Badge 373 is one of those post-The French Connection cop thrillers that came out on the heels of that film’s runaway success. The character of Popeye Doyle in The French Connection was based upon a real cop, Eddie Egan, and he was also the basis for Eddie Ryan (Robert Duvall) in Badge 373. He appears in both films as his cinematic avatar’s superior officer. The opening credits proudly proclaim “inspired by the exploits of Eddie Egan”—as if that’s a good thing.
The ’70s were a complicated time for how America started looking at police figures: with the awakening of the culture that for many happened in the ’60s, that included seeing the fascistic aspect of the police. Miranda Rights came into place in 1966 (“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to speak to an attorney, and to have an attorney present during any questioning”), which changed how policing was done, and in theory gave the arrested party some rights. Police forces responded incredibly poorly to this new law, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these cop films about vigilante-type cops started popping up at that very moment. Dirty Harry is the most obvious one, although at least that film is far more morally and politically complex than it’s often given credit for. The initial ad campaign painted both Harry Callahan and Serpico as equally crazy… that soon changed when it was a smash hit. Badge 373 is one of those films in the ’70s where the police, and in this case protagonist Eddie Ryan, are painted out-and-out fascists from almost the first moment he appears. He is a horrible racist, and has to turn his badge in after the first sequence, so he is investigating the death of his partner without any authority except his own! The fascist cop film would even get a spoof with Freebie and the Bean.
It’s certainly not a great film by any means, but Duvall in his first lead role gives it his all. At the time he said “I can relate to the role and to the character. I feel his words and social commentary spoke to me.” That is certainly problematic, but then again, he only left the Republican party in recent years because it became too racist for him.
The plot is a messy revenge story involving drug kingpins and Puerto Rican independentistas, but it has decent gritty dialogue from journalist Pete Hamill. The film’s director was Howard W. Koch, who mostly did ’50s B Movies, including the little-known The Wages of Fear remake Violent Road. His greatest successes came as a producer, however, with The Manchurian Candidate and, decades later, Airplane! and Ghost. The cinematography by Arthur J. Ornitz is solid as well, he would shoot Serpico and Death Wish immediately after Badge 373.
The disc includes an interview with actor and former NYPD detective Randy Jurgensen, and a nice rundown of ’70s cop thrillers from film critic Glenn Kenny. The theatrical trailer, a TV spot, an image gallery and some radio spots finish off the extras on the disc. The book has usual new and archival writing that you would expect from a Indicator release.