The year is 1963. The month is November. The city is Dallas. The President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, is coming to visit and two very different men have very different reactions. An eccentric and lonely strip club owner, Jack Ruby (Michael Lerner), worries about an anti-Kennedy ad that has just appeared in the Dallas Morning News. Another loner, a strange man named Lee Harvey Oswald (Frederic Forrest), is busy making plans of his own. When Kennedy is assassinated, history brings Ruby and Oswald together in a way that a shattered nation will never forget.
This is a curious one. It was made for television and, according to Wikipedia, its original running time was 180 minutes. The version that I saw, on VHS, was barely 90 minutes long so obviously, the version I saw was heavily edited. (In the 70s, it was common for made-for-TV movies to be reedited for both syndication and overseas theatrical release.) Maybe that explains why Ruby and Oswald felt do disjointed. In the version I saw, most of the emphasis was put on Jack Ruby running around Dallas and getting on people’s nerves. Very little time was devoted to Oswald and the film was almost entirely stolen by Lerner. Michael Lerner is a familiar character actor. You may not know his name but you will definitely recognize his face. Lerner was convincing and sometimes even sympathetic as the weaselly Ruby. Ruby and Oswald supported the Warren Commission’s findings, that Oswald killed Kennedy and Ruby shot Oswald out of a sense of loyalty to Jackie Kennedy. Michael Lerner’s performance was so good that he almost made that theory plausible.
One final note, for fans of WKRP in Cincinnati: Gordon Jump and Richard Sanders, best known as Arthur Carlson and Les Nessman, were both in Ruby and Oswald, though they did not share any scenes together.
Number One With A Bullet is the story of two cops. Nick Barzack (Robert Carradine) is so crazy that the all criminals have nicknamed “Beserk.” (Who says criminals aren’t clever?) Nick’s partner, Frank Hazeltine (Billy Dee Williams) is so smooth that jazz starts to play whenever he steps into a room. Nick keeps a motorcycle in his living room, wants to get back together with his wife (Valerie Bertinelli), and has an overprotective mother (Doris Roberts). Hazeltine is Billy Dee Williams so all he has to worry about is being the coolest man on Earth. Their captain (Peter Graves!) may want them to do things by the book but Nick and Hazeltine are willing to throw the book out if it means taking down DaCosta, a so-called respectable citizen who they think is actually the city’s biggest drug lord.
It is natural to assume that, because of the whole crazy white cop/centered black cop storyline, this movie was meant to be a rip-off of a well-known film starring Mel Gibson and Danny Glover but actually, Number One With A Bullet was released a week before Lethal Weapon. As well, while Carradine’s Nick is almost as crazy as Mel Gibson’s Riggs, it is impossible to imagine Billy Dee Williams ever saying that he’s “too old for this shit.” Williams is having too good a time listening to jazz and picking up women. Whenever Hazeltine shows up, Number One With A Bullet feels like a Colt 45 commercial that somehow costars Robert Carradine. Whenever the film is just Carradine, it feels like an unauthorized sequel to Revenge of the Nerds where Lewis gets really, really pissed off.
Number One With A Bullet is a Cannon film and entertaining in the way that most late 80s Cannon films are. There is a lot of action, a little skin, and some dated comedy, much of it featuring Robert Carradine having to dress in drag. There is also a mud wrestling scene because I guess mud wrestling was extremely popular back in the 80s. They may not be Gibson and Glover but Carradine and Williams still make a good team and they both seem to be having a ball. For fans of cheap 80s action films, there is a lot to enjoy in Number One With A Bullet.