It's impossible to talk about this gritty '70s crime film without mentioning The French Connection, the trailblazing crime film from 1971 with Gene Hackman in a somewhat fictionalized take on the exploits of New York cop Eddie Egan. It was followed by one official sequel, an underrated semi-spin-off (The Seven-Ups), and subsequent based-on-fact cop films like Serpico and The Super Cops. Lodged squarely in the middle of this cycle is Badge 373, another take on the Egan saga with Robert Duvall as "Eddie Ryan," a rule-breaking officer tossed off the force after his methods send a suspect hurtling off a rooftop to his death.
Old school in every sense of the word (with views on minorities and women that would get him trounced in public today), he tries to keep some semblance of a personal life with his girlfriend, Maureen (High Plains Drifter's Bloom), while he wages what appears to be a one-man war against the Puerto Rican population of New York to find out who killed his partner. Eventually he locks horns with Sweet William (a very weird-looking turn by TV regular Darrow), a crime lord whose operation becomes Ryan's final target.
Rough, sleazy, and raw, Badge 373 was too much for many audiences and critics to swallow during its release. The barrage of cynicism and racial epithets courtesy of the screenplay by New York Times reporter Pete Hamill had many people assuming the creators shared the same sentiments as the hero, which is always a dangerous assumption. The same situation occurred later that decade with even more venom when Robert Aldrich released The Choirboys, an example of very non-PC cop behavior that got lambasted by almost everyone who saw it.
In any case, the film has aged surprisingly well and now works as a fascinating display of '73 New York locales and attitudes, including the obligatory car chase through the streets of Manhattan. This time it involves Duvall hijacking a bus to hunt down some suspects, a potentially absurd set piece saved by the actor's strong performance and some great street-level shots of many vistas now lost in time. For trivia fans, it's also worth nothing that Egan appears in the film as Ryan's cop confidant; he had also appeared earlier in The French Connection playing his own boss. Finally, one of the weirdest aspects of this film might be its director, Howard Koch; a busy producer at Paramount, he also dabbled in directing as well with earlier drive-in fare like Untamed Youth and Frankenstein 1970, with this film serving as his last feature.
Once a mainstay on VHS and cable TV, Badge 373 often looked like it had been dunked in mud and left in the sun for weeks after its initial release. Even occasional airings on Turner Classic Movies were lackluster, using a cropped, very dated master with very little color and minimal detail. For a long time this seemed to be one of those titles like The Friends of Eddie Coyle (or The Super Cops) that would languish in neglect, but fortunately the Olive Films revival on Blu-Ray and DVD looks much more robust and impressive; this is a film that was screaming for a new transfer, and this one certainly delivers. Since this is a '70s crime film, don't expect a bright, glossy appearance by any means as this is supposed to look dark, disreputable, and almost like a documentary in some scenes. However, the flesh tones finally look accurate, there's genuine tight film grain, and it's hard to imagine this could possibly look better. The DTS-HD mono track sounds excellent, with a suitable amount of oomph for the moody score by the late J.J. Jackson, who became one of the first MTV veejays back in the early '80s.