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MADIGAN (1968)

Written By:

Christian Jones

Directed by the legendary Don Siegel Madigan teams Hollywood legends Richard Widmark and Henry Fonda in a brutal tale of crime. Commissioner Russell (Fonda) tries to keep his precinct in order.  Detectives Madigan (Widmark) and Bonaro (Harry Guardino)  are given seventy-two hours to apprehend a violent, cold-blooded killer.

Madigan can be viewed as a template for Dirty Harry, which Siegel would later direct. Both use real locations in which they are set. Both are gritty and hard-edged, and both feature protagonists that bend the rules to breaking point. And with such a great cast and director Madigan should surely be a great film. Sadly, it’s not.

The problem is the tone of the film is all over the place. The opening sequence is pure Siegel. It’s tight and taut as Madigan and Bonaro break into a suspect’s apartment. The resolution is the same and a sterling example of how to create an action scene. But the domestic scenes have more in common with a daytime soap opera and are clearly studio-bound. Russell Metty’s cinematography is used to stunning effect on location, but it simply can’t help the interior shots that look no better than a TV movie. Don Costa’s score is another detractor. The scenes scored to action sound more like the theme to a late-night talk show, and the romantic scenes are so bombastically saccharine that they practically scream, “Listen to the sweeping strings, the swell of the orchestra, this is romance!”

Despite the film’s flaws, Henry Fonda gives an outstanding performance as Commissioner Russell. It’s a measured, almost taciturn performance, but he commands your attention when on screen. Russell is not a man to trifle with despite his calm, softly spoken demeanour. Widmark too gives an excellent performance. He’s tired, cranky and prone to violence. He seems to care more about his job than his faltering marriage. The only misstep in his character occurs during an encounter between him and Russell where he seems to become a chastised schoolboy for no apparent reason.

Indicator has provided yet another excellent package of extras. The most interesting is the Super 8 cutdown home cinema presentation version of the film. The picture is washed out, the sound crackles and pops, and the edits of excised scenes are jarring, but before the advent of VHS this was Home Entertainment for those that could afford it.

The audio commentary with writers and film experts Barry Forshaw and Kim Newman is particularly informative. Siegel was constantly at loggerheads with producer Frank P. Rosenberg, which helps to explain the films uneven tonal shifts. Along with the original theatrical trailer and image gallery is an excerpt from the French television programme Cinéma cinemas in which Richard Widmark talks about his career. And then there’s the isolated music and effects track, which is probably best avoided unless you have a penchant for late-night talk show themes and romantic music lacking any nuance at all.

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