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Running Scared


‘…a good example of how slick, immoral and yet somehow wholesome the simple formula for an old-school cops and robbers movie can be….’

I guess we’ve had other problems to deal with of late, but the demise of the traditional cop movie is something of a shame for those of us who enjoy the fantasy of maintaining law and order. Without vortexes or multiverses, we used to have to make do with shakedowns, narcs, wires, angry captains played by Dan Heydeya, briefcases full of cash and car-chases. Peter Hyams made one of the scuzzy cop genre’s best with 1973’s Busting, and made a surprise return to the form with 1986’s Running Scared, which I saw at the flicks as a teenager and thoroughly enjoyed.

‘In this neighbourhood, driving a Mercedes is probable cause…’ is a good example of the salty tone here; the setting is Chicago, the season is winter, and the mood is upbeat and defiant in the face of adversity. ‘You wouldn’t be persecuting me if I had a silk shirt on, this is harassment!’ complains low-life Snake (Joe Pantoliano) when he gets handcuffed to Chicago’s finest undercover cops; Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines play Ray Hughes and Danny Costanzo respectively, roles originally written for Paul Newman and Gene Hackman They’re on the trail of a hood hoping to become the ‘first Spanish Godfather of Chicago’ and convince potential informant Snake to wear a wire; after a knockabout first 30 mins, Snake is unceremoniously shot dead, and with the sound of Doobie Brother Michael McDonald’s choon Sweet Freedom, the two cops repair for some R and R in Key West, Florida, where the boys childishly ogle girls in swimsuits and consider opening their own bar before retuning to the fray…

The toxic boys’ culture within the police is something of a tricky issue today, but you wouldn’t know anything about that from Hyams’ breezy thriller that makes light of concerns about police brutality and harassment and instead bundles them into an agreeable package of feel-good. As much comedians as cops, Hughes and Costanzo wisecrack and charm their way through the line-ups, locker rooms, bar rooms and snowy streets of Chicago’s North Side, giving the finger to little kids and unconvincingly telling the locals that their real mission is to ‘sell Tupperware’.

‘It’s not the voltage, it’s the amps…’ is the conclusion when the cops discuss whether the charge in the third rail in the Chicago Elevated Railway would kill them or not; Running Scared derives considerable electricity from the fluent badinage between the two over-performing leads, and Hyams’ immaculate shooting style works a treat. Running Scared looks great on streaming today, with terrific location work, and a wild chase with cars striking sparks as a pursuit careers madly along the city’s EL. The climax involves the cops going route one and provoking a reaction from the villain by driving around his hood in his car; harassment, yes, but in the simplistic world of the movies, nothing less than any real baddie deserves. Running Scared was a moderate success back in the day, but it’s a good example of how slick, immoral and yet somehow wholesome the simple formula for an old-school cops and robbers movie can be.


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  1. Update:
    I did NOT find a treasure chest of gold doubloons today. So I’d like Mr Crystal’s flaming head along w the Chevsters, complete w marshmallows….

    • Are you noticing you don’t have to click through the post in the Reader anymore? All the comments come up under whatever the pic is at the top!?

      • Do I need to follow myself? How would I see myself through the reader? I can view my site through another browser to check the day’s typos are looking good, but never thought to view my own post through the reader…

        • Yes, you DO need to follow yourself. I follow myself just to make sure things get released as scheduled and look ok. Plus, it gives me one more reason to crab at WP when they screw up…

          • I don’t honestly feel that I would want to follow myself in case people thought that I shared the same beliefs that I do thoughtlessly espouse. I read what I write just for the shock value; I would cross the road to avoid someone like me, if I saw myself coming. So maybe I should be following myself. You’ve been following yourself for a while, how’s that working out for you?

        • It’s happening to all posts that I can see, by anyone, so all you need to do is hit the reader button and scroll through and you’ll see what I mean.

      • For me, it just shows a comment and a reply. but I still have to click the post to read it in the reader. But now I CAN comment without having read the post.

  2. Another blast from the past that has me wondering if I saw this when it came out. I don’t think I did, but some of it sounds really familiar.

    Oh well, back to watching Jason and the gang crashing Cannes.

    • Well, I saw in in 86, and then again on Monday, and it looked better on streaming. Actual location work looks great today when everything looks fake.

      Is Ruse de Guerre on disk?

        • And that dial up sound was so distracting. That’s why I store my 8 track carriage away from direct sunlight or moisture. I imagine that you do something similar with your collection of wax cylinder recordings.

          • I keep telling these people who have thousands of family photos stored in the cloud that my daguerreotypes are still perfectly viewable. And don’t get me started on my novels on cuneiform tablets.

  3. Crystal and Hines does not seem a fair swap for Newman and Hackman. That’s like having tofu burgers instead of filet steak. Also Crystal – in the same box as Chase, Stiller, & Ferrell. Nope.

  4. Never did think Crystal was a funny guy. Always made me wonder what people were thinking when they said he was. Well, I liked him in Princess Bride, but that doesn’t really count…

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