The City (TV, 1977)

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The City begins, after a profound-ish voiceover intro on cars and cities, as a man in a flashy yellow sports car pulls into a gas station and tries to get some of that old time full service. The attendant (Mark Hamill) is at first too spaced out, then he gets angry at the customer’s demands and goes after the car with a wrench! Finally, he knocks down both his boss and the customer and runs off like a jackrabbit. Stopping to lecture some kids in the park about ducks, he seems to forget quickly that the police must be after him; this is because he’s CRAZY. A letter from back home in Texas has set off this troubled country boy who seems adrift in L.A., and although the viewer can soon understand why he is the way he is, he clearly needs to go to the nervous hospital fast. Soon a seemingly mismatched pair of detectives are on his trail as the angry young man plays both hunter and quarry. His ultimate prize: a country singer played by country singer Jimmy Dean, with whom he shares a dark past. Can the cops catch Mark Hamill before it’s too late for Dean? Is it already too late?

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Like many of the 70s TV movies I’ve looked at for this site, The City was a pilot for an unrealized show, this time a cop drama. I wish it had been picked up, because I’d be watching some reruns right now. Although the story is pretty straightforward, with one strange twist, the acting and writing make it entertaining enough. Of course, it stands alone just fine as well, but I can’t get enough of cop movies and shows. Robert Forster as the lead detective is his usual reliable, quietly tough character. His new partner, Don Johnson, well, he’s good looking. Jimmy Dean unsurprisingly does well playing a country singer, although he has to reach a little beyond his usual down home image into the character’s unpleasant history.

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The real revelation here for me is Mark Hamill. I have only seen him in the Star Wars movies, and although I may draw some heat for saying so, George Lucas is not a director who focuses on getting believable or even competent performances from actors despite signing on good talent. Therefore I was shocked to see that Hamill can act pretty well, as evidently veteran TV director Harvey Hart brought something different out of him. After the initial shock of seeing Luke Skywalker as a psycho killer braining a guy with a big wrench, he disappeared into his character, and I fully believed him as angry Eugene from Texas.

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Other than that, the story brings out the similarities between the four main characters. Old/young, rich/poor, country/city, law abiding/criminal; all four men are shades of each contrasted characteristic, which brings a little complexity to the script. Writer John Wilder does a good job of making the point that police need to understand, if not sympathize, with criminals. This type of sentiment would have been good manly drama if the show had continued. The City‘s plot of a cop chasing a nutty guy across L.A. all day is somewhat reminiscent of Falling Down, without the dark humor. If you like that movie, or are a fan of any of the stars (who isn’t) or enjoy other Quinn Martin productions such as Tales of the Unexpected and Streets of San Francisco, you should check this out some lazy afternoon when you’re in the mood for some retro cop drama. The whole thing is up on YouTube right now.

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