Sort of an Archie Bunker Police Academy movie.
Law and Disorder is a "dramedy," billed mainly as a comedy but with heavy dramatic influences. In 1974 at the time it was made Carroll O'Connor was at the height of his fame for the landmark television series "All in the Family" in his role as working stiff bigot Archie Bunker. Character actor Ernest Borgnine was also quite popular. The marketing mainly hyped the combination of these two actors in the film. And the chemistry between them as struggling working folk in a crime-ridden area of New York is the best part of the picture. Unfortunately the comedy is only fair, and the dramatic elements given too little foundation to be moving. The film failed for me in either category. Anchor Bay has done a decent job with the DVD, however.
Facts of the Case
Willie (Carroll O'Connor) is a cabbie struggling to keep his family happy amidst a rising tide of crime in the neighborhood. Cy (Borgnine) is a hairdresser (how's that for casting?) whose car gets dismantled in the time it takes to buy a gallon of milk, and together the old friends are fed up. They go to the police and get accepted to start a chapter of Auxiliary Police; basically a hyped-up Neighborhood Watch with uniforms. With several of their loser friends, they start patrolling while dealing with their own dreams and difficulties. Unfortunately, they seem to be no better at handling law enforcement than their personal problems, with devastating results in the end.
The chemistry between these two fine character actors was the best part of the film by far. The scenes when they are together are well acted and sometimes touching. Though there are numerous supporting characters, this is really a two-man show, and when the story gets off the two of them together it suffers.
This is not to say there aren't some nice comedic moments. The film starts off promisingly enough with Willie having his television stolen by a thief in the time it takes him to get up for a snack. Other moments with the poor troops brought in for the policing patrols have a chuckle or two. There are various scenes through the film that get another chuckle. However, there are no big laughs, and not enough of the little ones.
Give credit to Anchor Bay for often providing anamorphic transfers for films nobody has heard of. We get just that with this disc. The picture quality is only fair but this is a 26-year-old film, which suffers from washed out colors, soft detail, and a generous helping of grain. Still, it is very watchable and I applaud even the attempt to get this looking the best it can for 16x9 displays.
The soundtrack is the original mono, and has the basic problems of such older tracks. There isn't much in the way of dynamic range and voices can sound a bit harsh, but the track is clear enough and you can understand all the dialogue. Adequate would be the word for the sound quality.
There are a few extras, though no truly noteworthy ones. Talent Files for the actors and director Ivan Passer, a trailer and a couple TV spots are what is there. Still I'm not complaining in this case that there isn't more.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The reason I'm not complaining about the lack of a commentary or long features among the bonus content is that I really didn't care for the film. I finished the film saying, "That was it?" and "What a waste of my time!" What might have made for a nice enough comedy turned maudlin and downright tragic without any real substance to make me feel good about sitting through the sadness. This was one of those times when trying to combine comedy and drama didn't work. It's a difficult thing to pull off at best; and most often works when the film is mainly a drama that has some humor to break up the tension. Trying to be mainly a comedy and then throw in the dramatic elements was less successful.
I might also mention the blatant racism in some of the characters. Ironically it isn't O'Connor's character who is a bigot, but several of the supporting characters use racial slurs and descriptions to stereotype people without any sense of responsibility or consequence. It may have felt "real" for those characters, but it didn't help drive the story and distracted from an already muddled film.
As for the disc, let's hear the broken record again. No subtitles or captions for the deaf and hard of hearing from Anchor Bay again. This I feel is a major lack of a feature that should be included on every single disc.
I'm sure there are a few fans of this film out there, and certainly fans of the main actors. I'm a fan of Borgnine and O'Connor in some of their other work. But unless you already know you like the film, I couldn't recommend the disc to you. I felt the film was weak, and the disc only fair. Worth a rental if you liked the film, but this is one I'd never heard of that I could have done without.
Anchor Bay is acquitted for the treatment given the disc, but the film itself is indicted for not being a good comedy or a good drama, and even worse at trying to be both. The stars are released for good performances within the limits of the story. Special charges may be brought due to the unnecessary racist elements within the story.
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