Tuesday, January 10, 2006

It Came from Netflix! The Mad Bomber (1973)

Not your usual Bert I. Gordon movie, The Mad Bomber is a gritty ‘70s exploitation meller with artistic and social pretensions, featuring Chuck Connors (!) as the titular menace. Aside from the hulking Connors—who wears a perpetual pinched expression that matched with his close-cropped sandy hair has him looking alarmingly like an industrial-sized Willem DaFoe—the film boasts a solid B-movie cast featuring Vince Edwards as the violence prone cop protagonist and veteran heavy Neville Brand as a skuzzy serial rapist.

A series of bombings is plaguing L.A. (I think; some burg, anyway.) The case is assigned to loose cannon Detective Minneli, who in his barely repressed violence and disgust at social decay (at one point he pauses his investigation to bust the chops of a porn theater owner) turns out to be a mirror reflection of bomber Connors. The latter, meanwhile, is a guy who’s only source of joy in life was his daughter. She died—we eventually learn the details of this, but there’s no reason for me to expose them—and now he’s mad at the world.

This is an aggressively seedy film (although many will find some of its social concerns—regarding porn especially—a little bizarre at this remove). A bombing and a rape occur at the same place at about the same time, but Minneli deduces that the crimes are not related, and that moreover the rapist probably saw the bomber. Thus much of the movie is spent on his attempts to arrest the rapist, who turns out to be family man Brand.

A sense of the palpable middle class fear of social decay prevalent back then (a reactionary counterpoint to the violence-advocating revolutionary zeal exhibited in the Roger Corman-produced movies of the same period) is readily evoked when Minneli arranges for a troop of undercover police women to walk the streets, whereupon they are instantly set upon by dozens of sleazebags out for some casual rapine. I will say that one such scene, in which a guy tries to rape a woman and then angrily calls the cops who leap out to arrest him “pigs,” did make me wonder how it is that cops don’t end up beating up a lot more people than they do.

In the end this is a pretty decent movie, in a modest B-movie fashion, and certainly better than your average Bert I. Gordon film. However, it’s seldom more than a serviceable, sort of a sub-Larry Cohen kind of thing. Few people in the film are pleasant, and you don’t exactly cheer Minneli on. However, his frustration is pretty believable, especially given how easy it is for Brand, who is obviously dirty, to ooze his way through the system.

Connor is the film’s focus, though, and he gives a workable enough performance as a very unlikable psychopath, one that no doubt surprised many people who had grown up watching him play the stalwart hero on TV’s The Rifleman. He’s not Oscar worthy here by any means, but he does project a barely repressed rage that along with his towing 6’ 5” frame does manage to make his character authentically scary.

At one point in the film he just walks around with one of his homemade bombs in a paper bag, looking for a place to set it off. It is nerve wracking to watch him explode into a rage over some minor perceived slight (a guy he sees littering on the street; a store cashier that doesn’t honor a sales promotion that is no longer alid), and knowing that any of these incidents could actually get people killed.

Gordon obviously was trying to stretch here, and although his attempted artistic touches are often a tad heavy-handed—especially the use of a particular song as a recurring motif—this is probably objectively the best film of his that I’ve seen. I guess it wasn’t too successful, though, because he didn’t work again for a couple of years, and when he did, he returned to his trademark giant animal fixation with The Food of the Gods (and hey, why isn’t that out on DVD yet?) and Empire of the Ants.


At 7:28 PM, Blogger baby copernicus said...

This was a remake of that Tommy Lee Jones/Jeff Bridges movie, right?

Man, those Irish accents were spot on!

At 7:38 AM, Blogger Marty McKee said...

Ken, can you tell us about the DVD? I have an old video dub with the title THE POLICE CONNECTION. It's full-frame and very dark in places, but it's at least uncut (or so it appears). Is the DVD of better quality? I know THE MAD BOMBER has popped up on various PD comps (sometimes in a TV version), and I wonder if this is the same print.

I think it's an interesting movie. Connors is great right from the very first scene (the littering scene), which is scary and off-kilter and nicely sets the tone for his character and what is to come.

Making the protagonist (Edwards) a less sympathetic character than the antagonist is an interesting twist too.

Strangely, I watched a Bert I. Gordon film myself last night--SATAN'S PRINCESS.

At 7:53 AM, Blogger Ken Begg said...

Hmm, actually, I watched the film a couple of weeks ago. I think the tranfer is full-frame, and while I wouldn't say it was great shakes, it was good enough not to draw attention to itself. I'd say it was about the quality of a good SP video tape. Sorry, I should pay more attention to things like that.

Apparently there is a stronger, uncut version of the film (see the reader review at Amazon.com), but that isn't the one shown here. For what it's worth, I thought the film was gritty enough as it was. The guy at Amazon was disappointed that longer views of the post-bombing carnage weren't presented, but I thought the movie worked well as it is.

I agree that Connors is surprisingly good. I thought at first that his size was weird for a guy who'd swallowed so much rage (since he could easily beat up most people he'd meet), but it made him extra menacing when he was accosting people on the street for some small violation of his personal code.

At 9:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Connor is the film’s focus, though, and he gives a workable enough performance as a very unlikable psychopath, one that no doubt surprised many people who had grown up watching him play the stalwart hero on TV’s The Rifleman.

Or didn't surprise those who saw his memorable turn as the evil Skorzeny in Fox's short-lived series WEREWOLF.


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