New York City in the ‘70’s was most-often portrayed in the media as a crime-riddled dystopia to rival the Wild Wild West. And more often than not, their police force was portrayed as being helpless, oblivious, or even complicit in the chaos, at one point printing survival guides meant to scare away tourists (and scare the mayor’s office to allocate more scarce resources for their unions). The July 27th & 28th double feature presents two stinging comedies from the period depicting what happens when, in the midst of this lawlessness, civilians try to do the cops’ work better, and when cops try to do the crooks’ work better. We can call it “The Tangled Blue Line” combo.
LAW AND DISORDER from 1974 takes up the cause of taxi driver Willie (Carroll O’Connor) and beautician Cy (Ernest Borgnine), furious over the spate of robberies and lewd behavior in their run-down neighborhood, and angst-ridden over being middle-aged and having little to take pride in. They eagerly recruit their neighbors to join an Auxillary Police Force, which does little to reduce crime on their block but does a great deal to inflate their egos, until they ultimately learn that badges and swagger bring unexpected results.
DISORDER was the second English-language film directed and co-written by Czech New Wave pioneer Ivan Passer, previously acclaimed for directing INTIMATE LIGHTING in 1965 and co-writing two Milos Forman films before joining him in moving to America to work. Passer would later receive his greatest accolades for the 1981 noir CUTTER’S WAY with Jeff Bridges. Screenplay credit is shared with William Richert, who later wrote and directed the 1979 satirical political thriller WINTER KILLS, also with Jeff Bridges, and acted as the Falstaffian “Bob” in Gus Van Sant’s MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO. Richert also appears briefly in the film as a desk sergeant.
Joining O’Connor and Borgnine for their fractious activities are SERPICO and CAR WASH supporting player Jack Kehoe, Karen Black as Cy’s troublemaking salon associate, THE FIRST NUDIE MUSICAL ingénue Leslie Ackerman as Willie’s rebellious daughter, and COFFY villain and GREASER’S PALACE star Allan Arbus as a psychologist with dubious suggestions on how to thwart sex offenders. Credited soundtrack composer Andy Badale would later go on to worldwide fame writing music for and with David Lynch under his real name of Angelo Badalamenti: DISORDER was only his second film score.
As our first feature suggests NYC is tough on Joe Public, our second feature suggests it’s even tougher on John Law. Beat cop Joe (Joseph Bologna) and plainclothes dick Tom (Cliff Gorman) grow weary of watching the poor getting desperate, the rich getting richer, their bad colleagues getting kickbacks, and their good colleagues getting shot, all for the princely sum of $43 a day ($239 in 2016 dollars). So when Joe confides to Tom he has already held up a liquor store in uniform and got away clean, eventually they dream bigger. And after covertly ingratiating themselves with crime boss Patsy O’Neil (John P. Ryan), they hatch a daring plan to reap the biggest payday of their lives. But they’ll need another plan if they want to keep that money and their lives.
COPS was the second narrative feature for editor Aram Avakian, who previously made the historic music documentary JAZZ ON A SUMMER’S DAY with Bert Stern, and the controversial satire END OF THE ROAD with Stacy Keach. After editing Francis Ford Coppola’s YOU’RE A BIG BOY NOW, he was fired as initial editor of THE GODFATHER over rumors of angling to replace him as director. Prolific crime writer Donald E. Westlake, whose burglar characters Parker and Dortmunder inspired dozens of movies from the late ‘60’s to the present day, wrote COPS as an original screenplay, then fleshed it out later into a novel, making many changes from what was filmed.
The late Cliff Gorman was last seen on the New Bev screen as the deranged kidnapper in the underrated NIGHT OF THE JUGGLER with James Brolin, and has been a favorite of ours in ANGEL and ALL THAT JAZZ. A couple other favorites of the Bev appearing in this film, who also had tragically short careers, are Joe Spinell, star of Bill Lustig’s MANIAC and many Sylvester Stallone films, and Richard Ward, recently seen at the Bev in MANDINGO and FAMILY ENFORCER. Walt Gorney, featured here as a wino, is best recognized as Crystal Lake’s resident loon Crazy Ralph in FRIDAY THE 13TH and its first sequel. And you’ll also spot former NYPD detective Randy Juergensen, a frequent onscreen face in and technical advisor to movies like THE FRENCH CONNECTION and VIGILANTE, and whose undercover work in the gay community inspired William Friedkin’s CRUISING.
The NYC of today is almost a completely different world from that you’ll see in this double feature, all the more reason to come and see the where the city was long ago, how it stands in stark contrast to the present, and some of the ragged messy souls that got lost in the process.