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Mad Bomber, The
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by Jack Sommersby

"Not-Bad 'Bomber'"
3 stars

I grabbed this out of a bargain bin at a second-hand store and wound up getting my money's worth. Hey, it only cost 50 cents!

The 1973 crime picture The Mad Bomber is crudely made and not particularly exciting, but it has a surprisingly well-plotted screenplay and plays out much better than expected. Doing triple duty in the screenplay, producing and directing departments, Bert I. Gordon, fashioner of some truly trashy low-budget monster flicks like Attack of the Puppet People and Empire of the Ants, doesn't have a visual sense to save his life, with his compositions leaving a lot to be desired (the ultra-low-grade cinematography looks like that of a dimly-lit industrial-training video), but he knows how to get to point A to point B and point C without disgracing himself; and it immensely helps that he's scored a trio of superior performances from his three lead actors. As the title character, Chuck Connors, a famous B-movie thespian who managed to scare the living daylights out of me as a serial murderer in the cheesy TV-movie detective series Matt Houston, is well-nuanced as the meek-and-meager villain who's anything but a standardized cinematic blowhard. Whether taking someone to task for littering on the city streets, someone in a car for failing to yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian, or a waitress for failing to make eye contact with him as he orders a grilled cheese and coffee, he has a concentrated energy and intensity that effortlessly burns right through the screen. His underlying motive for his widespread Los Angeles-citywide crimes has an iota of gravitas even if it is contradictory: he's physically punishing people for metaphysical reasons having to do with his deceased, drug-overdosed teenage daughter. Gordon sort of takes this a bit too seriously, which at times winds up hamstringing the proceedings -- there's nothing worse than taking a motivation like this at strictly face value under the pretense of making a "statement." Still, the able Connors makes his character believable by niftily underplaying for the good of the piece rather than as a showboat acting exercise -- he's willing to sublimate the impulse to overact because he obviously respects the material he's been hired to give credence to, which is no small feat, in a Hollywood actor. And perfectly complimenting him is Vince Edwards as the cop doggedly pursuing him. Edwards refreshingly doesn't try to do a Dirty Harry by exhibiting uncouth machismo -- he stays close to the vest and remains in character throughout; you can wholeheartedly believe in his sense of decency in righting all wrongs that come across his desk. In addition to the bombings, there's also a serial rapist at large, as portrayed by the multi-faceted Neville Brand, who admirably manages to make something genuine out of his incisive interpretation. This character, while in preparation for his heinous action at a mental hospital (where the bomber's daughter was incompetently treated), actually saw the face of the bomber. So we have two villains in the mix.

This is one of those movies you go into expecting not a whole lot and wind up getting a decent time out of. Without any real technical mastery at hand, it's all the more essential that the script and characters hold their own, which is luckily the case here. Long before an age of high-tech crime-scene forensics, the cops here have to work with the basics to crack a case: sleuthing and snitches. There's a wonderful sequence where the rapist, having been identified and hauled in to headquarters, is forced to give a police artist a description of the bomber; he starts out mad and reluctant, but then, amazed at how his vague recollection of the culprit (he only caught a glimpse of him for a second) is starting to take coherent shape, is ecstatic over the progress he's able to make -- he forgets for a for a few minutes just how much trouble he's still in. The rapist, a voyeur who digs watching nude movies of his wife in his backyard pool room, gets into the process on an unconscious level; he's incriminating himself by proving he was at the same hospital where he raped a mute-and-deaf woman, but he's too revved-up to notice. (Brand shows remarkable control: there's virtually no acting artifice getting in the way between the audience and the character.) The cop gets his standout scene, too -- when trying to crack the rapist's silence-until-I-see-my-lawyer stance, he has him hauled down to the pistol range where he calmly shows off his top-grade marksmanship ability and threatens to do him in right then and there; but he's never extrovertly-seething about it. Edwards cannily uses his eyes and vocal inflections to emanate a primal sense of danger; and it's this modulated tact that makes the rapist take the cop all the more seriously. And the bomber amusingly flirts with capture when taking some squad-car officers to verbal task for casually looking at him while he reads a newspaper on the street corner -- in a neat touch, they're the same officers who are on their way to the bomber's house right down the street once a name has been matched with the composite sketch. Connors is always "in the moment" -- he's locked into the bomber's mindset with a matter-of-factness that makes the character identifiably three-dimensional, so he doesn't cheaply come off as a stereotypical baddie. The movie is more about behavior than contrivances, thankfully; and the grand finale, where the bomber is discreetly tailed by the police on his way to his final bombing and is blocked into a city block by some moving trucks, is pretty sly (though his van being identified so soon just by the description is shaky, especially since it's reported to be red when it clearly looks orange). While a more adept director than Gordon could've made the proceedings slicker, I'm not sure if he could've believed in the story like he does; it's junky material but is delivered with focus, and that counts where it matters most. Is The Mad Bomber worth raving over? Certainly not. But for undemanding Saturday-afternoon viewing, it'll suffice.

It's not "Speed" or "Juggernaut," but who in their right mind would expect it to be?

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originally posted: 06/20/11 01:07:38
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  01-Apr-1973 (R)
  DVD: 04-Oct-2005



Directed by
  Bert I. Gordon

Written by
  Bert I. Gordon

  Vince Edwards
  Chuck Connors
  Neville Brand
  Hank Brandt
  Christina Hart

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