Still more lazy thoughts from this one…

Guest Post – Uncredited Actor: The Five Boroughs in ‘Report To The Commissioner’ (1975)

jackdethbanner

Greetings all and sundry!

While in the midst of adapting to and breaking in my new digs. I’ve some time to peruse and opine upon others work. While slowly coaxing a slowly expanding fresh idea from the depths of my cranium to the fore.

A topic rarely and not touched upon, due to its contemporary rarity. Though was close to a given during the plethora of films of the 1970s and early 1980s.. Often focused an unformed officer (Serpico). A lone precinct deep in the middle of “Injun Country” (Fort Apache: The Bronx). The off-duty sighting of several major drug dealers sharing a table with a nobody at an after hours nightclub. And the ensuing “Cat & Mouse” game of catching a large shipment of heroin (The French Connection). The teaming of familiar African American detective with a hot-headed Italian American Detective Lieutenant (Across 110th Street). An elite squad whose targets are high-ranking “Family Members”, heist, hijack and stick up crews. And those whose arrest and prosecution (Seven years and up!) would be worth the overtime assigned (The Seven Ups).

Along with this lineage stands a much grittier presentation of The City and its connected, related boroughs. During a time when featured stomping grounds were far more rain shed, dirtier, noisier and more crowded than what is presented today.

To that end. Allow me a few moments of your time to wax poetic and critical at one of best. Though, least seen tales of the NYPD in mid developing crisis:

Uncredited Actor: The Five Boroughs in : Report To The Commissioner (1975)

report to the commissioner

Which begins with two uniformed officers responding to a complaint from an upscale Mid Town hotel. The room has been trashed. Shots have been fired. Blood is upon the walls. And a dead young woman is dead on the carpeted floor.

Detectives are assigned. Questions are asked and answered. Clues are revealed. And a potentially embarrassing problem arises. The dead young woman if found to be an NYPD officer, Patty Butler. Pulled from her Academy graduating class and placed on undercover assignment. To get close to, live with and gather evidence on a very slick and mobile drug dealer, Thomas “Stick” Henderson (Tony King. Delivering the goods with sly aplomb!)

Report To The Commissioner-3

One of those undercovers that simmer and slowly produces results. Where the primary investigator is given some room and an unwritten “Hands Off!” policy is in effect. Until something happens. The Point of Diminishing Returns is hit. And the officer is pulled out. Hopefully, none the worse for wear.

That point arrives obliquely through a telephone call from “Chicklet” (Officer Butler) to higher-ups. Who decide to pull an out of regulation rookie, uniformed officer, Beauregard “Bo” Lockley (Michael Moriarty) in. Place him in a plain clothes, off the books, missing person assignment to find Chicklet. Hopefully, adding credence to her story of being a runaway and further cement her relationship with Stick. While telling Bo nothing of Chicklet’s undercover.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, Bo proves to have better than average skills. Working from out in the seamier boroughs of Bedford~Stuyvesant, Queens and Harlem. Before finally spotting who he thinks is Chicklet. And a run in with a just debuting Richard Gere as small time pimp, Billy.

report to the commissioner5

Bo reports back to Lt. Seidensticker (Vic Tayback) and Bo’s immediate supervisor, Richard “Crunch” Blackstone (Always dependable Yaphet Kotto). Who smile and don’t tell Bo to drop it. Though, not to carry on, either. Bo continues. Narrowing his search through a several night’s walking tour of the grimy dives and glitzy after hours spots of up, down and mid-town.

Chicklet spots Bo, Makes an excuse to powder her nose. And makes a call to her immediate higher-ups that her cover man be blown. By someone she thinks is a cop!

Wanting a change of scenery before anything worse happens. Chicklet leaves in Stick’s company. With Bo only moments behind. Slightly worse for the wear. Though with a string of leads to follow as he watches them fade into the night life. The future bodes well for Bo. As he interviews and enlists street people, hustlers and forgotten of society to tighten his search.

Chicklet is getting nervous waiting for any message regarding her assignment, possible extraction and another run in with Bo. Which happens far too soon and unexpectedly. As Bo finds Stick’s apartment and kicks in the door. A gunfight ensues with Chicklet stuck in the middle. Bullets fly. Several hit Chicklet as Stick bolts to the roof. Barefoot and in boxer shorts. Creating the grist for one of the most fluid and well-edited foot chases on film.

10_zpsc191e60e

Roof top. To lower roof top. To the roofs of cars and taxis. Then along sidewalks. Strewing any and everything to slow down Bo. As Stick dashes into an upscale mid-town Sak’s Fifth Avenue department store. Stick runs into an elevator. with Bo close behind. The car’s doors close and Bo and Stick are locked in a Mexican Standoff in very close quarters.

As dozens of cops evacuate the store. Set up a perimeter. And aim lights and weapons as the first steps of a hostage situation. As the Police Commissioner, finally filled in on Officer Butler’s undercover and her death. Demands not an investigation, but a “Report”. To be reviewed and decided upon by the Commissioner, (Stephen Elliot). Politically savvy Assistant District Attorney, Jackson (William Devane).

I’ll leave it right here for Spoliers’ sake.

Now. What Makes This Film Good?

The unique way this “Story Within A Story” is masterfully told with well-timed and executed Flash Back. As Bo is placed on Administrative Leave and Psychiatric Evaluation in the cellars of some long forgotten precinct. Caught in the middle of events he has no control of. Proclaiming his innocence as circumstantial evidence accumulates (long before Forensic Studies and DNA) that could go either way.

Large segments of the tale are told from Bo’s point of view. Recalling going over earlier trails with “Crunch” close at hand. As they explore sidewalks, alley ways and unattractively overflowing dumpsters. Looking for spoor as Mr. Kotto makes delightful fun of “Bo”. His string bean height. Pastiness and inability to blend in amongst Blacks, Hispanics, Sikhs and Asians.

Report To The Commissioner-2

It is in these scenes when the Uncredited Actor comes out in all of its unattended dirtiness and disrepair. Offset by the covering, shadowy night and the glitz and trashy glamor the city offers at night. A neat juxtaposition, well handled. Though cinematography by Mario Tosi. And just the right amount of editing by David Blewitt.

Wrapped around an intriguing and steadfast screenplay from the novel of James Mills. Delivered with shadows, grit and gusto by Ernest Tidyman and fledgling, Abby Mann. And backed up sometimes funkily with a soundtrack by Elmer Bernstein.

What Makes This Film Great?

A neat, concise tale told in oblique angles to straighten out twists and turns as young and lovely Susan Blakely excels as a carefree though careful undercover. Seeing and hearing a lot and remembering most. Until her initial call gets the ball and story rolling. Winding the gears slowly to start. Then more quickly and tightly throughout.

Though, it is Michael Moriarty who is the focus of attention and the “Report”. Delivering the same “Half a step out of it” stunned wonderment that would be visited again as John Converse. In the counter-culture, post Vietnam classic ‘Who’ll Stop The Rain’. Awe struck and amazed that the events he set into motion have taken a life of their own. And may turn on him without a moment’s notice. As the walls of his Administrative jail cell seem to close in around diffuse lighting. As he quietly awaits its outcome.

Placed squarely opposite Bo’s fairly decent detective work amongst the noise and throng of New York’s boroughs and city at night. Especially with legless Vietnam veteran, Joey (Bob Balaban. In a very non Bob Balaban role!) . And even more boisterous and crowded sins revealed under direct sunlight. It’s a neat piece of juggling. And Mr. Moriarty pulls it off with a self-deprecating smile. When not sharing time with many familiar. Or soon to be familiar faces. From Hector Elizondo. To Dana Elcar, Sonny Grosso and a repulsively arrogant Richard Gere.

Not exactly a “You’ve Gotta Start Somewhere” film. But one where the cast and crew test limits. Push at the envelope. And make the film better for their efforts!

Set Direction by John A. Kuri excels, reaches and achieves even higher in countless on location scenes, crowded, noisy police precinct bullpens. Enhanced by Stunt Coordinator and Double, Craig Baxley.

report to the commissioner

Author’s Note:

I have Michael to thank for recollecting this not often seen gem. Through his recent review of another off beat black comedy/action film, ‘High Risk’. Though, not of the same lineage, ‘Report To The Commissioner’ stands alongside some of the best New York City based crime dramas from that era.

Agree? Disagree? Differing opinions are always welcome. As the Floor is open for discussion!
Advertisements

17 Responses to “Guest Post – Uncredited Actor: The Five Boroughs in ‘Report To The Commissioner’ (1975)”

  1. cindybruchman

    Never heard of it, Kevin. A simple yet unusual plot with chase scenes, interesting characters, and tight dialogue. I wonder why it fell off the radar? No “stars” cast to speak of?

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    • jackdeth72

      Welcome, Cindy!

      Insightful as always. And a great start to the discussion!

      ‘Report To The Commissioner’ is one of those films that reaffirms my belief that the 1970s was the last great era for Hollywood. That came in “on little cats’ feet”. Made its mark without a lot of fanfare. And moved on. With not a lot of budget. Which may be an underlying reason for it lack of big named stars. But one heck of a story well told and executed by a clever director, cast and crew!

      Everyone pulls their plow! Including Manhattan and its outlying boroughs and the the final product better for their inclusion.

      Like

      Reply
  2. le0pard13

    Great look at another forgotten gem of a movie, Kevin. And highlighting the Five Boroughs as an uncredited character was inspired. This another aspect of 70s cinema I love. A number of films used New York City, in all its gritty urban ‘beauty’, with an almost majestic (though a little scary) sense during this turbulent era. A living, breathing entity that permeated every scene. And you covered a few of those films here. Wonderful! I always remember Chief Brody’s description of his time in NYC during JAWS, even though Spielberg lensed ‘Amity’ in direct contrast to that urban ambiance, you recognized the distinction right off. Thanks so much for the contribution, my friend. Always appreciated. 😀

    Like

    Reply
    • jackdeth72

      Hi, Michael:

      Great points!

      I’ve always been a sucker for films and series that use New York City and its towns and burghs beyond as a backdrop. And this film has it writ large. And in ways not seen in other films I’d mentioned in the introduction.

      There’s a battered and beat up, occasionally creepy beauty to it. That is also part of its allure. ‘Fort Apache: The Bronx’ and ‘The Taking of Pelham One Two Three’ seemed more focused. ‘The French Connection’ had an awful winter to back up and add a hint of misery to the pursuit. Lumet’s ‘Serpico’ and later, ‘Prince of the City’ excelled at locations not seen before. Or since. While this and ‘Across 110th Street’ went for the roof tops, store fronts, alleyways and crowded, noisy streets and sidewalks.

      All good reasons for Chief Brody to remember and hint at for his move to Amity and its own external problems!

      Like

      Reply
  3. Cavershamragu

    Saw this one at a very impressionable age in my early teens and was both bummed out and tremendously impressed but have not seen it since – must track down a copy! Thanks.

    Like

    Reply
    • jackdeth72

      Welcome, Sergio:

      I was a bit older when I caught it. Thinking it was just another of the ‘NYPD in the City’ films of that time. Coming out of left field in ways and with offbeat characters and an approach I hadn’t seen before. Which made the film more memorable, unique, endearing and enduring.

      Several clips and trailers are on YouTube. Oldies. com has it in its inventory. Though this gem positively screams for a clean up, re mastering and DVD or Blue Ray Treatment!

      Like

      Reply
  4. ruth

    This sounds intriguing Kevin! The “Story Within A Story” idea is quite a tricky one and sounds like director Milton Katselas did a nice job. Interesting that Elizondo and Gere teamed up again later on in Pretty Woman 🙂

    Like

    Reply
    • le0pard13

      It is, Ruth. Kinda hard to believe Richard Gere had his movie debut as an NYC pimp. Worth seeing again, I think. Another intriguing one by Kevin. Thanks, my friend.

      Like

      Reply
    • jackdeth72

      Welcome, Ruth:

      It isn’t often that I am outdone in the realm of film trivia. 😀

      Excellent catch noting the re teaming of Mr. Elizondo and Gere in ‘Pretty Woman’! One that slipped past my focus while assembling and laying out my critique.

      Mr. Katselas has been noted as director who can do a lot with a little. As in his ’40 Carats’ and ‘Butterflies Are Free’. And with ‘report To The Commissioner’, he seems to have pulls several more neat tricks out of his hat. Manipulating the Flash Back sequences seamlessly and trimming wasted fat with editor, Davis Blewitt. Creating a full, yet compact tale that clocks in at just under two hours.

      Like

      Reply
    • jackdeth72

      Cheers, Three Rows:

      There is a lot to tell with this near forgotten classic. Plot twists, subtle shifts, familiar faces and all. And I had a ball laying this one out. Revel in its mystique in enticing ways. Without revealing too much.

      A neat little selection to be enjoyed during a rainy or snowy afternoon. Or quiet, pitch black night!

      Like

      Reply
  5. John DuMond

    I saw this once, on network TV, in the late 70s (back when the broadcast networks still showed movies). I think this was the first time I’d ever seen Michael Moriarty’s work. Definitely a good movie. Those 70s movies based in NYC had a kind of dystopian feel to them.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    • jackdeth72

      Hi, John:

      Thanks so much for the great comment!

      The swath of NYPD/NYC films are all unique in their ways. And method of delivery. Where the city and its boroughs look far from polished and pristine. Make them far better with their inclusion. And probably couldn’t be reliably remade today.

      While Michael Moriarty shows off his mastery of underplaying. Being the stunned eye of storm slowly closing around him. A trait that kept him constantly on my radar.

      Like

      Reply
    • le0pard13

      “Those 70s movies based in NYC had a kind of dystopian feel to them.”

      Sure did. Yeah, quite a time captured back then with the city. So much so, given the films from the decade, you felt you knew NYC even if you’d hadn’t lived there or visited before this. Thanks, John! 🙂

      Like

      Reply

Are you talkin’ to me?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Basic HTML is allowed. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS

%d bloggers like this: