Cab driver Willie (Carol O'Connor) and hairdresser Cy (Ernest Borgnine) are exasperated by the way their New York City neighbourhood has become overrun with thieves, perverts and junkies. In a bid to clean up the streets, they and their friends join the NYPD Auxiliary Police Force, which means they get to wear a uniform, carry a club and stand up to the "creeps". But the task of policing their district proves more problematic than they thought...
The real NYPD Auxiliary Police Force tried to get this film banned because they thought it made a fool out of them. It was scripted by the director Ivan Passer, William Richert and Kenneth Fishman, and, rather than sending up the main characters' ambitions, it sympathises with them, as all the while a sense of futility grows in the story. There is a vivid picture painted of a city going into terminal decline, with crime rampant and the police force powerless to stop it, and the decent citizens being corrupted themselves.
That's not to say Law and Disorder is a polished social document, because the shifts in tone make for a bumpy ride. At first, the new recruits do their best to intimidate the criminals and "punks" who hang about in the streets, with various comic effects. Cy tries to get one unfriendly youth arrested, but all the youth will say is "Fuck you!", leading to general frustration all round, but no progress - which is the story of the film. The experts are no help either: when a professor is called to give a talk on avoiding rape, he spends most of the time rhapsodising about "erections", with little in the way constructive advice.
Events take a darker turn when the new recruits' power goes to their head, and the ineffectual consequences of their actions begin to get to them. Cy's assistant in his shop is a kooky girl (Karen Black) who locks him in his back room after he attempts to rape her (this is supposed to be a comedy moment, too!). The friends start taking the law into their own hands to become vigilantes - the message appears to be the one about fighting monsters and taking care not to become a monster yourself. The story ends in tragedy, a problem with no solution. It's a pessimistic tale, but O'Connor and Borgnine are memorable, and it has more weight than you'd expect from the opening scenes. Music by Angelo Badalamenti, under a pseudonym.