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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

THE NEW CENTURIONS (1972)

It’s tempting to imagine that decades of hard-nosed t.v. cop shows have dulled the originality & appeal of the films made in the ‘70s & ‘80s from cop-turned-author Joseph Wambaugh. Truth is, they were plenty over-cooked & obvious back when they came out. This one, shot & directed in the coarsely unattractive, unmourned style of ‘70s Hollywood (zooms, garish lighting, funked up soundtrack*) tells a downbeat tale of street-wise vet George C. Scott (nicely underplayed) mentoring young pup Stacy Keach (more relaxed than usual). The gimmick is that these two get so hooked on the camaraderie & action of working the night beat that nothing off the job can match it. Scott knows it’s time to get out, but he’s got nothing to retire to; Keach sees himself falling under Scott’s spell and repeating his personal mistakes. The various episodes (hookers, hold-ups, slum lords) realize less than the sum of their parts, but individually, they have enough going on to hold your interest. And when they don’t, you can sit back and enjoy watching a veritable casting call of future cop shows. Plus the amazingly colorful shirts sported by the Vice Squad. The pic earns points for some reasonably advanced positions on social issues (gay entrapment shown as a farce & an interracial romance that plays out without comment or back-patting), but not even a few tragic turns move this one past boilerplate fare.

*Blame Richard Fleischer-director; Ralph Woolsey-D.P.; Quincy Jones-score.

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