Cop Hater review by Tom Blain
Cop Hater is a short pot-boiler B-film based on an 87th Precinct Evan Hunter/ Ed McBain novel of the same name. As the title may suggest, cops are taking bullets all over town. The cops aren't even in uniform; they are just getting mowed down in their time off. Detectives Carelli (Robert Loggia) and Maguire (Gerald O'Loughlin) are on the case. After each cop is cut down, the same questions popup: "Why him?", "What is the connection?", "Who would do such a thing to such a great guy?"
After the first killing the police chief spits out law officer hyperbole beginning with "when a cop gets killed technically its no different than anyone else, except he is a symbol," and ending with, "you take away that symbol and you get animals in the street." Its an interesting and almost unnecessary comment that builds up the need for strong law enforcement. Does the audience need to hear this preaching? It struck me as odd dialogue. The movie did come out a year after the integration race riots in Little Rock and years before more would break out across the US, but really contains no linkage to race other than a black cop being the 2nd victim. The movie goes to great lengths to build up the cops, mainly Carelli, as a saintly group and one that works within the rules to get the job done. At one point the police chief kindly reminds Carelli the rules of interrogation (IE no hitting) and Carelli looks back with a 'aw shucks, you know I'd never,' kinda smile. The cops are our friends, why hate?
For seventy minutes the film wanders down the path of a murder mystery involving gang bangers/crooked newsmen/ or some random "psycho" or "crazy bird with a pink in his brain" as described by one of the cops. It seems very straightforward, and almost like a service announcement for supporting police fundraisers. But in the last three minutes it reveals itself as being a feminist-violence drama where Maguires sexpot wife, Alice (Shirley Ballard), is the kingpin pulling the strings for the three cop murders. This conclusion out of left field but its not completely without warning. The symbols for her darker side are on display in her first scene. Visually she is dressed in black lace displaying both her overt sexuality and her dangerous bit. Its obvious she is unhappy with her husband in that first scene together. She even lashes out when the cops murder is discussed and reiterates that Maguire has a choice over his profession and eventually predicts that he will end up just like Reardon someday. This is followed by her cooling off her half naked body in the window.
Its unclear exactly why she is so eager split other than possibly boredom. This put her in the interesting position of leaving her husband purely for the sake of liberation. Her hand in the murder creates her as a last minute femme fatale; a literal woman trying to liberate herself from a marriage that her husband wouldnt let escape. But make no mistake; she is the villain as created by writer and director. There was no evidence of domestic violence and no mention of severe lack of money. At no moment does she feel like the sympathetic side of the sour relationship. Maguire isn't the greatest husband; he is not an attentive husband for sure but he does not seem like a horrible guy either. In her final tirade she reveals that Maguire wouldn't let her out of the marriage or wouldn't let her divorce. This pre-60s film certainly doesn't mix words in sending up the feminist liberator as an evil, sexually charged woman who is willing to hatch a plan to kill if her hubby doesn't free her from his shackles.
Its also interesting to note that the only other woman in the movie is Carelli's girlfriend/fiance who is deaf and mute. Quite a contrast from Alice Maguire. Are the writers saying that the best wife is one who stays at home, behaves herself, and doesn't open her mouth?
The word sexpot is used above and the film is extremely open with the skin by 1958 standards. It wasn't until the mid-late 60s that many of the production codes were lifted and the ratings system had allowed films to be more explicit. Cop Hater definitely shows the likely limits of skin available at the time. Alice Maguire is first seen sitting on her apartment ledge with holding her naked legs wearing only her dark black underwear and a nighty. After her not so great talk with her husband she opens herself up to the cool night; a look of euphoria is cast over her face. Later she shows off a leopard print bathing suit, suggesting her wild animal side. Towards the end, Carelli's girlfriend opens the door wearing only a towel from her shower, and remains that way for a long sexually charged scene. I don't think I've seen a movie from the 50s so overtly sexualizing women. 'Nothing' is ever shown and 'nothing' is ever done but things are bubbling below the surface.
Cop Hater is a somewhat charming B-Movie that, for its time, holds few punches back. Visually its nothing special and its interesting to note that its director, William Berke, died the same year it was released. Its an intriguing time capsule that reveals some lower level sentiments felt towards two movements and revolutions that were on the cusp of happening.
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