16 June 2004 | F Gwynplaine MacIntyre
Nothing happening here, folks...
'Crime Photographer' had an interesting pedigree. The character began as 'Flashgun Casey' in a series of crime stories in the pulp magazine 'Black Mask' (the same magazine that originally published 'The Maltese Falcon'). Casey was a two-fisted photographer for the Boston Express newspaper: talkative, pugnacious, with an unlimited capacity for alcohol. The character was cleaned up somewhat for radio as 'Casey, Crime Photographer', which itself became the basis of this tv series.
For television, Casey's beat was transferred from Boston to Manhattan ... probably because that's where US television production was centred at the time. This change had no payoff, as there was never any attempt to play Casey against actual New York locations. Every episode took place in a generic 'big city', vaguely noir. Like Peter Gunn (a similar character in a much better series), Casey was a jazz aficionado who spent his time propping up a bar. Casey's favoured watering hole was the Blue Note Cafe, ostensibly a nightclub.
The episodes were told in flashback format, with Casey wearily narrating his latest exploit to the bartender, a standard tough-guy type with the unlikely name Ethelbert. The flashback format had its disadvantages, as we start off every episode knowing that Casey has come out alive. But this was a useful budget-saving device, as Casey's voice-over narration easily bridged gaps in the action.
Casey worked solo in the early episodes; his newsbeat was now for the New York 'Morning Express'. Eventually, the scriptwriters added Express reporter Ann Williams as his girlfriend, followed by cub reporter Jack Lipman as Casey's sidekick. Naturally, Casey's exploits frequently found him at cross purposes to the police, in the form of Captain Logan. Since Casey solves every crime in town single-handed, it's no wonder the cops don't like him.
'Crime Reporter' was a bog-standard tough-guy crime drama: the bartender's name 'Ethelbert' was the most unusual and imaginative aspect of this show. All of Casey's traits (his jaded attitude, his capacity for booze and cigarettes, his fondness for jazz, his antipathy for the police) were shared by several other fictional detectives. Expert actress Jan Miner, not especially good-looking, brought a welcome cynicism to her role as the 'news hen' Ann.
Matters were not helped by the producers' decision (two months into the show's run) to recast the two main roles of Casey and Ethelbert, although Darren McGavin (as Casey for most of this show's run) was a distinct improvement over the short-lived Richard Carlyle. The single most interesting thing about this series is that it was an early assignment for the young Sidney Lumet, just beginning to demonstrate his versatility and style as a director. 'Crime Photographer' is not worth re-releasing on video. Casey was simply too similar to several other thick-ear crime-solvers.