Sunday, March 3, 2013

Law and Disorder (1974)

          This offbeat cop film is an admirable curiosity, marred by the lack of a consistent tone. Carroll O’Connor and Ernest Borgnine play New Yorkers who are so fed up with the street crime plaguing their blue-collar neighborhoods that they (and several friends) join the NYPD’s auxiliary police force. Armed with badges, nightsticks, and uniforms, these pseudo-cops discover that criminals have as little respect for law-enforcement officers as they do for residents. This unusual premise could have gone in one of two directions, each potentially rewarding—broad comedy or tragic irony. Alas, director/co-writer Ivan Passer attempts both styles at once, and the hybrid doesn’t work. Passer’s visuals are too grimly realistic for the silly scenes to take flight, and his storytelling lacks the gravitas to support dark elements that enter the story during the final act. A truly awful score by Angelo Badalamenti (credited as Andy Badale) doesn’t help matters, because Badalamenti provides music that’s corny enough for silent-era comedy—which clashes with the nuanced textures of the film’s photography and performances.
          Still, within this jumble are several meritorious elements, such as the naturalistic acting of the leading players. O’Connor basically reprises his Archie Bunker characterization from All in the Family, portraying an uneducated cabbie given to crude racial epithets. He’s believably crass and hostile. Borgnine, working a similar vein, plays a he-man hairdresser (!) whose sex drive resurges once he gets a charge out of strutting around in NYPD blue. (Brace yourself for the image of Borgnine leaping onto a woman in a frenzy of slow-mo lust.) Passer generates many vivid scenes, from throwaway bits of the boys hanging out in their cramped apartments to plaintive vignettes of O’Connor’s character trying to restart his life by purchasing a run-down diner. But for every spot-on moment, there’s a dissonant stretch like the sequence in which Alan Arbus plays a weirdo shrink who counsels potential rape victims to cuddle their attackers. However, Law and Disorder looks great, with cinematographer Arthur J. Ornitz capturing Manhattan at its filthiest, and the movie is a valuable time capsule thanks to its unflinching depictions of crude attitudes toward gender and race.

Law and Disorder: FUNKY

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