Director: Barry Shear
Starring: Anthony Quinn, Yaphet Kotto, Anthony Franciosa, Paul Benjamin. USA. 1h 32m
A poetic slice of American history is adapted into this explosive crime drama, and only a few years after racial tensions ran extremely high during the “hot summer” riots, and makes the most of key Harlem locations.
Two prolific stars in their own rights clash as gangs and civil rights spark rage and chaos in the streets, initially the film opens with a daring robbery staged by Jim Harris (Benjamin) results in him and his crew stealing around $300,000 from a Mafia run Numbers Game, things turn bad and there’s a blood shoot out, leaving seven dead both black and Italian and police officers. The case is assigned to the ultimate odd couple , Lieutenant William Pope (Kotto), a driven black police officer is assigned to work the case with aging Captain Frank Mattelli (Quinn), a street-wise racist Italian-American cop. Obviously sparks will fly but deep down you know they will find common ground amongst the bloodshed. There’s a constant reminder that the older Italian officer is on his way out and the new more empowered black officer is rising up to replace him. The entire slice of stereotype pie is eaten.
During the battles between the officers, there’s also the story of robber, Jim Harris, and in roughly 24 hours his struggle for survival becomes ever more desperate. Meanwhile the officers struggle to find the criminals before the Mafia, lead by the sick torturer Nick DiSalvio, close in on them.
If you steal $300,000 from the mob, it’s not robbery. It’s suicide.
The film feels ever so slightly off key, looks very authentic but moralistically in the clouds, the finger is on the pulse but not committed, the racial tension is there but it’s not everywhere, it’s not dangerous it’s up to the audience to get the picture.
Quinns Character didn’t need much pushing to see the error of his ways,near the end of the movie there’s a poignant scene where he has to announce the death to a widow, a black woman raising a child by herself, she’s catatonic but still helps the officers try to find their target, he starts to get emotional and has to leave, giving her his money saying it was found in her dead husband’s pocket, he’s a broken man at this point, more by guilt that sorrow. This constant displays of passion and emotion really help set this this apart from other crime movies of the era.
But when the men aren’t getting emotional or angry with the world and each others there’s a pretty fast paced and powerful, especially from Paul Benjamin who’s tattered life is there’s no reprise for him throughout the movie, and this comes before the obligatory sweetness got injected into movies, the relentless violence doesn’t slow down for anything and no punches are withheld which is exactly what this movie is all about, a non stop witness to the aggressive events that are so easily turned off when the news gets too much. I felt that Quinn’s character, while well written seemed to have given in to the pressure of becoming a better person a bit too quick, there wasn’t a bottom point for him to reach before pulling back and changing, he just is a mild racist who pulls it all back without too much effort.
For me, this is a brilliant story with little bullshit, instead Kotto manages to keep the pace rolling with his energy alongside some brilliant actors, sharp editing and all the benefits of the best locations for the shooting of one of the best cop dramas of the 70;s.
R: They call me Mr Tibbs (1970), Truck Turner (1974)
5s: Paul Benjamin, Anthony Quinn, Yaphet Kotto.