25 August 2007 | redryan64
"Ooh, ooh! So Francis ya don't think I know who Leonard Bernstein is, do ya? Well I saw him on Television. He's a Band Leader!"...Officer Gunther Toody (Joe E. Ross)
Taking a cue from his previously screened and highly successful SGT. BILKO series(aka YOU'LL NEVER GET RICH 1955-59), creator Nat Hiken went to the extensive pool of existing talent in the comedian /comic/funny man line. It was here that he found names like Jimmy Little, Joe E. Ross and even BILKO Star Phil Silvers had his comedic roots on stage in either Vaudeville or Burlesque.
In the casting of the players, Mr.Hiken and company made use of the available and eager New York stage actors. What could be more natural? After all, CAR 54 would be a Sitcom that was set in New York City about the Policemen of New York. Ergo, it would behoove any creative persons involved to add a certain otherwise unattainable degree of realism by using native born New Yorkers! (Duh!) The use of what must be described as "Obvious Humor" was a regular element of the series. Often the gags could be spotted coming from a ways out, yet the execution of the dialog by the players and the practice of milking a running gag for all its worth before finishing with it.
Hence we had a situation in one episode where Officer Francis Muldoon(Fred Gwynne) laments childhood experience wherein the kids at school referred to him as "Horse Face." Officer Gunther Toody(Joe E. Ross), his partner consoles him by telling him: "Don't worry Francis, kids just repeat what other people say!" And if this wasn't enough, Toody later adds: "After all, Francis, everybody liked Black Beauty!" They would sometimes take it beyond twice, but no matter it would be "resolved" in one way or another. And the charm of it was all was done straight-faced and serious.
The use of Cops as a Comic Foil has been around been with us ever since there has been Authority to deal with. When Mr. Mack Sennett gave us his Keystone Kops(and their immediate ancestor, Sennett's BANGVILLE POLICE)the use of the Cop as an outlet for humorous purposes was already a well established tradition on stage;be it in Vaudeville, English Music Hall, Burlesque, Stage Drama or Broadway Musical.Looking back further, we see in newspaper cartoons (not Comic Strips)be they straight humor or the Editorial type, this in heavy evidence.
There is one other area that CAR 54, WHERE ARE YOU? makes points that may not be apparent to a viewer. Unless you have been a Cop or had close family "on the job" it might completely miss you. (And this is no fault on anyone's.) Most of our TV Cops were characterized as little more than some sort of law enforcing robots. Oh, there were some exceptions, but for the most part series like Jack Webb's ADAM 12, portrayed what could almost pass for training film conversations. The team of Reed & Malloy seemed more interested in discussing street cop secrets and department procedure than sports, movies, where to get your car fixed or broads, even.
Mr. Hiken's crew not only humanized Cops, but took them a step further in showing some human foibles. And that,in the bigger picture of the Cinema & TV, may well be the greatest contribution that Nat Hiken and CAR 54, WHERE ARE YOU? provided.
This Cop Sitcom/Farce is one of the best representative series of its period(The early to mid 1960's). If you are not familiar with it, it's high time you met. If not on an outlet like NICK AT NIGHT, then try VHS or DVD's. Even a purchase would be well worthwhile.