Peter’s Retro Movie Review: Sharky’s Machine (1981)

December 31, 2012

imageBy Peter Nielsen

You know Friscoe, when we used to flush the toilet up-stairs, we always wondered where it came to…”

When a drug-bust goes horribly wrong, the department blames Sgt. Sharky who’s promptly transferred from Narcotics to Vice. I love the way they’ve filmed his “descent”… It’s one continuous shot from his nice and bright office down the stairs to Vice. It slowly gets darker and darker until his partner finally stops and says that this is as far as he’ll go. He’s heard of people going further and sometimes they’re never seen again.

When Sharky finally opens the door into his new department, the contrast between his former office and this place is like night and day! The quote above is his first reaction to it… His first “assignment” is to babysit a local politician who’s running for governor. He’s giving a speech and Sharky’s job, along with Papa and Arch, is to keep the hookers from working the streets at this speech. Papa and Arch are played by two other prolific actors, namely Brian Keith (Meteor, Young Guns) and Bernie Casey (Under Siege, Spies Like Us) respectively.

imageThey, of course, busts one of the regulars, Mabel, who back at the station manages to piss off a big time pimp so much so he storms out of the department, leaving his wallet and address-book. This is kind of the starting-point for the whole story…

Incidentally, the pimp is played by William Diehl who’s the author of the book on which the movie is based. He apparently had Burt Reynolds in mind for the part of Sharky when he wrote it and to be quite honest, I can’t really imagine anyone else in that particular part. Mr. Reynolds is amazing in this movie and come to think of it, so is the rest of the cast.

Everyone seems very relaxed and the acting is very natural and feels almost improvised at times. This also shows off Burt Reynolds’ skills as a director, because this is, in my opinion, his best work! There are a lot of things I love about Sharky’s Machine, but the interaction between the main characters is perhaps what I like most. It makes the characters real and helps make the story believable.

imageSharky, Papa, Arch and Nosh (Richard Libertini from All of Me, Fletch and Fletch Lives) are all characters I like in this, but the character of Lt. Friscoe is a notch above them. He’s played by the awesome Charles Durning who’s got more than 200 titles to his name. Do the titles Tough Guys, The Final Countdown, O Brother Where Art Thou?, Tootsie, The Fury, or Dog Day Afternoon ring any bells? He was a fantastic actor, and I say was, because Mr. Durning sadly passed away a week ago on the 24th of December at the age of 89. He was still working!

Ok… back to the story!

The pimp is working for an elusive crime-boss by the name of Victor (Vittorio Gassman) and the address-book he leaves behind contains names and numbers that could potentially help bring Victor down. The cops start an around-the-clock surveillance of one of the $1000 á night hookers on the list, Dominoe. She’s connected to the politician I mentioned earlier and he in turn is deeply involved with the crime-boss. As is she!

imageThe longer Sharky and his “machine” are on the case and the more they find out, it’s clear that they’re in way over their heads. And that’s when people start dying! During the surveillance of Dominoe, Sharky gets more and more infatuated with her and actually ends up falling for her. She’s played by the stunningly beautiful Rachel Ward (Against All Odds, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid) and the scenes between those two are sizzling and very intimate at times, even though they’re in opposite buildings. Sgt. Sharky may be a no-shit-taking, tough-talking police officer, but around her he’s just a shy little school-boy.

I guess by now you’ve already figured out what my feelings about Sharky’s Machine are. It’s one of my absolute favorites and one I’ve seen more times than I remember. I know every damn line by heart, but I never tire of it, and I guess we can chuck that down to Mr. Reynolds’ brilliant directing and the great cast and, as I stated before, the interaction between them.

Not that the action isn’t one of the reasons I like it, because the action is explosive and the showdown at the end when they’re up against the drug-addicted and icy cold assassin played by Henry Silva, is one of the best I’ve ever seen. Mr. Silva (Chained Heat, Above the Law) is an actor I’ve always liked and he’s perfect here. He’s actually pretty scary!

imageI’m just going to mention one more thing before I’ll let you go check out the movie for yourselves, and that is the soundtrack… It’s one of many reasons I like Sharky’s Machine, because it’s a good’un.

The movie opens with shots of Atlanta and Sharky walking along on his way to the drug-bust and we hear the song “Street Life” by Randy Crawford playing. I love that song! What follows is music from Sarah Vaughan, Doc Severinsen and also the great Chet Baker. Yup… you can’t go wrong with that, can you? And on that jazzy note I’m going to end my final review of 2012. I hope you’ve liked my choices so far and hope you’ll like what I have in store for you in the coming year. So, my friends… it’s been a great ride and now it’s time to wish you all a…

Happy (and safe) New Year!


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