The Super Cops: Ron Liebman and David Selby star as New York’s Finest real-life Batman and Robin replicas.
Three variations on a cops-and-robbers theme from the early ‘70s
The Super Cops (1974) trailer
The Super Cops (1974)
Released three months after Serpico, Gordon Parks’ film followed a pair of successful Shaft scores with this real-life account of two system-bucking traffic-cops-turned-considerable-crimebusters. The old guard doesn’t cotton to being upstaged by a pair of rookies, but when news of their exploits begins garnering attention, the jealousy-fueled sneers accrued in the station house topple under the weight of public adulation. (As does an abandoned building that falls victim to the wrecking ball in mid-chase during the film’s most spectacularly-staged action sequence.) Established practice dictates that in biopics, footage or photos of actual subjects be withheld until the closing credits. Back in the day, the outrageous heroics of David Greenberg (Ron Liebman) and Robert Hantz (David Selby) — the public took to calling them Batman and Robin — might have been a bit much for audiences to swallow, which may explain Parks’ decision to open the picture with grainy file footage of Bed-Stuy’s dynamic duo. Ironically, the screenplay is by Lorenzo Semple Jr. one of the guiding forces behind TV’s Batman. And while Greenberg sports a ringer-tee with the iconic Bat symbol, a closing-credits “Thanks to” Bob Kane or DC Comics never materializes. Nor does Selby’s character. But Liebman’s performance is so passionate that his determined right eyelid alone deserved a supporting actor award.
Across 110th Street (1972) trailer
Across 110th Street (1972)
Jim Harris (Paul Benjamin) is a 42-year-old black man with no formal education, even fewer business skills, and a heavy prison record on his back. By his own estimation, Harris has but three methods of contributing to society: washing cars, swinging a pick, and arriving at the titular destination along with two collaborators disguised as cops to relieve the mob of $300,000. In doing so, the trio takes out two cops, two mafioso, and two of their own. So begins a race between the police — led by Anthony Quinn, the abrasive prohibition-era bull, and Yaphet Kotto, the liberal, African-American detective new to the precinct — and a mob errand boy, whose only qualification for the assignment is his marriage to the Don’s daughter (Anthony Franciosa), to one-by-one track and take them down. (No surprise, the better-informed bad guys are always one step ahead of the police.) Barry Shear (The Karate Killers, Wild in the Streets) dipped his toes in features before in 1973 taking up permanent residence on television. His handling of the opening heist and subsequent escape is a marvel of efficiency and minimal dialogue, and there’s a moral complexity at work not generally associated with most action films from the era. After 33 years carrying a badge, the crooked and racist Quinn discovers that his biggest enemy isn’t the new black guy in charge, but systemic ageism. (The force is looking to sack anyone over 50.) Chortles are evinced whenever Franciosa shows his face on enemy turf, but it’s he who has the last sadistic laugh as a pair of black mobsters stand helpless while the vainglorious goon tortures a brother. A gritty lulu of a neo-noir that’s not to be missed.
Sympathy For The Underdog (1971) trailer
Sympathy For The Underdog (1971)
Kinji Fukasaku was in his early 70s when he directed his last film, Battle Royale. First-time viewers would be quick to assume that it was the work of a director whose age hovered somewhere in his mid-20s. (I did.) The film and its sequel (begun by the director and completed by his son Kenta Fukasaku) were my introduction to the man’s work. I’ve yet to explore his contributions to both samurai and sci-fi, but his work in the yakuza genre is a golden vault waiting to be mined. Of the half-dozen or so in the collection, this is the one I keep returning to. Has there ever been a cooler convict exiting a 10-year prison stretch than Masuo Gunji (Kôji Tsuruta)? Dressed in black from his toes to the tip of his designer shades, Gunji is the epitome of calm under pressure. The organization that put him behind bars is the same one that duped his family into forming an unholy alliance with Daitokai. All of this information comes to us through freeze frames and various swatches of time, as though the French New Wave were not done working its way through the filmmaker’s system. Composed for depth, the images at times resemble a ViewMaster slide without the need of a viewer. Gunji still commands loyalty, as evidenced by the two old-timers there to greet him on his path to freedom. But he expresses no interest in getting back in the racket and says the reason behind his visit to Daitokai is that he wants to show his respect to the boss who helped put him away. The move backfires, leaving Gunji to gather his friends around him and start anew in Okinawa. Much has changed in the ensuing decade, and as it turns out, the locals aren’t pushovers. Still, those troubles are nothing compared the day the Daitokai, looking to extend their reach, hit town. Will Gunji’s wits be sound enough for him to take control of the stylish explosion of EastmanColor violence that caps the film? Download it tonight and see.