Color, 1976, 101m.
Directed by Ivan Nagy
Starring Don Murray, Diahn Williams, James Earl Jones, Lilia Skala, George S. Irving, Treat Williams, Hank Garrett
Code Red (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
A terrific '70s cop film that somehow fell through the cracks, this caustic look at racial tensions and the problem with hero worship and blind authority has sadly become even more relevant now than when it opened. Don Murray, a strong film and stage actor unfairly relegated to TV roles for too much of his career, delivers one of his best performances here as Edward Lacy, a street cop who's coming up on two decades on the force. Philosophically in line with Dirty Harry, he believes in tough treatment for criminals and harbors a nasty racist streak, both of which have gotten him sent down from detective to doing patrol runs. He's dreaming of getting involved in politics, using both his wife and daughter to butter up to a local mayoral candidate.
Meanwhile an innocent cellist named Sally (Williams) who works for an avant garde theatrical troupe and has to step in to conduct at the last minute one night is persecuted by a knife-wielding audience member named Rabbit (Jones), whose flamboyant mannerisms conceal a vicious streak of extortion and violence. Things come to a head when he holds Sally captive, with Lacey responding to the call. What happens next has the cop acclaimed by the city as a hero, but Sally's initial supportive testimony is soon retracted when she decides to reveal her savior's true colors after Lacey intimidates her one night. Sally's turnabout soon sets off a nasty chain of events with Lacey going to increasingly desperate lengths to save his reputation.
One of the great second-tier American actors, Murray seemed destined for the big time after roles in '60s films like A Hatful of Rain, Advise & Consent, Baby the Rain Must Fall, and the sadly underseen The Bachelor Party. Unfortunately the '70s proved to be much bumpier, though he did land a terrific role in Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (especially in the prerelease version on the Blu-ray release). He's really excellent here with a juicy role that manages to be both unnerving and (slightly) sympathetic, and the supporting cast matches him with the always great Jones heading up some surprising faces including a young Treat Williams as Lacey's beat partner and bit roles for a young Danny DeVito and even Blondie members Debbie Harry and Chris Stein. Despite the bland title, this is also a great slice of '70s New York City nostalgia with priceless street coverage, colorful mid-'70s fashions, and a nutty topless glam rock stage number ensuring your attention won't flag for the entire running time.
Deadly Hero was released in theaters by Avco Embassy and popped up on TV two years later in a drastically edited version, the latter marking the film's DVD debut from Trinity in 2007 (which should be avoided at all costs). Fortunately the Blu-ray release from Code Red, sold through Screen Archives, represents the complete version with correct widescreen framing. Apart from an intermittent green hairline scratch in the second reel, the source material is in pretty good shape; it's about the equivalent of watching a good print. The DTS-HD MA mono audio sounds clean and clear, with the early funky score by Brad Fiedel (Fright Night, The Terminator) and Tom Mandel benefiting the most. Murray gets a fine new interview here running 45 minutes, starting with a detailed explanation of what he loved about doing the film and then branching off to the rest of his career on film and (a bit) on stage, including quite a bit on Endless Love. An 18-minute interview with late director Ivan Nagy is a bit juicier as he talks about his problems with the leading lady, his admiration for Murray and Jones, and the ins and outs of the business at the time including the ways directors could be taken off of films.