"Sharky's Machine (1981)"
Featuring Randy Crawford, Sarah Vaughn,
Chet Baker, Joe Williams, Eddie Harris,
Flora Purim and Buddy DeFranco
Varese Sarabande/Vintage Reissue
12 Tracks/Disc Time: 35:36
Way back in the early 1980's Oscar Nominee Burt Reynolds ("Boogie Nights") was really riding high after a string of very successful films that include the much beloved comedy "Smokey And The Bandit" along with its' luckluster but successful sequel, "Semi-Tough", "The Longest Yard", "The End", "Hooper" and the joyous guilty pleasure, "The Cannonball Run." Reynolds sat behind the director's chair this time around to direct the gritty crime drama "Sharky's Machine" based on the novel by author William Diehl which was written years prior with Reynolds in mind. Reynolds plays Tom Sharky, a tough as nails Atlanta narcotics detective who's demoted to the vice squad after a botched undercover drug bust gone wrong. In the depths of this lowly division, while investigating a high-dollar prostitution ring, Sharky stumbles across a mob murder with government ties, and responds by assembling his downtrodden fellow investigators dubbed "Sharky's Machine" that include Papa (Brian Keith,"The Yukuza"), Hotchkiss (Earl Holliman,"Taking Of Pelham 1-2-3") and Arch (Bernie Casey, "I'm Gonna Get You Sucka!") along with their Lt.Friscoe (Charles Durning, "Tootsie") to find the leaders and bring them to justice before they kill off all his partners and witnesses, including Sharky himself. Sharky soon becomes involved with a high class hooker named Dominoe (Rachel Ward, "The Thorn Birds") who's sugar daddy is the notorious mobster Scorelli (Vitttorio Gassman, "Sleepers") protected by his whacked out henchman, Bobby Score (Henry Silva, "Above The Law").
The film is a gritty and richly textured film that is very engaging and probably one of Reynolds' best films aside from "The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas" which was his last hit film before his career went into a tailspin. A side from the solid performances and the solid visuals of Director of Photography William A. Fraker ("Tombstone"), the film has become a hidden gem that many people have rediscovered over the years thanks to DVD and home video. Another great aspect to this film is the music in which Reynolds rather than relying on an original score per se has gathered an ecclectic group of songs which the majority are jazz based along with some contemporary material to underscore the films' locale as well as the demeanor of Reynolds' character and his "Dirty Harry" like adventures.
Starting with a great rendition of the hit "Street Life" sung by the wonderful Randy Crawford which was a major hit song in the late 1970's after performing it with the great jazz group "The Crusaders" updates that song with an even better rendition recorded for the film which opens the film quite brilliantly. The legendary jazz songstress Sarah Vaughn contributes with the memorable "Love Theme From Sharky's Machine" which underscores a rather sensual seduction scene in the film between Rachel Ward and Vittorio Gassman while Reynolds looks on during his stakeout is an unforgettable song to which I have not forgotten since I first saw the film again when I got my first DVD player in 2000 and everytime I see the film which is really brilliant. She also has a great duet to cap the film with Joe Williams in "Before You" that is solid ending to the film and Williams has his own memorable song in "8 To 5 I Lose" which is pure classic jazz blues with a melodic big band setting which is classic. Chet Baker's memorable rendition of "My Funny Valentine" is also on board along with the infectious acapella of The Manhattan Transfer performing "Route 66".
There is a score per se written by Al Capps that is more than ably performed by jazz musicians such as Flora Purim, Buddy De Franco, Eddie Harris and former Johnny Carson trumpet legend Doc Severinsen that really do match the songs perfectly. Starting with "Drug Bust" which features a memorable solo vocal by Purim leading to the wonderful jazz clarinet of DeFranco during a crucial chase sequence that opens the film. Severinsen's contribution to the film is two big band styled tracks "High Energy" and "Sexercise" and Harris' contributes a lovely jazz rendition of the love theme performed by Sarah Vaughn.
Varese's reissue of the original 1981 Warner Bros. LP record is a wonderful surprise and I'm really happy to see this album finally on as a digital download and a regular CD coming in January because this album has been long been a collector's item and with good reason, the music is just that good. Give Reynolds credit on this one for choosing a great group of songs which are wonderful, energetic and while dated a bit, still are classic songs that are make you giddy for the good times when music was actually really great. "Sharky's Machine" is a terrific album that deserves to be rediscovered much like the film deserves to be. Great album! Thumbs way way up!