A New Orleans Film Review: J.D.’s Revenge (dir by Arthur Marks)


Ike (Glynn Turman) is a nice guy.  He’s a law student living in New Orleans.  When not studying, he makes money driving a taxi cab.  He has a beautiful and loving wife named Christella (Joan Pringle).  He has a nice but modest apartment.  When we first see Ike, he is calmly and rationally breaking up a fight.  Perhaps the only real complain that can be made about Ike is that he’s actually too nice.  There’s nothing dangerous about Ike.  He works hard.  He studies.  That’s about it.

When Christella and their friends tell him that he needs to take a night off from studying, Ike is reluctant.  However, he finally agrees to go out with them.  They start out at a strip club in the French Quarter and eventually, they end up watching a hypnotist.  Ike is one of the men randomly selected to go up on stage.  Amazingly, rational and mild Ike is easily hypnotized.  The audience loves watching as Ike and the other men all reacts to hypnotic suggestion.  What they don’t know is that, while in his trance, Ike has been … possessed!

That’s right!  The ghost of J.D. Walker has entered Ike.  Who is J.D. Walker?  As we learn from a series of gauzy flashbacks, J.D. Walker was a gangster in the 1940s.  He wore a fedora.  He wore nice suits.  He was every bit as flamboyant as Ike is mild.  But then, one day, J.D. was killed, gunned down by his former business partner, Theotis Bliss (Fred Pinkard).

Soon, Ike starts to act … well, not like himself.  Suddenly, Ike is using 1940s slang.  He’s wearing 1940s clothes.  He’s gambling.  He mugs an old lady who gets in his cab and then abandons her on the wharf.  When his wife asks him why he’s acting like a 1940s gangster, he gets violent.  Soon, Ike is speaking in a different voice and dancing.

What does J.D. want?  He wants revenge against not only the man who shot him but also Theotis’s younger brother, a popular preacher named Elijah (Lou Gossett, Jr.).  As wild as the possessed Ike may be, he’s got nothing on Elijah.  Elijah was a boxer before he became a man of God and he’s still liable to throw a punch or two during his sermons.  Elijah, however, is also rather naive and has no hesitation about inviting J.D. to become a member of his congregation.  Theotis, who is now Elijah’s manager, is a bit more suspicious…

An oddly paced film that never quite escapes the lengthy shadows of all of the horror films that inspired it, J.D.’s Revenge is worth seeing for the performances Glynn Thurman and Lou Gossett, Jr.  Gossett is all energetic charisma in the role of the reverend, giving a performance that features just enough ambiguity that you’re never sure whether you should trust Elijah or not.  Meanwhile, Thurman is very good as the mild-mannered Ike but he seems to be having an absolute blast whenever he gets to play the psychotic J.D.  During the final confrontation between Ike/J.D. and the Bliss Brothers, Thurman’s performance is so bizarre and over the top that you simply cannot stop watching him.

J.D.’s Revenge was filmed in New Orleans, which add a little bit of gothic atmosphere to the film.  As I write this, a lot of our readers may currently be in New Orleans for Mardi Gras.  I wish them all well but I hope they’ll remember the lesson of J.D.’s Revenge.  Just say no to hypnosis!

A Movie A Day #17: The Laughing Policeman (1973, directed by Stuart Rosenberg)


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San Francisco in the 1970s.  Revolution is in the air.  Hippies are on every street corner.  A man named Gus Niles knows that he’s being tailed by an off-duty cop, Dave Evans.  Gus boards a city bus, knowing that Evans will follow him.  On the bus, an unseen gunman suddenly opens fire with an M3 submachine gun, not only killing both Evans and Gus but six other people as well.  After the bus crashes, the gunman calmly departs.  At first, it is assumed that the massacre was another random mass shooting, like Charles Whitman in Austin or Mark Essex in New Orleans.  But one San Francisco detective is convinced that it wasn’t random at all.

The Laughing Policeman was one of the many police procedurals to be released after the box office success of Dirty Harry and The French Connection and, despite the name, it’s also one of the grimmest.  While the complex mystery behind why Evans was following Gus and who killed everyone on the bus is intriguing, The Laughing Policeman‘s main focus is on the often frustrating nitty gritty of the investigation, complete with false leads, uncooperative witnesses, unanswerable questions, and detectives who frequently make stupid mistakes.  The movie’s first fifteen minutes are devoted to the police processing the bus, with Stuart Rosenberg (best known for directing Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke) using overlapping dialogue to give the entire scene a documentary feel.  As Detective Jake Martin, Walter Matthau is even more cynical and downbeat than usual while Bruce Dern provides good support as a younger, more volatile detective.  The supporting cast is full of 70s character actors, like Lou Gossett, Anthony Zerbe, Gregory Sierra,and playing perhaps the sleaziest drug dealer ever seen in an American movie, Paul Koslo.

The Laughing Policeman was based on a Swedish novel that took place in Stockholm but, for the movie, Swedish Detective Martin Beck became world-weary Sgt. Jake Martin and Stockholm became San Francisco.  Rosenberg directed the entire film on location, giving The Laughing Policeman the type of realistic feeling that would later be duplicated by TV shows like Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue, and Law & Order.  Though it may not be as well-known as either Dirty Harry or The French Connection, The Laughing Policeman is a dark and tough police procedural, an underrated classic of the genre.

Incidentally, The Laughing Policeman was one of the first films for which character actor Bruce Dern shared top billing.  According to Dern’s autobiography, Matthau generously insisted that Dern be credited, with him, above the title.

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“THE GUILTY WILL BE PUNISHED!”: The Punisher (1989, directed by Mark Goldblatt)


The-Punisher“What the fuck do you call 125 murders in 5 years?”

“Work in progress.”

With that line, Dolph Lundgren claimed the role of Frank Castle as his own.

Who is Frank Castle?  A former cop, he was mistakenly believed to be dead after mobsters killed his wife and children.  He has spent five years waging a one man war on the Mafia.  When not killing the criminal element, he spends his time naked in the sewers and having conversations with God.

“Come on God,” he says, “answer me. For years I’m asking why, why are the innocent dead and the guilty alive? Where is justice? Where is punishment? Or have you already answered, have you already said to the world here is justice, here is punishment, here, in me.”

Everyone knows him as the Punisher.  Only his former partner, Detective Berkowtiz (Lou Gossett, Jr.) suspects that the Punisher is actually Frank Castle.

Frank has been so effective in his one-man war on crime that the Mafia is now permanently weakened.  Plotting to take over city’s underworld, the Yakuza arrives in New York City.  Their leader, Lady Tanaka (Kim Miyori), kidnaps the son of Gianni Franco (Jereon Krabbe) and threatens to kill him unless Franco turns his operation over to her.  The Punisher and Franco team up to rescue Franco’s son and to destroy the Yakuza.  Even as the two works together, the Punisher makes sure that Franco knows that he will be punished for being a criminal.

“There’s a limit to revenge, you know,” Franco says.

“I guess I haven’t reached mine yet,” The Punisher answers.

With the current popularity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it is easy to forget that, in the 80s and 90s, almost all Marvel movies were straight-to-video affairs like this one, made with budgets so low that they could not even afford a Stan Lee cameo.  The Punisher was one of the few halfway entertaining ones.  It may not be a great movie but when compared to the 1990 version of Captain America or the Roger Corman-produced Fantastic Four, The Punisher looks like a masterpiece.  When this movie was first released, The Punisher was one of the most popular of Marvel’s characters, starring in three separate titles.  While the movie embraces the Punisher’s violent methods and reactionary worldview, it also make some unnecessary chances to the character, not only tweaking his origin story by making Frank a former cop (instead of a grieving father whose family fell victim to random mob violence) but also doing away with The Punisher’s iconic skull shirt.

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Marvel’s Punisher

Dolph Lundgren's Punisher

Dolph Lundgren’s Punisher

Can a punisher without a skull still be The Punisher?

Surprisingly, he can.  Dolph Lundgren is not only physically right for the role but he is also believable as a psychologically damaged vigilante.  This Punisher could teach Deadpool a thing or two.  After the Punisher kills one gangster in front of the man’s terrified son, he tells him, “Stay a good boy and grow up to be a good man.  Because if you don’t, I’ll be waiting.”  When the boy aims his father’s gun at him, the Punisher places his forehead against the barrel and says, “Do it.”  When you consider that The Punisher was originally introduced, in the pages of The Amazing Spider-Man, as someone who would shoot jaywalkers because they had broken the law, you can see that Lundgren’s performance really gets to the twisted soul of the character.

Even without the skull, Lundgren’s Punisher is still far superior to the versions played by Tomas Jane and Ray Stevenson.  When Jon Bernthal plays the role in the second season of Daredevil (and officially brings the character into the MCU), he will hopefully have learned some lessons from watching Dolph Lundgren.

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