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Jack Smith

A cold can lead to pneumonia, but cop movies on TV can rot your brain

April 28, 1986|JACK SMITH

Except for little bouts of work every day at my computer, I have been in bed for a week with a bad cold.

I am not as scornful of bad colds as I used to be. A cold might turn into pneumonia, and pneumonia could blow me away like a dry leaf.

I am not a hypochondriac, but my doctor told me to take it easy and I did.

I went home and shut myself up in the bedroom with nothing to keep me from dying of boredom but the morning paper, a few detective novels, and the TV.

The reason I am writing this, which should otherwise be of no general interest, is that during that week of self-imposed quarantine I was able to prove beyond a doubt, by actual if involuntary experiment, that cop movies degenerate the mind.

I felt so miserable that even reading detective stories was hard. I read one called "The Left-Handed Policeman," about a psychopathic serial murderer in Beverly Hills. The policeman of the title works for the Beverly Hills Police Department, which is pictured as a division of the Los Angeles Police Department. At one point the mayor of Los Angeles arrives at a murder scene in Beverly Hills with the LAPD chief and the next day autocratically takes the Beverly Hills cop off the case and puts him at a desk.

This annoyed me, because Beverly Hills is an incorporated city, with its own police department, a separate entity in no way subservient to the Los Angeles Police Department. (I checked this out with Lt. Dan Cooke of the LAPD, as the author should have done.)

I was so exasperated by the author's failure to know this elementary jurisdictional fact that I wanted to telephone him and complain, but I saw on the jacket that he lives in Hawaii, and I was afraid he wouldn't accept a collect call.

Besides, I remembered that Oahu has a city and county government, and over there the Honolulu Police Department polices the entire island. That might have misled him.

I remembered that when I worked on the Honolulu Advertiser in the year before Pearl Harbor I was on the night news desk and one of my chores was to phone every station on the island every night to see if anything newsworthy had happened.

Until Pearl Harbor itself, there was never any news. I became familiar with the night-duty officers at the suburban stations and we played little games.

"Hi," I would say, "this is the Advertiser. You guys got any news tonight?"

And the cop would say, "Well, yeah--about an hour ago a coconut fell off a tree."

So I figured that the author of this novel, though he is supposed to have grown up in Beverly Hills, had written his book under the influence of trade winds and rum Cokes. Why should I ruin his fantasy?

I didn't begin to watch TV for a day or so because I couldn't find anything in the log I thought would be worth watching. Then I decided to try old movies.

First, I watched "The Bishop's Wife," with Cary Grant and Loretta Young. I will watch anything with Cary Grant in it, and I think Loretta Young was the most luscious looker that ever appeared on the screen. It was a story by my late friend Robert Nathan. Grant played an angel who straightens out Miss Young's relationship with her ambitious husband, the bishop, by showing her how to enjoy life. There was just a suggestion of sexual attraction between Young and Grant. Nathan was always playing around with sexy angels.

I enjoyed it as a period piece.

Then I watched Katharine Hepburn in "Morning Glory," in which Miss Hepburn plays a young and self-confident would-be actress who goes to New York and becomes sexually involved (offscreen) with a Broadway producer (Adolphe Menjou); after an interlude of failure and disappointment, she gets her chance when the producer's star walks out on him, and of course she's a hit.

Hepburn was so talented, and the movie was so outdated, it made me sad.

Then I got into cop pictures. I watched "Police Academy II," which is about a rookie class of outrageously incompetent cops who clean out a barbaric street gang after wrecking what seems like every squad car in the department.

The wanton destruction of automobiles in cop pictures strikes me as one of the most arrogant signs of our decadent materialist society.

It was while watching "Police Academy II" that my brain began to go.

One evening my wife came home to find me lying in the darkened bedroom, watching a movie called "Moving Violations."

"What's this about?" she asked.

"Well," I said, "it's about all these different types of people who get tickets for moving violations and they have their licenses suspended and their cars impounded. Sally Kellerman is a judge who sentences all these people to go to traffic school, and then she conspires with the instructor of the school to flunk all the violators so she and he can sell the impounded cars and split the money. They're also having some kinky sex."

She said, "Are you all right?"

Also I told her about the scene where two kids who got traffic tickets make love in a gravity-free chamber. "She works for NASA," I explained.

"Sounds terrific," she said.

After that, if a movie didn't have a lot of sex and car wrecks, I got bored.

I just hope the damage isn't permanent.

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