Case Number 03536: Small Claims Court


Warner Bros. // 1984 // 98 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Bill Treadway (Retired) // November 12th, 2003

The Charge

When a hotshot cop and a wise-guy detective get together, the heat is on!

The Case

Mike Murphy (Burt Reynolds) is a private detective working in Kansas City in 1933. Lt. Speer (Clint Eastwood) works for the Kansas City Police force. They were once good friends, but after Murphy left the force, animosity between the two set in. Against better judgment, they team together after Reynolds' new partner Swift (Richard Roundtree) is murdered by the local mob.

If there's one film that didn't deserve the critical mauling it received, it's City Heat. It isn't a great film, but it's certainly not the "Stinker of the Week" Siskel and Ebert proclaimed it in 1984. I think the reason for the poor reception was simply high expectations. On paper, Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds in a Blake Edwards film must have had many salivating at the thought.

Despite its smooth look and feel, City Heat was a troubled production. According to Richard Schickel's book Clint Eastwood, Edwards was originally signed to direct the film from his screenplay Kansas City Jazz. Problems arose over Edwards' insistence on casting his wife Julie Andrews in one of the female leads. Reynolds and Andrews had not gotten along very well during the production of The Man Who Loved Women, and of course, Reynolds had major reservations about a reprise of previous problems. Eastwood supported Reynolds, and to make the long story short, Edwards quit the production. Eastwood brought in Joseph Stinson to rewrite the script; Edwards still receives a credit under the pseudonym Sam O. Brown (get it?). Richard Benjamin, fresh off of My Favorite Year and Racing From the Moon, was hired to direct the film, now titled City Heat.

City Heat was a moderate success at the box office, grossing over $37 million. But the aura of stinker has clung itself to the film and hasn't let go all these years. If you get past the high expectations and just settle down and accept the film for what it is, you will have a good time. I enjoyed this movie. And I won't apologize for enjoying it!

The film shifts between tones throughout. It's a hard boiled detective drama, with a very involving mystery regarding the dead partner. It's a screwball comedy, particularly with terrific one liners spoken by Reynolds and the late Madeline Kahn (in the role intended for Andrews). It's an exciting action film with the climatic shootout between Speer and the mob being a highlight.

The acting is fine. Clint Eastwood gives us a variation of his "Man With No Name" persona and it's good for what it is. Actually, the whole cast, including Jane Alexander, Rip Torn, Tony Lo Bianco, Robert Davi, Irene Cara, and Madeline Kahn, is in good form. The real surprise is Burt Reynolds. The man has made so much junk in his career, mostly as favors to his friends. He did us no favors making that trash, obscuring the fact that he is actually a very good actor. His work in City Heatis among his best performances, juggling emotions and styles very successfully. Amazing how in the same year this film was released, the awful Cannonball Run II was the big hit. (The original Cannonball Run was released the same year as his brilliant Sharky's Machine; no prizes for guessing which film was the hit.)

Richard Benjamin's direction is quite good considering he was a last minute replacement. This is not one of his great films, but it is head and shoulders above the recent stinkers he has given us (Milk Money, Made in America, Marci X). His gift was being able to juggle shifting tones within his films, and City Heat is no exception.

Warner has issued City Heat as part of their growing Clint Eastwood Collection. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is excellent, with very few imperfections, little to no grain, and bright, vibrant colors throughout the running time. I was surprised to see this print in such good shape, considering it is 19 years old. I wish Warner would do good work like this more often.

A variety of sound mixes are offered. The English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround sound mix was sampled for this review. It sounds wonderful. There is quite a bit of period music, mostly jazz, playing on the soundtrack and some great sound effects work in the film. Compared to earlier mono VHS releases, this track is an absolute triumph. For those interested, Warner also offers a Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround sound mix and two Dolby Digital 1.0 mono mixes in French and Portuguese.

The lone extra included is the theatrical trailer in anamorphic widescreen. Watching it, you can see how Warner Bros. tried to distance themselves from the troubled production.

Don't be misled by all the negative reviews. City Heat is well worth seeing. Rent it today. You won't be sorry.

Review content copyright © 2003 Bill Treadway; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 89

Perp Profile
Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Portuguese)

* English
* Bahasa
* Chinese
* French
* Japanese
* Korean
* Portuguese
* Spanish
* Thai

Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 1984
MPAA Rating: Rated PG

Distinguishing Marks
* Theatrical Trailer

* IMDb