It's a seemingly peaceful spring morning in New York City -- graduation day at the Police Academy -- and Police Commissioner Anthony X. Russell (Henry Fonda) is looking forward to giving a speech to the new officers. But all isn't well: Russell's been given apparently incontrovertible evidence that his oldest friend, Chief Inspector Charles Kane ...
It's a seemingly peaceful spring morning in New York City -- graduation day at the Police Academy -- and Police Commissioner Anthony X. Russell (Henry Fonda) is looking forward to giving a speech to the new officers. But all isn't well: Russell's been given apparently incontrovertible evidence that his oldest friend, Chief Inspector Charles Kane (James Whitmore), is shaking down a bar owner, and a black minister (Raymond St. Jacques) is claiming that his son was brutalized when he was picked up for questioning in a rape/assault case. Then Russell gets a call informing him that two first-grade detectives, Daniel Madigan (Richard Widmark) and Rocco Bonaro (Harry Guardino), allowed small-time hood Barney Benesch (Steve Ihnat) to get the drop on them, steal their guns, and escape while they were trying to pick him up for questioning at the request of Brooklyn detectives -- and Benesch is now a suspect in that earlier murder in Brooklyn. Madigan has other problems, including the fact that the commissioner -- his ex-captain -- doesn't trust him, always believing him to be a loose cannon who has taken advantage of the badge in accepting favors and cutting corners where peoples' rights were concerned. Madigan also has a beautiful, upwardly mobile wife (Inger Stevens) who loves him but can't abide all the time his job takes him away from her or crimps her socializing; and he has never fully gotten over Jonesy (Sheree North), a saloon singer he knew before he was married. Madigan and Bonaro are given 72 hours to bring in Benesch and begin beating the bushes for leads. They get help from "Midget" Castiglione (Michael Dunn), a bookmaker and an old enemy of Benesch's, and a nervous, long-haired punk named Hughie (Don Stroud). While the clock ticks away on Madigan's and Bonaro's careers, the commissioner must decide how to deal with Kane, whose father -- also a police officer -- was like his own, and he must also fathom how a four-star chief could be involved with anything as tawdry as pressuring a tavern owner. Russell genuinely believes that there must be "one standard, one rule" for any member of the department, but in the course of this one weekend, he finds this notion shattered by what he discovers about Madigan, King, and himself. Meanwhile, Benesch is still on the loose, acting like a complete psycho and a threat to anyone who crosses his path. Russell's and Madigan's paths finally cross personally, as the detective proves -- and the commissioner discovers -- just how good a cop he is. Bruce Eder, Rovi