This post was going to be all about the fun 1980s TV show Crime Story, starring the awesome Dennis Farina as Lt. Mike Turello, the man with the +3 Moustache of Broomness. However, after reacquainting myself with the show, I just couldn’t do it. Yes, it’s still a ton of fun, and still holds up in a lot of ways. But, no, it didn’t hold up well enough, in my opinion, to where I could do an honest post extolling its virtues, etc.
So, instead, I decided to write about the ONE part of the show that still kicks major ass, even by the major ass kicking standards of today.
And that, my friends, is the series pilot.
That pilot is two hours of the most amazing TV cop stuff ever to come out of the 80s. It was even released as a theatrical film at one point, and rightfully so. 30 million people watched it when it hit the airwaves. To refresh, the show takes place in pre-Beatle’s era Chicago, in 1963. There are still a lot of 1950’s influences running around: pompadours, cars the size of yachts with fins as big as Pterodactyl wings, but you can feel the 60s are coming. Jacket lines are changing, the brims of men’s hats are getting shorter; that sort of thing. Farina’s character Turello is the head of Chicago’s MCU, a brand new Major Crimes Unit, set up to go after high profile gangs.
Michael Mann had left Miami Vice to go shoot the film Manhunter and to also be executive producer on this series, which was created by Gustave Reininger and Chuck Adamson. As I watched the pilot, I’d actually thought that Michael Mann had directed it, as it reminded me so much of his other work. However, it was directed by Abel Farrara, who will always, always have a special place in my heart, as he helmed not only King of New York, with Christopher Walken, but Bad Lieutenant, with Harvey Keitel. (The nude, high-as-a-kite Keitel doing his Jesus on the cross dance is one for the ages, hands down.) I don’t want to take away from what Farrara accomplished here, and I have a great respect for both directors, but it’s just that the pilot for Crime Story has a lot of Michael Mann-isms in it. Maybe Michael copped from Farrara, right? I mean, criminals with heavy weaponry and standing on counters to control the crowd is right out of Heat (the scene with Deniro, during the big bank heist). A very dynamic soundtrack (a Michael Mann staple), and very cool bad guys with a great sense of style (another Michael Mann staple). Hahaha… I suddenly feel like I’m about to have a “which came first? The chicken or the egg?” discussion.
As I mentioned, Turello is the head of Chicago’s MCU, and the pilot begins with one of the great TV chase scenes in these cars that can only be described as boats on wheels. Not to be missed.
However, the core of the story is the rise of the criminal Ray Luca (played in all his pompadored wonderment by Anthony John Denison), and Turello’s rising awareness that Luca is a crook that he has to stopped at any cost. Also appearing in these awesome two hours is a VERY young David Caruso as Johnny O’Donnel, a close friend of Luca’s and also a criminal mastermind in his own right, who knows all the things a criminal needs to know when planning and taking down major scores.
What kind of criminal things does O’Donnel know, you may wonder? Well, things like metallurgy, for one, a knowledge he puts to fantastic use when he and Luca have to break into something akin to Fort Knox. However, as Luca rises in the ranks, O’Donnel goes off the rails, a victim of his own uncontrollable anger, which sets him on a collision course with Luca. I won’t give anymore away, but let me just say that by the end of the show, tough choices have been made, on both sides of the law.
This was a very expensive show to shoot, with episodes ranging in the 1.3 million dollar price zone, about the same as Miami Vice. And we’re talking 1980s dollars, people! The show went up against Moonlighting, and lost badly. However, it was picked up again for a second season and followed Miami Vice on Friday nights. But, even though it performed better, that was it. We were left, at the end of the last episode of the second season, with a cliffhanger that was fated never to be resolved.
I hate when that happens.
However, for me, Crime Story will always be that pilot. Watch it. I guarantee you will not be sorry!
Robert Lewis grew up under the pier at Venice Beach, CA. There, by firelight, he would entertain the stray dogs with weird and wonderful tales. He’s still telling stories, but now he lives in a place with walls, a roof, and cases of red wine. Crime fiction and blues guitar are his things. He blogs over at NeedleCity, and twits sporadically and nonsensically as @robertklewis.