Honey West beat it to the punch by a decade. Police Woman, which ran on NBC from 1974 to 1978 does however qualify as one of the iconic 70s American cop shows. And it did pave the way for other female-dominated action series such as Charlie’s Angels.
The first season was released on DVD by Sony in 2006 and it’s now difficult (and expensive) to acquire. The Shout! Factory releases of the second and subsequent seasons are much easier to find without breaking the bank which is why I’m reviewing the second season rather than the first.
It was Rio Bravo back in 1959 which launched Angie Dickinson’s career in a major way but it was Police Woman that made her a household name. As Sergeant Pepper Anderson (no-one agrees on what the character’s real first name is) she’s sexy and brash and tough and fairly hardboiled. She does have her vulnerable side and in one season two episode she’s on the point of quitting because she’s tired of being set up as a target all the time.
Earl Holliman plays her boss (and friend) Sergeant Bill Crowley with whom she has a mostly good professional relationship.
Dickinson and Holliman work very well together. There’s some flirtatiousness, some conflict and considerable respect between the two characters. It’s a slightly more complex relationship than you normally get in a cop show.
The other regular members of Crowley’s squad are Investigator Pete Royster (Charles Dierkop) and Investigator Joe Styles (Ed Bernard).
The first season gained a reputation for being quite violent, an aspect that was apparently toned down for the second season which went to air beginning in late 1975.
The show’s major selling point is of course Angie Dickinson. She was forty-three at the time the show premiered but she was still pretty glamorous. Her considerable sex appeal was heavily featured. And she certainly has charisma.
Police Woman does make some attempt to deal with the particular problems Pepper faces being both a cop and a woman. Not so much the professional challenges (Pepper is good at her job and no-one ever questions her competence) but the more interesting emotional challenges. Personally I think Decoy handled this aspect in a more interesting and complex way but Police Woman does at least try to address these issues.
Pepper Anderson is not a super-woman. She’s a well-trained professional who works as part of a team and her job is not to take on heavily-armed bad guys single-handed. A police woman who tried that would soon end up dead. A male police officer who tried that would soon end up dead as well. Successful cops don’t take stupid risks.
Of course the emphasis here is on action (whereas for real-life cops the emphasis is on routine policework) and Police Woman provides plenty of satisfying action. This is not a Dragnet-style series about ordinary cops just doing ordinary routine police work. 70s audiences expected plenty of thrills.
Police Woman was considered to be quite violent by the standards of 70s American television. Of course if you compare it to its exact contemporary in Britain, The Sweeney, then Police Woman looks ridiculously tame.
If you want a realistic emotionally powerful TV series about a police woman, watch Decoy. If you want a fun action-packed series about a police woman then Police Woman delivers the goods.
Pawns of Power is a pretty cynical season opener. Pepper is undercover at a moving casino (it’s in the back of a semi-trailer) but when the cops make the bust they discover they’ve blundered into an investigation by a high-powered state organised crime squad run by the oily Moulton (Roddy McDowall). Pepper has to stay undercover to take the place of one of Mouton’s people who’s been murdered, but Moulton doesn’t care how many people he puts at risk as long as he gets the big bust he wants. He’s quite happy to sacrifice Pepper and she knows it and she doesn’t like it one little bit. It’s a routine story but the depth of the cynicism makes it interesting.
In The Score druggies are dying from speed that is just too pure and too potent. The speed is coming from a new lab but the nice little dealing setup starts to go wrong when a courier absconds with the merchandise because she’s decided that dealing drugs is wrong. This episode is a bit of a mess, trying too hard to capture the drug culture atmosphere.
Paradise Mall is an improvement. A serial killer is targeting blonde women and he leaves the bodies wearing bridal veils. There are several possible suspects, some decent misdirection and a twist ending. It’s a bit contrived but it works extremely well.
In The Chasers Pepper gets knocked down by a dry cleaning truck. When she wakes up in the hospital she discovers, much to her surprise, that she’s retained a lawyer. She’s stumbled upon an ambulance-chasing racket. They don’t just take advantage of traffic accidents. They manufacture them. Pepper gets herself involved in order to get the evidence the cops need. The great Ida Lupino guest stars as an oily crooked social worker. It’s standard Police Woman stuff - Pepper right in the middle of things and getting herself into lots of danger, a decent enough script, some smooth villains and some action as the case turns into a case of triple murder. Another good solid episode.
Cold Wind opens with two guys who get shot to death as they arrive for work at a soft drink factory. There’s one promising suspect who has told the police a whole lot of lies and there’s another promising suspect whose car matched the description of one that was spotted leaving the murder scene. Pepper’s job is to get close to suspect number two. He’s a nice young man but a bit strange. There are some literary and artistic clues - a painting and a book, both called The Cold Wind which Pepper is pretty sure represents death. This above-average episode has a very nasty sting in the tail.
A parole officer is shot to death and in Above and Beyond Pepper goes undercover as a parolee. Parole officers tend to make enemies but this particular one was pretty popular. Pepper is offered a one-way trip to Mexico and the guy offering it could be the killer. This one gives Angie Dickinson the opportunity to be a bit hardboiled but she doesn’t overdo it. There are some obvious leads but after all any one of the guy’s parolees could have had some motive. There’s some decent misdirection, a very neat piece of deduction from a physical clue and at least one very good plot twist. A good episode.
In Farewell, Mary Jane the narcotics squad needs help. One of their informers, a former airline pilot named Klein (played by Lance LeGault of A-Team fame) has gone rogue and turned out to be a real bad guy after all and he’s crazy and dangerous as well. Crowley persuades a down-on-his-luck racing car driver to help out and the driver and Pepper pose as big-time dealers. There’s plenty of suspense and it’s a pretty good episode.
In Glitter with a Bullet Pepper goes undercover as a reporter to investigate corruption in the record business. Tommy Donlevy is a big pop star but all is not well with Tommy. His friend and bass player Bobby died and the police suspect it was murder. Tommy’s band is very very 1970s - glitter and spangles. Tommy is being manipulated but he’s too crazy and strung-out to figure out what’s going on. There are some very nasty people around Tommy. If you believe this episode the record business in the 70s was an out-and-out racket, a world of sleazy deals and murder. It’s a bit silly but kind of money although it relies rather too much on clichés (including that old favourite of an attempt to kill the heroine by cutting her car’s brake line).
In The Purge Crowley shoots and kills a fifteen-year-old boy during a bungled raid on a warehouse. Crowley gets suspended and could face manslaughter charges. The sting that Pepper and a retired conman cook up to catch the bad guys is reasonably clever but the problem with this episode is that we’re supposed to be on the side of Crowley and the cops but they really don’t come out of the whole affair looking very good. The moral ambiguities needed to be explored a bit less simplistically but maybe prime-time TV in 1975 wasn’t ready for that.
Don't Feed the Pigeons is about a particularly cruel gang of bunco artists preying on old ladies. Pepper infiltrates the gang. The scam is complicated and requires a detailed explanation which is slotted in reasonably effectively. Personally I always enjoy stories about complex con games so I liked this episode.
In The Hit we have gangsters and boxing, the world’s fattest bookmaker and the world’s most incompetent hitman. This hitman has made a mess of his last two hits but if he keeps trying maybe he’ll actually manage to kill someone. Pepper and Crowley and the squad have to try to make sure that doesn’t happen. A slightly odd but reasonably OK episode.
A gang rumble leads to the shooting of a cop in Incident Near a Black & White. This one is a bit contrived and predictable and is mostly notable for featuring a dangerously incompetent senior police officer, and for the suggestion (unusual for 1975) that the police sometimes behave badly. We also get to see Crowley and Pepper in uniform dealing with routine incidents (there’s even an Adam-12 reference).
The Melting Point of Ice starts with a diamond robbery in which everything goes wrong. A jeweller is killed, one of the robbers is shot and then when they stash the uncut stones they get ripped off by a couple of amateurs. Pepper goes undercover selling coffee and burgers from the back of a truck - you won’t be surprised to learn that she sells a lot of coffee and burgers. The cops have to find those hapless amateurs before the professionals do. It’s nothing special but it’s a solid episode.
Pepper goes into business in The Pawn Shop. A well-organised burglary gang has been ripping off the rich folks of Lambert Hills. Crowley has the bright idea of setting up a pawn shop which will appear to be a front for a fencing operation. It’s not a bad story but the presence of Joan Collins as the guest star makes it a must-see. She plays a movie star who takes a shine to Crowley.
In Angela Crowley’s squad makes a big heroin bust but the cop, Larry, taking the evidence to the preliminary hearing manages to lose the evidence. The question is whether he lost it deliberately. No-one wants to think Larry is corrupt but the signs seem to point that way. Especially when it’s discovered he’s been dating a mobster’s daughter. An OK story, and darker and more hard-hitting than the average Police Woman episode.
Wednesday's Child is a pretty routine episode. A cat burglar is facing a long stretch in prison if he doesn’t coöperate. The big problem for the cops is two witnesses who have to kept alive. It’s all just too predictable.
In Generation of Evil clean-cut college kid Steve Glass (played by Barry Williams, yes Greg Brady from The Brady Bunch) is kidnapped. The reason he’s been kidnapped is that he’s the grandson of gangster Morrie Hirsch. The kidnappers want two million dollars. Hirsch won’t co-operate with the police but they have a lead, which leads to Pepper going undercover as a Vegas showgirl so she can get close to sleazy casino operator Lou Malik (played with style by Robert Vaughn).
Double Image starts with a blackmail racket, a variant of the old badger game, but it leads to murder. One of the participants in the blackmail scam offers to assist the police and Pete Royster is assigned to protect her. Unfortunately Pete gets much too emotionally involved. This really becomes the main focus of this episode (and it’s a very good episode).
In Mother Love a baby is kidnapped. The identity of the kidnapper comes as a surprise and the bad news is that she’s crazy and she’s prepared to kill to keep that baby. And she does kill. A reasonably entertaining episode with a nice double-cross twist.
Task Force: Cop Killer is a two-parter and it suffers from many of the typical problems of two-part episodes. It takes forever for the actual story to get going. Pepper is persuaded to apply for a paramilitary-style police motorcycle task force. I have no idea why a detective sergeant would want to do something like that. The last thing a detective would want to do is to go back in uniform and go back to issuing traffic citations. Pepper falls for a hot shot motorcycle cop named Matteo. While Matteo is romancing Pepper they’re being watched by a peeping tom, and Matteo know who the peeping tom is.
The motorcycle task force has a few run-ins with a biker gang. There’s a suspicion that a state senator’s daughter who ran away from home a few years earlier is riding with the gang. Finally, after an hour of pointless riding around on motorcycles the plot starts to kick in when a cop gets run over by a van.
The second part is a marginal improvement. There’s an obvious suspect, and there’s a dead girl’s body found in a ravine. Naturally Pepper manages to get herself kidnapped yet again. As a one-hour episode this one might have worked but there’s not enough plot for two hours and the motorcycle task force stuff is a bit creepy. A disappointing end to an otherwise pretty decent season.
Police Woman holds up pretty well and it has Angie Dickinson’s star power. Highly recommended.
Thursday, 22 July 2021
Sunday, 11 July 2021
The Veil (1958)
This series was obviously influenced by the success of Alfred Hitchcock Presents which had demonstrated that an anthology series could be very successful indeed. While Alfred Hitchcock Presents concentrated on mysteries, always with a sting in the tail, The Veil takes an overtly supernatural approach. It's mostly not full-blooded horror but there is never any doubt as to the supernatural nature of the events which unfold.
It’s difficult to judge this series fairly since it didn’t go to air and the producers therefore did not have the opportunity to refine the formula or to discover which types of stories worked and which didn’t. The Thriller anthology seres which Karloff hosted a couple of years later was very successful because in that case the producers spent the first half of the first season trying to get that formula right. As a result Thriller moved more and more into outright horror territory because the first few experiments in full-blooded horror proved to be so popular. Had The Veil gone to air the weaknesses would presumably have been quickly ironed out.
As a result The Veil is rather erratic in quality. The potential was there but it needed to become more focused. Several episodes have great build-ups but they suffer from a failure to provide a totally satisfactory pay-off.
One thing you need to keep in mind is that this series is not aiming for visceral horror. It’s aiming for a subtle sense of mild spookiness. It mostly doesn’t deal with terrifying events but with unsettling inexplicable events. Most of the stories are to some degree left hanging and I have a suspicion that this is quite deliberate. The aim is not to resolve things in a definite way but to leave the viewer scratching his head in puzzlement, rather than scared out of his wits. We’re not supposed to be sure whether what we’ve seen is supernatural or not, in fact we’re not supposed to have any idea as to what the explanation really is. So we get stories that are suggestive, that are hints of odd happenings, rather than fully-developed stories.
Whether this was a wise strategy for the series to adopt is something we’ll never know. Since it didn’t go to air and remained unseen for many years there’s no way of knowing how viewers at the time would have reacted.
Karloff tells us in his episode introductions that these are are all stories based on actual events, a claim that the viewer might choose to take with a grain of salt although in some cases it might well be true.
For most viewers the biggest attraction of this series is that Karloff appears in every episode as an actor and gets to play a wide variety of rôles, sometimes villainous, sometimes comic, sometimes as hero or victim. It’s a fine showcase for Karloff’s acting versatility.
The Veil remained lost in obscurity until the 1990s. Since then there have been several DVD releases. The Something Weird DVD release that I have (which is still available) includes the ten episodes that were known to exist at the time. The original backdoor pilot episode, made for another anthology series, and one further episode later came to light.
Vision of Crime takes place in the late 19th century. A man is murdered in his shop. The somewhat disreputable Albert Ketch was seen running from the scene so he is quickly arrested. It all seems straightforward but it isn’t, because at the exact moment that Hart Bosworth was slain his brother George, hundreds of miles away on a ship bound for France, had a vision of the murder. He didn’t see the killer clearly enough to identify him but he did see enough to know that it was not Albert Ketch. Somehow George has to convince the police that Ketch is innocent but if he tells them he had a vision they’ll think he’s mad. Even his fiancée Julie will think he’s mad.
This episode boasts an impressive cast. There’s Boris Karloff as the blustering and rather inept police sergeant, Willmore, who takes charge of the case. There’s Patrick Macnee from The Avengers as the much more efficient Constable Hawton. And there’s Robert Hardy (who went on to fame as one of the stars of All Creatures Great and Small) as George Bosworth.
The first problem with this episode is the uneasy mixture of spookiness and broad humour. The second problem is the failure to develop the spookiness enough. And thirdly, it just doesn’t have any real suspense or mystery. It’s all too obvious and the resolution falls flat. It’s certainly a very disappointing start to the series.
Then things take a slightly strange turn. She gets very frightened, for no obvious reason. She wants to leave, alone, but she does agree to meet him later that night at Lookout Point. They do meet, and things take a much stranger turn after an elderly man named Morgan Debs (played by Karloff) turns up and tells Prescott that Lila won’t be turning up, although she already has turned up. He tells Prescott that he should forget the girl.
Prescott has however become rather obsessed. He is determined to see Lila again. He is sure that she is in trouble. His efforts to find her again lead him to an unexpected discovery about the nature of her trouble.
The payoff is rather low-key and doesn’t have the punch that modern viewers will expect but it works reasonably well. The whole story has a nicely mysterious atmosphere with Prescott becoming increasingly bewildered, and increasingly unsure about what Morgan Debs is up to. I liked this one.
Food on the Table is the tale of a sea captain from 18th century Massachusetts. His most recent voyage almost ended in disaster when the ship was overrun by venomous snakes. Two crewmen died but now the ship has reached port safely. You would think that Captain Elwood would be anxious to see his wife Ruth but he isn’t. He dislikes and resents her (for reasons that will later be revealed). She turns up at the Mariners’ Club when he is carousing with his seafaring buddies. They’re just about to sit down to a splendid dinner when Ruth, n a jealous rage, hurls all the food onto the floor. When they get home we discover that one of those venomous snakes survived the voyage and is lurking in the captain’s luggage.
In The Doctors Karloff plays an elderly Italian doctor, Dr. Carlo Marcabienti, in a small and very backward village. He is much-loved by all. A little girl gets very sick but there’s a fierce storm raging so the doctor’s son Angelo (also a doctor) has to attend the girl. The girl’s family won’t let him treat her because they don’t believe he’s a real doctor.
This is not a horror story. It’s simply a tale of an odd occurrence which seems to defy explanation. This seems to be the kind of story that was going to become a speciality of this series. The downside is that you don’t get a real horror pay-off but the upside is that you get an atmosphere that is mysterious and unsettling. I quite enjoyed it but going for quirky stories with a subtle hint of the supernatural was a risky strategy that would have left some viewers disappointed.
The Crystal Ball is another episode that is too subtle for its own good and again we don’t get a fully satisfying pay-off. Edmond is a young writer in 19th century Paris. His fiancée Marie gives him the big brush-off (she’s going to marry his rich publisher instead because she wants money) but she gives him a parting gift - a crystal ball. She thinks it’s just a harmless bauble but she’s wrong. Edmond sees things in the crystal ball, things that could have disastrous consequences. But consequences for whom?
This is another story that really needed a clever twist at the end (of the kind that Alfred Hitchcock Presents always provided) but we don’t get it. It’s another episode that feels strangely unfinished.
In Genesis an old farmer is dying. He has two sons. One, John, is a devoted son, the other (Jamie) stole some money and ran off to the big city. Now Jamie has returned in the hope of getting his inheritance. It all depends on the old man’s will. Or in this case wills - he seems to have made several wills. The vital clue is connected to a passage in the Bible and John and Jamie are modern versions of Esau and Jacob. It’s another story that involves the supernatural without being a horror story and once again the script needed to provide a bit more punch.
Destination Nightmare is about a father (played by Karloff) who wants his son to follow in his footsteps and take over his aviation business. He’s worried that his son doesn’t have what it takes. The tensions between them rise when the son almost crashes after seeing a vision. Maybe it has something to do with the father’s nightmares about the war. This episode is much more fully developed than most and pays off pretty nicely whilst still retaining that slight edge of uncertainty that was the trademark of the series. A very good episode.
The Return of Madame Vernoy is set in India and deals with reincarnation. Santha Naidu is a young woman who not only believes that she had a past life, she remembers that past life vividly. She was a woman very happily married to a M. Armand Vernoy. She died in 1927, shortly after the birth of her son. A year later she was reborn as Santha Naidu. M. Vernoy is now a man in late middle age but he is still very much alive. Santha can’t wait to tell him the good news that his beloved wife has been reborn. They can pick up their life together where it left off.
Things don’t go as smoothly as she’d expected. Her son Krishna, now a young man (and played by a very young George Hamilton), refuses to believe that Santha is his mother. M. Vernoy is thrown into an emotional turmoil. He doesn’t know what to believe. This is a fairly typical episode in the sense that there’s no horror, just something that is inexplicable and puzzling and disturbing for everyone involved. It is, typically for this series, very low-key. But it’s not a bad episode.
Jack the Ripper was actually made by a different studio but was acquired by Hal Roach Studios. They added the Boris Karloff intro and outro but Karloff does not appear in this episode. Walter Durst is a professional clairvoyant. Both he and his wife are convinced that his powers of clairvoyance are real. Walter has a dream in which a woman is murdered and the next day the body of Jack the Ripper’s second victim is found, precisely at the spot foretold in Walter’s dream. Walter goes to Scotland Yard but they simply laugh at him. And then he has another vision. This story has quite a similar feel to the episodes of The Veil so including it in that series made perfect sense, and was a nice way of saving some money. Quite a decent episode.
The Veil isn’t scary but it does offer a slightly unsettling slightly spooky feel which was what it was aiming for. If that doesn’t bother you then you’ll probably like it. If you’re expecting full-blown horror you’ll be disappointed. Either way it’s reasonably interesting and probably worth a look, especially if you’re a hardcore Karloff fan.
Thursday, 1 July 2021
The Six Million Dollar Man: The Solid Gold Kidnapping (1973)
As in Wine, Women and War this is very much Steve Austin in James Bond mode. The pre-opening credits action prologue is rather Bondian. Even the theme song (sung by Dusty Springfield) is a bit Bondian. And as in Wine, Women and War there’s a lot of rather risqué sexual innuendo which Lee Majors tries to deliver in as Bondian a manner as possible. There are exotic settings (thanks to the copious use of stock footage) and there are three Bond girls (sorry, Austin Girls). And one of them is a beautiful but deadly Contessa. There’s even a casino scene. I keep expecting the hero to say, “The name is Austin. Steve Austin.” And then to order a vodka martini, shaken not stirred.
This time Steve is up against an international criminal organisation, very much like SPECTRE. Very very much like SPECTRE. They specialise in kidnapping high-ranking diplomats and governments officials for immense ransoms. Their target this time is not just a very senior American diplomat (named William Henry Cameron), he is also a man who knows all of America’s military secrets. He should be worth every penny of the billion dollar ransom they’re asking. Yes, a cool billion. In gold.
That action prologue is actually a very good action set-piece in a ruined Mayan temple.
The really cool idea in this movie (and it’s a very science fictional idea) is the method the OSI uses to find the kidnappers. Genius scientist (who also happens to be young, attractive and female) Dr Erica Berger (Elizabeth Ashley) has developed a technique for transplanting brain cells in rats to give one rat the memories of another rat. She hasn’t tested it on humans yet but now she’s going to have to do just that - with herself as the guinea pig. She transplants brain cells from one of the kidnappers who was killed into her own brain. Now that she has that man’s memories she should be able to direct Steve to wherever the kidnappers have stashed Cameron. Which means she’ll have to go with him, offering an excuse for Austin to have a beautiful woman with him on his mission. And for some hints of an emotional attachment. Steve sees Erica as being a bit like him - a human experiment. And the experiment might threaten her humanity.
I thought Lee Majors was fine in the first two movies but I like him more in this one - he seems just a bit more relaxed and more confident. And a bit more convincingly Bond-like.
Elizabeth Ashley gives an effective enough performance, especially when she has to portray the trauma of having someone else’s sometimes unpleasant memories. Luciana Paluzzi is fine as the Contessa, a typical Bond movie female. Richard Anderson is suitably ruthless as Steve’s boss Oscar Goldman, a man who has no qualms about sacrificing people to get the job done.
John Vernon was always good at being cold-blooded and ruthless and he makes a good chief villain. Not quite Bond villain stature but still pretty menacing.
There’s quite a complex plot here and it has some very neat twists. The twist with the gold is very clever. The subplot with Erica possibly losing her mind is handled well without unnecessary histrionics. Steve Austin gets quite a few opportunities to demonstrate his super powers. The opening action set-piece is the best but the speedboat chase is good and there’s some decent suspense.
Wine, Women and War is perhaps just a little better but The Solid Gold Kidnapping plays very well as a cut-price Bond movie with some nifty science fiction elements. This is pretty entertaining stuff and it’s highly recommended.
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