Next to the word “grizzled” in the dictionary there is a picture of Robert Loggia. He’s just always been the ultimate image of the gruff graying tough guy for me. So it was a bit of a shock to the system to see him as the young handsome, and definitely not gray-haired, detective in 1958’s “Cop Hater,” based on the novel by Ed McBain.
The film opens in the middle of a New York City heat wave. We see a cop get up for his early morning shift, bidding goodbye to his wife and newborn baby (clearly a doll), both still asleep. A short time later, as he walks to work, he is gunned down. Of course, this doesn’t sit well with the NYPD. Two detectives, Mike Maguire (Gerald S O’Loughlin) and Steve Carelli (Loggia) are put on the case. Things quickly intensify when a second cop, the partner of the first, is also gunned down. Some .45 cartridges and a shoe print are found nearby the scene, but there isn’t much to go on.
The two detectives start following various leads. Maguire starts looking at ex-military men who have taken home “souvenir” guns that match the caliber of the one used in the cop slayings. Meanwhile, Carelli talks to a local snitch (Vincent Gardenia) about some other leads. All the while, both men juggle their police work with their home lives. Maguire with his wife Alice (Shirley Ballard) and Carelli with his soon-to-be fiance Teddy (Ellen Parker), who is also deaf.
A reporter named Hank Miller (Gene Miller) is also trying to get to the bottom of the case. He thinks that the cop killings may be the result of gang violence, which Carelli rejects. None-the-less, Miller takes it upon himself to talk to some gang members. He targets a group called the “Grovers” (sworn enemies of The Cookie Monster’s…sorry couldn’t resist). He ends up getting a bit too nosey asking questions to a Grover named Rip (Glen Gannon). A few nights later, the Grovers end up shooting a cop. When they are brought in for questioning at the station, their leader (a young Jerry Orbach…didn’t recognize him) admits that they mistook the cop for Miller. So the cop killer mystery remains. The whole investigation soon turns personal, though, when Maguire ends up the next victim. Now Carelli must bring this to an end as he realizes that Teddy may be in the killer’s crosshairs.
“Cop Hater” is an interesting little film. It takes its time with the story, though it’s not that long a film to start with. Carelli and Maguire spend a lot of time investigating leads that never end up going anywhere, which is probably much more realistic than many police procedurals. Yet the film remains intriguing throughout. At one point, we even get a late 50’s style version of CSI as the detectives analyze tiny skin and hair samples to draw conclusions about their suspect.
The film also does quite well with its looks into the personal lives of Carelli and Maguire. The way Maguire and his wife hang around in various stages of undress in their un-air conditioned apartment is quite steamy. Plus, Carelli’s relationship with the deaf Teddy is very intriguing. The two have a unique way of communicating…it’s not sign language, but a combination of lip-reading and gestures which comes across as crude but genuine.
Of course, I don’t want to give away the identity of the killer. I will say, though, that the film kept me on my toes. Every time I thought I had it figured out, it gave me a good kick in the pants a few minutes later. “Cop Hater” does require some patience on the part of the audience, but the payoff is solid.