One warm summers night back in 1978, I can remember leaving my local fleapit (The Regal, St Ives, Cambridgeshire) feeling awestruck - I had just seen a film that would leave a lasting impression on me, John Carpenter' s second picture, ''Assault On Precinct 13'' , arguably his best film and radically different from his firs, ''Dark Star, 1974.
The film has great style and benefits from an excellent screenplay, skillful direction and a simple yet brilliant score, that leaves you humming it 's main tune for day. When first release in the U.S. it bombed - it was then shown as a late entrant at the 1977 London Film Festival and got tremendous feedback by both critics and audience alike. Because of this success it was re-released in America and became an underground hit. But overall the film has met with it 's best response in the U.K.
The basic story is really very similar to the good old cowboys 'n indian flicks in the John Wayne style. The cowboys are replaced by the cops/convicts and the street gangs take the role of indians, even the police station is a stand-in for a fort - having said all that, you (the viewer) will not be forced to make this comparison whilst watching, it' s not only when you look back at a later date that this comparison hits you. Also if you haven't watch Assault On Precinct original one, time to comparison with the remake of the 2005 version. And you should know something about the John Carpenter's original one. Main reason for ''Assault On Precinct's (1976) similarity to a cowboy film is that Carpenter has always wanted to make one, he is also a big fan of all the Howard Hawks classics, especially ''Rio Bravo, 1959''. He also wrote a script for his own western called ''El Diablo, 1990'' But not in director vehicle just in a scenario with Tommy Lee Wallace and Bill Phillips. But El Diablo did't get any success or popularity at the cinema.
Looking back at the ''Assault On The Precinct's (1976) parts that really really stand out are the ruthless murders of the little girl at the ice-cream van (incidentally, this scene was heavily cut some of the cable televisions, the first attack on the police station, with an incredible flurry of gunfire, who can forget the pile of papers on the desk that get neatly dispersed into the air by one stray bullet, the eerie way that all the bodies and other evidence are carefully removed after each attack-really frightening but this all adds to the steadily building tension.
Through-out the story you tend to become very involved with the characters the fact that Wilson is a condemned murderer does not stop you cheering him on!
Darwin Joston, who plays the aforementioned Wilson gives the best performance in the film. He is ultra-cool, though and full of amusing wise-cracks. He has most of the best lines - ''Got a smoke?'' being his make my Day catch-phrase. We didn't have any chance to see Darwin Joston in a reprise of this role and also sequel of this film. (After Darwin Joston played as a pathologist in the Carpenter's picture the Fog, 1980)
Although the film isn't technically a fantasy - the street gang do have an unearthly quality about them as they stalk through the night, even the guy that murders the little girl looks slightly undead (he also featured in another Carpenter Classic, the very underrated ''Escape From New York'', he played the character Romero - the one with the filed teeth.)
Speaking of the undead reminds me that the film is also very similar to ''Night of the Living Dead'' -- right down to one of the heroes being black. ''The lumbered'' policeman, Bishop, is played by Austin Stoker, who is also very effective. He has a great line, one of the women is making him a cup of coffee and enquires ''Black?'', he replies ''Yes, for almost thirty years!'' Yes, the film does have a few amusing moments.
Assault On Precinct, 1976 has two main female characters, one being the ''typical'' stereotype, is goes to pieces in scary situations. The other is a refreshing change, Laurie Zimmer is superbly cast as Leigh. She has the sort of lines that only a ''he-man'' type character would have in other movies, in fact, on a ''cool'' chart, she rates as highly as Napoleon Wilson himself!
BAD POINTS OF THE ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976)
Firstly, the film is very dark and would have benefitted from some stronger lightning in certain scenes. Secondly, the ending reminds me of ''Jaws'' -- the last bullet being used to explode a gas canister. But what the heck, I'm just nit-picking, you cannot get away from the fact that ''Assault On Precinct 13'' is a first rate movie that defies it' s low budget (apart from the lighting) and moves at a cracking pace. A must-see anyones list.
A Movie Synopsis (Warning Spoiler!)
The opening scene shows a gang of multi-racial men getting down by the police. We hear a radio broadcast telling us about the shooting and that some guns have gone missing, the dead men were members of a gang called Street Thunder.
Four young male gang members make a pact for the dead men, they each cut their own arms and drip the blood into a bowl. A black policeman, Bishop, leaves his house on a fine sunny morning, to report for his first call of duty. He is sent to precinct 9 division 13, the Anderson precinct (Assault on Precinct 9 doesn't quite have the same ring!) . The station is closing down and being relocated. Bishop arrives and takes command. Three others are still working there, the desk sergeant and two women - - one is hyper-cool, the other one panics.
The camera flashes back to the four gang members who have made the blood pact, they are armed and get into a big black car. They cruise along the streets, one of them focusing his gun sights on members of the public. The scene is now in a prison and three prisoners are being moved, one of them is going to death row for murder - - his name is Napoleon Wilson- -he is incredibly cool. One of the other prisoners is sick and keeps coughing. Back in Anderson, a man and his little girl are in the area to try and persuade the girl's grandmother to move out and live with them. He gets lost and stops at a phone booth to ask for directions, in the meantime an ice-cream truck has pulled up. The guys in the big black car have been watching the truck. The ice-cream man is getting very nervous and fingers a gun hidden in the glove box. The little girl asks the man for a cornet, he tells her that he's closed. The black car drives off, he relaxes and sells her an ice-cream. The girl walks away. The ice-cream man is then silently approached by the gang, they threaten and then strike him to the ground. The little girl realizes that she's been given the wrong flavour and goes back to the truck, only to be murdered in cold blood by one of the gang. The ice-cream is also shot and killed. The father of the girl is still on the phone. The black car move off and the father see' s his daughter lying on the path. He finds the gun in the truck gives chase in his own car. The chase goes on into the night. They finally stop and shooting takes place, the father kills the murderer and runs like hell. He is followed. Sanctuary is found in the virtually closed down police station. By this time he is a terrible state of shock and cannot speak.
Meanwhile back with the prisoners, who are on their transfer bus being escorted by armed guards, the sick prisoner is getting worse. The chief policeman on the bus decides to pull into the nearest precinct and call for a doctor. They arrive at the Anderson station, and after some discussion the prisoners are put in the holding cells.
Bishop tries to question the girls father, he says that he's being followed. They see no-one outside. The lights and telephone go dead. Chaney, the sergeant goes out to use his car radio and falls to he ground. Bishop goes out to help him and is shot at. He manages to get back in, the gunmen are using silencers. The precinct is then blitzed by hundreds of silenced bullets. The escorting policemen and the sick prisoner are gunned down. Three gang members approach the station with a flag and a bowl of blood which they smash on the step, they then walk off. They call it a ''chollo'' (Is this the correct spelling?) - it means that they don't care what they do.
The gang open fire once more and try to storm the precinct. Leigh, the cool lady, gets the two prisoners out of their cells and into the main room. Bishop has no choice but to arm them. They manage to hold the gang off and kill a lot of them, even though their numbers had increased. Leigh is wounded and the other woman is killed. It goes quiet again. The gang remove any evidence from outside, it looks completely normal. The surrounding houses could not hear gun shots only breaking glass. No help arrives.
Wells (who is the other prisoner), after losing a game of 'one potato-two potato' , has to try and escape and get help before the next attack. He goes out through a sewer pipe and hot wires a car. He starts the car and tears away, but is shot through the head before he can phone the police. Two patrolmen are out looking for signs of a reported disturbance but find nothing.
Back in the station the others barricade themselves in, they go down to the basement - they are very low on bullets.
The building is stormed, Wilson holds them off until Bishop successfully shoots a pre-arranged target of magnesium flares surrounding an acetylene tank. There is a big explosion and the siege is over.
Help, as always, now arrives. Bishop looks at Wilson and says ''It would be a privilege if you would walk outside with me.'' , to which he replies ''I know it would.'' -- cool as ever.
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