“BUSTING is not a pretty word. BUSTING is not a pretty job. BUSTING won’t earn you any medal!” Laid-back Robert Blake and porn-stached Elliot Gould are cleaning up L.A.’s seedy avenues in Peter Hyam’s BUSTING, on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber Studio Classics.
When vice detectives Mike Keneely (Elliot Gould, MASH) and Patrick Ferrel (Robert Blake, IN COLD BLOOD) bust prostitute Jackie (Cornelia Sharpe, SERPICO), they are frustrated to find their case fall apart in court due to insufficient evidence (Jackie’s “trick book” has mysteriously disappeared from evidence), and they suspect that bigwig Rizzo (Allen Garfield, SKATEBOARD: THE MOVIE) has put in some calls. They get even more suspicious when their sergeant Kenefick (John Lawrence, THEY LIVE) repeatedly assigns them to low-level pervert patrol; however, Keneely and Ferrel continue to bust establishments connected to Rizzo, including an adult bookstore run by Marvin (Michael Lerner, THE CANDIDATE) that caters to massages (and more) courtesy of Doris (Erin O’Reilly, THE BABY). Keneely sees track marks on the girl’s arms and suspects that Marvin – who threatens them with calling Rizzo – is supplying her with heroin. Suspecting that Marvin can link Rizzo to the heroin trade, they try to get a warrant to search Marvin’s apartment, but the desk sergeant (Richard X. Slattery, WALKING TALL) refuses to wake up the judge at one in the morning based on a hunch. Keneely and Ferrel then decide to conduct an illegal search and stumble upon a drug deal, which leads to a shootout in the crowded Fairfax farmer’s market. They manage to take out two of the dealers, but the main one (Frank Farmer, CAPRICORN ONE) gets away. Kenefick, once again claiming to be caught in between them and the captain, assigns Keneely and Ferrel to watching a park bathroom; however, when they are off duty, Keneely and Ferrel decide to make nuisances of themselves with Rizzo since they suspect that they interrupted a drug deal and that he will need to make another score quickly to cover his losses. They show up at Rizzo’s church, at a restaurant during lunch with his family, at the yacht club, and cap the evening off by setting his car on fire during his birthday party. Rizzo retaliates by having both men savagely beaten by Stephen (Antonio Fargas, FOXY BROWN). Kenefick is pressured into splitting them up and assigning them new partners; however, this just makes the pair even more eager to bust Rizzo.
BUSTING was writer/director Peter Hyams’ first theatrical feature – a Syracuse University music major turned CBS anchorman – although he had previously written Herbert Ross’ T.R. BASKIN and directed the TV movies ROLLING MAN and GOODNIGHTY, MY LOVE [which he also wrote]. Script-wise, there’s an obvious DIRTY HARRY influence, although Gould’s Keneely is more reckless than badass and the banter between Keneely and Farrel is more obnoxious than amusing; however, Garfield’s Rizzo is cocky enough for the audience to side with the two heroes in taking him down. The ending should be more cynical, but Gould is only given one monologue to express his waning pride in being a policeman, and Blake is given even less to work with. While Fargas gets an effective scene pummeling Gould, Sid Haig (GALAXY OF TERROR) as Rizzo’s bouncer isn’t afforded the material or the screen time he would get in, say, an AIP offering. Danny Goldman – who appeared in both MASH and an episode of Blake’s show BARETTA – appears briefly as a public defender, while character actors like Slattery, William Sylvester (as Rizzo’s lawyer), and Logan Ramsey (as a whore-frequenting dentist) are given little to do. BUSTING was the fourteenth collaboration between producers Robert Chartoff and Irwin Winkler, which started 1967’s POINT BLANK and later encompassed RAGING BULL, the ROCKY series, Scorcese’s NEW YORK, NEW YORK, Ken Russell’s VALENTINO, Philip Kaufmann’s THE RIGHT STUFF, and the 2011 remake of the Charles Bronson film THE MECHANIC.
Although TV cameraman Earl Rath (GARGOYLES) is credited with the film’s cinematography, I would reckon that Hyams had the greater influence on the film’s look, as the film has the grainy, natural light look of many his subsequent films (Hyams has also served as director of photography on several of his subsequent directorial efforts starting with 2010 ). Practical lights from desk lamps to fluorescent tubes bloom, usually as backlight with even lower levels of fill lighting just illuminating characters. It’s a interesting look, but it starts to get quite monotonous here, with little contrast between the moody interiors – police station interiors are improbably lit for chiaroscuro effect, and even the courtroom where the vice arraignments take place has a Rembrandt-lighting thing going on with it – while pitch-black night and dreary daytime exteriors. Whereas William Friedkin favored blue gels for his gay club in CRUISING, Hyams baths his campier club in hellish red gels, and utilizes strobe lighting during a strip act in Rizzo’s Club Electra, and these bits stand out from the rest of the film visually. Hyams keeps the camera moving, and favors long takes over quick cuts, which heightens the suspense of the farmer’s market shootout as it required the carefully-timed choreography of the actors and several extras, and the camera would more often find the hiding places of the shooters rather than cutting away to them popping out from around corners.
Although BUSTING had been making the rounds in a new HD transfer on television, it did not have a digital release until MGM's Limited Edition Collection manufactured-on-demand DVD-R which featured a single-layer, progressive, anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer that served the cinematography of "Prince of Darkness" Hyams as well as SD could with heavy grain, blooming light sources, and pitch night blacks. As expected, it was the R-rated theatrical version with all of the nudity and bloodshed intact (TV versions reportedly feature some additional padding scenes featuring Farmer’s drug dealer character). With Arrow, Shout! Factory, Olive Films, and Kino Lorber plundering the MGM catalogue, it seemed likely that someone would eventually pick up BUSTING with its ready HD master. Kino Lorber's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen encode is a great upgrade with undistorted red in the gay bar scene and bolder blue moonlight in the night interiors. The lights in the police station still bloom due to Hyam's use and augmentation of natural light, while the night exteriors as well as the market chase now look more boldly illuminated and feature healthy grain (this particular sequence looked a bit duller the last time I caught it on television in SD). The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track nicely renders the TV composer Billy Goldenberg’s sparse music score and gunplay boldly. There are no subtitles or captioning options.
While the MGM DVD-R only had the film's theatrical trailer, Kino's Blu-ray has gone the extra mile with two commentary tracks. Director Hyams has not seen the film since it was released as he prefers not to look at his films again once they are past the point where he can still improve on them. He describes the laborious research he did with cops, pimps, and hookers and his attempt to make the film play and look different than any other cop films of the time. He points out events that have basis in reality, including the sources of some of Gould's and Blake's ad-libs, trying to balance light sources and the difficulty of lighting cramped interiors, shooting the action scenes pre-Steadicam with dolly tracks visible during the market chase, as well as working with Gould and Blake. He also describes the betrayal he felt when he submitted the gay bar scene to the Gay Actors' Alliance for their blessing only to have them then speak out against it after the film was released even though they approved it and many of their members participated in it as extras. He concedes to some of the mistakes he made, like taking the time to set up elegantly-choreographed shots of "shoe leather" (characters entering or exiting locations) that he insisted would make it into the film but ended up being the first to go, but is generally satisfied with his work as a screenwriter, cinematographer, and director here.
The second track is actually a selected scenes commentary (46:18) with actor Gould and critic Kim Morgan over some of the film's key sequences including the opening bust, the courtroom sequence (shot in the same location as the Manson trial), the market shootout, and so on. Gould reveals that Blake was not the first choice for his partner, and that he had voiced his doubts about original choice Ron Leibman (SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE) only to learn that the producers also had in mind Blake and Peter Boyle (TAXI DRIVER). He discusses working with Hyams who threatened to throw acid in his eyes if he messed up his film (they would work together again in CAPRICORN ONE) and Blake (who had a hard time keeping up with Gould in the chase scenes because of his shorter legs), as well as Sharpe (who married SCARFACE producer Martin Bregman) and producers Chartoff and Winkler. Morgan points out the parallels of the film with Blake's earlier ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE and Hyam's later RUNNING SCARED, as well as BUSTING's newfound cult audience, and is amazed at how many scenes perfectionist Hyams did only single takes. Besides the aforementioned theatrical trailer (2:43), the disc also includes trailers for RUNNING SCARED and THE LONG GOODBYE. (Eric Cotenas)
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