M SQUAD - THE COMPLETE SERIES STARRING LEE MARVIN! 15 DVD Box Set, Plus Bonus CD: The Music From M Squad! 117 Episodes! One of the most memorable of the early television police dramas, M Squad debuted in 1957 running for three seasons on NBC. There were many black and white crime dramas competing for viewers in the late fifties, notably Dragnet, Arrest and Trial and Checkmate. M Squad stands apart because of its unique combination of story, production values, musical score and a great cast portraying crime fighters getting down and dirty on the mean streets. Lee Marvin, a decorated WWII Marine veteran of the South Pacific,where he received the Purple Heart in the Battle of Saipan, stars as Lt. Frank Ballinger, a no-nonsense Chicago plainclothes cop in the elite M Squad Division. The Squad's (M-for Murder) task is to root out organized crime and corruption in America's Second City. Marvin's portrayal of a tough undercover officer, whose perseverance and potential for violence, but with utter cool, permeates each gritty episode, gave Marvin name recognition with the public, and did much to make him a star. He would go on to many starring roles (The Dirty Dozen, Cat Ballou) and to win a coveted Oscar for Best Actor. Frank Ballinger's boss, Captain Grey, is played by Paul Newlan, a fine actor who brings weight and substance to the role of running the M Squad. It is perhaps his most memorable role. In addition to the regular cast, a who's who of television luminaries and stars-to-be made guest appearances on the show. Among the guest stars were Angie Dickinson, Charles Bronson, Janice Rule, Leonard Nimoy, Ed Nelson, DeForest Kelley, H. M. Wynant and a young Burt Reynolds. But is wasn't just the crisp, taut story lines and great cast that made M Squad memorable. First, it was shot in gritty, film-noire style black and white. The excellent high contrast cinematography brings Chicago to life, with all of its easily recognizable landmarks, swanky penthouses on Lake Michigan, and the seedy darker side of the city. In fact, M Squad did for Chicago what the Naked City did for New York. Second was the musical score. In keeping with the film noir look of the series, the producers enlisted conductor Stanley Wilson to lead the orchestra in arrangements by legendary jazz men Benny Carter, and a young John Williams (Star Wars). For the second season, the great jazz artist Count Basie wrote the enduring M Squad Theme. It was a perfect marriage of image and sound. Lee Marvin, who wrote the liner notes for the RCA Victor release of the Music From M Squad album in 1959, put it this way: I am ... constantly amazed at the manner in which our characterizations and situations are supported, highlighted and intensified by the fine musical score ... I love the great beat, the exciting solos and the clean, crisp section work of the trumpets and trombones. As I listen, my imagination paints thumbnail sketches of the Loop, Bayshore Drive, the South Side, and the other localities which set Chicago apart from other cities. It's sort of like an armchair tour of America's second largest city. - Lee Marvin The resulting television series is hard to match for its intensity and its humanity. Marvin's hard-nosed Frank Ballinger is the archetype of all the tough-guy, big-hearted crime fighters, from Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe and Hammett's Sam Spade, to later incarnations portrayed by Jack Nicholson and Harvey Keitel. In sum, M Squad is that rare television series that has it all. It's about time that long-time fans and newcomers have a chance to experience high quality DVDs of this great show.
Filmed in Chicago, M Squad is my kind of cop show, with an authentic sense of place, a driving, brassy jazz score, shady characters with names like Johnny East Side, a captain feeling the heat from "downtown" ("They want the killer; they want him real bad"), and hard-boiled dialogue (Cop: "Whered you get that money?" Suspect: "From the guy who had it"). Best of all, its got Lee Marvin in his breakout role as plainclothes cop Lt. Frank Ballinger, who works in M-Squad, an elite special division of the Chi-town police department. This 1957 series was as tough and no-nonsense as the City of Big Shoulders itself. As Marvin states at one point, "You can be subtle, or you can be plain." M Squad was plain. In the first episode, Ballinger takes stock of a case: "Armed robbery, murder, and three dead. Looks like my Chicago was fixing up with (more) hot hours for me." Ballinger is a conductor on the Straight Talk Express. In one episode, he counsels an unfaithful wife on what to tell her husband, "Tell him the truth. It's gonna hurt, but if it heals, it'll heal clean." Marvin is in his element as the unflappable Ballinger, whether glowering at the crime scene, or fluster a suspect with an unnerving smile. M Squad ranks with the best of TV noir, but it is perhaps best known today as the inspiration and template for Police Squad and the spinoff Naked Gun spoofs. It's hard to keep a straight face watching Ballinger exchange gunfire in the opening credits without thinking of Leslie Nielsen as Sgt. Frank Drebin. This 15-disc set contains all 117 episodes from the series three season run, as well as a bonus music CD of the original 1959 soundtrack featuring Count Basies great theme that made its debut in season two. M Squad offers ample opportunity for future star-gazing, with early appearances by Burt Reynolds, Angie Dickinson, Charles Bronson, Leonard Nimoy, Mike "Mannix" Connors, Don Rickles, and James Coburn. Picture quality varies from episode to episode, but that should not diminish the thrill of watching Marvin in action or dispensing such hard-earned street wisdom as, "The only people who return to the scene of the crime are the police." Its great to have M Squad on the DVD beat. --Donald Liebenson