One of those terrible movies that’s redeemed by a few peripheral elements, Blade is a schlocky New York City thriller about an aging detective assigned to investigate the murder of a high-profile politician’s daughter. The plot is less than nothing, all grimy clichés, and co-writer/director Ernest Pintoff’s storytelling is rotten, since the script bounces around wildly between subplots, often without real transitions, while the dialogue runs the gamut from bluntly expositional to hackneyed. (Nearly all the good lines sound improvised.) What redeems the film, more or less, is a cavalcade of interesting players. John Marley, the craggy character actor who received a career boost by sharing an unforgettable scene with a horse’s head in The Godfather (1971), plays the leading role, so it’s novel to watch him carry a picture, or at least try to. He delivers lines well, all suave crankiness, and his mane of silver hair is a wonder to behold, but he’s hardly the most intimidating figure, a tiny little man wearing sharp suits and dainty neck scarves. The cast also features Keene Curtis, William Prince, Joe Santos, and John Schuck, plus a trio of one-scene wonders appearing early in their careers: Morgan Freeman, Steve Landesberg, Rue McClanahan. There’s even room for Ted Lange, later to become the bartender on The Love Boat. Simply for the pleasure of seeing so many proficient people work, Blade is—well, “fascinating” is pushing it, so let’s just say enjoyable.
Also helping the picture achieve baseline watchability is a robust score by Jack Cacavas. Sort of. For whatever reason, he composed only three or four music cues, primarily the suspenseful string-driven piece that functions as the main theme, so the film repurposes the same cues over and over again. This creates a weird effect, as does sloppy picture editing. One final attribute worth mentioning is the extensive location photography; while none would ever choose Blade over the average Sidney Lumet movie of the same era for tasting the local flavor of ’70s Manhattan, a sense of place is always welcome. And if nothing else, Blade has a priceless throwaway scene. Landesberg plays a porno director who bombards a clueless actress with copious details about character and motivation, then blithely asks, “Do you understand what I’m saying so far?” Sensing her bewilderment, he inquires further: “You went to Vassar? Radcliffe?” Likely wasted on the audience for which Blade was intended, that’s about as dry a bitchy remark as you’ll ever encounter in a movie.