Friday, December 23, 2011

The Take (1974)

Although it might seem on first glance to be a blaxploitation picture, The Take is instead a straight-ahead crime thriller that just happens to star a black man, the inimitable Billy Dee Williams. He plays an unabashedly crooked cop who accepts payoffs from criminals even as he endeavors to bring them down. There’s a germ of an interesting idea here, because exploring the life of a maverick detective who rips off the crooks he’s busting could unveil provocative insights. Rather than going down that interesting road, however, the filmmakers behind The Take merely generate an exciting potboiler as our antihero, Lt. Sneed (Williams), pulls a fast one on a New Mexico-based kingpin named Manso (Vic Morrow). The story begins when Sneed gets summoned from his home base in San Francisco to sun-baked New Mexico by exasperated police chief Barrigan (Eddie Albert). Although Barrigan needs a big-city cop to tackle Manso, he’s aware of Sneed’s unorthodox methods and suspicious that Sneed is corrupt; Sneed’s tension with his new superior officer helps the big-city cop get into Manso’s good graces. In theory, all of this should be devious and thrilling, but in a strange way, Williams’ famous suaveness undercuts the picture: He’s so cool under pressure that we never worry very much for his welfare. In fact, Wiliams ends up being less interesting to watch than either Albert or Morrow, both of whom elevate underwritten roles. Morrow shows great flair playing a hot-tempered mobster who, at one point, gingerly nudges a rattlesnake off his property even as his thugs pummel someone who betrayed him. It’s also a kick to see onetime Beach Blanket Bingo dreamboat Frankie Avalon playing a small-time hood in a minor role, since it’s hard to imagine another circumstance in which he and Williams would share screen time. And in the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it department, voluptuous ’70s starlet Kathy Baumann shows up for a wordless supporting role as Avalon’s squeeze, turning a bath towel into the movie’s sexiest costume. The Take is little more than a compendium of chase scenes and macho stand-offs, but it’s enjoyable in a mindless, pulpy sort of way. (Available through Columbia Screen Classics via

The Take: FUNKY

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