Saturday, November 04, 2006


My partner and I have been having a lot of fun watching reruns of the 50's detective series "77 Sunset Strip" on the American Life cable network. The show follows the adventures of two private eyes, Stu Bailey (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) and Jeff Spencer (Roger Smith, quite the hottie, one year after he played Mame's nephew in AUNTIE MAME) who operate out of an L.A. office next to a nightclub called Dino's, which practically serves as their waiting room. The two are swinging bachelors who are always finding some innocent girl or femme fatale to flirt with. The show is probably better remembered these days for the character of Kookie (Edward Byrnes), the flip, hip young guy who was always combing his hair while he parked cars at Dino's, called everyone "Dad," and often helped out on cases. This film was apparently the 90-minute pilot for the show; according to online episode guides, it was aired as the first episode in October '58 and as far as I can tell, never received a theatrical release, but despite the presence of Zimbalist and Byrnes, it bears only a tangential relationship to the series that followed. Zimbalist gets involved in the case of a young singer (Erin O'Brien) who has fled Seattle after seeing the murder of a star witness in a major criminal case. She winds up in L.A. under an assumed name and Zimbalist tracks her down for a man (Shepperd Strudwick) who claims to be her boyfriend. He's not, however; he's the DA on the Seattle case who has a nasty secret or two of his own. Byrnes plays, not Kookie, but Kenneth Smiley, a cold-blooded killer who nevertheless has an amusing scene in which he remains behind in a theater long enough to finish watching a Daffy Duck cartoon. Also in the cast is Barton MacLane (one of the cops who made trouble for Bogart in THE MALTESE FALCON). It's a little slow getting started, and I missed Roger Smith, who never shows up, but there are some good fisticuffs and chases, and the show does set up the Zimbalist character as a scholar of Sanskrit, a plot detail that crops up during the run of the show a couple of times. It's also nice to see Byrnes get a chance to stretch a little beyond his insolent hipster persona. [TV]

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