Mulholland Falls: Ginster Squad

With Gangster Squad on release this week, I thought I’d take a look at Mulholland Falls, another tough neo-noir set in the post war city of angels. It features a similar team of two-fisted detectives who work off the books, loosely based on the Gangster Squad’s real life Robbery Division contemporaries, the Hat Squad. However, based on the flabby story telling and out of shape cast, a more fitting title might be “Ginster Squad”.

Mulholland Falls was director Lee Tamahori’s first American mainstream film after his critically lauded Once Were Warriors, about a troubled urban Maori family in his native New Zealand.  Falls (1996) precedes the brilliant L.A Confidential by a year, yet comes across as a poor copycat. If Confidential is, to use original author James Ellroy’s parlance, ” a gasser” Falls is a slow puncture balloon left on the floor after the party of hoods and hookers has been broken up.

The Hat Squad consists of: boss Lt Max Hoover (Nick “growler” Nolte); Coolidge (Chazz “jazz hands” Palminteri), who has anger management issues and is seeing a shrink; Reylea (Chris “Stop pointing that gun at my dad!” Penn) and Vic Vega, I mean Hall (Michael ” I like to lean on things a lot” Madsen). When these identikit portly schmoes in fancy suits and snap brim fedoras aren’t tossing out of town mobster William Petersen off the winding night time vantage point of Mulholland Drive (the Falls of the title), they get mixed up in the dull affair of the Black Dahlia rip-off.

A beautiful young woman and aspiring actress, Allison Pond (Jennifer Connolly) is found dead at a construction site, her body crushed, feet impacted by what turns out to be radioactive glass. She and Nolte had been having an affair until he broke it off for the sake of his marriage to Kate (Melanie Griffith, who got a Razzie for this – tough year for poor actresses? She’s not that bad!). Turns out Allison was having sex behind a two way mirror in a motel room with a lot of powerful men, being filmed by her gay friend Jimmy (Andrew McCarthy).

The Hat Squad only had eyes for the barbeque

Jimmy never admits to the true reason for the films – blackmail, or pornos? As well as capturing Nolte in flagrante delicto, he also filmed Allison with General Timms (John Malkovich) head of The Atomic Energy Commission and commander of a local top secret nuclear base.


Rapidly, the rest of the team become superfluous (just watch Madsen and Penn at the very end – it’s like they try and shuffle off unobtrusively, given absolutely nothing to do) and the focus is on Nolte’s noir quest to get to the truth and try and save his marriage, in a dull mystery a blind man on a galloping horse could solve. There are some flashes of wit and hard-boiled dialogue between the clunky delivery and leaden pace, but they are few and far between.

In the police station, Coolidge tries to thread a film reel through the projector and complains the spools are too small for his fingers, to which Louise Fletcher as the civilian office matriach quips “Why don’t you try your dick?” She reminds me of the file store lady in L.A Confidential. I’d love to see a spin-off where these two wise cracking dames solve a crime under the noses of flashy, incompetent detectives.During an interrogation, Nolte rumbles “This isn’t America. This is Los Angeles.” Not a bad line, but not a patch on the poetry of this from Dudley Smith in L.A Confidential: “Go back to Jersey, sonny. This is the city of Angels. And you haven’t got any wings.” 

The annoyingly smug Danny Baldwin plays a Fed who warns Hoover off, for reasons of “national importance”. Turns out Jimmy accidentally captured guinea pig irradiated soldiers on his camera and the military want it back. He sends the film of him and Allison to Hoover’s home, where his wife watches it, dismayed (incidentally, how confusing is it having a cop called Hoover when the FBI turn up?). Big mistake. Hoover comes for him, dragging him bloodily out of the Federal building to the sidewalk: “This is L.A. This is my town. Out here you’re a trespasser. Out here I can pick you up, burn your house, fuck your wife, and kill your dog. And the only thing that’ll protect you is if I can’t find you. And I already found you.” Yep, Nolte’s Hoover just steam rollers through everything and everyone, with no consequences, save that of his marriage.

One of the most unintentionally funny moments is at the climax, when Nolte and Palminteri are cornered by Treat Williams’ murderous Colonel. Nolte triggers the dormant inner Hulk of his partner. Watching his bug eyes pop wider as he leaps up and lunges for Williams is hilarious – “They threw that little girl out of A PLANE, MAX!” It’s just like Steve Martin’s Rigsby Reardon losing it in an almost similar set up in Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid – “Cleaning woman. Cleaning woman. CLEANING WOMAN!!!”


Impeccable production design, props and costumes, a good, though at times intrusive jazzy score by Dave Grusin and a scene stealing, black, shiny open top sedan sadly can’t gloss over the pedestrian direction and lacklustre plot. There was so much missed potential here with the atomic age paranoia clashing with gangland murder. Just think back to the hard as nails Mike Hammer thriller, Kiss Me Deadly. Quentin Tarantino’s talented editor Sally Menke may have worked on this, but you can’t polish a turd. Forget it Lee, it’s not Chinatown (or L.A Confidential, for that matter). 

Originally posted 2013-01-08 22:01:43. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Read and post comments on this article