Friday, July 24, 2015

The Death Squad

Well, there’s no wondering where writers Ronald Austin and James Buchanan (CHARLIE’S ANGELS) came up with the idea for THE DEATH SQUAD, a quite good made-for-TV crime drama for ABC. It’s just amazing that producers Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg were able to get it on the air a mere two weeks after MAGNUM FORCE hit theaters nationwide at Christmas 1973.

The plot is the same in both films: an honest police detective learns about a secret cadre of vigilante cops who are murdering criminals who evaded proper justice on a legal technicality. Here, it’s Robert Forster, in between BANYON and NAKIA, as a disgraced cop recruited back to the force by chief Bert Remsen (CODE OF SILENCE) and commissioner Dennis Patrick (HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS) to investigate the killings of a dozen bad guys over the past six months in which the weapons were never found. He’s quickly recruited for the death squad by his new partner (pre-Lobo Claude Akins) and is stunned to learn that it was created by his kindly old mentor (Melvyn Douglas), now terminal with cancer.

The teleplay could have used at least another polish — not surprising assuming ABC commissioned it quickly when it heard Warner Brothers had MAGNUM FORCE in production. Some of the story points aren’t believable, but it also holds a few surprises. Forster is a strong, believable leading man, and Harry Falk (MEN OF THE DRAGON) skillfully delivers the suspense. Former Mama Michelle Phillips plays Forster’s love interest, the widow of Douglas’ dead cop son. Mark Goddard (LOST IN SPACE) and Kenneth Tobey (THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD) play other Death Squadders. THE DEATH SQUAD isn't quite as good as MAGNUM FORCE, but Forster and the brutal action make it better than routine.

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