Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Slow Boy

The 1973 pilot movie for the hit NBC anthology POLICE STORY is usually referenced as “Slow Boy,” but “Stakeout” is the title on the print. Even Shout! Factory’s DVD liner notes call it “Slow Boy.” Maybe the title was changed for syndication.

At any rate, Vic Morrow (COMBAT!) stars as Joe LaFrieda, the leader of a special L.A.P.D. unit that goes after the most dangerous criminals. With boss Blodgett (Edward Asner, then on THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW) coordinating the effort, the unit’s target is the violent Slow Boy (Connors), whom the cops follow to an all-night grocery store. LaFrieda and partner Chick Torpi (John Bennett Perry, later to star in 240-ROBERT) bust Slow Boy when he attempts to stick up the joint and take a woman (Diane Baker) hostage. However, Slow Boy’s attorney (Michael Baseleon) manages to bail him out, leading LaFrieda to concoct a quasi-legal plan behind Blodgett’s back to get Slow Boy off the street.

Created by best-selling author Joseph Wambaugh (THE NEW CENTURIONS, a film based on his novel, is seen on a theater marquee) and written by E. Jack Neumann, STAKEOUT is at its best when it shows the cops without their public faces on, engaging in ribald humor and dealing with the fear and stress that comes with their job. LaFrieda is a policeman who became something of a Hollywood cliché—divorced, lonely, eating TV dinners in his apartment—but was a fresh depiction on television in 1973. Morrow is terrific—completely natural and believable. A brief moment where an informer tests his wire by shouting into his microphone and into LaFrieda’s earbud is played so real that you’d swear it was a real accident.

Neumann and director William A. Graham (THE DOOMSDAY FLIGHT) also draw strong performances from Morrow’s supporting cast, especially Asner (perfectly cast as an authority figure not unlike Lou Grant). Harry Guardino typically hams as an Italian detective with a distaste for black people, though he and Neumann interestingly refrain from portraying him as a bad person (though he does receive a comeuppance of sorts).

A hit on NBC in March of 1973, POLICE STORY returned in October as a weekly series that ran five seasons and earned several Emmy nominations. POLICE STORY was notable for amazing casts, and this one has James Luisi, Ina Balin, Sandy Baron, David Doyle, Taylor Lacher, Hal Williams, Kim Hamilton, Barbara Rhoades, Mel Scott, and KOJAK’s Kevin Dobson. Score by Jerry Goldsmith, who also composed the series theme.

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