfect example of this is when the three guys get into a strip club by pretending Taggart is the former President Gerald Ford, even though he doesn’t look that much like him, but it still manages to fool everybody in the place, which had me eye-rolling instead of laughing. The car chases are a bit farcical, much like the ones seen in a Disney movie, where they attempt to work-in a cheap laugh here and there as it’s going on instead of just making it exciting and realistic. 

I did like Brigitte Nielsen as the villainous and felt that given the time period having a female play a nefarious bad guy was novel. Maltin, in his review, described this as being ‘misogynistic’, but if the ultimate idea is for everybody to be equal then a woman should have just as much chance to play the occasional heavy as any man. Jurgen Prochnow, who plays the head of the evil operation, is too similar to Steven Chekoff, the bad guy from the first installment, to the extent that it seemed like that character had never really died, but instead got reborn through this guy, but his steely, ice-cold presence is cliched, over-the-top, and most of all not interesting.

Having Axel return to L.A. was a mistake and whole thing basically ends-up being a mindless rehashing with no particular point. Like with the first incarnation the producers considered many different potential scenarios before finally settling on this one including having Axel go to Paris and even London where he’d work with Scotland Yard. I would’ve preferred him staying in Detroit and then having Bogomil, Taggart, and Rosewood go there maybe to visit him while inadvertently getting caught-up in a case happening in the Motor City. This then would’ve turned-the-tables by having the three in a foreign environment and seeing how they adjusted to it and would’ve added revealing character development, which is otherwise missing.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: May 19, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Tony Scott

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video 

 

 

Beverly Hills Cop (1984)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Detroit cop in L.A.

Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy) is a Detroit cop who likes working outside the system and by his own rules, which frequently gets him into clashes with his superior Captain Todd (Gilbert R. Hill). When his childhood friend, Mikey Tandino (James Russo), comes to visit him from Beverly Hills, but later is murdered, Axel requests to be put on the case, but Captain Todd refuses to assign him thinking Axel was too close emotionally to the victim to be able to give the case a fair investigation. To get around this Axel requests some time-off for a vacation, so that he can travel to Beverly Hills and do some investigating on his free time. When he arrives he meets-up with Jenny (Lisa Eilbacher), who was a mutual childhood friend of both Axel and Mickey. She works at an art gallery owned by Victor Maitland (Steven Berkoff), who may be the one behind Mikey’s murder. When Axel tries to follow-up on this lead he gets himself in trouble with the police department there and quickly learns that in Beverly Hills everything is very much by-the-book. 

This film is a great example of how an idea for a movie can go through many changes before it finally comes to fruition. The original concept came about in 1975 when Michael Eisner, then head of Paramount Pictures, got pulled over for speeding while driving an old station wagon and was taken aback by the condescending way the Beverly Hills police treated him simply because he was driving a beat-up car. He came to the conclusion that the Beverly Hills police department was highly status conscious and wanted to bring this angle out in a movie. He sent out an open call asking for writers to submit scripts with a premise dealing with an outsider coming into the Beverly Hills police unit and clashing with their culture. Most of the scripts that were sent in he didn’t care for until finally in 1983 the one written by Daniel Petrie Jr. caught his eye. 

Both he and producer Jerry Bruckheimer enjoyed the comical elements that were in it and cast Sylvester Stallone as the lead, but he wanted the comedy removed and they refused to abide, so he walked-off the project and was eventually replaced by Murphy. Director Martin Brest, who had just been fired as director of War Gameshad grown disillusioned with Hollywood and considered getting out of the business, but was hounded so much by Bruckheimer that he had to change his phone number, but when the calls continued anyways he finally flipped a coin, so as to decide whether he’d do the project, or not. When he result came up heads he said ‘yes’ and because of the film’s later box office success he eventually had that coin framed and mounted on his office wall.

Eddie Murphy is clearly the entertaining catalyst that drives this and I was happy that despite him being black his race is never a factor. It’s also great that his hard-nosed supervisor that routinely chews-him-out isn’t some authoritarian white guy either, but instead an actual black police chief, Gilbert R. Hill, who was brought in as a police consultant, but eventually got cast and his exasperated expressions are more than enough to elicit genuine laughs. 

It would though have been nice to see Murphy, at least briefly, in a police uniform as the character comes-off as being too outside the system, so for the sake of balance seeing that at times he was still ‘a part of the team’ and had to conform. He also mentions being an expert thief during his youth, so for added character development this should’ve been explored; what caused him to change his ways and become a cop instead of remaining a thief? Unfortunately this aspect is never answered.

John Ashton and Judge Reinhold as the two cops who initially act like adversaries, but ultimately work together with Murphy as a team, are terrific. During the 70’s and 80’s cops weren’t usually portrayed in nice ways. Most movies either characterized them as being excessively buffoonish, or entirely corrupt, but here they got humanized. Ashton in particular is a perfect caricature of a cop without it having to go overboard and the script makes great use of Reinhold’s wide-eyed expression by working it into him being young and inexperienced. The conversation the two have while in the squad car where Reinhold talks about the ‘five pounds of red meat in the bowels’ was taken nearly word-for-word from what the two used during their audition that got them the roles.  

The car chases, particularly the one at the beginning shot in Detroit, are quite exciting and this is one of the rare cop films that manages to blend the humor with the action without having to compromise on either. The only complaint I have, and this may sound shallow to some, is that I couldn’t stand the mole, or whatever it is, on the center of Steven Berkoff”s forehead. I honestly found it very distracting, and there are quite a few close-up shots of his face, so it’s hard not to see it and in fact with each scene he’s in I kept focusing more on that than what was being said. There are pictures on the net of him as a child and even young adult where the growth was not apparent, so I’m not sure at what age it occurred, but since it’s in such a prominent part of his face, I would have, if I were him, had it surgically removed if medically possible. 

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: December 1, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 45 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Martin Brest

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Off Beat (1986)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Not really a cop.

Joe (Judge Reinhold) works in the basement of a library. While he doesn’t hate his job he’s still looking for direction in life and feels he has missed his calling though he’s not really sure what that is. He’s friend with Abe (Cleavant Derricks) who is a New York City cop. One day Joe inadvertently messes-up a criminal sting that Abe was working on and in an effort to make it up to him Joe agrees to volunteer for a charity event that will require him to do ballet. It’s part of a city wide effort to get one policeman from each precinct to take part and Abe was chosen by his supervisor, but he has no interest, so he gets Joe to take his place while Joe pretends that he’s a cop in order to qualify for the audition. Joe is convinced he won’t make the cut, but when he meets the beautiful Rachel (Meg Tilly), who’s a cop that’s also trying out for the performance, he decides to press-on with it and in-turn finds that dancing gives him the interesting challenge that was otherwise missing in his life as well as a romantic relationship with Rachel. 

One of the things that really hurts the film right from the start is the totally wacky premise that seems to stretch all credibility. I found it very hard to buy into the idea that a policeman would be obligated, and in some ways almost forced, to get involved in a charity event that would take-up so much of his free time and require an extraordinary amount of rigorous training for no pay. Asking some cops to spend a few hours on one weekend at a soup kitchen passing out meals to the homeless is more reasonable, but pushing people into ballet that have no skills, or business in doing is just plain far-fetched. I felt too it was testing the friendship to obligate Joe in what turns out to being a very time consuming endeavor. Granted he learns to enjoy it, but upfront I can’t expect anyone to go that out of their way, even for a friend, over some simple mistake that the made earlier. Originally, and I can’t remember where I read this, the premise was for the characters to be prisoners and getting involved in the dance charity event would allow them the potential of getting their sentences shorten, which made much more sense, but the producers wanted to take advantage of the spate of comical cop movies that were popular at the time and therefore changed the characters into cops, but this just makes it dumb. 

The attempted comedy doesn’t gel either. It starts out at a park with undercover cops secretly listening into a conversation of two people, which seemed to have been taken right out of the opening scene in the far better movie The Conversation. It’s not made clear if that was meant to be an attempted parody of that one, but it doesn’t work either way and it’s best not to imitate a classic if you can’t improve on it as it ends up reminding one of that movie and how much more entertaining it was than this one. Later on there’s a bank robbery segment, which again seemed strikingly similar to another 70’s classic Dog Day Afternoonand again it’s not clear if this was intentionally stealing from that one in an effort to be amusing, but it doesn’t click either way. 

Reinhold shows why his Hollywood leading man career never lasted. He’s just not funny and all he seems good at is having that wide-eyed deer-in-headlights look and not much else. Other talented actors like Joe Mantegna, as Reinhold’s dance rival, and John Turturro, as Reinhold’s obnoxious boss, don’t get enough screen time and the friction that their characters create isn’t played-up enough, or results in any interesting confrontation. I did though really like Meg Tilly, who plays against type, as she’s usually cast as soft-spoken, flighty characters, but here plays someone who is tough and outspoken and does quite well.

The script, which was written by Mark Medoff, who had better success penning stageplays like Children of a Lesser God and When You Comin’ Back, Red Ryder?, does have a few heartfelt moments and having a main character feeling lost and directionless in this confusing world will be easily relatable to many, but there are just too many segments where the comedy misses-the-mark. The scenes where Reinhold is forced to try and chase down a thief and another moment where he has to arrest someone, but because he’s not a trained cop he doesn’t really know what he’s doing, could’ve been comical gold, but the film doesn’t play it out enough to be effectively hilarious. It peters-out with a fizzle by the end making it a definite misfire that didn’t do well with either the critics, or at the box office. 

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: April 11, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Dinner

Studio: Touchstone Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD (Region 2)

Mask of Murder (1988)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: A copycat psycho killer.

Chief Superintendent Jonathan Rich (Christopher Lee) and Police Chief Bob McLaine (Rod Taylor) surround an abandoned home where a killer, who has sliced the throats of several women in the town, is hiding-out. When the killer makes an attempt to escape he shoots and injures the superintendent forcing Bob to return fire and kill the fleeing suspect. Everyone in the town believes that with the bad guy now dead the killings will stop, but instead they continue. Could there be a copycat killer, or is it someone on the police force who’s studied the killer’s methods and is now playing them-out?

A very odd mix that seems at times to being a wanna-be slasher film and at other points a detective thriller and even a psychological study, but on all three levels it fails. The killings lack inspiration and no effort is made for build-up, tension, or atmosphere. They’re captured in a routine way and the special effects are unconvincing. Instead of looking like the victim’s throat is getting slashed it appears more like a streak of lipstick, or bright red nail polish.

The setting is a fictitious Canadian town, but was clearly shot in Sweden, as all the cars have Swedish license plates and the vehicles are much smaller than what you’d find in the North America at that time. The ambulances have a different sound to their sirens and there’s even business signs seen in Swedish. Having Valerie Perrine, who plays Taylor’s wife, go off to Bermuda with her lover Ray (Sam Cook) looks quite fake as we never see any palm trees, or beaches making it seem more like it was shot in a hotel room in Sweden.

Lee gives a solid performance, but he disappears for long periods and only comes back near the end. Despite being several years younger, Taylor, with his very worn, lined face, ends up looking much older. His presence is dour and his inner angst that comes out every once in awhile is neither riveting or intense. Taylor doesn’t carry the movie like a good leading actor should, but instead drags it down. Perrine for her part, isn’t in it long enough to make much of a difference though she does appear nude from the back.

Spoiler Alert!

The twist in which Lee realizes Taylor is the killer doesn’t come-off as any shocking surprise since the film leads us to this conclusion from the very beginning and therefore once it gets revealed it’s more ho-hum than anything. Having Taylor shoot his wife’s lover by tricking him into wearing the mask and thus allow himself to be killed by Taylor in an attempt to make it seem like he had ‘the real killer’ when really it was just a way for him to get rid of a rival for his wife’s affections was too easy of a way out. Most likely there would’ve been some overlooked loopholes in his scheme that would’ve eventually gotten him arrested, so watching him proudly walk away in the snow as the credit’s role doesn’t gel and more a flimsy ending that leaves open too many loose ends.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: December 1, 1988

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Arne Mattsson

Studio: Master Film Production

Available: DVD-R (dvdlady.com)

Shoot It Black, Shoot It Blue (1974)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killing caught on film.

Herbert G. Rucker (Michael Moriarty) is a cop with a chip on his shoulder. Having been recently demoted due to a infractions violation he angrily goes about his foot patrol shift on the streets of Kansas City quietly brooding over his feelings of being unfairly wronged. He then chases after a black man who’s stolen a lady’s purse. When he catches up with him in a lonely, back alley he decides to shoot the man despite the fact that he didn’t resist. Unbeknownst to him Lamont (Eric Laneuville), a high school student and amateur filmmaker, caught it on his camera through the back window of his apartment’s fire escape, which was several stories up. While Herbert thinks there are no witnesses and thus will not be caught he instead learns that he’s being charged for murder, but Lamont’s identity is being kept a secret for his own protection until the trial begins. In the meantime Herbert goes hunting for him even though he’s not sure who it is while Lamont continues to follow Herbert secretly recording, both with his camera and tape recorder, everything Herbert does, which leads to him uncovering even more crimes that he admits to.

This film is very similar to Deadly Herowhich came out a year after this one and had the same theme of a cop abusing his authority and inexplicably killing a black man while hoping, even expecting, to get away with it. While that film wasn’t perfect it still fared better than this one. Both films worked off of the public’s growing mistrust of the police departments and some of the inner racism that was on the force. That movie though had much better tension that consistently built-up while this one has long, boring segments that doesn’t feel like it’s propelling the plot. I liked the idea of showing the antagonist in a non-stereotype way where he wasn’t just this one-dimensional sociopath, but instead portrayed as someone with a very low self-esteem who doesn’t feel like he makes much of a difference and kills the other man simply as a way to have empowerment over someone else. The approach though is too leisurely with too many scenes filled with extraneous dialogue and scenery, like having Herbert attend a wedding and even visit a zoo, which aren’t compelling.

I initially thought that the casting of Moriarty was a good thing as his erratic and sometimes bizarre behavior behind-the-scenes on many of the productions that he’s worked on, both for film, television, and stage, that has essentially gotten him blacklisted and deemed too difficult to work with. I was hoping he would channel this inner craziness into his character, but instead he gives a flat performance. We see Herbert’s beaten down side, but never the hidden anger making his time in front of the camera dull and not riveting.

Sorvino as the prosecuting attorney and Earl Hindman as Herbert’s partying friend convey a lot more energy and therefore more fun to watch. Laneuville though fares best as his scenes help move the plot along while Moriarty’s moments make it feel like it’s stagnating. I was disappointed too that there’s no ultimate confrontation between them and Lamont’s ability to follow Herbert around without getting detected seemed dubious as most cops acquire a keen sense of awareness with their immediate surroundings through the dangerous nature of their job and thus I’d think he’d pick up on the fact that he was being followed/monitored much sooner than he does.

Spoiler Alert!

The twist at the end has the victim’s brother shooting the tires of a car that Herbert’s driving, all from a tip given to him from Lamont, which sends Herbert’s car careening out-of-control and eventually killing him. This was ‘street justice’ due to their belief that Herbert would never have been convicted. This though needed to be shown and not just presumed. Seeing a judge or jury acquit Herbert despite the ample evidence would’ve been more impactful. The added trial scenes would’ve also made the script more compact with the boring moments trimmed down. If the killer was indeed going to be acquitted anyways because the jury system is rigged and so he later on gets shot at while driving, is fine, but a court room battle was needed either way.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: August 4, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Dennis McGuire

Studio: Levitt-Pickman

Available: VHS, DVD-R

Assault (1971)

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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)

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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