70s Rewind: THE SUPER COPS, Batman and Robin Fight the System
Ron Leibman and David Selby star in director Gordon Parks' rowdy adaptation of a police story drawn from real life.
Credit to Edgar Wright for championing this film ten years ago.
The Super Cops (1974)
Now available on Warner Archive DVD from Amazon.com.
Eager to do good, newly-minted police officers David Greenberg (Ron Leibman) and Robert Hantz (David Selby) can't wait for their first official tour of duty to begin -- so they start anyway, wracking up arrests by posing as drug buyers and fooling the hardened dealers they quickly sniff out.
Their fellow officers are -- wait for it -- angered and outraged! Who do these fresh graduates of the police academy think they are?
It's the early 1970s, a time of rampant corruption in the New York City Police Department. The wary and weary detectives immediately suspect that Greenberg and Hantz are budding drug-dealers themselves, else why would they be so eager to buy drugs? Greenberg and Hants are not interested in making nice with the veteran cops; they know that corruption is rampant -- think Serpico (1973) -- and they don't trust anybody.
Directed by Gordon Parks, who debuted with the excellent The Learning Tree (1969); followed by the excellent Shaft (1972), which helped kick off the so-called Blaxploitation era in Hollywood; followed by its sequel, Shaft's Big Score! (1974); The Super Cops featured two actors in the lead roles who were not known quantities to the public at large. That was typical for Hollywood at the time; the major studios, MGM in this case, were willing to fund and distribute genre movies that could manifest a distinctively individualistic style.
L.H. Whittemore's book, The Super Cops: The True Story of the Cops Called Batman and Robin, served as source material. Lorenzo Semple Jr. had developed the Batman TV series in the 1960s, but this is an authentic street-level tale; Semple would go on to write several more of my personal favorites during the 1970s.
In defiance of most expectations, The Super Cops actually begins at the end of the story by presenting footage of the real-life news coverage, showing the real-life Greenberg and Hantz, before swiftly rewinding to their big bang of a start as police officers. Since neither Leibman nor Selby were familiar faces at the time -- NYC native Leibman was a stage veteran who had appeared in The Hot Rock and Slaughterhouse-Five, while Selberg had starred in the Canadian drama The Girl in Blue -- it's their personalities that set them apart from the other cops; one is fiery and combative, while the other is quiet and supportive.
They quickly blaze a trail through the city as crusading cops in one entertaining episode after another, riling up the drug gangs as well as their fellow officers, who are all entrenched in their behavior, which doesn't keep the streets safe for anyone. Parks keeps the pace brisk, filled with characters who feel authentically down-market (NYC style, I say as a former, 12-year resident of Brooklyn). Although his film oeuvre is relatively slender, he displayed an affinity for showcasing strong characters who could appear almost superheroic at times, such as his followup film, Leadbelly (1976).
Gritty, rowdy, and rambunctious; the tones gel in the film, thanks largely to Parks' ability to conduct an unstructured though highly-professional cast, including Pat Hingle in a late-appearing supporting role. I suppose I shouldn't say it's a "fun" movie, but I did very much enjoy the overall experience, which feels refreshingly modest.
As far as I can tell, the film has only been released on DVD-R from Warner Archive, available now through Amazon. Per JustWatch, it's available to rent or buy through Amazon and Microsoft. The DVD, which I own -- and I'm not giving it up or loaning it out -- includes the trailer as its sole extra.
Content advisory: Scattered profanities.
70s Rewind covers international and indie genre films and TV shows that are available on legal home video formats and/or streaming services.
The Super Cops
- Gordon Parks
- Lorenzo Semple Jr.
- L.H. Whittemore (book)
- Ron Leibman
- David Selby
- Sheila Frazier
- Pat Hingle