Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Cop with a Hat, a Tommy Gun, and Lee Marvin's Eyes

Until 1965’s Cat Ballou, the indomitable Lee Marvin was yet another working actor, flitting from the big screen to the small, making appearances (usually as a toughie, baddie, or at the very least, a character with heavy attitude) in such standard TV fare as The Virginian, The Untouchables, or Bonanza, and also popping up in meaty stuff like The Twilight Zone, Combat and Route 66, among others. Lee and his eyes also held down a starring role for 117 episodes (1957-1960) in a bare bones cop show, M Squad, finally available on DVD.

M Squad (which was directly parodied in The Naked Gun) featured Marvin as Detective Lt. Frank Ballinger, a dry-as-toast and tougher-than-leather copper navigating through the mean streets of Chicago. Disappointingly, the black and white half hour episodes are neither taunt nor sharp, and mostly without a hint of noir. Directed by a batch of familiar TV helmsmen (Virgil W. Vogel, Bernard L. Kowalski, Don’s Taylor and Medford), the shows aren’t exactly turgid either, bumped up a little bit by Marvin’s laconic voice-overs and his tough guy sway. (Outside of maybe Lancaster and Mitchum, two other poetic macho man, was there ever quite a sonorous prole voice like Marvin's?)

Some claim that the series was original in its depiction of TV violence and it did indeed sport a fantastic theme song, and a cool opening, a jizzy jazzy score throughout each episode, a nuts and bolts procedural panache, legit Chicago location shooting, and, of course Marvin.

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