Yikes! One of the great unseen movies of all time, Richard A Colla’s starry cop thriller was largely missing from most of our formative years; it was swiftly pulled from circulation after several incidents which seemed to copycat violent acts from the film. This was after Fuzz had popular tv screenings in the States; the result was a change of policy regarding violence on television, a change of heart that has stuck till this day, yet feels surprising given the light-hearted, often jocular nature of this film.
Fuzz gets off to a flyer with Dave Grusin’s funky score and some nice location images of the Boston subway system; this film was written by Evan Hunter, based on one of the 87th Precinct novels he wrote as Ed McBain, and it’s defiantly salty and knowing when it comes to police work. Various ‘inept’ cops are trying to keep the streets safe, with Steve Carella (Burt Reynolds) disguising himself as a homeless person in order to act as bait for a gang of teenagers who are burning them alive. Raquel Welsh plays Eileen McHenry, an import who arrives to act as bait to ensnare a sex-predator, and Yul Brynner plays a terrorist known as “The Deaf Man’ who is holding the city to ransom by murdering high-ranking policemen. Meanwhile slapstick decorators are causing chaos in the police station, and Tom Skerritt, Charles Martin Smith, Don Gordon and Brian Doyle-Murray are amongst the remains of the thin blue line as a Boston crime-wave hits hard…
The blackly comic Fuzz has plenty of misfires. A scene in which Reynolds appears dressed as an undercover nun plays too heavily into the star’s smirk; this isn’t the Reynolds of Deliverance, but more of a self-parody. Brynner seems to be in a different movie, where he plays a Bond villain complete with a garish home-life, but Welsh actually does some good work as a detective countering sexism on the force. Fuzz aims to be an ensemble piece, a la MASH, and the sheer variety of the cast somehow get the idea of cultural diversity over the line.
The overlapping dialogue, and casual framing with the performers seeming to wander in front of the camera without a care, all attest to the influence of Robert Altman, and while Colla’s film doesn’t match up to Altman’s best, it’s an effective imitation. The source material helps. Hunter knew what he was writing about, and Fuzz works best as a sociological document of the law and order concerns of the early 70’s. It’s rude, crude and often funny, but it’s notable that when racism occurs, the films reveals its heart is firmly in its right place. Fuzz has been near impossible to see for decades, and there are reasons for that documented elsewhere, but it’s well worth seeking out for lovers of scuzzy 70’s cinema.