Tuesday, February 28, 2012

MGM MOD DVD of the Week: Busting

The 1970s were a great decade for gritty buddy cop movies with the likes of The French Connection (1971) and Hickey & Boggs (1972). 1974 was a particularly good year with The Super Cops (1974), Freebie and the Bean (1974) and the largely forgotten Busting (1974), which presented the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles through the eyes of two vice cops and blended comedy with dynamic action sequences.

In the film’s opening sequence, Michael Keneely (Elliott Gould) and Patrick Farrel (Robert Blake) bust a high-end hooker named Jackie Faraday. Keneely is the smirking smartass while Farrel is the tough guy. These guys are a tad unorthodox as evident by the way a routine undercover assignment in a gay bar erupts into chaos when one guy (Antonio Fargas) gets too fresh with Keneely. The Faraday bust seems like a pretty open and shut case until their boss tells them that she got released thanks to a phone call from someone with juice.

Something about the hooker case doesn’t sit well with Keneely and when he checks out Faraday’s client book after it’s been entered into evidence he notices it’s missing all the pages with her clients. Naturally, the case is dismissed for lack of evidence and the two vice cops know something is rotten. They decide to pursue it further by digging deeper despite the opposition that mounts, including smug local crime boss Carl Rizzo (Allen Garfield).

Elliott Gould and Robert Blake make an intriguing team with their contrasting acting styles. During the ‘70s, Gould epitomized disheveled cool and continues that look with the bushy mustache, unkempt hair and rumpled attire that he sported in Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H (1970). He adopts a laidback attitude and is always ready with a joke. Much like his take on Philip Marlowe in Altman’s The Long Goodbye (1973), Gould’s cop treats everything as a joke on the surface but underneath he cares about doing his job, especially when it comes to the corruption he and Farrel uncover. In contrast, Blake, with his tight t-shirts and muscular build, is all intensity and no bullshit attitude. They play well off each other and adopt a shorthand that makes them believable as long-time partners. They have a nice scene together in an empty bathroom where their characters reassess what they’re doing and if they should continue to pursue a case where the odds are clearly stacked against them.

Journeyman cinematographer/director Peter Hyams has had a checkered career with the unnecessary sequel 2010 (1984) and generic thrillers like The Presidio (1988) littering his filmography but Busting may be his best film and oddly influential. When it came to crank out cop shows on television, producer Aaron Spelling used Hyams’ film as a template, even lifting several sequences out of Busting and using them in Starsky and Hutch. Hell, Hutch even wears the same kind of varsity jacket that Gould’s character sports in the film. Hyams, who also wrote the screenplay, clearly did his homework as the film has a scuzzy authenticity that is almost tangible. Apparently, he did a lot of research, interviewing hookers, pimps and cops in order to make sure he got everything right.

Hyams does an excellent job juggling the shifting tones throughout, bouncing back and forth between comedy and drama. He adopts long takes during the action sequences that are very effective and come across as refreshing in this day and age where action films are so heavily edited. For example, there is a sequence early on where Keneely and Farrel chase three crooks through an apartment building, on the street and engage in a tense gun battle in a crowded farmer’s market that is comprised of a series of uninterrupted long takes. Unlike William Friedkin’s edgy hand-held camerawork in The French Connection, Hyams employs smooth, gliding tracking shots and yet still manages to convey an urgency and excitement during the action sequences. Hyams is one of those Hollywood filmmakers able to adapt to prevailing trends. With Busting, he made a gritty ‘70s buddy cop film and then more than 10 years later made the kind of buddy cop film that was popular in the 1980s with Running Scared (1986).

Special Features:

Theatrical trailer.


  1. Man, I haven't seen this one in decades! So right, too, that it's one of those 70s crime/buddy gems from the era. Great to know that at least some MOD has taken it up for more people to learn about it. Thanks, J.D.

  2. Saw this a few years ago, around the same time that I saw the more beloved FREEBIE AND THE BEAN, and like the Hyams film better.

    It's interesting that Blake's character takes such a back seat to Gould here, a year after starring in his own cop opus, ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE. In that light, it's not all that surprising that Blake took the cash and migrated to his own television series, BARETTA, the next year. In retrospective interviews, Blake has expressed regret at leaving movies to do television work for half a decade.

    Since I'm a big fan of both Gould AND Blake, I was disappointed that things weren't more evenly balanced between the two characters in terms of import to the story. As opposed to the other buddy movies, where each guy has moments where he dominates / gets laughs / etc., Blake really does play second fiddle to Gould, who was, admittedly, more of an icon / counterculture star than Blake was.

    Also noteworthy is the fact that Hyams is one filmmaker who directed both a prototype cop buddy film (BUSTING) of the '70s and later contributed a film (RUNNING SCARED) to the cop buddy cycle of the '80s, a sub-genre directly spawned by the grittier '70s variants. RUNNING SCARED is similarly overlooked and overshadowed by the likes of BEVERLY HILLS COP, 48 HRS., and LETHAL WEAPON, just as BUSTING is often overlooked within the '70s pantheon.

    BUSTING highlight: the protracted pursuit centered in the labyrinthine outdoor food market...this was VERY impressively staged and shot.

  3. Been meaning to check this one out for a while; it looks right up my alley– and I had no idea it was on MOD yet, either! As always, a great write-up, J.D.

  4. SOunds like a must see. I'd imagine it's well worth it just to see Gould and Blake together. I'd never even heard of it until your review, so thanks for the heads up!

  5. le0pard13:

    I had never seen this film until the MOD came out and enjoyed it immensely! Yet another fantastic buddy cop crime film from the '70s.

    Ned Merrill:

    I dunno how I'd rank BUSTING up against FREEBIE AND THE BEAN. I like both a lot but maybe BUSTING gets the edge thanks to Gould.

    Good point about Blake taking a backseat to Gould. As you point out, Gould was the bigger star at the time so that's probably why he gets more screen time but I still love how they play off each other.

    I also dig RUNNING SCARED. Something of a guilty pleasure as you don't find to many fans of it but I do like the chemistry between Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines. And, interestingly, Hyams applies the gritty look of BUSTING to RS.

    The BUSTING highlight you cited is also my fave. So well-staged!

    Sean Gill:

    Thanks! I think you will dig this film. It is right up yer alley.

    Brent Allard:

    I also think you'd like this film. It is definitely worth a look, esp. if you're a fan of Gould and/or Blake.

  6. Nice post! Definitely one of the most underrated films of the 70s, and one of the best! Seems like most people like my favorite scene, the supermarket chase. The score is kick-ass also. I streamed it on Netflix then said screw it and picked up the MOD. Well worth every penny! http://turafish.wordpress.com/2012/03/15/cool-as-vice/

  7. turafish:

    Thanks! It sure is an underrated film. I hadn't heard of it until recently but was really glad to discover it as it has become one of my fave films. Elliott Gould was on fire during this decade and this is one of his best performances, IMO.