Monday, August 10, 2009

Film Review: MADIGAN (1968, Don Siegel)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 101 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Richard Widmark, Henry Fonda, Harry Guardino, Inger Stevens, James Whitmore.
Tag-lines: "If Detective Madigan kept his eyes on the killer instead of the broad..."
Best one-liner: "MAADIGAN!"

MADIGAN. What a great title. What a great name. What a great word to roar to the heavens in frustration- "MAAADIGAN!!" But on to the film: Don Siegel pulls no punches. He doesn't even know what that means. Probably thinks it means “punch harder.” That being said, MADIGAN is a fairly low-key movie. It's a movie of contrasts- public and private lives; jobs behind desks and on the mean streets; working class joes and upper-crust snobs; roughing a guy up in an alley and attending a gala in a tux.

Richard Widmark (PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET) and Harry Guardino (DIRTY HARRY), two tough cops who tackle moral quandaries with a sort of mean desperation written on their fists, represent the more sordid side of the coin. On the spick-and-span side is commissioner Henry Fonda, who tackles similar quandaries, only with his law books and cerebrum.

But despite all of these juxtapositions, not a moment in the film can be viewed in black-and-white terms. Siegel's not afraid to present our heroes threatening an old lady by nearly crushing her with a desk (see also: THE KILLERS), show a progressively diverse police force, or depict the complexities of infidelity and race relations. And he's not afraid to stage an ending that'll rip the guts out of you. (One can see his uncompromising legacy in the muted Euro-noir of Jean Pierre Melville and the brutally contemplative Yakuza flicks of Takeshi Kitano.) Widmark's up to his slimily endearing old tricks, punching out a guy in a bar and telling him to "sit down and drink your milk," bein' an all-around smooth operator, and doing a bit of the elderly-terrorizing I referred to earlier (perhaps in a nod to his notorious 'wheelchair down the stairs' scene in KISS OF DEATH?).

My only complaint is the nauseatingly cheerful score by Don Costa (who is NO Lalo Schifrin). Overall, MADIGAN's not for everyone: if you want nonstop slam-bang-pop, you came to the wrong place. But for those in need of a thoughtful policier, look no further.

-Sean Gill

No comments: