Category Archives: Police Drama

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

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