In this cop film, Robert Duvall plays Eddie Ryan, a tough New York detective who gets suspended from the force when he is accused of tossing a Puerto Rican suspect off of a roof. Eddie’s innocent but, because he spends all of his time talking about how much he hates Puerto Ricans and using Archie Bunker-style racial slurs, everyone assumes that he is guilty. Eddie is suspended from the force but then his former partner is killed while investigating an operation to smuggle guns to, you guessed it, Puerto Rico. Suspended or not, Eddie is going to track down the man who killed his partner. If that puts everyone from his girlfriend, Maureen (Verna Bloom), to NYC pedestrians in danger, that’s just the way it has to be.
Robert Duvall as an action star? Duvall was only 41 when he starred in Badge 373 but it is still strange to see America’s greatest character actor jumping out of windows and chasing suspects. Badge 373 was one of the many cop films made in the wake of Dirty Harry and The French Connection and the film is actually credited as being “inspired by the exploits of Eddie Egan.” Egan also served as the inspiration for Gene Hackman’s Popeye Doyle in The French Connection. Duvall is good in the role but he is almost a little too good. Hackman played Doyle with a twinkle in his eye that suggested his casual racism was just a part of his streetwise persona. Duvall is so grim and determined as Eddie Ryan that there is never any doubt that he hates everyone just as much as he says he does.
(Just as he did in The French Connection, the real-life Eddie Egan has a role in Badge 373. He plays Eddie Ryan’s supervisor and best friend.)
Like most of the cop films that came out immediately after The French Connection, the highlight of Badge 373 is an extended chase scene. In this one, Eddie escapes from the gun smugglers by hijacking a city bus. The only problem is that Eddie isn’t sure how to drive a bus and Duvall acts the hell out of his struggle to figure out how to switch gears. It’s worth the price of admission.