Sunday 12 July 2020

Code 3 (1957)

Code 3 is an American cop show which lasted one season (of 39 episodes) in 1957. It was aired in syndication. It deals with cases facing the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office (which co-operated in the making of the series).

Four episodes are included in Mill Creek’s Best of TV Detectives boxed set and they’re the only four episodes that I’ve been able to see. It’s hard to draw conclusions from such a brief sampling but I get the impression that Code 3 was a series that tried to emphasise a human interest angle, to see crime as a human problem. Sometimes people are well-meaning but they make mistakes. Sometimes people do the wrong thing but they have reasons for their actions. Sometimes criminals are weak, sometimes they’re foolish, sometimes they don’t see any other way out,  but they’re not necessarily evil.

Each episode is introduced by Richard Travis in the rôle of Assistant Sheriff George Barnett and there’s a brief spiel at the end by the actual Sheriff of Los Angeles County. The stories are supposedly based on actual cases. A semi-documentary feel was quite a popular approach for crime series in the ’50s.

Apart from Richard Travis (who appears only in the intros) there are no regular cast members, which is undoubtedly the reason the series only lasted one season and was not picked up by one of the networks. A successful cop show has to have regular characters whom the viewers get to know and get to care about.

Despite this Code 3 offers an interesting mix of stories.

The Rookie Sheriff deals with a central European refugee under training as a sheriff’s deputy. Rancich is quite old to be a trainee but on paper he’s ideal material. He’s intelligent and resourceful, he’s super-fit and he speaks five languages. The problem is that having been in the Underground during the war he’s much too gung-ho and he’s arrogant, overbearing and opinionated. He also thinks that if people don’t respect the police they should be taught a lesson. The other trainees hate his guts and he would have washed out of training but for the fact that the head of the academy has a stubborn faith in him.

This episode is marred by way too much speechifying. Most of the dialogue is in fact little more than speeches telling us about the perfection of American law enforcement officers and the American way of life. It’s just too heave-handed. Which is a pity because it’s actually an interesting slightly offbeat story and Rancich is in his own way a fascinating and interesting character. Despite its weaknesses it’s a reasonably good story.

In The Sniper George and Marie Thayer’s marriage is heading for the rocks. George is a not very successful real estate man. Marie is a high-flying businesswoman who also runs an art gallery. George feels inadequate and despised. 

And now somebody has tried to shoot him. It must be that sniper that they’re talking about in the papers, the crazed gunman who has murdered seven people at random. That’s the only explanation. The detectives from the Sheriff’s Department are not so sure. What’s going on here is perfectly obvious right from the start but it’s still not a bad little tale. This being the 1950s we get some pop psychology as well.

The Man with Many Faces is the story of forger Charlie Ellsworth. He is a good man and basically a solid law-abiding citizen but his fifteen-year-old daughter is dying and Charlie wants to give her a trip to Honolulu before she dies. Charlie is a skilled forger but perhaps too good. He forges cheques but they’re a bit too perfect. Despite this he might have gotten away with it if not for his hearing problem.

This is definitely an episode that takes a sympathetic view of a criminal. Quite a decent episode. 

The Benson Case takes place at the Terminal Island women’s prison. Bonnie Person is on remand, facing a murder charge. She gets wind of the fact that an undercover woman Sheriff’s Deputy has been planted in the prison and she assumes that the deputy is there to collect evidence against her. This episode has promise and some good moments but the ending seems too abrupt.

Code 3’s main virtue seems to be that the episodes are so varied, but that’s a weakness as well. The impression given by this handful of episodes is that the series doesn’t quite establish a character of its own.

Code 3 is moderately entertaining but certainly not in the same league as great 1950s cop shows such as Dragnet or M Squad. Maybe worth a rental if you really love ’50s police dramas.

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