We tend to look on the past with rose-tinted glasses. Witness how we look back at the 1970s. This was the decade when American films fully embraced a new, younger generation of filmmakers, after some heavy flirting in the mid-1960s. The 70s gave us Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and Robert Altman, just to name a few. However, it’s important to note that few in the 1970s realized they were living in a Golden Age. This is because while cinematic history was being made, there was also a glut of trash still making it onto the screen. This just doesn’t just include the commercial films that studios dumbed down and banked on. It also includes films that shamelessly tried to ape the success of the people we remember so fondly.
Today, we look at two films that deal with taking the law into your own hands. The first of these films is one of the films that aimed for greatness – or at least aimed to copy it – and failed miserably.
DAY 13: JANUARY 15, 2013
BUSTING (1974) – first viewing – Just when you thought any “gritty” film to come out during the amazing 1970s was a winner, we have this. Elliot Gould and Robert Blake play vice cops who spend their days busting hookers and gay nightclubs. They can’t get any traction because whenever they bust one of the many businesses owned by Rizzo (Alan Garfield), their bust is thrown out and they’re sent to do worthless jobs. Realizing they don’t have the support of their superiors, they break protocol and spend their off duty hours following Rizzo wherever he goes, threatening him, harassing him and destroying his property right in front of him, hoping that will lead to a big drug bust.
If you see the inherent flaw in this approach, congratulations – you are smarter than anyone behind the scenes on BUSTING. Everyone knows that all it should take it one phone call from Rizzo to the cops’ superiors or even local government officials. One call to say “these cops keep accusing me of things. They have no warrant, no probable cause, they’ve set fire to my belongings and they’re harassing me every minute of the day.” Gould and Blake would be suspended from the force while internal affairs spent all of two hours realizing the drastic ways in which they violated Rizzo’s rights and they’d be kicked off the force. Even Rizzo’s actual criminal activities are irrelevant since everyone in power already knows of his activities and is on the take. A supposedly thought-provoking ending is ridiculous because none of the outlandish claims made by one of the characters to shock the viewer has any basis in reality. The makers of BUSTING hope that you are too stupid to understand this. For that reason, it’s not just a bad movie but an insulting one.
And let’s not pretend that these are great heroes. They bust prostitutes, using the worst possible acts. They threaten, slap around and entrap suspects. They break up gay nightclubs and when the perps fight back, bitch and moan “That faggot bit my leg.” The film is extremely racist and homophobic. A courtroom scene meant to be funny is actually disturbing as gay and transgendered people are ridiculed and have their right to due process blatantly ignored. Also, there are no non-whites in this film unless they are lowlife criminals. They aren’t committed to their quest in some search for justice either. Gould even goes to a prostitute when he feels like it. It’s more to make themselves feel better than anything and honestly why should I care if these pigs feel good about themselves?
BUSTING is the directorial debut of Peter Hyams, and thankfully the film is at least shot well. It’s never unpleasant to look at, no matter what dingy places it exposes us to. Robert Blake does nothing special here. I have never understood the appeal of Elliot Gould and how he got to be a star has always left me flabbergasted. It’s not just his looks (he’s looking more like Frank Zappa than ever here). He has a complete lack of range, charisma or charm. Worst of all is John Lawrence as the police captain. He’s a man stuck in the middle and raves about that every moment he’s on screen. He’s not unlike the character of James Taggart in Ayn Rand’s novel ATLAS SHRUGGED. And trust me, anyone who reminds me of that rancid piece of garbage is immediately put on my shit list.
BUSTING desperately wants to be THE FRENCH CONNECTION, complete with a reckless car chase sequence. But as it is, this couldn’t even pass muster as an episode of STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO. ★ out of ★★★★
YOUNG GUNS (1988) – In this fictionalized telling of the Lincoln County War, cattle rancher John Tunstall (Terrence Stamp) takes in young William H. Bonney (Emilio Estevez) and introduces him to the wayward youths he has employed. When Tunstall is gunned down, Bonney and the other “regulators” vow revenge and begin huting down the killers. All of this leads to Bonney’s legend in which he would become known as Billy the Kid.
This was a big deal at the time. They got some of the biggest young stars of the day and cast them in a less traditional telling of an old tale. Most of the group handles the material well, especially Estevez who is one of the best Billy the Kids in my opinion. The film is rarely dull, but it would help to have a little more energy in this film. It’s action packed and interesting but still comes off a little flat. Geoff Murphy’s sequel is actually better than this original. ★★½ out of ★★★★
Total films watched in 2013 so far: 35
My soundtrack for January 15, 2013: “And she says, ‘I’ve come to set something twisted straight…'”