TV mysteries

J. J. STARBUCK “Pilot.” NBC, 26 September 1987. (The series itself of sixteen episodes began three evenings later, on September 29th.) Dale Robertson (Jerome Jeremiah ‘J.J.’ Starbuck), David Huddleston, Shawn Weatherly. Guest cast: Bill Bixby, Patty Duke. Co-creators/screenwriters: Stephen J. Cannell & Lawrence Hertzog. Director: Corey Allen. Episodes are currently available on YouTube.

   J. J. Starbuck (no relation to the coffee shop chain, as far as I know) was an eccentric billionaire who left the running to his several successful commercial enterprises to underlings to travel across the country solving murder cases in which he feels an underdog is getting a poor deal. (At the end of this, the pilot episode, it is revealed that the deaths of his wife and son were what changed his mind about his earlier philosophy that money is everything.)

   His primary means of transportation is a Lincoln convertible enhanced by a hood ornament consisting of three foot span of steer horns. Over the top, yes, but it helped make many a killer think J. J. is nothing more than a corn pone cowboy prone to quoting appropriate homilies fitting the situation at hand.

   Example: “I like to keep an open mind, in case someone comes along and drops a good thought in it.”

   I don’t think anyone but Dale Robertson could get away with lines such as this. The part was almost surely made with him in mind.

   In this opening episode, the villain (Bill Bixby) is accused and arrested of killing his wife. Midway through the trial a pool boy (or the equivalent) confesses to the murder, and Bixby’s character is set free. Then the fellow who confessed retracts his confession, but can Bixby be arrested and tried again? Supposedly not, but I will allow the legal minds reading this have their say.

   The beneficiary of J. J. Starbuck investigation is Bill Bixby’s stepson, who also ends up as J. J.’s foster son halfway through the episode, but I don’t believe he ever showed up again.

   The series lasted only the one season, but it had to be fun for viewers to see Dale Robertson back in the saddle again, so the speak. (*) To me, he was a man totally at ease in any role he played, and he plays this one to the hilt.

(*) Robertson previously starred in two cowboy shows on TV: Tales of Wells Fargo (1957-62) and Iron Horse (1966-68)


TAKE TWO. “Pilot.” ABC, 28 June 2018 (Season One, Episode One). Rachel Bilson (Sam Swift), Eddie Cibrian (Eddie Valetik). Created and written by Andrew W. Marlowe and Terri Edda Miller. Director: John Terlesky. Available for purchase on Amazon Prime Video.

   After her long-running cop show on TV (eight years) has been cancelled, and finished now with rehab (I didn’t catch the why), actress Sam Swift, still young and attractive, hopes to make a comeback in another series, one in which she would play a private eye. How to prepare for the role? Have her agent call in a favor and have real-life PI Eddie Valetik let her follow him around for a week to watch and learn.

   Eddie agrees, but only under protest. Who needs a washed up former TV star underfoot all day? Well, you know how that goes. Lots of sparks fly, but it is only inevitable that after they partner up like this for a while, Eddie grudgingly agrees that maybe, just maybe, she is more than a pretty face.

   Their first client? A man who thinks his daughter, on her own in L.A., may have been murdered.

   This first episode has all the depth, ambience, and wholesome charm of a Hallmark Channel TV mystery, and I doubt I need say a whole lot more than that. It isn’t bad, but that doesn’t mean that it’s going to be remembered, even by those who watched it. The series was apparently a summer replacement on ABC, and when the summer was over, so was the series, 13 episodes in all.


The 87th Precinct TV Series, Part Two
by Matthew R. Bradley.


   In Part Two, I continue the episode-by-episode description of the 1961-62 television series, The 87th Precinct, based on the characters created by mystery writer Ed McBain in a long list of very popular police procedurals. If you missed Part One, you can find it here.

   ● Interestingly, two episodes were based on works by other authors, with Helen Nielsen adapting “The Very Hard Sell” (12/4/61) from her own story (Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, May 1959). An apparent suicide, a salesman is found shot dead in the car whose prospective buyer (Leonard Nimoy) duped him into transporting drugs during a test-drive; getting wind of this, he tried to make a citizen’s arrest with his own gun, which was then turned on him. Nimoy has little screen time, and his scam is convoluted and far-fetched, making this one of the less satisfying episodes.

   ● “Feel of the Trigger” (2/26/62) was adapted — again minus its initial article — from one of Donald E. Westlake’s Abe Levine stories (AHMM, October 1961), collected in Levine (1984); Hawkins gives Abe’s obsession with heart health to Meyer. During a confrontation with a youthful killer, Meyer faces him mano-a-mano and, after subduing him with judo — mentioned frequently in the novels, particularly as a defining characteristic of Det. Hal Willis — suddenly feels fine. Neither of McBain’s minority detectives, African-American Arthur Brown or Puerto Rican Frankie Hernandez, was seen on the show, but this episode gets points for matter-of-factly including black Officer Kendal (Bernie Hamilton) without making an issue of his race.

   The show’s original teleplays largely maintained the style and spirit of the books, periodically introducing a lighter tone, as did McBain. Obviously excepting Havilland 2.0, they captured both the personalities of and the dynamics among his characters, stressing the grindingly methodical, sometimes tedious nature of police work; the frequency with which luck and coincidence played an equally large role in the outcome; and the important contributions of the police lab, with which the detectives enjoy a pleasant raillery. Also like McBain, the scenarists populated the squadroom with colorful characters whose vignettes enlivened the proceedings.

   ● McBain contributed “Line of Duty” (10/23/61), which he later recycled for Ironside as “All in a Day’s Work” (2/15/68), and uses his character of stoolie Danny Gimp (Walter Burke). Bert sees a theater held up, then kills the perp who fires at him while the other drives away, described as a good boy by all who knew him; when Carella and Kling are given a lead by Danny, Bert freezes and is wounded before Steve shoots the fugitive, who reveals the “good boy” was his accomplice on 14 jobs. Unsurprisingly, McBain does an excellent job of focusing on Kling’s maturation as a detective, struggling to cope with the first time he is forced to kill.

   ● Cinematographer James Wong Howe directed Finlay McDermid’s “The Modus Man” (10/16/61), with Havilland and ex-detective Bill Brewster (John Anderson) — now a used-car salesman — recognizing the m.o. of a smash-grab as Maxie Greb’s … but he’s in prison. Carella’s investigating a second-story job, unmistakably the work of Blinky Smith…whose alibi checks; Roger and Kling raid the apartment of Greb’s former partner…who died a week ago. Brewster has microfilmed their m.o. cards, but slips up by telling a victim to shut up while impersonating a crook who can no longer speak.

   ● Winston Miller’s “Occupation, Citizen” (10/30/61) concerns a Hungarian refugee (Ross Martin) whose pregnant wife, fearing reprisals, stops him from identifying two mob killers, but after a second killing, he agrees to serve as bait. Immigrants feature prominently in McBain’s precinct, whose population, per Killer’s Wedge, “was composed almost entirely of third-generation Irish, Italians, and Jews, and first-generation Puerto Ricans.” This episode has a valuable lesson in citizenship applicable to all Americans, yet especially these aspiring citizens, with Steve reminding them of their civic duty to their unborn child’s adoptive country.

   ● The first of two teleplays by David Lang, “The Guilt” (11/13/61) finds Meyer clobbered by childhood friend Artie Sanford (Mike Kellin), who is bitten by a used-car salesman’s guard dog while trying to make a getaway. Dismissing news reports that it is rabid as a trick, he persuades sometime girlfriend Estelle Vernola (Norma Crane) to transport him in her uncle’s truck. Meyer records Blaney’s warning about the urgent need for treatment, and Estelle plays it for Artie in the back of the truck, prompting a spectacular, eye-rolling freak-out by Kellin before she drives him to the Emergency Hospital, where Meyer awaits.

   ● In Lang’s “Ramon” (4/9/62), the eponymous boy (Danny Bravo) can’t stop showing his appreciation after Havilland sends flowers to his mother’s grave, while his father, Villedo Morales (Edward Colmans), is conspiring to assassinate a visiting Central American prime minister, who plans to address his people in front of the precinct house. Roger collects $20 to send Ramon to camp, but Villedo, reconsidering when Havilland touts ballots over bullets in another of the show’s solid moral lessons, pulls Ramon from camp to leave town. Fearing he won’t see Roger again, the boy eludes him, his destination obviously the 87th, and Villedo, arriving just before the speech, fingers the conspirators.

   ● In Anne Howard Bailey’s “My Friend, My Enemy” (11/27/61), a woman lies to alibi her son, Andrew Mason (Dennis Hopper), who strangled a classmate in the park, and the suspicious Carella has an undercover Kling befriend him. Daniels urges caution when Bert risks the jealousy of Claire — killed off in Lady, Lady, I Did It! (1961) — to make a double date with two policewomen. With Hopper providing an early taste of the manic energy he brought to Apocalypse Now (1979), the unbalanced youth learns that Kling is a cop, and threatens him with his own gun before being disarmed.

   ● The first of four scripts by Donn Mullally, “Run, Rabbit, Run” (12/25/61) marks Paul Genge’s debut as Lt. Jim Burns (Peter Byrnes in the novels). The only surviving witness to testify against an executed mobster, Toots Brendan (Alfred Ryder) is betrayed when he tries to sell his interest in “the operation” to help finance his disappearance. Not above deception, Steve tells secretary Yvonne English (Barbara Stuart) — who is sweet on Toots — that he’s been killed, so she reveals her duplicitous boss’s address, enabling the detectives to intervene.

   ● Pete Rugolo and Jerry Goldsmith, respectively, pinch-hit on Mullally’s “Man in a Jam” (1/8/62) and Katkov’s “Step Forward” (3/26/62) — both directed by Twilight Zone vet James Sheldon — for Goldsmith’s protégé, Hawaii Five-O legend Morton Stevens; all three scored Thriller, another Hubbell Robinson Production. “Jam” concerns a man who claims he killed his fiancée during a drunken black-out, in reality a premeditated crime for which he forged I.O.U.’s from her to fictitious other men of whom he was supposedly jealous. Unfortunately, the Byzantine nature of his scheme threatens credulity.

   ● A somewhat whimsical departure, “Step Forward” finds the underpaid Carella accepting a job as a bank’s security chief; he chafes at the symbolic post, humoring rich clients, but provides two of them with valued advice. Kling drops in as the Carellas and Meyers enjoy cocktails, nicely showing how the detectives remain friends off-duty, and when he gets a tip on a payroll robber, the three head out to pick him up. Despite the extra money and the prestige of his own staff, Steve admits policing is “more fun,” his new job obviously forgotten as they question the suspect.

   ● Kling asks local baseball hero Larry Brooks (Michael Dante) to start a baseball clinic to get the local kids on the right path in Mullally’s “Idol in the Dust” (4/2/62). Larry tries to extricate his parole-violating brother Joe (Al Ruscio) from a crooked poker game, and in the ensuing mêlée, Joe pushes one crook out the window to his death; for their mother’s sake, Larry confesses to involuntary manslaughter, upholding the code of silence. This makes him a hero to the local punks, but when Bert assembles them and the clinic kids to see Larry, Carella brings Joe, who agrees to take his own rap, advising them to avoid his fate — guidance that could also serve viewers well.

   ● In Mullally’s “The Last Stop” (4/23/62), Mike Power (Victor Jory) is scapegoated after being shot in a taxi by Stu Tobin (Bern Bassey) while the latter silences a squealer, then asked by long-ago partner Burns to run out the retirement clock at “the Eight-Seven.” In an effective performance by Jory, he rubs everyone the wrong way, but his hunch is borne out that a rash of crimes by a shotgun-wielding woman is a hoax. Correctly confident that he won’t be recognized, Stu brazenly sits beside Powers in a bar; as Mike accosts him to return a lighter left behind, a departing Stu misconstrues and shoots it out, but Powers survives again and is retired, effective immediately.

   ● Written by Alfred Hitchcock Presents mainstay William Fay, “Main Event” (1/1/62) has Meyer’s pal “Sonny” Fitzgerald (Brad Weston) beset by a booby-trapped punching bag and spiked rubbing solution. The culprit is revealed as gofer Bobo Felix (Arch Johnson), an ex-pug who was used up and thrown away by — and is trying to frame — a notoriously crooked rival manager, resenting Sonny’s success. But the subtleties of Bobo’s plan seem at odds with his punch-drunk persona, making this another problematic episode.

   ● In Jonathan Latimer’s “Out of Order” (1/22/62), ex-con Jerry Curtis (Charles Robinson) is suspected of bombing a phone booth when his construction foreman reports a dynamite theft, and although cleared when another blast goes off during questioning, he decides to cash in, believing it’s useless to try going straight and voicing a familiar complaint about persecuted parolees. Bombing a café and emptying its register, he adds theft to the m.o., but Meyer finds evidence in the phone company’s crank letter file that helps identify the original bomber, who denies the thefts. Jerry is apprehended after shooting a man with a gun concealed in his “bomb” while bluffing a betting parlor.

   ● Rik Vollaerts received a story and shared script credit (with Raphael Hayes) on “The Pigeon” (1/29/62), with Peter Falk well suited to the typical oddball role of Greg Brovane. Coincidentally, the 87th entries So Long as You Both Shall Live (1976) and Jigsaw (1970) were respectively repurposed into his Columbo episodes “No Time to Die” (3/15/92) and “Undercover” (5/2/94). Aspiring to the big time like his father, Greg has been hypnotized to think he made it, confessing to two killings in a supermarket heist he didn’t pull and fingering three nonexistent accomplices.

   ● James Bloodworth also had story and shared script credit (with Collins) on “A Bullet for Katie” (2/12/62), the new bride of cop Bill Miller (Ed Nelson). Gantry (Harold J. Stone) excoriated Bill when left by his wife while in prison, but a co-worker recants his alibi for Katie’s shooting after Gantry refuses to be blackmailed into concealing factory theft. Providing extra nuance, Bill is well portrayed as abrasive and hot-headed, gunning for vengeance when he learns that Gantry is about to be picked up, but just in time, a boy admits wounding Katie while playing with an “unloaded” gun borrowed from a friend.

   ● In Sheldon’s “Square Cop” (3/12/62), written by Robert Hardy Andrews, Otto Forman (Lee Tracy) is suspected after the weapon that killed his partner is identified as his, reported stolen, and the description of the wounded perp matches his estranged son. When Burns says, “he fell down, failed, right in his own family,” Steve replies, “that happens to a lot of fathers,” alluding to Larry Byrnes, revealed as an addict and murder suspect in The Pusher. Tracy brings a nice gravitas to the role, dramatizing the classic duty vs. family conflict, with the viewer uncertain which way he leans until he decks the youth, who had tried to force his father’s help.

   ● Collins wrote the last episode, “Girl in the Case” (4/30/62), in which a millionaire dies after dictating a will to stenographer Cheryl Anderson (Janis Paige), offered $100,000 to swear that he was not of sound mind. It’s revealed that an ex-member of his law firm had planned to split $3 million left to a family member in a previous will. Havilland wines and dines Cheryl, but is chagrined to learn that she plans to marry the man’s ne’er-do-well son, who might actually become something with her help; this makes her a nicely complex character, seeming far less like a mere gold-digger.

   The “conglomerate hero” device aided the scenarists in mixing and matching characters from any book after Killer’s Choice to circumvent Roger’s absence. A Casanova, McBain’s Hawes often bedded any babe he saw, an aspect that not only was downplayed on the show but also ruled out the married Carella and Meyer and engaged Kling, leaving Havilland his default stand-in, e.g., romancing Cheryl. Roger’s literary successor, Andy Parker, fought with Steve over racist remarks to Hernandez, who is slain in See Them Die (1960) while trying to prevent a besieged killer’s becoming a barrio martyr.

   The 87th has since had mixed success onscreen, although as with noir authors David Goodis and Cornell Woolrich, French filmmakers, e.g., Claude Chabrol, favored these romans policiers. With Burt Reynolds (Carella), Jack Weston (Meyer), and Tom Skerritt (Kling) relocated to Boston, Richard A. Colla’s Fuzz (1972) was a misfire, despite being adapted by McBain-as-Hunter. His 1968 novel had brought back the Deaf Man — Yul Brynner, like Vaughn one of The Magnificent Seven (1960) — and Det. Eileen Burke (aka McHenry; Raquel Welch); the latter, unseen since The Mugger, became a major character starting with Ice.


      Editions cited —

The Mugger: Warner (1996)
Killer’s Choice: Avon (1986)
All others: Signet (1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1989)

The 87th Precinct TV Series, Part One
by Matthew R. Bradley.


   Under the byline Evan Hunter, legally adopted in 1953, Salvatore Albert Lombino (1926-2005) was the original author and/or screenwriter of such films as The Blackboard Jungle (1955), adapted by director Richard Brooks; John Frankenheimer’s The Young Savages (1961); and Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963). His scripts and stories were seen on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Kaiser Aluminum Hour, and Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre.

   As Ed McBain, he was the acknowledged master of the police procedural, his 87th Precinct mysteries comprising 55 books over half a century, possibly inspiring Hill Street Blues. Cop Hater, The Mugger, and The Pusher (all 1956) were filmed between 1958 and 1960; the following year, NBC’s 87th Precinct debuted. Robert Lansing, carried over from The Pusher (1960), played Det. Steve Carella, and later Gary Seven in the Star Trek spin-off manqué “Assignment: Earth” (3/29/68).

   In a 1989 introduction to Cop Hater and afterword to The Pusher, McBain discussed his innovation of a “conglomerate hero in a mythical city…[that] was like New York but not quite New York,” with analogs for each borough. “[O]ne cop can step into the spotlight in one novel, another in the next novel [as when Carella is honeymooning in The Mugger], cops can get killed and disappear from the series, other cops can come in, all of them visible to varying extents…” The show standardized the duty roster to Carella and three colleagues, replacing “Isola” with its model, Manhattan.

   Ron Harper — later astronaut Alan Virdon on Planet of the Apes  —  co-starred as Bert Kling, promoted from patrolman after cracking a murder in The Mugger. The landlord on Three’s Company, Norman Fell played sardonic family man Meyer Meyer, per McBain “a Jew whose father had a hilarious sense of humor.” Immortalized in Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space (1957), Gregory Walcott was the sanitized Roger Havilland, whose prose original tried to break up a street fight; broken in four places by a lead pipe, his arm had to be rebroken and reset, said ordeal rendering him a violent cynic.

   ● Of the 30 episodes, 11 were based on McBain’s works, including all nine novels following The Pusher; “The Floater” (9/25/61) was adapted from The Con Man (1957), previously dramatized on Climax! as “The Deadly Tattoo” (5/1/58). The 87th Precinct premiere was written by Winston Miller, who went on to co-produce the series with Boris D. Kaplan, while Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Thriller workhorse Herschel Daugherty directed the first and last episodes. This introduced Carella’s deaf-mute spouse, Teddy (Gena Rowlands), and medical examiner Dr. Tom Blaney (Paul in the novels; Dal McKennon).

   Robert Culp guest-stars as serial killer Curt Donaldson, who selects prospective wives with personals ads, gains control of their money, and dispatches them with arsenic after “signing his work” with distinctive tattoos. Teddy plays a prominent role, following Curt and his latest victim from a tattoo parlor to Pier 7, where she is almost killed before the squad arrives to save both women. Havilland provides a vastly toned-down account of McBain’s transformative trauma, while the lethally affable Culp was followed by such up-and-comers as Dennis Hopper, Leonard Nimoy, Robert Vaughn, and Peter Falk.

   ● McBain personally scripted “Lady in Waiting” (10/2/61) and “King’s Ransom” (2/19/62); adapted from Killer’s Wedge (1959), the former marked Rusty Lane’s debut as Desk Sergeant Dave Murchison. Virginia Colt (Constance Ford) holds the disarmed Meyer, Kling, and Havilland hostage at the station house — located, per McBain, on Grover Avenue, facing Grover Park — with a bottle of alleged nitroglycerine, vowing to kill Carella on arrival for sending her safecracker husband to prison, where he has died.

   Stumbling in, clerk Alf Miscolo (Miguel Landa) is shot, concealed, and denied a doctor as Roger turns off the fan, closes the windows, and cranks up the thermostat, prompting Virginia to remove the coat in which she pocketed his gun. Teddy arrives as Roger goes for his weapon, and Meyer pretends she is a complainant, but Virginia recalls reading of Mrs. Carella’s disability, and threatens her before being subdued in a scuffle by Roger and Bert. Delayed by a flat, Carella is baffled by the Bomb Squad’s call to say, “it was.”

   Dropping Teddy’s pregnancy and the B story of Steve’s locked-room “suicide,” McBain nicely depicts the squad’s ingenious efforts at extrication, defeated by stupidity. Bert slyly tries to summon help while answering a call from the precinct commander, who is oblivious to his hints; assuring a clueless Dave that the shot he heard was accidental, Meyer says he’ll see the sarge “forthwith,” police jargon for “report immediately”; Meyer is pistol-whipped by Virginia when she listens in on an imprudent call from Headquarters after two boys find a note he slipped out the window. McBain also retains his sympathetic portrayal of a Puerto Rican immigrant arrested for slitting the throat of a man who “got funny” with her.

   ● “King’s Ransom” was based on McBain’s 1959 novel, filmed by Akira Kurosawa as Tengoku to jigoku (Heaven and Hell, aka High and Low; 1963). Businessman Douglas King (Charles McGraw) faces an ethical dilemma when his chauffeur’s son, Jeff (Buzz Martin), is mistakenly kidnapped instead of his own, and Sy Barnard (Tony Carbone) demands that he pay regardless. Needing the money he has raised for a boardroom power struggle, King shocks his wife, Diane (Nancy Davis), by refusing to pay, but is advised to play for time by saying he will.

   With Carella on the floor in the back, King is given the runaround by Sy’s accomplice, Eddie Folsom (Charles Aidman), transmitting by radio to his car phone to direct him to a drop-off for Sy. But Eddie’s wife, who wants nothing more than a fresh start in Mexico, fears that Sy plans to kill Jeff either way, so she blurts both their location and his into the open mike, and when the hideout is raided, Jeff repays her kindness by insisting he’s been alone since Sy left. This exceptionally well-cast episode makes the boys 18, rather than 8, and when the Kings tell Carella that Doug’s power grab succeeded, we learn the Folsoms were caught, unlike in the book.

   ● Faithfully adapted by John Hawkins from the 1958 novel, “Lady Killer” (10/9/61) introduces department psychiatrist Ben Daniels (Harlan Warde); Sam Grossman (Michael Fox), who runs the police laboratory; and his technician, Joe Richards (Dennis McCarthy). Taking a complaint, Kling barely notices when Frankie Annuci (Billy Hughes) — paid $2 by an unknown man — delivers a pasted-up note reading, “I will kill The Lady tonight at 8. What can you do about it?” Carella sees binoculars glinting from a roof across the street, so Bert slips out back to investigate, but is clouted before getting a good look at the perp.

   Meyer learns that the purchaser of the dropped glasses may have lost them at the 708 Club, yet Frankie says he isn’t the man, and works with a sketch artist. Checking tenements, Meyer learns that the sketch may match tenant “Mr. Smith,” who fires on him and flees; he finds cards from the Jo-George diner, where George Ladonna (Peter Leeds) says partner Jo Cort (Lee Krieger) took a few days off. With George headed for drinks at 8:00 at the nearby 708, Carella remembers “la donna” is Italian for “the lady,” and they arrive just in time to save George, who loyally denied recognizing the sketch, thinking that Jo — jealous because his ex-girlfriend prefers George — was in routine trouble.

   ● The first of Norman Katkov’s two adaptations, “Killer’s Payoff” (11/6/61) was based on McBain’s 1958 novel and directed by John Brahm, like Daugherty a mainstay of the Hitchcock series and Thriller. Slain blackmailer Hank Richards paid for an apartment for dancer Nancy Johnson (Beverly Garland), from whom Havilland gets his “client list.” Kling overhears ex-model Lucy Mencken (Jeanne Cooper), shielding her husband from racy photos, make a rendezvous with Hank’s would-be successor, but following her, Roger is pistol-whipped.

   Havilland’s questioning provokes an angry visit in which Hank’s friend Marty Torr (Paul Richards) slaps Nancy around, admitting that he killed Hank and then followed the cops to identify his marks. He’s about to shoot Nancy when Roger calls to invite her to dinner, and her cleverly off-kilter reply cues him to go in with gun blazing. McBain’s far more convoluted solution involved a “conglomerate perp,” three hunters whom the blackmailer saw accidentally kill, and bury, a fourth; they joined forces to shoot him, and almost claim the life of the detective trying to trap them.

   ● Adapting “’Til Death” (12/11/61) from McBain’s 1959 novel, Katkov turns Steve from an expectant father (of twins born on the last page) and the brother of bride Angela (Judi Meredith) into a family friend. Tommy Palmer (Darryl Hickman) and Angela receive deliveries containing, respectively, a black widow and condolence card. Marty Kellogg (Johnny Seven), who blamed Tommy for a buddy’s death in Korea, was just released from a veterans’ hospital, so Kling agrees to attend with his fiancée, Claire Townsend (Margie Regan), in tow.

   Dancing with Angela at the reception, best man/long-ago beau Ben Darcy (Corey Allen) says it should have been theirs, and he’ll be there if anything happens to Tommy; overhearing, Steve confirms Ben’s handwriting on the delivery cards, which he says were jokes. Marty arrives, professing no hard feelings, but clocks Kling, who was searching for him, and attacks Tommy with a switchblade, stopped by Steve in the nick of time. Katkov streamlines McBain’s bizarre plot, putting commendable focus on emotions and relationships.

   ● Richard Collins wrote three adptations, starting with “Empty Hours” (11/20/61), which was shorn of the initial article from a novella published in Ed McBain’s Mystery Book #1 (1960) and the titular 1962 collection. Claudia Davis drowns when Eric Blau (William Schallert) fires at her canoe on Triangle Lake, while onshore companion Josie Thompson (Patricia Crowley) — oblivious to the silenced shots  — tries to save her. Penniless Josie, reported drowned, has her hair cut and dyed, telling fiancé George (Henry Brandt) that their uncanny resemblance will enable her to claim her best friend’s inheritance.

   Blau’s employer says “Claudia” is writing checks that lead Steve and Bert to a witness, recompensed for workdays the inquest cost him, and a passport photographer; records also reveal a traffic violation. The embezzling executor asks “Claudia,” unseen since childhood, to refrain from drawing interest, citing an investment tip, and has Blau try again, but questioning a cabbie hired to drive “Claudia” — who didn’t know how — back to town tips off Carella and Kling in time to stop him. Inventing Blau, George, and the executor, Collins here takes the greatest liberties with McBain’s source, which opens with “Claudia” found strangled by a panicked burglar.

   ● In “The Heckler” (12/18/61), Collins masterfully distills the 1960 novel introducing the precinct’s Moriarty, the Deaf Man, aka Sordo; with the iciness he later showed in Bullitt (1968), Robert Vaughn is perfect as the ruthless, methodical villain. His complex scheme involves death threats to a man whose loft is above the soon-to-relocate Mercantile State Bank, and to others located near lucrative businesses. Distracting the police with those and bombs made by night watchman “Pop” Smith (Frank Albertson), he hopes to heist more than $1 million from the the vault in the new location, under which he has tunneled during construction.

   Learning that Pop concealed a fiancée, Sordo coldly shoots him, but a hotel matchbook found in his burned uniform leads to Lotte Constantine (Mary La Roche); Kling catches her retrieving love letters from his apartment and finds a bank floor plan before Sordo — who learned Pop copied it — bursts in to wound Bert. Sordo follows with the kidnapped Lotte while his henchmen take the loot to the ferry in an ice-cream truck. Disembarking after a family vacation, Meyer accosts the driver over a license-plate discrepancy, but timely warnings from his wife, Sarah (Ruth Storey), and Lotte allow him to disarm the thieves.

   ● Scripted by Luther Davis and Collins, “Killer’s Choice” (3/5/62) was based on McBain’s 1957 novel, previously an episode of Kraft [Mystery] Theatre (6/11/58). That and another live Kraft entry — Larry Cohen’s original teleplay “87th Precinct” (6/25/58) — were the first attempt at a series, with several cast members in common; Cohen later wrote the telefilms Ice (1996), based on McBain’s 1983 novel, and Heatwave (1997), another original. Amy Boone (Gloria Talbott) is found shot dead in the liquor store where she worked for Franklin Phelps (R.G. Armstrong), with whom she was having an affair.

   “It sounds like we’re talking about three different people,” Kling says when the squad compares accounts by her mother, ex-husband, and other “friend”; Mrs. Phelps is tricked into admitting she killed Amy, having slipped away from a Miami party and taken a round-trip flight to New York. In the novel, McBain introduced Det. Cotton Hawes and killed Havilland with the shards of a plate-glass window through which a perp pushed him, a B story incorporated into “New Man in the Precinct” (4/16/62), supplanting Havilland. (McBain’s Pusher afterword reveals he wanted Carella to succumb to gunshots there, but was dissuaded by his agent and editor.)

   ● Written by Robert O’Brien and James Gunn, “New Man” finds Cotton (Fred Beir) filling in from the ritzier 30th for vacation-bound Det. Frank Kanin (Ray Montgomery), who meets the literary Havilland’s fate. He stops to help stricken Matt Murdock (Robert Colbert), winged by Dave Evans (Max Slaten) after breaking his jaw with a left hook in a liquor-store robbery; noticing the blood, Frank gets the same, hurled to his death. Carella checks out ex-pugs in trouble with the law, and Evans identifies Murdock, who persuades a doctor to remove the bullet, although daughter/nurse Linda Walters (Elizabeth Perry) warns it’s illegal not to report it.

   Social Security leads Carella and Hawes to Murdock’s hotel, but Cotton naively knocks on the door, eliciting a hail of bullets that nearly kills Steve. His wound reopened, Murdock blackmails Linda into coming to his new digs to patch it up, with a penicillin chaser, yet when the clerk spots his newspaper photo and drops a dime, the syringe is found. Bluffed to believe her father’s prints are on it, Linda recalls Murdock’s unusual phraseology regarding his getaway, a trucking company’s marketing slogan; the squad apprehends him at the depot, and Hawes learns that Steve is not one to hold a grudge.

   ● In “Give the Boys a Great Big Hand” (1/15/62), adapted by Shimon Wincelberg from McBain’s 1960 novel, a severed hand in a flight bag from Las Vegas sends Bert to Missing Persons, where he’s offered the file on stripper Barbara “Bubbles” Caesar as a diversion. Kling and Carella investigate merchant seaman Karl Andrade (Michael Forest), who stormed out on learning of Milly’s (Suzi Carnell) pregnancy. He got drunk, and a previous flame — whose photo Bert recognizes as Bubbles — called to say he was there, asleep, but Karl claims it’s all over between them.

   Choreographer Warren Tudor (Barry Atwater) brought his “soul mate” from Vegas and hated the baser attentions she received at the club where drummer Mike is also missing; Karl wants her to convince Milly nothing happened, and sets up a meeting at Tudor’s, but it’s a trap. Carella and Kling arrive just in time to prevent Tudor from chopping off the hands that “defiled my love” with a sword, finding Barbara and a mutilated Mike, both killed when caught in flagrante delicto by Tudor, who deludes himself that she is still alive. Wincelberg ends on a more positive note with the Andrades reconciling, whereas McBain’s unsympathetic seaman, obsessed with Bubbles, planned to abscond with her.



ZODIAC. “The Cool Aquarian.” Thames Television, UK, 04 March 1974. Anouska Hempel (Esther Jones), Anton Rodgers (David Gradley). Guest Cast: Michael Gambon, Trevor Baxter. Directed by Don Leaver. Currently available on YouTube here.

   The gimmick in this 1970s British mystery TV series, if one be needed, and there always is, is the teaming up of a stolid police inspector with a young lady astrologer, who is also quite pretty. The idea is that she is to use the horoscopes of the possible suspects to gauge their involvement, while he goes by traditional police work.

   The fellow who’s posted this one on YouTube has included five of the six episodes that comprise the entire series, but for some unknown reason the first one, which introduced the characters and the whole setup, is not one of them.

   In this, the second of the series, they’re already well settled in their roles, which a little surprisingly does not include a lot of conflict between them. The case consists of locating an elderly couple’s niece, a young woman who lives with them but who has gone missing. She is a secretary to a high-powered businessman, the kind of fellow who thinks (for example) of burning one of two extremely rare postage stamps he owns so that the remaining one is all that much more valuable. (See the second photo down.)

   It’s mostly a routine affair, one which plays out in a light almost-but-not-quite comedic fashion. In the latter vein, however, is the byplay between Grad (the inspector) and Esther’s new temporary butler Neville (Trevor Baxter) whose nose for what makes people tick comes in very useful. It’s too bad this was his only appearance in the show. (See the photo to the right.)

   The chemistry between the two stars is fine. More than fine. Based on this very small sample of size one, it’s a shame there were only the six episodes.


MARKER. “The Pilot.” UPN, 17 January 1995 (Season 1, Episode 1). Richard Grieco, Gates McFadden, Keone Young, Andy Burnaabel. Guest star: Nia Peeples. Created and written by Stephen J. Cannell. Director: Dennis Duggan. Currently streaming (with ads) on Freevee.

   It may be stretching things a bit to call Marker a Private Eye show, but on the basis of this first episode only, I don’t see any reason why not. When Richard DeMorra (Richard Grieco), a carpenter living in New Jersey who travels to Hawaii to attend the funeral of his estranged father, he clashes immediately with his stepmother over the estate, but he also learns that his father had a habit of passing out markers for people to use whenever they needed a helping hand.

   And such a person is a championship surfer girl (Nia Peeples) whose sister has disappeared, and she is hoping that Richard will honor his father’s promise to help find her. It is strongly suggested that further episodes will center on other such “clients” holding similar markers.

   It doesn’t take a lot of effort to solve this first case. Most of its running time is taken up by establishing the basic setup and the rules of the game. Richard ruminates a lot about his father, but it is left to later episodes (perhaps) to explain the why of the estrangement, a serious omission, I thought, one which let me hanging.

   Richard Grieco (who attended Central Connecticut State University, where I taught for some 30 years) was at the time known as a “hunk” but is also moderately successful here as an actor. The story line does show some promise, but other than the promise, this first case is awfully dull. The series lasted for only half a season, or 13 episodes.


THE AVENGERS “Mr. Teddy Bear.” ABC (Associated British Corporation), UK, 29 September 1962 (Season 2, Episode 1). Patrick Macnee (John Steed), Honor Blackman (Mrs. Cathy Gale). Guest cast: Michael Robbins, John Ruddock, Michael Collins. Written by Martin Woodhouse. Director: Richmond Harding.

   This was the first appearance of Honor Blackman as John Steed’s new partner in crime-solving, Cathy Gale, and it’s a good one. The villain of the piece is a notorious assassin for hire with a penchant for the dramatic and flamboyance in carrying out his tasks. Prime example: the episode begins with the death of his latest victim by poisoning on live TV.

   Playing to the killer’s obvious ego, Steed comes up a plan. Set himself as bait in a plot which would have Mrs Gale as Mr. Teddy Bear’s latest client. (The name comes from the man’s communicating with his clients via a radio hidden in a stuffed “talking” teddy bear.)

   The most common way a new leading character is introduced in a TV series nowadays is to have him or her having just been hired and needing to be mentored by the old guy that’s been around a while. Not so here. It is as if Cathy Gale has always been there. No introduction takes place. The somewhat flirtatious banter between the two leads is exactly that: relaxed and friendly, and a trademark of series from Day One.

   To that end, one other reviewer of this episode wondered if the two leads spent their nights as well as days together. The characters I mean. Come on. Obviously some people want to know more than I do.

   I also read an interview with Honor Blackman that was conducted much later on in which she was asked about this episode. She said she didn’t remember it very much at all. It was just a job, was her reply. No more than that. Who knew then that The Avengers was going to become such a worldwide phenomenon?

WOMEN’S MURDER CLUB “Welcome to the Club” ABC, 12 October 2007 (Season 1, Episode 1). Angie Harmon (Inspector Lindsay Boxer), Laura Harris (Deputy D.A. Jill Bernhardt), Paula Newsome (M.E. Claire Washburn), Aubrey Dollar (reporter Cindy Thomas). Based on the characters in a series of books by James Patterson. Director: Greg Yaitanes.

   This first episode was not the pilot for the series. That was a made-for-TV movie based on the first book in the series, 1st to Die, and which starred Tracy Pollan. (There are now 22 novels and two novellas in Patterson’s series, many of which were co-written by other authors.) The title of this episode is a bit misleading. It is assumed that reporter Cindy Thomas (for the fictional San Francisco Register) will be joining the other three in the “club,” but there is no club per se. In fact when she asks the others if there is a club, there is an immediate chorus of “no”s.

   No matter. A club it is.  Thomas introduced to the others as a fellow reporter to the woman who dies in front of Inspector Lindsay Boxer in dramatic fashion, falling from the top of a building where there are to meet and onto a car. As it turns out, she was also shot to death. The question is, what was the story she was working on, and what was she going to tell Lindsay about it?

   The case is tackled and solved in the usual TV businesslike fashion. Filling the rest of the hour is a lot of subplots involving the various characters’ love lives, including Lindsay’s news that her ex has been promoted over her partner on the force and is now her new boss. The episode ends with the discovery that a serial killer that the women thought had been put away is now back, a vicious psychopath whose M.O. includes sewing the lips of his victims together before leaving them to be found, hence his nickname, the “Kiss-Me-Not” killer. I assume this will form the underlying story arc for the remainder of the season.

   The series ran for just the one season, though, from October 12, 2007, to May 13, 2008. Of the four leading actors, I presume the primary focus was on Angie Harmon, whose striking brunette features make her the obvious choice for the role. Overall then, entertaining in a solid, workmanlike fashion, but without the extra “oomph” that would make the show must watching. (I have not read any of the books.)

HOLBY/BLUE “Episode One.” BBC, 08 May 2007. Cal Macaninch as DI John Keenan, Richard Harrington as DS Luke French, Elaine Glover as PC Lucy Slater, and large recurring ensemble cast. Created by Tony Jordan as a spin-off from the established TV medical drama Holby City; also screenwriter. Director: Martin Hutchings. Currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

   This BBC series might be categorized as police procedural/soap opera drama. It takes place in a small overworked police station in the fictional town of Holby, somewhere in England. This, the first episode of the first of two seasons opens with the well-worn concept of a new copper arriving (DS Luke French) and being introduced (and learning to adjust to) his new partner (DI John Keenan). At the same time, it is also the first day that a crop of new recruits are on the job, including a PC Lucy Slater, a young eager-to-go but klutzy blonde.

   It’s a day like all others, or is it, the new guy wonders. A known pedophile is about to be released for lack of evidence; a husband with a compulsive disorder is convinced that his wife is cheating on him; and Keenan – a maverick who hates playing my the rules — smashes the tail light of the car of the new male friend of his soon to be ex-wife. French bears up to all this with calmness and remarkable composure; and Lucy Slater is able to redeem herself in the eyes of her colleagues.

   It’s done well and at the same time completely by the book. Very slick, in other words. I probably won’t watch another, but then again, I might.  On the other hand, I never watched but one episode of Hill Street Blues either.

ANNIKA “Captain Ahab’s Wife.” Alibi, UK, 17 August 17 2021 (series 1, episode 1). Nicola Walker as DI Annika Strandhed, Jamie Sives as DS Michael McAndrews, Katie Leung as DC Blair Ferguson, Ukweli Roach as DS Tyrone Clarke, Kate Dickie as DCI Diane Oban, Silvie Furneaux as Morgan, Annika’s teenage daughter. Based on the BBC Radio 4 drama Annika Strandhed, created by Nick Walker, who also developed it for TV and wrote this episode. Currently streaming on PBS.

   This episode begins with Annika beginning a new position as the lead detective for a new Marine Homicide Unit in Glasgow, and as usual, she as a single mother, has her teenage daughter in tow and starting at a new school.

   If the word “truculent” didn’t exist, it would have to be created just for the daughter. Or maybe “sullen,” but who can blame her? Dragged off to a new city with no friends, just like so many shows just like this one.

   What makes this one different is the “breaking of the fourth wall” aspect, as every so often Annika turns to the camera and starts telling the audience what she’s thinking at the time. This is while action is still going on, not by having her step off to the side to do so. Many of the reviewers on IMDb hate this.

   I admit being taken by surprise the first time it happened, but I think it’s, well, almost charming and (in my opinion) certainly well done.

   On Annika’s very first day not only does she have to get used to her new leadership role, but she and her team have a murder to solve: the death of a excursion boat captain who has  been fatally stabbed by a harpoon. The case is a bit of a challenge, but she’s up to the task, in spite of the several clichés involved in the basic setup. That’s probably her bigger job, as time goes on. Thus far there has been only the one season, consisting of six episodes.


Next Page »