Telefilm Review: Blacke’s Magic: Ten Tons of Trouble

We continue our reviews that focus on Batman actors in other detective and mystery programs as part of our Amazing World of Radio Summer Series, focusing on their old-time radio work. This week, we take a look at Cesar Romero’s guest appearance in the first episode of the 1986 mystery series Blacke’s Magic.

Blacke’s Magic was NBC series in which Hal Linden (Barney Miller) and Harry Morgan (Dragnet and Mash) play son and father. Linden is Alexander Blacke, a stage magician who also serves as a part-time consultant to the police on seemingly impossible cases, and Morgan is an old-school conman who will often lend his son some assistance. The series was created by mystery legends Richard Levinson and William Link.

The series was preceded by a pilot TV movie. This episode firmly establishes the status quo for the new ongoing series, as Alexander is called in to investigate the seemingly impossible disappearance of a 10-ton statue brought from a museum where it had been brought by an Italian businessman (Romero). The CCTV was running and nothing appeared on camera. It appeared to have vanished without a trace.

Cesar Romero displays the typical charm and charisma that made him so fun to watch throughout his career, whether playing a dashing hero in the 1940s or the Clown Prince of Crime. He’s a delight to watch in this, even though it becomes clear from early on that he’s behind this. This isn’t really a spoiler as this episode is less about “whodunit” and more about figuring out why and, more importantly, how.

The solution to the case is actually pretty clever, although there are a few finer points of it which would warrant an expert in 1980s technology weighing in.

Linden and Morgan play well off each other, with Linden making for a believable magician, and the more sober and responsible of the pair, while Morgan captures the lovable rogue with eccentric quirks that call to mind his character on Dragnet, Bill Gannon, despite having been on the opposite side of the law. The episode did have a subplot of a glory-hungry insurance agent (Jane Badler) trying to hog media publicity that takes up time but is really hard to care about.

The series, which ran for only thirteen episodes, is a real curiosity. The concepts seem to be an amalgam of ideas from other obscure detective programs. The prominence of the “impossible crime” element is reminiscent of Banacek; the protagonist being a magician calls to mind Bill Bixby’s series The Magician, and one of our leads being a conman calls to mind Tenspeed and Brownshoe. These were all programs that aired within the previous fifteen years. Like Blacke’s Magic, none of these made it long-term.

Beyond that, this is a series that doesn’t feel like the decade that produced it. I don’t say that as a criticism but more as an observation. This doesn’t feel like it fits into the same decade that gave us Murder, She Wrote; Magnum, PI; Matlock; Simon & Simon; and the Perry Mason movies. Only the trappings (clothes, cars, and some of the elements of the solution) feel of its time. The style of the story and the way the two leads relate wouldn’t have been out of place in a 1940s B-detective film. I liked it, but I could definitely see why audiences in 1986 might not have gone for it.

Still, this was a fun curiosity, boosted by a strong performance from Cesar Romero.

Rating: 4 out of 5

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