‘Report to the Commissioner’ Explores Personal Politics on the Force

New York City's seedy underbelly of pimps and prostitutes is explored in this crime drama of police department politics.

Very much a film of its time, Report to the Commissioner (1975) is the kind of police procedure that examines corruption in the police force, a subject that has been explored in various crime dramas. Based on a novel by James Millis, the story follows a young rookie cop named Bo (Michael Moriarty) who has just joined the force. Taken under the wing of his superior, Officer Blackstone (Yaphet Kotto), Bo begins working the rounds on the gritty New York City streets. Naïve and not especially street smart, Bo walks the beat with his less-than-compassionate partner, trying to learn the ropes of the city and his force.

Eventually, Bo is given the assignment of searching for a runaway junkie, a young woman believed to be living with a dangerous dealer. Unbeknownst to him, the young woman is, in fact, an undercover cop (played by Susan Blakely) who is trying to gather evidence against the dealer for a bust. Bo’s assignment is essentially a ruse to throw the dealer off the scent that his live-in girlfriend is working undercover. Things go terribly wrong when, in a violent confrontation between Bo and the dealer, the undercover officer is killed. After a lengthy pursuit of the dealer, Bo winds up trapped with his criminal foe in a department store elevator, each man holding a gun pointed at one another. If that wasn’t trouble enough, the police department suspects Bo of having murdered the undercover officer.

Directed by Milton Katselas, Report to the Commissioner succeeds in developing a genuine air of seediness in New York City’s underbelly of pimps and prostitutes. It’s a crime drama where setting evokes so much more than the characters situated within in it; the on-location filming captures the raw, industrious buzz of working-class people milling about. The film also has in its favour the interesting dynamics of character. Moriarty’s hapless, sympathetic Bo is amusingly sized up against the thunderous, no-nonsense authority of Kotto’s Blackstone. Slipping in and out of the narrative is a wisely-cast Blakely, who gives her character an equal amount of street-tough confidence and warm empathy. These characters who congregate against the backdrop of a merciless and frantic city provide a fascinating perspective on inner-city living.

But the story dawdles; while Moriarty evinces a genuine sense of wounded esteem and frailty, we’re never quite sure what his inequity means in the scope of the narrative. Watching Bo interact with his peers is almost as frustrating as it is fascinating; for nearly two hours, he’s the resident punching bag for every gripe and abuse that arises within his precinct. As well, he seems unusually dim-witted for a cop – and unbelievably fearful. In a scene with a very young Richard Gere playing a street-hustler (in his feature film debut), Bo corners him and demands the whereabouts of the runaway he’s been assigned to look for. Though the hustler poses no threat or danger, Bo can’t seem articulate a coherent sequence of actions.

Indeed, he’s nervous and fraught with worry in most frames of the film. After some time, this one-note character begins to wear heavy on the viewer; Bo’s efforts to see himself through this complicated ordeal of cover-ups and false leads are met with apathy. The far more likeable pimp (Tony King), whom Bo chases and eventually corners in the department store elevator, provides an interesting distraction for some time until the film winds down to its dismal and bleak conclusion. Ultimately, the narrative goes nowhere and doesn’t seem significant in the way of any pressing issues or ideas. This is the story of an unfortunate man whose ambitions and tasks are rendered meaningless by the film’s end.

Kino Lorber’s transfer is adequate. The film shows its age as the grain in the picture is fairly strong, but the transfer presents the film very cleanly with only a minimal amount of interference. Colours are generally muted and this has much to do with the sleazy and drab exteriors of a mid-’70s New York City, a rushing blur of smog and tweed-wearing denizens. Dialogue for the most part is clear but there are times when the volume seems to dip a little on the low side. Again, these are most likely issues inherent in the original source and Kino has done its best to showcase this film in the best possible light. There are no extras to speak of, save for a trailer.

This is strictly a performance film, a showcase for some interestingly-written characters performed by actors who deliver the story with some intriguing touches. It’s also a film very much of its time, and the attractive garishness of an old New York City with trashy pimps and crooked bell-bottom wearing hustlers should appeal to those who are aficionados for dated NY-centric cinema. The underdeveloped story, however, leaves much to be desired and cannot be recommended beyond a single viewing.

There are no extras with this DVD.

RATING 6 / 10