Saturday, July 20, 2013

He'll Tear Apart A City

Director Robert Butler, whose credits lie mostly with television episodes (including the pilots for STAR TREK, BATMAN, HILL STREET BLUES, and MOONLIGHTING) and Disney movies, took over for Sidney J. Furie (THE IPCRESS FILE) during production of an R-rated adaptation of William P. McGivern’s 1975 novel NIGHT OF THE JUGGLER.

My memories of the book are short, but the script by Rick Natkin (THE BOYS IN COMPANY C) and William Norton Sr. (WHITE LIGHTNING) is ludicrous, throwing insane obstacles like a remarkably thin-skinned Latino gang and a hilariously unhinged corrupt cop (Dan Hedaya of BLOOD SIMPLE) into the path of its hero. Still, NIGHT OF THE JUGGLER is remarkably well-paced, exciting, and an eye-catching potpourri of rundown New York City locations. It was filmed during the summer of 1978, but not released by Columbia until 1980. In Canada, it came out as PURSUED.

The very intense Cliff Gorman (ANGEL) plays the heavy, Gus Soltic, a racist psycho who tries to get back at the rich people he blames for the demise of his Bronx neighborhood by kidnapping the daughter of a wealthy businessman (Marco St. John, recently seen in TREME). Unfortunately, he accidentally snatches the wrong girl: Kathy (Abby Bluestone, also in LITTLE RASCALS in 1980), the daughter of hairy ex-cop Sean Boyd. Bearded James Brolin, who turned his six-year supporting gig on MARCUS WELBY, M.D. into a short-lived career as a leading man in features (including THE CAR, CAPRICORN ONE, and THE AMITYVILLE HORROR), stars as Boyd and chases Gorman all over New York, smashing cars, endangering innocent lives, and angering half the NYPD.

The story is a riff on Ed McBain’s KING’S RANSOM without the moral conundrums, but with plenty of action and sleaze, and that’s okay too. The stunts are first-rate, and it's amazing that Furie, Butler, and the production staff were able to film so many dangerous chases in bustling Manhattan. You can see the actors inside the cars during some shots, and a lot of extras look to be in harm's way. No question, JUGGLER's sense of danger--real or not--adds to the excitement.

The directors draw colorful performances from THE GODFATHER’s Castellano as a put-upon detective, Mandy Patinkin (THE PRINCESS BRIDE) as a funny Puerto Rican cab driver, Sully Boyar (FORT APACHE, THE BRONX) as a helpful doc catcher, and the lovely Julie Carmen (THE MILAGRO BEANFIELD WAR) in her feature debut. Brolin’s own film career dissipated shortly after this, and he moved on to a lucrative run on HOTEL.


Joe Kenney said...

Can't believe I've never even heard of this movie! I've seen the title of the original novel here and there, but have never read it. I just looked up this movie and there's no DVD release, but it looks like someone put up a scan of the VHS on youtube. Strange that this one's so obscure. Also, loved your description of the "thin-skinned" gang. Would be worth seeing the film just for that!

Marty McKee said...

Hard to believe this hasn't even gotten an MOD release yet. I would love to see this in its original aspect ratio. BTW, I'm currently re-reading the novel, and it's a lot different than the book so far.