Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Busting is on Blu-Ray! (Neglected gems new on Blu-Ray, continued)

Ask me to name an under-appreciated gem from the classic period of gritty, street-level crime movies made in American in the early 1970's, and I'm going to go one of two ways: Report to the Commissioner, which I wrote about at length here, or Peter Hyam's 1974 crime classic Busting. It's almost the equal of the film it most resembles, The French Connection, in my book, with only an abrupt, downbeat, and maybe less-than-fully-realized ending (dependent entirely on a voice-over) keeping it from being quite on that level. Coming near the end of this particular cycle of American crime cinema, it was probably doomed, not feeling fresh or original enough in the wake of what had gone before it to really get the audience it deserved, but from a contemporary vantage point, it arrives now as a neglected gem, chock-a-block with craft, wit, style, and charm, that was never really given its due (it was only ever briefly available on DVD, in an archive presentation, which I reviewed here). It's certainly way cooler than any crime film being made in America now. Kino Lorber - who are emerging as one of the better Blu-Ray labels out there, having scored big wins with me for having put out Peter Hyams' other "buddy cop" classic, Running Scared, as well as the Gould vehicle The Long Goodbye and a host of other great little movies (Miami Blues, anyone? Miracle Mile?) - has continued to knock things out of the park with this release. Admittedly, I haven't SEEN their presentation yet, but its a new HD remaster, and there are two commentaries, one involving Hyams and the other involving Gould, making this a definite improvement over the bare-bones previous edition, which came only, as I recall, with a trailer. Albeit a fun one.

And oh, what an enjoyable movie this is to watch, if you can overlook its frequent homophobic slurs and its undeniably bad, grim-and-gritty attitude (no problem with me, but people with progressive sensibilities might find it a bit dark, maybe even "reactionary," to quote a friend I lent the DVD to recently). Elliott Gould and Robert Blake have terrific chemistry together. Gould is as smart-assed and unshaven as he ever got - you can almost smell a faint miasma of beer, tobacco and sweat around him when he's onscreen. Robert Blake is a terrific foil - along with Electra Glide in Blue and that creepy-crazy turn in David Lynch's Lost Highway, this is one of his finest moments on-screen*. The under-appreciated Allen Garfield - also known briefly as Allen Goorwitz, back when he was appearing in The State of Things, one of the must-sees in the Cinematheque's Wim Wenders retrospective, coming in November - is a delightfully cynical organized crime boss whom Blake and Gould target. Sid Haig - you kids today will know him as Captain Spaulding - is in there, too, doing his usual henchman thing. The film is blackly funny, as detectives Gould and Blake grow increasingly aware that their higher ups are every bit as corrupt as the criminals they're pursuing. Anyone who has done a job with passion and commitment while wondering if his/ her superiors even care will find lots to identify with here (it's kind of a precursor to the self-pitying male action hero of the 1980's, in a way, with Gould and Blake's competence in the face of a deeply broken system setting the world up, in a totally blameless way, for the no-one-loves-me-but-I-kill-the-bad-guys-and-save-them-all-anyway angst of vintage Bruce Willis). It also has more than its share of exciting action-movie moments, as when Hyams obliterates all memories of Friedkin's car chase in The French Connection with an unbelievably exciting and tense foot chase through a public market. (I hold that in fact foot chases are one of Hyams' signatures - maybe not quite enough of a repeated motif to qualify him for auteur status, but a pleasantly consistent element in his films, especially his crime ones).

Peter Hyams is one of the more interesting American filmmakers out there, having made more than his share of beautiful-looking, stylish, and impeccably-crafed genre films, including Capricorn One, Outland, 2010, Running Scared, The Relic, The Star Chamber, Narrow Margin, Time Cop, and (maybe the slightly lesser but still fun) A Sound of Thunder, all of which merit viewing in my book. Busting was his first theatrical feature, though he'd cut his teeth previously on a couple of TV movies, and written one apparently-now-forgotten drama about a woman in the big city, T. R. Baskin, which I've only ever just heard of now, despite the fact that Peter Boyle and James Caan are both in it (and Candice Bergen, but she's not exactly a selling point for me...). Anyone who has enjoyed Hyams' other output will love Busting. It's probably his best film. It's certainly the one I'm most enthusiastic about. Check it out.

One last note: fans of Joe Carnahan's more recent film Narc, with Jason Patric, should go here to see a possible homage to Busting that informed the costumes of that film. I'm pretty sure I'm right on this one. Thanks to Kino Lorber for putting this movie out!

*Edited to add a footnote: I have not seen Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here, so I can't speak to that. 

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