November 19, 2008

COP HATER (1958)





Cop Hater is the screen adaptation of the first of Ed McBain’s numerous “87th Precinct” novels. It’s a pretty damn good B crime picture. McBain’s fictional Isola is transposed to a realistically depicted (yet nevertheless unnamed) New York City, withering under a nearly biblical heat wave. The oppressive heat is the mantle under which all of the characters must make do, and it symbolically heightens the tension and frustration of police detectives unable to find the cop killer on the loose in their city.

Robert Loggia plays Steve Carelli, the detective in charge of investigating these killings that seem to exist only within the universe of the detective bureau. There are no newspaper headlines, no panic in the streets, no rallying cry from a concerned public. It’s all business as usual in the churning machine of the modern city, as the ambivalent public goes unconcerned about its business. While the other cops in the movie are just punching the clock, Carelli takes the murders personally and is neurotically consumed by the weight of his responsibility. Yet he has little in common with Barry Fitzgerald or Howard Duff in The Naked City. Carelli doesn’t care about reestablishing public order or serving his community — he just wants out of the spotlight. He needs to end the murder spree so that he can return to his comfortably humdrum life of impending marriage, evening drinks, and dancing the cop dance with petty crooks.


Women play an important part in this film. Ellen Parker is Carelli’s fiancé Teddy, a deaf-mute who, despite her handicap, is the most well-adjusted character in Cop Hater. She serves no greater purpose than to be the bright spot in Carelli’s life, and the stereotypical cop’s girl who keeps his motor revving and helps him stave off despair. Shirley Ballard plays Alice, the wife of Carelli’s partner. In the majority of her scenes Ballard is only semi-dressed, her sturdy frame and severe features are the stuff of a Robert Crumb wet dream. Alice is a bundle of clichés, but she is still the most interesting character in the film: a cop’s wife who regrets her choices, who is still young and attractive enough to go out, yet is frustrated by the irregular schedule of her detective husband. Alice is unsatisfied and unhappy, and Ballard’s Amazonian screen persona is perfect for a cooped up cop’s wife. (It is difficult not to see the similarity between Cop Hater and Basic Instinct in the scene depicted above.)


The fifties was a transition period for screen acting styles, and Cop Hater benefits greatly from this evolution. Loggia, a native New Yorker, is relaxed in his environment and at ease with the camera. His method-based approach is evident at the film’s climax, as he practically foams at the mouth while beating a confession out of the killer. His violent “Cop hater, hater, cop hater!” smells a lot like Brando. The cast is filled out with New York actors, including a sweaty, frantic Vincent Gardenia, and the laconic Jerry Orbach. They give the seedy lower Manhattan atmosphere of Cop Hater an good boost.

Cop Hater is part police procedural, part drive-in cheesecake, and part late-show mystery. It’s elevated by strong performances from a cast of ambitious up-and-comers, an overarching sense of oppression and gloom; and in spite of its 1958 release date it is presented in the noir style. If nothing else it takes itself seriously — and while certain B movie tropes are unavoidable, this film never feels like camp.



 Main Title
 Robert Loggia
 Shirley Ballard

Cop Hater (1958)
stripe
Director: William Berke
Screenplay: Henry Kane, based on the novel of the same name by Ed McBain
Starring: Robert Loggia, Gerald O’Loughlin, Shirley Ballard, and Ellen Parker. Vincent Gardenia and Jerry Orbach appear in small parts.
Released by: United Artists
Running time: 75 minutes

2/14

5 comments:

  1. Wow, this movie looks great. I've read the first several books in the 87th Precinct series and enjoyed them all. Based on your review and the preview, this looks like a very faithful adaptation of the novel (except that Carelli is just named "Carrell" in the novels). The director, William A. Berke, made a ton of B pictures over the course of his career, including the stolid but solid "Dick Tracy" in 1945, which featured the great character actor Mike Mazurki as the villain, "Splitface." I watched it not too long ago, and found it really enjoyable.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Well, I finally watched this. I first heard of it here, so I thought I'd circle back and thank you for turning me on to it.

    I thought it was great. I especially liked its "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" approach to adapting the novel.

    The production values were similar to a TV episode of the time, so it seemed to constantly be justifying its existence as a feature film with sexual references, partial nudity, and brutal violence.

    I also really liked the end, where Carelli (btw, he's "Carella" in the novels, not "Carell"--not sure why I typed that) takes a phone call about a homicide as the closing credits roll. The message is clear. These guys are working stiffs. As soon as one homicide is cleared up, there's another right around the corner.

    Also, although the film takes place in an unnamed city, Lt. Byrnes at one point mentions "Staten Island" to Carelli, so there's no doubt that they're in New York.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Great observations. Thanks so much for posting them. I'm glad you were finally able to see this. I believe it's streaming on Netflix, was that the source?

    ReplyDelete
  4. Yep. I watched it on Netflix streaming.

    William Berke also directed an adaptation of McBain's second 87th Precinct novel, "The Mugger," in 1958, and it's also available on streaming. It looks as if none of the characters from the original novel are present, so it's a completely different set of actors and characters, but I'll give it a look at some point. I really liked Robert Loggia as Steve Carella, though, so it's a shame he isn't in "The Mugger," as well.

    (Here's a completely random observation: Both Evan Hunter [Ed McBain's real name] and Robert Loggia were given the first name "Salvatore" at birth. Salvatore Loggia and Salvatore Albert Lombino. [S.A.L. legally changed his name to "Evan Hunter" at some point. Not sure if "Robert" Loggia was just a stage name.])

    There was also an adaptation of McBain's third 87th Precinct novel, "The Pusher," made in 1960, as well as an NBC TV series, "87th Precinct," that lasted one season (1961-1962). Robert Lansing played Steve Carella in both. Neither is available on NF streaming, though, but hopefully they will be someday.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Didn't anyone notice the homoeroticism in this picture? Shirtless men, a lot of touching, and an incredible shot of the guy in his bathing suit. Am I wrong?

    ReplyDelete