From Police Corruption

Electra Glide in Blue: One Motorcycle Cop’s Violent Ride to the Truth of Corruption

Electra Glide in Blue. 1973. Directed by James William Guercio. Screenplay by Robert Boris.
Starring Robert Blake, Billy Green Bush, Mitchell Ryan, Jeannine Riley, Elisha Cook Jr., Royal Dano, Peter Cetera, & Terry Kath. Guercio-Hitzig.
Not Rated. 114 minutes.
Crime/Drama/Mystery

★★★★
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Disclaimer: certain portions of this review will contain spoilers about the film’s ending. If you’ve not yet seen this underappreciated little gem, I suggest getting yourself a copy before heading any further. You’ve been warned.

This is one unique flick. Robert Blake’s not exactly what I would call movie star material, though on occasion I’ve enjoyed his performances. Later in his career he frightened the life out of me in David Lynch’s Lost Highway. But early on he played an Arizona motorcycle cop named John Wintergreen, a short man trying to compensate, always wanting to be a bigger man than he physically can. He’s a man with something to prove. Electra Glide in Blue isn’t your typical cop crime-drama. There’s a huge mystery element involved, as John finds himself promoted to Homicide finally, his dream, after a case of suicide is debated.
But the most interesting part about this film isn’t even the solid screenplay from Robert Boris. The movie has a nice style, not exactly like all the similar pictures coming out at the end of the 1960s, early 1970s. One time feature film director James William Guercio makes this an interesting, stylish ride. The atmosphere, its look and feel, makes the story that much more interesting. All the while, we question the culture that exists in the background of the lives of police officers, their code, the way in which they tie their identity to a symbolism of law and power. Hard to believe I’d not heard of this until recently. I’m glad to have tracked this down through Amazon. Worth every penny and second. Don’t know why Guercio never directed another film, but sure glad he bothered to shoot this picture.
To Guercio!
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Cop culture is on display constantly and makes us question the bravado and machismo of their profession. The whole construction of masculinity behind being a cop, that romantic ideal. First prominent moment is when John shoots a picture of Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper from Easy Rider, using the banner poster they’re on as target practice. Y’know, shootin’ hippies. They are the anti version of what Electra Glide in Blue concerns. That movie concerned two bikers looking for freedom, the actual American Dream. This movie concerns policing the American dream, protecting it, and the concept that you can reach out and take what’s yours, with hard work, a clean conscience. But within the rigid guidelines of the law. At one point later John and another officer pull over a hippie-looking cat, trying to make sure he’s not dealing drugs, or committing a Manson-style murder, I’m sure. So it’s the American dream, under American rule, so on. Not exactly freedom. Just freedom to the law’s liking.
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Before any of that the camera makes it clear that John sees being a policeman as being nearly fetish-worthy. Right at the start, we move through his routine of putting on the uniform, watching his hands do up the shirt, getting himself ready. The camera stays tight, close up. Once more, this happens after John gets his big shot at being a Homicide detective. He trades in the blues for a suit, a nice shirt, boots, of course the hat, so on. Again, this sequence mirrors the beginning. John feels as though it’s all a mirage, even if he doesn’t readily admit this fact. But it’s all a blanket identity, made up out of clothes. That and some swagger; another point of contention for a man of smaller stature. Funny enough, John gets so caught up in dressing for his new detective assignment that he actually forgets to put his pants on, then heads back inside. Easily, director Guercio and writer Boris accomplish so much in a limited frame of time, setting up Wintergreen’s character with these couple sequences paralleling one another. At the same time this likewise opens up the larger themes of the film, in examining cop culture, as well as how its fragile masculinity can often lead to tough places.
Certainly by the end, John is done in because of his idealism. This movie is the anti-idealist cop picture. It works against John that he’s so honourable. His lack of corruption and ideal for the symbolic heroism of police officers is what leads to the film’s violent finale. One that encompasses John and everything he’s about in a tragic sense. Literally, this last scene with John epitomizes the belief that no good deed goes unpunished.
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This entire film looks impressive, each scene is beautiful from landscapes to the shots of the road, to just capturing Blake as this short yet intense cop – we get times that are funny in that respect where the camera crosses from one tall guy’s head to the top of John’s helmet; other times, the seriousness and the strength in Wintergreen comes out in the way the camera expresses his natural acting. Great directorial choices all around. The cinematography itself is so spectacular. Why? Because Conrad L. Hall, that’s why. Already with a bunch of excellent pictures under his belt, Hall brings the depth and scope of his thoughtful lens to this story. Many stretches of road feel as if they might go on forever, the horizon so vivid. The desert surrounding Arizona, the highways between it, the mountains; everything feels atmospheric, the colour rich. We’re even treated to a couple black-and-white shots nearer the end.
However, it’s perhaps the final moment of John Wintergreen’s patrol that catches us so sharp. The movie blood is a bit underwhelming. Aside from that this is a poignant, heavy moment. Hall slows things down to a crawl, all before John comes to a resting stop on the road, sitting up. Then we pull back along the highway from him, his body left all alone in the road, and the camera seems to recede, fading into the distance. One of the best shots I can remember in a long while, honestly. Hall is a master Director of Photography, his talents show in just about every single frame. Some of the best are the final frames, and the opening ones that show us the road (comes full circle at the end), also giving us a look at Wintergreen suiting up, structuring his idealism from the moment we first lay eyes on him.
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I’ve got to say, this is a 4-star bit of work. Electra Glide in Blue (Electra Glide is a type of motorcycle highway cops often used; the in blue part is self-explanatory or should be) is one of the 1970s flicks that somehow slipped past my radar. Certainly I haven’t seen every movie there is, yet at 4,200 and counting there’s not often a real good movie I didn’t at least hear of along the way. This is one of those that fell into obscurity, except in scattered circles. Maybe part of that has to do with the fact Robert Blake really dropped from the spotlight after the murder of his wife, his trial, his acquittal, and finally his being found liable for her wrongful death, ordered to pay $30-million to the children of his wife. That could have something to do with reluctance to run out and blab about Blake as an actor, or even any of his movies. Not sure.
Regardless, Electra Glide in Blue is a fascinating little movie. It’s unexpected, fresh. Never are the characters cliche, even to the point of being weak a couple times. You just can’t get away from the look, the atmosphere, and best are the themes which writer Robert Boris explores. If you get the chance, watch this one. A ’70s diamond, buried under its stars later infamy and wedged at the box office between films like The Exorcist, Bond caper Live and Let Die, The Sting, Terrence Malick’s Badlands, Enter the Dragon, Al Pacino acting clinic Serpico, Papillon, Westworld… you get the point. Track this movie down, give it the shot. The film, Conrad L. Hall, surprisingly one-time director James William Guercio, ALL deserve that much.

The Hypnotic Criminal Lure of Hyena

Hyena. 2014. Directed & Written by Gerard Johnson.
Starring Peter Ferdinando, Stephen Graham, Neil Maskell, Elisa Lasowski, MyAnna Buring, Richard Dormer, Gordon Brown, Tony Pitts, Orli Shuka, Gjevat Kelmendi, Thomas Craig, Lorenzo Camporese, Shaban Arifi, Alfred Doda, and Mem Ferda.
Film4/Number 9 Films.
Unrated. 112 minutes.
Crime/Drama

★★★★★
MV5BMTk1ODk1Njg3MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjA5MjQxNTE@._V1_SX640_SY720_ With the endorsement of Nicolas Winding Refn right on the film’s poster, there is no doubt in my mind anyone who has seen the Pusher trilogy will definitely find a likeness here in Hyena. I don’t find any crossover in terms of ripping it off, though, but merely the situations and feel of the plot definitely have that sort of vibe, a very realistic and low budget rawness that Refn also had in his crime films.
The last film Gerard Johnson wrote and directed, also starring Peter Ferdinando, was an amazing dive into the black mind of a quiet serial killer living in a tiny council flat, Tony (you can find my review here). I absolutely loved that one and I’m inclined to enjoy this even more. While the Refn vibe is absolutely present, I feel between Ferdinando’s acting and the directing/writing on the part of Johnson this movie takes on a life of its own without having to rely on predecessors with similar style.
Hyena is a savagely intense, visceral crime thriller in regards to its plot and story. At the same time, Johnson instils his film with an incredible amount of visual flair. Not only is there a gritty, raw style, Johnson opts for a lot of great imagery often involving colour and shadow. Most of all, the character Ferdinando plays and the story surrounding him is enough to hold you for a little under two hours. Not once was I bored, between the screenplay’s action, its turns, and the high tension involved as the stakes for the main character seem to never stop skyrocketing, right up until the bitter end.
69862564319377227606Michael (Peter Ferdinando) is a detective in London, his crew includes Martin (Neil Maskell) and Keith (Tony Pitts) among others. On his own, Michael takes care of the Turkish criminals as much as he can, getting a piece of the action. When several Albanians murder one of his Turks in horrific fashion while Michael watches on in hiding, things begin to change. At first it’s merely the disappearing presence of the Turkish criminals he’d been dealing with all along. Soon, Michael himself becomes the target of another law enforcement officer with whom he has history, Nick Taylor (Richard Dormer).
Forced into dealing with the same Albanians which he was forced to watch murder his Turkish friend, Michael enters into a scarily tenuous relationship with these newly moved in gangsters. What follows is part crisis of conscience, part survival of the fittest, as Michael must figure out how to live off the scraps of all the carcasses beginning to pile up and topple into the streets.
image_banner.phpSomething I thought that’s more evident here, both explicitly and implicitly, is how the brutality amongst the gangsters in the world of Hyena feels even more vicious than anything in Refn’s Pusher films (not knocking them because they’re some of my favourite crime films ever). For instance, the Albanian gangsters are pretty damn awful with their level of savagery. One early scene just after the first half hour sees a woman at their hands get cut them her wound is salted (I think it’s salt; could also be detergent of some kind) – it’s like another day at the office for them, each stone faced and uncaring, almost enjoying watching the woman’s pain. Not everything is perfectly explicit, as I said; some of the violence comes offscreen. Like when Michael’s Turkish gangster friend gets chopped by the Albanians. Though, we do see the aftermath, the actual violence itself is offscreen, which is something I’ve always found effective: show us the consequences, let us deal with those, but refrain from showing the acts of violence themselves. There’s a particular sort of gravitas that comes out of that technique I find works well for certain films. In Hyena, writer-director Johnson serves his film and story greatly by not having all the violence and murder displayed openly. Instead he sort of edges along the cliff – giving us pieces now and then, to satisfy the bloodlust, then merely teasing us, wetting our beaks slightly in order to ramp up the tension. It’s the same way Johnson went about his previous serial killer flick Tony, which didn’t have as much blood and violence in it as you’d expect for a story like that; he reveals only what is necessary to keep the tension and the suspense flowing at high volume.
hyena_f3As for the previous Johnson film, musician Matt Johnson composed the perfectly fitting score for Hyena. Some of the pieces he put into the score are beyond foreboding and full of darkness. As I always say, a movie that has music which compliments its visual style can really create an intense atmosphere and tone. One aspect of this movie I love is the ever pervading atmosphere that keeps us uneasy, unsettled, as if anything might happen at any time – particularly anything bad. The score has plenty of interesting sections. Some are full of this pulsing electronic rhythm, many others have this mysterious thriller styled music with beautiful foreign instrumentation and percussion which really puts you in the middle of these Albanian run neighbourhoods, the Turkish spots, et cetera. You almost get, in the music alone, a look into the multicultural side of London; albeit the gritty, criminal side, but still it’s fascinating stuff. I think my favourite bits, though, are the electronic pieces in the score because there’s a wildly scary quality just through these sounds which helps Johnson easily put together shots to hold us in that place of stasis he needs. Then when Johnson uses the visuals again to bring us out of that lull and SLAM US with something intense and visceral, the music also pumps up the emotion and the film charges at us in these moments. Another great instance of a film where audio and visual elements work together creating a wonderful atmosphere, as well as this combination helps set and hold a tone the director aims to attain.
My favourite instance of this involves a MASSIVE SPOILER – when Michael (Ferdinando) takes David Knight (Stephen Graham) to meet the Albanians, and as David is violently murdered Johnson slows everything down – time nearly stands still, the scene happens in slow motion while the score is just mesmerizing. You won’t believe it until you see it. Afterwards, the music still pumping, Michael runs and runs down the streets of London, fast as he can. It’s an incredible sequence which starts a minute or so before the one hour fifteen minute mark.
MV5BNDAzNTIyNTA2OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDg1MDg2MjE@._V1_SY576_SX1024_AL_Peter Ferdinando does a great job with his character Michael. Further than that, I think the character itself was written well by Gerard Johnson. There’s parts of Michael with which I found myself empathizing – he’s sort of trying to stay relevant while also hoping to keep alive and out of jail. Other times, I wondered how the hell he managed to get himself down into the dirty quicksand so abruptly. Michael also seems to me like someone who can be slightly naive at times, even for such an obviously seasoned detective, no stranger to dealing with violent, insane criminals; he willingly walks himself into too much at various times throughout Hyena. However, despite the character’s flaws Ferdinando plays him spot on. I love the last ten minutes of the film because you can almost chew on the tension watching Michael, it’s all in his face and his eyes, everything about him speaks to how strained and stressed this man is, which makes you feel as if you’re sitting right alongside him. Ferdinando does great things as an actor with plenty of range in him, from this to Tony alone he has proved to be fantastic.
HyenaThis is a 5 star crime thriller film to me. Not much out there in the past couple years as good and slick as this, nor as interesting in terms of visuals and the score. Tons of great things happening underneath the surface. Some critics and filmgoers online would have you believe the ending is not satisfying. Me, I’m the type of person who also loved The Sopranos and how it ended. There’s something about the last few moments, watching Michael, the music washing in over us again heavier, heavier, then when things come to a head and the credits cut in I feel more satisfied than anything. Sure, there are no concrete answers, but think about it: can you imagine ANY situation in which Michael would’ve been all right afterwards? There’s no possible scenario that would’ve worked out appropriately for him in the end, so Gerard Johnson gave us a poignant, quiet end with no resolutions only an anticipation of the WORST TO COME. I love the way the credits come in afterwards, the title card nice and stylized in blue ink, and there’s an amazing song playing in the background.
See this and enjoy it or not – one of the greatest crime thriller films of the last 5 years easily. I can only hope others might find the same fascinating elements in Hyena that I have. So far, I’ve seen this about a handful of times now and I highly suggest heading over to iTunes at some point soon for a copy. I’m definitely going to watch it again soon.. again.

The Seven Five is a Microcosm of America’s Police Problem

The Seven Five. 2014. Directed by Tiller Russell.
Starring (as themselves) Michael Dowd, Ken Eurell, Walter Yurkiw, Chickie, Dori Eurell.

★★★★★
Precinct-Seven-Five-UK-Quad-Poster To start this review, I wanted to give a bit of personal insight into my view on police.
Firstly, I have two family members, close cousins, who are both officers here in St. John’s, Newfoundland – for those who don’t know, Newfoundland is a province on the far east coast of Canada. One of them is a new officer, the other now involved with Major Crimes from homicide to whatever else. So, I can’t say that all officers are bad. Anyone smart should know they are not.
However, second of all, I’ve had a couple experiences with police officers, as a younger man in my teen years, which now as a 30-year old I see in a different light. There is a high room for error in law enforcement, simply due to the fact that as an officer of the law you are dealing in the lives of human beings. What you do, or don’t do, can either negatively or positively affect the life of someone you take into custody/members of a perpetrator or victim’s family/et cetera. There are huge repercussions when it comes to an officer not doing their job correctly, and as we see so much today in the news coming out of America there are deadly effects when police override the law and surpass it because of their lust for power. An enormous responsibility rides on the shoulders of the police – many willingly put themselves in harm’s way to protect us from the actual dangerous elements of society, then in opposition too many seem to also have no problem putting innocent/unarmed(etc) citizens in the way of harm or outright have no problem doing those same citizens harm themselves. When the responsibility is shirked, it is not the same as even an insurance agent messing up some forms and leaving a customer without proper coverage; incompetent and downright criminal police work comes with a hefty, fatal price in many situations.
QrLKvelTFB The Seven Five, directed by Tiller Russell, is the epic tale of police corruption in the seventy-fifth precinct out of New York when Michael Dowd was in uniform there. An insanely criminal lawman, Dowd seemed to infect everyone around him, including the rookies and other naive cops coming into the job. It was as if, for a time, Dowd became the centre of corruption in the entirety of the NYPD.
Through a number of talking head interviews, including Dowd himself, Russell brings us through a bunch of stories that emphasize how deep and devious the corruption went.
What began as a bit of cash, then on to thousands upon thousands of dollars, soon became a devil’s deal with drugs, guns, and murder to boot. Dowd, as we see through the documentary’s runtime, evolves from a smalltime crooked cop on the beat to, essentially, a drug dealer as vicious as any other man selling drugs on the street. From a hindsight perspective, Tiller Russell takes us through the names, the faces, the situations which brought Michael Dowd down the dark roads he took and where everyone has ended up today.

Basically, Michael Dowd is the literal representation of the criminal cop. I mean, he is the epitome of the description, he makes the whole documentary feel like a Martin Scorsese film. Sometimes he says things that are darkly priceless, maybe similar to something Ray Liotta or Joe Pesci might spit out. At times, he actually strikes me more like Lester Diamond from Casino simply because he’s a god damn nutter. It’s sick, but the way in which he basically corralled an entire dirty ring of cops is villainously smart.
But naturally things didn’t last forever for Mike. If they did, he certainly wouldn’t have been on camera telling us his darkest confessions of the nasty business he got into while supposedly policing the streets.
10425671.0One of my favourite pieces to The Seven Five is the stuff with Adam Diaz.
What can we say about Mr. Diaz? He loves Bryan Adams and sold tons of drugs. Best of all, he sold them out of a grocery store. His operation was supremely slick. With some tips from ole Officer Dowd, the store could have everything looking proper, no drugs on the premises, and nothing could be said – like Diaz himself relates, even if someone snitched and said they were there buying drugs the week before, what did it matter? Who cares where they were or went or who they saw, what they bought? Didn’t matter a pinch. Because as Diaz says, there were no drugs – “I sell groceries!
In the year 1987, one kilo of cocaine was equal to about $34,000. Diaz, 20 years old, was selling 300 kilos a week, bringing in hundreds of millions a year.
The reason Michael Dowd and Adam Diaz became as close as they were was due to when Dowd gave Diaz a tip which saved the dealer half a million dollars. A raid was on the way, which Dowd headed off with the tip, and this proved to Diaz this was his man.

So we can see how it wasn’t simply a bunch of crooked cops, Dowd was involved with true criminal organizations, such as the Diaz Organization which had its own ties to further criminal entities. It’s amazing to watch how the corruption basically leaks out, like an oil spill milking thick out of a barrel and spreading over the entire city of New York. Sad that while so many people needed help, some criminals could’ve been taken off the streets, Dowd and Ken Eurell, his unfortunate partner that was near hypnotized by Dowd, and the other corrupt officers were just feeding their egos, their bank accounts, and sure, their families.
But it’s funny, nowadays in America, and back then certainly, we’re less willing to indict cops as a society overall than we are to shit all over people in unions. And basically, these officers, headed by the insanity of Michael Dowd, went into a union-like situation – the big argument for corruption is “They don’t pay me enough for the danger of the job I’m doing” – and instead of striking, instead of fighting for higher wages and trying to negotiate, they went above and beyond any normal reactions straight into using the leverage and power of their positions to commit criminal acts; acts they were arresting others for committing, all at the very same time.
Precinct-Seven-Five-2Michael Dowd: “It wasn’t like you were hurtin’ people. You were hurtin’ fucking scumbag drug dealers.
WP-AS2957_MW-2With every day that passes by in America, there seems to be another incident where unarmed people – most if not all are black – get murdered by the police. Straight up. So many news stories breaking, each week, where another black man or black woman is taken down, either by police in the field or in custody. It’s disturbing. Feels like nothing has really changed, as we watch Dowd during his interviews and the tapes of his testimonies – sure, this is not about racism, but it’s above all about the corruption of power. The same thing happens today. We see at various points throughout this documentary how a lot of the negative behaviour some police officers come to display is bred into them through senior ranking officers, detectives, et cetera, the rookies are working under. Much like hate and racism/sexism is learned behaviour often stemming from the family one grows up in, or the parent figures one is raised by, the same goes for this corrupt behaviour in police officers; much of that comes out of learned and encouraged behaviour.
08SEVENFIVE2-articleLargeI don’t want to say too much else about the documentary, much of it is information you need to hear firsthand.
For me, The Seven Five is a 5 out of 5 star documentary film. It outlines the corruption of the time in the NYPD so perfectly, examining one of the most corrupt police officers to have ever lived. Michael Dowd is a truly disturbing, bad dude when it comes down to it. The quote above shows that, infinitely. People like to think there’s a need for that blanket statement – that all drug dealers are human garbage, every one of them. Unfortunately, you just can’t say that. Especially if you’re an officer of the law, not simply because you should be objective at times as to avoid collaring the wrong suspects and leading yourself into trouble, but most of all it can lead to the detrimental thinking in police officers such as Dowd: it leads to the illusion of power. It leads people like this man to believing that they are truly above someone else on the evolutionary scale, as if they’re the perfect example of Charles Dawin and the idea of Survival of the Fittest – the dealers, the crackheads, all of them are weak and therefore ought to be weeded out. In a microcosm, this is the thinking which leads people to believe the ideologies of leaders like Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, and so on.

You should see this documentary. One of the better recent crime docs to come out. Especially if you’re interested in police corruption, civil rights, and other similar subjects. I highly recommend this. Not only interesting, The Seven Five is a smooth and flowing documentary that keeps the audience engaged, provides a ton of information, and even gives us a few truly dark and disturbing moments when it comes to the crime underworld and corrupt cops.
Check it out, let me know what you think in the comment section below!