It's a shame that Night of the Juggler, a taut thriller that revels in late '70s NYC grime, remains unavailable on DVD, and, in fact, has been out of circulation since long-defunct Media Home Entertainment released it on VHS in the mid-'80s. Based on a novel by William P. McGivern, the story is one of those that follows the tried and true method I call "All in one day (or night)." As another oft-mentioned "all-in-one-night" film of the era did, Night of the Juggler takes full advantage of sweltering, smelly, sleazy summertime New York to tell its story. New York City cop turned long-haul trucker James Brolin goes through all sorts of hell, including a maniacal Dan Hedaya, as he tries to rescue his daughter from a revenge-minded mama's boy with pedophilic impulses (Cliff Gorman).
Does this peep show also appear in Cruising? Seriously.
At first, director Butler, a fellow best known for The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes and a lot of episodic television, might seem the wrong man for the job. On closer inspection, however, much of that television was Westerns and cop dramas, experience that surely helped keep Juggler's fast-moving narrative humming along seamlessly. Perhaps more of a pleasant surprise is the fact that tv vet Butler does not shy away from the cruder aspects of the exploitation trade, specifically: violence, nudity, profanity, and a pervasive seediness in all aspects of the mise-en-scene.
Brolin, looking as if he went directly from the
Amityville Horror set to Night of the Juggler
Unfortunately, the crappy VHS-sourced bootlegs cannot do justice to the film's production design by Stuart Wurtzel (who would, most fittingly, also perform this duty for the same year's Times Square) and photography by veteran lenser Victor J. Kemper, a man who was no stranger to urban dramas (Dog Day Afternoon, The Eyes of Laura Mars, The Gambler, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, Shamus) and who also shot Cassavetes' Mikey and Nicky and Husbands. The music is by Artie Kane, who didn't rack up too many feature film credits; however, those few credits also include Looking for Mr. Goodbar and The Eyes of Laura Mars, which, when added to Juggler, comprise a dark disco-era urban troika. The supporting cast is a veritable who's who of East Coast character actors and theater vets and includes the aforementioned Gorman and Hedaya, as well as Richard S. Castellano, Marco St. John (Tightrope's psycho killer), Steve Inwood (a "go to" character guy for early '80s New York films), Barton Heyman, Sully Boyar, Mandy Patinkin, Tony Azito, Samm-Art Williams, Richard Gant, Julie Carmen, and porn star Sharon Mitchell (as a stripper, fancy that).
A New York street gang that doesn't wear make-up
Released theatrically by Columbia, Night of the Juggler was an early production for Arnold Kopelson; another 1980 Kopelson production, Foolin' Around, was also distributed theatrically by Columbia. As with Night of the Juggler, it was released on video by a separate distributor (Embassy, prior to that company's acquisition by Columbia). In short, it's not clear who controls Night of the Juggler now (Edit: I'm told that after the film's financer, General Cinema Corporation went belly-up, some assets, including the aforementioned films, went to a soap company who are seeking beaucoup $$ for Juggler). Perhaps an enterprising outfit such as Shout Factory!, Synapse, Severin, or Code Red, who seem to specialize in this sort of thing, can sort this out, i.e. pry it loose from the soap company, and license Night of the Juggler for DVD so that it can be properly seen by the wider audience it deserves.
This glorious, if brief, tv spot will remind anyone who grew up in the New York area of a time when WPIX Channel 11 was "New York's Movie Station." It's surprising that the film, which was released in 1980, didn't make its broadcast premiere until '86. Perhaps network television premiere is more accurate, as I would imagine the film must have aired on at least one of the pay cable channels after its theatrical run. In any event, a lot must have been lost in the translation from R-rated original cut to television-friendly version.