Stars – Jan Michael Vincent, Theresa Saldana, Art Carney, Danny Aiello,Tony Sirico
Directors – John Flynn
Released by Kino Lorber Studio Classics
Reviewed by Steven Ruskin
This is a fun B movie version of the old western town tamer plot set in the Lower East Side of New York City rather than in some small homesteader’s town. Jan Michael Vincent plays Tommy a merchant seaman who is stranded in the city when there is a problem with his papers. There is some vague accusation about him striking someone on board. Tommy hefts his duffle bag onto his shoulders and set sails for a real cheap place to stay while he waits for his next ship out. There is a nice montage of the city full of all kinds of neighborhood charm and genuine urban grit. He gets a room in a cheap walk up. There is lot of atmosphere from the nice Jewish girl upstairs played by Theresa Saldana to the sweet old guy who runs the local deli (Art Carney). There is a little kid who pals around with an ex boxer named Whacko. Lenny Montana easily remembered as Luca Brasi from The Godfather has taken too many punches but is loyal to the kid. There are a bunch of middle aged guys who used to be known as The Sportsmen but now they hang around a social club drinking Schlitz and Rheingold. Danny Aiello is one of them and Tony Sirico, Paulie Walnuts from the Sopranos is another. No matter how nice anyone is Tommy keeps his distance. “I’m just passing through.”
Eventually Tommy starts to warm to the characters in his new neighborhood. However in time honored tradition there is a scourge in town. The Souls are a vicious local street gang that preys upon the older denizens of the area. Their dress is pretty over the top but Rudy Ramos as the leader keeps a cool steely eyed gazed under his scarf and wide brimmed hat. They beat up Art Carney. They bust up the local Bingo game robbing the frightened people of chump change and nickels and dimes. No one will stand up to these guys. They are too scared. One day Tommy pushes back, knocking a few heads with a big stick and the buzz electrifies the neighborhood. Will the guys in the Sportsmans club put down their glasses of beer and stand up again as the toughest guys on the block? How much can we take. When something happens to one of the beloved denizens that is too far. Rather than fight off the bad guys by himself like Shane Tommy is able to galvanize the neighborhood to stand up together.
You’re not watching this one for the plot. Like an old cover song you’ve heard every bar band do, if they get it right it is time to get up and dance with it. Jan Michael Vincent can be very likeable on screen. He handled himself well with Charles Bronson in The Mechanic (1972) and had great presence in Buster and Bille (1974). Vincent made a strong contribution as one of the three leads in John Milius’ best film, in my opinion, Big Wednesday (1978). I suppose that makes him something of a quintessential seventies B movie actor who mostly did action films. I admit this is comfort food for me. Seventies films, whether they are artful or exploitive have their own special niche in my celluloid heart.
We get a nice dose of genuine New York City locations from a part of the city that doesn’t show up all that often. The shots done along the river reveal a nice section of the city that mixes the calm of the water with the urban decay into a rather oddly restful area. Director John Flynn also directed The Outfit (1973) a solid adaptation of a Donald Westlake novel with Robert Duvall. He directed Rolling Thunder (1977) just prior to this one. Flynn also did Lock Up (1989) with Sylvester Stallone that features a terrific montage of prison inmates restoring a classic Mustang car cut to the tune of the 70s hit Vehicle. He’s got a nice lean and mean style perfectly suited to this film. And just to put you in the proper mood before the film starts we see that his is an AIP film ! Classic Seventies urban action is served up well in Defiance.
Video – 1.85:1
This is the best the film has looked in any home video format. Colors all look fine. Some of the shadows and interiors get a little indistinct. There is that slightly soft look at times and areas of film grain that are very much the hallmarks of many films shot in that time period. This is a gritty film shot on a low budget and it looks quite good for what it is.
Audio – DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo with no subtitles offered
Sound is fine. We get that soundtrack of songs written for the film rather than tunes from the time period. Some may stick out a bit to your ears as mimicking a certain style.
Extras – None
On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic :
Blue-Ray – Good / Excellent
Movie – Excellent