On DVD: Cop Hater (MGM Limited Edition Collection)

The clingy heat of a New York summer hovers over the characters in Cop Hater with the same oppressive quality as the paranoia that grips their Manhattan precinct as a killer stalks its officers. Adapted by producer-director William Berke - an extraordinarily prolific and largely forgotten specialist in low-budget quickies - this B-grade adaptation of Ed McBain's first novel of the 87th Precinct (a series that would span dozens of volumes over nearly half a century) succeeds thanks to good performances and the authenticity of its setting.

Robert Loggia plays Steve Carelli, a detective investigating a series of cop murders with his partner Mike Maguire (Gerald S. O'Loughlin). With few leads, the pressure mounts as the killings continue. Carelli and Maguire's case - and their information - is pursued by a tenacious reporter (Gene Miller), who winds up indirectly endangering Carelli's deaf-mute bride-to-be (Ellen Parker). 

Unambitious visual choices and pragmatic editing allow Berke to zero in on maintaining suspense and staying true to McBain's characters. The cramped precinct rooms are sweaty with summer heat and the palpable, top-down pressure applied by police superiors on the detectives working the case - in addition to that applied by their fellow cops, who are ravenous for justice as their own continue to be hunted down on city streets.

But Berke was also plainly interested in the exploitative aspects of filmmaking, and knew that sex and violence sells tickets. There are a handful of scenes that might not have made it past the censors in 1958 had this been a major studio picture (it was released theatrically by UA). These include a sequence involving Carelli's fiancée emerging from a shower and being threatened with rape. Additionally, there are a handful of moderately racy moments provided by Shirley Ballard as Maguire's aloof glam-queen wife.

Loggia is excellent, exuding great if restrained charisma as Carelli. The supporting actors are all fine, with O'Loughlin particularly convincing as a weary blue-collar kind of guy (if anything, Loggia is almost too handsome for the role). Keep an eye out for terrific early appearances by Jerry Orbach as a street tough, and Vincent Gardenia as a hopheaded informant. 

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