Mulholland Falls (1996) from Tuna and Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Two thumbs up for genre fans - recommended for lovers of L.A.-based 40s and 50s crime and corruption noir. For the rest of you, it is above average for that genre, but it's not a masterpiece with universal appeal. For example, Nick Nolte is not in the same league as Nicholson in Chinatown, and the film doesn't have the slick crossover appeal of  L.A. Confidential.

Tuna's notes in white:

Mulholland Falls is a period murder mystery police thriller which reminded me in tone, somewhat, of Chinatown. Nick Nolte plays a hard-boiled cop who is part of a special four-man team which reports directly to the captain, and which uses unorthodox (and illegal) methods to get rid of mobsters and crooks. The title comes from their habit of throwing people they want to dispose of off a cliff on Mulholland Drive, which they nicknamed Mulholland Falls.

They are sent to investigate a murder, and the victim turns out to be a woman of easy virtue who Nolte had been sleeping with. He soon discovers that another of her steadies was the head of the Atomic Energy Commission. When Nolte starts to investigate the general at a testing facility, the base security and the FBI are all over him.

I will stop in mid-plot. If this is your kind of film, this is a good one.


Melanie Griffith, as Nolte's wife, keeps her clothes on, but Jennifer Connelly is seen with bare breasts in 8 mm black and white films shot by her neighbor through a one-way mirror. The bad news is that the quality was purposely degraded to look like an amateur home movie. The only other shots of her were flashbacks, which were shot with soft focus and a sepia tint.

Scoop's thoughts in yellow:

The viewer is torn between positive feelings and repugnance for The Hat Squad, a bunch of cops who work independently and try to do good, but trample on the U.S. Constitution while doing so. The squad consists of four guys who tool around all day in a really shiny Art Deco 1949 Buick Roadmaster Convertible, and they never remove their hats in the car, even when they sit in the back seat and speed through the desert! So I still want to know one thing about The Hat Squad. How do they keep their hats on?

In the course of a murder investigation, they run into forces even more powerful and even more corrupt than they are, various agents of the Federal government who treat the Hat Dudes as cavalierly as the Hat Guys themselves treat gangsters. In fact, it is difficult for the Hat Squad to gain any moral high ground over the corrupt Feds because they are all doing the same kinds of lawless things. The head of the Hat Squad (the Top Hat?) ends up investigating the death of a woman he loved. The coroner tells him that it seems that the victim "fell off a cliff". Since the Top Hat has made many people disappear in the same manner, he seems to be getting a very painful dose of karma.

This is a pretty cool movie. It has a contrived and artificial plot, the Achilles heel of most crime thrillers, but the mood, atmosphere, and photography provide some excellent moments.

Region 2 DVD info from Amazon

  • no major features

  • no widescreen

  • not available in Region 1 (North America)

The one thing that really bothered me about the film was that a major point was left unresolved. Nolte, as a tough L.A. detective, gets into a pissing contest with a local FBI guy (a lesser Baldwin). The Fed tries to put some pressure on Nolte by getting a search warrant on his house, tearing it apart at a time when Nolte's wife was sure to be home, and Nolte was sure to be at work. Nolte retaliates by finding the Fed and beating him nearly to death. Near the end of the movie, the L.A. police chief gets a call from J. Edgar Hoover, and asks to see Nolte in his office. Nolte says "fuck it", and goes off to do what he's gotta do, as movie mavericks always do. When all the other plot threads have been resolved, there is no mention of how the LAPD was able to appease the wrath of J. Edgar, and I really wanted to see how that would play out.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three stars or maybe a bit less. Ebert 3.5/4, Berardinelli 2.5/4, BBC 3/5, 2.5/5

The People Vote ...

  • with their dollars ... US gross: $11.5 million
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a slightly better than average mystery - a must for genre fans, but not a lot of crossover appeal. C+ (Scoop says, "C. Solid genre film, but not a great one. Certainly recommended for people who would like to see Jennifer Connelly's breasts, which are magnificent.")

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