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, 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 Americas Second City. Marvin's portrayal of a tough undercover officer 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.
But it wasn't just the crisp, taut story lines and great cast that made M Squad memorable.
First, it was shot in gritty, film noir 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.
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."
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. M Squad is that rare television series that has it all. It is about time long-time fans and newcomers have a chance to experience the complete TV series on 16 high-quality DVDs of this great show.
- Bonus Disc including a sampling of some of Lee Marvin’s television work from the 1950s and 1960s:
- Wagon Train - The Jose Morales Story (1960)
- Checkmate - Jungle Castle (1961)
- The Virginian - It Tolls for Thee (1962)
- Lee Marvin Presents Lawbreaker - Pittsburgh (1963)