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  Madigan Not A Happy One
Year: 1968
Director: Don Siegel
Stars: Richard Widmark, Henry Fonda, Inger Stevens, Harry Guardino, James Whitmore, Susan Clark, Michael Dunn, Steve Ihnat, Don Stroud, Sheree North, Warren Stevens, Raymond St Jacques, Bert Freed, Harry Bellaver, Frank Marth, Lloyd Gough, Virginia Gregg
Genre: Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Detective Dan Madigan (Richard Widmark) and his police partner Rocco Bonaro (Harry Guardino) have been sent to arrest a suspect, Barney Benesch (Steve Ihnat), in the apartment in Spanish Harlem where he has been staying, and they burst in on him with a young foreign woman in bed. They are amused by what they see, and guns drawn they order him to put his clothes on so they can escort him to the station, but as he pulls on the last of them and goes over to the wardrobe for his jacket, he suddenly produces a handgun of his own and gains the advantage over the two cops. He forces them to walk up to the roof of the building where he locks the door and makes good his escape, which is all the more embarrassing to the detectives as he is wanted for murder...

The cop movie did not emerge from the nineteen-seventies fully formed with Dirty Harry, though its director here and there was Don Siegel, and he was the man the genre had most to thank for in that decade for laying out the rules of how to carry off a successful example of the form. From the police melodramas that Hollywood released to the vast amount of Italian crime thrillers produced across the Atlantic, they all had a biology of Siegel's approach in them, and Madigan was one of those twice significant as it was pretty close to the television police procedural as the seventies would know it now that Dragnet was turning passé. Indeed, this film was turned into a TV series around five years later.

Or rather, Widmark was coaxed to the small screen and they plonked the Madigan title on one of the endless cycle of cop shows littering the schedules because the original film was fondly remembered, though the manner in which it concluded was rather less conducive to any sequels. Nevertheless, the star did make the transition very smoothly, though the results did not last as long as some of their contemporaries, and this movie would appear as a late night broadcast for years after it was in cinemas, slotting comfortably into the television milieu. A lot of that was down to the script not being the most cinematic Siegel ever directed; actually, it came across like they had hired the action expert to helm a soap opera.

Fair enough, a soap opera about policemen, but when the story frequently grew distracted by Madigan's home life with frustrated wife Inger Stevens (a tragic actress whose breakdown scenes here are uneasy when you know the mental torture she was going through), and then as if that were not enough we had his superior officer Henry Fonda discussing his domestic arrangements with his wife (Susan Clark) into the bargain, it was difficult to understand what the screenwriters thought this added to the supposed suspense. The answer to that was that it added precisely nothing, and far from fleshing out the characters it proved an unwelcome diversion in a narrative that too often failed to get its act together and supply the cop thriller we thought we had signed up for; it was oddly complacent.

Widmark was fine as the tough detective not above using threatening tactics to get his way, not to mention information out of anyone he met while on the case, but the contrasting Fonda, who is strictly by the book and unwilling to bend his morals for anyone, just was not an exciting personality to watch. This was unfortunate when half the movie was left to him to self-righteously chunter on about his job and place in society to anyone within earshot, but there was plenty of chat in this film, probably too much, which might have been all right for television where this increasingly looked like it belonged (the occasional swear word or bit of nudity aside), but if you were going to try this on the big screen you needed better dialogue or at least more vital characters than this succession of middle-aged actors in grey suits discussing stuff with one another. By the point where Madigan is finally, er, mad again and is tackling the suspect with little regard for his own safety, this did wake up to a degree, but it's one instance of the TV series losing nothing, and perhaps gaining something, in the transition. Music by Don Costa.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Don Siegel  (1912 - 1991)

Respected American director, a former editor, whose action thrillers were second to none. He started out in lower budget movies like The Big Steal, Riot in Cell Bock 11 and The Lineup but come the sixties he started making higher profile work such as the remake of The Killers and Madigan. His fruitful partnership with Clint Eastwood gave us Dirty Harry and Escape from Alcatraz, among others. Another of his finest 1970s films was Charley Varrick.

Siegel had small acting roles in Play Misty for Me and Philip Kaufman's Invasion of the Body Snatchers - he had directed the classic original in the 1950s.

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