Category Archives: James Coburn

Yvonne Craig, RIP.

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Yvonne Craig
May 16, 1937  – August 17, 2015

Yvonne Craig, who was so cool as Batgirl in the Batman TV show’s third season, has passed away. She was also in a couple Elvis movies (It Happened At The World’s Fair and Kissin’ Cousins) and Our Man Flint (1966) — along with episodes of The Man From UNCLE and Star Trek. She pretty much had 1960s popular culture wrapped up.

You can see her here on the Batman set, with Cesar Romero as the Joker and Eartha Kitt as Catwoman behind her. The Batmobile’s back there, too.

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Filed under 1966, 1967, Elvis Presley, James Coburn, Television

Blu-Ray News #12: Convoy (1978).

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Directed by Sam Peckinpah
Starring Kris Kristofferson, Ali McGraw, Ernest Borgnine, Burt Young and Franklyn Ajaye

OK, so it’s really not all that good. But I’m so glad Kino Lorber is bringing Sam Peckinpah’s Convoy (1978) to Blu-ray. (That’s him with the headphones staring at Kristofferson.)

It’s got a great cast, some incredible New Mexico scenery and as you’d expect, Sam’s as good with crashing cars and trucks as with people getting shot. This was his next-to-last film (coming between 1977’s Cross Of Iron and 1983’s The Osterman Weekend), and his addictions and excesses were getting the best of him. His friend James Coburn was brought in as second unit director. Some say Coburn shot a great deal of what we see on the screen, as the picture went way over budget and behind schedule.

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Filed under 1978, DVD/Blu-ray News, James Coburn, Kino Lorber, Kris Kristofferson, Sam Peckinpah

DVD Review: M Squad: The Complete Series (1957-60).

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Lee Marvin was an established heavy before taking on M Squad, thanks to memorable turns in solid pictures like The Wild One, The Big Heat (both 1953), Violent Saturday (1955) and Seven Men From Now (1956). And while he was sick of doing the show by its second season, it helped him make the transition from bad guys to leads.

The show follows Lieutenant Frank Ballinger (Marvin) of M Squad, “a special detail of the Chicago police.” Each week, Ballinger tackles a different type of case — murder, corruption, organized crime, etc. — depending on where he’s assigned. It’s a pretty slick way to set up a cop show, avoiding the “another week, another murder” setup that can get stale. That, along with narration by Marvin covering the points they don’t have the time or money to show, makes it seem a bit like Dragnet on the surface. But the resemblances end there. M Squad hops the line between a strict procedural and an attempt to channel Mickey Spillane (which was happening with Darin McGavin at the same time on Mike Hammer).

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What sets M Squad apart is, of course, Lee Marvin. Whether he’s shooting a nut-job killer, slapping a mobster around or chatting with a female witness, he adds his own brutal energy, as he did to just about everything he did. As Ballinger, Marvin may be on the right side of the law here, but’s he as unhinged and violent at times as, say, Liberty Valance. And the show is better for it.

1231085080_1TV of the 50s is a great place to follow the work of some of genre filmmaking’s greatest actors and directors. Some saw the small screen as slumming, others just saw it as work. William Witney, John Brahm and Earl Bellamy were among the veteran directors who worked on the show. It also provided fairly early credits to Don Taylor, Boris Sagal and Robert Altman. But no matter who’s at the helm, the show has a stripped-down, claustrophobic noir aesthetic, helped along by some real heavyweights in charge of the cinematography: Ray Rennehan, William A. Sickner, Lionel Lindon and Bert Glennon, to name just a few.

At the same time, future stars and established character actors are featured each week: Luana Anders, Morris Ankrum, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Ted de Corsia, Angie Dickinson, John Doucette, Penny Edwards, Jack Elam, Virginia Gregg, James Griffith, Stacy Harris, DeForest Kelley, Tom Laughlin, Ruta Lee, Betty Lynn, Mike Mazurki, Howard McNear, Dick Miller, Leonard Nimoy, Burt Reynolds and Yvette Vickers. The combined cast list is incredible.

The point here is that Marvin, who was one of the producers of the show, made sure he was surrounded by top talent. He may not have liked the rigors of a weekly TV series, but he made sure he did it right. With so much talent on both sides of the camera, how could it not be great?

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Speaking of top talent, Count Basie provided the theme for M Squad‘s later seasons. John Williams (credited as Johnny) and Benny Carter scored some episodes, providing a perfect jazzy complement to the hard-boiled hipster dialogue. The soundtrack LP is terrific. (That’s Lee Marvin, Count Basie and music director Stanley Wilson above.)

Timeless Media Group gives us all 117 episodes of M Squad, in order, spread over 16 DVDs, with a bonus disc of various Marvin TV appearances. The quality varies from episode to episode. Most look fine, some are pretty rough. But the show’s so good and Marvin’s so cool, quality becomes secondary to having the show’s entire run.

This is essential stuff.

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M Squad earned an odd footnote as one of the inspirations for the Police Squad and The Naked Gun TV and movie franchise starring Leslie Nielson. The music and opening credits for Police Squad are clearly patterned after M Squad. (M Squad does not feature a “hunchback at the office.”)

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Filed under Angie Dickinson, Charles Bronson, Dick Miller, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, James Coburn, Lee Marvin, Robert Altman, Television, William Witney