Sunday, July 2, 2023

Blast from the Past: Las Vegas Beat

Plenty of television pilots failed to attract network interest, over the years — for which we can be grateful, in many cases — but this probably is the only one that was bumped off. 

With prejudice.


(About which, more in a bit.)


Based on its quite watchable 1961 debut episode, Las Vegas Beat could have become a decent series. Creator Andrew J. Fenady’s script is solid; Bernard L. Kowalski’s directing is crisp and occasionally shows imagination; and the characters are well drawn and competently played by an engaging cast (allowing for the era’s sexism). Kowalski and editor Otho Lovering favor dynamic smash cuts from one scene to the next; the action is violent for its time, although very much in line with the gun-toting thugs then running amok on TV’s M Squadand The Untouchables. This show could have allowed star Peter Graves to put sci-fi stinkers such as Killers from SpaceIt Conquered the World and Beginning of the End in his rear-view mirror; alas, steady TV employment had to wait until his co-starring role in Court Martial, which ran a single 1965-66 season, and — of course — Mission: Impossible, which followed a year later.


He stars here as Bill Ballin, a former police investigator-turned-private casino troubleshooter (a “sometime employee,” in his words). His “Scooby gang” includes veteran journalist R.G. “Joe” Joseph (Bill Bryant), given to quoting poets and waxing eloquent; Gopher (Jamie Farr, a decade away from achieving fame as Cpl. Maxwell Q. Klinger, on TV’s M*A*S*H), who, as his nickname implies, runs errands; and perky, would-be writer Cynthia Raine (Diana Millay). Ballin is on good terms with Lt. McFeety (Richard Bakalyan), which gives him cred with the Las Vegas cops.


The story begins as Ballin is hired by Helen Leopold (Margaret Field) to find her missing husband (Tom Drake, known here solely as “Leopold”). Helen is unaware that her judgment-challenged hubbie has fallen in with bad companions who intend to heist an armored car: Fredericks (Lawrence Dobkin), the planner; Duke (Jay Adler), the menacing muscle; and Linneman (uncredited), whose limited usefulness prompts his, ah, “removal” prior to the second act.


The scoring assignment went to Richard Markowitz, fresh off his work on the single 1959-60 season of the similarly themed Philip Marlowe; he also had worked with Fenady on 1958’s lurid big-screen thriller, Stakeout on Dope Street (both discussed in my first volume). Markowitz’s title theme for Las Vegas Beat is a sassy big-band swinger with a strong 1-3-4 unison brass motif. (Those eight notes are repeated as a fanfare each time the show breaks for a commercial.) It’s also a hoot to see how small Vegas was in 1961, during an aerial pull-away as the title credits conclude.