Busting

One of the early buddy-cop films, Busting (1974) premiered ten months earlier that Freebie and the Bean (1974) (The Supercops appeared in the same year; Cops and Robbers in 1973). Busting has comic elements but steers the course of a straight drama, leading to its downbeat conclusion. It also served as an inspiration for creating Starsky & HitchFreebie and the Bean, meanwhile, is described on IMDb as follows: “San Francisco police detectives Freebie and Bean are determined to bust local crime boss Red Meyers at any cost, even if this means destroying the whole city in the process.” Despite their serious pursuit of a crime boss, cops James Caan and Alan Arkin’s repartee and actions are high energy comedy with lots of violence. (The film falls just short of being a great comedy/action classic).

I taped Busting on CHARGE! (278 on Comcast), barely remembering it after many decades (I may never have watched more than a half-hour then). I half-expected another Freebie and the Bean, having watched the latter six-months ago after buying it at a not-so reduced price on Amazon (Busting isn’t much cheaper). The cops in Busting are played by Elliott Gould and Robert Blake. I also expected similar dialogue to M*A*S*H’s (1970) Gould and Donald Sutherland (these two revived their schtick in S*P*Y*S [1974] but it fell f*l*a*t). Despite the buddy cop genre, Gould plays the lead and makes most of the decisions, whereas Blake gives a very subdued performance. The obvious Blake-element is his having an unlighted cigarette in his mouth all the time, something he revived in his television show, Baretta).

Busting’s cops are in the vice squad and become obsessed with nabbing small-time crime lord Carl Rizzo (Allen Garfield) after several busts go up in smoke because of Rizzo’s influence. Typically, as the cops are told to focus elsewhere, they start breaking the rules and the law. At one point, Gould and Blake are split up and given new partners. On their weekend off, they decide to tail Rizzo 24/7 and not hide the fact. This (along with an earlier foot-chase and shooting sequence through a Farmers Market) is one the best segments of the film. No matter where Rizzo turns, the cops are there: in Church, in a restaurant after the Church service, on a boat, and finally at Rizzo’s birthday party.

At a restaurant, Rizzo is given a cake with a candle, which he blows out. His friends and wife clap for him. He had already seen the cops outside but suddenly he gets up from the table and leaves the restaurant. We’re expecting a confrontation: a meltdown. It’s worse. Gould and Blake had set fire to this car; as he approaches, the two start singing ‘Happy Birthday’. Well, it might have been too much. The cops are suspended. But they aren’t done. They go to his house. When knocking on the door, an ambulance pulls up. Rizzo has had a heart attack, and his lawyer (William Sylvester) blames the cops’ harassment as the cause.

Gould and Blake are completely baffled and suspicious. The heart attack seems to have come at a convenient time. After a reprimand from their boss, the cops stake out the floor on which is Rizzo’s room. They notice him receiving flowers and, after many deliveries, figure out heroin is at the bottom of the pots. They bust in and Rizzo and two henchmen escape (one of them is cult character actor Sid Haig), there’s a chase, and Rizzo is captured. Rizzo sits on the ground and laughs at the cops, telling them they’ll barely prove he had anything to do with the drugs and he won’t get more than a year. Gould has a gun on him and is tempted to shoot. Rizzo dares him to (has Allen Garfield ever played an agreeable person?). Then the frame freezes and the credits start. But there’s also overlapping dialogue. Gould is being interviewed for a job. He’s told to fill out a form. We understand he has quit the police in disgust.

Several cop movies before ended with forceful resignations because of their complete disgust for “the system”. The Detective (1968) starred Frank Sinatra, who realizes he has arrested the wrong man, now dead, and, despite getting away with it, can’t live with himself. The better-known resignation (apparently temporary, to accommodate the sequels) is Dirty Harry. Clint Eastwood’s disgust is with police bureaucracy which prevents him from thrashing mass murderers. Standing over the corpse of the Scorpio killer (an errant hippie, suggests the film’s visual language), Eastwood chucks his badge into a small lake.

Busting’s ending is typical for many 1970s films. You can start with The French Connection (1971), a buddy-cop film but not labeled as such because of it being based on a true pair of cops, allows Charnier (Fernando Rey) to escape AND had Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman) shop an FBI man, Muldering (Bill Hickman).In Electra Glide in Blue (1973), Robert Blake is blasted with a shotgun and dies in the middle of the road. Perhaps three films from 1974 left the audience with the worst feelings: Chinatown, The Conversation, and The Parallax View. 1975 brought us Night Moves, with Gene Hackman’s detective left in a boat circling in the water, while in 1976 the Nixon Administration was leaking water in All the President’s Men. In many horror pictures, the monster or monstrous individual seemed incapable of being eradicated – even if they were eradicated (Jaws, Halloween, Alien, Friday the Thirteenth, Nightmare on Elm Street).

A Final Note. Busting is director Peter Hyams first film. His best-known films are Outland (1981) and 2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984). He also directed Capricorn One (1977), The Star Chamber (1983), The Presedio (1988), Timecop (1994), and End of Days (1999).

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