Police Story: A Chance to Live (1978)

Okay. Alright. Settle down, everyone. Yes, we’re reviewing a David Cassidy movie for this latest “TV Week” installment here at B&S About Movies. Sam said it was okay, really. Just be grateful Danny Bonaduce’s role in the 1975 Police Story episode “The Empty Weapon” wasn’t spun off into a series.

Knock “Keith Partridge” if you will for the “Cassidymania” that swept American in the early ‘70s, but how many artists can you name that played to two sellout crowds of 56,000 each at the Houston Astrodome in Texas over one weekend and sold out New York’s Madison Square Garden in one day in 1972? Cassidy was the Beatles. He was Kurt Cobain. But he was also on his way to becoming the Knack.

The turning point in his career — a tragic one — occurred on May 26, 1974. A gate stampede at a show in London’s White City Stadium resulted in the injuries of 800 people in a crush at the front of the stage. Thirty were taken to the hospital, and a 14-year-old girl, Bernadette Whelan, died four days later at London’s Hammersmith Hospital.

The tragedy haunted Cassidy until the day he died, as he blamed himself for Whelan’s death. And he stepped back from music and acting. Then an opportunity to return to the small screen — in an adult role — was offered.

The story begins with NBC-TV’s hit anthology crime drama series Police Story that aired from September 1973 to May 1978 and was developed by East Pittsburgh-born Joseph Wambaugh. Upon his retirement from his fourteen year career with the Los Angeles Police Department, he turned to writing. And when it came to true crime stories in the ‘70s, Wambaugh was the man. His 1971 novel The New Centurions was turned into a 1972 hit film starring George C. Scott, and the rest of his novels became films in quick succession: The Blue Knight (1972/1973), The Choirboys (1975/1977), The Black Marble (1978/1980), The Onion Field, and The Glitter Dome (1981/1984).

Just prior to the cancellation of the series, David Cassidy starred as undercover police officer Dan Shay in “A Chance to Live.” As result of his youthful appearance, Shay was recruited to infiltrate a high-school drug ring as a fellow student. After his typecasting as a teen idol during his four year run on The Partridge Family, the episode was his triumphant return to acting, as he earned an Emmy nomination for “Best Dramatic Actor.” Courtesy of the award nod and the show’s high ratings — as everyone was intrigued to see Cassidy in an adult role — it led to the development of a series: David Cassidy: Man Undercover.

While he was once again praised for his acting, it wasn’t enough to overcome the Partridge albatross: the show was cancelled after 10 episodes. Many believe the decision of having Cassidy record the show’s theme song, in lieu of a traditional instrument theme song (think “The Rockford Files,” “Starsky and Hutch,” or “S.W.A.T“; each which became U.S. Top 40 hits), gave the show a “teeny bopper” feel. Others felt prefixing his name to the show’s title was a mistake. Everyone stayed away. And, as with the White City Stadium tragedy, the failure of the series always gnawed at him — especially when FOX-TV copied the formula with 21 Jump Street and it launched Johnny Depp’s career.

Keen eyes will notice Dee Wallace (Stone), later known for her work in The Hills Have Eyes, The Howling, Cujo, Critters and, of course, E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial, as Cassidy’s wife in the telefilm. She was replaced in the series by Wendy Rastatter, later of another well-regarded TV movie, Midnight Offerings. Keener eyes will notice David’s squad commander is Simon Oakland of Psycho (1960), Bullitt (1969), and TV’s The Night Stalker. Comic book fans of all things Marvel know the telefilm and series writer/producer Larry Brody for his work on the late ’90s animated Spider-Man and Silver Surfer franchises.

Seriously, don’t let the David Cassidy connection deter you from watching. Not only was Police Story a high quality piece of work, Cassidy is excellent throughout. He deserved for it to be a hit. He deserved a hell of a lot more than the hand he was dealt.

You watch the full movie on You Tube and see why.

Oh, since we’re on the subject of teen idol actors and musicians: Be sure to check out our reviews of Lane Caudell (Getaway) in the ’70s Drive-In favorites Goodbye, Franklin High and Hanging on a Star, along with ex-Jeff Beck Group vocalist Kim Milford (Laserblast, Wired to Kill) in the Don Kirshner-produced TV movies Song of the Succubus and Rock-a-Die, Baby.

There are more TV movies to be had with our “Week of Made for TV Movies,” “Lost TV Week,” “Son of Made for TV Movie Week” and “Grandson of Made for TV Movie Week” tribute spotlights to those films that, in many cases, are even better than the movies that played in theatres.

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 for B&S About Movies.

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