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BLADE (1973).

Director Ernest Pintoff's film career began on a high note, with the Academy Award-winning animated short THE CRITIC (1963), followed by the offbeat infidelity-comedy HARVEY MIDDLEMAN, FIREMAN (1965), only to wind up bouncing between diverse, low-rent features such as LUNCH WAGON, JAGUAR LIVES! and this remarkably vicious, New York City-based cop-thriller, which also offered a rare starring role to character actor extraordinaire John Marley. On the heels of his Best Supporting Actor Oscar-nomination for LOVE STORY and waking up beside a horse's head in THE GODFATHER, Marley tackled the title role of arrogant, rule-bending, NYPD Lieutenant Jimmy Blade, an ascot-wearing maverick in search of a crazed killer, while surrounded by a cast littered with future TV-icons and New York City stage regulars... The film begins with a brutal demise, as a well-dressed sicko follows a pretty young blonde into her apartment building, karate kicks the bejesus out of her, and finally beats the poor girl's skull against a stairwell railing. It turns out that our victim, Melinda Powers, is the daughter of local Congressman Jonathan Powers (William Prince), a conservative scumbag who promptly blames the crime on the city's rampant "degenerates." Only two weeks from retirement, Blade is assigned to this case by his harried boss (McMILLAN & WIFE's John Schuck) and pursues possible suspects (such as Melinda's black boyfriend, Henry Watson, played by future LOVE BOAT bartender Ted Lange). Of course, the viewer is well aware that the actual culprit is clean-cut, well-to-do Frederic Petersen (Jon Cypher, a decade before playing Police Chief Daniels on HILL STREET BLUES), who lives uptown with his doddery aunt and is frantically cleaning up any loose ends, like murdering a high-class whore who could I.D. him at the crime scene, Meanwhile, our self-serving congressman uses his daughter's slaughter to advance his own fear-fueled political agenda, while also applying pressure to have Blade tossed off the investigation when hard-headed Jimmy starts to get too close to the truth -- that vicious nutjob Frederic is secretly connected to Powers! Along the way, Blade questions a topless actress (with BARNEY MILLER's Steve Landesberg as her low-rent "adult" director), steals evidence hidden by a sleazy fellow cop (Michael McGuire), and has a rendezvous with 35-year-old, THE ELECTRIC COMPANY-era Morgan Freeman. There's also Joe Santos (THE ROCKFORD FILES) as Blade's occasional partner, Tony-winner Keene Curtis is Powers' sycophantic assistant, Marshall Efron turns up as a drug-dealing "fat man" in a sawbuck-toupee, plus Karen Machon is a sexy secretary who becomes co-worker Frederic's next target, after asking a connected friend (pre-MAUDE Rue McClanahan) to dig into his background. NYC stage actress Kathryn Walker -- less than half the age of 65-year-old Marley -- plays Blade's crime-author "old lady" Maggie, but is only onboard in order to become a potential victim... The script by Pintoff and future SQUIRM-director Jeff Lieberman is a disjointed mess, clumsily bouncing between the various plot threads and never taking time for anything but the most simplistic characterizations. Marley keeps it all highly entertaining though, chasing suspects down midtown streets and enthusiastically throwing himself into this rather clichéd role. Plus Cypher is wonderfully creepy as the type of hate-filled, white-pride asshole who'd kill his own kin simply because they're dating a black guy, snarl "Scum like you don't belong in our country!" while tossing Marley's stunt-double about Central Park, or beat a woman to death with his bare hands. Throughout it all, cinematographer David Hoffman puts his documentary experience to effective use, with FRENCH CONNECTION-style hand-held camerawork and loads of NYC color... A few years after BLADE's spotty theatrical release, the film was drastically edited for television -- jettisoned the most vicious moments (e.g., Melinda Power's grim murder occurs completely off-camera), while adding newly-shot footage of 1979 Times Square (complete with theatre marquees for APOCALYPSE NOW and THE FISH THAT SAVED PITTSBURGH) to its title sequence, as Cypher's psychopath drives around midtown in search of female prey.

© 2019 by Steven Puchalski.