So ripe were the 1970s for great crime thrillers that we’ve forgotten about a lot of them, through no fault of our own. MGM’s Limited Edition Collection brings two choice selections back to top of mind with the long-overdue DVD releases of 1975’s “Report To The Commissioner” and 1973’s “Harry In Your Pocket.”
“Commissioner” is the grittier — and the better — of the two. “Law & Order” stalwart Michael Moriarty gives one of his quirkiest performances as Bo Lockley, a new, second-generation detective for NYPD’s 16th Squad who’s being questioned for his role in the murder of Patty Butler (Susan Blakely), an undercover officer who went by the name of Chiclet. The film then shows us all the events leading up to this inquisition, with the tables unfairly turned toward Lockley.
Butler’s working deep amid the city’s narcotics trade, to the point that she informs her superiors she’s been asked to move in with one of the African-American smack dealers, Stick (Tony King of “Shaft”) and that she’s going to. They admire her dedication, but also question the sex thing.
To make her cover look airtight, Capt. D’Angelo (Hector Elizondo) orders Lockley to make some inquiries about a runaway named Chiclet, without telling him who she really is. Up until now, Lockley’s just been introduced to the neighborhood by his partner, Crunch (Yaphet Kotto, “Alien”), so he’s eager to take an assignment on his own.
From there, the all the bad stuff we know is going to happen — but don’t know how — does. And it’s fascinating to watch. Richard Gere has a small role as a pimp, William Devane does his thing with venom and bile, and there’s an intense chase with a homeless, legless man on rollers. The final 30 minutes are comprised mostly of Lockley trapped in an elevator with Stick, and leads to a shocking ending that’s tough to shake.
Directed by Milton Katselas (“When You Comin’ Back, Red Ryder?” and “Butterflies Are Free”) from a script by Oscar winners Ernest Tidyman (“The French Connection”) and Abby Mann (“Judgment at Nuremberg”), “Commissioner” is a great, gripping, stark portrait of the city that never sleeps, before Mayor Rudy cleaned it all up.
By comparison, “Harry in Your Pocket” is fantasy fare — no surprise as the only feature film directed by Bruce Geller, the creator of television’s escapist, espionage smash “Mission: Impossible.” Still, it gives viewers a glimpse at the reality of pickpocketing.
Harry (James Coburn) and Casey (Walter Pidgeon, “Forbidden Planet”) are veterans of the crime; in fact, that make a living from it. They take in a young man, Ray (Michael Sarrazin, who passed away two months ago), who’s not so good at it, and teach him the wallet-snatchin’ ropes around Seattle. The even recruit his new girlfriend, Sandy (Trish Van Devere, “The Changeling”) to complete their new team — their “wire mob” — as a distraction. (Wait until you see her in hot pants — then you’ll understand.)
When he’s not tooting a pinch of cocaine, Casey shares tips with Ray, like how a mark’s body odor affects the theft. Harry, meanwhile, takes the predictable shine to Sandy. The best scenes, as with all such crime films that impart “tricks of the trade,” are the training sequences. The whole thing is like a heist movie on a small scale, where the desired object is ever-changing and always on the move.
With thanks in part to Lalo Schifrin’s not-so-serious score, “Pocket” exudes a loose, “Ocean’s Eleven” vibe, even if things don’t end so fizzily. —Rod Lott