I was introduced to Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novel series as a kid and I was hooked. Ed McBain had been writing the series since 1956 with his first book Cop Hater and when he died at the age of 78 in he had written 55 of them. After decades of tracking them all down, I’m only two away from owning them all.
Ed McBain was born Salvatore Lombino but he changed his name to Evan Hunter. As Hunter he had already written several novels most notably The Blackboard Jungle which was made into a film in 1955. He started writing the 87th Precinct novels under the alias Ed McBain. He admitted the alias in 1958 but he kept using it until his death. Hunter also wrote several screenplays, his most famous being The Birds for Alfred Hitchcock.
The novels are a police procedural series. Hunter had been influenced by TV shows like Dragnet and expanded upon it. The books follow the cops of the 87th Precinct. Detective Steve Carella started off the series as the main character. By the 1980’s he had taken a backseat to several other characters, not all of them likable but at times much more interesting to read. The novels all follow a sort of formula. A series of a crimes (or just one crime) is committed and the police investigate, interview people, look at the evidence and then usual make an arrest. Pretty basic stuff and yet McBain / Hunter somehow made each story riveting.
Over the years several of his novels turned into movies and TV shows. There was a short lived TV show in the 1960’s that starred Robert Lansing as Carella. After I first discover the books I noticed that there was several bad TV movies in the mid-1990’s. One that starred Randy Quaid as Carella and two that starred Dale Midkiff as Carella. In 1972 Burt Reynolds starred as Carella in Fuzz with Raquel Welch in a comedy version of the novel. With all these bad version there was at least one good adaptation of an 87th Precinct novel, master filmmaker Akira Kurosawa had adapted King’s Ransom into the 1963 film High and Low.
I was very shocked to find that the first 87th Precinct film actually came about in 1958. Cop Hater, the first novel was also the first film. I finally tracked it down and bought it from MGM’s burn on demand DVD service. Cop Hater is a pretty good adaptation and decent cop / crime film. A really, really young Robert Loggia stars as Detective Steve Carelli (not sure why Carella became Carelli but that’s Hollywood for you). Somebody is bumping off cops. The movie starts by following a detective who leaves his family in the morning and heads to work only to be stalked and killed by an unknown assailant. Naturally the cops are pissed about this and Carelli and his partner Detective Mike Maguire (Gerald O’Loughlin) are assigned to the case. The detective who was killed at the start, his partner is next on this killer’s list and things start looking desperate as a reporter starts sticking his nose into the case and messing things up.
Apparently director William Berke made another 87th Precinct film in 1958, The Mugger which didn’t have the standard 87th Precinct characters but sounds interesting anyway. As for Cop Hater, the film has a great reveal at the end for cause of the deaths and it’s definitely a better film than the Burt Reynolds movie. Kurosawa’s film is still the best.