Poortomiddlingatbestfellas. Warner Bros.' Archive Collection of hard-to-find library and cult titles has released Our Family Honor, the 1985 made-for-TV movie that served as the pilot for the short-lived cops-and-robbers soap that briefly aired on ABC's 1985-1986 season. Featuring a large (and mostly) impressive cast, including Eli Wallach, Kenneth McMillan, Tom Mason, Daphne Ashbrook, Michael Madsen, Michael Woods, Ray Liotta, Georgann Johnson, Barbara Stuart, and Gregg Henry, Our Family Honor labors unsuccessfully to generate much interest or excitement in its overly-familiar, pasteurized multi-plotline tale of two powerful, warring New Yawk City families: one aligned with the cops, and the other with the crooks. No extras for this good-looking fullscreen transfer.
The Big Apple, 1985. NYPD Chief of Operations Patrick McKay (Kenneth McMillan), a long-serving officer with extended generational ties to the force, has the inside track for the upcoming open Police Commissioner seat. Arch rival and former boyhood playmate Vincent Danzig (Eli Wallach), now a powerful crime lord, will stop at nothing to thwart his nemesis' rise in the ranks. Besides the two families' natural antagonism, stemming from their opposing positions on law and order, bad blood boils over between the McKays and the Danzigs due to the murder of McKay's patrolman son, a crime McKay insists was orchestrated by his lifelong adversary, and one which McKay's son, hotheaded Detective Sergeant Frank McKay (Tom Mason) desperately wants revenged. McKay's other son, Mathew (Timothy Gibbs), is a successful criminal defense attorney--an accomplishment that grates at the McKays...since Mathew has sprung punks the McKays had busted. McKay's granddaughter, and Frank's niece, Liz McKay (Daphne Ashbrook), continues the McKay/NYPD tradition, having just graduated from the police academy, an accomplishment she feels is minimized when she's carefully assigned to Frank's precinct, where she can be "watched over." Meanwhile, over at the Danzigs', heir-apparent Augie Danzig (Michael Madsen) carries out any order given to him by his equally ruthless but far brighter father--including zapping McKay family friend, Detective Mickey Sheridan (Gregg Henry), and planting a wad of dough on the body in an effort to smear McKay by association, thereby squashing that Commissioner appointment. Perhaps the biggest secret of the Danzig/McKay war lies with Jerry Cole (Michael Woods), Liz's boyfriend: just what connection does he have with the Danzigs?
Just to be clear for all the Our Family Honor series fans out there (all 6 of you, I would imagine): this review concerns only the pilot episode, not the subsequent aborted series, which to my knowledge, hasn't been released on any home media format. Why the Archive is releasing this TV movie to DVD is anybody's guess. The series proper, which followed breakout new ABC hit Moonlighting on Tuesday nights at 10pm, was an expensive disaster for the network right from the start (NBC's Remington Steele, even in a ratings' doldrums, handily beat it). Moved in a panic after a few weeks to a death slot on Friday nights (against killer Falcon Crest on CBS), the pricey one hour Our Family Honor only managed a pathetic 81st Nielsen rating. Cancelled before its short 13-episode order completely aired, Our Family Honor didn't stick around long enough (nor was it repeated) to gain any sizeable cult or following. Perhaps someone at the Archive ran an advanced IMDB keyword search of "Liotta," "Wallach," "Madsen," "mob," and "cops," and thought the resulting Our Family Honor might appeal to mafia genre enthusiasts. Hard to say. What isn't difficult to state is that the Our Family Honor pilot is a desultory introduction to a law and order/crime story I frankly couldn't have cared less about by the time Wallach's final freeze frame faded out.
With a story and screenplay credited to John Tanner (he has no other IMDB credits that I could find), and co-scripting credits to Richard Freiman and Arthur Bernard Lewis (scattershot episodic TV credits for both), Our Family Honor commits the cardinal sin of opening with a silly, obvious action scene that immediately puts the viewer off on the wrong foot. Detective Sergeant Frank McKay, carefully dressed to look like an undercover cop, pulls his clearly unmarked cop car curbside at the wharf district, calmly and openly, without pretext, walks 10 feet over to a barrel, warms his gloved hands (?) over the fire like he's been working there all day, and starts looking furtively to and fro as everyone around him wonders what a cop is doing there all of a sudden. Instantly spotting his prey, he busts the dope dealer, throws out his first 80s (un)worthy tag line ("Cracked crab!"), before he's gritting his teeth, warning his recalcitrant suspects about his "six little friends" in his pistol, and blasting away with a waist-high shotgun, making with the Eastwoods ("Give me a reason!"). Awful dialogue and Mason's thoroughly goofy attempt at machismo, combined with director Robert Butler's pedestrian staging (lots of hit-and-miss outings...although he gets a lifetime pass from me for directing Disney's The Barefoot Executive)--that 8mph truck crash is keen!--immediately pegs Our Family Honor as low-rent TV fare that didn't pass cop show muster in the post-Kojak 80s...let alone today.
That frankly embarrassing opener only serves as a prelude to multiple subsequent problems of structure and execution. Hiccups big and small in the scripting and the production amuse the viewers who have already seen dozens of similar, better outings. Why in the world would a streetwise hooker blithely volunteer to a cop that she was an active accessory to the murder of a police detective...before the cop kindly thanks her for the handy info and leaves? Who cast that slightly cross-eyed actress as a key eyewitness to a crime (I'm telling you: when Butler had her finally turn and face the camera full on, the inadvertent effect was paralyzingly funny--like something out of Mel Brooks)? And when the screenwriters threw in a thoroughly tired Romeo and Juliet angle, I thought Our Family Honor couldn't get any more conventional. Those stumbling blocks (and many more) are minor, though, compared to Our Family Honor's central flaw: we "get" the McKays--not too hard after decades of similar, routine Irish cop family stories ("Take your Mick face outta here!" Madsen yells at one point to Mason...as if this were taking place in the 1920s). However...who, or more accurately what, are the Danzigs? In case you weren't sure, "Danzig" is a Germanic name (hardly Sicilian), so why it was chosen here as the moniker for the show's suspiciously Italian crime family is anyone's guess...unless the network was still under post-Untouchables pressure not to have "the mob" and "Italians" meet in any televised project. In addition to the amorphous moniker, the Danzigs' activities are equally ghostly. We're never told what their illegal operations are; we're just told they're criminals dedicated to the destruction of Pat McKay. How can they be a credible display of illegality and criminality...if they're not displayed in the first place? The pilot is weighted far too heavily on the antics of the McKays (they have at least four subplots going), while the Danzigs remain off the screen for long stretches. If the point of the Our Family Honor pilot was to establish a "serious" nighttime soap about crime and law enforcement that mirrored comparable family battles on Dallas or Dynasty, well, then, they needed to define and explore both families.
If you're still willing to tune into Our Family Honor's Hill Street Blue-ish "grittiness" (thoroughly overrated 80s tripe, for that matter) because of the performers, it's certainly a tempting thought, considering some of the talented people here. Old pros like Wallach, McMillan, Johnson, and Stuart manage to score minor points despite the dumb things they're made to say and do, just because they're accomplished enough performers to wring something from their too-brief scenes (Wallach in particular isn't around nearly enough for my liking). Relative newcomers Madsen and Ashbrook seem intriguing enough for the viewer to want to stick around for the upcoming series (one of my favorite supporting players, Gregg Henry, is unfortunately iced early on, more's the pity). Mason we've already discussed (if he was meant as the show's male lead anchor, that may have been a critical casting mistake), while stiff Woods isn't much better. Only when crazy-assed Ray Liotta suddenly pops up out of nowhere as Ashbrook's thoroughly pissed-off partner, yelling at her bugged-eyed about her family connections bullsh*t, does Our Family Honor briefly (for about five whole minutes) come alive, as if we're watching an entirely different movie. His energy and engagement are off the charts in comparison to the other drones--particularly for what is essentially a nothing role--and once he disappears, you keep hoping he'll show up again, as you wade through Our Family Honor's tired, dopey machinations.
The fullscreen, 1.37:1 video transfer for Our Family Honor looks pretty good, with solid color, a sharp image, and few if any imperfections. Nice.
The Dolby Digital English mono audio track is serviceable, with little or no hiss. No subtitles or closed-captions.
No extras for Our Family Honor.
Lopsided, silly cops 'n' robbers soaper. The Our Family Honor series pilot seems like its busy, with multiple subplots about the Irish cop family the McKays. Their doppelgangers, the Danzigs, however, are shadowy dramatic compromises, at best (are they even the "mob" or "mafia"?), eliminating any potential conflict that might have drawn in viewers to the upcoming series. A rarity considering the talented director and performers: an almost complete failure. Even die-hard fans of this genre will want to skip Our Family Honor.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published movie and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.