Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Vice Squad (1982) City Of Angels - Grindhouse - "B" Neo Noir

They were some of the best.

Classical Film Noir that were low budget affairs featuring no name actors produced by "Poverty Row" studios.

Here is a great 1982 version of the above. Directed masterfully by Gary Sherman a Documentary, Horror, Zombie film director.

The executive producers of the film were Frank Capra Jr. Sandy Howard and AVCO Embassy President Robert Rehme and Brian E. Frankish, producer, and Frank Hildebrand, associate producer. The two companies listed in the credits were, Dynamic and Hemdale.

Princess (Season Hubley)
 Some trivia from IMDb:

Controversial in depiction of its subject matter, this movie obviously had its detractors regarding this and its content. However, Director Martin Scorsese, director of Taxi Driver (1976) and Mean Streets (1973), came out and defended this movie. Apparently, Dawn Steel and Scorsese were at a Paramount dinner function when a disagreement allegedly broke out between them. Scorsese apparently said that the Academy didn't have the guts to nominate the best movie of the year. That picture was this film.

More trivia from

AVCO Embassy President Bob Rehme... put Sherman in touch with his contacts in the department and, instead of simply allowing him to research beat procedure, a local Commander enrolled the filmmaker in an accelerated Police Academy course. Sherman spent his nights riding shotgun in a two-man vice car, where he made arrests, interviewed suspects, spoke with numerous streetwalkers, and then went home and put it all into the screenplay. There were even role playing scenarios, where the cops would arrest Sherman, lock him up in county, interrogate him, and allow the artist to see their world from the other side of a jail cell’s bars. His partner through all this – a now retired Sargent named Doug Nelson – became a technical consultant on Vice Squad, inspecting takes from the sidelines and letting Sherman know “yeah, that’s real” or “yeah, that’s bullshit”. This is how the finished film so thoroughly owns its level of sleazy authenticity – Sherman was observing the lives of these clandestine midnight marauders from street level.

Cast for the most part with a bunch TV actors from the 1970s. A disclaimer here: I didn't watch much TV at all in the 70s, I was off the grid, out chasing women around the honky tonks of Montana, so these actors are all are pretty much off my radar. However all the players do a great job.

Detective Sgt. Tom Walsh (Gary Swanson)
The film stars Season Hubley as Princess the itty bitty titty "Mommy" hooker, she was in Hardcore (1979). I guess she played the guide, (a hooker/porn actress) that helped George C. Scott look for his wayward daughter in the deviant porno-world. I remember the film alright but not specifically her. Gary Swanson (The Bone Collector (1999) is Vice Detective Sergeant Tom Walsh the male lead, he's was in nothing outstandingly remarkable that I remember, aside from this film. Wings Hauser (an actor known at the time for TV's The Young And The Restless), has been around since 1966 and I honestly didn't know who the hell he was either), plays the psychotic rockabilly "Cowboy" pimp Ramrod. Pepe Serna is Detective Pete Mendez (him I know from the original The Killer Inside Me (1976), Beverly Todd (The Bucket List (2007)) is Detective Louise Williams. Maurice Emanuel (Drum (1976) is Detective Edwards, Stack Pierce (Psychic Killer (1975) A Rage in Harlem (1991)), is Roscoe. Jonathan Haze (Dementia (1955), Stakeout On Dope Street (1958)) is the toe sucker. Lydia Lei the femme fatale in Hammett (1982) is a hooker named Coco, Ark Wong is a funny martial arts grandpa and Joseph Di Giroloma is Detective Kowalski.  A good cast of character actors play in excellent vignettes, hustlers, junkies, disco patrons, gogo dancers, pimps, winos, drag queens, bar patrons, Johns, night people, fags, bikers, leather fetish punks, freaks and various flamboyant weirdos.

Ramrod (Wings Hauser)
The film was written by Sandy Howard, Kenneth Peters, Robert Vincent O'Neill, and the (uncredited) director Gary Sherman. The films IMDb page info has nobody credited for music. But there is a soundtracks credit, i.e., the title theme "Neon Slime," with Lyrics by Simon Stokes, Music by Joe Renzetti and  Performed by Wings Hauser.

What the film does have is a cornucopia of,

A T M O S P H E R E.

This film is another visual noir lovers wet dream. A sleazy, gritty, vintage 1981 nocturne Hollywood and downtown L.A., glowing with a silvery sheen from street lamps, the incandescent gold of blinking chase lights, and multicolored flashing neon. All this is reflected in both storefront windows and wet city boulevards awash in bleeding colors. In a word it's

N O I R S V I L L E !

The Noir stylistics are provided in spades by cinematographer John Alcott who worked with Stanley Kubrick, his credits include (2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), A Clockwork Orange (1971), Barry Lyndon (1975), and The Shining (1980)).

One Night In Hollyweird

Hollywood Center Motel. Ho' Boulevard. A hooker Ginger (Nina Blackwood) is hiding from her sadistic pimp Ramrod. She calls Princess (Hubley) the "Mommy" hooker for advice. Princes tells her to stay put and don't let Ramrod (Hauser) in if he shows.

The main stem

Princess has a young daughter who she ships off to her mother in San Diego before she goes on the prowl. She uses the ladies room at the bus station as her changing room. She transforms from mild mannered housewife into a glitter flecked, chic, fashion model-ish, lady of the night.

Mother and Child

the transformation

Bus Station Woman's Room transformation

Princess on the prowl

"what'll fifty dollars get me?"

There is no moralizing here, no messaging, Princess is a bit kinked, it's a job, she makes a lot of money, and she likes what she does.

Princess: Hey honey you just out cruising?
John in Mercedes: Sort of.... what'll fifty dollars get me.
Princess:Well a, a whole lot of pleasure... half and half, straight, head...
John in Mercedes: Have you ever golden showered, it doesn't hurt or anything...
Princess:Sorry lover I just went to the restroom.
John in Mercedes:I have a six pack and a hundred dollars....
Princess:You also got yourself a date with Princess Running Water.

Princess symbolically going down on another hot dog
Working the other side of the law is LAPD Hollywood Division Detective Sgt. Walsh (Swanson) his "pussy posse" is working Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards, rounding up the streetwalkers, trannys, homos, etc., etc.

Walsh and Edwards (Maurice Emanuel)

Squad room with Blue Chip (Kelly Piper),  Swanson and Serna

Detective Williams (Beverly Todd)
Detective Pete Menendez (Pepe Serna)
After making a bust, Walsh and his partner Edwards (Emanuel) get a call to County Medical. Ginger is in emergency, we know that she's been viciously beaten with a "pimp stick," and vaginally mutilated by sadistic Ramrod, but Ginger dies before she can actually name Ramrod. 

Ginger (Nina Blackwood)

When Princess gets pulled in, in a drug bust, Walsh has her brought over to the morgue. He wants to make a deal, he wants Ramrod. He tells Princess that when the judge sees her rap sheet she won't get out of the slammer until her daughter is out on the streets pulling tricks. Princess ain't buying it.

Princess: Twentyfour hours after he's in he's out. The fucking jail you're operating there is a hotel with a revolving door.
Walsh: I don't need no fucking bimbo telling me what's wrong with the system.

For emphasis, he flips the sheet off the nearest corpse and she see's it's her friend Ginger. Walsh sticks her face down to get a good look. Princess agrees to carry a recorder in her handbag and sets out to get Ramrod. She finds him at The Balled Eagle, a pimp bar and goes back with him to his apartment. When Ramrod tells her that "you just turn a few tricks for me and give me the money, I'll take care of everything you need honey." The police move in and arrest him.

Princess her good deed done takes off into the night to turn more tricks on the main stem.

While escorting Ramrod to bookings in their unmarked car, he manages to overcome Kowalski and causes Menendez to crash and flip the cruiser, he escapes the wreck, and runs off into the night. Ramrod is now obviously obsessed to find Princess.

Now, Princess' life is in jeopardy. Now, Walsh puts out an all points bulletin for either Princess or Ramrod. The rest of the film follows the three through the tinseltown night. Ramrod on his search to track down Princess using his underworld connections. Princess, oblivious to the danger she's in, trolling the concrete stroll for more tricks, and Walsh and his squad on their comb of the streets for whoever they can get to first.


Walsh and Blue Chip (Kelly Piper)

The toe sucker (Jonathan Haze) 

Hot Sheet Motel owner Mrs. Cruikshank (Lyla Graham) and Mr Wong (Ark Wong)

Roscoe (Stack Pierce) and Ramrod

an unusual trick

Coco (Lydia Lei)

Mr. Wong (Ark Wong)

As a Neo Noir, the film is gorgeous to look at. It ups the game a notch. The camera in John Alcott's hands creates magic, as in Barry Lyndon practically every frame is a work of Noir art. It's a gritty, slimy, sleazy, dose of reality, you can almost smell the piss in the alleys. There is one cool sequence in particular that quotes the visual candlelit interiors look of Barry Lyndon. Princess has a John who wants her to dress as a bride for his own funeral, She descends a staircase, lit solely by candelabras,  accompanied by the wedding march. This film demands to be seen for its visuals alone. Gary Sherman's informed research of both the workings of vice squad and the sleazy street nightlife give the film a high degree of gravitas.

A quality film on a shoestring budget, up there with the best crime thrillers ever made. Nowadays it's practically forgotten (except in Grindhouse and Exploitation circles), I think, for two reasons, number one because of it's lack of "A" list actors. If it had starred say Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Clint Eastwood, Robert Duvall, Harrison Ford, or Jack Nicholson, and Jane Fonda, Valerie Perrine, Karen Black, or Goldie Hawn, it may have stayed on the registers. The other contributing factor to its obscurity is of course, it's deviant adult, not for prime time, broadcast TV movie of the week, subject matter. It however, most likely did play on cable. Though for a film about hookers, I have to stress it has very little sexploitation nudity, a shame, that would have just been an added bonus. Screencaps are from the OOP Anchor Bay DVD, a definite keeper, bravo. 8/10

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