The First Police Story: Slow Boy (1973, directed by William A. Graham)


Long before The Wire, Homicide, Chicago PD, NYPD Blue, or even Hill Street Blues, there was Police Story.

Co-created by cop-turned-writer Joseph Wambaugh, Police Story aired on NBC from 1973 to 1978.  It was an anthology series, with each episode following a different member of the LAPD as they deal with crime and social issues in Los Angeles.  For its time, it was ground-breaking in its realistic approach to the life and work of the police.  Interestingly, the show wasn’t always blindly pro-cop.  Often the cops featured were deeply flawed and the war on crime was frequently portrayed to be unwinnable.  Over the course of its run, Police Story was a regular Emmy nominee and won the award for Best Drama Series in 1976.

Police Story started, in 1973, with a two-hour TV movie.  At the time it aired, the pilot was called Stakeout but it has since aired in syndication under the title Slow Boy.  Vic Morrow stars as Sgt. Joe LaFrieda, a plainclothes detective who can’t keep his marriage together but who can take criminals off the street.  LaFrieda is the second-in-command of a special squad of detectives who specialize in watching and taking down high-profile criminals.  Their methods frequently come close to entrapment but they usually work.  Their current target is Slow Boy (Chuck Conners), the son of a mafia chieftain, who enjoys robbing stores.  When LaFrieda’s first attempt to put Slow Boy in jail is thwarted by a liberal judge and departmental bureaucracy, he and the squad come up with a second, less-than-legal plan to take Slow Boy down.

Considering the involvement of Joseph Wambaugh, it’s no surprise that plot is secondary to exploring the day-to-day lives of the blue-collar cops trying to take Slow Boy down.  The heart of the movie is in the scenes of the cops shooting the breeze and trying to keep each other amused during length shakeouts.  Their humor is often grim and the fascinating dialogue is cynical, dark, and, even by today’s standards, surprisingly raw.  One of the detectives (played by Harry Guardino, who specialized in loud-mouth city cops) is an unapologetic racist.  Though he gets a comeuppance of sorts, the way the film and the rest of his squad handle his racism will undoubtedly make modern audiences uncomfortable, even if it is authentic to the era in which Slow Boy was made.

The underrated Vic Morrow gives one of his best performances as the tough but sympathetic LaFrieda, who is bad at everything but his job.  He is ably supported by a host of familiar character actors.  Ed Asner plays LaFrieda’s reactionary lieutenant while Sandy Baron is great in the role of an informant.  Diane Baker was also perfectly cast as LaFrieda’s potential girlfriend.  (She first meets the detective while Slow Boy is holding a gun to her head.)  Finally, Chuck Conner is as intimidating as always as the sadistic Slow Boy.

Slow Boy is a tough and uncompromising police procedural and it provided a great start for Police Story.  Reruns of Police Story currently air on H&I on Sunday morning.

Horror on the Lens: Haunts of the Very Rich (dir by Paul Wendkos)


Today’s horror on the lens is a 1972 made-for-TV movie, Haunts of the Very Rich!

What happens when a bunch of rich people find themselves on an airplane with no memory of how they got there?  Well, first off, they land at a luxury resort!  But what happens when the resort suddenly turns out to be deserted and the guests discover that there’s no apparent way out!?

You can probably already guess the film’s “surprise” ending but Haunts of the Very Rich is still an entertaining little film.  You can check out my more in-depth review here!

Enjoy!

An October Film Review: The Night America Trembled (dir by Tom Donovan)


Today is the 79th anniversary of Orson Welles’s infamous War of the Worlds broadcast.

In 1938, Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater of the Air performed a radio adaptation of H.G. Welles’s War of the World.  Presented as a live news program, it was one of the first mockumentaries.  It also caused a panic.  How big the panic was is open for debate.  Some say only a few people took it seriously.  Other sources say that it was a nationwide crisis.  But, regardless, Welles made history on that night.  Not only did he illustrate the power of the media but he also scared the Hell out of a lot of people.  All in all, a pretty good night…

Filmed in 1957 for a television program called Westinghouse Studio One, The Night America Trembled is a dramatization of that night.  For legal reasons, Orson Welles is not portrayed nor is his name mentioned.  Instead, the focus is mostly on the people listening to the broadcast and getting the wrong idea.  That may sound like a comedy but The Night America Trembled takes itself fairly seriously.  Even pompous old Edward R. Murrow shows up to narrate the film, in between taking drags off a cigarette.  (I enjoyed the show but, whenever Murrow showed up, I was reminded of a grumpy old teacher complaining that none of his students cared about the Spanish-American War.)

Clocking in at a brisk 60 minutes, The Night America Trembled is an interesting recreation of that October 30th.  Among the people panicking: a group of people in a bar who, before hearing the broadcast, were debating whether or not Hitler was as crazy as people said he was, a babysitter who goes absolutely crazy with fear, and a group of poker-playing college students.  If, like me, you’re a frequent viewer of TCM, you may recognize some of the faces in the large cast: Ed Asner, James Coburn, John Astin, Warren Oates, and Warren Beatty all make early appearances.

As I said, it’s an interesting little historical document and you can watch it below!

Enjoy!

Lisa Cleans Out Her DVR: Change of Habit (dir by William A. Graham)


(Lisa is currently in the process of cleaning out her DVR!  How long is it going to take?  Some would say forever but, here at the Shattered Lens, we’re hoping that she might have it all done by August.  Anyway, she recorded the 1969 film Change of Habit off of Starz on March 20th!)

It’s Elvis vs. God for the heart of Mary Tyler Moore!

(Okay, so that may be a little bit glib on my part but, seriously, that pretty much sums up Change of Habit.)

Change of Habit opens with three nuns walking through New York City.  There’s the forgettable nun, Sister Barbara (Jane Elliott).  There’s the black, streetwise nun, Sister Irene (Barbara McNair).  And then there’s the idealistic and wholesome nun, Sister Michelle (Mary Tyler Moore).  Because they’re nuns, even notoriously rude New Yorkers are nice to them.  They walk across a busy intersection and all of the cars stop for them.  A cop sees them jaywalking and just smiles and nods at them.  In case you were ever wondering why someone would become a nun, it’s because nuns always have the right-of-way and they don’t have to obey arbitrary laws.  It’s a good life.

The sisters are shopping and, as the opening credits roll, the three of them duck into a dressing room and change into contemporary civilian clothing.  Obsessively, the camera keeps zooming in on everyone’s bare legs.  You can literally hear the film’s producers telling all the boys in the audience, “This may be a G-rated Elvis film but that’s not going to stop us from implying nun nudity!”

It’s Sister Michelle’s idea that the nuns should wear contemporary clothing, the better to relate to the Godless youth of the 1960s.  Unfortunately, now that they’re dressed like everyone else, they have to actually obey traffic laws.  When they attempt to cross the street for a second time, cars honk at them and the cop yells at them for jaywalking.

Michelle, Irene, and Barbara get jobs working at a free clinic.  The clinic is run by John Carpenter (Elvis Presley).  Carpenter is looking for aspiring actresses to appear in a movie about a babysitter being stalked by a masked murderer on Halloween and … oh sorry.  Wrong John Carpenter.  This John Carpenter is a no-nonsense doctor who will stop at nothing to bring peace and good health to the most poverty-stricken neighborhoods in New York!

That’s right.  It’s an Elvis film with a social conscience!

And that probably sounds like a joke but Change of Habit‘s heart is in the right place.  It’s intentions are good.  At least a few of the people involved in the film were probably trying to make the world a better place.  There’s a subplot involving an autistic child that, when you consider this film was made in 1969, is handled with unusual sensitivity.  Of course, that doesn’t mean that the rest of Change of Habit doesn’t feel totally and completely out-of-touch.  The entire film feels so dated that I imagine it probably even felt dated when it was initially released.  This is one of those films where the local black militants give Sister Irene a hard time about being a sell-out, just to eventually admit, during a block party, that maybe white folks aren’t so bad after all.  By the end of the movie, they’re even joking with the cops.  All that was needed was for Elvis to sing a song or two.  To be honest, there are times when Change of Habit feels like the 1969 version of Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi commercial.

Of course, the majority of the film deals with Elvis falling in love with Mary Tyler Moore.  He doesn’t know that she’s a nun and, as she falls in love with him, she’s forced to make a difficult choice.  Does she follow God or does she follow Elvis?  Actually, the film ends before she officially makes that choice but there’s little doubt as to what she’s going to eventually do.  In his final non-concert film appearance, Elvis is totally miscast as a serious-minded doctor and, it must be said, he looked miserable throughout the entire film.  You get the feeling he’d rather be doing anything than starring in Change of Habit.  (Maybe he was already thinking about how much he wanted a special FBI badge.)  Mary Tyler Moore is a bit more believable as a nun.  Fortunately, both Moore and Elvis were likable performers and their likability makes Change of Habit, as ludicrous as it often is, far more watchable than it has any right to be.

In the end, Elvis may not have saved society but he did get to sing a gospel song or two.

A Movie A Day #21: A Case of Libel (1983, directed by Eric Till)


a-case-for-libelIn the 1950s, at the height of the McCarthy era, no one is more feared than Boyd Bendix (Daniel J. Travanti), an acerbic, right-wing gossip columnist.  Anyone who crosses Bendix the wrong way runs the risk of being accused of everything from sexual deviancy to communism.  Bendix’s latest victim is prominent journalist named Dennis Corcoran (Gordon Pinset).  Unlike everyone else who has been bullied by Bendix, Corcoran refuses to quietly submit.  Working with a gruff but brilliant attorney, Robert Sloane (Ed Asner), Corcoran takes Bendix to court.

A Case of Libel was made for Showtime and it is very much the type of movie that was made for teachers to show in classrooms full of aspiring Clarence Darrows.  Adapted from a Broadway play, A Case of Libel is also based on the true story of a successful lawsuit that was brought against columnist Westbrook Pegler in 1955.  A Case of Libel is basically a filmed play but is memorable for the performances of Ed Asner and especially Daniel J. Travanti.

A Case of Libel is a movie that I used to rent, on VHS, from my local video store when I was just starting to get interested in politics.  Because it was a cheap production on a cheap tape, the picture always looked terrible but I still enjoyed it.  Despite what the picture above claims, it’s never gotten an official DVD release and it probably never will be since there’s not a huge demand for old Ed Asner/Daniel J. Travanti courtroom dramas.  If it ever does come out on DVD, I’ll buy it.

Val’s Movie Roundup #12: Hallmark Edition


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Finding A Family (2011) – This movie is about a kid named Alex (Jared Abrahamson) whose mother has serious mental problems. She has a great degree, but her mental problems absolutely cripple her. As you can guess, they create major issues for her son who has to live with her day after day. Ultimately, Alex has himself emancipated. He wants to go to Harvard and works hard in school to make this work while not forgetting his mother. Then he decides that he really does want a family and starts writing to people asking them to take him in. It’s a nice story that really only had one issue and a minor personal complaint.

The issue is that I have some experience in this area and the depth to which his mother’s mental problems should affect him, don’t. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like The Blind Side (2009) where they gutted and flattened two amazing people, but it’s noticeable. The other thing is a minor complaint. In the old days you did receive a letter from colleges you applied to telling you whether you were accepted or not. However, I applied in 2006 and we was never sent a letter. You checked their website to find out whether you were accepted or not. This film was made in 2011. I know it’s more dramatic and familiar to go with the letter thing, but it’s time to move on.

You’ve seen it all before, but if you want to see again, then check this one out.

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Generation Gap (2008) – There really isn’t much to talk about here. You’ve seen this plot a million times before. We meet Dylan (Alex Black) who is just too much for his mother because of a few scenes of rebellion. His Mom, played by Catherine Mary Stewart, calls up her father played by Ed Asner and dumps Dylan on him. After a few scenes of Asner acting like a dick, which he seems to think he is entitled to do because he’s old, both him and the kid calm down. The film does three things: 1. Asner and the kid come to realize that despite being different ages, they both occupy the same time and place on Earth, 2. Asner hooks up with Rue McClanahan who sounds weird without her Southern accent, 3. The kid also gains a romantic interest.

The only other noteworthy things are that they age Asner by about 10 years to have his character able to have been in WWII. The other is that the kid walks in on Asner and three other guys playing Halo. Pretty funny. Remember that scene in The Wizard (1989) where Beau Bridges is supposedly playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but we now know thanks to AVGN that he was probably playing Winter Games for the NES? Well, they actually show that Halo is what is being played and I wouldn’t be surprised if Asner and the others were actually playing.

This one is cliched, but okay.

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Expecting A Miracle (2009) – This is a weird movie. It seems to be nice and have it’s heart in the right place, but there are some odd bits. It introduces us to a couple played by Jason Priestley and Teri Polo who have been trying to get pregnant. It seems that the couple has tried IVF several times, but there doesn’t seem to be any mention of sex whatsoever. Did they try that?

To try and calm down, they take a vacation and wind up in a small Mexican town that seems to consist only of a courtyard. Cheech Marin is here along with some other characters who conveniently speak English. There is a kid who has something wrong with his leg and is convinced that a special ceremony is going to fix it. This is the kind of place populated with people who are like the magic negro/eccentric characters that turn your life around simply by coming into contact with them.

Polo is told a line that basically says God decides whether you will have kids or not. Okay, but does that mean God also controls the adoption process which is brought up numerous times during this film. Maybe it’s the film’s way of saying that God sometimes is trying to tell you that it’s not necessary to pass on your genetic material, but instead to save a poor kid who needs a family and people who will love them.

The rest is harmless and kind of nice, but then comes the ending. The kid in the village is miraculously cured of a condition with his leg during a ceremony. The couple talk about adopting him. At the very end, they are at home working through the adoption process, talking about how much paperwork there is to adopt a kid. The wife goes to the bathroom and takes a pregnancy test. She’s pregnant! Then there are the credits. Did they have sex? Was it IVF again? Did they still follow through and adopt the kid? No answers.

It’s nice and everything, but I can’t honestly recommend it. Just a little too weird and relies on people’s assumptions about the nobility and happiness about simple rural communities.

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Murder 101: If Wishes Were Horses (2007) – Another Hallmark murder mystery, but just like Murder 101, this was good. As always, I’m terrible about following the plots of these movies. It all begins when a horse is kidnapped. Once again, Dick Van Dyke is brought in to help with the case. Barry Van Dyke is back again as well, but this time Shane Van Dyke joins in on the fun. This is your standard murder mystery movie in the vein of Diagnosis Murder, Murder, She Wrote, and Mystery Woman as opposed to recent movies like Wedding Planner Mystery and Garage Sale Mystery. This one’s fine.

Back to School #8: Halls of Anger (dir by Paul Bogart)


Halls Of Anger

Everybody loves Jeff Bridges.

Last month, the Democratic senator from Montana, John Walsh, announced that he wouldn’t be running for reelection because, much like Lianne Spiderbaby, he had been caught plagiarizing.  (Incidentally, I was one of the many bloggers caught up in Lianne’s web of thievery.  If you have ever read Lianne’s review of Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath, you were essentially reading my review of Black Sabbath.)  Unfortunately, for the Montana Democratic Party, Walsh had already won the Democratic primary.  So, the Montana Democrats held an emergency meeting to select a new nominee.

Governors, ranchers, former congressmen — nearly every prominent Democrat in Montana announced that he didn’t want the nomination.  It looked like all hope was lost but then a petition appeared online, asking the Democrats to nominate Jeff Bridges for the U.S. Senate!  This petition made national headlines and, in just a few hours, it had received thousands of signatures.  For a few brief days, everyone was truly excited about the prospect of U.S. Sen. Jeff Bridges.  I even signed the petition myself, despite the fact that 1) I don’t live in Montana and 2) I’m not even a Democrat!

(I’m a member of the Personal Choice Party.  PCP in 2016!)

Ultimately, he announced that he had no interesting running and wasn’t even sure if he was registered to vote but, until that happened, why were so many of us excited about Jeff Bridges running for the Senate?

Because, in this time of division and conflict, everybody loves Jeff Bridges!

He’s just an incredibly likable actor.  Even when he’s playing a villain, like in Iron Man, he still comes across like someone you would want to live next door to.  He’s everyone’s perfect hippie uncle, the guy that even people who don’t smoke weed want to get stoned with.  If you ever watch any of his early films — and Bridges has been making movies for nearly 50 years now — you’ll discover that this unique and likable charm is something that Jeff Bridges has always possessed.

It’s certainly present in 1970’s Halls of Anger.  This was Jeff Bridges’s film debut, made at a time when he could still pass for a high school student.  He was 20 when he made this film and I have to say that for those of us who best know him as the Dude, Rooster Cogburn, and whoever he was playing in Crazy Heart, it’s always interesting to see just how handsome Jeff Bridges was when he was young.

Jeff Bridges, hiding his face in Halls of Anger

Jeff Bridges, hiding his face in Halls of Anger

In Halls of Anger, he plays Doug, one of 60 white kids who have been transferred to a majority black inner city high school in an attempt to integrate it.  Of all the new white students, Doug is probably the most confident and the most open-minded.  He’s also the most friendly.  His attempt to join the high school basketball team upsets the other students but — even after getting beaten up — Doug sticks with it.  You knew that he would because, after all, he’s played by Jeff Bridges.

Of course, Doug’s story is just one of the many stories told in Halls of Anger.  Another one of the transfers — a weak-willed and balding racist named Leaky (played by future director Rob Reiner!) — tries to provoke a fight with a black student, hoping that he’ll be sent back to his old school for his own protection.  White Sherry (Patricia Stich) dates a black classmate and is savagely assaulted as a result.  Newly assigned vice principal Quincy Davis (Calvin Lockhart) tries to both keep the peace and teach a group of functionally illiterate students how to read.  Militant J.T. Walsh (James Edwards) wanders the hallways and speaks of revolution…

Rob Reiner in Halls of Anger

Rob Reiner in Halls of Anger

Actually, I’m probably making Halls of Anger sound a lot more interesting than it actually is.  For the most part, it’s pretty much your standard 1970 social problem film, in that it’s full of good intentions but those good intentions don’t always add up to compelling drama.  Paul Bogart’s direction is often flat (the scene where Davis teaches his students how to read seems to drag on for hours) and the characters don’t so much talk to each other as they make narratively convenient speeches.

That said, Halls of Anger is worth watching just to see Calvin Lockhart’s authoritative performance, Rob Reiner’s hilariously bad performance, and Jeff Bridges’s charismatic debut performance.  He may never be a member of the U.S. Senate but everybody will always love Jeff Bridges.

You can watch Halls of Anger below!