[Originally published in Movietone News 37, November 1974]
Ivan Passer must have taken another look at his countryman Milos Forman’s American picture, Taking Off, before addressing himself to Law and Disorder, for the new film contains several notable echoes of its predecessor: a community-enlightenment seminar in which an obviously neurotic psychologist advises the women how to defend themselves against potential rapists (cf. the pot-smoking in Taking Off); a wife’s comically grotesque attempts to turn on a jaded husband (cf. Lynn Carlin’s pixilated drunk dance); the complaint of the protagonist, a beleaguered parent with a troublesome daughter, that “normal girls run away at 16—she stays around to annoy us” (a nod to T.O.‘s central premise). There any resemblance to Forman’s adroitly judged satire and Passer’s own small masterpiece, Intimate Lighting ends. Passer’s account of several middleaged middle-American males’ endeavors to set their world a-right by forming an auxiliary police force to patrol the neighborhood attempts to limn the frustration of those who straddle the caste line between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, but he lacks any feeling for the specifically American experience. Actors like Carroll O’Connor and Ernest Borgnine are difficult to control at the best of times, and Passer, who steers his way so surely through the klutzy exoticism of blowsy Czech housewives and passed-over Czech Lotharios, apparently has no notion when satirical caricature gives way to gross overplaying.
Like a lot of other New York–based productions, Law and Disorder affects a gratuitousness that it hopes will validate its social observations, yet it swiftly becomes apparent that the gratuitousness is nothing but an aesthetically pretentious façade for outright formlessness. At the same time, Passer manifests a tendency to toss in the pseudo-naturalistic towel and milk some pathos, or bathos, out of the film by means of such hackneyed and shameless devices as the sudden stillness of background and soundtrack as O’Connor talks of his failed Big Moment. The portion of the movie that comes nearest to resolving into some kind of substance with some kind of aesthetic shape is the last long disastrous afternoon the Borgnine character spends getting macho (in vain) with his insanely sexy/hostile employee (the nadir of Karen Black’s career), palsy drunk with O’Connor in a neighborhood bar, and impulsively sadistic toward a fellow auxiliary cop whom he and O’Connor humiliate in precisely the same manner we saw a couple muggers employ at the beginning. Whatever narrative intensity this builds (and it’s not a great deal) is abruptly drained off by a wild-pitch death scene that invokes generally rather than evokes genuinely the handily available fact of irrational death as part of the modern urban milieu. Confronted by such cinematic disorder, one can only protest that there oughta be a law.
LAW AND DISORDER
Direction: Ivan Passer. Screenplay: Ivan Passer, William Richert, and Kenneth Fishman. Cinematography: Arthur J. Ornitz. Art direction: Gene Rudolf. Music: Andy Badale. Production: William Richert; Executive Production: Michael Medwin, Edgar J. Scherick.
The Players: Carroll O’Connor, Ernest Borgnine, Ann Wedgeworth, Anita Dangler, Leslie Ackerman, David Spielberg, Jack Kehoe, Karen Black.
Copyright © 1974 Richard T. Jameson