After helping turn Miami Vice into the defining neon crime show of its era, Michael Mann turned back the clock and put his stamp on Crime Story: Complete Series (1986-1988). Created by former Chicago cop Chuck Adamson with Gustave Reininger, the Mann-produced sixties-era gangster series made for a fabulous mix of genres (old-time gangster thriller, modern mob movie, and early rock and roll sixties culture) and one of the most stylish and snappy shows on TV.
Dennis Farina (also a former Chicago police officer and a Michael Mann favorite) is Lt. Mike Torello, a cop obsessed with to putting away ruthless street thug turned fast-rising mob superstar Ray Luca (Anthony Denison). Along with his crack unit (among them Bill Smitrovich and Bill Campbell), they follow him from the streets of Chicago to the bright lights and casino action of Las Vegas.
From its gritty streetwise feature length pilot (directed by Abel Ferrara and starring David Caruso as a hot-headed Irish thug who falls victim to Luca) to its atomic bombshell of a season climax, the first season was one of the most exciting blasts of TV excitement of its era. Snazzy duds, hairdos and period detail give the show a glitzy surface, the great music, hard-boiled dialogue and smartly composed scripts give it a great sound, and the tough guy camaraderie and obsessive sweep of the season-long clash of tough cops and arrogant mobsters provides the dramatic drive. Stephen Lang co-stars as the assistant DA who proves himself to be just as driven as Torello, and John Santucci (as the dim but unfailingly loyal Pauli Taglia), Ted Levine, Jay O. Sanders, and Andrew Dice Clay are among the colorful gangsters that help Luca build his criminal empire. Guest stars in the first season include Pam Grier, Ving Rhames, Lorraine Bracco, Gary Sinise, Deborah Harry, Vincent Gallo, and Julia Roberts.
The second season, which moves the action from Chicago to Las Vegas, opens with a thinly veiled fictionalization of Kennedy (part JFK, part Robert, played with a New England twang by Kevin Spacey) and Marilyn Monroe (Jenny Wright) but really gears up when Ray Lucca, presumed dead after his brush with an atomic bomb test in the Nevada desert (one of the most mind-bending scenes on American TV in the eighties), returns more powerful and more protected than ever. Guest stars this season include Stephen McHattie, James Remar, David Soul, George Dzundza, David Hyde Pierce, Margaret Avery, Laura San Giacomo, Michael J. Pollard, and the return of Darlanne Fluegel (as Farina’s ex-wife) and Pam Grier (as reporter Suzanne Terry).
43 episodes (including the feature-length pilot) over two seasons.
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Crime Story: The Complete Series [DVD]
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The nine-disc “25th Anniversary” set comes in the five-tray digibook. These appear to be the same transfers as the previous Anchor Bay editions: no remastering here, some of the episodes appear to be shorter syndication versions and some of the original music has been replaced (pretty common for shows of this vintage but frustrating for a show where music is such a major part of the equation). Del Shannon’s great theme song, however, is intact, and that alone can power an episode. No supplements. We still await a definitive edition but this will make do until then.