Thursday, February 09, 2017

Television Review: GET CHRISTIE LOVE! "Pawn Ticket for Murder" (1974)





GET CHRISTIE LOVE!: "Pawn Ticket for Murder" (Universal/ABC-TV: Original Air Date 10/2/74)  Starring Teresa Graves as Detective Christie Love, Charles Cioffi as Captain Reardon, Andy Romano as Joe Caruso, Dennis Rucker as Belmont.  Guest Stars: Quinn Redeker as Lester Wheeler, Scott Brady as Sergeant Gus Marker, Dick O'Neill as Alex Dawson, Sid Haig as Nick Varga, Kenneth Tobey as Charlie Red, John Steadman (uncredited) as Tex Crandall, Richard Stahl as the Maitre D', George Ives as Butler, Al Stevenson as Max, William Bramley as Bartender, John Elerick as Policeman. Written by Joseph Polizzi.  Directed by Mark Warren.

Series overview for Get Christie Love! HERE 


Homeless wino Crandall is looking for a warm place to sleep it off and settles in the alley behind Dawson's pawn shop.  Unfortunately he ends up fatally stabbed as an accidental earwitness to the bookmaking business Dawson is fronting for the well connected Lester Wheeler.  After the derelict's body is found on skid row, his homicide is delegated to Detective Love by old-school Sergeant Gus Marker.  Legendary within the L.A.P.D. and more than a little sexist, Marker feels that the seemingly open-and-shut case is a perfect way to keep the "little girl" to "out of trouble". 


Postmortem lividity indicates that Tex was moved after death, his stab wound matches an expensive large Bowie knife and his body shows no signs of asphalt marks, pointing to a crime much less routine than Marker believes.  Dismissive of Christie's theories and preoccupied with his ongoing investigation of Wheeler's gambling ring, the Sergeant gives Love full authority to follow up on her intuition--not knowing that Tex's killing can be tied to the shady businessman he's targeting.


GET CHRISTIE LOVE! would soon become too sanitized for its own good, but Pawn Ticket for Murder is a solid example of David L. Wolper's original conception of the series.  Savvy and hard working, Detective Love mostly solves her cases through good old fashioned legwork.  However, this early installment (the fourth to air) doesn't skimp on the action, with Christie forced into a shootout with the same cleaner who murdered Tex while she's interviewing the late derelict's best friend.  (In keeping with Graves' desire not to have Christie kill anyone onscreen, the hitman is still alive after he's shot, and was apparently hit by fire from Love's backup.)


Further bite is provided as Detective Love deals with discrimination based on gender and race in Pawn Ticket for Murder.   She brushes off the former from Marker with a few curt remarks initially.  When the Wheeler connection is discovered, the Sarge tries to pull rank and take over Christie's case--a definite no-go, Sugar!  Christie pushes back aggressively and with inspiration, actually using The Legend's sexism against him ("stealing cases from a woman!") to force the 50/50 partnership that she should have had all along.  



With good practical reason.  The script by Polizzi (Downbeat for a Dead Man) neatly sets up several situations for Love to infiltrate locales (the neighborhood bar, pawnshop, bookmaking operation) that her youth and femininity make her welcome in.  Sergeant Marker would stick out like a sore thumb.  For that matter, so would Reardon.

Graves and Stahl

But our heroine doesn't blend in everywhere, and Christie's opportunity to be conspicuous is the best scene of the installment.  GET CHRISTIE LOVE! was mostly colorblind, even when the Detective ended up in a small town (Highway to Murder).  But entering Wheeler's orbit requires gaining access to him during his downtime--at a clearly restricted (just not heavy-handedly stated as such) country club.  The bigoted maitre'd (superbly cast Richard Stahl) mistakes the Detective for the help, barely manages to stop himself before revealing the club's unspoken policy, and struggles mightily to keep his cool while Christie trolls him politely but mercilessly.  Subtle and hilarious, t's a perfectly executed scene by Stahl, Graves and director Mark Warren.


Not everything goes down smoothly.  Hitman Nick Varga (the opening scene's stabber) observes Love probing the crime scene from a window and later witnesses her interrogations of the bartender and Charlie Red.  So shouldn't a savvy crook like Wheeler be especially suspicious that an African-American female seeking him out at that country club (or just showing up at the pawn shop, for that matter) just might be the investigating officer working undercover?  


Pawn Ticket for Murder holds water until its finale.  A pit is way too conveniently located, and Christie is left way too vulnerable to sniper fire at the gravel pit even before she disappears into the warehouse.  Nothing nefarious going on internally, though--Detective Love has won the respect of her most hard boiled colleague long before she helps Marker nab his quarry of two years.   No wonder he ends up platonically sending roses in appreciation when all is said and done. 


The ubiquitous Sid Haig is largely wasted in a one-dimensional role as the fearsome henchman, but Kenneth Tobey is effective as the victim's friend Charlie Red.  In keeping with the rest of the proceedings, Detective Love is a clear winner in the interrogation room: Red is much more responsive to Christie's compassion than Marker's forcefulness. 

*
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For some reason, John Steadman (THE LONGEST YARD, CHEECH AND CHONG'S NEXT MOVIE) is uncredited as Tex Crandall.


ONE LUMP, OR MORE?

Just one, for Mr. Wheeler at his country club.  No martial arts, either, making this installment one that can do without the obligatory for the most part.


THE BOTTOM LINE:

Detective Love is mistaken for the mail girl inside her own department and "the help" outside of it.  She promptly solves the murder she was assigned and cracks a two year case that LAPD's top men had no answers for.  Christie efficiently helps the unit's Vice Squad with a major tip and handles prejudgements of all types with professionalism and charm.  The series would soon become way too tame for its own good, and Pawn Ticket for Murder sputters badly in its payoff scene, but prior to that letdown Graves has numerous opportunities to elevate the material and succeeds.  I went back and forth between two and a half and three stars on this installment, which despite its flaws comes closer than most to realizing the original conception of the show's heroine.    (*** out of four)


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