Sunday, January 4, 2015

Frankie and Annette as Murder Suspects? It's Burke's Law!

Could Annette be a murderer?
I've recently rediscovered Burke's Law, the 1963-65 TV series starring Gene Barry as the head of the LAPD homicide division--who also happens to be a millionaire. Last Friday, I randomly selected the episode "Who Killed the Strangler?", which opens with a wrestler (called the Strangler, of course) abruptly dropping dead in the ring.

As the camera panned the inevitable murder suspects in the crowd, a young man with glasses and a pretty brunette looked familiar. The show's title credits soon confirmed that those guest stars were indeed Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. As those of you who visit the Cafe regularly know, we love us some Beach Party movies. Thus, this episode of Burke's Law turned out to be an unexpected delight--even if it wasn't one of the series' better efforts. 

Barry as Amos Burke.
For the uninitiated, each episode of Burke's Law follows a similar structure. Typically, it begins with a homicide that interrupts Amos Burke, who almost always spends his leisure time in the company of an attractive woman. Captain Burke and his two subordinates, seasoned detective Les Hart (Regis Toomey) and the less experienced Tim Tilson (Gary Conway), then interview the suspects. These potential murderers are played by the guest stars, many of whom are veterans of classic Hollywood cinema (e.g., William Bendix, Joan Blondell, Elsa Lanchester, Dorothy Lamour, Walter Pidgeon, Ann Blyth, Jane Greer, etc.). At the climax, Amos comes to a startling conclusion that exposes the culprit. Oh, and I forgot to mention that every female in the cast swoons over Amos (to include Annette).

In addition to Frankie and Annette, "Who Killed the Strangler?" also featured Jeanne Crain (still radiant at 40), Una Merkel (who fought Marlene in Destry Rides Again), and Robert Middleton. Each guest star has about ten minutes of screen time--except for the murderer who gets unmasked in the climax (I guessed the culprit).

Annette, in fringe, with Gene Barry.
For the record, Annette plays an aspiring ballerina who moonlights as a go-go dancer because her brother, the Strangler, refused to give her any money. Beach Party fans are certain to enjoy watching Annette shake her fringe dress in the best Candy Johnson tradition (but let's admit it, Candy was in a class by herself). It's also fun listening to Annette spout "hip" dialogue about topics such as Squaresville!

Frankie looks suspicious in glasses!
Frankie doesn't fare as well as a sports journalist who uses a "method" technique (you know, like method acting) to write about horse racing, tennis, and wrestling. It may sound clever, but the idea wears thin quickly and Frankie tries too hard to make his scene funny.

Still, it's a fairly entertaining episode and par for the series. An added bonus for Beach Party fans is that Quinn O'Hara has a small role; she would go on to star in The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini. On the downside, I wish that Jeanne Crain had been given more screen time and a more interesting character.

My sister's Burke's
 comic book.
The history of Burke's Law has always intrigued me. Playwright Frank D. Gilroy (The Subject Was Roses) created the the character of Amos Burke for the first episode of The Dick Powell Theatre in 1961. Titled "Who Killed Julie Greer?", it starred Dick Powell as the wealthy detective and featured a supporting cast comprised of Nick Adams, Ralph Bellamy, Ronald Reagan, Jack Carson, Edgar Bergen, Lloyd Bridges, Mickey Rooney, and Carolyn Jones (as the murder victim). Dean Jones and Edward Platt (Chief on Get Smart) played detectives.

Gene with Peter Barton in the
1994-95 revival.
It premiered as a regular TV series on ABC in 1963 with Gene Barry. Burke's Law was a solid ratings performer and even spun off the 1965-66 TV series Honey West; Anne Francis first appeared as Honey in the Burke's Law episode "Who Killed the Jackpot?" However, in 1965, at the height of the spy movie craze, the series was unwisely revamped as Amos Burke, Secret Agent. The new show was cancelled after 17 episodes. It went out with a bang, though, with a nifty two-parter called "Terror in a Tiny Town" which places Amos in a community filled with residents that inexplicably want to kill him.

In 1994, CBS revived Burke's Law with a new series about Amos (still played by Gene Barry) and his son Peter (Peter Barton). It maintained the lighthearted approach of the original series, but never captured much of an audience. It was cancelled after a single season.


  1. I only caught a few of these and the station changed the schedule and the show disappeared, at least for now.

    The show itself was fun but it was those guest casts that blew me away. The show I remember the most was called "Who Killed His Royal Highness?" which had a guest cast of Elizabeth Montgomery, Telly Savalas, Gale Storm, Mickey Rooney, Bert Parks, Lurene Tuttle, Sheldon Leonard and Linda Darnell in her last appearance before her death. What show today could match that in an entire season and this was one episode!!

    The Frankie & Annette ep sounds like fun if they ever reschedule the show I'll keep an eye out for it,

  2. For those interested, there are several BURKE'S LAW episodes on YouTube for the time being. The video quality is pretty good.

  3. Aaron Spelling was involved with Burke's Law, used the quickie celeb cameos for Love Boat, and Honey West, for Charley's Angels. Everyone involved with the show insisted that the "International Man of Mystery" format change was a network edict.

  4. I get a great kick out of the format and guest stars, who look like they are having a blast, on "Burke's Law". I wish the second season would be released on DVD. My shelf looks so lonely. It was a mistake to switch over to the "Secret Agent" brand, especially as they remained in black and white. Plus, I would have liked more of the original set-up.

    Some of my favourites are "Who Killed Snooky Martinelli?" with Gene singing, "Who Killed WHO IV?" with its wacky dream sequence, "Who Killed Sweet Betsy?" with Carolyn Jones as triplets, and "Who Killed Super Sleuth" where they spoofed famous literary detectives. Good times!

  5. Loved Annette playing against type. She was underrated as an actress. However, she does mention in her autobiography how uncomfortable she was in this role and how Gene Barry had to walk her through their kissing scene several times. This convinced her at the time that she wasn't cut out to be an actress.

  6. Glad to see there are quite a few Burke's Law fans! The first episodes of the 1st season, were amazingly good, solid writing, funny lines (at first, the young detective was basically Sherlock Holmes, knowing something about every single subject that came up) and crazy good guest stars.
    As mentioned above, several episodes are on youtube, and if you type in Amos Burke, Secret Agent, you can see those shows too

  7. I caught a few of these episodes on YouTube and really enjoyed them. At the opening a woman with a very provocative, breathy voice says, "It's Burke's Law!" It is fun to see the list of guest stars like on "The Fugitive" and "Route 66" and reminds you again of the talented performers in those years.

  8. Is who killed the strangler with annette funicello on dvd. Contact me at, vince