Reviews

12 Reviews
Sort by:
Filter by Rating:
Checkmate (1960–1962)
9/10
This is how a TV detective show should be
30 August 2007
During the early 1960's, the series "77 Sunset Strip" (one of my favorites...) spawned a rash of hip detective knockoffs, many of them from the same studio, Warner Brothers, several more from other studios. Surprisingly, Revue Studios, known mainly for its cookie-cutter formulaic dramas, came up with one that stood head and shoulders from the rest of the imitators, and was an original in its own right. "Checkmate" is the name of a detective agency in San Francisco with an unusual twist: not just content to protect their clients, their aim is to prevent the crimes before they start. The approach is like a game of chess, hence the name, "Checkmate".

First and foremost, "Checkmate" strayed from the pretty-boy lighthearted mysteries, and settled for taut, intelligent, serious cases with a noir fashion. The fact that famed mystery writer Eric Ambler created the show speaks for itself. Plus, while "77 Sunset Strip" relied on Warners' stock company of character actors and rising young stars, "Checkmate" had the ability and the budget to include major big guest stars like Joan Fontaine, Peter Lorre, Mickey Rooney, David Janssen, Harry Guardino, Julie London, etc., giving it a sheen of class denied the other imitators.

The regular cast contained no slouches. The recently deceased Anthony George played Checkmate's deep-voiced head honcho Don Corey with more intensity than even the Strip's Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. Doug McClure played Jed Sills with a self-depreciating flair, playing off his obvious good looks; when "Checkmate" was canceled, McClure would pull it off again in the role of Trampas on "The Virginian". The real highlight here is the late, great Sebastian Cabot, playing the esteemed scientific consultant, Dr. Carl Hyatt, with a blend of haughtiness, exasperation, and intelligence; a blend that was put to good use (or waste, depending on how you see it) when he later took on his signature role as Mr. French on "Family Affair".

And I also might add, the theme song wasn't a bouncy rock and roller like 77SS and the rest, but a tense, moody jazz instrumental by the legendary John "Johnny" Williams.

If you can find "Checkmate" on DVD, which, sadly, is the only way you'll get to see this wonderful lost gem, I strongly recommend you pick it up. Compare it (and for that matter, "77 Sunset Strip") to the current wave of police procedurals on TV today. See which is better.

"Checkmate" is a JaMco Production, financed by Jack Benny (yes, THE Jack Benny, who also did a guest spot here), and filmed by Revue Studios in Hollywood and San Francisco. 70 episodes were aired on CBS between 1960 and 1962.
28 out of 29 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
Nancy (1970–1971)
4/10
Sidney Sheldon's lone TV misfire
22 August 2007
Immediately after the last season of "I Dream of Jeannie", creator Sidney Sheldon concocted this sugary forgotten series, "Nancy", about a veterinarian who falls in love with a cuddly young lady who just happens to be the First Daughter... as in First Daughter of the President of the United States. Needless to say, so-called hilarity ensues as the two manages to carry on a relationship amongst security agents, reporters, and the lovably wisecracking Celeste Holm as Nancy's guardian.

In addition to "Jeannie", Sidney Sheldon also created "The Patty Duke Show", another sitcom with a resourceful, slightly daffy female. In "Nancy", the femme lead was just daffy, but cute. Of course, lightning did not strike twice, and Nancy and her entourage were impeached mid-season. Sheldon retreated to the written page, where he would have his greatest successes. It would be another eight years before he would create another successful, resourceful (but this time, smarter) lady heroine for TV, Jennifer Hart of "Hart to Hart".

And by the way, whatever happened to Renne Jarrett? "Nancy" is a Sidney Sheldon Production for the Screen Gems division of Columbia Pictures. 17 episodes were filmed for NBC in 1970.
7 out of 8 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
7/10
The TV debut of the legendary Republic Pictures
21 July 2007
This unassuming, fairly routine series deserves credit in the TV history books for two reasons: it was the first to win an Emmy award for best syndicated series, and it was the very first show to come from the fabled studios of Republic Pictures, known for its low-budget but high-powered shoot-em-ups in the 30's and 40's.

Republic was one of the first Hollywood studios to make a leap into the small screen, which was still in its infancy. But the studios' tenure as producer of TV pulp fiction would be brief. After this show, they would later dabble with the other format that they were known for, the adventure serial, with "Commando Cody", as well as other series, but like this one, they didn't last longer than 39 episodes. Also, Republic was in its last stages as a studio; it would finish out its tenure in Hollywood as rental stages for several Revue Studio series such as "Soldiers of Fortune", the original "Dragnet", and "Kit Carson", before finally shutting its doors in 1959.

Anyway, "Stories of the Century" wasn't that bad of an oater, its calling card was tales based on authentic figures in Western history, mainly outlaws like Black Bart, Johnny Ringo, John Wesley Hardin, The Dalton Bros. and the like. The late Jim Davis, best known for his role as the Ewing patriarch in "Dallas", put in an amiable job in the lead role as Matt Clark, a fictional railroad detective who has to contend with said outlaws, played by veteran and soon-to-be veteran character actors.

Two amazing facts here: The incidents would take place in different time lines, some in the 1880's, some at the turn of the century, but Clark never ages. And also, Matt has the good luck to saddle himself with two lovely female detectives as sidekicks, Frankie Adams, played by Mary Castle, and her replacement, Margaret "Jonesy" Jones, by Kristine Miller. The Lone Ranger could only wish for lady companionship. You can only spend such time with Tonto for so long.

"Stories Of The Century" is a Studio City TV production from Republic Pictures Corp. 39 episodes were made during 1954, all 39 of which are in public domain and on DVD.
21 out of 21 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
Lock Up (1959–1961)
7/10
Where's Herb Maris when we need him?
13 March 2007
In today's world, where the term "lawyer" is unfairly synonymous with "ambulance chaser" or "political player", we could use a guy like Herbert L. Maris. Thankfully, there are a few lawyers like Maris still around today, and for that, we have TV series like this to thank.

For the uninitiated, Herbert L. Maris is an LA attorney whose specialty is defending the unjustly accused in situations where no one else can or will help. He usually is aided by police lieutenant Weston, who ironically is the cop who has his clients tossed in the clink. There isn't that much antagonism between the two, and Weston usually sees the light in the nick of time, particularly when Maris is in over his head... for instance, when he is held captive by a group of thugs (led by a pre-Spock Leonard Nimoy!!) who framed a rookie cop (James "The Virginian" Drury) for murder.

As is the case with 50's series, many young up-and-comers bit their teeth into some episodes, such as Mary Tyler Moore, Robert Conrad, Burt Reynolds, Sally Kellerman, and others. Maris himself is portrayed brilliantly by a young Macdonald Carey, six years before he found his calling in daytime TV as the kindly Dr. Horton on "Days Of Our Lives". And it wasn't the first time Carey played a doc, either; three years before "Lock Up", he took on the role as radio's beloved "Dr. Christian", or rather, Dr. Christian's nephew. Carey has the knack of playing people who you would kill to have on your side; in this case, some people are accused of taking it quite literally.

"Lock Up" is a Fred Ziv-United Artists Television Production, based on the life of Herbert L. Maris (yes, he was a real-life defense lawyer). 78 episodes were made between 1959 and 1961.
16 out of 17 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
Treasury Men in Action (1950–1955)
8/10
Lives up to its title
13 March 2007
I've always been a fan of crime dramas from the 50's, 60's, and 70's, particularly those that live up to the term "tense". "Treasury Men In Action" is one of these shows that lives up to that term, as well as its title.

The premise is basically interchangeable with other early series of its type ("Dragnet", "Racket Squad", etc.) In this case, the stories are from the files of the United States Treasury Department, complete with an officious-looking authority man (Walter Greaza as the no-name "Chief"). The stories themselves are not low-rent predictable pulp variety... okay, they are, but the producers were careful not to show it. Each episode was taut, gripping, and suspenseful. And the casting ain't bad, either... particularly some fast-rising newcomers like Charles Bronson, Carolyn Jones, Claude Akins, Strother Martin, and so on.

"Treasury Men In Action" ran for five good years, unfortunately, only its final season, 1954-55, is preserved on film. The first four years were live, and as no kinescope from these seasons exist to my knowledge, a pretty decent series is lost to the ages. At least we have a few of the 39 episodes on DVD under its syndicated title, "Federal Men". Granted, it's not as gripping a moniker as "Treasury Men In Action", but you gotta take what you can get. Check it out.

"Treasury Men In Action" is a Prockter Television Enterprises Production in association with Pyramid Productions and MCA TV, filmed by Conne-Stephens, Inc. 39 episodes were filmed for its final 1954 season.
12 out of 12 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
Man Against Crime (1949–1954)
8/10
As the title says... Follow That Man
13 March 2007
"Man Against Crime" is one of the earliest detective series, premiering in 1949 on CBS, switched to film in its fourth season, and leaving in 1954. Ralph Bellamy, a distinguished actor known for movies like "His Girl Friday", played the man against crime, Mike Barnett, a New York PI who solves crimes with his mind, and occasionally his right hook. He doesn't even carry a gun. Imagine that... a private investigator without a gun. And in New York City, no less. Plus, he's chummy with the local police. Somewhere in Brooklyn, Mike Hammer wishes he had that kind of luck solving the kind of cases Barnett has.

The scripts and production values do justice to its star; with an actor like Ralph Bellamy and a character like Mike Barnett, they have to. Barnett is world-weary, but not jaded; he has a sense of humor, and he maintains a sense of dignity even while busting some heads. It takes a likable actor to fill the role of a likable man, and Bellamy fits that role like a comfortable pair of loafers. Then again, any man who can hold his own while dealing with Eddie Murphy and the rap group The Fat Boys in his later years is tops in my book.

Two years after Bellamy caught his last scumbag, Mike Barnett was dusted off for a brief live summer run on NBC. Frank Lovejoy took over the role, and while he was competent, the scripts weren't. Plus, this Mike Barnett packed heat, giving credence to the old adage that it may look like a duck, and quack like a duck... Try to catch Lovejoy in the series "Meet McGraw" instead, and skip this rehash.

"Man Against Crime" is a Pathescope Production in association with, and sponsored by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. 82 episodes were made and syndicated under the title "Follow That Man".
15 out of 15 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
Decoy (1957–1958)
8/10
Prettier than Sgt. Friday
13 March 2007
One would call "Decoy" for what it is... a female "Dragnet", with the beguiling Beverly Garland ("My Three Sons", "Scarecrow and Mrs. King") and the city of New York filling in for Jack Webb and sunny Los Angeles. But once you get caught in its premise, it's easy to overlook other aspects of the show. Such as the fact that Ms. Garland is required, in her role as undercover policewoman Patricia "Casey" Jones, to play a different role in each of the 39 episodes filmed. In one episode, she could play an exotic dancer in a carnival, in the next, she can play an addict, and so on and so on, all in the guise of a crime fighter. Whether Angie Dickinson, as Pepper Anderson - "Police Woman", took her cues from Beverly Garland is open to debate, but it's clear to say that Ms. Garland's Casey Jones is clearly a trailblazer for other lady lawmen to follow.

As for the other co-star, New York City... "Decoy" isn't the first series filmed on location in the Big Apple, nor was it the last, but it was certainly one of the most effective in terms of its film noir look and fully fleshed characters. This isn't "Naked City", but it's as close a similarity as you can get on a shoestring budget. And it does the city justice, as "Naked City" would do the next year. Check it out on DVD when you get the chance.

"Decoy" is a Pyramid Production in association with Official Films, Inc. with technical assistance from the Policewoman's Bureau, NYC Police Department. 39 episodes were filmed on location in 1957.
29 out of 31 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
Gang Busters (1952– )
5/10
From pioneering radio to TV bench hitter
13 March 2007
"Gang Busters" was a pioneering radio series detailing the activities of the nation's most notorious crime figures of the day. It was unique in that at the end of every episode, the announcer would inform listeners to call the local police or "Gang Busters" for information on wanted criminals still on the loose. In that respect, it was definitely a precursor of today's reality shows like "America's Most Wanted".

The television version, which premiered in 1952, stayed true to the radio format, telling stories of legendary scum like John Dillinger, Willie "The Actor" Sutton, etc. And just as on radio, viewers were informed of criminals still on the loose, and were encouraged to contact the show or the police. Yet, what worked so well on radio just didn't jell on the small screen. Despite series creator Phillips H. Lord's total involvement in the production, it all looked so disjointed and cheap, judging from the four episodes I have on DVD.

NBC obviously knew this as well, for despite very high ratings, they regarded this show as a stop gap filler for the equally successful "Dragnet" during its early years as a bi-weekly show. When Jack Webb filmed enough episodes for a weekly slot, "Gang Busters", one of the highest rated series of the 1952 season, had to go. So, what could have been a potential landmark in television history, as it was on radio, was merely a low-budget bench-hitter during the early days of TV. New episodes, however, were made for syndication under the title "Captured", apparently as not to tarnish the name that helped to pioneer the reality show. Today, the show has fallen into public domain, and has only now received a small cult status as one of crime TV's earliest offerings.

"Gang Busters" is a Phillips H. Lord Production, filmed by Visual Drama, Inc. for NBC-TV. 26 episodes were filmed, as well as a feature-length episode specially made for theaters in 1954. That, too, is in public domain.
9 out of 10 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
Fangface (1978– )
Scooby-Doo Meets the Bowery Boys
1 April 2006
That's about as best as I can describe this otherwise well-made knockoff of the Great Dane Sleuth. And it is a knockoff... the stalwart "Freddie"-like leader (Biff), the resident Daphne-like sexpot (Kim), the goof ball Shaggy (Puggsy), and the mascot Scooby-Doo (Fangface).

However, Joe Ruby and Ken Spears, the head writers of "Scooby-Doo" who created this show for their own Ruby-Spears company (RS's very first series, by the way...) took a few liberties with their patented "kids and a pet meddle in mysteries" formula... first of all, Fangface isn't a scaredy-cat who's afraid of his own shadow, but a fearless, if dense, hero... shades of Dyno-Mutt (both of whom were voiced by the great Frank Welker, one of the last of the old-school voice artists). Second, the relationship between Fang and Puggsy is more antagonistic than that of ol' buddies Scooby-Doo and Shaggy. In fact, if you'll notice real closely, this is about as close as you can get to seeing the 1940's comedy team The Bowery Boys in animation, with Fang taking on the Huntz Hall role, while Puggsy channels Leo Gorcey, complete with derby.

Those little touches make Fangface stand out from the other rip-offs, and pretty much excuses the usual formulaic scripts that are a staple of such shows like this. Then they had to go and do a "Cousin Oliver/Scrappy-Doo" by adding baby FangPuss... who, while nowhere near as annoying as Scrappy, still signaled the beginning of the end (or in this case, THE end) of a rather good show.

My rating: *** stars

"Fangface" is a Ruby-Spears Production in association with Filmways TV, made between 1978 and 1980.
1 out of 1 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
Sea Hunt (1958–1961)
One of the major lost series...
27 March 2006
Back in the late 1950's, "Sea Hunt" was one of the biggest hits on TV. It inspired a small score of short-lived knockoffs like "Aquanauts" (from the same producers, Ivan Tors and Ziv TV) and "Assignment Underwater", as well as an airborne "Sea Hunt" called "Ripcord" (also from Tors and Ziv).

Today this gem sits in the Sony Pictures archives, gathering "seaweed". Which is a crying shame, because this was a cool adventure show, the ultimate in shows for the man's man. Former B-actor Lloyd Bridges escaped the obscurity list to take on the role of no-nonsense scuba diver Mike Nelson. There simply couldn't be any other actor made for such a rugged role... Bridges was the one, bar none. His craggy, determined looks made him a natural. That was proved 26 years after the last original "Sea Hunt" aired, when Ron "Tarzan" Ely was cast as Nelson in a tepid remake. Ely was rugged, but he simply wasn't Lloyd Bridges. At least the character of Nelson obviously led a charmed life, for the revival added a hottie for his daughter, played by Kim Sissons.

Add in some impressive underwater photography, courtesy of Ricou Browning and Courtney Brown, and some serious stunts (many courtesy of Bridges himself), throw in some taut scripts, and you have a show that is dying to be resurrected on DVD.

Note: Avoid the 1987 revival like the plague. Boring as sin.

"Sea Hunt" is a Ziv Television Production, produced with the cooperation of Marineland of the Pacific, Los Angeles. Owned by the MGM division of Sony Pictures. 155 episodes were filmed between 1957 and 1961.
44 out of 46 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
The Deputy (1959–1961)
Not much Fonda, but slightly interesting
24 March 2006
"The Deputy" is another of those assembly-line half-hour Revue Studio westerns that were pretty popular during the late fifties and early sixties. This one stood out from the rest for several reasons: It was co-created by, of all people, the future Mr. Relevant Sitcom King himself, Norman Lear.

The sprightly jazz theme by Jack Marshall, of "The Munsters" fame.

And of course, the main drawing attraction of Academy Award winner Henry Fonda, who incidentally, despite being top billed, basically just makes a few cameos during some of the episodes, and not even showing up at all in a few of them. The "Deputy" of the show, the reluctant Clay McCord, is portrayed by the late stage actor Allen Case, with Read Morgan joining in later in the run as the eye-patch wearing Sarge Tasker.

Basically, the premise of the show is that Clay McCord, a storekeeper who's quiet by nature, is suckered into becoming the deputy of Fonda's Marshal Simon Fry, based on McCord's ability to handle a weapon. That's basically the show in a nutshell, since the plots are the cookie-cutter type you'd come to expect from Revue. After viewing a couple episodes (which last aired a few years ago on TV Land), you can understand why Norman Lear made the jump to revolutionizing the sitcom. Can you imagine Archie Bunker or George Jefferson in the Old West? My rating: ***** stars out of 10

"The Deputy" is a Top Gun Production from Revue Studios, Hollywood. 76 episodes were filmed between 1959 and 1961.
11 out of 12 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
5/10
Not bad, but could be better
24 December 2005
Johnny Firecloud is one of the more interesting features from David F. Friedman and company, mainly due to its cast... chances are, you're not going to find names like Ralph Meeker, David Canary, Frank DeKova, Sacheen Littlefeather, etc. in this kind of exploitation film, let alone one produced by the self-proclaimed "Mighty Monarch of the Exploitation Film World".

This film is about the trials of the title character, a Native American who returns to his town, only to find it under siege by a controlling bigot portrayed by Mr. Meeker. Mr. Canary plays the sheriff sent by Meeker to capture Johnny, dead or alive (in Meeker's case, preferably dead. Johnny will have none of it, especially when his grandfather, played by Mr. DeKova, is a victim of the townspeople. Being the anti-hero, he takes the law in his own hands.

Ms. Littlefeather. who plays a doomed friend of Johnny's, is best known as the young actress who Marlon Brando sent to the Oscars to refuse his Academy Award in protest of the treatment of Native Americans.

The acting is adequate enough to keep this rather average "revenge film" from sinking. The conclusion is rather surprising given the weak script. I recommend it if you're into this kind of picture.
6 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink

Recently Viewed