2019 Psychotronic Scarecrow Challenge: Day 17: In the Line of Duty: The F.B.I Murders (1988)

Day 17 Evil in Broad Daylight: Scary stories aren’t just for the night time

Tracy Keenan Wynn is the gold standard in screenwriting and teleplays. Look at that resume: The Glass House (1972; TV’s Alan Alda, Vic Morrow of Message from Space and Clu Gulager of Hunter’s Blood), the platinum standard of football—and prison movies—The Longest Yard (1974; Burt Reynolds), The Quest (1976; Kurt Russell and Tim Matheson), The Drowning Pool (1975; Paul Newman), and the Peter Yates-directed ocean adventure, The Deep (1977).

And Wynn wrote a film that—if it had been shot and released as a theatrical feature film in the U.S (it was a theatrical in Europe), it would have swept the floors with Oscar nods (even wins) for David Soul, Michael Gross, and Ronnie Cox. So, do yourself a favor: beg, borrow and steal to watch director Dick Lowry kicking ass with the greatest series of continuing-storyline franchises in TV history. There isn’t a theatrical franchise that holds a candle:

  • In the Line of Duty: A Cop for the Killing (1990)
  • In the Line of Duty: Manhunt in the Dakotas (1991)
  • In the Line of Duty: Street War (1992)
  • In the Line of Duty: Ambush in Waco (1993)
  • In the Line of Duty: The Price of Vengeance (1994)
  • In the Line of Duty: Hunt for Justice (1995)
  • In the Line of Duty: Blaze of Glory (1997)

And, if you need another great football comedy from the man who knows his pigskins: Search out the TV Movie Pigs vs. Freaks (1984) fronted by the stellar character actor, Eugene Roche. Then there’s the teen drug movie Angel Dusted (1981), with the always reliable John Putch (Jaws III, 1983).

I know, “What the hell R.D? Enough with squeezin’ the Charmin over some screenwriter dude. Get back on the tracks and tell us about the movie already.”

I was living in Dade County, Florida, during the time this movie chronicles, and trust me when I tell you: we were scared shitless in broad light to the point that people were afraid to go inside banks. If you saw an armored car (which the antagonists of this film were hitting) in the front of a bank or strip mall, you kept on driving. Back in the undeveloped days of South Florida, a body turning up in The Everglades with two taps to the head or missing limbs was a once a month occurrence. Ted Bundy dumped his bodies down here. In my misguided punk adventures as a bassist, we wrote the songs “Serial Killer Alligator Alley” and “Serial Killer Express.”

Also putting bodies into the Glades were two ex-Army Rangers by the name of Bill Matix (Michael Gross; TV’s Family Ties, Tremors franchise), and Mike Platt (David Soul; TV’s Starsky and Hutch, Magnum Force). They were blatant, cruel, and just didn’t give a fuck: Matix, to get out of his Ohio-based marriage to marry his girlfriend: he murdered his wife, collected the insurance, and moved to Florida. When Platt’s “payday” of fixing and selling pinball machines goes sour, well, the guy who sold the machines regrets it. And their clueless family believes all the mystery “cash” is the spoils of their (fantasy) joint C.I.A. drug-covert ops. “We take out the dealers and the agency lets us keep the money,” Matix the wife-killer tells his love—and not nicely.

Another harrowing scene (criminally cut from the 2005 DVD reissue): When the agents get a jump on Matix and Platt in a stolen gold Monte Carlo bunkered in the Everglades, Mike Platt causally sighs: “Let’s go to work,” as he mounts up his weapon. They’re going to kill more people, and they are just causally “going to work,” like it’s a normal, sane job.

It was on April 11, 1986, when South Florida’s TV and news radio outlets broke from regular programming with a story regarding a bloody shootout in a quiet Miami neighborhood. The drug wars connected to Castro’s Mariel Boat Lift were so bad at the time; everyone assumed it was rival drug gangs.

The images on the news and in the papers the next day told a different story: Two F.B.I agents were dead. There were multiple wounded. Cars were crashed and scattered everywhere, pockmarked with bullets in a scene lifted from a Cirio H. Santiago post-apocalyptic romp. Madix and Platt were adrenaline-drunk and determined to escape the authorities and went the Bonnie and Clyde route—times 10. They would not go down. And if they did, they were taking everyone with them. Watch it for yourself (spoiler alert!).

As I said: The cast on this is Kiss-double platinum: Ronny Cox (Deliverance, 1972) as Bureau Chief Benjamin Grogan, Bruce Greenwood (Commander Christopher Pike in the Star Trek reboots) as Agent Dove, and the supporting actors portraying the rest of the squad—along with their wives—aren’t superfluous; all are fully-character arc’d and your heart sinks when the shootout goes down. And David Soul and Michael Gross—we know them most intimately from their respective TV series and they completely shed those roles and absorb themselves as, what is best described as two serial killers with a bank robbery fetish.

Yes. When it came to the golden age of “Big Three” TV Movies, NBC never disappointed. Ah, but caveat emptor movie collectors: Watch the online VHS rips of the home-taped original/first-run version of the film. The 2005 DVD from Platinum Disc is criminally edited and missing scenes. Why a reissues company would execute any cuts and shorten an already short TV movie at one hour thirty-two minutes insults Wynn’s painstaking scripting in creating sympathetic characters to heighten the impact of the film’s harrowing conclusion:

— A scene of dialogue during an F.B.I beach party that occurs before they all take a group picture with the greenhorn agents they’ve welcomed into the family: Losing this scene diminishes the impact: you know that’s the last they’ll be together.

A scene in the shooting gallery where Grogan is asked if he’s good with the gun without wearing glasses: It’s a chilling piece of foreshadowing of Grogan’s fate that we know, but he doesn’t.

A crucial, seat-gripping scene when an agent loses his revolver after drawing it from the holster during the vehicle chase and placing it between his knees. During the subsequent crash, he loses it out the door and is unable to recover it during the gun battle.

So watch the uncut VHS TV-taped rip on You Tube either HERE or HERE. The DVDs are available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble if you want a digital copy for your permanent, home movie collection. This is one time where I’ll support a grey market DVD-R rip of a VHS recording of Lowery’s original 1988 cut.

It has to be mentioned: David Soul had two #1 singles: 1976’s “Don’t Give Up on Us Baby” in the U.S and “Silver Lady” in the U.K. He’s been on the road for years throughout Europe, where’s he’s a respected, sellout solo artist. Definitely check out David in the excellent U.S TV movies (overseas theatricals) The Fifth Missile (1986; full movie/You Tube) and World War III (1982; full movie/Archive.org). If you pick up Mill Creek Entertainment’s Prime Time Crime: The Stephen J. Cannell Collection, you can watch all eight episodes of David’s excellent and criminally cancelled F.B.I procedural, Unsub (1989; the one Stephen J. Cannell produced-TV series that flopped).

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook. He also writes reviews for B&S Movies.

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