Now on DVD as part of MGM’s Limited Edition Collection, “Cop Hater” is based on the first novel in Ed McBain’s long-running “87th Precinct” series, released one year prior. One wishes it had kicked off a franchise, but subsequent films were only loosely related and sporadic (only on TV have the characters achieved any semblance of cohesion, first in a single-season series in the early 1960s, then in a string of telefilms in the mid-’90s).
Even through its black-and-white images, viewers can feel the triple-digit heat pulsating from the screen, depicting one brutal heat wave in the big city. It’s the kind of summer that can cause a man to do crazy things, like … oh, say, shoot a police officer dead. As “Cop Hater” opens, the boys of the 87th Precinct are all aghast at the loss of one of their own, Bill Reardon.
Det. Steve Carelli (Robert Loggia, greatly gruff even then) is assigned not only to poke his nose around and investigate, but also keep pesky “news hawk” reporter Hank Miller (Gene Miller, TV’s “Steve Canyon”) at bay. The situation’s complexity rises with the stifling temperatures, as Reardon isn’t the last cop felled by being on the wrong end of an unknown assailant’s gun. Hell, it’s open season on the force!
As with McBain’s excellent novels, the film is a police procedural, as interested in the “why” and “how” of the crime, as opposed to other mystery’s mere “who.” In keeping with that approach, B-level director William Berke follows the authorities home, too. Carelli (Carella in the books) interacts with his kind, deaf girlfriend, Teddy (Ellen Parker, “The Lost Missile”), while Detective Mike Maguire (Gerald O’Louglin, “In Cold Blood”) stews, sweats and smooches with his wife, Alice (Shirley Ballard), a femme fatale who’s all kinds of hot.
Ballard’s the fizzy tease of this otherwise sober film, seen basking in lingerie and an animal-print swimsuit to beat the heat (a different kind of which she provides male viewers). Nothing but legs are ever really bared, but it’s far sexier than how today’s actresses would go further.
Dated in a good way (“What kinda magilla is this?” complains one suspect), “Cop Hater” is a solid crime picture with low production values. It resembles — both in sets and style — a pilot to a television series that struck gold and ended up released theatrically. That’s not the case, but it proves budgets don’t have to big to pay even small dividends. Look for a young Jerry Orbach and Vincent Gardenia as a hood and a gimp (!), respectively … if you can keep your eyes off Ballard, that is. —Rod Lott