Saturday, June 16, 2012

El Professore Movie Review: The Super Cops

The Super Cops

Director: Gordon Parks
Starring: Ron Leibman, David Selby, Sheila Frazier, Pat Hingle
* * *
Photographer, musician, poet, novelist, journalist, activist and occasional film director Gordon Parks scored a huge hit in 1971 with Shaft which kicked off the whole decade long Blaxploitation movement. Three years later, Parks returned to the urban action market. This time however, he took a decidedly different approach. The project he chose was The Super Cops, a true story about two rookie policemen, Dave Greenberg and Rob Hantz who casually took matters into their own hands when dealing with the drug dealers in New York and in the process became media darlings under their nicknames of Batman and Robin... and infuriating their often corrupt bosses and coworkers.

Full review after the jump.

The main thing that made The Super Cops so unusual at the time was that we had a black director filming the adventures of two white cops. This may seem like nothing notable by todays' standards (as well it shouldn't), but back in 1974, it was a bit of an eyebrow raiser. Storywise, it bears a strong resemblance to the previous year's Serpico. That was another true life adventure of an 'honest' cop who refused bribes, didn't go with the flow (so to speak) and made himself an enemy to both criminal and cop alike. The main difference between Frank Serpico and Greenberg/Hanz is that 'Batman and Robin' succeeded in their busts./arrests and gained the (begrudging) respect of their peers. Part of the reason for our 'Dynamic Duo's' success seemed to be in their embrace of the media. Because they transformed themselves into local folk heroes, it made it more difficult for them to be discrediedt or double crossed. The resulting film was a light, almost whimsical affair (watching the opening scene showing actual footage of the real life Greenberg and Hantz accepting honors from their boss is especially amusing when considered after seeing the rest of the film and realizing their corrupt chief must have been grinding his teeth into stumps during the blessed event).

The whole pic is driven by Ron Liebman who gives one of the most amped up, over the top, yet somehow believable performances of the '70s. His portrayal is akin to a 24 hour adrenaline rush; always excited, always winded, yet seemingly with energy to spare for a dozen cops. So much so in fact, that near the climax of the film (after our heroic pair chase down a gang of baddies through a condemmed building that's being demolished around them) when he finally utters, "... I'm tired", I actually found myself exhailing for him. David Selby's near silent portrayal of Hantz serves as the perfect compliment. He is the strong silent type who has his partner's back at all times which considering the situations they get into, is a comforting thing. It is a thankless role next to Liebman's near maniacal scene stealing, but it's a necessary one.

The film has been criticized unfairly because it never reveals our heroes' motivation or give any backround information about them (which I never felt was necessary in this instance) as well as the complaint that the film doesn't get as down and dirty as it might have (this IS urban New York of 1974 afterall). But this clearly wasn't what Parks intended here. He deliberately went with a relatively light, pulpy, fast moving, adventure and on that level, he succeeded.

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