Sharky's Machine (film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Burt Reynolds|
|Produced by||Hank Moonjean|
|Screenplay by||Gerald Di Pego|
|Based on||Sharky's Machine
by William Diehl
|Cinematography||William A. Fraker|
|Edited by||William D. Gordean
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
Sharky's Machine is a 1981 drama thriller film directed by Burt Reynolds, who stars in the title role. It is an adaptation of William Diehl's first novel Sharky's Machine (1978), with a screenplay by Gerald Di Pego. It also stars Vittorio Gassman, Brian Keith, Charles Durning, Earl Holliman, Bernie Casey, Henry Silva, Darryl Hickman, Richard Libertini and Rachel Ward.
Tom Sharky (Burt Reynolds), a narcotics Sergeant for the Atlanta Police Department, is working on a transaction with a drug dealer called Highball (Hari Rhodes). Another member of the force, Smiley (Darryl Hickman), shows up unexpectedly during the sting, causing the drug dealer to run and Sharky to give chase, ultimately shooting the suspect on a MARTA bus, but only after the wounding of the bus driver. In the aftermath, Sharky is demoted to vice-squad, which is considered the least desirable assignment in the police department.
In the depths of the vice-squad division, led by Friscoe (Charles Durning), the arrest of small-time hooker Mabel results in the accidental discovery of a high-class prostitution ring that includes a beautiful escort named Dominoe (Rachel Ward) who charges $1,000 a night. Sharky and his new partners begin a surveillance of her apartment and discover that Dominoe is having a relationship with Hotchkins (Earl Holliman), a candidate running for governor.
With a team of downtrodden fellow investigators that includes veteran Papa (Brian Keith), Arch (Bernie Casey) and surveillance man Nosh (Richard Libertini), referred to by Friscoe sarcastically as Sharky's "machine," he sets out to find where the trail leads. During one of the stakeouts, a mysterious crime kingpin known as Victor (Vittorio Gassman) comes to Dominoe's apartment. He has been controlling her life since she was a young girl, but now she wants out. Victor agrees but forces her to have sex with him one last time.
The next day, Sharky witnesses (what appears to be) Dominoe being killed by a shotgun blast through her front door, killing her and disfiguring her face beyond recognition. Sharky has privately been developing feelings for her while viewing through binoculars and listening to her bugged conversations. The man who shot her, known as Billy Score, is a drug addict and Victor's brother. He answers to Victor, as does Hotchkins, who is in love with Dominoe but remains a powerless political stooge under Victor's rule.
Dominoe suddenly turns up to Sharky's surprise, and is told that her friend Tiffany used her apartment and is the one who was mistakenly shot by Billy Score (Henry Silva). Dominoe is convinced that if Victor wants her dead, she is going to be dead, but reluctantly leaves with Sharky to be hidden away at his childhood home in the West End neighborhood. Meanwhile, Nosh informs Sharky that most of the surveillance tapes have disappeared from the police station, leaving both of them wondering if the investigation has been compromised. Nosh is then confronted by Billy Score, who kills him off-screen.
Sharky confronts Victor at his penthouse apartment in the Westin Peachtree Plaza and vows to bring him to justice. Victor smugly knows that Dominoe is dead and cannot testify against him, but is stunned to be told by Sharky that she is still alive.
While attempting to find Nosh at his home, two men spring an attack on Sharky and he is knocked out cold. He awakens on a boat, where he is held captive and tortured by Smiley, who turns out to be working for Victor. Smiley informs him of the killing of Sharky's old narcotics division boss JoJo (Joseph Mascolo) (who was run over by a car), and reveals that Nosh is dead as well. He cuts off two of Sharky's fingers while demanding to know where Dominoe can be found. Sharky attacks and shoots Smiley, and he manages to escape. Later, Sharky turns up with Dominoe at a Hotchkins political rally, to the candidate's considerable shock. Hotchkins is placed under arrest, and Victor finds out about it on the evening newscasts.
Billy Score, in an agitated state, shoots and kills Victor. Almost immediately, Sharky and other police officers arrive at Victor's penthouse in an attempt to catch Billy. He is pursued through the upper floors of the Westin where like a ghostly apparition he appears and disappears, killing Papa and seriously wounding Arch. Billy ultimately is gunned down by Sharky, crashing through a window and plummeting to his death nearly 700 feet below. In the end, Sharky returns to his childhood home, where Dominoe is now living with him.
- Burt Reynolds as Sharky
- Charles Durning as Friscoe
- Vittorio Gassman as Victor
- Brian Keith as Papa
- Bernie Casey as Arch
- Rachel Ward as Dominoe
- Darryl Hickman as Smiley
- Earl Holliman as Hotchkins
- Henry Silva as Billy Score
- Richard Libertini as Nosh
- John Fiedler as Twigs
- Hari Rhodes as Highball
- Joseph Mascolo as JoJo
- Carol Locatell as Mabel
Reynolds said he was attracted to the film because it was similar to the classic 1944 film noir Laura, his favourite movie. He talked to John Boorman about directing, but it was too soon after Excalibur. Boorman suggested Reynolds direct himself.
At 220 feet, the stunt from Atlanta's Hyatt Regency Hotel (doubling for the Westin Peachtree Plaza) still stands as the highest free-fall stunt ever performed from a building for a commercially released film. The stuntman was Dar Robinson. Despite it being a record-setting fall, only the beginning of the stunt, as he goes through the window, was used in the film. A dummy was used for the outside wide shot of the fall beside the skyscraper.
Diehl, who was age 50 when he wrote the novel, saw the movie shot on location in and around his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia. The famous wrestler El Mongol played the part of the limo driver in the film. The opening credits uses the 1979 hit song "Street Life", originally performed by The Crusaders with vocalist Randy Crawford. The recording in the film is a newer version orchestrated by Doc Severinsen, inviting Crawford to reprise her vocal and who composed the original score as well. This version is a much more powerful and faster-paced version with a full orchestra, and it was the one that Quentin Tarantino would include in Jackie Brown (1997). (Crawford is given the only credit on the song title.) Strangely (and perhaps for time constraints), the beautiful and haunting one-and-a-half-minute opening of the song heard over most of the opening credits is omitted from the soundtrack and has never been released.
As was standard for the time, little of Severinsen's score is included on the album, with many of his contributions being heavily edited for the album tracks and several, like his version of "My Funny Valentine", being omitted altogether.
The Sharky's Machine original motion picture soundtrack contained the following tracks:
- "Street Life" - Randy Crawford
- "Dope Bust" - Flora Purim and Buddy De Franco
- "Route 66" - The Manhattan Transfer
- "My Funny Valentine" - Chet Baker
- "High Energy" - Doc Severinsen
- "Love Theme From Sharky's Machine" - Sarah Vaughan
- "8 To 5 I Lose" - Joe Williams
- "My Funny Valentine" - Julie London
- "Sexercise" - Doc Severinsen
- "Let's Keep Dancing" - Peggy Lee
- "Sharky's Theme" - Eddie Harris
- "Before You" - Sarah Vaughan and Joe Williams
The film received mostly positive reviews from critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 93% of 15 critics have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 6.2 out of 10.
Roger Ebert gave the film 3 out of 4 stars, writing that "'Sharky’s Machine' contains all of the ingredients of a tough, violent, cynical big-city cop movie, but what makes it intriguing is the way the Burt Reynolds ... plays against those conventions.... The result of his ambition and restraint is a movie much more interesting than most cop thrillers." Janet Maslin wrote, "Burt Reynolds establishes himself as yet another movie star who is as valuable behind the camera as he is in front of it. Mr. Reynolds's third and best directorial effort ... is an unexpectedly accomplished cop thriller."
- Farber, Stephen. "Burt Reynolds: Getting Behind the Camera," New York Times (20 Dec 1981): D17.
- Sharky's Machine original soundtrack, film credits
- "Sharky's Machine (1981)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved September 14, 2016.
- Ebert, Roger. "Sharky's Machine," Roger Ebert.com (Jan. 1, 1981).
- Maslin, Janet. "The Screen: Burt Reynolds Stars in 'Sharky's Machine,'" New York Times (Dec. 15, 1981).