Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Cops Against Criminals, Cops Against Cops: Peter Hyams' Busting

In preparation for this coming weekend's NoirCon, where I'll be part of a panel discussing 1970's crime films, I've been revisiting some favorites from the era - Night Moves, The Seven Ups, Rolling Thunder - and watching films I never saw before. One I'd never seen is Peter Hyams' 1974 film Busting, starring Elliot Gould and Robert Blake.  It's not a film that gets as much attention as a lot of other 70's crime flicks, but it's a movie well-worth watching.

Gould and Blake play a couple of Los Angeles vice-squad detectives who handle various cases in the story. One or two of these cases they bring to moderately successful conclusions, but most of the time they find themselves butting up against a system so corrupt and inefficient that their efforts accomplish nothing. Busting has got to be  considered among the more cynical crime films ever made, showing not only the idiocy of bureaucracy, but clearly suggesting that the cops are kind of fools for having chosen, as tough but honest upholders of the law, a totally futile profession.

The film is rough, hectic, and funny, and what's a little startling is how Gould and Blake are at once shown as employees of the establishment (they are, after all, police) but also pretty cool cats who know the establishment is rotten. They're not semi-rogue figures in the Dirty Harry tradition but more in the way of being wise-ass, uncouth anti-authoritarians.  This is the only film I can remember seeing where one cop, Gould, actually calls another cop a "pig".

Only in the Seventies, man, only in the Seventies.

Peter Hyams went on to make Capricorn OneOutland, Timecop and a slew of other films, but nothing I've seen by him is as good as or packs the punch of Busting.

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