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DVD Review: The Lieutenant – The Complete Series

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For every popular human being’s major claim to fame, there’s a certain amount of transitioning that is ultimately required in order for them to make it to the top. Gene Roddenberry, the creator of something called Star Trek, began his days in television writing scripts for western shows under an alias. At one point, he was even given the green light to produce a pilot for his own series, which never made it off the ground. Some time after that, he returned with another idea – one which actually caught the attention of network executives: its name, The Lieutenant.

The series was a weekly, hour-long drama about the lives (and, when permitting, loves) of the brave souls in the U.S. Marine Corps. It was kind of like The Fugitive – although there were no one-armed men, the show had recurring guest stars, and the lead character wasn’t on the run from the law. No, actually, I must be thinking of another show: this wasn’t like The Fugitive at all, other than the fact that it was in black-and-white. But then, most shows were filmed in black-and-white back then, so please forget I said anything at all regarding my unsubstantiated comparison between those two series.

In filling the part of USMC Second Lieutenant William Tiberius Rice (Gene surely must have loved that middle name), Roddenberry cast an up-and-coming young actor in the lead. His name was Gary Lockwood — and he was only a few years away from landing another role; one that only a select group of weird sci-fi-crazed folk would remember him for more than anything else: that of the doomed astronaut Dr. Frank Poole in 2001: A Space Odyssey. But of course, that’s as extraneous as my previous confusion over two entirely different television shows: here, Lockwood lives throughout the whole damn season.

He only lasts one whole season, granted, because that’s as far as The Lieutenant made it on the air — yet another strike against me in that whole The Fugitive vs. The Lieutenant fiasco, as the former series ran a total of four seasons, and eventually inspired both a feature film remake as well as a television remake — while The Lieutenant only achieved less-than-minor cult status with die-hard Gene Roddenberry fans and possibly people who were enlisted in the Marine Corps during the ’60s. Again: two completely dissimilar things, I realize that. Please, don’t write in.

During its one-year mission, Roddenberry’s military drama succeeded in garnering its own fans; people who were looking for some kind of entertainment since the country was (for the most part) at peace and the only competition for the show’s time slot was The Jackie Gleason Show (which was grand itself). The Lieutenant‘s popularity didn’t keep it in the loop, however, as events which would escalate over in Vietnam soon took television viewers in the United States to a different kind of war on TV: a real one. Thus, Gary Lockwood found himself out of a job, whilst Roddenberry looked to the stars for a new idea.

Long unavailable on any sort of home video format, The Lieutenant has finally found a home on DVD-R via the Warner Archive Collection in two four-disc sets. Co-starring in this television classic are Robert Vaughn (just a stone’s throw away from achieving worldwide fame as Napoleon Solo in The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), with semi-regular appearances by James Gregory, Richard Anderson, John Milford, Henry Beckman, Steve Franken, Carmen Phillips, and Chris Noel — who appeared in a different role each week. Strangely enough, neither David Janssen or Barry Morse make a guest appearance here. Damn, I struck out yet again.

Some of the many guest stars include Rip Torn, Dennis Hopper, Ted Knight, Neville Brand, Eddie Albert, Strother Martin, Robert Duvall, Bill Bixby Chad Everett, and Ricardo Montalban and Madlyn Rhue– who would later become Star Trek favorites. Speaking of Trek, several of that show’s stars also pop up here, including Leonard Nimoy, Majel Barrett, Walter Koenig, and Nichelle Nichols — the latter of whom appears in a racially-charged episode of here that originally went unaired (“To Set it Right”).

Another episode — the series finale, “To Kill a Man” — is also of note to many as it was released theatrically as a feature film (compiled together with another episode, plus some extra-added footage), and that particular cut is included as a bonus in The Lieutenant: The Complete Series, Part 2.

Quality-wise, Warner’s presentation for both parts of The Lieutenant: The Complete Series is commendable, and is on-par with many of the classic TV on DVD releases we have seen before. The 1.33:1 video transfer pretty sharp most of the way through (there’s an episode that looks like it came from an inferior master), with a well-balanced contrast of the various shades that fall in-between black and white. A Dolby Digital English mono soundtrack suffices admirably, though there are no subtitles to fall back on should you need them.

Gene Roddenberry may only ever be remembered by the world for his famous contribution(s) to the science-fiction genre. But there was more to his storytelling ability than that. Anyone who has ever observed the recurring underlying message Trek was more-than-likely really every supposed to originally be about, it’s just as present in The Lieutenant — and the real life, non-futuristic setting makes the significance hit home even better.

Just like in The Fugitive.

Oh, damn it all.

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About Luigi Bastardo

Luigi Bastardo is the disgruntled alter-ego of a thirtysomething lad from Northern California who has watched so many weird movies since the tender age of 3 that a conventional life is out of the question. He currently lives in Chico, CA with four cats named Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Margaret. Seriously.