The Case Against Brooklyn (1958)
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With the mob controlled bookies having almost total immunity from the law it's obvious that the cops are being paid off to look the other way by what's known as the "Syndicate". But what isn't known is just how far and high the corruption leads to! It may well lead straight into the Police Commissioner's or even Mayor's office!
With both rookie cops Pete Harris and is partner Jess Johnson put undercover to crack the bookie ring and the cops controlled by it Pete get's in touch with a local Brooklyn woman who's husband was driven to suicide by the "Syndicate". Acting as if he's an old high school acquainting of her Harris get's Lil Polombo to open up about her husbands, Gus, strange death. Gus was in hock to the syndicate for $800.00, in losing bets on the horses, and got worked over by Finelli's, who runs the local bookie operations, boys and told to come up with the cash or else!
Not having the money and not wanting to leave his old lady Lil out in the cold Gus got himself a double indemnity life insurance policy and immediately dove his truck off the road killing himself! As Lil was going through a deep depression, almost drinking herself blind, both Pete and local laundry delivery man and family friend Rudi Franklin came to comfort her. Pete was serious about Lili's loss but Rudi wasn't. Rudi in fact was one of the goon's who worked, laundering the weekly illegal gambling take, for Filenni. Rudi was also one of Filenni's goons who worked Gus over which lead to him, in not wanting to end up at the bottom of the East River, to kill himself.
The movie "The Case Against Brooklyn" has both Pete and Russ get stymied in trying to uncover who's the big cheese, or kingpin, behind the police corruption & bookie racket in the borough. Russ' nerves get the best of him which ends up in him getting himself shot and killed by a fellow cop Sgt. Bonney. Bonney in fact was also working for Filenni and mistook Russ as a prowler when he caught him snooping around Filenni's bookie joint.
Holding himself responsible for his partners-Russ Johnson-death Pete goes all out to get those behind his murder only to end up getting his wife Jane killed with a booby trapped telephone that was meant for him. Frustrated in how little help he's getting from his fellow cops, who for the most part are in the pay of the "Syndicate", and the D.A's office Peter throws in his badge and quites the force in disgust. It's then that Pete goes out on his own to get Filenni and those in the department who are protecting him as well as the hoods who murdered his wife Jean.
Together with a reluctant Lil's help Pete gets an unsuspecting Rudi to take him, in his laundry truck, to the big bosses hideout-the laundry factory-where the sparks and bullets start flying. That's when Pete, like so many times in the movie, blows his cover and ends up with the barrel of a .38 police special aimed straight at his face.
Based on a true story "The Case Against Brooklyn", released in 1958, shows that police corruption didn't start and end with both Officer Frank Serpico-who almost lost his life fighting it-and the 1970's Knapp Commission Hearings that shockingly exposed it as not being just a couple of bad apples in the department but a whole barrel full. The fact that there's honest and dedicated policemen like Pete Harris and his late partner Russ Johnson out on the street keeping criminals honest, and behind bars, is what makes the job of being an honest cop that much more easier as well as rewarding for those on the force willing to be one.
Cops are being paid off at an alarming rate to close their eyes and look the other way as illegal betting parlors open up for business all over the Borough of homes and churches. The District Attorney in Kings County who at that time in real life was a man named Edward Silver is determined to do something about it. In the film the character's name is Michael Norris and he's played by Tol Avery.
What Avery's decided to do is literally hijack the whole graduating class at the Academy and have them work for him undercover. One of them, Darren McGavin is sent undercover to romance the recent widow of Joe DeSantis who committed suicide so his double indemnity clause could pay off Nestor Paiva the bookie who's sent some of his enforcers around to collect. As McGavin romances Margaret Hayes that certainly puts a strain on his marriage to Peggy McCay.
And the triangle becomes four sided as Warren Stevens who does a bit of everything for Paiva, muscle, bagman, and even hit-man also starts courting Hayes to see what could spill to the cops, if she can find some that she can trust.
Best performances in the film by far are from DeSantis and Hayes. As the victim you can feel things closing in for DeSantis as he makes that final gesture for his wife's solvency. And Hayes you can feel sorry for the fact she's being used by both sides.
How it all ends, let me say that the climax takes a leaf from the Fritz Lang noir classic The Big Heat and if you know that film, you know about 80% of how the story will come out.
McGavin himself is a ruthless sort looking to prove himself, knowing that a good job here will cement his reputation. In real life it would have gained him a long career in Internal Affairs.
A year after the Dodgers left Brooklyn, The Case Against Brooklyn is a fine noir drama based on a real incident in the beloved former home of the Bums.
Darren McGavin is excellent as the chief undercover officer who tries to discover the highest levels of the corruption. If you're a fan of current day crime/dramas, movies like "The Case Against Brooklyn" are the movies upon which good quality crime/dramas have their foundation. That said, it was made in 1958. So it doesn't have the "gloss" of later films. None the less, it's fantastic to watch.
This fast moving crime drama with some aspects of film noir is tight and brisk, with narration typical of film noir docu-dramas. In the mid-late 1950's, Columbia made a lot of these types of films, and some go in where others fear to tread. This one goes deep into the dirt of these rackets, showing innocent people getting killed or beaten up, and involves a personal drama as well. McGavin is perfectly rough around the edges, not quite a Sterling Hayden or Robert Ryan, but just an every day guy trying to lead a decent living. McKay stands out in a scene where she acknowledges the disillusions of the marriage since his involvement began which leads to a shocking twist. The stand-out, however, is Margaret Hayes as the lonely widow, a bit of a lush, who reveals the inner depths of her soul, especially in a scene where she is stood up by McGavin due to circumstances beyond his control.
After a reporter exposes corruption within the police force, District Attorney Norris (Tol Avery) decides to do something about it. Unable to trust the police, he plans to plant newly graduated policemen under cover to ferret out the syndicates. Officer Pete Harris (Darren McGavin), an ex-marine, and Jess Johnson (Brian Hutton) are assigned to the task.
In the opening, we learn that Gus Polombo (Joe DeSantis) is heavily in debt to the syndicate headed by Finelli (Nestor Paiva). Unable to pay up, he crashes his truck so that his wife Lil (Maggie Hayes) will collect his insurance. We also learn that Rudi Franklin (Warren Stevens) is the go-between among the various betting parlors as well as being the syndicate's enforcer.
Harris and Johnson through Lil learn that a barber shop is the front for Finelli's operation. Jess is discovered setting up a wire tap and is killed by bad cop Sgt. Bonny Robert Osterloh). Capt. Wills (Emile Meyer) questions Bonney and releases him. Willis you see, is on the take as well.
Harris strikes up a "friendship" with Lil Polumbo who also is pursued by Franklin. After having a little too much to drink one night, Lil reveals to Franklin the Harris is a cop. After being worked over by the gang, Harris is falsely arrested. After being released, Harris returns to his home and his wife Jane (Peggy McKay) where a tragic event occurs.
Harris then goes after the gang. Capt. Wills protests to Finelli about all of the killings stating that he wanted no part in murder when he went on the take. Just then Harris arrives at the gang's headquarters and..........................................................
Darren McGavin was always one of my favorite actors. He never quite made it to the "A" list but had a long and varied career with his best work coming in various TV series (Mike Hammer, Riverboat etc). Maggie Hayes too, had a long career but seemed a little too long in the tooth to be a convincing "femme fatale". Warren Stevens similarly to McGavin never made it to the "A" list but too had a long and varied career both in movies and TV. And singer Bobby Helms (My Special Angel, Jingle Bell Rock) makes a very brief appearance as what else, a bar singer crooning a forgettable tune.
Still and all despite its low budget, this film makes a fair little noire. A good supporting cast of familiar faces and strong leads make this an enjoyable little second feature.