THE ONE MAN JURY (1978 – color)
“Jack Palance is a cop more dedicated to justice than the law.”
And really, what more do you need to know than the above sentence? Palance plays Wade, a plainclothesman who thinks the criminal element is a scum society should actively remove if the world is to be a nice place to live. As we open, Wade witnesses another of his catches escape penalty because he was never given his Miranda rights. Rather than the seething powder-keg about to explode we might expect, however, Wade is quite well adjusted. He doesn’t like how softly the system treats criminals, but he works within it because it’s better than anarchy. His girlfriend is a “bleeding heart” rookie who believes the system is too harsh on victims of society. Wade thinks she’s wrong, but he never loses his cool with her.
The city is being menaced by The Slasher, a serial killer/rapist who has managed to avoid capture. Wade finds a lead, but the only way to follow up on it is to make a deal with a crime-boss to use his contacts to get information Wade can’t. While Wade agrees to make a deal (and he sometimes trades information in exchange for looking the other way on minor offenses), he also makes it clear he won’t give too much. With the help of the gangster’s information, Wade tracks down the Slasher and confronts him. Getting a full confession and finding damning evidence, Wade must decide what to do. Knowing the creep would easily get around the system and be back on the streets to kill again, Wade plants a bullet between the Slasher’s eyes.
That’s just the beginning, however. Wade is now both criminal and cop, and must go through the motions of finding the new killer. Meanwhile, he still plans to catch the man who earlier escaped punishment, and he happens to work for the same gangster Wade made his deal with. This can only end in a trail of bloodshed and lifeless bodies.
There’s a part of us that enjoys seeing justice acted out. We cheer when Randolph Scott guns down the bad guy, or when the FBI raids a communist spy ring, or when 007 blows up SPECTRE’s latest exotic headquarters. Even sixty+ years after the fact, one gets a certain satisfaction knowing Hitler is roasting in hell. We like to see evil get what it deserves, hence the attraction of films like Dirty Harry, Death Wish, and even Billy Jack.
It’s this instinct that kept me going through the sadistic Trip With The Teacher, knowing that before it was all over one of the scummiest characters I’ve ever seen was going to get his. Since I follow a faith that preaches forgiveness of one’s enemies, I sometimes wonder if I should so enjoy seeing the destruction of a fictional character as much as a movie intends me to. I mean, that’s what Chuck Norris movies are all about!
Wade takes a life unlawfully, but he doesn’t cherish the moment. It had to be done, but he takes no obscene pleasure in doing it. Once he crosses that line, however, blowing away defenseless bad guys becomes easier and easier. Because he’s still the movie’s hero, though, he doesn’t continue murdering murderers because of some insane blood-lust. He’s still doing his job, he’s just found a cleaner way of doing it. One telling aspect is that he always hesitates before gunning down an unarmed killer, as if he’s going over the chances of his potential victim’s taking another life and making that his deciding factor on squeezing the trigger.
The One Man Jury may not be the best 70′s rogue cop picture, although I haven’t really seen a large number of them for some reason (I’ve yet to see any of the Dirty Harry pictures, for example). It worked for me though, and that’s all I can really go on. I will say that this is another picture which opens in such a way as to make me believe it was a TV movie prior to the first mutterings of profanity. The picture seems to be formatted to academy ratio, including the credits. The opening music sounds like sort of good but generic theme we might expect from a TV movie, and the credits play out over the opening scene like TV credits. During this we watch a woman changing her clothes and she remains well within the limits of television friendly imagery, as her undies consist mostly of a baggy slip.
Check out the cast we get on this one! Jack Palance, Christopher Mitchum, Pamela Shoop, Cara Williams, Joe Spinell, and cameos by Royal Dano, Mike Mazurki, and Vito Scotti!