*. There’s a scene near the beginning of Code of Silence that I think is worth seeing. It’s basically just filler, showing Sergeant Eddie Cusack (Chuck Norris) throwing some karate punches and kicks at a sparring partner holding pads. But what it shows, better than any of his choreographed fight moves, is just how fast, and how good Norris, a karate champion, really was. I was more impressed by this than anything else in the film.
*. There actually isn’t a lot of martial arts action in Code of Silence. This is probably due to the film’s origins. It was written to be Dirty Harry IV: Code of Silence, but Clint Eastwood turned it down (making Sudden Impact the next Dirty Harry movie instead). Then it was pitched as a project for Kris Kristofferson (who also turned it down). It wasn’t supposed to be an American chop socky. Or, put another way, it wasn’t supposed to be a Chuck Norris movie.
*. That the script had been hanging around for a while without being produced makes the fact that it was sold for a whopping $800,000 all the more amazing. $800,000! In the 1980s! As one story reported at the time, this was “more than the total cost of a lot of Chuck Norris movies.”
*. Now add to this the fact that the screenplay is garbage. The basic story is just a handful of clichés thrown together. Norris is an honest cop who goes by the sobriquet “Stainless Steel.” There is a gang war in Chicago. One of the mobsters has a beautiful young daughter that Norris has to protect from another mobster (played by veteran bad guy Henry Silva, who is literally just showing up here to get a paycheque). There’s no real story but just these basic elements. Plus Norris, the vet, is paired up with, you guessed it, a new kid he calls “kid.” And this after he even tells the chief “Listen, I don’t have time to be nursemaiding a rookie, I don’t need a partner.”
*. So on that level the script is trash. But it’s also filled with trash dialogue, has a disjointed plot, and is without any meaningful structure. Take the scene where a couple of hoods try to hold up a bar filled with off-duty Chicago police. It’s a quick comic piece, but the failed heist serves no purpose in relation to the rest of the story at all.
*. Then, Norris later shows up at the bar and meets an old friend named Dorato (Dennis Farina). Dorato is with a couple of good-looking young women who he introduces to Eddie this way: “Eddie, I want you to meet a couple of friends of mine. This is Ruby. She’s a dental hygienist. She’s very oral. And this – this is Marlene. She works for a proctologist. Don’t turn your back on her!” Ha-ha! Isn’t that funny? No? Well, is it “gritty” or “realistic” (words often tossed at Code of Silence)? No? Well is it worth $800,000 then?
*. The scene between Eddie and Dorato at the bar is immediately followed by a heart-to-heart talk Eddie has with his rookie sidekick, who is agonizing over whether he should be honest at an inquiry into the murder of a civilian by his previous partner or participate in a cover-up. In the course of the conversation he gets to speak lines like this: “I really want to be a good cop. But sometimes it gets so scary, you know?” and “I see that boy’s face every time I close my eyes.”
*. It may not be the fault of the screenwriter, but how much sense does it make for Diana to leave a busy street and run down a deserted alley when being pursued by a gang of hoods? And how does the bad guy manage to drag her along, running, with him holding only a knife on her?
*. You may be wondering why I’m even bothering complaining about a movie like this having a garbage script. Well, in part it’s because of that huge price tag. But it’s also a way of scratching my head a bit about the movie’s reputation. This, I think, is largely due to two factors.
*. The first is our response to how well Norris does. I have a hard time crediting much of Norris’s acting, and in all fairness he never made any claims for himself (or his action peers) in this regard. But I would sign on to what I think is the general opinion that this is his best performance. This is mainly because he doesn’t try to do too much. He stays quiet and doesn’t emote a lot. Which is fine for the role and he acquits himself well. But that’s as far as praise goes.
*. I’d also add as an aside that Eddie Cusack is a big step up from the beer-fueled Texas Ranger Lone Wolf McQuade (see my notes on that one here). Eddie doesn’t much care for science or art, but he’s not a total meathead. That’s another thing Code of Silence has going for it.
*. The second reason behind the film’s inflated reputation has to do with a pair of very influential (even more influential at the time) film reviewers who just happened to be based in Chicago. Call it the homer effect.
*. Both Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert praised, excessively, the film’s use of of Chicago locations, and commented on the fact that director Andrew Davis was from Chicago. Indeed in his review of a later Davis movie, the very similar Above the Law, Ebert would refer to Code of Silence as not just the best Chuck Norris movie ever made but one that “contains the best use of Chicago locations I’ve seen.” Really? There have been so few movies shot in Chicago?
*. At least Siskel, while praising the film’s authenticity, admits that it “isn’t in the same league as The French Connection.” Shut your mouth! Ebert, however, really went overboard, giving it 3 1/2 out of four stars and writing the following: “this is a heavy-duty thriller — a slick, energetic movie with good performances and a lot of genuine human interest. It grabs you right at the start with a complicated triple-cross, and then it develops into a stylish urban action picture with sensational stunts.” And he doesn’t stop there, adding: “The screenplay doesn’t give us the usual cardboard clichés; there’s a lot of human life here, in a series of carefully crafted performances. For once, here’s a thriller that realizes we have to care about the characters before we care about their adventures.” Please.
*. I think I’ll stop here, as I’ve already written about ten times more on this movie than I thought I would. Given the time and the people involved it’s slightly better than what you’d expect, but that’s a very low bar to clear. The guys jumping off the elevated train was a good stunt. The police robot tank was stupid. Watching it today I couldn’t remember if I saw it when it came out. I think I did, but I can’t be sure. A week from now I’ll probably have trouble remembering it again.