There’s enough entries in this genre to give it a unique name; I’d call it the ‘momentum’ picture, and it’s one in which rather than one or two action scenes, the whole film seems to embody a certain kind of crazy forward energy. Based on a novel by William P McGivern, this is billed as a neo-noir action thriller, and features tv talent working with cinematic freedom; violence, swearing and sexual content are all very much on 1981 levels, and that’s no bad thing when you’re selling a sweaty, sleazy, no holds barred thriller like this.
Night of the Juggler does not feature any actual juggling, although the villainous kidnapper featured uses the circus skill as a metaphor for all the different things he has to deal with. Played by Cliff Gorman, Gud Soltic is a frustrated real-estate developer who kidnaps a teenage girl to get a ransom and stick it to the city which he feels screwed him over. With authorities paralysed, the girl’s only hope is her father, Sean Boyd, played with taciturn intensity by James Brolin in checked-shirt man-mountain mode. As the father of Thanos, Brolin has got the Mount Rushmore massive-melon look required, and he’s utterly convincing as the driven father desperate to save his kid.
A movie like this stands and falls on the action, and it’s plentiful. Robert Butler’s film kicks off with a 30 minute action scene as Boyd pursues Saltic across Central Park and various Manhattan districts, commandeering cars like a prototype for Grand Theft Auto. With lots of location work, and no Toronto-stand-ins, there’s plenty of smashed cars and innocent bystanders caught up in the hunt, although the following scene, a long discussion on the merits of frozen yoghurt, lets down the momentum somewhat.
Night of the Juggler captures a nasty-ass porno New York which simply doesn’t exist any more; the movie does cast some aspersions as to how the city has been cleaned up, and how moral or legal that process might have been. ‘You love New York…’; Boyd’s wife reminds him, but on this evidence of Manhattan as a living hell on earth, it’s hard to see why. But kinetic energy is what this movie is all about, it’s well-worth recommending as a dark horse, for hard-driving, race and chase action and a big, satisfying denouement. Small roles for Dan Hedeya, Mandy Pateinkin and Richard G Castellano add lustre to the whole experience for hard-core, genre fans. It’s hard to see right now, so enjoy it if you can find it.