Home » Uncategorized » “M Squad” – A Cautionary Tale

“M Squad” – A Cautionary Tale

It was a warm, summer night. Sunday last. I was washing my hair in the kitchen sink. (Yeah, the kitchen sink — you got a problem with that, Bud? If you do, keep it to yourself. I got a slow fuse — but you don’t want to see it lit.) I had turned on the set for company and came across this station called, MeToo. That’s what they call it. Some suit must have thought up that gem, trying to impress the big boss with the pally, “it’ll impress the masses” vibe of it. Probably got a raise for making their station sound like the cry of a four-year old begging Daddy to take him along… Anyway, they’ve got this set-up going called, “Sunday Night Noir” and this show, “M Squad” comes on with Lee Marvin starring. I’m a sucker for Lee Marvin, so I let it ride.

In this series, Marvin played Lt. Frank Ballinger, a hard-boiled Chicago police detective. The writers threw around real street names. Nice touch. We hate it when Hollywood types toss around two north/south streets and call ’em an intersection. These guys got it right.

I’m no expert on these things, but from the fuzzy black and white, the clothes and the hairstyles on the players, this one seemed to have been made somewhere around 1959. I guess it’s got long legs, but I’ve never seen reruns of it before. “Superman” and “I Love Lucy,” yes, but this one, no. This episode had Mr. Spock himself, Leonard Nimoy, guest starring along with James Coburn. No way I could’ve changed the channel then if I’d tried. Nimoy is a legend, and Coburn won an Oscar for playing an asshole — damn good portrayal of a man who deserved the short end of the stick he’d been giving out all his life. I settled in with the shampoo.

The plot was about an investigation to catch an arsonist, and Lt. Ballinger went undercover as a mope looking to burn down a factory that wasn’t making the dough anymore. He got the info he needed from the arsonist’s latest client, a sorry dame who forgot someone was in the building she wanted to lose. She was no match for Ballinger. She folded like a deck of cards.

I was getting into the plot, rooting for the triumph of good over evil and all that. It was a decent enough show, but here’s where the picture gets to me: to make the deal so he can catch the criminal, Ballinger has to go to the dive where the bad guys hang out. Turns out this is a local coffee bar. Coffee Bar. You learn something new every day. How would anyone know that these places were hotbeds of bad behavior — criminality of the worst kind? Well, I’m here to do my bit for the betterment of my fellow citizens. Be careful where you spend your time, all right? And parents, whatever you do, don’t let your teenagers go to these places. Geez, they had singers in that joint and everything. Singing that subversive Folk music. I ain’t been the same since I saw it. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.



21 thoughts on ““M Squad” – A Cautionary Tale

  1. What?!? Coffee bars in the 50’s? I thought that was a recent invention of Seattle! Oh well, this was a great piece of writing. I love how you adopted the voice of the show, so that I got to ‘hear’ the show as well as read your post. Plus it brings back a lot of memories of those old shows. Mom and dad setting in around a tv that you could repair instead of throw away, dad’s pipe smoke, mom’s latest crochet project on her lap, and us kids lying on the carpet excited about free tv. When the parents watched, it was free. When we wanted to watch, mom and dad made us pay 25 cents an hour to make us more picky about our time in front of the big box.

    • Thanks, Kid. I’m glad you never been to any of those subversive coffee bars! I can tell ’cause you’re still a good egg. 🙂 I’m glad my folks didn’t take me for a quarter every time I watched the tube! How would I have survived?

  2. KIDS. With their hula-hoops and their transistor radios and their malt shakes and their rock and roll and their capri pants and their comic strips and their movie shows and their leather jackets and their sock hops and their…

  3. Thanks for the warning about those coffee bars. Who knew!? It must be something in the coffee, right? And now I’m starting to wonder about that ice cream parlor, too…. looks a little too happy to be true, right? 😉 (Probably they originally had it in a real bar, then some tight-lipped censor insisted on the coffee part!)

  4. Pingback: I’m at the Mic at Satsumabug! | Sparks In Shadow

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