Sharky's Machine (film)

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Sharky's Machine
Sharkys machine ver3.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Burt Reynolds
Produced by Hank Moonjean
Screenplay by Gerald Di Pego
Based on Sharky's Machine
1978 novel
by William Diehl
Music by
Cinematography William A. Fraker
Edited by William D. Gordean
Dennis Virkler
Orion Pictures
Deliverance Productions
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date
  • December 18, 1981 (1981-12-18)
Running time
122 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $35,610,100

Sharky's Machine is a 1981 American drama thriller film directed by Burt Reynolds, who stars in the title role.[1] It is an adaptation of William Diehl's first novel Sharky's Machine (1978),[2] 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, Rachel Ward and Joseph Mascolo.[1]


Tom Sharky, a narcotics Sergeant for the Atlanta Police Department, is working on a transaction with a drug dealer called Highball. Another member of the force, Smiley, 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, 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 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, a candidate running for Governor of Georgia.

With a team of downtrodden fellow investigators that includes veteran Papa, Arch and surveillance man Nosh, 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 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. 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 tells Sharky 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 (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.



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.[3]

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 soundtrack album has been re-released after more than thirty years on the Varèse Sarabande label.[4]


The Sharky's Machine original motion picture soundtrack contained the following tracks:

  1. "Street Life" - Randy Crawford
  2. "Dope Bust" - Flora Purim and Buddy De Franco
  3. "Route 66" - The Manhattan Transfer
  4. "My Funny Valentine" - Chet Baker
  5. "High Energy" - Doc Severinsen
  6. "Love Theme From Sharky's Machine" - Sarah Vaughan
  7. "8 To 5 I Lose" - Joe Williams
  8. "My Funny Valentine" - Julie London
  9. "Sexercise" - Doc Severinsen
  10. "Let's Keep Dancing" - Peggy Lee
  11. "Sharky's Theme" - Eddie Harris
  12. "Before You" - Sarah Vaughan and Joe Williams


Critical reception[edit]

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.[5]

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."[6] 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."[7]


Sharky's Machine was released in theatres on December 18, 1981. The film was released on DVD on October 20, 1998, by Warner Home Video.[8] Sharky's Machine was released Blu-ray on April 7, 2015, by Warner Home Video.[9]


  1. ^ a b "Sharky's Machine". Turner Classic Movies. Atlanta: Turner Broadcasting System (Time Warner). Retrieved December 11, 2016. 
  2. ^ Diehl, William (1978). Sharky's Machine (1st ed.). New York City: Delacorte Press. ISBN 978-0440075912. 
  3. ^ Farber, Stephen (December 20, 1981). "Burt Reynolds: Getting Behind the Camera". The New York Times. New York City: The New York Times Company. p. D17. Retrieved December 11, 2016. 
  4. ^ Sharky's Machine original soundtrack, film credits
  5. ^ "Sharky's Machine". Rotten Tomatoes. United States: Fandango. Retrieved September 14, 2016. 
  6. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Sharky's Machine," Roger (Jan. 1, 1981).
  7. ^ Maslin, Janet (December 15, 1981). "The Screen: Burt Reynolds Stars in 'Sharky's Machine'". The New York Times. New York City: The New York Times Company. Retrieved December 11, 2016. 
  8. ^ "Sharky's Machine". Warner Home Video. Burbank, California: Warner Bros. October 20, 1998. ASIN 6305133433. Retrieved December 11, 2016. 
  9. ^ "Sharky's Machine". Warner Home Video. Burbank, California: Warner Bros. April 7, 2015. Retrieved December 11, 2016. 

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