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When a police officer is shot arresting a car thief, Captain Barnaby uses his skills and contacts to track down the culprits and uncovers a bank heist plan in the process. Barnaby has no qualms about bending the law to achieve his ends, including trumped up charges to persuade his only witness to cooperate or detaining some call girls to coerce their madam to help him. In the meantime he deals with everyday police business, juggling seemingly trivial matters with more serious ones. Written by
Ron Kerrigan <email@example.com>
Vice Squad starts off like a sip of espresso: dark, strong, with a scorched aftertaste. But soon it grows lukewarm. It had the makings of a solid 50s crime drama but dilutes them with quirky human-interest vignettes that bear no relation to the central story. Less film noir than a dutiful police procedural, it looks like an attempt to reprise the more intense Detective Story of two years earlier.
Still, it's not a bad movie, if humdrum, centering on the killing of a cop by two members (Ed Binns, Lee Van Cleef) of a gang planning a bank job. All the plot strands lead to Chief of Detectives Edward G. Robinson (did anyone ever enunciate English more precisely?). Among them are witness Porter Hall, reluctant to get involved because he was seeing his mistress (Joan Vohs); his big-shot, big-mouthed attorney, Barry Kelley; ritzy madam Paulette Goddard, deputized to pick up information from clients she and her girls `escort;' reluctant stoolie Jay Adler; and gang member Adam Williams, who's losing the nerve to go through with the heist. Populating the more remote subplots are Percy Helton, who thinks he's pursued by `television shadows' and a phony Italian `Count' pulled in for marriage bunco. The bank job comes off, but not quite as planned, as plainclothes police are planted on the scene. But Binns and Van Cleef manage to nab a hostage....
The busy plot advances clearly enough (despite some lapses in continuity: The mistress' name is `Vicki' in an address book but `Vickie' on her mailbox). The most arresting part of Vice Squad are the scams, subterfuges and outright blackmail the police use to pressure witnesses to talk. They're presented not as expedient short-cuts to find a policeman's murderers but as routine business as usual. In that regard it reflects the super-patriotic climate of America during the Red-Scare years, though there's not a Communist in the movie, let alone any suggestion that officers of the law may be overstepping their bounds.
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