BARGAIN BINNED DIGS DEEP INTO THE RANDOM AND FASCINATING TITLES FOUND IN THE CLEARANCE AISLE
My DVD of Midnight Cop highlights actors Morgan Fairchild, Michael York, and Frank Stallone, while omitting the movie’s actual star, Armin Mueller-Stahl. Granted, there’s also a mailing label affixed to the case, indicating that this particular copy once belonged to a Mr. Kent E. Hansen of Kansas City, KS. I bought this for 99 cents from the clearance bin at the State Avenue Vintage Stock in KCK, which had previously yielded a 50-cent version of Rad, featured in the last installment of this column.
This movie had been sitting on the shelf for the better part of four months before I peeled off the shrink wrap and watched it one afternoon. While I’d done some research into the film to see what it might offer, I discovered that the promo copy on the back of the disc both over- and undersold this 1988 Peter Patzak-directed movie.
“The nude body of a beautiful young dancer is found sprawled in a sand pit dead from a stab wound and an overdose. The investigation leads to a labyrinth of obsession, danger and death. Luscious Morgan Fairchild plays Lisa, the stunning lady of the night who holds the key to both the detective’s heart and to the dark secret behind the vicious murder. This action packed thriller is propelled by a stellar cast including Michael York as the D.A. with a past, Frank Stallone as the drug dealer caught in his own savage trap, and Armin Mueller-Stahl as the cop they call at midnight.”
Also known as Killing Blue, Midnight Cop is a very German movie that, thanks to its public domain status, has shown up in any number of versions of the years. This edition comes from Platinum Disc Corporation, a La Crosse, Wisconsin company who released the film in 2001. It looks fine, as if it were taken from a really nice VHS copy, but thanks to the ever-present noir lighting, it comes across as a bit dim.
“A bit dim” could also be how we refer to Mueller-Stahl’s Inspector Alex Glass, who is just kind of a schlub who has been worn down by life – specifically, accidentally shooting a young girl during a standoff in an apartment hallway during the film’s opening scene. Everyone in this opening scene is so very sweaty. Midnight Cop will take this stickiness established at its outset and continue on to keep it going throughout. You haven’t seen trashy until you’ve seen a cut from Mueller-Stahl groping Morgan Fairchild’s behind to a corpse with a face smeared in Vaseline.
Yeah, Vaseline. That’s certainly something left out of the promo copy. Sure, sand pit and overdose, but smeared in Vaseline? That’s too much for the perverts who rented this, expecting it to be some kind of erotic thriller. Thriller it kind of is, but erotic it is not. Watching the character of Glass groping Lisa not long after they’ve met is just icky. The same goes for Frank Stallone as Jack Miskowski, the drug dealer, when he meets up with Allegra Curtis’ unnamed sex worker, whose body is then later found.
Now, while Curtis’ character isn’t named, she does get a shoutout in Mr. Skin’s Skincyclopedia: The A-to-Z Guide to Finding Your Favorite Actresses Naked. This is a very creepy book which was somehow published by St. Martin’s Griffin, an imprint of Macmillan, a legitimate company which releases actual books, not some fly-by-night vanity press, as one might assume.
Anyhow, in it, Mr. Skin mentions that she’s half-sister to Jamie Lee Curtis, and “according to reports, Courtney Love auditioned for this role.” Yes, Courtney Love auditioned for a role in which the character “takes off her top, showing her front saddlebags, and lies back awaiting her smack injection.” That’s literally the most interesting thing about Midnight Cop, and it never happened. This might partly be due to the fact that this movie is very much as if the script were written in German, then translated to English by someone whose primary language is actually Spanish. The dialogue is atrocious, and everyone seems to be trying their absolute best not to laugh, although Michael York does a lovely job of being very British and seeming to not give a damn about how absurd everything is.
Somehow, it’s managed to find its way into both Michael Weldon’s The Psychotronic Video Guide To Film and Leonard Maltin’s 2015 Movie Guide, and both single out Mueller-Stahl as the main reason to watch the movie. Weldon describes Mueller-Stahl’s Glass as “an eccentric, aging, Polish-born West Berlin chief inspector of police who’s after a serial killer” who “beats suspects and has an affair with a hooker” and “makes this whole movie worth seeing,” while Maltin damns Midnight Cop with the faint praise of being a “[s]low but interesting murder mystery” with an “[o]verdone tenor jazz sax score and murky plot developments,” and concludes by stating “Mueller-Stahl is very good.”
I would like to disagree with Mr. Maltin on one point, and that’s the fact that the jazzy instrumental version of Procol Harum’s “Whiter Shade Of Pale” which plays over the opening credits is quite good. However, “murky plot developments” is a statement right on the money. There’s little mystery in Midnight Cop, and watching the various red herrings being thrown about only casts more and more light on the one character upon whom there is no focus. Since this is German, as opposed to Italian, I suppose that the ending, wherein the killer’s identity comes out of nowhere, complete with an expository speech explaining just why they did it, counts more as krimi than giallo, but fans will be unsurprised regardless of which thriller subgenre they apply to this movie.
“The Video Tapeworm,” a weekly round-up of DVD releases in LEO Weekly, mentioned in 2009 that they’d first read of Midnight Cop in The Psychotronic Video Newsletter “years ago,” which led me to track it down in Weldon’s book, but Bill Raker and David B. King’s own write-up might actually one-up the review which they reference. Not only do they come right out and call it a “turkey,” but the concluding line is the most perfect summary I found in all my digging, calling Midnight Cop “A truly awful cult intercontinental train-wreck of a film that has to be seen to be believed.”
Hell, even Joe Bob Briggs only gave it one and a half stars, and Don’t Go in the Woods got two. He does give Fairchild a complement in both the lede and review itself, writing “Morgan Lights Up ‘Midnight Cop’” and “I haven’t seen her do work this good since Phantom of the Mall,” which is again damning with faint praise, but a more accurate statement comes when he writes that “[i]t’s one of those European deals where the camera is more interesting than the actors.”
If nothing else, by checking out the readily-viewable-on-YouTube movie, you do get to see such things as Mueller-Stahl casually shitting his own pants in one scene, and casually doing cocaine in another, and bringing roughly the same level of joy to both performances. He also does one of those things where he’s furious at where the case is headed and knocks everything off his desk, because, really: is it a crime thriller at all if the cop doesn’t, at some point, throw stuff around in frustration and anger?
For a dollar, Midnight Cop certainly managed to keep my attention for the hour and 40 minutes it ran. It might not have been good, but it’s certainly entertaining. As many other writers have mentioned, it does seem to be a satire of noir films, and that sense of the film not exactly taking itself serious shines though, resulting in an off-kilter experience that I would definitely recommend sharing with other folks. Watching this alone doesn’t allow for the necessary “did that just happen?” verification necessary to maintain one’s sanity.