FUZZ (1972) – This movie is still marketed as if it’s a vehicle for Burt Reynolds and Raquel Welch but in reality it’s an ensemble movie. And not a very good one. Fuzz is based on the 22nd book – of nearly 60 – in the 87th Precinct series of police novels by Ed McBain aka Evan Hunter. The books were set in the fictional city of Isola, but this movie is set in Boston.
The novel on which this film is based was published in 1968. The book series started in 1956 and had been tried as a television series titled 87th Precinct from 1961-1962. The novels were still being churned out by the original author into the 21st Century, with many characters retained throughout this long run.
Obviously, the science and public image of law enforcement has gone through many, many changes over the decades. The movie Fuzz and its source novel reflect the stylish cynicism and gritty realism of police stories from the period.
The film also attempted to sprinkle in elements of irreverent humor and bawdy sexual hijinks, like it was trying to be F*U*Z*Z in the style of the movie version of M*A*S*H. Unfortunately, the finished product is disjointed and aimless. Let’s take a look at the cast of characters:
BURT REYNOLDS portrayed Detective Steve Carella, the main character of the novels played by Robert Lansing in the 1960s tv series. Carella’s wife is hearing impaired and Fuzz does a nice job of depicting the loving and supportive relationship of the couple. As the movie opens, Steve is undercover as a homeless man in an assignment to nab the callous criminals who have been setting fire to hobos. He gets caught up in the larger story about an extortion ring demanding money in exchange for NOT killing city officials.
TOM SKERRITT, as Detective Bert Kling, was the on-the-loose girl chaser to contrast with Reynolds’ happily married Carella. Kling hornily pursues the 87th Precinct’s new lady detective while participating in an investigation of the extortion and murder ring. Ron Harper was Kling in the short-lived television series.
RAQUEL WELCH co-starred as Detective Eileen McHenry, on temporary assignment with the 87th to smoke out a serial rapist. She is the object of Kling’s pursuit. McHenry is the keenest detective in the film and capably brings down the rapist in the end while getting drawn into the larger storyline regarding the targeted slaying of city officials.
JACK WESTON played Detective Meyer Meyer (yes, Meyer Meyer), the harried and put-upon cop who alternates between participating in the pranks and chaos of the 87th and trying to be above such nonsense. Meyer is generally inept but well-meaning. Norman Fell starred as Meyer in the tv show.
YUL BRYNNER portrayed the Deaf Man, the criminal mastermind who was the archenemy of the 87th Precinct, clashing with them in several of the novels and played by Robert Vaughn on television. The Deaf Man perfectly exemplified the police drama trope of nefarious master planners who carry out intricately detailed capers while taunting the cops every step of the way.
DAN FRAZER and TAMARA DOBSON, who would appear together in the blaxploitation flick Cleopatra Jones the following year, played Lieutenant Byrnes and the Deaf Man’s girlfriend Rochelle, respectively.
If you watched Fuzz with the sound down and no subtitles enabled you would likely wind up thinking it was a virtual classic in the mold of The French Connection. The use of Boston locations is magnificent and ranges from national landmarks to dangerous ghettos to the stiflingly claustrophobia-inducing police headquarters.
At all times Fuzz LOOKS good and with no sound might be mistaken for a gritty but dark-humored forerunner of The Marcus-Nelson Murders (pilot movie for the tv series Kojak).
The trouble is, with the sound up you can’t help but notice how the movie fails on so many levels. The jokes aren’t all that funny and the police work is incompetent but not the funny kind of incompetence. Yul Brynner’s Deaf Man seems like he’s phoning in his lines from an entirely different film.
The Deaf Man and his gang threaten to assassinate various city officials if he’s not paid increasing amounts of extortion money. The killings are carried out despite the best efforts of the cops. Brynner is cold, brilliant and sophisticated and acts like a James Bond villain. The scenes without him are mired in gritty realism and the tones just don’t match.
SPOILER: Multiple story threads all come together at once in the movie’s finale, with the Deaf Man’s plan thwarted by sheer chance.
In the novels, the criminal mastermind’s elaborate planning being tripped up by trivial, uncontrollable side events served to humanize the villain and undercut his pompous airs of superiority. No such depth here. Instead, the 87th looks like a precinct full of Inspector Clouseaus lucking their way to success.
Fuzz was the second clash between the Deaf Man and Detective Carella & company, so storywise it wasn’t the best choice for a movie. In the novel the criminal targets the 87th to get back at them for getting in the way of his previous master plan. In the movie he tells our heroes that he selected their precinct because they’re inept, so right off the bat viewers have a low opinion of the police protagonists.
If you’re curious about that first battle between the villain and our boys the Deaf Man had debuted in the 1960 novel The Heckler, which was made into a 1961 episode of the 87th Precinct tv series. I mention that for anyone who has seen Fuzz and found the criminal schemer fascinating. Robert Vaughn and Yul Brynner each interpret the character in interesting ways.
Overall, Fuzz had a lot of potential, and as I mentioned above, it seemed like it was gunning for “M*A*S*H with cops” appeal but collapsed into an ultimately unfulfilling and largely unentertaining mess of a film.
FOR MY REVIEW OF SIX-STRING SAMURAI, A POST-APOCALYPSE SAMURAI FILM/ SPAGHETTI WESTERN, CLICK HERE.
FOR MY LEO FONG MOVIE MARATHON CLICK HERE
FOR MY ROBERT GINTY MOVIE MARATHON CLICK HERE
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