Razoni and Jackson | Street Jazz

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Razoni and Jackson

Posted By on Tue, Jul 15, 2008 at 1:21 AM

Looking through a Hornblower (one of my secret addictions) novel last week - published in 1975 - and I came across an interesting ad for one of those forgettable ‘70s cop novel series, Razoni and Jackson:

One’s black, one’s white - they’re young and the ballsiest detectives on the city beat!

With titles like “City in Heat,” “Down and Dirty,” and “Lynch Town,” they seem like the sort of books you read and tossed away an hour later, never to think of again. Thinking it might be fun - and having more time on my hands than I’d like to admit - I Googled the “ballsiest detectives on the city beat,” and discovered a few surprises.

The author, W.B. Murphy, is better known as Walter Murphy, creator of The Destroyer/Remo Williams series of novels.  And if you suspect that the creators of the Lethal Weapion series may have read these books and were inspired by them, you might be right - Murphy is listed as one of the screen writers for “Lethal Weapon 2" - after he got his lawyer on the film maker’s trail after the first movie, so they cut him in for a piece of the action.

I’ll have to look for these books, the next time I go into Rock Bottom Books.

And who said Googling away an afternoon wasn’t fun?

******

After the great Fred Ward, there was . . . ?

Speaking of Remo Williams, has anyone but me seen the abysmal TV pilot made in 1988?

And if you did, and you think that was bad, maybe you remember the truly awful pilot movie for a series to be based on "The Man Who Fell to Earth."

Sometimes memory loss isn't such a bad thing.

*****

Bang! Bang! Boom! Boom!

I recall the night in early 1984, just after the CBS premiere of "Airwolf," a friend called me excitedly and asked, "Did you watch it?" I told him I had, and, like the geeks we were, we spoke in rapturous tones about the new show.

What a difference a couple of decades makes. There are shows - like "The Twilight Zone" - that can still entertain many years after they were produced. Others are barely remembered, no matter how big a splash they made at the time.

"Airwolf" ran from 1984 through 1987, and featured the adventures of a Mach One military helicopter. Every week the crew would take on assignments for a mysterious agency known only as "The Firm." The series was firmly grounded in a Cold War world.

The motion picture "Blue Thunder" had been released some time before, and plans were made at ABC to produce a program based on the movie. When asked if they were worried about the CBS venture, the "Blue Thunder" producers dismissed the very notion, explaining that in the public's mind, Blue Thunder was the symbol of attack helicopters.

Sad to say, the Television version of "Blue Thunder," starring James Farentino, was pretty boring, and only lasted a handful of episodes. Though the writing quality on "Airwolf" declined as the series went on, it still lasted three years on CBS, and then on to a fourth season on the USA Network.

The program was created by Donald Bellisario ("NCIS," "Magnum PI") and featured Jan-Michael Vincent as Stringfellow Hawke, a Vietnam war veteran who had become a recluse since his older brother had become an MIA in that same conflict.

The pilot episode deals with the creator of Airwolf stealing the attack  helicopter and going to work for the Libyan government. Who else to send in after it but this anti-social recluse and his buddy, Ernest Borgnine. While the mission to retrieve Airwolf is a success, sending Hawke after it may not have been the smartest move the government ever made.

Not giving it back, he declares. Not until you guys help find my brother. I'll just hide it in the desert, and I'll even work for you - when I'm not feeling too surly - as long as you help me find my brother.

That's actually kind of the problem with the series. In a world in which we were not at war - at least not openly - how are you going to come up with new and different ways to use the helicopter? The obvious strain shows in the first few episodes of that 11 episode season, in which the plots are mostly pedestrian.

Crooks who want to rob a train, internecine rivalries at "The Firm." Ho-hum.

It's not until the last few episodes of that season that the show comes alive, with stories about ex-Nazis (always good for a storyline), African civil wars, and mind control.

But even these last episodes can't hide the essential weaknesses of the series. Most of the aerial combat footage used in various episodes was from the pilot movie, and no matter how stirring the music, even the most fanatical "Airwolf" fan had to admit to himself that the same planes and helicopters were getting blown up on a regular basis.

And, sad to say, Jan-Michael Vincent couldn't act his way out of a paper sack. He was regularly acted right off the screen by Ernest Borgnine and Alex Cord. Cord played a character from The Firm, whose code-name was "Archangel." Archangel had a fetish for all-white suits, and his female assistants also dressed completely in white.

Several years after the show was canceled, the USA Network picked up the series, choosing to cast Barry Van Dyke as Hawke's newly rescued brother from a prison camp in Vietnam. The production was moved to Canada.

In fact none of the original cast was in the new series. Vincent's drug abuse problem was so bad at this point (he had reportedly slapped a female reporter), that he was declared persona non grata by the Canadian government, and his few scenes in the first episode of the new series were shot in the U.S. According to some reports, both Borgnine and Cord refused to be in the episode if Vincent were involved.

Science fiction fans might take note that even though the USA version was done on the cheap, many science fiction elements were introduced into the stories. Dick Van Dyke as a killer android? Yes, indeed.

So rent "Airwolf," or check it out of the library. It really isn't worth spending money for a DVD set with only a few watchable episodes. Take it from someone who actually spent money on this.

Trivia note: the helicopter used for the series crashed into a mountain in Switzerland in the early 1990s, when it was owned by an air ambulance service. All on board were killed.

rsdrake@nwark.com

 

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