Before Cops, America’s Most Wanted and Rescue 911, TV viewers had Lee Marvin Presents Lawbreaker. The movie tough guy returned to his M Squad persona of Detective Lt. Frank Ballinger to host a show that depicted local law enforcement’s most intriguing cases. The half hour didn’t merely recreate the crime on a Hollywood backlot. They took the viewers to various cities to show where the felonies took place. Cops, victims and lawbreakers were interviewed on camera. Lee Marvin tied the show together from his high tech headquarters. He provided the narrative and “conducted” the interviews from his remote location. Lee Marvin Presents Lawbreaker: The Complete Television Series has all 32 episodes that aired in syndication during the 1963-64 TV season.
“The Philadelphia Story” is an extreme case when Fireman Dominic Iannarelli gets his house robbed and his daughter abducted. “The Dallas Story” has a man snap when he takes four people hostage. “The New Orleans Story” focuses on how a rookie cop is kicked out of the police academy so they can make him an undercover cop. A group of punk kids celebrate the holidays with a murder and robbery spree in “The Boston Story.” Lee Marvin points out how there’s no reason to what these kids were doing. The captured killer keeps swearing he’s innocent. “The Baltimore Story” follows a cat burglar on his breaking and entering spree. What makes this episode really interesting is that the burglar had finished serving his time. They allow him to recreate his criminal activities for the camera. Sadly there’s no spotting of a young John Waters and Divine lurking at any of the row house crime scenes.
“The Minneapolis Story” is a two part adventure about three homicidal maniacs on the run. The car stunts in this episode top anything else on the dial from this era. They staged a massive driving shoot out down the city streets. “The Danville, Virginia Story” is unique as it shows a baby desperately in need of a rare blood type. The police must help locate a donor and get the vital pint to the baby. What makes it more unique is that both the baby and the donor are black. At the height of the civil rights tensions, Lawbreaker demonstrated who people can work together for a noble cause. “The Buffalo Story” has an interracial gang breaking into a building. “The Culver City Story” warns viewers of a teenager who made bombs. This is a story that dominates our news media today after the bombs at the Boston Marathon.
Lee Marvin Presents Lawbreaker is an amazing show on so many levels. The recreations are top notch even with local playing themselves. The footage captures the flavor of the various locations. The series was shot in color so it’s not merely a black and white nostalgia trip. These are the hues of major cities nearly 50 years ago. The cops are good at breaking down the procedures used to capture the suspects. This is a riveting crime show with a well rounded coverage of the events surrounding the cases. Lee Marvin is the perfect host as he keeps the narrative rolling without much flourishing. He’s the second coming of Joe Friday. Best is when he tells a crook that the safe he had failed to crack was in fact empty. Shame that Lawbreaker didn’t last as long as the various series that would spring forth from this real life crime concept.
The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The color transfers look rather good for their age. The audio is mono. The levels are right for a show that was shot in a studio and location. Nobody sounds too tinny. Lee Marvin always sounds in charge.
There are no bonus features.
Lee Marvin Presents Lawbreaker deserves entry into the TV Hall of Fame for setting the standards of true crime shows. It had a proper grasp on how to present crime in America.
Timeless Media Group presents Lee Marvin Presents Lawbreakers: The Complete Television Series. Starring: Lee Marvin. Boxset Contents: 32 episodes on 4 DVDs. Released: March 26, 2013. Available at Amazon.com.
Joe Corey is the author of “The Seven Secrets of Great Walmart People Greeters.” This is the last how to get a job book you’ll ever need. He was Associate Producer of the documentary “Moving Midway.” He’s worked as local crew on several reality shows including Candid Camera, American’s Most Wanted, Extreme Makeover Home Edition and ESPN’s Gaters. He’s been featured on The Today Show and CBS’s 48 Hours. Dom DeLuise once said, “Joe, you look like an axe murderer.” He was in charge of research and programming at the Moving Image Archive.