Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Trailer Tuesday: COPS & ROBBERS (1973)

Cops & Robbers (1973)

Directed by: Aram Avakian (11 HARROWHOUSE).
Written by: Don Westlake, based on his novel.
Starring: Cliff Gorman, Joseph Bologna, John P. Ryan, Martin Kove.
Produced by: Elliot Kastner (every 70s crime film plus WHERE EAGLES DARE).
Music by: Michel Legrand.


This film is based on a novel by three of my favorite writers, Don Westlake, and he wrote the screenplay as well. Wait, some of you may wonder how one man can be three of my favorite writers, so maybe I should explain. Westlake was a prolific writer who broke in during the paperback revolution writing soft core porn under various pseudonym’s, often with his poker pal Lawrence Block (hey, another one of my favorites!). He was writing 2 novels a month for a while, and when he broke into mainstream mysteries he was just as prolific... and wrote different styles of fiction under different pseudonyms. So he wrote his comedy caper novels like THE HOT ROCK and BUSY BODY and SPY IN THE OINTMENT and HELP! I AM BEING HELD PRISONER under his own name, and the violent world of Parker novels like POINT BLANK under Richard Stark, and these great mopey private eye novels about a guy named Mitch Tobin under the name Tucker Coe. Plus some other books under other names. But here’s the kicker... nobody knew he was any of these other guys. Okay, maybe his agent knew, but these weren’t “Don Westlake writing as” books, these were completely different writers with completely different writing styles as far as anyone knew. A book written as J. Morgan Cunningham features a cover blurb by Westlake that says, “I wish I had written this book!” and everyone just assumed he hadn’t. So he was three of my favorite writers, three different guys who wrote different types of crime novels in different styles until he “came out” in an interview in the mid 70s which included all of his other personalities... and I was shocked!

Anyway, Westlake had this term for novels that didn’t fit in any genre, “Tortile Taradiddles” which I believe comes from Lewis Carroll... and COPS AND ROBBERS is definitely one of those. It’s a caper film that isn’t quite a comedy and isn’t quite serious. Maybe light comedy, but even that makes it sound funnier than it is. What it is is *amusing* (cue the great speech from GOODFELLOWS). That’s probably why no one remembers this film and maybe why it wasn’t a hit when it came out. It’s an amusing film written by Westlake, based on his own novel... but not really a comedy.



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Joe (Joseph Bologna) and Tom (Cliff Gorman) are New York City cops who live next door to each other in some crappy ticky tacky suburb in Long Island and car pool to work together every day. Because both are *honest* cops, they have mortgages and mounting bills and are basically risking their lives on the job every day for not enough money to live on. Joe is a patrol cop, Tom is a detective. Neither wants to be a corrupt cop, but it would be nice to have enough money to pay the damned bills every month.

Joe’s partner gets shot during some stupid call and is hospitalized, Joe reaches a breaking point decides to rob a liquor store in uniform. Gets just over $200... enough to pay some of those bills that have gone to red notice. And here’s the thing: *everyone* says the robber was some guy masquerading as a cop. The liquor store owner says he didn’t act like a cop, the police department doesn’t want *anyone* to think that a cop might also be a robber, and the media warns the public about “fake cops” who rent uniforms from costume shops. So Joe completely gets away with it!

One morning while driving to work, Tom brings up the fake cop pulling a robbery and Joe admits that was him. Tom is not shocked, he’s curious... and the two begin planning one big heist that will set them up for life. Anything under a million bucks each isn’t worth it. One robbery means less chance of getting caught, the reason why robbers get caught is because they just keep doing it and the law of averages says they’ll eventually be caught or shot by a store owner. But who the heck has $2 million they can steal?

Well, these guys are *cops*, so they know *crooks*, and crooks know this kind of stuff, right? They have an endless supply of “technical advisors”. Tom knows just the guy to help them: “Patsy O’Neill” whose real name is Pasquale Aniello, and is biggest crime kingpin in New York City. Tom has his rap sheet, knows where he lives, knows his phone number, knows his criminal record. Never been convicted. An anonymous phone call later, Tom has a meeting with Patsy at his mansion. Wearing a bad disguise, Tom asks Patsy for his illegal advice in the crime lord’s private bowling alley. (There was a time when bowling matches were broadcast on network TV every week the way Monday Night Football is broadcast today.) Patsy tells Joe the easiest thing to steal pound for pound are barer bonds from a Wall Street brokerage house. But Patsy can only pay 20 percent of the face value, so for $2 million they have to steal $10 million... and Wall Street brokerage houses are like freakin’ Fort Knox! Impossible to rob!

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Hey, nothing is impossible. Joe and Tom come up with a clever plan to pull the impossible robbery... using their uniforms as a way past most of the security. But what they need is a huge diversion, and that comes with the Apollo 11 moon landing on July 20th, 1969. On August 13th, 1969 the Astronauts had a huge ticker tape parade on Wall Street... the *perfect* diversion! There will be hundreds of cops on the street, so they can blend into the crowd, and most of the police force will be dealing with the parade! Plus, the brokerage house will be distracted by the parade as well.

Wearing fake mustaches, they enter the brokerage house in uniform saying there was a complaint that people were throwing objectionable material out the office window (near the vault). One of the managers takes them past all kinds of security almost all the way to the vault! Everyone is distracted by the parade, and these are cops... not crooks. Near the vault, Joe and Tom tell the manager they are not real cops, and they’re here to rob the vault. The manager cooperates (they are pointing guns at him) and takes them through the final security and into the vault. They handcuff the manager and his secretary and proceed to grab $10 million in barer bonds, easy as pie! Until the alarm sounds... and police flood the building searching for two guys dressed as cops. Realizing they will never be able to walk out with the $10 million in bonds, Tom comes up with a great plan: instead of stealing the bonds, all they have to steal is a *headline*. They shred the bonds and throw them out the window as part of the ticker tape parade (a suspense scene because the police are searching room by room for them). They walk out of the building pretending they were some of the police called to search for the two fake policemen. Heck, their badges are *real*! (More suspense as they have to get past the security guy at the front desk who thinks they are fake cops.)

The next day, the headlines are all about the two fake cops who stole $12 million in barer bonds. What? Where’d the other $2 million come from? That manager and his secretary each stole a million bucks and blamed them! So the danged manager ended up with more money than they did!

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But they have stolen a headline, and gangster Patsy believes they have $10 million in barer bonds and will trade $2m in cash for them. Now all they have to do is outsmart New York’s biggest crime lord and get his $2m in exchange for barer bonds they do not have. Of course, they manage to do this... but nothing is easy! And Patsy has to answer to his superior in the mob for losing the $2 million dollars.

The interesting thing about the film is that it takes place in the early 70s New York City that SERPICO and MEAN STREETS and FRENCH CONNECTION take place in. It has the same gritty look and feel as those films, even though it’s lighter in tone. The Michel Legrand music is often a little too upbeat, and I suspect it was trying to turn an amusing film into something they could sell as comedy. Cliff Gorman, who gets star billing in this film, was a 70s actor who was ain AN UNMARRIED WOMAN and ALL THAT JAZZ and a bunch of other NYC based films, and guest starred on every TV show that filmed there... then just kind of vanished from stardom, even though he continued working until his death in 2002. Bologna became the bigger star, and if you don’t know him by name you totally know him by sight. He’s Adam Sandler’s father in BIG DADDY and was Michael Caine’s horn dog friend in BLAME IT ON RIO. He has a movie shooting *now*. A tortile taradiddle like this would probably never be made today because it doesn’t fit in any genre and they’d have no idea how to sell it, but it’s a nice little film that is amusing if not laugh outloud funny. You want these two guys to get away with it.

Bill

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