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Richard C. Sarafian
Police officer Newman has not gotten the reputation of a straight arrow by avoiding conflict when fighting for right. His honesty is put to a strong test when he and his partner discover an international drug ring involving some of the police department's highest ranking officers. Written by
Cop George Peppard doggedly wants to nail a mobster and a dirty cop
"Newman's Law" was a made-for-TV film that Universal released to theaters, and that's a sign of its well-above average quality. This is a very fine police crime story and an excellent 70s-style noir to boot.
Peppard (Newman) works with his partner Roger Robinson and drugs are one of their targets. There must be hundreds of movies with this component, so that part of it is not really important. It's more what the story has to say about the people in it, the system, and how the story is told that matter. This one hangs together nicely as a tough detective story with no pretense at a happy ending or seeing the world with rose-colored glasses.
After working on one small-timer to get information, the two cops happen upon a big drug stash, a dead body and a fleeing black man. This leads into a bigger operation that involves a Mafioso who is coming back from Naples and a black drug group working together. Peppard shoots the fleeing black man in the leg, but he later turns up dead of a blow to the head.
The story contains some plot elements also prevalent in Italian poliziotteschi of the same period. There are police indifference at the higher levels, deals, plea bargains, and slack prosecutors attempting to look good. There is police corruption. Newman, known as a straight arrow, is hated by all, cops and thugs! When he gets framed to get him out of the way, he loses the protection of wearing a badge. This exposes him to beatings and assassination attempts. But like a bulldog he soldiers on, especially when he realizes that there must be a dirty cop somewhere who is supplying the thugs with information.
Although the tough Newman is on the Gary Cooper laconic side, the story makes sure that we see his emotional side. There are several emotional and very effective scenes that many such police stories lack.
The score is a good one from Robert Prince. The way that the exteriors in Los Angeles are handled add a great deal to the film in giving it a noir feel.
Peppard is an unconventional actor, more of a modern actor who matured during the television era, and one whose every role seems to be part himself. This is not a criticism. This is often true of the best actors. But it is something of an illusion. It's simply that the actor is so capable of assuming a new character. I've praised his body of work before and noted that more of his work needs to be re-released in cleaned up widescreen versions. "Newman's Law" would be right up there with his best work.
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