Fuzz (1972) dir. Richard A. Colla
Starring: Burt Reynolds, Raquel Welch, Jack Weston, Tom Skerritt, Steve Ihnat, Yul Brynner, Bert Remsen, Charles Martin Smith, Charles Tyner, Don Gordon, Peter Bonerz, Tamara Dobson, Gino Conforti, Gerald Hiken and Uschi Digart
By Greg Klymkiw
"Fuzz" is a 70s cop-movie with a light touch that I vaguely recall enjoying when I first saw it in 1972. And now, almost forty (!) years later, I was compelled to take another gander. On one hand, I could see why it was so forgettable, but on the other (and because of its forgettable "qualities") I'm pleased to report that it's an extremely pleasant movie, especially as a relatively familiar entity that I was now viewing with fresh eyes - as if I'd never even seen it before.
There's nothing at all earth-shattering or exceptional about the picture, but it's a blast watching a stalwart 70s cast do their thing against the backdrop of a few days in the life of a ragtag police precinct. Burt Reynolds, Tom Skerritt and Jack Weston are the three cops the picture primarily focuses on. They're all working on a variety of cases- the main ones being a local rapist terrorizing the neighbourhood and trying to nab a pair of teenagers (one of whom is played by American Graffiti's "Terry the Toad", Charles Martin Smith) who are dousing alcoholic bums with gasoline and setting them on fire.
The rape case is an especially hard nut for the cops to crack and the brass decides to bring in a policewoman to do the job. That she is Raquel Welch in her absolute prime is especially good news for the all-male environment of the precinct. I've never seen more gratuitous shots of male characters ogling a female character in my life in one movie. And, what the hell - she does look stunning in the picture. Who wouldn't be ogling her - male or female.
Before the key crime wends its way into the film's plot, the most pressing and persistent issue in the precinct seems to be that two inept painters have taken over the detective room and in addition to impeding the cops' work, they are continually annoying everyone with their corny one-liners and routines which suggest they'd have had a great career as Borscht Belt comics. Gino Conforti and Gerald Hiken are so hilarious they come close to stealing the whole movie.
To make matters worse for this group of detectives is that their precinct has been targeted by a potential crank with a series of extortion demands via telephone - threatening the lives of several city officials. The extortionist, with a voice sounding suspiciously like Yul Brynner's, takes care to note that he chose this precinct because it was the most incompetent.
Well, to the men and WOMAN of the 87th Precinct, them's fighting words - so much so, that they can't shove their heads in the sand and pawn it off on another division (which they'd prefer), but have to be forced by the brass to handle the case in addition to all the small potatoes stuff they're bollixing up.
Yup, it's an adaptation of one of Ed McBain's 87th precinct cop novels that he wrote under the nom-de-plume of Evan Hunter and it's a decent enough film adaptation of that world. As I watched the movie recently, all the McBain books I read as a kid came back to me - not so much the details, but the style and world was quite unique in crime fiction. In the film as in the books, there's a fair bit of time spent on the details of police procedure that many might consider dull, but are, in fact, pretty entertaining - especially when played (mostly) straight for the natural humour inherent in such plodding details.
Brynner, by the way, and not surprisingly, is a great villain and he seems to be having a lot of fun. He spits out his invectives with considerable relish. In one scene, his moll (played by the stunning Tamara "Cleopatra Jones" Dobson) expresses boredom as he plots his crime. He offers to take her out to dinner. When she retires to doll herself up, Brynner, with salacious nastiness plastered on his face, takes a sip of champagne and looks in the direction she's departed to. He remarks to his partners in crime, spitting out each word like a series of drum hits: "A marvelous ... empty ... headed ... bitch!"!
Director Richard A. Colla, a prolific TV director whose camera-jockey skills were put to use on tons of small-screen police procedurals - keeps things moving quite briskly. The one-liners spit fast and furious and at times, the scenes in the precinct itself, are admirably handled with a kind of Robert-Altman-Lite touch. Overlapping dialogue, several conversations going on at one, lots of movement filling the frame, but the camera itself moving only in the most subtle ways are just some of the highlights of the picture. Even Altman stalwart Bert Remsen appears as a beleaguered desk sergeant.
And there are quite a few laughs. One of the funniest comic set pieces is a stakeout sequence with Reynolds (and his great 70s 'stache) and Weston (pudgy and oh-so cute), working undercover as nuns with Skerritt and Welch who are literally under covers in a closed sleeping bag pretending to be lovers (only they DO have a thing for each other). Everything that could go wrong, goes wrong, but in the end, the rag-tag cops get their man.
Another great comic set piece is the kind of politically incorrect gag that could almost never be done today where the guys sick a porky, sex-starved, middle-aged woman with an overactive imagination on Welch. Raquel is investigating a rape and this woman claims to have been raped, so she takes it very seriously while Reynolds, Skerritt and most of the other guys in the precinct are desperately trying to hold in their snorts of laughter while the "victim" (who has obviously visited the precinct many times) describes the most outlandish Harlequin Romance-styled rape perpetrated upon her. (Apologies to the politically correct, but it IS funny!)
Yet another politically incorrect gag involves the station Captain walking in on Raquel in the washroom as she's changing. He stutters and stammers his way through a conversation while trying to keep his eyes off her bounteous pendulums secured in a bra (for the PG-rating, of course, but also because Welch refused to peel down completely in any of her pictures).
In fact, many of the gags in the film ARE politically incorrect and often involve the sexist attitudes of the time (though I suspect not ALL that much has changed - especially within the domain of police precincts).
This all eventually converges during a thoroughly insane climax involving the sort of coincidence that can only happen in movies (yet in reality, often happens in real police work). Every cop gets their man at once and save the day! It's decidedly feel-good, though the ending suggests that the filmmakers anticipated a sequel (which never happened). This involves Yul Brynner as the main villain, "The Deaf Man" who, in the 87th Precinct books, is a recurring master criminal character who keeps trying to challenge the 87th precinct klutzes.
As a movie, "Fuzz" is relocated from Manhattan to Boston, but this doesn't detract at all from the picture. So many great crime pictures have been set in Boston, and even though "Fuzz" is far from anything resembling "The Friends of Eddie Coyle" or "The Departed", director Colla captures enough cool locations that this, in and of itself, is one of the picture's highlights.
Besides, as McBain wrote - in mock "Dragnet" style at the beginning of all his 87th Precinct novels:
"The city in these pages is imaginary. The people, the places are all fictitious. Only the police routine is based on established investigatory technique."
It's the "police routine" that "Fuzz" captures quite nicely. Besides, it's an early 70s cop picture and even lower-drawer efforts in this genre with mild pleasures like this one are usually worth watching - if, however, you like this sort of thing.
I know I do.
"Fuzz" is available on DVD from MGM Home Entertainment.