CRIMEWATCH: Report To The Commissioner

Lost amidst a wave of stellar 1970s crime films—The Godfather, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, The French Connection—is a seldom revisited gem: Report to the Commissioner. Based on James Mills’ 1972 novel, the film chronicles the experiences of a well meaning but ill-prepared NYC rookie cop who, as it turns out, is blithely unaware of a simple truth: “nothing is ever exactly what it looks like.”
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In the role of detective Bo Lockley, Michael Moriarty gives a tour de force performance; bringing to vivid life—complete with stuttering, side glances, profuse sweating and body twitches—his character’s disheartening existence as an emotionally damaged outsider. Masterfully conveying the burden of sibling rivalry and parental expectations, Moriarty is a galvanizing presence amidst a generally corrupt cast of characters.

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There’s Thomas Henderson, AKA “The Stick” (Tony King), a good looking, charming and well positioned drug dealer; Patty Butler, AKA “Chicklet” (Susan Blakely) an undercover cop obsessed with career advancement and unafraid of infiltrating the seedy and dangerous drug world; Richard Blackstone, AKA “Crunch” (Yaphett Kotto), a cop whose job-related personal sacrifices have taken a toll, and, in a surprise early career role, Richard Gere as Billy, a sleazy pimp who can, by necessity, read people for exactly who they are: in particular Bo Lockley.

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A literally breathtaking center film chase—rooftops, ladders, streets—through New York City’s theater district; a visit to a popular but unnamed Manhattan disco; a harrowing hunt by a homeless—and legless beggar named Joey (Robert Balaban); and a showdown in the elevator at Sak’s Fifth Avenue, all come off seamlessly—using the dark and dingy but hauntingly romantic cityscape seen in The Taking of Pelham, One Two Three and Death Wish.

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Add a script by two separate Oscar winners; Abby Man (Judgment at Nuremburg) and Ernest Tidyman (The French Connection); a score by Oscar winning Elmer Bernstein (Thoroughly Modern Millie); cinematography by Mario Tosi—the man who created the incendiary images in Carrie, and birds-eye-view direction by Milton (Butterflies Are Free) Katselas, and you have a discomforting portrait of people lost in a labyrinth of inner-office politics, bold-faced racism and deadly subterfuge.

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Josiah Howard

Josiah Howard is the author of four books including “Blaxploitation Cinema: The Essential Reference Guide” (now in a fourth printing). His writing credits include articles for the American Library of Congress, The New York Times and Readers Digest. A veteran of more than one hundred radio broadcasts, Howard also lectures on cinema and is a frequent guest on entertainment news television.

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