“You are about to enter the most fascinating sphere of police work, the world of forensic medicine”
Jack Klugman, one of the best actors who ever worked on American film and TV, was already a 25-year veteran, and star of the hit sitcom The Odd Couple, when he scored his biggest personal success in Quincy, which ran for 7 years. I just watched the third season …
This brief review is offered as part of Tuesday’s Overlooked Film & TV meme hosted by Todd Mason over at his Sweet Freedom blog,
Hollywood writer-producer-composer Glen A. Larson (1937-2014) was nicknamed ‘Glen A. Larceny’ by Harlan Ellison for his quick-off-the-mark TV projects ‘inspired’ by recent movie hits. Thus Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) begat Alias Smith and Jones (1971-73); Coogan’s Bluff (1968) became McCloud (1970-77); Burt Reynolds’ back-to-back hits Smokey and the Bandit (1977) and Hooper (1978) spawned BJ and the Bear (1979-81) and The Fall Guy (1981-86); while Battlestar Galactica (1978-79) cashed-in on Star Wars (1977). At least Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979-80) was a genuine, attributed remake …
The one bona-fide exception to Larson’s reactive copycat tendency in the 1970s was medical-cum-mystery show Quincy, M.E. It was originally written for Robert Wagner and then offered to James Earl Jones but eventually became a hit starring Jack Klugman. It began as a series of feature-length specials in the Columbo mould before becoming a weekly hour show. By the time that happened, Krugman HAD had Larson kicked off the show (though very handsomely recompensed) and pretty much worked with a completely new team from there on in (including several members of his own family).
Armed only with an unwavering moral compass and one of the finest toupees in Hollywood, ‘Quince’ (no first name supplied) fought the good fight against The Establishment in defence of the underdog week in week out, touching on such topical issues as police corruption, domestic abuse and the rehabilitation of juvenile delinquents. When not diagnosing subdural haematomas or performing emergency tracheotomies with a biro, our hero is at his best communing with the Common Man.
Klugman (who also helped write several episodes) makes for a very compelling, passionate and compassionate leading man – indeed the emphasis on the poor and disenfranchised is especially pleasing, as is the total lack of gloss. On the other hand, the basic structure of episodic TV at the time was very repetitive, so in virtually every episode you will have Quince get cross with his uptight boss (John S. Ragin), trade barbs with a harried cop (Garry Walberg), make some clever discoveries thanks to his faithful lab assistant (Robert Ito) and usually end an episode by eating out at his favourite restaurant (run by Val Bisoglio) for a freeze-frame finale. But it is worth remembering that talented authors like Robert Crais wrote several scripts and there is much here to enjoy once you re-adjust yourself to the tropes on 70s television. Oh, and the theme tune is a beaut:
DVD Availability: Easy to get and not expensive, so please avoid all the illegal copies uploaded to YouTube.
Director: Georg Fenady, Ray Danton, Ron Satlof, Paul Krasny, et al.
Producer: William Cairncross, Lester Wm. Burke,
Screenplay: Sam Egan, Steve Greenberg, Aubrey Solomon, Jeri Taylor, Michael Braverman, Robert Crais, Jeff Freilich, Christopher Trumbo, et al.
Cinematography: Frank R. Hale, Fred Jackman Jr., H. John Penner
Art Direction: Ira Diamond, Robert Crawley Sr., Alexander A. Mayer
Music: Stu Phillips and Glen Larson (theme), Bruce Broughton
Cast: Jack Krugman, Robert Ito, Garry Walberg, John S. Ragin, Val Bisoglio