With S.W.A.T., it’s not hard to figure out why. First of all, lots of people die on, this show; in the first episode fully three cops and two miscreants went to that big line-up in the sky. Secondly, the show takes the cult of the professional—all that matters is how well you do your job (“I didn’t make the rules,” says the S.W.A.T. leader, “but I play by them!”)—to new heights, and mixes it with a cult of technology. There’s lots of equipment in this show. Thirdly, there’s a lot of contempt, not only for criminals (they don’t mess with informing people of their rights here, unless it’s the right to burial at public expense), but for ordinary cops. “We’re about as elite as you can get,” says S.W.A.T. leader Lt. Hondo Harrelson. “We don’t get called in until things get really hairy.” (He pronounces it ‘harry,’ for some reason.)
When they do get called they tell the other cops to fuck off, and get down to business. Deploy here, reconnoiter there. If this reminds you of the Green Berets, I don’t think that’s an accident. “You men have all been picked to train for S.W.A.T.,” says Hondo to a group of recruits—“But only three will make it.” Or, as Sgt. Barry Sadler put it: “One hundred men will test today—but only three make the Green Berets.” Nothing more to say, except that the plot of the first episode was the least convincing I’ve seen in months. The villains were merely props for—well, for the other props.
Caribe deserves the rating “Not Terrible.” I’m not sure why; probably because the villains—a hit man, a spy, and his slick junkie boyfriend—were truly slimy. The key to this show, as to any crime show, will be in making the villains not only believable but monstrous, not merely decadent but fiendish.
There seems to be a possibility here for a Mr. Big of the Caribbean (say a Mafia don trading in guns and smack with ties to Senators, Cubans, and the Chinese) who reappears every two or three episodes, someone Stacey Keach will be assigned to catch, and slowly, as he picks off one flunky after another, become obsessed with catching. At least, that’s what the show’s set-up begs for. Even better would be a Mr. Big who’s so big Keach and his buddy don’t dare even mention his name until they finally have him dead to rights—and we can all have fun figuring out who that would be.
The real disaster of the last two weeks, however, was the second Lily Tomlin special. After a first outing in the fall of ’73 (a brilliant show built around little dramas that were both funny and heartbreaking but, miracle of miracles, anything but melodramatic, and featuring Richard Pryor as a no-bullshit junkie and Alan Aida as the manager of a big country singer) Tomlin returned with a variety show of staggering ordinariness.
She made jokes that weren’t funny and then collapsed with laughter; she offered flat routines about flat subjects (girlhood in the ’50s).
The first skit with Richard Dreyfuss was quite bizarre—Dreyfuss picks up Tomlin, sleeps with her, wakes up, calls his parents over to meet her, and they walk right in and announce: “It’s not every day we get to meet the girls our boy makes it with”—but it was downhill from there. The show’s only subject, in fact, seemed to be the fact that Tomlin was a star; and stars who spend the better part of their specials telling us what a big deal it is for them to have their own specials are getting to be quite a drag. Well, I hope the next one’s better. Lily Tomlin still has the best smile on the air, even if this time there was nothing behind it.
Thursday, March 6
—9 p.m., Ch. 7: Love Among the Ruins (TV Movie, 2 hrs., Dir. Geo. Cukor). Laurence Olivier and Katharine Hepburn team up for this special about a rich, aging actress, the gigolo who’s suing her for breach of promise, and the lawyer who’s been her fan for 40 years and finally gets a chance to help her out (and get her autograph too). I don’t much like the producer calling Hepburn a “ruin,” though.
Friday, March 7
—8 p.m., Ch. 5: Gorilla. Narrated by David Niven, this apparently deals pretty closely with the life of a gorilla family. Not a pilot for a new domestic series, but a one-shot nature show that kids will dig.
Sunday, March 9
—1:30 p.m., Ch. 9: Jack Benny (3 hrs.). Five of the man’s best TV shows from the ’50s and ’60s. Sounds fine, but what is this doing on public television?
—7:30 p.m., Ch. 7: Funny Girl to Funny Lady. From the JFK Center in Washington, an hour-long commercial for Barbra Streisand’s new movie, featuring co-star James Caan, Dick Cavett, and the woman herself. Shameless.
—8:45 p.m., Ch. 3: Ascent of Man. Evolution and genetics, with emphasis on Darwin, Wallace and DNA. Could be a wonderful show.
Monday, March 10
—4 p.m., Ch. 5: The Mike Douglas Show. Reggie Jackson is the guest. Don’t know if this was taped before Reggie lost to Finley at the bargaining table, but it’ll be interesting if it wasn’t.
Tuesday, March 11
—11:30 p.m., Ch. 5: Class of ’63 (TV movie, repeat). Joan Hackett, James Brolin, and Cliff Gorman in a pretty fair drama about a 10th college reunion. Gorman plays a husband who forces wife Hackett to confront Brolin, the lover who threw her over and who she’s never forgotten. Serious stuff, and it works.
Thursday, March 13
—1 a.m. (Friday morn.), Ch. 4: Tomorrow With Tom Snyder. Snyder interviews Tom Wicker on his long-awaited book about Attica, A Time To Die. Wicker was there, he’s no fool (even if Snyder is), and this is worth waiting up for.
Sunday, March 16
—8:30 p.m., Ch. 5: Kojak—“The Chinatown Murders: (2 hrs.). No idea what this is about beyond the title, but Chinatown weirdness has been cropping up more and more since the success of the movie of the same name, and TV crime shows need all the weirdness they can get. A decent bet.
Wednesday, March 5
—11:30 p.m., Ch. 44: Each Dawn I Die (’39). James Cagney as a reporter digging into corruption who gets framed and sent up. The whole flick is an attempt to live up to the melodramatic possibilities of the title, and ultimately it does.
Thursday, March 6
—11:30 p.m., Ch. 44: The Crowd Roars (’38 Dir. Howard Hawks). Cagney as a racing driver who gets into various troubles. Not great, but memorable for a helicopter shot of a race near the end, and for the look on Cagney’s face as he smells the body of a pal who is burning to death in his wrecked car.
Saturday, March 8
—11:30 p.m., Ch. 5: Sunset Boulevard (1950, Dir. Billy Wilder). William Holden as a starving, amoral scriptwriter and Gloria Swanson as a mummified silent movie queen in the best movie ever made about Hollywood. Funny at first, but finally appalling, Sunset Boulevard features Erich von Stroheim as Swanson’s former director and former husband reduced to acting as her butler. The fact that, back in the ’20s he was her director, and that she helped destroy his career, makes Stroheim’s performance perhaps the most masochistic in cinema history—certainly, it’s one of the most unnerving. If that’s not enough, there’s Swanson, Buster Keaton, H.B. Warner, and Anna Q. Nillson in the strangest card game ever filmed. Don’t even consider missing it.
Friday, March 14
—9 p.m., Ch. 5: The Other (’72, Dir. Robert Mulligan). Spook story from the Tom Tryon pulper, and supposedly damn good. Although no one threw up when it was showing in theaters, several people died, so you might check it out.
Saturday, March 15
—11 p.m., Ch. 44 (repeated Sunday, March 16, 4 p.m.): Dark Passage (’47, Dir. Delmer Daves). Ah. Ingenious, scary, and totally satisfying murder mystery with Bogart as an escapee from Q and Lauren Bacall as the woman who helps him get revenge on the woman who framed him. The gimmick of the film is so good I wouldn’t consider mentioning it; one of the best movies ever set in San Francisco, too. Ah.
Sunday, March 16
—11 a.m., 3 p.m., 8- 9 p.m., Ch. 31 (cable): The Third Man (’50), Dir. Carol Reed). The famous film of intrigue and the horror that lurks in the heart of man, starring Joseph Cotten, Trevor Howard, and Orson Welles as the blood-sucking Harry Lime. A classic, and heavily influenced by Welles’ own movies, particularly Lady From Shanghai.
City, March 5, 1975