The First Police Story: Slow Boy (1973, directed by William A. Graham)


Long before The Wire, Homicide, Chicago PD, NYPD Blue, or even Hill Street Blues, there was Police Story.

Co-created by cop-turned-writer Joseph Wambaugh, Police Story aired on NBC from 1973 to 1978.  It was an anthology series, with each episode following a different member of the LAPD as they deal with crime and social issues in Los Angeles.  For its time, it was ground-breaking in its realistic approach to the life and work of the police.  Interestingly, the show wasn’t always blindly pro-cop.  Often the cops featured were deeply flawed and the war on crime was frequently portrayed to be unwinnable.  Over the course of its run, Police Story was a regular Emmy nominee and won the award for Best Drama Series in 1976.

Police Story started, in 1973, with a two-hour TV movie.  At the time it aired, the pilot was called Stakeout but it has since aired in syndication under the title Slow Boy.  Vic Morrow stars as Sgt. Joe LaFrieda, a plainclothes detective who can’t keep his marriage together but who can take criminals off the street.  LaFrieda is the second-in-command of a special squad of detectives who specialize in watching and taking down high-profile criminals.  Their methods frequently come close to entrapment but they usually work.  Their current target is Slow Boy (Chuck Conners), the son of a mafia chieftain, who enjoys robbing stores.  When LaFrieda’s first attempt to put Slow Boy in jail is thwarted by a liberal judge and departmental bureaucracy, he and the squad come up with a second, less-than-legal plan to take Slow Boy down.

Considering the involvement of Joseph Wambaugh, it’s no surprise that plot is secondary to exploring the day-to-day lives of the blue-collar cops trying to take Slow Boy down.  The heart of the movie is in the scenes of the cops shooting the breeze and trying to keep each other amused during length shakeouts.  Their humor is often grim and the fascinating dialogue is cynical, dark, and, even by today’s standards, surprisingly raw.  One of the detectives (played by Harry Guardino, who specialized in loud-mouth city cops) is an unapologetic racist.  Though he gets a comeuppance of sorts, the way the film and the rest of his squad handle his racism will undoubtedly make modern audiences uncomfortable, even if it is authentic to the era in which Slow Boy was made.

The underrated Vic Morrow gives one of his best performances as the tough but sympathetic LaFrieda, who is bad at everything but his job.  He is ably supported by a host of familiar character actors.  Ed Asner plays LaFrieda’s reactionary lieutenant while Sandy Baron is great in the role of an informant.  Diane Baker was also perfectly cast as LaFrieda’s potential girlfriend.  (She first meets the detective while Slow Boy is holding a gun to her head.)  Finally, Chuck Conner is as intimidating as always as the sadistic Slow Boy.

Slow Boy is a tough and uncompromising police procedural and it provided a great start for Police Story.  Reruns of Police Story currently air on H&I on Sunday morning.

A Herman Wouk Double Feature: The Winds of War (1983, directed by Dan Curtis) and War and Remembrance (1988, directed by Dan Curtis)


When the great American novelist Herman Wouk passed away earlier this month at the age of 103, he left behind a rich and varied literary legacy.  From 1947, the year that his first novel was published to 2016, the year that he published his memoirs, Wouk wrote about religion, history, science, and even the movies.  However, Wouk will probably always be best remembered for the three novels that he wrote about World War II.

Based on his own Naval service during World War II, The Caine Mutiny was published in 1951 and was later adapted into both a successful stage play and an Oscar-nominated film.  It also won Wouk a Pulitzer Prize and established him as a major American writer.  Nearly 20 years later, Wouk would return to the history of the Second World War with two of his greatest literary works, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance.  (Originally, Wouk was only planning on writing one book about the entire war but when it took him nearly a thousand pages to reach Pearl Harbor, he decided to split the story in two.)  Beginning in 1939 and proceeding all the way through to the end of the war, the two books followed two families, the Henrys and the Jastrows, as they watched the world descend into war. Along the way, the book’s fictional characters rub shoulders with historical characters like Hitler, Churchill, FDR, and even Stalin.  Carefully researched and meticulously detailed, the books were both critically acclaimed and popular with readers and, despite some soapy elements, they both hold up well today.

Given their success, it’s not a surprise that both The Winds of War and War and Remembrance were adapted for television.  Today, HBO would probably give the books the Game of Thrones treatment, with 8 seasons of war, tragedy, romance, and Emmys.  However, this was the 1980s.  This was the age of of the big-budget, all-star cast network miniseries.  Wouk’s epic history of World War II was coming to prime time.

With a total running times of 15 hours, The Winds of War originally aired over seven evenings in 1983.  Produced and directed for ABC by Dan Curtis, The Winds of War had a 962-page script, a 200-day shooting schedule, 285 speaking parts, and a then-record budget of $35,000,000.  It also had Robert Mitchum, starring as Victor “Pug” Henry, an ambitious naval officer who somehow always managed to be in the right place to witness almost all of the events leading up to America’s entry into World War II.  Jan-Michael Vincent played Pug’s son, Byron, while John Houseman took on the pivotal role Aaron Jastrow, a Jewish scholar though whose eyes the home audience would witness the rise of fascism in Europe.  Terribly miscast as Natalie, Aaron’s niece and Byron’s lover, was 44 year-old Ali MacGraw.  Among those playing historical figures were Ralph Bellamy as FDR, Howard Lang as Churchill, and Gunter Meisner as Hitler.

I recently watched The Winds of War on DVD and, despite some glaring flaws that I’ll get to later, it holds up well as both a history of World War II and a tribute to those who battled Hitler’s evil.  Like Wouk’s novels, the miniseries does a good job of breaking down not only how Hitler came to power but also why the rest of the world was often in denial about what was happening.  Watching the entire miniseries in one setting can be overwhelming.  It’s a big production and it is also unmistakably a product of a time when the major networks didn’t have to worry about competition from cable.  It takes its time but, in the end, you’re glad that it did.  All of the little details can get exhausting but they’re important to understanding just how Hitler was able to catch the world off-guard.

Jan-Michael Vincent and Ali MacGraw in The Winds of War

The miniseries does suffer due to the miscasting of some key roles.  Both Jan-Michael Vincent and Ali MacGraw were far too old for their roles.  Vincent was 38 and MacGraw was 44 when they were cast as naive and idealistic lovers trying to find themselves in Europe.  It’s perhaps less of a problem for Vincent, who had yet to lose his looks to alcoholism and who looked enough like Robert Mitchum that he could pass as Mitchum’s son.  But MacGraw is simply terrible in her role, flatly delivering her lines and looking more like Vincent’s mother than his lover.  It’s particularly jarring when she mockingly calls diplomat Leslie Sloat “Old Sloat,” because Sloat was played by David Dukes, who was six years younger than MacGraw.

67 year-old Robert Mitchum was also much too old to play an ambitious junior officer, one whose main goal in life is still to ultimately become an admiral.  When he ends up having an affair with a younger British journalist played by 30ish Victoria Tennant, the difference in their ages is even more pronounced than in Wouk’s novel.  (Pug was in his 40s in The Winds of War.)  However, Mitchum overcomes his miscasting by virtue of his natural gravitas.  With his weary presence and authoritative voice, Mitchum simply is Pug.

A ratings hit and a multiple Emmy nominee, The Winds of War was followed up five years later by War and Remembrance.  Like its predecessor, War and Remembrance set records.  The script ran 1,492 pages and featured 356 speaking parts.  The production employed 44,000 extras and filming took nearly two years, from January of 1986 to September of 1987.  With a budget of $104 million, it was the most expensive television production to date.  The final miniseries had a 30-hour running time, which was divided over 12 nights.  War and Remembrance not only made history because of its cost and length but also as the first major production to be allowed to film on location at the Auschwitz concentration camp.  For many members of the generation born after the end of World War II, War and Remembrance would serve as their first introduction to the horrors of the Holocaust.

Director Dan Curtis returned and with him came Robert Mitchum, now in his 70s and still playing a junior naval officer.  David Dukes once again played the hapless diplomat, Leslie Sloat.  Ralph Bellamy also returned as FDR as did Victoria Tennant as Mitchum’s lover, Polly Bergen as Mitchum’s wife, and Peter Graves as Bergen’s lover.  However, they were the exception.  The majority of the original cast was replaced for the sequel, in most cases for the better.  With John Houseman too ill to reprise his role, John Gielgud took over the role of Aaron Jastrow while Hart Bochner replaced the famously troubled Jan-Michael Vincent.  Robert Hardy took over the role of Churchill while Hitler was recast with Steven Berkoff.  Best of all, Jane Seymour replaced Ali MacGraw in the role of Natalie and gave the best performance of her career.  Other characters were played by a mix of up-and-comers to tv veterans, with the cast eventually including everyone from Barry Bostwick and Sharon Stone to E.G. Marshall and Ian McShane.

Jane Seymour and John Gielgud

With a stronger cast and (ironically, considering the running length) a more focused storyline, War and Remembrance is superior to The Winds of War in every way.  That doesn’t mean that it’s perfect, of course.  The scenes featuring Barry Bostwick as a submarine commander feel as if they go on forever and Robert Mitchum still seems like he should be preparing for retirement instead of angling for a promotion.  But none of that matters when the miniseries focuses on Aaron and Natalie Jastrow and their struggle to survive life in the Theresienstadt Ghetto and eventually Auschwitz.  At the time that War and Remembrance was initially broadcast, the concentration camp scenes were considered to be highly controversial and many viewers complained that they were so disturbing that they should not have been aired during prime time.  (This was four years before Schindler’s List.)  Seen today, those scenes are the most important part of the film.  Not only do they show why the war had to be fought but they also demand that the world never allow such a thing to happen again.

Though it was considered by a rating disappointment when compared to its predecessor, War and Remembrance was still a multiple-Emmy nominee.  Controversially, it defeated Lonesome Dove for Best Miniseries.  Both Winds of War and War and Remembrance have been released on DVD and, like the books that inspired them, they both hold up well.  They pay tribute to not only those who fought the Nazis but also to the humanistic vision of Herman Wouk.

Herman Wouk (1915-2019)

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, S2 E9, Dir: Rob Seidenglanz, Review by Case Wright


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The finale!!! Don’t forget to check out Lisa’s review here!  This season was without a doubt a televised story that Netflix paid to make.  It had its downs and would roll credits.  By the end of this season, I am excited to speak with the show’s fan.

Last season was a triumph and this season was …. just trying.  Why? I didn’t mind that the characters separated and returned together; that’s a critical part of storytelling. I also don’t totally mind what Lisa pointed out: Sabrina sucks at her job.  She’s amazingly incompetent.  That’s kinda refreshing.  Usually, incompetence is just the purview of fat husbands married to pretty wives on sitcoms.  Sabrina blunders through everything she does and manages to survive because everyone cleans up her messes.  This time with Nick’s life, but I’m getting ahead of myself.  This is the finale so let’s get our flashlights out so we can see anything on our screens and try to figure out: Whaaa Happened?!

There was something different about this episode.  It wasn’t directed like it was done by an overtired cashier at The Last Blockbuster Video (Alaska) who couldn’t turn on the lights.  The direction popped and there was actual humor. Why? Am I watching the right show? Rob Seidenglanz directed this episode.  He is known for a number of dramas: The Following, Parenthood, BUT he also directed Party Down- a no kidding great comedy!

This episode and the season can be summed up in one word: burritos….wait, I’m kinda hungry….I meant failure.  Our heroine and her friends can barely tie their shoes correctly.  They should all get chaperones in case they try something challenging like getting their own mail or cutting up their own meat.

Last episode: Our heroine figured out that she was manipulated…oh wait she didn’t.  She unleashed Lucifer by “killing herself” her double.  In this episode, Lucifer gets released and Sabrina challenges him right off. Wait, no she…has dinner with him.  In fact, we learn that Lucifer is her father, but Hilda never thought to mention it. Ok, did the writers’ room just decide to eat bunch of turkey and nyquil sandwiches this season?!!!!!

Sabrina and the aunties try to kill Lucifer, but they bungle that too.  It’s kinda funny.  Sabrina’s friends also fail to keep the gates of hell closed.  Sabrina does a …. song and dance number?????  Huh??? But, Why? Why? Why?  It’s apparently a scheme to trap Lucifer in a puzzle box of her Adoptive Father’s design and it……fails.  Is someone around to bail out Sabrina? Yep, Nick! He makes Lucifer possess him and does a sleep spell.  Luckily, Ms. Wardwell is around to carry them both off to hell.  The shot is reminiscent of The Beyond, but no one goes blind from the revelation.

The episode ends with Sabrina and her friends planning out season 3 by deciding to try to go into Hell and rescue Nick. Poor, poor Nick.  Maybe you should stop doing…you know…things.  See you next season.  Maybe, Lisa will review it again if you beg her as I will!

This season as gif:

OKfail

TV Review: Chilling Adventures of Sabrina 2.8 “The Mandrake” (dir by Kevin Sullivan)


When last we checked in on the adventures of the Greendale’s most boring family of witches, Sabrina had been resurrected as some sort of witch messiah and was planning on revealing the truth of her powers to all of Roz’s church friends when she was suddenly stopped by Harvey.  Harvey cried out, “If you ever loved me, stop!”  That got a look from both Roz and Nick, not to mention Sabrina.

Anyway, it turned out that Harvey found a wall painting of Sabrina in the mines and apparently, the painting indicated that Sabrina was destined to be the herald of Hell and bring about the apocalypse.

“Am I evil!?” Sabrina asked.

The 8th episode of the 2nd season of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina attempted to answer this question and, as is typical with this show, the results were mixed.  In order to try to exorcise the evil out of her, Sabrina convinced Ambrose to help her create a duplicate Sabrina, a “mandrake.”  The Mandrake Sabrina would have all of her powers but none of her humanity and the plan was for the real Sabrina to kill the fake Sabrina 24 hours after creating it.  This would not only vanquish whatever evil that Sabrina had inside of her but it would also deprive her of both her powers and her immortality.  In short, Sabrina would become a normal mortal but, at the same time, she also wouldn’t end the world.

Sounds like a good plan, right?

Of course, it didn’t work like that, largely due to the fact that Sabrina is incredibly incompetent.  While Sabrina managed to create the Mandrake, she didn’t do a very good job of keeping track of it.  This led to the Evil Sabrina wandering around Greendale and exploiting all of her friends’s insecurities and weaknesses.  Of course, since Sabrina only has three friends, this means that the Mandrake just tracked down Harvey, Roz, and Theo.  If Harvey, Roz, and Theo were complex characters (as opposed to thinly drawn caricatures), it would be potentially interesting to see how the Mandrake manipulated them and tried to use their weaknesses against them.  But, as I’ve been saying since this season began, there’s not much to say about the members of Sabrina’s supporting cast.  Everyone has one or two traits that are used to define them.  Of course, Roz is going to be insecure about her relationship with Harvey and her eyesight because that’s really the only two things that Roz has going on in her life.  The show’s refusal to dig any deeper into its supporting cast remains one of its most glaring flaws.

On the plus side, the Mandrake’s plan to create duplicates of Harvey, Roz, and Theo did lead to a nice homage to Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Kiernan Shipka did a great job playing both Sabrina and her evil twin.  As is usually the case with this series, Kiernan Shipka’s efforts to hold this uneven episode together were nothing less than heroic.

When the episode wasn’t dealing with Sabrina and her Mandrake, it was focusing on Father Blackwood’s attempts to break away from the Church of Night and join the Church of Judas.  It was …. well, not very interesting.  Meanwhile, Mrs. Wardwell sent a reanimated scarecrow to kill Sabrina.  The scarecrow failed, of course but Sabrina has now finally figured out that Wardwell is her enemy.  Considering that Mrs. Wardwell has never been a subtle antagonist, you have to wonder how dumb Sabrina is to have only now figured this out.

Anyway, I actually liked this episode a little bit more than the previous one.  It had all the usual flaws that we’ve come to expect from this series but Kiernan Shipka’s evil turn as the Mandrake elevated the episode.  As usual, Kiernan Shipka remains the show’s greatest strength.  At times, it’s the show’s only strength.

Up next, Case finished up season 2 by reviewing the finale!

TV Review: Chilling Adventures of Sabrina 2.7 “The Miracles of Sabrina Spellman” (dir by Antonio Negret)


GOOD GOD, CAN SOMEONE IN GREENDALE TURN ON A FREAKING LIGHT!?

As you may have guessed from the introduction, I am once again reviewing Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.  I will be reviewing the seventh and eighth episodes of the 2nd season and then Case will be back with us, covering the big finale.  If you’ve read any of my previous reviews, you know that one of my huge issues with this show is that no one in this damn town — even the mortals — seems to know how to flip a light switch.  Visually and thematically, this is one dark show.

It’s also, especially during season 2, been a rather dull show.  Watching it, one gets the feeling that the writers ran out of ideas halfway through season 1.  Yes, everyone worships Satan.  Yes, they’re all witches and warlocks.  That should be interesting but trust this show to make the dark arts seem boring and rather tedious.  “What the Heaven’s happened!?”  Aunt Hilda (Lucy Davis) exclaims at the start of the show when she sees as seriously, perhaps fatally, wounded Sabrina and replacing “Hell” with “Heaven” is supposed to be shocking but, at this point, who cares?

The show’s main strength has always been Kiernan Shipka’s performance Sabrina.  She’s always been able to bring life to even the laziest of dialogue but this episode comes close to defeating even the normally reliable Shipka.  Kiernan Shipka has always kept the show grounded but this episode sent her up into the air.

While the previous episode ended with Sabrina nearly dead, this episode opens with Sabrina coming back to life and becoming not only a healer but also a messianic figure.  Sabrina not only heals Ambrose but she also prevents him from being executed.  And it says a lot of about this show’s flaws that I wouldn’t have minded if Amrbose’s head had been chopped off.  If nothing else, it would have meant no longer having to listen to him whine about every little thing.  Sabrina also gives Roz back her eyesight, so I guess that subplot’s resolved.  Roz is no longer blind and yay, I guess.  Roz is a flat, one-demensional character.  You didn’t care when she went blind and you’re not going to care that she can now see.  By that same token, you’re not going to care when Aunt Zelda is freed from the spell that Blackwood’s put her under because, again, she’s just Zelda and she’s not that interesting.

Anyway, now that Sabrina has returned from the dead and can magically do whatever the script requires her to do at any given moment, she wants to spread her father’s gospel and bring together mortals and humans.  Alone among the students at the Academy, Nick Scratch thinks that’s a good idea and I’d be worried about that if I cared about Nick and Sabrina as a couple….

Really, this was a surprisingly uninvolving episode.  I’m not even going to discuss Harvey and Theo in the mines or Ms. Wardwell creating a servant in her bathtub.  Nor am I going to talk about the rat that a possessed Zelda drops in a meat grinder.  It all plays out very slowly and it mostly plays out in the dark and it doesn’t work because none of these characters feel like they’re worth all the trouble.

As I pointed out earlier, even Kiernan Shipka stuggled during this episode.  Over the course of one episode, Sabrina goes from being a teenager trying to find her place in the world to being some sort of witch messiah and, in the process, she becomes self-righteous and a bit dull.  The episode ends with Sabrina looking at a cave painting, a prophecy that proclaims her to be the herald of Hell.

“I’m evil!” Sabrina says, shocked.

And who knows?  Maybe she is.  But seriously, who cares?

Coming up next, once I’ve found the strength to continue, episode 8!  And then Case will be here to wrap things up with the finale!

Scenes That I Love: Norma Accepts Ed’s Proposal in Twin Peaks: The Return (R.I.P. Peggy Lipton)


As this day comes to a close, I have some sad news to report.  The actress Peggy Lipton passed away earlier today, at the age of 72.  While one generation may know her best as a star of 1960s television and others know her for her marriage to legendary music producer Quincy Jones (and as the mother of Rashida Jones), I knew Peggy Lipton as Norma Jennings, one of the few characters to get a happy ending in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: The Return.

Norma was the owner of the Double R Diner and, for the most part, one of the few stable residents of Twin Peaks.  While the rest of the town was collapsing around her, Norma could usually be found in a back booth, going over expense reports and continually proving herself to often be the lone voice of sanity in her hometown.

The love affair between Norma and Ed Hurley (Everett McGill) was a story that ran through both the original Twin Peaks and the Showtime revival.  One of the big moments in the revival came when Ed, having finally gotten Norma to agree to give him a divorce, finally asked Norma to marry him.  It’s perhaps the most unabashedly romantic scene to be found in David Lynch’s filmography.  (Lynch did the scene in one take and, according to Lipton, was in tears by the end of it.)  It’s a scene that’s wonderfully acted by both McGill and Lipton, with both actors saying so much without saying a word.

And here it is, a scene that I love from Part 15 of Twin Peaks: The Return:

 

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, S2, Ep6, The Missionaries, Review by Case Wright


sabrina

This is the first time in a long time where I rooted for the “villains” to kill off every character.  It’s a hard thing to watch a show you love slowly fail.  It’s like a bad relationship that slouches on from inertia and the inconvenience of setting up a separate bank account.  This is how I feel about CAOS.  I was really hoping that this episode would be the last one, but….not so much.

I would normally describe the director’s technique, but it’s Alex Pillai again and…man it has all the subtlety of a Lifetime MOW.  Not to say that I don’t REALLY like a good guilty pleasure lifetime live tweet, BUT that’s a different animal.  Lifetime movies are supposed to be campy and over the top ridiculous, but CAOS is supposed to bridge comics and realism and instead it’s just giggle-inducing borefest.

The episode opens with Nick being tortured by a guy who looks like a Mormon missionary who is about to chop his hands off.  Oh well, Nick kinda got on my nerves; maybe they’ll have to write a soupy episode featuring Nick titled: Who needs the clap?  Ambrose is still locked up without a shirt doing pull-ups.  This show has more gratuitous beefcake than Arrow season 1 and that is saying A LOT!  I do give Chance Perdomo credit on his abs.  I’m developing my abs and it is a process.  Chance, tip of the hat to committing to the shred!

The “Missionaries”of the episode aren’t really missionaries per se, but they ARE gorgeous blonde angels named Jerathmiel and Mehitable (Spencer Treat Clark and Bayley Corman)! I guess it makes sense that angels would be pretty, but WHOA!  It turns out these angels are avenging angels armed with the latest in …..Ancient Weaponry… wait, what?!  Why?!  Really, why are they armed with crossbows?  Most states just require a driver’s license to purchase any gun you want; let alone what you can get on craigslist.  This just seemed unnecessarily antiquated and dumb like really dumb….really!  Crossbows are heavy, awkward, take a long time load, hard to aim, and are ridiculous.  Bleh.

Jerathmiel and Mehitable spent most of the episode blundering through town trying to kill all of the witches of Greendale.  Why bother?  We already learned in previous episodes that the teenagers are unvaccinated and catch the Chicken Pox.  Just send in Jenny MacArthy’s measles carrying minions into town and you’ll have the whole town on its knees in matter of hours!

Jerathmiel and Mehitable catch most of the witches and start purifying the town.  I guess this says a lot about how the show has degraded because I really rooted for the Angels.  I thought to myself…Self, maybe they could just go full-on Hamlet?!!!!

This main plot is interwoven with the more compelling love story between Wardwell and Adam.  He wants to take her to Tibet.  She is about to accept when the Devil finds out about their escape plan, so the Devil turns Adam in Wardwell’s diner.  REALLY.  It’s really sad, but sets up a great revenge arc for Wardwell that looks MUCH more interesting than the primary storyline.

Jerathmiel and Mehitable have all the witches cornered and even put a few arrow bolts into Sabrina, but the Devil resurrects Sabrina and gets the Angels to renounce God and envelopes the angels in flames.  Honestly, I thought this scene was just plain terrible.  The angels spent the whole episode being intrepid crusaders, but they were easily cowed by a floating Sabrina?!  Really?! It came across as contrived.  The angels were so brave for the entire episode and then… nope.  It was just awful in an awful way, not like Lifetime which is bad in an AWESOME way.

I’m not sure what the show should do or where it should go, but it needs artistic honesty because without it, the suspense withers away like a dried out orange.