Tuesday, December 21, 2010

#242: Police Car

Don’t let anyone fool you, women of a certain vintage only watched 21 Jump Street back in the day for the same reason that they’ll tape and watch it when it’s repeated on pay TV next year – to perve on a young Johnny Depp. If they deny this, ask them to name one other co-star, or, even better, ask them to describe a storyline. Mind you I can’t either, but I do remember one episode where I think it was either Depp or his co star Peter DeLuise, Dom’s son, was running through the snow to the sounds of R.E.M.’s Orange Crush. I do remember Dom turning up as Peter’s father in a few episodes, but that’s about it. And a black copper that was in charge of them, and a cute black girl, but that’s about it. I did enjoy it, but like most shows of the time, I’m sure I’d watch it now and just chuckle at how bad the acting is, how inane the story lines are and how insipid the sets are. Say what you want, but 21 Jump Street wasn’t as good as Hill Street Blues.

Now that was a show. I still have Mike Post’s theme music on my iPod and when anyone hears it they know straight away what it is. That’s staying power. Not many themes, without vocals, have such an effect. Damned good show that one. I’d sit awake at night just to watch repeats of it, and I remember thinking that the episode featuring Dominique Dunn as a girl suffering from domestic violence was mighty powerful indeed. What impacted upon me more though was when I learned that the bruises and scars that she wore wasn’t make-up, and that her boyfriend at the time had beaten the crap out of her before shooting to the extent that they applied make-up to reduce the effect. Later the bastard strangled her, so sad, a talent gone before her time, and the episode screened after her death..

Cop shows are always good value when you’re bored out of your skull in the middle of the night, but sadly we don’t see any of the classic Aussie cop shows anymore. No repeats of Homicide or Matlock. No Cop Shop, with Gil ‘Stuttering Bastard’ Tucker. “Oh no Senior Sergeant,” Gil would say, “you can’t kick him in the balls here. There’s a c-c-camera over there. T-t-t-take him into the cells.” No Division 4 or Bluey. An entire generation of people want to know just what the hell VKC meant in Matlock, usually uttered by Paul Cronin as he went paddock bashing on his Honda. So sad, but we do have Bargearse on DVD, and that’s better than nothing I guess.

What always impressed me with cop shows of the 1970s and 1980s is that there was an instant difference between locally produced shows and the American counterparts. If a bad guy tried to escape in say Starsky & Hutch, then they’d steal a muscle car and be chased by Hutch’s Gran Torinio through the streets of New York, or wherever. Shit, even Dennis Weaver had a horse to run people over with in McLeod. In the Aussie shows, it was Paul Cronin hurtling his Honda 350 Four down a country road after some wanker in a clapped out Torana who’d usually lose it on a corner and hit a fence, or Lucky Grills would puff and wheeze down a street before having a heart attack*.  Gerard Kennedy would chase someone down a series of back alleys before slamming them face first into a corrugated iron fence hissing “You bastard!”, upon which someone like Michael Pate or Bud Tingwell would pop up to slap the handcuffs on and deliver a speech to Kennedy about being too rough.  Generally this was usually after Kennedy or Mike ‘Handsome’ Preston had bashed the crap out of the bad guy. “By Christ Frank, you can’t do that to him!” they’d say, but this was more than likely after Frank Banner had punched someone low in the guts a good eight to ten times. Bit late there, Bud, but better late than never. American shows had proper fake blood, Aussie cop shows took some of the shortest cuts you’d ever see – a liberal splash of tomato sauce sufficed, turning most bad guys into a giant chip with their biggest threat coming from a few seagulls nearby. If someone got hit by a car then they’d throw a meat pie at their head, combined with the sauce it looked gory from a certain angle. You can try that one at home if you want. Create your own car accident victim with a Balfours and half a bottle of Heinz Big Red. Just so you know, they’d create fake spew out of tins of Vegetable soup or, when pushed, a chewed up pastie mixed with lemonade, a combination that’d make most people spew anyway. Now that’s low budget.

"Put it away Bluey."
American shows had James Garner with a big gun firing blanks and stunt men with squibs that looked like they’d been shot. Aussie shows used cap guns. I kid you not; I remember watching an old episode of Division 4 where you saw them load the bloody guns with caps. The Americans would leap into the air upon being shot, scream and hit the ground, lifeless. Aussie would merely grab their chest or, if they were being funny, their groins, smash a satchel of sauce and say, “Bloody hell Bluey, what are ya doin’? Ya shot me mate!” They’d collapse, but still be breathing, hours after they were pronounced dead. Indeed morgue scenes are great – Quincy would have people cut open on the slab, Frank Banner would be hitting his corpse just out of shot to prevent it from laughing too much at the dialogue. Americans would leap off buildings and run over roofs, Aussies would scramble over back fences, run past some old bag putting out the washing and then jump onto a shed, off which they’d promptly fall down and be crippled for life. Poor criminals, I was jumping off my own shed from the age of 10 without doing myself any harm.

Still Aussie shows did have advantages. Angie Dickinson never did it for me like Paula Duncan and Lynda Stoner or anyone really from Cop Shop, with the exception of the guy who played JJ, John Orcsik, Gil Tucker, or any of the males. The Aussie shows were, amazingly, steeped in a sense of reality. In the American shows the cops always had proper food, drank coffee and always had time to stop to eat, and only went to fancy nightclubs and picked up good looking models. Aussie coppers ate pies and chips and necked Chiko Rolls and Dim Sims like gannets.  They also drank copious amounts of fizzy drink and black coffee. Before shift would be finished they’d all be down at the front bar of a pub, knocking back pints like prohibition was about to be brought back in and eating more peanuts than a pack of hungry elephants. The girls would drink midis of shandies – still, you have to wonder what their cars would have smelt like after a week of pies, Dim Sims, black coffee and beer. They could have just as easily gassed the crims as locked them up. Americans were slim, athletic and muscular, Aussies had beer guts that’d put Donger to shame, which did make them look real. No super cars here, just a pack of idiots tooling around in shitbox HQ Holden’s and the occasional clapped out XP Falcon. In short the Aussie cops on screen acted much like Aussie cops off-screen. They’d say things like, “Mate, if you root my bird one more time, I’ll bloody do ya!” They got drunk on shift and verballed people. They bashed crims. They fought each other. They drove like maniacs. Americans never got that sense of realism until Hill Street Blues, when they began to use people who looked like, well, normal people, and not Robert Redford.

"That's for being shit in Skippy mate!"
 Ahhhh, someone bring back those classic Hector Crawford shows and let’s see some action. Before it’s too late…


*Resulting in one of the funniest scenes in Australian cop show history. This actually happened on screen. Grills, as Bluey, began to chase a villain down a crowded street in Sydney only to fall over. The villain looks back, stops and runs back to Bluey, lying on the ground groaning and writhing. “Jesus Bluey, are you alright mate?” he asks. Bluey turns, well, blue and gargles, upon which the crook says, “Bloody hell! Quick, someone call an ambulance, I think Bluey’s having a heart attack!” Going on the reactions of the people on the street – remember, in their quest for ‘realism’ Aussie cop shows never used extras, they shot on the streets using real people (it was also a lot cheaper) - I’ve often wondered if this was scripted, or if Grills – a known devourer of beer, Dim Sims, Chiko Rolls and chips both off and off screen - was really having his own heart attack. Either way it made for some amusing television and showed that Bluey was a comedy before it was morphed into Bargearse.  Still until we watched Bargearse we never realised just how many times Bluey actually dropped his guts on the actual show, or how many Chiko Rolls he ate.

"Run Bluey, his cap gun is loaded and the Valiant isn't quite there!"
Sex symbols, '70s style!

Woggo gives evidence.

I'm off to get a shit load of dim sims and a bucket of soy sauce!


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