Monday, July 5, 2010

The case of the "missing" detectives

Alpha Video put together a nice compilation of long-missing television crime dramas under the umbrella title, "TV Detectives, Volume 1", available through and Radio Spirits. 5 series are represented here, ranging from 1951-61. To wit:

The Lone Wolf: Louis Hayward, who'd starred in "The Saint in New York", among his many film credits, plays jewel thief-turned-detective Michael Lanyard, aka "The Lone Wolf", in this 1954 syndicated offering. To be honest with you, I'd never previously heard of it, and now I know why it was lost in the mists of time. It just wasn't very good. In the episode presented here, Lanyard runs afoul of duplicitous royalty and an alleged "werewolf". No supernatural elements were actually involved, which proves how pedestrian this really is. If Lanyard is supposed to be a knock-off of Simon Templar (The Saint), he's not doing a good enough job. Hayward comes off as flat and short on emotion. Grade: D.

I'm The Law: Another film veteran, George Raft, top-lines this 1953 offering from producer Jean Yarborough (The Abbott & Costello Show). Like Hayward, Raft narrates the story as the case progresses, but unlike Hayward, Raft is a perfect fit as Lt. Kirby. I'm interested in seeing a stand alone DVD release of this show. Grade: A-.

Treasury Men in Action: This 1955 series is an anthology based on actual cases from the Federal Treasury Dept.'s files. Charles Bronson, in an early role, plays a drug smuggler who has issues with his estranged wife, complicating his latest job. It's a long way from the much tougher, harder-edged characters Bronson would play in the movies later on, but he does give a decent performance. Grade: B.

Checkmate: From 1961, this is the lone one-hour episode in the set. This offering has the detectives trying to determine who'd want to kill a harmless hobo. I remember reading about the show as a youth, and wondering why it wasn't available in syndication. For closing logo fans, this is the only one that has one, as it's from Revue Studios. Sebastian Cabot (pre-Family Affair), Doug McClure (pre-Virginian), & Anthony George are the stars, but (Harry) Dean Stanton nearly steals this episode as a troubadour. Future Academy Award winning composer John Williams composed the series' theme song. I'm begging NBC-Universal, or whomever actually holds the rights, to do a stand alone DVD set, if it hasn't been done already.

Edit: 7/15/15: I've added the open:

Grade: A-.

Mystery Theatre: No specific year is listed for the episode presented from this 1951-54 ABC series spotlighting Inspector Mark Saber (Tom Conway) of Homicide Squad. Saber was another gumshoe making the transition from radio to television. Conway, like Raft & Hayward, made his name in films, particularly as "The Falcon". A fairly decent match, at that. Saber would be given another chance a few years later in another show, The Vise, which didn't last quite as long. It wasn't for lack of trying, that's for certain. Maybe the networks just didn't think that letting Saber be the series' selling point was the best option. Their loss. Conway is okay, but the story plays like a shorter version of his "Falcon" films. Grade: B-.

Overall grade: B.


Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

Timeless Media Group is supposed to be releasing the entire series run of Checkmate in a fourteen disc set...I say "supposed to be" because I ordered it from DVD Pacific (they had it for $40.31, a positive steal) but have since been informed that my order has been cancelled. I don't know if this means Pacific couldn't obtain the set for sale or whether Timeless couldn't get the set out in time for its original street date of June 22nd...but I am a bit ticked off by this series of events.

There have been two earlier releases of the series: a Best of Season 1 and Best of Season 2 released by Timeless two years ago. Watching both sets made me a tremendous fan of the show, and encouraged me to seek out all the episodes. I have the complete run that I purchased from an individual some time back but I was hoping that the new Timeless collection would have better copies.

hobbyfan said...

Funny you should mention that, Ivan. I looked up the current DVD catalog in my possession, and they have a ton of Timeless stuff on sale, including a Best of Checkmate set for around $12. I think I'm putting in an order real soon.