Over the years, I’ve subscribed to most of the big name video streaming services, including Hulu and Netflix. My main streaming service right now is Amazon Prime Video.
Prime is adding a lot of classic series to its line up of programs. The service has millions of members, some who don’t use the video streaming as they just want the free 2-day shipping. A lot of articles are written about the latest Hollywood blockbusters and the latest original series (which are often reboots of things done in the 80s and 90s) and. This article is all about classic detective, spy, and adventure series available on Amazon Prime. I haven’t watched every episode of all of these, so this isn’t a proper review, but here’s an overview of a few series I’ve enjoyed so far on Amazon Prime
I’ve written about Decoy before. I saw all of the twenty-seven episodes circulating around among fans. However, a complete season DVD was released collecting all thirty-nine episodes of this syndicated series following NYPD Policewoman Casey Jones (brilliantly played by Beverly Garland.)
The old circulating episodes’ quality ranged from stuff that looked it was recorded off a VCR to not-bad prints. These new prints are really something else. They look better than when the syndicated series was first broadcast. This helps because there’s so much to enjoy visually, particularly the location shots which capture nicely how New York looked in 1957.
In many ways, Decoy is a female version of Dragnet with Casey providing a voice-over about the true-to-life operation of policewomen in New York City. Casey works a variety of policewoman functions and we learn little known facts about the job at the time, such as that anytime a female dead body was found, a policewoman had to search the body before it was taken away.
Unlike Dragnet, Decoy did use fictional cases and had more drama. This ranged from emotionally engaging moments to over-the-top melodrama. Regardless, Garland is great to watch throughout the entire series.
Of all the TV shows that don’t have direct roots in radio, Peter Gunn most feels like a successor to the old time radio detectives. The series was created by Blake Edwards, who created the radio version of Richard Diamond and there are elements of Richard Diamond in this series. (Arguably more so than in the Richard Diamond TV series.)
Gunn (Craig Stevens)has a regular girlfriend in nightclub singer Edie Hart (Lola Albright)and a competent and smart friend on the force in Lieutenant Jacoby (Herschel Bernardi)and Gunn is repeatedly on the giving or receiving end of physical violence. On top of that, many episodes were written by radio stalwart Tony Barrett.
The mysteries are all standalone private investigator stories, but told with style.Some programs feel like they strain against a half hour time slot, but Peter Gunn stories seem to work perfectly within that allotted time.
The music on this series is superb. The unforgettable opening theme by Henry Mancini, all of the great jazzy instrumental music, and quite a few soulful solos by Edie and other singers make Peter Gunn a rare delight.
Mr. And Mrs. North
In Mr. and Mrs. North, Richard Denning and Barbara Britton star in the lead roles as a publisher and his wife who are constantly stumbling into mysteries. Most married detectives depict the wife as a Watson-type sidekick. In the Mr. And Mrs. North stories, either spouse could end up solving the case. In my opinion, the episodes where Mrs. North solves the case tended to be the most entertaining. Just like with Decoy, there have been quite a few public domain episodes floating around over the years, but Prime is offering a far more generous portion with improved video quality.
I recently wrote a review of Patrick McGoohan’s late 1960s hit The Prisoner (which is also still available on Amazon Prime)and that got me interested in his first Spy/Espionage series, Danger Man where he played John Drake, an American agent of NATO, in Season 1. In later seasons, the character would be re-imagined as a British Intelligence agent.
In this first season of half-hour episodes, Drake’s a freelance troubleshooter. Sometimes his missions involve typical spy/counter-intelligence functions, including helping Americans who have run afoul of banana republics escape unjust imprisonment. Drake often has to go undercover, which is fun to watch as McGoohan effectively plays another character. McGoohan was a great actor and this series does a good job showing off his range.
The series is noteworthy for McGoohan’s refusal to have John Drake become romantically involved with any guest stars. McGoohan refused to kiss anyone other than his wife. He also believed Drake should use his mind before using his fists and certainly before using a gun. Thus, we get cold war action without the over-the-top violence and sex associated with the James Bond films. This make the series fairly good family viewing.
The early episodes do strain against the 25 minute length and often feel in a bit of a rush to finish. Still, it makes solid viewing.
Before he was 007, Roger Moore was the definitive take on Leslie Charteris’ The Saint for six seasons over the the British network ITV. He traveled the world, helping out people in distress.
The series was stylish and interesting. You never knew where the Saint would show up. Would be he trying to foil a jewel robbery, break up a bunco operation in the English countryside, or playing a part in the Cold War? Whatever he was doing, the Saint was always suave and ready for action. And you always had that moment right before the credits when someone would either learn Simon was the Saint or remind him of the fact and a halo would appear over his head just before the series started.
The series adapted many original short stories from Leslie Charteris. This was often a challenge as Charteris had written the character over a course of several decades and he began as a morally ambiguous character, who at one point had his own gang. However, the series usually managed to handle the adaptations well.
One notable exception was “The Saint Plays with Fire.” As a book, The Saint Plays with Fire dealt with the rise of fascism and Nazi sympathizers in 1938 England as the specter of Nazi Germany loomed large. It was an adventure that would change the Saint forever, going into World War II. However, when set in 1963 England, this story doesn’t work well over TV.
However, most of them do work quite nicely and it makes for great viewing. Amazon has all six seasons of the Saint currently, except they don’t have the broadcast version of the two-parter The Fiction Makers from Season 6, instead they have the theatrical release version of those episodes.
There are other series on Prime that I’d like to watch and haven’t got a chance to yet, including the classic police show The Naked City, Mission Impossible, and Murder She Wrote (Seasons 1-5).
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