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Note: This list is far from complete and not in order of preference.
The Return of Ironside (1993)
A good final "Ironside" episode
Writing strictly as a biased fan of the original "Ironside" series, it was nice for the entire cast, including a few performers that retired for a number of years, to return for "The Return of Ironside," which was one of the last projects starring and co-produced by Raymond Burr.
This competent mystery movie involves police officer Suzanne Dwyer (Perrey Reeves), the daughter of Eve Kendall (a still radiant Barbara Anderson). Dwyer may be involved in a possible conspiracy involving the death of the Denver police chief. Ed Brown (Don Galloway) is assigned to temporarily handle the duties of the deceased chief and asks Robert T. Ironside, who just retired consulting for the San Francisco Police Department, to help with the case. The request from Brown came just as Ironside was about to settle down with his wife Katherine (Dana Wynter, in her final performance) to their Napa Valley winery. Also helping in the investigation are former Ironside assistant and now court judge Mark Sanger (Don Mitchell, which, as of 2013, was his final acting performance) and retired officer Fran Belding (Elizabeth Baur).
As with most "Ironside" episodes, even if the mystery is not a total success, the presence of Burr and company makes the ride to the conclusion rather intriguing and not too much of a waste of time. I'm no fan of reunion movies/TV shows because I'd like to remember the original series and the people involved in the production. At the same time, after re-watching the TV movie for the first time on the web in nearly 20 years, I think this was Burr's way of letting his long-time colleagues and fans of the show say goodbye to Ironside and to Burr. He would appear posthumously in two more "Perry Mason" TV movies.
The New Perry Mason (1973)
The Case of Terrible Timing
In May 1966, the original "Perry Mason" series ended on CBS after 9 successful seasons. Seven years later, an ill-advised remake was produced by some of the people associated with the original series.
Veteran TV actor Monte Markham won the role Raymond Burr made famous to the point that no one can ever associate the role of Perry Mason with anyone other than Burr. As far as I'm concerned, Markham did a credible job with the material given to him. I thought Harry Guardino as Hamilton Burger and Dane Clark as Lt. Arthur Tragg were OK in their roles as well. The less said about Sharon Acker as Della Street and Albert Stratton as Paul Drake, the better.
Brett Somers appeared in a few episodes as receptionist Gertie Lade and was a well-needed comic relief to some not-so-exciting mysteries.
This will probably be the only review which will acknowledge liking the theme music and who composed it, Earle Hagen (Andy Griffith Show, The Mod Squad, I Spy, among many others). As with Burr, Fred Steiner's Park Avenue Beat/Perry Mason theme will always be iconic. Hagen's stand-alone underscore serves its purpose and does not overwhelm the story lines.
So, why did the show flop? According to a New York Times article (September 26, 1973) no new shows appeared in the top 20 Nielsen ratings the week The New Perry Mason debuted. In addition, the original Perry Mason was in daily syndication in many television markets and Burr's other series, Ironside, was starting its 6th season. Considering that Burr would return to play Perry Mason in 1985, a decade after the failed remake, maybe the remake was just a case of terrible timing.
At least one YouTube user uploaded several episodes from the remake. Despite my agreement with many Perry Mason fans lambasting the remake, I thought it had potential but was painted in an unfortunate corner and was slated for a quick death.
Who did it? In my opinion, it was network executives who thought a remake was needed despite dedicated fans saying no.
A strong lead performance and a good supporting/guest cast made Longstreet worth watching.
From the 1960s and 70s, there were numerous detective series where the lead character had a unique characteristic: wheelchair-bound Ironside, trench coat-wearing Columbo, senior citizen Barnaby Jones, etc. In the case of the watchable series "Longstreet", James Franciscus played the New Orleans-based insurance agent whose was blinded by an explosion that killed his wife and is determined to continue investigating cases despite his affliction.
The priorities "Longstreet" developer/executive producer Stirling Silliphant had were similar to his earlier shows ("Route 66" and "Naked City", in which Franciscus appeared in the first season): character studies over plot. This is not to say that the show's plots were uninteresting. Franciscus' compelling performance kept my interest, as well as support from Marlyn Mason as assistant Nikki and Peter Mark Richman as Duke.
Most martial arts fans remember the series less for Franciscus and more for Bruce Lee, who played Li Tsung, Longstreet's Jeet Kune Do instructor for just four episodes. Lee made such a strong impression, it's a shame that the producers/writers were unable to incorporate Lee in more episodes. At the same time, if Lee were made a regular, he may have not signed on for "Enter the Dragon" in his tragically short film career.
"Longstreet" was an early success in the show's only season on ABC. Unfortunately, it was overshadowed in mid-season when NBC's "Ironside" moved into the same time slot. ABC canceled "Longstreet" at the last possible moment despite having better ratings than a number of ABC shows.
There are many short-lived series like "Longstreet" that deserve to be rediscovered. I hope CBS/Paramount will consider releasing the series from their large vaults to DVD and web streaming.
Not bad, but not good either.
My memories of the gritty but not totally successful private eye drama "P.J." are rather hazy and incomplete. As several other writers have mentioned, the movie was heavily edited for television after the movie's original release. Even as an impressionable kid, I wondered why P.J. (George Peppard) was badly beaten up without knowing who did it and what happened to the guy on the subway platform that threatened P.J.'s life? The two sequences, as well as several others edited scenes, made "P.J." on TV a rather bland and disjointed mess.
On a hunch, I was able to finally see an unedited, pan-and-scan version of "P.J." a few days ago. Regrettably, the movie was not as good as I remembered. This is despite good performances by Peppard and Raymond Burr, who probably relished the offer of playing a bad guy after many years as Perry Mason, as well as Gayle Hunnicutt as the femme fatale.
The musical score by Neil Hefti and the New York locations certainly set the mood. (Some of Hefti's interludes sounded a lot like his score from the movie "The Odd Couple". "P.J." was released a few months before "The Odd Couple".)
I don't consider "P.J." a classic because of some misguided creative decisions by the writers and director and production choices in which scenes that were obviously filmed on the Universal back lot took me out of the story on occasion.
However, I believe that movie studios are doing themselves a disservice to the public by not releasing this and other movies to the web or on DVD. There are horrible movies in the past few years that are on the web or released on DVD but a 1968 film that was not necessarily a classic and did not win any awards is shown illegally on a popular web page. To Universal, release the film on a widescreen format and let the public decide if the movie is worthy.
Smash-Up on Interstate 5 (1976)
Slightly better than average TV disaster flick
"Smash-Up on Interstate 5" goes the same path as any disaster flick from the 1970s. The TV movie has a large, notable cast and multiple story lines, which culminate into the title incident. In an unusual move, the filmmakers chose to open the film with the same multi-vehicle accident and flash back to the characters involved in the accident.
Because of this creative decision, I did care about some of the characters and their fates. The most heartbreaking storyline was the older couple played by Buddy Ebsen and Harriet Nelson (Hillard) in which one member of the couple is faced with a fatal medical diagnosis.
In addition, the stunt work and editing of the actual crash was very terrifying and effective.
As with many television movies, finding this item on DVD is challenging.
Spenser: For Hire (1985)
Strong casting and production values made the TV series "Spenser" worth watching
Several weeks before posting this review, I visited Boston for the first time. While riding the city's MBTA Red Line across the Longfellow Bridge, I could not help but hum variations of the theme song from "Spenser: For Hire," which aired over 25 years ago. I never read the Spenser books written by Robert B. Parker so I have no idea if the show ever captured the essence of the novels. The series never ranked in the top 20 and was switched to several time slots during the show's three seasons. The show's major strengths were Robert Urich as Spenser, Avery Brooks as Hawk and the incredibly strong on location production values that made the show better than some current and past detective shows, depending on the episode.
Some episodes, especially within season 1, had strong, intriguing plot twists that kept my interest. Three of my personal favorites were "The Choice," (which starred Patricia Clarkson and Sam Robards as thrill killers), "When Silence Speaks" (with Phyllis Frelich as a newspaper columnist who hires Spenser to locate a letter writer) and "Discord in a Minor," in which the teenage daughter of the city's symphony director tries to run away with the son of a local crime boss.
The show was far from perfect. Both of Spenser's love interests, Susan Silverman (played by Barbara Stock, seasons 1 and 3) and Rita Fiori (played by Carolyn McCormick, season 2) were generally thankless, underdeveloped roles. Arguably, both actresses tried their best with the material given but, more often than not, the dynamic between Spenser and Hawk was more interesting. In addition, several episodes depended more on chase scenes and stunts instead of correcting plot deficiencies, great stunt work notwithstanding.
I watched "Spenser: For Hire" on SlashControl.com and, as of this post, over 50 of the show's 65 episodes are available for streaming. Overall, the show was a nice diversion and a better-than-average detective series.
Update (6/14/2012): Sadly, with AOL ending SlashControl.com, Spenser: For Hire is not being streamed as of this update. I hope Warner Brothers will reconsider and stream and/or release the program on DVD in the future.
Inside 'The Swarm' (1978)
Do production crews know when a movie is a flop?
The 1978 film "The Swarm" was a major flop at the box office and was justifiably panned by many film critics. The film was such an infamous disaster, Producer/Director Irwin Allen refused to talk about the movie in later interviews.
The short "Inside 'The Swarm'" will not change my overwhelming negative feelings about the film. Nonetheless, after viewing the short film, the one constant was the professional work ethic of Allen, the stunt coordinators and the unnamed stunt people. If more money was spent on the visual effects, less money on hiring Hollywood stars to presumably hook audiences to see the movie, and more time spent fleshing out a weak script, maybe "The Swarm" might have worked.
After over 30 years, my feelings about this laughably horrible film has never changed.
Despite some creative flaws, a generally strong two-part episode
The two-part episode, "A Continual Roar of Musketry", originally aired on NBC in November 1970, six months after the Kent State shootings.
The Retro Television Network (RTV) reran the episodes May 1 and 2, 2010 in several U.S. television markets. Despite a few questionable creative choices, the episodes are still very potent.
Senator Hays Stowe (Hal Holbrook) heads a three-person committee investigating the shooting of demonstrators at a college by the state's National Guard, in which two students were killed and at least four were injured.
As with other episodes from the shamefully short-lived segment of "The Bold Ones", David W. Rintels' script still has some significant resonance even after forty years. Obviously inspired by Akira Kurosawa's "Rashomon", the episodes show several different viewpoints on the shootings. They include: the governor (John Randolph) who commissioned the investigation, the college chancellor (Laurence Luckinbill) who understood the protesters' concerns, the local mayor (John Marley) who wants to protect his town's reputation, the young protesters and the officer who may or may not have order the shooting.
I think the second hour was better than the first. The strong cast of familiar character actors (Edward Binns, Paul Stewart, John Marley, Noam Pitlik and the other actors mentioned previously) had the unenviable task of essentially playing two different roles. Unfortunately, I wished some of the performances, specifically in part one, took a "less is more" acting path.
In a 2006 interview, Randolph Mantooth mentioned that he got the role of paramedic John Gage in "Emergency!" from this episode. His performance as a fellow college student given the unfortunate responsibility of protecting the college from protesters, was very effective, showing that the character was not a robot who may have ordered the shooting of unnamed targets.
Also effective was Pamela McMyler as the girlfriend of the lead protester (Robert Pratt), who finds herself as the only person willing to talk to the commission about the shooting from the student protester's perspective.
Holbrook's powerful performance as the well-intentioned, idealistic senator was the strongest quality thought the entire series. As mentioned in a posting about the series, it has been nice to rediscover "The Bold Ones" and the segment "The Senator".
The Bold Ones: The Senator (1970)
A decent gem from the early 1970s
I must have been 8 or 9 years old when "The Bold Ones" first premiered. The fact that the show aired on NBC Sunday nights at 10:00 meant that I should have been asleep for school the next day. I do remember that the subject matter of all four segments ("The New Doctors", "The Lawyers", "The Protectors" and "The Senator") was definitely for mature TV audiences. Considering the era of the late 1960s-early 1970s, when several TV programs started to evolve and created entertaining stories with some social significance, I can see why "The Bold Ones" was a partial success, at least by some critics but not to the general public. The series never ranked in the top 20 and two segments, "The Protectors" and "The Senator," lasted just one season.
In the past few months, the U.S. digital channel Retro Television Network (RTN) started to air numerous TV shows from the Universal/Revue television library. I'm very glad to rediscover "The Bold Ones" and, specifically, the multiple Emmy award-winning segment "The Senator" with Hal Holbrook playing the fair-minded, idealistic junior U.S. Senator Hays Stowe from an unidentified state.
As of this posting, I had a chance to revisit two episodes after over 38 years since their last airings. In "George Washington Told a Lie", a dam project proposed by Sen. Stowe is on land that would displace a group of Native Americans. In "The Day the Lion Died", Stowe confronts a fellow senator who might be suffering from a serious mental condition. With both episodes, especially the latter, which features an award-worthy performance by Will Geer as the eccentric senate member, I got the sense that the story telling quality was raised a few notches. The pace may have been slow but, at the same time, literate, deliberate and it did not insult my intelligence.
Looking at "The Senator" in 2008, it reminds me of some of the strong qualities of the more successful "The West Wing". It does make me wonder if Sen. Hays Stowe became candidate for U.S. President, would he still have that idealism or would he be corrupted. It is interesting to note that both shows won Emmys for best drama series. Once in a while, quality does triumph over quantity.
Equal Justice (1990)
Another case of "Brilliant but Cancelled" (Updated)
Thank goodness for advancing video technology. Because of numerous video streaming websites, it is possible to see almost any beloved (and not-so-beloved) television program from any era.
A previous IMDb user mentioned the critically acclaimed but shamefully short-lived legal drama "Equal Justice" (1990-91) is airing on a website called Fancast.com. I just finished watching two of the four episodes that have been posted.
As with any program airing more than a decade ago, it is interesting to see people like Jane Kaczmarek and Sarah Jessica Parker before their major long-run successes with "Malcolm in the Middle" and "Sex and the City," respectively. In addition, the show reminds me how great veteran actor Joe Morton is whenever he appears on screen.
I'm not certain if this specific achievement was unprecedented, but co-creator Thomas Carter, who acted in another "Brilliant but Cancelled" show "The White Shadow", won back-to-back Emmys for directing. It's a shame that even two straight Emmy wins in major categories could not save this show.
Again, thank goodness for video technology.
Update July 22, 2009:
On re-watching all 13 episodes from season 1, I'm sure horny, sleazy, cigar-smoking ADA Briggs (Barry Miller) would have been fired and sued by Julia Janovich (Debrah Farentino) for harassment if the scenes were set in 2009. Those scenes from 1990 don't play very well in 2009.
Despite that flaw and some weak subplots, each episode had at least 1-2 compelling story lines. And what made the stronger stories compelling are that the conclusions are not always cleanly resolved. If I were to choose one episode to watch, "Promises to Keep," which won Thomas Carter an Emmy for best direction in a drama series and gave Joe Morton, whose character is affected by a murder, an award-worthy performance, was the show's strongest episode.
Update 2/19/2014: Every episode is posted on Hulu.com via IMDb.com's video section.