Friday, June 27, 2014

Hicksploitation Movie Night # 9 - Angie Dickinson & POLICE WOMAN 1975

Season 2 Episode 9  BLAZE OF GLORY
Original Air Date Nov. 11 1975

Angie as Sgt. "Pepper" Anderson goes undercover as a prostitute and gets taken prisoner by a trio of white trash bank robbers - including a shotgun totin' Don Stroud !

    Although today a well known screen and television icon, back in the early 70's Angie Dickinson was probably most famous for being the on again/off again wife of pop songwriter Burt Bacharach. Because of her daughter's illness she had turned down many roles in the 60's but did seem to have an unquestionable knack for appearing in movies that while maybe not being critical or audience favorites at the time have grown in stature over the years. Whether in films that while not critical lauded at the time have now become regraded as American classics (RIO BRAVO), or as nowadays hip (OCEANS 11) or gained cult status over the years (John Borman's psychedelic neo-noir POINT BLANK and Don Siegel's too violent for TV remake of THE KILLERS) and even with some rather unknown gems still waiting to be discovered (such as THE OUTSIDE MAN) you gotta admit she does have one cool resume.

   In 1974 a couple of serendipitous things happened to her career-wise as first off she accepted a role in Roger Corman's BIG BAD MAMA which turned out to be a gigantic hit and partly because of the success of POLICE WOMAN ran for several years on the drive-in/exploitation circuit (costing around $400,000 to produce it eventually grossed more then $5,000,000). Playing a depression era Texas widow who along with her two young daughters embarks a bank robbing spree, the 43 year old Dickinson caused a stir by appearing naked in several scenes (including full frontal) along with a post Star Trek William Shatner. Upon viewing its obvious that Angie is having a blast in the role and to her credit she has never shied away from it and to this day proudly states she was glad to show off her body. The success of BIG BAD MAMA and POLICE WOMAN would lead to her unforgettable role in Brian De Palma's DRESSED TO KILL from 1980.

   Earlier in the same year as BIG BAD MAMA she had appeared in an episode of the NBC anthology TV series POLICE STORY titled "The Gamble" where she played police woman Lisa Beaumont who goes undercover to bust up a gambling ring. The pilot was well received and it was decided to go ahead as a series with the debut episode premiering on the 13th of Sept. - which in a bit of lucky publicity (perhaps seen to by Corman) timed nicely with the Sept. 19 opening of BIG BAD MAMA. For the TV series her superior Lt. Bill Crowley was played by Earl Holliman (probably most familiar at the time from THE SONS OF KATIE ELDER) who was wisely replacing game show host Bert Convy from the pilot and her fellow officers (as in the pilot) were played by Ed Bernard (ACROSS 110TH STREET) and as one of the most unlikely hippies ever was Charles Dierkop (THE STING). Angie's proper first name in the series (she's referred to as "Pepper"or "Pep") is listed as Suzanne in NBC sources, but is also heard as Leanne a couple of times in the first two seasons.

    Running for four seasons POLICE WOMAN was massively popular, with even President Ford arranging his schedule (and supposedly canceling a press conference) around it and a line of toys was produced by Horsman including a 9" Angie Dickinson doll complete with many fashion choices. During its run POLICE WOMAN was always something of a schizophrenic proposition (that continues to this day in regards to its legacy) as seemingly wanting to juggle presenting an empowered strong central female character in a police drama while at the same time looking for excuses to get Angie into skimpy (or almost no) clothing as often as possible. It was the first hour long network drama to have a female as a central character and quite possibly laid the groundwork for WONDER WOMAN and CHARLIE'S ANGELS (both in terms of strong female characters & 70's "jiggle" TV) and the argument can even be made for the later CAGNEY AND LACEY.
   The show seemed to fall into a pattern with about every 3rd episode presenting some opportunity for TV friendly exploitation with Angie going undercover as a prostitute, bikini model, female gym teacher etc. and most unforgettably as a go-go dancer in the season one episode BLAST (complete with a slimy performance by Robert Vaughan as a club owner). Like most 70's TV police shows it came under fire at various times for its violence content and when viewed today some of it still seems pretty startling for the time including beatings, shootings (shotguns seeming to be favorite) with Earl Holliman in particular racking up a pretty impressive body count. The opening credits neatly juxtapose the sex and violence with shots of Angie's legs and bust alternating with shootings, fights and a set of brass knuckles flying toward the viewer (complete with the classic 70's "freeze frame" to introduce the characters).

    Season two's episode BLAZE OF GLORY is an almost perfect example of everything that made POLICE WOMAN great and what's most fascinating (to me at least) is that the plot and atmosphere both seem to be something straight out of a 70's drive-in movie (bloody shootings, attempted rape, shotguns, a sweaty desert setting and Don Stroud) with a basic story line and characters that could have been taken from an Arthur Marks production (just add Tiffany Bolling and some more sex and violence). Watching it today its still kind of amazing what they could get away with on 70's network television (especially considering it being a weekly show).
  Starting off (naturally) with Angie doing some undercover work as a prostitute while Det. Styles (Ed Bernard) keeps a watch from his fully pimped out Cadillac (which amazingly enough matches Angie's purple outfit perfectly). After knocking off for the day she stops by her bank to cash a check (still in her hooker's stakeout garb) and walks straight into a bank robbery being perpetrated by a magnificently sleazy trio consisting of the Okie shitkicker Lightfoot brothers - Vern played by the great Don Stroud (JOE KIDD and various biker flicks) and Charlie Joe (William Lucking - the mean dude from tons of TV shows) along with Vern's girlfriend Laurene (Nellie Bellflower - "The Lone Stripper" from HAPPY DAYS). With Angie in tow the gang runs off to the desert, after first switching vehicles in a car wash (?? )- which does necessitate Angie getting soaking wet and having to change into a pair of daisy dukes in the back of the getaway van.


   As almost the entire episode takes place in the van that gives it a great sweaty claustrophobic feeling as Angie turns on the country girl charm as she flirts with the somewhat dim-witted Charlie Joe, beats off a horny Don Stroud, plus gets into a couple of fights with Laurene and even gets to "flip the bird" at one point ! Vern continually laments about wanting to go out in a "blaze of glory" like his hero Clyde Barrow of Bonnie and Clyde fame, as we even a get a country song added to soundtrack stating this fact. The episode features several bloody shootings (including the perennial favorite shotgun) and the whole thing plays out like a little 50 minute drive-in movie. It's even got an appearance by rubbery faced character actor Phil Leeds as a hapless salesman.
   POLICE WOMAN first season was put out by Sony back in 2006 that included some interesting commentary's by Angie on a few of the episodes and later in 2012 Shout Factory did the second season, but nothings been seen of the final two seasons.



  1. Awesome - this was one of my dad's favorite shows - for obvious reasons. I was only 7-11 years on when it aired, so I missed out on puberty viewing. But you can bet I'd like to see this show now!

    1. I love 70's those police dramas. It looks like from looking at them on Amazon that the POLICE WOMAN DVD's are going OOP. I really hope that we can get seasons 3 & 4 eventually.

  2. I've never seen the show, but I'm a big fan of Dickinson. She really shined in The Killers and Point Blank, which is still one of my all time favorites. Big Bad Mama is a hoot, and she really didn't ever shy away from showing off that body of hers, did she? Will see if I can catch this show somewhere.