Reviewed by Michael Shonk
CITY OF ANGELS. NBC / Universal, 1976. Roy Huggins Public Art Production. Cast: Wayne Rogers as Jake Axminster, Elaine Joyce as Marsha Finch, Philip Sterling as Michael Brimm, Clifton James as Lt. Quint. Created by Stephen Cannell and Roy Huggins. Executive Producer: Jo Swerling Jr.
From the opening theme to the star and the writing, City of Angels tried to give us a believable 30’s hardboiled PI and occasionally succeeded, as in “The November Plan,” but more often failed.
For example, listen to Oscar winner Nelson Riddle’s theme here.
A nice theme but it fails to establish the 1930’s setting or mood. The soundtrack made heavy use of the Universal sound library, so far too often we heard generic background music that also failed to fit the time period. Though in a couple of episodes such as “Say Goodbye to Yesterday” the background music was a positive asset to the story.
The writers tried to take advantage of the volatile period of American history that was the 1930s. To establish setting the series often name-dropped (Harry Cohn of Superior Pictures aka Columbia Pictures) and used the politics of the period as the backdrop for the drama. But in the end the episodes were typical TV mysteries, rushed from lack of production time with clunky dialog, plot holes and often lacking in logic.
Much like Philip Marlowe, Jake spent much of his time dealing with the problems of the rich. Jake began as a mercenary Sam Spade wannabe who enjoyed the thrill of fighting the system, then during the series changed into a hard luck James Rockford type.
Jake had only two friends in the world. Marsha, who he let use his outer office rent-free for her switchboard service used by prostitutes, and Mike, his attorney with an office across the hall. He either was beat up by or bribed his police contact Lt. Quint.
To be a hardboiled PI, a character that is often unlikable, you need an actor with certain type of appeal. Actors such as Bogart, Mitchum, Garner and Janssen could make you like the character no matter how the character behaved. Wayne Rogers never pulled it off despite coming close in “The November Plan.”
The costumes, transportation, and locations were generally a plus, but by the end of the series it seemed as if they were running out of 1930s-like exterior locations.
From the beginning, Roy Huggins was credited as producer with Philip DeGuere, Jr. as executive story consultant until the episode “A Sudden Silence.” The credits for the rest of the series episodes changed to Philip DeGuere, Jr. and William F. Phillips as the producers instead of Huggins. Perhaps it is time to consider the influence of the late Philip DeGuere, Jr. (Simon and Simon) on the series.
City of Angels aired Tuesday at 10pm opposite ABC’s Marcus Welby (or Family in March/April) and CBS’s Switch. The ratings began well but faded fast.
“The November Plan.” Part 1 (2/3/76), Part Two (2/10/76), Part Three (2/17/76). Teleplay by Stephen J. Cannell. Story by Roy Huggins and Stephen J. Cannell. Directed by Don Medford. Guest Cast: Diane Ladd, Meredith Baxter Birney, Laurence Luckinbill, Lloyd Nolan, Dorothy Malone, Jack Kruschen, Steve Kanaly * Jake’s client has been framed for murder of her boyfriend after they witness a fight at a formal party. Jake discovers the disappearance of a Pulitzer prized reporter ties into the murder and involves some of the most powerful corrupt people in Los Angeles. Very loosely based on a real event.
“The Parting Shot.” (2/24/76). Teleplay by Philip DeGuere Jr. Story by John Thomas James (Roy Huggins). Directed by Sigmund Neufeld Jr. Guest Cast: Donna Mills, Corinne Michaels, Stefan Gerasch * Rich man hires Jake to discover if his wife is cheating on him. Before Jake finds out anything his client is shot and in a coma. The man assumed to be the wife’s lover is arrested. The daughter who hates her step-mom likes Jake. The solution to the shooting reminds one of John Dickson Carr.
“A Lonely Way To Die.” (3/2/76). Written and Directed by Douglas Heyes. Guest Cast: Belinda J. Montgomery, William Smith, Lynn Carlin * A predictable mystery features a popular ex-governor who wants to be President but has a secret. His rebellious daughter blames him for her mother’s mental problems. Jake gets involved when a girl he was trying to help turns up dead. The ending wants to be cynical but instead was a lame cop out.
“The House on Orange Grove Avenue.” (3/16/76). Teleplay by Stephen & Elinor Karpf. Story by John Thomas James. Directed by Robert Douglas. Guest Cast: Susan Howard, Susan Sullivan, Lara Parker * Jake is hired by two sisters publicly believed to have murdered one’s husband and his mistress seven years ago. The episode drowns in false cynicism with a weak pointless ending.
“Palm Springs Answer.” (3/23/76). Teleplay by Merwin Gerard. Story by John Thomas James. Directed by Allen Reisner. Guest Cast: Signe Hasso, Terry Kiser, George Gaynes * Sweet naïve mother hires Jake to find her good girl daughter, who is really a dancer with information about a murder with mob connections.
“The Losers.” (4/6/76). Teleplay by Gloryette Clark & John Thomas James. Story by John Thomas James. Directed by Barry Shear. Guest Cast: Marcia Strassman, Brett Halsey, Broderick Crawford * Loyal remake of Roy Huggins’ script for the TV Movie The Outsider minus the LSD subplot and visits to the L.A. nightclub scene (reviewed here on this blog). Jake is hired by a rich businessman to follow a girl he claims may be stealing from him.
“A Sudden Silence.” (4/13/76). Teleplay by Douglas Heyes. Story by Roy Huggins (not John Thomas James). Directed by Douglas Heyes. Guest Cast: Darleen Carr, Joel Fabian, Edward Winter * Young headstrong daughter of a rich conservative is involved with the anti-fascist movement growing on her college campus. She hires Jake to discover who is following her. Her boyfriend is murdered and the politics of the 30s plays a major role in the plot.
“The Castle of Dreams.” (4/20/76). Teleplay by Stephen J. Cannell. Story By Stephen J. Cannell and Philip DeGuere Jr. Directed by Robert Douglas. Guest Cast: James Luisi Veronica Hamel, Jack Kruschen * Marsha witnesses the kidnapping of one of her call girls who had just witnessed a murder. Jake goes nuts when Marsha is arrested and Quint hides her from lawyer Mike Brimm and Jake. This episode was more interested in establishing the relationship between the regulars than the mystery.
“Say Goodbye To Yesterday.”(5/4/76). Teleplay by Gloryette Clark. Story by John Thomas James. Directed by Jerry London. Guest Cast: G.D. Spradlin, Cassie Yates, Jack Colvin * A rich oil tycoon and his wife are in love. When she disappears, Jake is hired to find her. The trail leads to a Chinese Madame in Portland, a nightclub singer, a nun, and a murder Jake will solve for Quint.
“The Bloodshot Eye.” (5/11/76). Written by Philip DeGuere, Jr. Directed by Hy Averback. Guest Cast: Geoffrey Lewis, Charles Tyner, Robert Donner * Insurance agency hires Jake to confirm the reports of a death of a man in New Mexico. Jake ends up caught up in the corruption of a small New Mexico town.
“Match Point.” (5/18/76). Written by Richard Boeth. Directed by Ralph Senensky. Guest Cast: Dana Wynter, Renee Jarrett, Victor Holchak * A man is killed during a tennis tournament where Jake provided security. The political changes in Europe play an important role.
The series is currently not available on official DVD or download. Source of episodes: Thomas Film Classics