Directed by Howard Koch in 1973 and co-written by the real life Eddie Egan (on whom this story is based and who has a supporting role as a police lieutenant), Badge 373 stars Robert Duvall as a tough, no nonsense cop named Eddie Ryan working the mean streets of New York City. Shortly after we're introduced to him, he's kicked off the force for the 'accidental' death of a suspect he was chasing across a city rooftop. Eddie and his partner had been closing in on a Puerto Rican drug czar named Sweet Willie (Henry Darrow) who they knew was behind a lot of the illegal drug trafficking going on in the city, but it looks like that's not going to happen now. Or is it? Eddie isn't going to just hand in his badge and forget about it, he's not that kind of cop.
At home, Eddies' girlfriend, Maureen (Verna Bloom), would love nothing more than for him to settle down and maybe find something else to do with his time but Eddie's more interested in running around the city with vengeance on his mind than anything else. If the system isn't going to give him the justice he needs, then he'll damn well make it happen on his own...
Make no mistakes about it, Badge 373 owes a fairly large debt to Friedkin's earlier film (also based on the exploits of Eddie Egan) and it offers up similar thrills. Once again we've got a tough cop front and center, the kind of cop that doesn't necessarily play by the rule book and who couldn't care less about political correctness. Duvall as Ryan takes that aspect of the character to a fairly harsh extreme, however, he's the type who has no qualms whatsoever about using any derogatory anti-Puerto Rican slur you can think of and then some. While we understand and even sympathize with Eddie's want and need for revenge, his callous personality makes him hard to like on a personal level - he comes across as a fairly nasty man, though he lives in a world populated with similarly nasty people. The only really sympathetic character we have here is Bloom, who is quite good as his reserved girlfriend and who brings a legitimate sense of sadness to the proceeding.
The movie doesn't try to reinvent the wheel here but it does move at a good pace and give us a pretty great tour of early seventies Brooklyn. A lot has changed in the area in the years that have passed and as such the movie definitely has a great time capsule quality to it that ensures that it's always interesting. Lots of local color and authentic seventies New York City grit and grime are on display throughout the movie, making for the perfect back drop for a hardboiled cop story such as this one to play off of. We even get a great finale that takes place in the historic Brooklyn Navy Yard down by the waterfront that seems to have maybe been an inspiration for the finale seen quite a few years later in the end of William Lustig's Vigilante?
Ultimately this turns out to be a pretty grim film. Duvall plays the lead as a complete bastard but one possibly shaped by what he sees around him more than anything else. His performance goes over the top now and then but somehow that seems fitting. His character is an angry man and Duvall's good at angry. Those looking for a feel good movie, look elsewhere as this is anything but - however, if you like your crime films down and dirty and don't mind some pessimism or even mild nihilism worked into the mix, give this one a shot. If nothing else it's got loads of style and atmosphere and what it lacks in originality it more than makes up for with Duvall's remarkable screen presence, a good bit of true grit and one of the most ridiculous and unbelievable car chases to ever emerge out of seventies cinema.
Badge 373 arrives on DVD in a nice looking 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer from Olive Films. The picture looks as grainy as you would want it to and some mild print damage pops up here and there in the form of the occasional speck, but the image is clean enough and quite stable. There aren't any edge enhancement issues and there are only the most mild of compression artifacts visible in a few of the darker scenes. Generally though, the picture is quite good.
The only audio option for the feature is an English language Dolby Digital Mono track. For the most part the track sounds fine for what it is. Dialogue is clean and clear and well balanced and while you might pick up on a little bit of hiss here and there, if you're not listening for it you probably won't notice it. The score sounds good, sound effects are mixed in well and don't overpower the performers all come through clearly enough.
Outside of a static menu and chapter selection, the disc is completely barebones, there isn't even a trailer here.
Badge 373 might not even try to reinvent the cop movie but it giver Duvall a chance to really go over the top with his role and it's got plenty of authentic seventies grit and atmosphere working in its favor. Yeah, it might feel like a French Connection knock off at times but it's a good one even if it is a bit on the long side. Olive Films' DVD could have at least included a trailer but other than that it looks and sounds pretty good and comes recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.