HANGUP [a.k.a. Super Dude] (1975; Video Screams).
For his final feature film, veteran Hollywood director Henry Hathaway took a break from period John Wayne westerns such as TRUE GRIT and THE SONS OF KATIE ELDER, and, at the age of 74, tried his hand at more contemporary subject matter that included cops, drugs, prostitution, and hard-hitting urban action. And whaddaya know, this cantankerous old fart largely pulled it off. Featuring a capable cast, amusingly streetwise attitude, a handful of gritty set-pieces, and plenty of cool footage of Los Angeles' seedier areas, the film ultimately suffered from tepid distribution. Initially released through Warner Bros. as HANGUP, they quickly passed it off to Brut Productions, then Dimension Pictures gave it a blaxploitation-style ad campaign and the schlocky new title of SUPER DUDE. The film actually played New York City theatres under both titles, only six months apart!... William Elliott (best known at the time for his thankless 'black best friend' gig on the CBS sitcom BRIDGET LOVES BERNIE) stars as Ken Ramsey, an undercover cop in LAPD's Narcotics Division. He's a good man but his latest assignment has him quickly losing perspective, after running into old high school classmate Julie Turner (SUGAR HILL's Marki Bey), who's now a junkie working as a nude model in a seedy storefront studio called "The Beaver Den." The two reminisce, Ramsey hoping Julie can lead him to the person responsible for giving a deadly "hot shot" to one of her friends. But first, Ramsey lets this sexy hophead crash at his apartment so that she can get clean, with romance blossoming between the two. No surprise, this unorthodox relationship impacts Ken's job, particularly after he encounters the sleazy dope peddler (Michael Lerner) who pimps out Julie and also secretly spies on his whores as they screw their johns... The film's cops 'n' pushers sequences are well-crafted and effective, but its midsection drags as our (briefly) happy couple frolic on the beach or in bed. Bey's role is potentially meaty -- a desperate, manipulative woman doing whatever necessary to get high, yet tempted by the prospect of love -- but her performance is all surface attitude and zero believability, an approach better suited to primetime TV like ADAM-12 or DRAGNET. In fact, Bey is so abrasive and Elliott's character so impossibly naive that it's hard to feel much sympathy for either one. Thankfully, the script ditches all of that emotional bullshit for the finale, as Ken and a fellow cop (Cliff Potts) try to take down one of the city's biggest drug connections. Future BARTON FINK Oscar-nominee Lerner is particularly scummy and one of the highlights is his brutal, over-the-top brawl with Elliott. Plus Hathaway fills out the supporting cast with talented character actors: George Murdock (BARNEY MILLER's Lieutenant Scanlon) as Ramsey's captain; Wally Taylor (Clubber Lang's manager in ROCKY III) is his sergeant; Herbert Jefferson, Jr. (BATTLESTAR GALACTICA's Boomer) plays a police officer; plus Pepe Serna (who earlier co-starred in Hathaway's SHOOT OUT) turns up as a junkie who buys dime bags from dealer Rafael Campos.
© 2021 by Steven Puchalski.