Tuesday, April 10, 2018


THE DETECTIVES was a popular and critically acclaimed TV crime series which ran for three seasons between 1959 and 1962. The first two seasons were on ABC and lasted 30 minutes; the third and final season was on NBC and lasted 60 minutes. The lead detective and main star was ROBERT TAYLOR, longtime presence at MGM and always an impressive actor. He accepted his eventual aging, and in the post WWII-period he began to gravitate toward parts that reflected his maturity. He was not afraid to show his age (unlike so many actors after him who “had work done” on them) and developed a deep gravitas in the 50’s and 60’s. He was working steadily until the day he died (we reviewed one of his last films, the European DAY THE HOTLINE GOT HOT, here a year or two ago), and had he lived into the 1970’s, I could easily see him being put into another detective role with a slot in the NBC MYSTERY MOVIE series alongside COLUMBO, McCLOUD and McMILLAN AND WIFE.

This series has never, to my knowledge, been given a DVD release in North America. It HAS been released in Germany in a German-dubbed form (for any German BTC readers!). Perhaps Mill Creek or VCI or Timeless or some such company can put it out—especially season 3, where Adam West was added to the cast and the shows were bumped up from 30 to 60 minutes, giving them a larger canvas to work with. One would think the Taylor-West combination would have some market value. To be honest, I’d forgotten that Adam West was in the final season of the show until I watched the 2 episodes I’m reviewing—I guess I’d only watched early episodes before he joined the cast. We all know of West’s pre-BATMAN appearances on PERRY MASON and in the 3 Stooges final feature film THE OUTLAWS IS COMING and in his Italian western THE RELENTLESS FOUR---here’s another entry in West’s filmography that fans will want to track down.

Robert Taylor is the lead detective, Matt Holbrook. He makes the important decisions; he comes to the important conclusions; he spots the important clues. When the series was initially re-broadcast in syndication, it was called CAPTAIN OF DETECTIVES, and it also ran under the title ROBERT TAYLOR’S THE DETECTIVES, so RT was front and center always on the show. Second in command is Tige Andrews as Johnny Russo. Andrews was a decorated veteran in World War II, went to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, worked on the stage as both actor and director, and had a role on the Phil Silvers Show (aka the Sgt. Bilko show). He may be best-known for this role on the MOD SQUAD TV series, though he also appeared on many crime shows. He radiates no-nonsense authority, so it’s no surprise he later was given multiple guest star roles on shows like KOJAK, POLICE STORY, and CHIPS. We also have Mark Goddard, later to become a bigger star with LOST IN SPACE, as the fourth cop in the unit, though he’s not given as much of a role as the others in the two episodes I watched. Taylor, Andrews, Goddard, and West (West being the charming and handsome member of the foursome) are a dynamite front line and contribute a lot toward making the series so strong and interesting. This multiple-cop format has become so omnipresent that we forget that shows like THE DETECTIVES helped create it. I don’t watch much of today’s TV, but when my wife and I go to Planet Fitness a few days a week to work out, our exercise machines are facing toward a huge bank of televisions, and there are ALWAYS at least five different ensemble-cast detective shows playing on the various monitors. These all owe a debt to THE DETECTIVES.…although as wonderful as, say, Mariska Hargitay or Joe Mantegna may be, they are not Robert Taylor or Adam West (or Tige Andrews!).

I watched two episodes from season three, so here are some comments on them.

THE QUEEN OF CRAVEN POINT (22 December 1961) is set in a fancy arts community on the coast (the show seems to be California-set…although that’s never made explicitly clear). The man who started the community, named Craven, has a manipulative Black Widow wife played by Lola Albright. She tries to get her weak-willed boyfriend (played by Russell Johnson of GILLIGAN'S ISLAND fame) to murder her husband. He constantly drinks and wipes his brow to show his nervousness (everybody drinks like a fish here, actually!) and tells her that he can’t do it. So SHE does it and then allows him to become the prime suspect. However, another person in this arts community, a sculptor and beat poet played by Michael Forest (of Roger Corman’s ATLAS), saw her leave the party and then slip back in, so he KNOWS her involvement. By the way, I always love the way that Beatniks (he’s not really a full-on TV Beatnik, but he’s an artsy type) are depicted in an insulting manner on TV shows and in B-movies of the day. Here we have Forest reading a Gertrude Stein-esque poem at the party where jazz is playing and people are making out that is outrageous and should be included alongside John Drew Barrymore’s famous beat poem recitation in HIGH SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL as a classic of the faux-Beat Poetry in movies/TV genre. Taylor bears down on the suspects, and Johnson’s character is not too smart to begin with, so everything is tied up neatly in an hour. Lola Albright may be best known as the jazz-singer girlfriend of Craig Stevens in the PETER GUNN TV series, which came before this TV episode. She was also in the Elvis Presley film KID GALAHAD. This episode is not unlike the Warner Brothers crime shows with an ensemble cast----HAWAIIAN EYE, BOURBON STREET BEAT, 77 SUNSET STRIP, etc.—but less slick and less built around pretty boy stars.

THE FOURTH COMMANDMENT (20 April 1962) stars James Douglas (later co-star of PEYTON PLACE) and Aneta Corsaut (Andy’s girlfriend on THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW) as brother and sister. Their father was once convicted in some housing scandal and spent years in jail because people died due to faulty workmanship. He’s now out of jail and can’t get or keep a job due to his bad reputation. At one point, he tries to kill himself. His son (Douglas) takes the gun away from him. As he puts the gun in his pocket, it’s photographed in such a way that you KNOW it will figure into the plot again. And of course it does. Oh, one of the three main witnesses against this fellow in the housing fraud trial years ago was Matt Holbrook (Robert Taylor). The brother and sister run a bookstore, and in the first scene we see Douglas dressed up in costume and reading THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO to a group of children. That book is referred to throughout the episode, and of course it mirrors the situation in the episode’s plot (one of these writers must have been an English major!). I don’t want to give away the plot, but let’s just say that Douglas gets a little over-zealous in protecting his father’s reputation and going after his father’s accusers.

 THE DETECTIVES was a co-production between Dick Powell’s Four Star Productions (one would assume Powell and Taylor were old pals, and no one would know better than Powell what a hard worker and good character actor Taylor was) and Levy-Gardner-Laven Productions, best known for THE RIFLEMAN and Elvis’s CLAMBAKE. Each of the hour-long episodes in the third season compares with the best crime B-movies of the day. The permanent cast is excellent; the acting from the guest stars is convincing (they were probably bringing their A-game to these shows, having to work alongside the legendary Robert Taylor); the writing is sharp and intelligent but fast-moving; the directors are mostly old-hands who have proven themselves in low-budget films (Thomas Carr, for instance). Overall, it’s a great show if you like detective dramas of that era. The picture quality of the shows in circulation varies. Some are from a TV Land run, some are from a Bravo run, and some seem to be earlier than that. Many look to be from VHS recorded-off-the-air tapes, with a generation or two (or three) loss in quality. Let’s hope better quality copies surface, or some other network airs it today and people can make sparkling digital copies of the off-the-air broadcasts. I’d rate the picture quality of the shows I have as in the 6 or 6.5 range on the proverbial 10 point scale. The show would surely be even MORE impressive from sparkling archival masters. If you can’t wait for that, your usual grey-market TV DVD sources (Chris and I know those characters well!) can provide you with a set of these on DVD-R’s. Better a mediocre quality copy of a gem like THE DETECTIVES than a High Definition copy of some contemporary crap. Oh, there was also a short-run of a Dell comic book based on the show, and wouldn’t you know, the great Gwandanaland Comics has republished that in book form. If I know myself, you’ll probably be reading a review of that collection here at BTC somewhere down the line…

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