Cruising is a film that even after nearly 40 years still can start an argument on various levels. When the movie was being made gay rights activists followed the shoot around Manhattan and made noise trying to stop the production. But there were plenty of gay residents of Manhattan in the film showing off what they enjoyed doing at the Manhole club. This movie isn’t cut and dry, “Hollywood is misrepresenting” normalcy. Cruising is an undercover cop investigation film that doesn’t give clear answers or a feel good ending.
Officer Steve Burns (Scarface‘s Al Pacino) is finally getting his big break into the rank of homicide detective. He gets called into the office of Captain Edelson (Goodfella‘s Paul Sorvino) for a deep undercover assignment. This isn’t the usual infiltrate the mafia gig. They suspect a killer running loose in the gay leather bar scene. Burns is picked because he resembles many of the victims. This is a complete immersion as he moves to the West Village and transforms himself into the type of guy who hangs out in leather bars such as The Ramrod, The Anvil and the Manhole. He no longer lives with his girlfriend Nancy (Karen Allen) since he needs his nights to hang out with a pocketful of colorful handkerchiefs cruising for suspects. And there’s plenty of suspects lurking in the dirty underground clubs loaded with chains, leather and jeans. The cop sees a lot of stuff that he’s never experienced. This is a world of dark carnal pleasures. There’s a bit of comedy one night when he shows up in his usual outfit at a club’s dress like a cop night. He stands in the room looking at men with badges doing really rough acts. The interesting element of his investigation is discovering that it might not just be one killer lurking in the parks and alleys cruising for fresh meat. There’s even a feeling that Burns has gone over the edge in his undercover time. Could he have also become a leather clad killer in the Big Apple?
The movie wasn’t a big hit when it came out in 1980. It’s Al Pacino going even deeper undercover than his time as . The fact that the action takes place with all the debaucheries of circumstances. Director William Friedkin went into the actual clubs and allowed the real members to conduct themselves as if it was just another night. This led to the infamous fact that he had to cut about 40 minutes out of the original cut because it showed what happened after a guy coated his hand and forearm with Crisco. Sadly none of that footage has been restored since original studio set that excised film on fire. In a sense, this film is a bit of a documentary. We’re not on a Hollywood set with a bunch of performers doing carefully choreographed routines. If you wonder what it was like to be hanging in the neighborhood and deep in the clubs, this is authentic. This was also the end of this era as AIDS swept the community and made such clubs danger zones. Who knows how many of the extras survived the ’80s.
Cruising works exceptionally well as a cop film. They are serious about the investigation although they use a harsh level of brutality during interrogations that rivals the club action. The cops are constantly roaming the neighborhood for good and bad intentions. Joe Spinell (Rocky & Taxi Driver) is a cop who has quite a few secrets as his patrol car cruises the clubs. Even Ed O’Neil (Married… With Children & Modern Family) gets on the case as a detective. The cops are concerned with tracking down a killer. However they don’t seem eager see there’s more than one person out there preying on the clubgoers. They want to solve the case, declare a serial killer and act like it’s “safe” again. The ending reminds us there’s nothing easy about this world. And that uneasiness can get seen in Pacino’s performance as he has to macho up fast to appear normal in this world. But he also has to retreat to his girlfriend every now and then to reassure himself that he’s not getting lost in the scene.
Cruising is not an easy viewing experience. The visuals are harsh. Thanks to it being on Blu-ray, you can frame-by-frame to the murders to see what Friedkin snuck into the cuts. Cruising fills the screen with a story that Hollywood hasn’t since approached on this scale.
The video is 1.85:1 anamorphic. The transfer really brings out the black, blue and silvery lighting in the clubs and on the streets outside. It’s otherworldly on the screen. The audio is 5.1 DTS-HD MA that drags you down into the club scene with the punk music and sounds of leather blaring from the speakers. There’s also the original stereo mix. The movie is subtitled.
Audio Commentary with William Friedkin and Mark Kermode is new. Mark has interviewed Friedkin a few times in the past so the duo are able to have a good conversation. Kermode gets Friedkin to talk about the 40 minutes of leather bar footage he sliced away. The director swears it was a way to let the MPAA feel good snipping away and protecting the elements he needed. The best part was Friedkin talking about how at the leather bars, they were playing disco music. He went out with Jack Nitzsche to find L.A. punk bands like The Germs to create the soundtrack. He also talks about how their isn’t one killer like their wasn’t one killer in the actual homicides. We also get the answer as to why the guy in a jockstrap and cowboy hat shows up during the interrogation scene.
Audio Commentary with William Friedkin is from a DVD release in 2007. He’s at ease giving plenty of stories behind the stories and filling in a few gaps created by the MPAA making him slice so much out of the film.
The History of Cruising (21:05) is an archival featurette on the film’s origins. Director William Friedkin discusses how he didn’t use much of the book in his adaptation and based it more on real cases happening in New York City.
Exorcizing Cruising (22:31) archival featurette looking at the controversy surrounding the film and its enduring legacy. There’s talk about the club scene.
Original Theatrical Trailer (3:29) lets you know that this isn’t Al Pacino doing his usual mobster stuff.
Arrow Video presents Cruising. Directed by William Friedkin. Screenplay by: William Friedkin. Starring: Al Pacino, Karen Allen, Joe Spinell, Paul Sorvino & Ed O’Neil. Rated: R. Running Time: 102 minutes. Released: August 19, 2019.
Tags: Al Pacino, Arrow Video, Cruising, William Friedkin