What a Crime (Story)!

The cast of Crime Story
Steve Ryan, Dennis Farina, and Bill Smitrovich
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.

Dennis Farina in Crime Story

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.


  1. Lydia Netzer

    Maybe they’ll bring it back someday, so you can find out how that cliffhanger turned out! You know they DID bring back Miami Vice…

  2. Helen Vail

    Wow, this post had me cackling at my desk. More effective at waking me up than my coffee this morning! Thanks for the “+3 Moustache of Broomness,” “cars the size of yachts with fins as big as Pterodactyl wings,” and so much more.

  3. RKLewis

    Thanks for stopping by, Lydian and Helen! 🙂

    Yeah, have to say… I’m a little proud of the “+3 Moustache of Broomness” line, lol.

    Glad you enjoyed it!

  4. Cat Woods

    So sad about the last, unresolved cliffhanger. I grew up with a father who loved shows like this and the great books that usually preceded them.

    After a quick call to him, I got the affirmative. He remembered this series–and the pilot–with a fondness usually reserved for Star Trek.

    Thanks for giving me a chance to connect with my dad.

  5. RKLewis

    My pleasure, Cat! So glad you enjoyed!

  6. S.K.Keogh

    The thing I kept thinking about throughout this article was, “Damn, I can’t believe Farina has been around this long and still looks good.” He had one scene in “Saving Private Ryan” but because of Farina’s delivery I still remember that one scene.

  7. Clare 2e

    Oh, Farina was good in that. And some guys are better off looking 40 when they’re 20, because after that, they never seem to age.

    I remember Denison as Ray Luca in this, and he was scary! I had trouble buying him as a good guy for the first season of The Closer because he was that imprinted upon my mind as eeeeeviiil.

  8. RKLewis

    S.K.: Yeah, he does still look great. I can only hope to look half as good, lol!

    clare2e: Farina was awesome in this. I just love him in every scene. Denison did a smashing job, even down to the deadly hair!

  9. db

    Man, that brings back memories. Farina’s on a crime series again today, in the form of HBO’s “Luck.” Except now, he’s got a +4 Mustache of Salt-and-Pepper Broominess.

    It’s a shame about Crime Story, but it was a sign of things to come. These days, serialized shows that get canceled with their stories unresolved are as thick as leaves on the ground. They appear in the fall, and they drop steadily in the winter. I keep vowing never to get into another serialized show, but I fall back sometimes. The latest is “The Firm” — which I understand is very much on the bubble now. Naturally.

  10. DorothyB

    Those last lines by Farina are GOLD! No one does tough guy like him (Get Shorty, Snatch). He’s the real deal.


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