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M Squad: The Complete Series

4.4 out of 5 stars 62 customer reviews

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(Nov 11, 2008)
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Product Description

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: "Where’d you get that money?" Suspect: "From the guy who had it"). Best of all, it’s 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 Basie’s 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." It’s great to have M Squad on the DVD beat. --Donald Liebenson

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson, Charles Bronson, Janice Rule, Leonard Nimoy
  • Directors: n, a
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Box set, Black & White, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 16
  • Rated:
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Shout! Factory / Timeless Media
  • DVD Release Date: November 11, 2008
  • Run Time: 2866 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B001ECP576
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #92,710 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "M Squad: The Complete Series" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: DVD
It's great that this series is out in a full 117 episode box set, but whoever is responsible for the video transfers obviously didn't know what they were doing. 16mm syndication prints were the source elements for the transfers and if they were professionally done they would look far better than they do here. It appears that someone ran these off on a home system of sorts as there is no control over contrast levels at all. Sometimes the episodes have completely blown out contrast and are murky in the extreme, other times there is no contrast at all, with everything appearing a milky gray color. The prints are dirty, with hairs often getting in the gate and the sound quality is like mud on some episodes. This show was originally shot on 35mm film and if a proper transfer had been done, it could have looked glorious. As-is, some episodes look like they came off of bad kinescopes, which isn't the case. Even using 16mm prints should have yielded much better results than this. I certainly hope the original elements survive on this show and hopefully someone will one day give this show a proper presentation. Until then, we're stuck with this mess. Yes, I'm glad to have the DVD collection, but it's obvious that every expense was spared in the making of it.
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Format: DVD
Yes, the quality of the episodes varies from not so good to totally watchable, and the sound is about the same on the scale of things, but I'm thrilled just to be able to take a few hours at a time and treat myself to a batch of M Squad's in any form! I had low expectations when I read about how this set came together, and thus far, after watching 5 discs, my expectations have been exceeded. I've not seen an episode I couldn't make sense out of and to be honest, watching these late at night on my cathode ray tube makes me feel like I'm a kid again watching something clandestine and forbidden, mostly due to the quality. It's like being out in the sticks and then after everyone has gone to bed a signal is being beamed into my living room thrusting me into a time warp where the signal comes over the air instead of a cable or satellite feed and if I aim the rabbit ears just right Frank Ballinger comes into focus and solves the heinous crime in question...and the music, and the black and white photography, and the Chicago exteriors and dingy interiors...I love this set and highly recommend it to any fan of Lee Marvin, hard-boiled crime procedurals, and noir milleu.....I'm happy to have it and if you have issues with pristine images versus down and dirty, then maybe you should stick with your Heroes and King Of Queens box sets and leave this one for the real fans! When I get to the end I'm going to start over as this set stays right by the TV Set at least until someone releases the complete Johnny Staccato series and then Marvin can alternate with Cassavetes.....
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Format: DVD Verified Purchase
I started watching this series and as far as the stories go the series lives up to its billing. The problem is the picture quality. I've watched the first few episodes and spot checked some of the later ones. While the picture quality is passable its not much better than public domain copies of shows like Dragnet. Do not expect to see anywhere near the picture quality of shows on DVD like "The Untouchables". I realize that some of the episodes were donated by fans because they could not be found but the quality of the other episodes is not much better. Buy this set because of the stories and Lee Marvin. Just wish the picture quality had been better.
3 Comments 59 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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I'm so sick of people talking about the transfer of old TV shows and how the quality is not there and so on. Are you so spoiled that you can't tolerate a less than average print of something. I love the washed out look, the change of quality. It adds great character to the series. Do you go into a bookstore with old books and complain about the pages not being new? Given the chance to have a perfect print using the technology that you babble about and a washed out or faded look I'll take the latter. The outfits and the style from the fifties is so beautiful. You don't see morons with baggy jeans and tatoos and the crap style that people wear today. Women were feminine and dressed classy,the cars were awesome and the interior shots were simple and noncluttered. There is no swearing are the lingo was interesting. No gruesome scenes or images. Music is top notch. Lee Marvin voice is deep and commanding. If you like 1950's stuff this is top notch.
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This box set has a few good and a few bad.

First the good. Yes, it does include all 117 episodes in chronological order from the first to the last. All three seasons. The bonus CD is great and I wouldn't ask for better.

Brief summary: M-SQUAD was a product of its time. Why people compare it to DRAGNET I have no idea. There is no comparison. The show features jazz music which PETER GUNN and SHOTGUN SLADE and MAN FROM UNCLE did. Jazzy music scores were a fad at the time. Lee Marvin makes the show shine. Without him, it would have been another cop program. The show is extremely violent. Heck, the opener has Marvin coming out of his car, being shot at and he fires back. Before the opening credits roll it's already featuring four gun shots. Critics complained in the early 1960s because of the violence. Heck, watch the one episode that opens with a family being killed off (women and children) when someone throws a live pineapple (grenade) into thier back yard!

Like a lot of 50s TV shows, the guests are occassionally impressive and a surprise. Angie Dickinson, Charles Bronson, Leonard Nimoy, Ed Nelson, DeForest Kelley, H. M. Wynant and even a young Burt Reynolds. Don't look up the cast list in advance - just watch them and be surprised when they appear on screen. Plenty of other supporting role characters would have been just as notable had they later hit the success the above did but you'll certainly see other familiar faces.

There is one episode in the second season that depicted Chicago cops in a bad light and that episode alone prompted the then-current mayor of Chicago to ban filming in the streets of Chicago. That ban would not be lifted until the early 1980s when they filmed THE BLUES BROTHERS. Yep, this show REALLY worth watching.
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