ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Herbert P. Caine is the pseudonym of a frustrated academic and genre movie fan in Pennsylvania. You can read his blog at https://imaginaryuniverseshpc.blogspot.com.
The Rape of Richard Beck, also known as Deadly Justice, is a far more serious film than its exploitation-style title would lead one to assume. Far from the Death Wish wannabe its alternate title suggests, it is a serious examination of one man’s response to being raped, highlighted by an award-winning performance from Richard Crenna.
Crenna plays Richard Beck, a jocular homicide detective with a mean streak towards rape victims. Like many police officers back then – and far too many now – Sergeant Beck regards rape as a less important crime that victims bring upon themselves. When Beck allows a rape suspect to go free in exchange for information about the whereabouts of a murderer, he is forced to join the sex crimes unit, where his insensitivity comes to the fore, to the disgust of a community representative played by Meredith Baxter.
Then Beck himself gets raped by two criminals whom he chases into an underground passageway….
The main selling point of this film is Richard Crenna’s performance as Sgt. Beck. This role is the polar opposite of his stolid performances in the Rambo movies as Col. Trautman, requiring Crenna to display a wide range of emotions as Beck struggles with his traumatic experience. As Crenna described in an interview with the Television Academy, many people advised him against taking the role due to its disturbing content. He wisely ignored them, going on to win an Emmy for his performance. Crenna is backed by an excellent supporting cast, with George Dzundza as a fellow officer, Meredith Baxter as an anti-rape activist, Joanna Kerns as his girlfriend, and Frances Lee McCain (the mother from Gremlins) as his ex-wife.
The film is as graphic as could be gotten away with on 80s broadcast television, to the point that the TV Guide listing from its first airing noted that “ABC plans an announcement warning that this movie may not be suitable for all members of the family.” Although the rape is not depicted, we see the build up to it as the criminals threaten and terrorize Beck. Director Karen Arthur does well at making the film as disturbing as she could given the limitations of network censorship, as in scenes where we see a woman and later Crenna examined following their rapes.
The Rape of Richard Beck also deserves praise for its realistic depiction of the trauma caused by rape. The movie traces his emotional struggles in the immediate aftermath of the incident, as well as the social ramifications when his fellow police officers find out. The character is inspired by Sgt. Richard Ramon, a police officer who gave talks to police cadets about the best ways to treat rape victims.
The Rape of Richard Beck can be seen for free on YouTube.