One Man Jury

Director: Charles Martin            
Jack Palance, Christopher Mitchum, Pamela Shoop

Jack Palance in a movie? You've got my attention. How about Jack Palance playing a Dirty Harry-like cop. Keep talking! How about Jack Palance playing a Dirty Harry-like cop that kills criminal scum in cold blood? Now you're really talking! How about this being made by a low budget studio? Great, for there's a good chance there would be a lot of violence, sex, and nudity! Wow, you would think there is no way a movie with all these attributes would miss - that's why I have been searching for this movie for some time now. All this anticipation for so long is why I found One Man Jury more disappointing than I possibly would have otherwise. It's incredible how much they fail to deliver the goods here. Oh well, the studio died not so long afterwards, so I feel some satisfaction from that.

Palance plays Jim Wade (Wade? What kind of a tough cop name is Wade?), a tough cop in California. We hear about how tough he is in the first sequence he's in, which takes place in - where else? a courthouse where - what else? a suspect is testifying how Wade (snicker) gave him an "improper arrest", and I am sure you can guess in what way it was improper. This scene is unfortunately typical of how Wade's toughness is illustrated to us - namely, we keep hearing how tough Wade is, but we seldom see him doing this stuff. Most of the time, the most Wade gets worked up is when he spouts out some (not too harsh) venom to some scum, or talking in that manner about scum. In one scene, he actually gets beaten up pretty easily by some scum! There's also a really dumb and sluggish car chase he's involved in at one point. Except for the ending of the rooftop chase sequence, and the climactic shoot-out, Dirty Harry could easily look down on this guy and sneer in contempt.

There is something likable about Palance in any role, despite his ghoulish look and his frequent playing of villains. His presence alone brings some strength to a pretty wimpy character, and the screen beams with energy when he smiles. There is a problem concerning those smiles, however, because frequently Wade becomes nice! Well, not really nice, but take for example when Wade lectures police cadets at a college. When he stars spouting off crime statistics, you would imagine his tone of voice to get angrier and angrier. But for some reason, Wade sounds too "nice" when he's lecturing all of this. As a result, believing him as a tough cop becomes harder to accept. It's even worse during some parts when a calm Wade all of a sudden becomes angry, and vice versa. It seems like Palance didn't have his heart in this particular performance, almost as if he was distracted by some personal issue or something.

It's hard to exactly pinpoint what the plot of One Man Jury is about. It starts off with the women in the city being stalked and killed by some scum imaginatively named "The Slasher" by the press, with Wade determined to track down the guy. Halfway through the movie, Wade tracks down the guy, and having had enough of the courts, puts a bullet through the guy's head. So it then looks like the movie has moved into a look at a cop over the edge who starts killing scum in cold blood. However, while the movie looks at that angle (not very closely, I might add), the movie has also moved into two dumb subplots about a local mobster, and a bank robber/murderer who was freed because of Wade's improper arrest. Even in the first half of the movie, there is a definite lack of focus here, so I quickly didn't care about Wade, the other characters, or just what happened. However, I couldn't help but notice that the subplot about Wade killing scum - which his girlfriend eventually discovers and is horrified by - is never resolved in any fashion at the end, not even between Wade and his girlfriend. There's also an issue about a loose cannon character introduced near the end that Wade doesn't manage to resolve. After the last bullet is fired, the movie's end credits quickly pop up so viewers are less likely to think about these issues. (To add one more unresolved issue, there's also one murder in this movie that goes unsolved, though this movie is not another The Big Sleep.)

This movie was rated R when it was released, though I can't figure out why. There are a few mild cuss words, and some people get shot with a few drops of blood shown, but this stuff and the previously mentioned "action" is at a PG level. Plus, there's no (onscreen) sex, and the closest thing to nudity is when a woman in the beginning of the movie is shown in her underwear. Speaking of letters, I would give a D to the movie's production values, which are - what else? - scummy. Some night sequences are so dark, you can't tell what's happening. Even in the daytime, everything looks dirty and unfocused. There is also some bad editing, putting together different angled shots of the actors, but never seeming to match the position they were in the last frame of the last shot. The whole production feels exactly like a made-for-tv movie of the era, right from the opening credits that list the cast and crew in a very dull looking font, with a score that sounds like the music played during a helicopter shot in any Aaron Spelling production.

In my review of The Takeover I had my own one man jury judge that movie to be a crime against movie watchers anywhere. My verdict on this movie? Absolutely 100% guilty of wasting a great premise and viewers' time! I sentence you, director Charles Martin, to attend an Albert Pyun festival, a festival of producer Damian Lee's movies, and to finish off by watching every movie made by Le Monde Pictures. See, that's how tough Jim Wade should have been!

UPDATE: William Norton filled me in as to why Wade's vigilante actions were never resolved:

"They were going to film footage of Chris Mitchum arresting Jack Palance in the end.  Palance didn't like the ending and tried a power play, but failed. When they finished shooting the scene where Pamela Shoop came up to him in at the boat after killing Joe Spinell, Palance said, "That's it! Great ending!" and threw his coat in the water.  No one wanted to jump off the boat to get the coat, so they couldn't have him get arrested in the end, for the scene would have had bad continuity. Mitchum complained that his character had to die, for we never saw him in the end to arrest Jack.

"Also, the filmmaker and the producer thought they were making a big film and it was going to be BIG! They even put out a 2 page ad in Variety, proclaiming this film being bigger than DEATH WISH! It was advertised, and filmed under the title GOD WHO PLAYED GOD! Played here in Seattle in the drive-ins for a week, and had a small release in Los Angeles."

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See also: Deadly Force, Sword Of Honor, Taking The Heat