30 films to watch before you die, #7
This was John Carpenter's second film as director, made in 1976. At the time of its release it went unnoticed. People didn't know what to make of it. The heartless violence and the lack of a clear separation between good and evil confused the cinema audiences. It was only a few years later that critics took notice and started to pour praise on it. Despite being made on a budget of only $100,000 it's now considered one of the best action movies of the 1970's. I personally would say it's the best.
The film centres around a siege. A police station in Anderson, a district in Los Angeles, is going to be shut down permanently the following morning. The only people still in the station in the evening are two police officers and two secretaries. A bus transporting three criminals to another prison makes an emergency stop at the police station because one of the criminals is sick. Then a man runs into the station to report that his daughter has been shot by a gang member, but he managed to kill the gang member in retaliation, and now the whole gang is pursuing him.
The gang descends on the police station, and the police are hopelessly outnumbered. They can't call for reinforcements because the phones have already been cut off, a day in advance of the closing. The only hope of survival is to give the criminals guns to assist them in the battle.
The film borrows many of the elements of "Rio Bravo", a 1959 western starring John Wayne, but it's not close enough to be considered a remake. The whole film was shot in 20 days, and the siege sequence itself, the last 45 minutes of the film, was shot in a mammoth 16-hour session. I don't know how the actors managed to stay awake. Due to a lack of extras, many of the gang members were recycled, i.e. after being killed they were disguised and returned as someone else. That's creative film making at its best.
An often overlooked highlight of the film is the performance by Laurie Zimmer as the secretary Leigh. Even though she isn't a policewoman she knows how to handle herself in a fight. She remains calm throughout the siege when everyone around her begins to panic.
A girl in a dark corridor.
A man with a gun.
And down he goes!
The film shows how a skilled director like John Carpenter can produce a masterpiece on a small budget. If you like this film take a look at some of his other early films, such as
- Dark Star (1974)
- Halloween (1978)
- The Fog (1980)