The harshness of life in ’70s New York City inspired countless film and TV projects—after all, what better setting for pulp-fiction stories than a gritty metropolis filled with corrupt cops, frustrated citizens, petty criminals, and violent street gangs? Consider Night of the Juggler, an otherwise forgettable thriller starring James Brolin and Cliff Gorman. Out of context, it’s a silly action/suspense flick about a lunatic who accidentally kidnaps an ex-cop’s daughter in a failed extortion scheme. In context, the picture speaks to the same paranoia that gave rise to Death Wish (1974), The Warriors (1979), and so many other projects. Brolin stars as Sean Boyd, a divorced Californian now working as a truck driver to help support his daughter, Kathy (Abby Bluestone), who lives with her mother. One day, unhinged Gus Soltic (Gorman) snatches Kathy from a park, mistaking her for the daughter of a corporate tycoon. Sean witnesses the crime and nearly rescues his daughter, but Gus gets away and plunges Sean into an ordeal. Sean also clashes with authorities including Sgt. Otis Barnes (Dan Hedaya).
As directed by the prolific and versatile Robert Butler, who spent most of his career in TV, Night of the Juggler moves along at a terrific pace, with Brolin’s character almost constantly in motion, whether he’s battling an opponent, hassling someone with information, or fleeing those who seek to impede his search. The movie ventures into many of New York’s dodgiest areas, from the sex palaces of pre-Giuliani Times Square to the ravaged war zone of the Bronx, so Night of the Juggler has atmosphere to spare. (As for the iffy title, Gorman’s character delivers this dialogue: “I’m gonna juggle the books my way and it’s gonna balance out for me!”). This is almost laughably shallow material, and more than a few ugly stereotypes find their way into the mix, as when Sean calls a Latino gang “a mean bunch of chili peppers.” Still, Night of the Juggler offers minor pleasures. Brolin gives one of his stronger performances, Gorman infuses his creepy character with a pathetic quality, and some of the supporting turns are juicy—beyond the always-entertaining Hedaya, watch for Godfather guy Richard Castellano as a cop and Mandy Patinkin as a Puerto Rican (!) cab driver.
Night of the Juggler: FUNKY