Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Not So Obscure TV Spot, But Still MIA on DVD: Night of the Juggler (1980, Robert Butler)

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.


Marc Edward Heuck said...

JUGGLER and FOOLIN' AROUND, from my research, were financed by theatre chain General Cinema Corporation. (If you look at JUGGLER's copyright line, it says "GCC"!) Which explains why Columbia had limited rights to them, how they ended up on other labels for video and TV (Viacom had syndication rights back in the day), and why they have vanished in the ether now. Dunno if AMC would have inherited those rights when they bought out GC, or if Kopelson got the movies back.

Ned Merrill said...

Ah...I wasn't sure what GCC stood for. I thought it might have been a company that Kopelson set up.

A defunct theater chain, eh? The prospects of seeing this one resurface are not looking very promising right now.

Rupert Pupkin said...

Great post sir! I am with you in hoping one of those wonderful boutique labels snaps up the movie. A true crime that it is not available.

Her, Suzanne76 said...

Having watched this film a few months ago, i recall mixed pleasures watching Brolin's performance; a perf equal parts eager heroism and destructive vengeance.
The dark disco troika, as you've wisely coined it,allows us to dip our toe in a taboo or transgressive experience that may otherwise be off limits.
So NIGHT OF THE JUGGLER'S transgressive mirror place is one where i recoiled but also delighted in watching a human Terminator move through impossible (central park, subways, The Bronx) obstacles to cut out a dirty path of daughter saving through a super scummy 1980 NYC.

Ned Merrill said...


Thanks for hooking me up with this one! Even in compromised form, it more than lived up to my expectations.

Her, Suzanne,

Much more poetic than I could put it. "Human Terminator." Yes, absolutely. Very true about Brolin occupying a hero role in one sense and a dangerous, reckless vigilante in another...not unlike the duality Bronson perfected throughout his star period.

Ty said...

Night Of the Juggler was a decent movie. Cliff Gorman did a really good job in it.

Ned Merrill said...

On this recording of the HBO lead-up to a broadcast of NIGHT OF THE JUGGLER in 1984, the Columbia logo is shown preceding the film:


Does that mean that Columbia retained some broadcast rights at some point? I'm not sure, but since Marc Edward Heuck indicates that Columbia's rights didn't extend beyond US theatrical, I thought I'd post here.

Dj Gee said...

Hi there,
Does anybody know the track in the closing credits of The Juggler?
Bit of a Disco-Funk track.
Many thanks.

Ned Merrill said...

I wish I knew Dj Gee! It plays at another point in the film, too. I think in the peep show scene. Good track.

Anonymous said...

NIGHT OF THE JUGGLER movie should be put on DVD. There's many of us out here that would purchase it.Very good movie.