Deadly Hero Reviews

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½ May 7, 2006
The Disneyfication of New York City in the '80s has been much lauded by the general public, who now can safely take their 9-year-olds down 42nd Street on the way to an afternoon showing of "Lestat" without being bombarded by the horrors of grafitti, gang warfare, porn theater hustlers or rough street trade. As great as that is for the John and Mary Blands of the world, the end result is that New York City has gotten boring. What's the last big cultural trend to come out of the city? Vogueing? Wiping out, or at least de-emphasizing the grime culture of the city just made it less likely for the town to produce things like Warhol's factory, and more likely to become famous for the place to see "Seussical" while downing a bagel from a vendor who, unbelievably, says "please" and "thank you."

It's no wonder that fewer and fewer movies seem to get shot there, as it's no longer the fascinating living cultural mecca that it once was. Sure, there's the Broadway shows, but let's face it, they're generally as mainstream-minded as a big-budget Hollywood film, intent on pleasing as mnay people as possible and thus, staying away from any real innovation. New York's just not that interesting anymore, and no celebrity-heavy telethon can ever remedy that. When Woody Allen loses interest in you, it's probably a hint that you're past your prime.

In the '70s, however, New York really seemed alive, at least from a cinematic point of view. It seemed like just about every halfway decent gritty crime drama was shot there for authenticity, lingering on the garish storefronts of 42ns Street to show that, yes, this was one of the filthiest, most crime-ridden, deboucherous places in the civilized world, and we love it. It's one of the reasons that [i]Deadly Hero[/i] is as effective a movie as it is--the locations set up the tone for the story of a cop on the edge, and even though it's more character driven than the likes of most of the [i]Dirty Harry[/i] or [i]Death Wish[/i] knock-offs at the time, you can practically feel the lead character's tension simply by the places he's surrounded by.

Don Murray stars as a Lacy, a cop recently demoted back to beat cop from detective. He's stressed out about his job and his family, and realizes that he's getting older and his job is getting worse and harder to do. When Sally (Diahn Williams, inher last film before retiring from acting), the orchestra conductor of a performance art piece* is held hostage in a routine kidnapping by a man posing as an ambassador (James Earl Jones), he gets the chance to prove himself. He does manage to capture the perp, but his pent-up rage gets the better of him, and he shoots him even after he's surrendered.

The crime is essentially covered up in the confusion by Lacy's story and Sally's being cajoled into confirming it, but she soon has second thoughts about how justice was administered and changes her story. Lacy, having been praised as a hero after the rescue, is forced into a position where he has to either face the music and jeopardize what's left of his career or do something about Sally.

What could have been handled as a simple stalker film is instead given engaging characters, resulting in a film where you're really not quite sure how far Lacy is willing to go to protect his lifestyle, or how he really feels about the concept of justice being served. It never lets you off easy by dismissing Lacy as a psychopath, and you actually begin to care about the guy where you don't want his life to go to hell, even though you realize that it must. It's all done surprisingly weill by director Ivan Nagy, who later directed soft porn, the Traci Lords/Ricki Lake slasher flick [i]Skinner [/i]and was dating Heidi Fleiss at the time of her, erm, run-in with the law.

The New York setting gives the film an added bonus, setting up a background of surly, drunken guys that react to police officers in mock fear, loudmouth hookers and just beneath the surface borderline racism that's infintely more subtle than anything in [i]Crash[/i]. The film may look like a cop thriller, but it's one in the vein of [i]Serpico[/i] or [i]Q&A[/i]--a grim tale of corruption where good and bad isn't as obvious as it seems.

[i]Deadly Hero[/i] isn't exactly a lost classic, as it kind of falls into familiar thriller trappings in the final reel and there isn't enough time spent with Lacy's family to get a feel for what his home life is like, but it certainly doesn't deserve the obscurity into which it's fallen. Cursed with a bland title, typical '70s cover art and a virtually no-name cast (though Treat Williams, in his film debut, plays Lacy's partner), it probably doesn't stand a chance in hell of landing on DVD any time soon, but it's worth seeing out if you happen to come by the long out-of-print VHS.

(Despite the film's copious profanity, occasional bloody violence and topless women, this got a PG rating in 1976--further proof that we're living in conservative times as far as films go, folks.)

[size=1]* -- Exactly my point about New York. When was the last time anything from the art community made news? Or that you heard about performance art at all? Nah, you say "After Dark" to a New Yorker now, they think dinner mints, not highbrow-yet-lowbrow homoerotic magazines.[/size]
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