Entertainment Magazine


Posted on the 08 January 2016 by Christopher Saunders
MadiganDon Siegel directed two crime dramas in 1968. One, Coogan's Bluff (1968) is a crude prototype for Dirty Harry, with Clint Eastwood as a Western sheriff cleaning up New York City. The other, Madigan (1968), is a routine procedural. Well-reviewed in its day, Madigan hasn't aged very well.
Detective Daniel Madigan (Richard Widmark) and his partner Rocco (Harry Guardino) are stuck-up by criminal Barney Benesch (Steve Ihnat), who takes their guns and escapes. Madigan and Rocco receive seventy-two hours to clean up their mess, following leads all over New York. A parallel plot follows Commissioner Anthony X. Russell (Henry Fonda), who handles fallout from the arrest of a Civil Rights leader's (Raymond St. Jacques) son and Chief Inspector Kane's (James Whitmore) corruption.
Like many late '60s movies, Madigan skirts the edges of tastelessness: there's strong violence and flashes of nudity, but the strongest stuff (from profanity to Barney's kinkiness) remains off-screen. Our protagonists rough up suspects and menace secretaries, seeming more mean than hard-bitten. The nuts-and-bolts story holds few surprises, enlivened by a parade of weird witnesses like pimp Hughie (Don Stroud) and midget Castiglione (Michael Dunn). Which is better than the Commissioner's soggy subplot, which mostly wastes time.
Madigan resembles The Detective in contrasting policemen's professional and private lives. Russell has a fling with a married woman (Susan Clark) who can't commit to the relationship; his fatherlessness makes him unable to understand Kane's motivation. Worse, Madigan has a nagging wife (Inger Stevens) who spends her entire screentime whining about how he's never at home. Writers Howard Rodman and Abraham Polonsky fail to humanize their heroes with these limp digressions.
Don Siegel's direction lends Madigan credibility. Gritty and unpretentious as usual, Siegel evokes crime-ridden New York as well as any '70s flick, mixing the pictorially handsome with the seedy as Madigan and Rocco scour the city. The film climaxes is an excellent apartment siege, Siegel's rapid-fire editing and blunt violence making an effective conclusion. The movie offers one genuine shock at the end, muted by muffing another subplot.
Richard Widmark makes a credible cop, weather-beaten and coarse, with Harry Guardino as an effective sidekick. Henry Fonda sleepwalks through his role, only sparking against James Whitmore's defiant detective. Inger Stevens is profoundly irritating; Susan Clark, as the Commissioner's squeeze, makes a better impression. Steve Ihnat is a hammy villain; Don Stroud stands out as an oddball informant.
Like most '60s crime films, Madigan is so pat it could be an expanded television episode. (Indeed, it became a short-lived TV series in the early '70s.) Even its much-hailed grittiness isn't more shocking than anything on Dragnet or Adam-12. Despite pretensions to depth, Madigan offers nothing more than undemanding entertainment.

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