The Choirboys (film)

The Choirboys is a 1977 American comedy-drama film directed by Robert Aldrich, written by Christopher Knopf and Joseph Wambaugh based on Wambaugh's novel of the same title. It features an ensemble cast including Charles Durning, Louis Gossett Jr., Randy Quaid, and James Woods. The film was released to theaters by Universal Pictures on December 23, 1977.

The Choirboys
Directed byRobert Aldrich
Produced byMerv Adelson
Lee Rich
Written byJennifer Miller
Music byFrank De Vol
CinematographyJoseph Biroc
Edited byWilliam Martin
Irving Rosenblum
Maury Winetrobe
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • December 23, 1977 (1977-12-23)
Running time
119 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box officeITL 126,400,000 (Italy) (1980)
292,099 admissions (France)[2]


Los Angeles police officers experiencing various pressures at work unwind at night with drunken get-togethers (a.k.a. "choir practice") at MacArthur Park, where their pranks often go too far: among those there are a retiring cop, a small number of young cops, a bigoted one and a Vietnam vet with panic disorder.



Lorimar purchased the screen rights to the novel in October 1975, before it was published.[3] The price was a reported $700,000.[4] It was Wambaugh's fourth book, third novel and first comedy. The Los Angeles Times called it "brilliant".[5] The book became a best seller.[6]

Wambaugh adapted his own novel into a screenplay. Robert Aldrich signed to direct in February 1976.[7] "The whole $5.3 million is from independent sources," said Wambaugh in November 1976. "No Hollywood studio is involved - they can be as bad as networks."[8]

"When I turned in my first script they said they loved it," said Wambaugh later. "Then there was total silence. I called but they didn't return my calls."[9]

Clash with Wambaugh

Aldrich wanted changes to the script and hired Christopher Knopft to do them. "I think Mr. Wambaugh is going to be very unhappy with this film of his work," said Aldrich. "I haven't figured out yet how to correct some of the things that are in the book and still make people who read the book want to see the movie - but I do intend to figure it out."[10]

Aldrich said he did not feel the same way as Wambaugh about "the problems of the cop... I don't find the fact that cops can't "cope" particularly rewarding; I can't relate to it. I don't know how to feel sorry for a cop. It's a volunteer force. You're not drafted to become a cop. So you've got to take some of the heat if you don't like what people think about you. After all, that's an extraordinary pension you get in twenty years; nobody else gets it. In fact, I disagree with Wambaugh to such an extent that I don't think people really like cops."[10]

Aldrich said the book "doesn't go far enough for me" for instance not showing them to be racist, taking bribes or wanting to be stormtroopers. "I think you've got to show L. A. cops as brutal as they really are. And Wambaugh can't face that problem, so it's never touched in the book. "[10]

When Wambaugh saw the rewritten script he was not pleased. "They'd mutilated my work," he said.[9]

He took out a full page advertisement complaining about what had happened to his book and sued to get his name taken off the credits of the final print.[11] [12]


Aldrich rehearsed with the cast prior to filming. "We don't have any superstars," said Aldrich. "The film doesn't need Steve McQueen to carry it."[13]

Filming started 21 March 1977. Aldrich said the film showed how police dealt with pressures but "it wont be all grim, though; there will be some hysterically funny sequences coming out of the love they have for each other."[14]

Charles Durning said he based his character on Aldrich, "one of the brightest guys I know and who never forgets he's the boss."[15]

During filming, one of the cast Walter McGinn died.[12]

In June 1977 Universal agreed to distribute.[16]


The film attracted negative reviews and is considered by some to be Aldrich's weakest film. Vincent Canby's review in The New York Times described the film as "cheap and nasty" as well as "a stylistic and narrative mess".

Wambaugh, after seeing the film, called it a "dreadful, slimy, vile film... a sleazy, insidious film. There was no serious intent to it. It was an insult to me but also to every self-respecting cop in America."[17]

He sued Lorimar and was paid $1 million in compensation.[17]

He then brought back the rights to The Onion Field and Black Marble to have more control, because of what happened to The Choirboys.[18]


  1. Alain Silver and James Ursini, Whatever Happened to Robert Aldrich?, Limelight, 1995 p 303
  2. French box office results for Robert Aldrich films at Box Office Story
  3. Hollywood the Re-Dream Factory Murphy, Mary. Los Angeles Times 22 Oct 1975: g11.
  4. Songs of Discord From 'The Choirboys': Incomplete Source Lee, Grant. Los Angeles Times 7 Dec 1977: oc_a1.
  5. Wambaugh's Cops in a Crucible Again: Wambaugh's Cops in Crucible Again Weisman, John. Los Angeles Times 26 Oct 1975: v1.
  6. The Best Sellers of 1975 New York Times 7 Dec 1975: 361.
  7. Tempo/People: Tower Ticker Gold, Aaron. Chicago Tribune 16 Feb 1976: b2.
  8. Police Story Gets Around to a Real-Life Joe: CECIL SMITH Police Story's Real-Life Joe Smith, Cecil. Los Angeles Times 4 Nov 1976: g1.
  9. Wambaugh's war against Hollywood Davis, Ivor. The Globe and Mail20 Dec 1977: P.16.
  10. "I CAN'T GET JIMMY CARTER TO SEE MY MOVIE!" Aldrich, Robert. Film Comment; New York Vol. 13, Iss. 2, (Mar/Apr 1977): 46-52.
  11. FILM CLIPS: 'Hair,' 'Sgt. Pepper' Into Focus Kilday, Gregg. Los Angeles Times 10 Oct 1977: f9.
  12. Writing His Way to the Top Kilday, Gregg. Los Angeles Times 6 Apr 1977: e20.
  13. A Touch of Garbo for 'Fedora' Kilday, Gregg. Los Angeles Times 28 Mar 1977: e7.
  14. At the Movies: David Warner Too Busy to Brood Over 'Providence' Flatley, Guy. New York Times (4 Feb 1977: 46.
  15. Durning Delayed by Bad Advice Lee, Grant. Los Angeles Times 12 Feb 1977: b6.
  16. FILM CLIPS: Basketball Soothes Gould's Soul Lee, Grant. Los Angeles Times 8 June 1977: g9.
  17. Tempo TV & Radio: Wambaugh is his own boss in 'Onion Field' Deeb, Gary. Chicago Tribune 2 July 1979: a10.
  18. FILM CLIPS: Wambaugh in the 'Onion Field' Lee, Grant. Los Angeles Times 16 Sep 1978: b6.
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