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Jumat, 18 Maret 2011

Howard W. Koch - Badge 373 (1973)

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Robert Duvall is cast as a suspended New York cop who sets out on a one-man crusade to avenge his cop-partner's murder. A tough, gritty cop movie in the 1970s mold. Roger Ebert said "If it's strange to find an intelligent and thoughtful crime movie, it's stranger still to find two of them - and back-to-back at the same theater. "Badge 373," based on the adventures of New York detective Eddie ("The French Connection") Egan, has followed "The Friends of Eddie Coyle" into the United Artists. And it's a tough movie with some interesting things to say about cops-and-robbers morality. It's based on Egan's adventures, I guess, in roughly the same way that "Lady Sings the Blues" was based on the life of Billie Holiday: The facts have not been allowed to get in the way."

Article from TCM.com
The French Connection, one of the big box office hits of 1971 and a nominee for eight Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor, was based on a popular book by Robin Moore entitled The French Connection: A True Account of Cops, Narcotics, and International Conspiracy and depicted the exploits of New York City detective Eddie Egan and his partner Sonny Grosso, who busted a global drug link in 1961 and seized a record amount of heroin at the time, totaling 112 pounds. In the film, Gene Hackman played Egan, who went by the name Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle - "Popeye" was Egan's real-life nickname - and, interestingly enough, Egan had a supporting role as Doyle's boss, Simonson. The film's popularity not only launched the film careers of Egan and his partner Grosso (who appeared in a minor role though his character was played by Roy Scheider) but also encouraged Hollywood to return to Egan's life story for subject matter, resulting in the belated sequel French Connection II (1975) as well as Badge 373 (1973), which was loosely based on incidents in Egan's career which were dramatized in a screenplay by journalist Pete Hamill.

Once again Egan appears in a supporting role in Badge 373 as a police lieutenant while Robert Duvall plays Egan, renamed Eddie Ryan here due to the fictitious nature of some of the narrative. Like Hackman, Duvall portrays Eddie as a tough, unrelenting, crude and often violent cop who will use any means necessary to get his man. In this case, it's Sweet Willie (Henry Darrow), a Harvard-educated, Puerto Rican drug czar whose crime syndicate has influential links to the rich and powerful as well as political activists and the NYC community. When Eddie's partner is killed in an undercover drug investigation, Eddie turns in his badge (numbered 373, Egan's real badge number) and goes on a one-man vigilante mission to get the man responsible for the murder. Ryan behaves like a bull in a china shop for the course of the film, starting with an opening drug bust in a Spanish Harlem disco and proceeding to a rooftop beating of a Puerto Rican suspect (who falls to his death), a police brutality charge, confrontations with various prostitutes, pimps, drug dealers, armed henchmen and angry radicals, and a climactic fight atop a crane in the Brooklyn naval yard. All the while, Eddie's current girlfriend Maureen (Verna Bloom) is left waiting on the sidelines, hungry for a little time alone with Eddie that she never seems to get except for a brief getaway to the country which, of course, is short-lived. No, Badge 373 is all about loyalty and honor and in this case, the code requires revenge for a partner's murder - nothing else matters.

While there are similarities between The French Connection and Badge 373 - there is an attempt to rival the show-stopping car chase of the latter with Duvall commandeering a city bus and leading Puerto Rican gang members on a wild pursuit - Badge 373 is a much less accomplished action-adventure cop thriller in terms of pacing and cinematic style but it does offer a warts-and-all character study of Egan who, as portrayed by Duvall (and Hackman before him), is a salt-of-the-earth Irish cop who is as abrasive as sandpaper and proudly unsympathetic at times, slurring any and all ethnic groups in the line of work. Inevitably, this latter quality was noted in the New York Times review by Roger Greenspun, who wrote, "All of the evil is perpetrated by Puerto Ricans, either innocent but violent revolutionaries who run around shouting "Puerto Rico Libre!" or the uninnocent but equally violent nonrevolutionaries who manipulate them. Against such forces, Eddie the hard-nosed cop has only the instincts of his personal bigotry to guide him. And invariably the instincts of his personal bigotry turn out to be right."

Badge 373 was not a commercial or critical success and the final assessment by the New York Times seemed to mirror the majority opinion - "...unless you care to hate Puerto Ricans (or Irish cops) I don't see how the movie can have anything for you." Yet, there were a few dissenting critics and Roger Ebert of The Chicago Sun-Times called it "…a tough movie with some interesting things to say about cops-and-robbers morality...[Director Howard] Koch has captured a nicely textured New York City in his movie; he shot mostly on location and didn't clean the streets first."

If nothing else, Badge 373 deserves a second look as a time capsule of the seventies, showcasing some of the worst hair, clothes and fashions of the era. There is a brief cameo by Dominican bandleader and musician Johnny Pachero and his Orchestra in the opening sequence at Carorrojeno's nightclub that will appeal to salsa fans and screenwriter Pete Hamill shows up in a brief bit playing himself (at the time he was a columnist for The New York Post, New York Daily News, Esquire and other publications.)

The real Eddie Egan finally got to play himself in Let's Go for Broke (1974), a low-budget crime drama made immediately after Badge 373. For the remainder of his career Egan would appear as cops or police captains in numerous TV series (Baretta, Police Woman, Mike Hammer) and made-for-TV movies (Out of the Darkness, True Blue). He was never as colorful an actor as he was a screen character and his on-screen demeanor was terse and unemotional, sharing some physical similarities to character actor Eddie Constantine, the American-born actor who moved to France and became famous for playing G-men and private eyes in stylized genre films such as the Lemmy Caution series and Jean-Luc Godard's Alphaville (1965).
by Jeff Stafford











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