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  Night of the Juggler Desperate Characters
Year: 1980
Director: Robert Butler
Stars: James Brolin, Cliff Gorman, Richard S. Castellano, Linda Miller, Barton Heyman, Sully Boyar, Julie Carmen, Abby Bluestone, Dan Hedaya, Mandy Patinkin, Marco St. John, Frank Adu, Nancy Andrews, Rick Anthony, Tony Azito, Richard Gant, Sharon Mitchell
Genre: Action, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Sean Boyd (James Brolin) used to be a cop in New York City until he was fired from the force under a cloud of corruption, and now drives a truck to make ends meet. Today is the birthday of his daughter Cathy (Abby Bluestone) so he buys three hotdogs for her to eat, though her real present is tickets to the ballet that night, which she is delighted with though her pleas to be excused going to school that morning are ignored. Instead, he suggests they jog to the school along the streets, thinking she could do with the exercise - unaware there is one good reason they should have taken the bus...

Source of a little controversy in its day for its depiction of NYC as - there's no nice way of putting it - an utter hellhole, Night of the Juggler has gained stature down the years thanks to that very grit and sleaze, though remains a minor cult movie all the same. Being hard to see for decades can do that to a film, but for those who took the time to track it down they would be rewarded with a surprisingly intense set of action sequences mainly centered around Boyd searching for his daughter, as not ten minutes in she is kidnapped by a bungling criminal who thinks he is snatching the offspring of a millionaire when he has actually taken the child of a nobody, certainly nobody with access to a million dollars as he was hoping.

This criminal was played by an actor unafraid to go to the scuzzier places in his performances, Cliff Gorman, a native New Yorker who would evidently jump at the chance for parts such as these: you couldn't say he gave half measures in this as his alienated underground worker has seen his mostly white community give way to minorities, not that he calls them that, and now he wants to escape the crime-ridden slums he stays in apparently unaware of the irony that he's getting up to something far worse than most of the other locals have been involved in. It's impossible to reason with Gorman's Gus Soltic which is what makes him so unpleasant, and worse than that so dangerous.

Not the sort of man you'd leave your kids with even voluntarily, so when he grabs Cathy and bundles her into his car at knifepoint, Boyd understandably gives chase - not simply a couple of minutes on foot then having to give up, but a full ten to fifteen minutes of high octane pursuit, an action setpiece which fires up the adrenaline and after the comparitively low key opening establishes this as a film unwilling to pull its punches. One set of vehicles wrecked and one gathering of pedestrians injured later, Soltic has gotten away, taking Cathy back to his crumbling lair and Boyd is in hospital facing questions from the cops he used to be one of. This leads to a subplot where ex-colleague Dan Hedaya is obsessed with bringing him in, to the extent of chasing him around with a shotgun (!).

It's that sort of movie, so you just know it's a matter of time before Boyd has to visit a strip club to get vital information, and so that is the case in yet another scene where he winds up getting the shit kicked out of him. Incredibly, in spite of all the beatings our hero receives he is still able to get up and keep running, the image of Brolin powering through the streets on foot in New York being the film's most indelible motif as he is so driven to save his child that he seems to be able to channel his panic into huge reserves of energy. Director Robert Butler was mostly known as a television director with some classic series to his credit (and also a spell as a Disney director), but it was his work on Hill Street Blues which owed much to his style, and you can see that here, even though this is less drama and more thriller. Although events became pretty contrived in pursuit of the next item of action, and the finale was much as you'd expect, the city on the edge atmosphere was vividly captured. Not perfect, but underrated. Music by Artie Kane.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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