Melody Maker, November 5th, 1983

© 1983 Melody Maker

Order of Death

Death Wishes

by Bob Flynn

It is New York, so a policeman gets killed in the opening scene - the usual stuff. Headlines scream 'Cop Killer' while Lt. Fred O'Connor settles down in his palatial, sparsely furnished apartment with expensive cigar in hand and surveys the city through open windows: the contented corrupt cop at a home bought with illegal earnings.

But his world is soon disturbed - the usual stuff. The person who eventually turns Ol' Fred on his head is a certain Leo Smith, played by one John Lydon, former alias Johnny Rotten; Sex Pistol turned minstrel and wastrel in America, numerous previous convictions, acting ability still to be proven, your Honour.

This Italian made film as Ennio Morricone's striking chords colliding with sudden close-ups, very reminiscent of the Sergio Leone Westerns he scored in the late 60's and I expected Clint Eastwood unshaven, crinkly-eyed visage to appear at any moment, but no. By the end of the film, I wish he had appeared preferably with a loaded Colt in hand.

Johnny, I hardly knew you. It had to happen, I suppose, but did you really have to play your first role in movies as a twisted youth with morbid tastes who gets his kicks from bread-knife licks - mainly on cops?
The original model as a Pistol had a total grudge against society and this role only narrows the sights to a grudge against the police. You've done the expected at last, John.

Smith (Lydon) comes ringing at O'Connors door and claims that he is the cop killer. All collapsed shoulders, funny hat and shades, Lydon stands in complete contrast to the big, beefy Keitel who listens in disbelief. No wonder, he's like a strolling plague, this wee boy: walking in the shadow of death, glazed eyes and pouting mouth, slowly pronouncing the words in a strange life. Now that's unusual.

But it's not exciting. There's hardly any individual quirks to hang onto and his displays of temperament are invariably stilted. Lydon presents himself as a blank cheque, on which no one has bothered to write.

There are good moments: just following his appearance at Keitel's front door, Smith/Lydon tells O'Connor that he's been watching him for months, and that he daren't tell his colleagues about these crimes or he'll inform on O'Connor's corruption. Fred proceeds to beat him up. Smith is a helpless rag in his hands and O'Connor eventually forces him into a gas oven, a quivering but somehow defiant wreck. The tough, amoral cop can't bring himself to kill his strange visitor and locks in the bathroom where he keeps him tied and fed like a dog occasionally returning to watch or speak to him. So they become prisoners of each other's obsession.

Things turn a little more bizarre when O'Connor accidentally kills his flat-mate / collaborator in front of Smith. Then he forces the youth to slit the corpse's throat in a nearby park. He can then shoot the pallid one, deliver him as the cop killer caught red handed and it's back to cigars and the view. Clever, huh?

No chance: at this point the film stars stretching credibility to the limit and the plot is the ludicrous. The film is dreary. Just cheap holidays in other people's misery.

Year: 1983
Starring: Harvey Keitel, John Lydon, Leonard Mann, Nicole Garcia, Sylvia Sidney
Director: Roberto Faenza
Genre: Drama
Length: 99 Minutes


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