But I stumbled across two films based on the works of Ed McBain, the pseudonym of Evan Hunter, author of the 87th Precinct novels. They are what is known in the mystery novel genre as “police procedurals.” Instead of a classic whodunit with a drawing room full of suspects, it has more to do with the dogged determination of big city cops.
Part of the appeal of the 87th Precinct stories is the peek inside the private lives of the cops. Carelli is involved with Teddy Franklin, a deaf mute, but they seem to communicate just fine. Det. and Mrs, Maguire, not so much. It is clear from her introduction theirs is a rockier relationship, largely due to the stress of Mike’s job.
That stress only increases when another cop is gunned down. One theory is it’s some sort of vendetta by the teenage games. A reporter (Gene Miller) follows the lead on his own, but when a patrolman in plain clothes is mistaken for the reporter and beat up, the cops become more involved. They haul in the entire roster of hoodlums, which includes a VERY young Jerry Orbach.
The film was directed by William Berke from a script by Henry Kane. Whether or not it’s a good film is hard to say. Devotees of gritty crime fiction might enjoy it, and it’s relatively condensed so it doesn’t drag. I would compare the film to a hamburger: it does not excel artistically, but satisfies a need quite nicely. As a fan of the 87th Precinct novels, I enjoyed seeing another screen adaptation
Kent Smith plays Dr. Peter Graham, a police psychiatrist working to help capture a mugger with a peculiar M.O.: all his victims are female, from whom he takes their purse and then slices their cheek. Indications are the culprit is educated and almost apologetic, leading Graham to believe the crimes are rooted in psychological affliction rather than the need for easy money.
On his way to follow a lead, Graham is waylaid by cab driver buddy Eddie Baxter (James Franciscus). Eddie, who is in pharmacy school by day and driving a cab at night, has a problem in his wife’s 18-year-old sister, Jeannie (Sandra Page), who lives with them. Jeannie has become defiant, and Eddie and his pregnant wife don’t like that she’s taken a job at the Coquette, an old-fashioned dime-a-dance hall.
Investigating the killing, Graham shares with Eddie vital information withheld from Jeannie’s sister: that Jeannie was three months pregnant. Claire meanwhile remembers seeing Jeannie in the company of a young man, but her description could match that of thousands of people.
As far as mysteries go, The Mugger is mediocre at best, the solution painfully obvious. To me, the most intriguing aspect of the film was Nan Martin, who clearly was a lovely young woman back in the late 1950s. How she came to be cast as department store owner Mrs. Louder on The Drew Carey Show is beyond me.
But perhaps that can be answered in one word: ACTING!
Ivan’s note: Not to steal Mr. Schweier’s thunder…but your humble narrator has penned an essay on the TV series based on McBain’s 87th Precinct franchise, which can be perused here at ClassicFlix.