“Cop Hater” (1958)

It’s smarter than it looks—not a lot, but enough. It opens with a bleak view of a shirtless man lying on his bed, and as he gets up for work, still looking tired, the stark words COP HATER appear with a lurid splash of horns. Within minutes the man—a homicide detective—will be shot dead on the street, and soon after that a second cop will be gunned down. Adapted from the first of Evan Hunter/Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels, Cop Hater follows Detective Steve Carelli’s hunt for the apparent psycho-killer in a thinly-disguised Manhattan. The funny thing—at least it seems funny until you’ve seen the ending—is the pit-stops it makes, and the detours it takes to reach them. These are the scenes where the cops do pretty much nothing: just drinking (sometimes on duty), cutting short a dinner with their girlfriends to take a call, or going out for a night on the town, where they engage in playful macho jockeying while dancing with each other’s wives. (“Hey, that’s too close!”) The movie also allots plenty of time to titillating views of the cops’ dishy companions, who always seem to be caught in their bathing suits, cocktail dresses, or clingy bathroom towels.

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A 28-year old Robert Loggia stars as Carelli and a 23-year old Jerry Orbach has one big scene as the gang leader “Mumzer”; Loggia is already working his hands overtime while shaking his head in search of the right word, and Orbach looks fine talking down through his nostrils while telling the cops where to get off. But the best performance comes from Gerald O’Loughlin as Loggia’s partner; hauling his fireplug body around the living room in just a pair of Bermuda shorts, the better to jump his bombshell wife, he looks like a cross between a cannonball and a testicle. The ending ties the motive for the killings to the cops’ compulsive, sexist, alcoholic lifestyle, which the movie actually indicts, if only carefully, from the corner of its mouth. The case solved, Cop Hater ends just as The Big Heat did, with a citizen reporting a fresh crime, the detectives barreling out the door, the cycle beginning  again. Cop Hater misses the chance that Ellery Queen jumped on in Cat of Many Tails, to flesh out the city’s reaction to a serial killer and make dread a player in the story; still, its grungy world view and doubled-edged exploitativeness puts it light-years ahead of William Wyler’s grindingly solemn treatment of similar material in Detective Story.

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