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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Death Squad is not a remake of Clint Eastwood's second Dirty Harry
movie, Magnum Force. Magnum Force was theatrically released on December
25, 1973. The Death Squad premiered on TV exactly two weeks later on
January 8, 1974. If this was a remake, it probably made history because
I can't see anyway possible that the story was written, actors cast,
film shot and edited and then broadcast on TV in 14 days. Somebody,
please, tell me how that was done! It is readily apparent that both
films were conceived, written and filmed simultaneously. So Magnum
Force hits the theaters two weeks before The Death Squad is aired and
people are saying it's a remake? C'mon.
The Death Squad is an entertaining flick, especially for a "Made For TV" movie, which were a dime a dozen back in the early 1970's. It boasts a good storyline and a top-notch cast of solid, veteran actors. As far as I'm concerned, it can hold its own with Magnum Force, even without the gratuitous violence. Worth checking out just for the entertainment value.
Falk, a veteran director on a number of TV series ranging from Get Smart! to The Colbys, first tried his hand at feature-length action filmmaking in 1974 with Death Squad. The box blazons "in the tradition of Magnum Force!" Tradition? Please.
Robert Forster (Alligator) plays a straight cop busted from a crooked force, re-recruited in secret to infiltrate a gang of vigilante police led by Claude Akins. (Does that seem a stretch to you, too?) Forster falls in love in record time with his ex-partner's daughter, played by Mamas and Papas alum Michelle Phillips, and complications ensue. Forster's a passable actor, but Eastwood he ain't. Phillips has gotten a lot better since 1974. And, well, Sheriff Lobo heading up a band of renegade officers is just plain too much. * 1/2
render a snarky judgment of 1974's The Death Squad by writing "The
Cliché Squad" in the summary box. I was going to ridicule this cheapo
TV movie as an inevitable rip-off of Magnum Force. I was going to point
out the pablum-level plotting, the cardboard characterizations, the
neon sign pointing at Melvyn Douglas as the Hal Holbrook character in
In other words, I was going to dismiss The Death Squad as the typical junk put out by ABC for its "Movie of the Week" series way back when.
Then it dawned on me that I didn't know who all was involved in supporting the vigilante cops. I started thinking how this may have made a passable series (c'mon, every other episode of The Movie of the Week was a pilot or some sort of pitch to the network suits). I found myself feeling comfortable with Claude Akins, Ken Tobey, and Mark Goddard. I wanted to see more of a very young, very charming Michelle Phillips.
The Death Squad was junk, but the sort of junk you want to browse through at a garage sale.
And then there was Robert Forster, an actor with a reputation of doing journeyman work portraying the lead with an earnestness that I found admirable.
So, my prejudice against this sort of Spelling-Goldberg trash may have had legitimate roots (right, Starsky and Hutch?), but after The Death Squad was over, I found myself a smidgen sad. This was the stuff I grew up on in the 70s. The movie was just about as good as NBC's Police Story.
Not a complete waste of 70 minutes.
What an incredibly crazy and pointless idea to do a TV-remake of the Clint Eastwood smash-hit "Magnum Force" not even one year after its release? That's like stopping at McDonald's for a burger right after you had a perfectly fine stake diner. This is probably also the reason why "The Death Squad" is completely unknown and that I could pick up an ex- rental copy for $0.20 at a flea market. Try purchasing "Magnum Force" for that price As said, the plot of "The Death Squad" is pretty much identical to that of "Magnum Force", except of course that the emphasis more lies on the actual vigilante coppers instead of on the Dirty Harry trying to stop them. The movie boosts a multi-talented and experienced cast, which kind of makes you wonder why all these acclaimed names bother to appear in such a low-keyed TV-production. Perhaps they all thought the aforementioned Dirty Harry flick was too gratuitously violent? The lead roles are for Robert Forster ("Alligator" and "The Don is Dead") and Claude Akins (that really creepy guy from "The Farm") and in the supportive cast we find names like Melvyn Douglas, Jesse Vint and even that cherubic blond singer from the band The Mammas and the Pappas. Forster plays the dishonorably discharged inspector Eric Benoit, dragged back aboard of the police team by the commissioner himself because his city is suffering from a so-called death squad; a bunch of vigilante cops that "correct" the mistakes made by courthouses and annihilate the scum that walk the streets. Benoit is asked to investigate because he's an old-fashioned righteous police officer, but also the members of the death squad including his direct partner and even his mentor want him to join them. "The Death Squad" certainly isn't a bad movie. There are a couple of noteworthy moments of action and suspense, most of them thanks to Akins' creepy charisma and scary grimaces, but the plot is simply too predictable and derivative. There are literally hundreds of obscure but genuinely worthwhile made-for-TV thrillers available from the early 70's, so don't waste your time on this one.
The low ratings for this made for TV film which cameos Melvyn
Douglas are accurate. This film should be viewed by movie
students to see how movies can either be improved or how the
original outshines the copy.
You do not have to be a sophisticated movie lover to see the difference between DEATH SQUAD and MAGNUM FORCE. You should compare films like TO BE OR NOT TO BE with Jack Benny and Carole Lombard (1942) with the more slapstick production of Mel Brooks. Ernst Lubitsch in his direction supplied subtle nuances to make a sophisticated comedy, Mel Brooks i "Pie in the Face". This makes for a complex but comprehensive understanding of what is the difference between a good film and a film classic.
DEATH SQUAD was interesting for me, so that I could relate the comparison as stated above.
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