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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
THE 87th PRECINCT 1961 "Floater" This is the first episode of the
one season run of Ed McBains' 87TH PRECINCT. The series ran for 30
episodes during 1961-62. The show, based on writer Ed McBain's books,
is about the Detectives who work out of New York's 87th Precinct. Cast
regulars include, Robert Lansing, Ron Harper, Gena Rowlands, Norman
Fell and Gregory Walcott.
The day starts with the squad getting a call about a woman's body in the East River. Some kids swimming had found a woman's body underwater caught on a pier. The boys, Robert Lansing and Norman Fell roll out to have a look. The body is retrieved and sent to the medical examiner.
The M.E. tells the Detectives that the woman had been dead of arsenic poisoning before she hit the water. The only real clue for the Police is a small heart shaped tattoo with the letters MAC inside.
That evening, Lansing is talking to his wife, Gena Rowlands. Rowlands is a deaf mute who can read lips. Lansing tells, signs, Rowlands about the tattoo etc.
The next morning, Rowlands gets a ride into town with hubby Lansing for some shopping. Lansing stops on the way to check out several tattoo shops. And what does he find, a man who recalls doing the heart with the letters. The letters stood for Mary Ann C. The woman had been in with a handsome young man. While Lansing is questioning the tattoo artist, Rowlands is having a look at the images of butterflies that are offered by the tattoo artist, Victor Sen Yung.
Lansing drops Rowlands off and heads for the squad room. A check of the missing person files comes up with a lead. The Detectives check out the lead and come up with a positive identification. The woman had come to New York seeking fame and fortune.
Now the show switches to Central Park. A horse drawn cab with Robert Culp and Natalie Norwick are taking a tour of Central Park. Norwick is a new to the city girl who has been swept off her feet by big city charmer, Culp. Culp however, is a serial killer who preys on the unwary small town types. He poisons them and then dumps them in the river. But first, he has them get a little heart tattoo.
Rowlands has done her shopping and has decided to return to the tattoo shop to get a small butterfly on her shoulder. Though she cannot speak, she soon shows Sen Yung what she wants. While Yung is finishing her tattoo, Culp arrives with Norwick in tow. He wants a heart just like the last time done for Norwick. Sen Yung says he just needs 5 minutes to finish with Rowlands and to have a seat.
Sen Yung returns to the back room and tells Rowlands that the same man, Culp, is out front. Rowlands asks Yung to call her husband and tell him. Yung goes out and tells Culp there will be a further delay. Before Yung can call Lansing, Culp smells a rat, he grabs Norwick, heads out and jumps in a cab. Rowlands does the same and has her cab follow Culp.
Culp takes his cab down to the waterfront. He drags Norwick down to the pier. Norwick is in agony from the last batch of arsenic Culp slipped her. She begs to be taken to a doctor. Rowland has likewise now arrived at the pier. She pays off the driver, and hands him a card with Lansing's Precinct number on it. She then follows Culp onto the docks.
When Lansing gets the call from the cabbie, Ralph Manzo, he takes along Detective Fell and does a mad dash for the docks. Norwick has passed out from the pain before Culp can send her over the dockside. He notices Rowland watching and puts the grab on her. Now Lansing shows and lays a severe beating on pretty boy Culp before slapping the cuffs on. An ambulance for Norwick is then called.
Not bad at all. The rest of the cast includes, Wally Brown, Dale McKinnon, Paul Bryar, and Kim Hamilton. Some will recall Victor Sen Yung as the cook Hop Sing on the long running BONANZA western series.
The director of the episode was, Herschel Daugherty. The d of p was three time Oscar nominated, and one winner, Lionel Lindon. (B/W)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
There were some terrific drama and police series on in the 1950's and
early 60's, notably "Naked City" and "the Detectives." I am not sure
about the other 29 episodes of "87 Precinct," but this pilot was
nowhere near their quality. It was poorly written and I just felt
embarrassed for some good actors who had to deal with the dull script
the best they could. The opening and closing title sequence looks like
the director just said to the cast to look friendly and act like you
know each other. Everybody really has bit parts with the exception of
Robert Lansing, Gena Rowlands, and Robert Culp. They are the actors who
you feel most sorry for. Lansing plays the hero and Gena Rowlands is
his deaf-mute wife. Rowlands plays her role doing pantomime. Lansing
seems to be playing charades when he communicates with her.
There is a ridiculous scene in a restaurant where a man comes over and tries to pick up Rowlands. He doesn't seem to care that she is a deaf-mute or has a husband. Instead of Lansing saying "I'm a police officer and I'll arrest you if you don't stop bothering my wife," he gets into a fight with the guy and beats him up. The scene serves no purpose except to put some fighting/action into the story.
Worse, the detectives don't really solve the case. Gena Rowlands just happens to be in a tattoo parlor when Culp, the villain walks in. So the case gets solved by an implausiblec coincidence.
Culp plays a charming psychopathic killer, but without much charm and without much psychopathology. Like the man in the bar that Lansing beat up, he suddenly falls in love with Gena Rowlands for no reason. While Gena Rowlands is pretty, she's hardly irresistible, especially when she has to answer in pantomime. Its just another plot twist that doesn't work and seems ridiculous.
Surprisingly, Victor Sen Yung, the famous cook Hop Sing on the "Bonanza" hit series of the time, is quite good as a sleazy tattoo parlor owner promising special deals to all his clients. It makes you think how wasted his talents were on "Bonanza." I assume the episodes got better after the pilot. They could not get much worse.
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