Crime Story (TV series)
Anthony Denison (left, as Ray Luca) and Dennis Farina (as Lt. Mike Torello)
|Created by||Chuck Adamson
|Written by||Chuck Adamson
David J. Burke
Gail Morgan Hickman
Richard Christian Danus
|Directed by||Leon Ichaso
|Theme music composer||Del Shannon, Max Crook|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||2|
|No. of episodes||44|
|Executive producer(s)||Michael Mann|
|Running time||44 minutes|
|Production company(s)||Michael Mann Productions
New World Television
|Distributor||Warner Bros. Television|
|Original release||September 18, 1986– May 10, 1988|
Crime Story is an American television drama, created by Michael Mann, that premiered in 1986 on NBC, where it ran for two seasons.
The show premiered with a two-hour pilot — a movie which had been exhibited theatrically — and was watched by over 30 million viewers. It was scheduled to follow Miami Vice on Friday nights, continuing to attract a record number of viewers. NBC then moved the show to Tuesdays at 10 pm opposite ABC's Moonlighting, hurting its ratings to the point that NBC ordered its cancellation after only two seasons.
Set in the early 1960s, the series depicted two men — Lt. Mike Torello (Dennis Farina) and mobster Ray Luca (Anthony Denison) — with an obsessive drive to destroy each other. As Luca started with street crime in Chicago, was "made" in the Chicago Outfit and then sent to Las Vegas to monitor their casinos, Torello pursued Luca as head of a special Organized Crime Strike Force. Torello, his friend Ted Kehoe, and Luca had grown up in Chicago's "The Patch" (Smith Park) neighborhood, also called "Little Italy" or "Little Sicily" and the haunt of the Forty-Two Gang.
The show attracted both acclaim and controversy for its serialized format, in which a continuing storyline was told over an entire season, rather than being episodic, as was normal with shows at the time (including Miami Vice).
The first season ended with Ray Luca and Pauli Taglia on the lam, hiding from Torello in a Nevada desert shack, which is located in an atomic bomb test area. An A-Bomb explodes, presumably obliterating Luca and Taglia, in one of the most memorable cliffhangers in television history, leaving viewers wondering whether they were dead or alive.
The first season follows Chicago Police detective Lt. Mike Torello (Dennis Farina) and his pursuit of organized crime from Chicago to Las Vegas, circa 1963-64. At the beginning of the series Torello is the head of the Major Crimes Unit (MCU), a squad of hard-boiled cops that includes Sgt. Danny Krychek (Bill Smitrovich), Det. Walter Clemmons (Paul Butler), Det. Nate Grossman (Steve Ryan) and Det. Joey Indelli (Bill Campbell).
At the center of Torello's crosshairs is rising young mobster Ray Luca (Anthony Denison). Initially Luca is an independent thief and killer whose crew, which includes Pauli Taglia (John Santucci) and Frank Holman (Ted Levine), specializes in robberies, burglaries and home invasions. Through his connection to Chicago crime boss Phil Bartoli (Jon Polito), Luca catches the attention of national crime figure Manny Weisbord (Joseph Wiseman), a character inspired by the legendary gangster Meyer Lansky. Luca impresses Weisbord with his desire to leave the streets and move up in the management ranks of organized crime. He assigns one of his men, Max Goldman (Andrew Dice Clay), to be a middleman between himself and Luca.
Luca tells Weisbord and Bartoli of his plan to take over the Las Vegas bookmaking operation of Noah Ganz (Raymond Serra). He is told to negotiate a deal, but instead instigates the theft of Ganz's gambling book. However, this backfires when Torello gets wind of it and catches Frank Holman in the act, which results in the book falling into the hands of MCU. When a crime war threatens to break out with Ganz's organization, Weisbord and Bartoli order Luca to clean up his mess. In typical fashion Luca solves the problem by massacring Ganz and his thugs.
Torello finally manages to get a solid murder indictment against Luca. Meanwhile, Holman, who escaped custody only to be hunted down again, has made a deal with U.S. federal prosecutor Harry Breitel (Ray Sharkey) to provide information about the mob in exchange for immunity. Among his lies is a made-up story that he paid off Chicago cop Mike Torello. The murders of Ted Kehoe, a childhood friend of Torello with ties to the organization, and his associate Marilyn Stewart convince Breitel to take Luca, Taglia and Bartoli to trial. Torello finds himself being investigated by Breitel and the feds for corruption, based primarily on the testimony of Holman.
At a bar Luca casually asks straight-laced public defender David Abrams (Stephen Lang), whose father once had mob connections, for advice. That advice leads Luca to subpoena Torello to testify for the defense at his trial. Abrams is furious when he discovers the result of his conversation with Luca, who has also tried to convince Abrams to work for him. When Luca learns that Abrams is applying for a job as a Justice Department attorney, he worries that Abrams will now come after him. He orders Abrams killed — but by mistake the car bomb intended for the lawyer kills Abrams's father instead.
Manny Weisbord, in the meantime, is planning to relocate the majority of his organization to Las Vegas, with interest in having a legitimate business that will provide future profits. To this end, he has called upon the services of casino board member Steve Kordo (Jay O. Sanders), who is looking to sell his plans to the highest bidder. Phil Bartoli, along with some of the other Organization members, express disinterest, as they are more concerned with immediate profits than the future. Weisbord sends Ray Luca to Las Vegas with the assignment of taking over the casinos. Luca takes along his dim-witted but brutally violent sidekick Taglia to be his muscle. First, though, he murders Bartoli and all those opposed to the relocation.
With Abrams' help, Torello nullifies Holman's credibility as a witness. The corruption investigation against Torello is dropped and Breitel is taken off of the case. Unfortunately, the case Torello has built against Luca has been destroyed by Breitel's interference. Justice Dept. Assistant Attorney Gen. Patrick Hallahan (Jann Wenner) offers Torello the chance to head up a new federal Organized Crime Strike Force to root out mob activities in Las Vegas. To assist him on the legalities side he will be aided by David Abrams, now a Justice Dept. attorney. The members of his MCU staff, Indelli, Clemons, Krychek, and Grossman, were reassigned to work with him in the Federal Strike Force, based upon, among other things, the fact that they had "the finest arrest/conviction record on the Chicago police force."
In Vegas, Ray Luca sets about a takeover of the casinos in his usual violent, thuggish manner, which includes the murder of the resort-workers union leader and a federal agent planted by the Strike Force. When Frank Holman resurfaces, Luca makes him sorry for bringing him to trial, before hiring him on again as a casino manager. Luca soon becomes so drunk with his own sense of power and invincibility that he alienates those around him. Steve Kordo in particular is worried, as Luca's actions are veering away from the legitimate plans he had and strengthening the Strike Force's case; despite the massive profits from the business, Luca continues to use dishonest methods, simply because he can.
Torello and Abrams finally get enough proof of skimmed profits and rigged games to rescind Luca's gaming license and bar him from entering any and all casinos. Infuriated, he impulsively goes after Goldman, whose wife he had been sleeping with (among other women); he then sends Holman to try and kill Goldman with a car bomb, but Goldman survives. When Luca (still seething from being banned from his own casino) brutally rapes Pauli Taglia's girlfriend, a distraught Taglia turns against his boss and implicates Luca in the union leader's killing to Torello's Strike Force, just as Luca gets the ban on his license lifted. Luca goes on trial for multiple murders, but cleverly orchestrates a mistrial by having Holman tamper with the jury and making sure the judge learns of it. Luca is then released on bail pending a new trial. He apologizes to Pauli, who forgives him out of loyalty, though it is an agonizing decision since it means abandoning the one person who was genuinely decent towards him.
Luca tries to force casino owner Nat Martino to sell out his interest, but Martino's refusal threatens a mob war. Weisbord orders Luca to make peace, but instead the hot-headed Luca murders Martino. Torello and his men had set up the killing as a (somewhat) failed trap, and a gunfight ensues. Luca flees through the streets of Vegas, he and Torello shooting each other several times, before being rescued by Pauli. The wounded Luca wakes up in an isolated desert shack thinking he is safe, only to discover that Taglia has brought them to a restricted government nuclear test area. The season ends with an A-bomb being exploded on site, presumably obliterating Luca and Taglia as they attempt to escape.
In the second season, Torello and his cops are shocked when Ray Luca and Pauli Taglia reappear in Las Vegas alive and well... and even more shocked to learn that the U.S. government has made a secret deal with Luca and given him immunity in exchange for his cooperation. Assistant Attorney General Hallahan tells Torello that elements within the government have made a marriage of convenience for their own political agenda. If they continue their pursuit of Luca, they will be operating without official sanction.
Despite Luca's outward appearance of propriety, Torello is convinced the gangster chieftain is anything but. When the Strike Force puts him under surveillance, Luca goes to court to get a restraining order. David Abrams argues that Luca's history of violence justifies the surveillance, but his personal vendetta against Luca for his father's death becomes obvious, and the judge grants the injunction.
Torello and his men aren't the only ones angered by Luca's return to Las Vegas. His abrupt reappearance doesn't sit well with Max Goldman and Steve Kordo. In Luca's absence they now run the mob's Vegas casino interests, and despite Luca's assurances that he has no intention of pushing them out, they feel threatened. Publicly they welcome him back with open arms, but privately they begin to plot against him. Kordo tries to hire a hitman to kill Luca, but is instead warned that the Outfit wants Luca alive because he is too valuable to its operations.
Abrams is so embittered by the failure of the system he believes in that he resigns from the Justice Dept. Though he says he is leaving Las Vegas, Torello discovers he actually intends to kill Luca. Torello and Krychek rush to Luca's house just in time to prevent the killing. Luca thanks Torello, who says he did it for Abrams.
Abrams descends into a haze of alcohol and drugs. Luca finds him strung out on peyote and lies that it was Chicago crime boss Phil Bartoli who ordered the hit that accidentally killed Abrams's father. He tells Abrams he was born to be part of the Outfit and offers him a job as his personal lawyer if he ever decides to clean himself up. Soon after, to the Strike Force's disbelief, Abrams shows up at Luca's door and takes the job.
When Manny Weisbord is stricken by a heart attack and lies near death, Luca flies an internationally known South African surgeon to Las Vegas to secretly perform the first heart transplant—with a heart from a murder victim supplied by Taglia. With Weisbord lying near death, Goldman and Kordo meet to discuss their uncertain future. Concerned Luca will take them both out if the old man dies, Goldman argues for killing Luca preemptively and insists Kordo is the only one who can get close enough to do it.
What they don't know is that Torello's men have them wired and ovearhear their plot. Torello tells Goldman that Weisbord is now expected to live, which means any hit on Luca is a death wish. Goldman races to Luca's penthouse and throws Kordo out a window as he is about to shoot Luca. Afterward, Torello makes it clear that he now expects Goldman to be his snitch.
The murder of a reporter writing a story about Luca leads the Strike Force to discover the truth about Luca's secret activities. Luca has made a deal with the U.S. military to smuggle weapons out of the country to revolutionary causes the government secretly supports. In exchange, the military turns a blind eye to the fact that Luca is smuggling narcotics into the U.S. from Mexico and Asia.
With this evidence, Hallahan convinces Congress to convene hearings to investigate the unholy alliance between the U.S. government and organized crime. But just as Luca is testifying, the hearings are adjourned because of a national emergency: North Vietnam has attacked a U.S. warship in the Gulf of Tonkin. Hallahan gets a warrant for Luca's arrest anyway, but Luca flees the country with Taglia and Goldman before it can be served, headed for Latin America. Hallahan gives Torello's Strike Force his blessing to pursue Luca onto foreign soil, but warns that outside the U.S. their badges will mean nothing.
In a small banana republic, Luca sets up a new base of operations for his international criminal empire, buying off politicians, military and police with the mob's money. Unable to have Luca extradited, the Strike Force attacks Luca's drug lab in the jungle. Furious at Torello's interference once again, Luca orders the president to have him arrested. The president refuses—and Luca promptly shoots him dead and installs a new president better to his liking. Later, however, the local army executes a coup and their ranking colonel appoints himself leader; while not receptive to Luca's influence, he tolerates him for the money he brings to the republic.
In a confrontation between the Strike Force and the local police, Krychek is captured and thrown into a hellhole of a prison. Torello and the others stage a rescue. Luca decides to rid himself of this thorn in his side once and for all, and orders Torello killed.
In the dead of night Torello meets with his secret source inside Luca's organization: it is David Abrams, whose sellout to Luca has all been an act. Abrams warns Torello about the planned hit and also reveals the location of a major drug shipment. When the Strike Force captures the narcotics, Luca concludes that Abrams is an informant. He offers to trade Abrams to Torello for the shipment. The trade is made—but Torello's men have planted explosives on the drugs, and the shipment is blown up.
An assassin attempts to kill Torello, but Abrams is badly wounded instead. While Clemmons and Indelli race Abrams to a doctor, Torello and the others pursue Luca to an airfield, where he, Taglia and Goldman are about to leave the country. Torello, Krychek and Grossman manage to board the plane as it is taking off. In the ensuing airborne fight, Taglia accidentally shoots the pilot, causing the plane to plummet into the ocean below. The final shot is an explosion of waves caused by the plane's impact, with the fate of the cops and criminals unknown.
Unfortunately, the show was canceled after this season, ending it on yet another cliffhanger.
After the success of the first season of Miami Vice, television producer Michael Mann had complete freedom from NBC to produce another show. Originally, Universal Pictures was going to finance Crime Story but decided against it because of the projected costs (Miami Vice, a Universal show, was already being produced for higher than the average $1 million per episode rate). A small studio called New World Pictures Ltd. agreed to finance the show, with a chance to sell it overseas while Universal retained the domestic syndication rights.
According to Mann, the genesis of the project was to follow a group of police officers in a major crimes unit in 1963 and how they change over 20 hours of television, "in 1980, with very different occupations, in a different city and in a different time". He was influenced by the television series Police Story, and based Crime Story largely on the experiences of Chuck Adamson, a former Chicago police detective of 17 years. Mann asked Adamson and Gustave Reininger to write the series pilot and a show bible. Reininger was a former Wall Street international investment banker who had come to Mann's attention based on a screenplay he had written about arson investigators, and a French film that he had written and produced. Reininger researched Crime Story by winning the confidence of Detective William Hanhardt, who put him in touch with undercover officers in Chicago. They sent him on meetings with organized crime figures. Reininger risked wearing a body microphone and recorder. After visiting the crime scene of the gruesome gangland slaying of bookmaker Al Brown, Reininger backed off his Mob interviews. Adamson claimed that the stories depicted in the series were composites rather than actual events that happened, "but they'll be accurate".
In a June 1986 press conference, Mann said that the first season of the show would go from Chicago in 1963 to Las Vegas in 1980. He said, "It's a serial in the sense that we have continuing stories, and in that sense the show is one big novel". Mann and Reininger's inspiration for the 1963-1980 arc came from their mutual admiration of the epic 15+ hour film, Berlin Alexanderplatz, by German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Mann said, "The pace of our story is like the speed of light compared to that, but that's the idea — if you put it all together at the end you've got one hell of a 22-hour movie". Mann predicted a five-year network run for the show. However, due to budgetary constraints (the need for four sets of period cars proved to be too expensive). Tartikoff eventually allowed their series to move to Las Vegas for the last quarter of the 22 episodes. Ultimately, the show encompasses only the years 1963-64.
NBC head Brandon Tartikoff (who had started his career in Chicago) gave an order for a two-hour movie, which had a theatrical release in a handful of U.S. theaters to invited guests only. Tartikoff also ordered 22 episodes which allowed Reininger and Adamson to tell a story with developing character arcs, and continuing stories (instead of episodic, self standing shows.). Two episodes were made every three weeks, with shooting taking up more than 12 hours in a day, seven days a week. By the second season, an average episode cost between $1.3 and 1.4 million (roughly the same as Miami Vice) because it was shot on location, set during the 1960s (requiring period-accurate props and costumes), and featured a large cast.
Hilda Stark worked as an art director on the pilot episode and was asked back by Mann after seven episodes to become the show's production designer. To achieve the period look of the show, she and her design team would go to second-hand and antique stores, run advertisements in newspapers seeking articles from the period, and sometimes build furniture if they could not find it. According to Stark, the overall design or look of the show featured "a lot of exaggerated lines. We go for high style — sleek lines... We go for the exaggerated shapes that recall the era". Stark and her team also came up with a color scheme for the show that featured "saturated color, and certain combinations — black, fuchsias — reminiscent of the '50s". She found inspiration from a library of old books and magazines, in particular Life. For the vintage cars in the show, they bought or rented from private owners.
Three famous rock and roll musicians of the past contributed to Crime Story: Del Shannon sang a revised version of his hit "Runaway" as the theme song, and Todd Rundgren started the musical direction of the series, with Al Kooper taking over as the series musical director. While early episodes played music of the era or earlier, Kooper later allowed tunes from years after 1963 to appear on the soundtrack.
- Dennis Farina as Lt. Mike Torello
- Anthony Denison as Ray Luca
- John Santucci as Pauli Taglia
- Stephen Lang as David Abrams
- Bill Smitrovich as Sgt. Danny Krychek, Torello's second-in command
- Bill Campbell as Det. Joey Indelli
- Paul Butler as Det. Walter Clemmons
- Steve Ryan as Det. Nate Grossman
- Ted Levine as Frank Holman
- Andrew Dice Clay as Max Goldman
- Jon Polito as Phil Bartoli
- Joseph Wiseman as Manny Weisbord
- Darlanne Fluegel as Julie Torello (1986–87)
- Jay O. Sanders as Steven Kordo
Notable guest appearances
Like Miami Vice, Crime Story featured heavy use of up-and-coming actors; a number of them made appearances in both shows. Lead actors Dennis Farina, Bill Smitrovich, and John Santucci all appeared in multiple episodes of Miami Vice (though only Farina played a recurring character).
- David Caruso appeared as Johnny O'Donnel, a friend of Ray Luca, in the pilot (episodes 1 and 2). He appeared in flashback scenes in episode 12, and in episode 19 of the second season.
- Julia Roberts appeared as a juvenile rape victim in the Season 1 episode "The Survivor". It was her first TV appearance.
- Kevin Spacey appeared in second season premiere as a crusading, Kennedy-esque Senator. This was his first major television appearance.
- Deborah Harry appeared in the penultimate episode of season 1, "Top Of The World", as one of the girlfriends of Ray Luca. She did not sing.
- Gary Sinise appeared in the season 1 episode "For Love Or Money" as Howie Dressler, a husband forced to steal to pay for his wife's iron lung. He also directed two episodes, credited as "Gary A. Sinise."
- Ving Rhames appeared in the season 1 episode "Abrams For The Defense" as Hector Lincoln, a husband and father accused of assaulting his landlord. This was Rhames's second television appearance.
- William Russ was occasionally featured during the opening credits of Season 1's first half, even though his character (an MCU detective) was murdered in the pilot.
- Christian Slater played a teenager who discovered a body in the episode "Old Friends, Dead Ends".
- Paul Guilfoyle appeared in "Hide and Go Thief" as a crazed robber who gets into a hostage standoff with MCU. His hostage was played by Lorraine Bracco. Bracco's sister Elizabeth played a hostage in the pilot.
- Michael Rooker appeared as a uniformed police officer in the pilot's opening.
- Lili Taylor played a waitress in Frank Holman's Diner in the episode "Hide and Go Thief".
- Pam Grier played Suzanne Terry, an investigative journalist and girlfriend of federal attorney David Abrams, in five episodes spread out over both seasons.
- Jazz musician Miles Davis made a cameo in the first season episode "The War," playing jazz with Stephen Lang.
- Jazz musician Dexter Gordon appeared in the second season episode "Moulin Rouge."
- Stanley Tucci played bomber Zack Lowman in "The Battle of Las Vegas".
- Lee Ving and Anthony Heald appeared as opposing candidates for leader of a Las Vegas labor union on strike in "The Battle of Las Vegas".
- Bruce McGill played film producer Nathan Hill in episode "Love Hurts".
- David Hyde Pierce appears in the second season episode "Mig 21," as NSA Agent Carruthers (billed as David Pierce). That episode also featured George Dzundza, who would have later success on Law & Order.
- Season Two episode "Protected Witness" featured both Laura San Giacomo as Theresa Farantino, and Billy Zane as Frankie 'The Duke' Farantino.
- Michael J. Pollard played pimp Leon Barski, and William Hickey played Judge Neville Harmon in "The Brothel Wars."
- Elias Koteas played a ranch hand in the Season two episode "Roadrunner."
- Dennis Haysbert appeared in "Moulin Rogue" and "Seize the Time" as the bookkeeper of a jazz club.
- Among others, Eric Bogosian played the Outfit's attorney Dee Morton, Michael Madsen played Outfit associate Johnny Fossi, and Vincent Gallo, Armin Shimerman, and Jim True-Frost were Outfit figures.
- David Soul played a doctor who married Mike Torello's ex-wife Julie in the second season episode "Blast from the Past," which also featured James Remar. Soul later directed two second season episodes, "Moulin Rouge" and "Love Hurts."
- Michael Jeter played Senator Michael Gaspari in the second season episode "The Hearing". Jeter later played "Eduard Delacroix" in the movie "The Green Mile" which he was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award in 2000.
When the show debuted on September 18, 1986, following Miami Vice, the two-hour pilot had a 20.1 national Nielsen rating and a 32 percent audience share. The ratings dipped when it was counter-programmed against ABC's Moonlighting. By October, the show dropped below a 22 Nielsen share, where a series is deemed a "failure". Despite low ratings, Crime Story was picked up by NBC to finish the 1986–87 season. The show was moved back to Friday nights after Miami Vice on December 5, 1986 where its ratings improved but it still lost to Falcon Crest. NBC temporarily pulled Crime Story off the schedule on March 13, 1987. In order to get more people to watch, Farina and other cast members promoted the show in five U.S. cities.
The New York Times wrote, "With its first-rate cast, Crime Story might have had the offbeat, compelling authenticity of an Elmore Leonard novel. But the show looks suspiciously as if it would be more than willing to settle for the mindless glitz of Miami Vice". In his review for the Washington Post, Tom Shales wrote, "When the smoke clears away, a viewer may feel impressed yet unmoved. But then, if all the smoke cleared away, there'd be no show". John Haslett Cuff, in his review for the Globe and Mail, wrote, "The characters and locales are as greasy as the rain-soaked streets, and in the show's best moments there is a dangerous glitter that happily transcends the cartoon violence of too much television". Time magazine's Richard Zoglin praised the show for being "the most realistic TV cop show in years, yet the emotions reach almost baroque heights".
In their 1988 book, The Critics' Choice- The Best of Crime and Detective TV, authors Max Allan Collins and John Javna chose Crime Story as one of the "Top 10 Best Police TV Series (Police Procedurals) of All Time".
Crime Story and its imitator Wiseguy were the prototypes for today's arc-driven television series, such as 24 and The Sopranos that have continuing story lines over multiple episodes. In addition, in another measure of this series' influence, numerous actors and actresses that originated on Crime Story in recurring or guest-starring roles later ended up on Wiseguy, including Ray Sharkey, Steve Ryan, Debbie Harry, William Russ, Anthony Denison, Stanley Tucci, Ted Levine, Patricia Charbonneau, Darlanne Fleugel, and Kevin Spacey.
In addition, Martin Scorsese directed and produced his movie Casino loosely basing it on elements of Crime Story, which was recognized at the "Casino" premiere as an inspiration. Joe Pesci played the Spilotro character. With Spilotro dead, Casino writer Nick Pileggi was able to tell much more of the details surrounding the Chicago "Outfit" and its Casino operations in Las Vegas.
Anchor Bay Entertainment released the entire series on DVD in Region 1 for the very first time between 2003-2005. As of 2010, these releases have been discontinued and are out of print.
On November 15, 2011, Image Entertainment released Crime Story- The Complete Series: 25th Anniversary Edition on DVD in Region 1. The 9-disc set contains all 44 episodes of the series. However, it has been criticized (like the Miami Vice DVDs) for having a visual quality no better than when the episodes were originally broadcast.
|DVD Name||Ep #||Release Date|
|Season One||22||November 4, 2003|
|Season Two||22||September 20, 2005|
|The Complete Series||44||November 15, 2011|
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- ISBN 0-517-57055-6 Crown Publishers, Inc.
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- "An American epic in 42 episodes" - Daily Telegraph retrospective article
- Fan tribute page