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Case Number 24849

Buy the DVD at Warner Archive

Hawkins: The Complete TV Movie Collection

Warner Bros. // 1973 // 588 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis (Retired) // November 21st, 2012

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All Rise...

Judge Daryl Loomis is just a small town critic. He doesn't understand your fancy big city ways.

The Charge

Just call me Billy Jim; everyone else does.

Opening Statement

It's funny how little television changes. Sure, I can cherry pick examples of shows like Arrested Development, Community, or Homicide, which are fundamentally different from most programming, but then one looks again and finds Law and Order ending its second full decade and CSI begins a 35th iteration, this time in Boise, or something. Then, going back in time, one sees the same show over and over again, whether that's Matlock or Perry Mason. Between those runs of Andy Griffith and Raymond Burr, we have a one year run of the legendary James Stewart (Rear Window) in the exact same role, a role that reminds me most of the great Saturday Night Live sketch, "Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer."

Facts of the Case

These eight Hawkins television movies aired between March 1973 and March 1974 on CBS and arrive on four discs from Warner Archive.

Death and the Maiden: A young heiress with a history of delusion comes home to find her family murdered. Everybody believes she's guilty, so BJ Hawkins comes in to defend her.
Guest stars: Bonnie Bedelia (Die Hard), David Huddelston (The Big Lebowski)

Murder in Movieland: A friend of a big time actress is murdered when he is caught cavorting with the star's young daughter. The accused claimed he was protecting her from rape, but Hawkins isn't so sure.
Guest stars: Cameron Mitchell (Blood and Black Lace), Sheree North (The Shootist)

Die, Die, Darling: When a sick man dies after not getting his medicine, his wife is pegged for the crime. Hawkins doesn't know why, but he thinks she's innocent, so comes in to help.
Guest stars: Sam Elliott (The Hi-Lo Country), Henry Jones (Arachnophobia)

A Life for a Life: A young science student kills himself and his father vows revenge. When one of the researchers soon winds up dead, Hawkins arrives to defend the man.
Guest stars: Jeanne Cooper (The Boston Strangler), Tyne Daly (Cagney and Lacey)

Blood Feud: During a Civil War reenactment, a man in Hawkins's West Virginia town is slain and a member of his family's rival is pegged with the murder. He has the motive and opportunity, but Hawkins knows he's innocent, so breaks the feuding line to defend him.
Guest stars: Diana Ewing (The Way We Were), Lew Ayers (Johnny Belinda)

Murder in the Slave Trade: A recently retired pro running back is accused of murdering his ex-team's owner in the training room, but Hawkins is convinced that more is afoot.
Guest star: Peter Mark Richman (The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear)

Murder on the Thirteenth Floor: A young woman is stabbed to death in an elegant hotel, her room is burned, and her boyfriend is the last one to see her. Hawkins discovers a heroin conspiracy around it and believes the recluse down the hall has the answers.
Guest stars: Theresa Wright (Shadow of a Doubt), Jeff Corey (Little Big Man)

Candidate for Murder: A senatorial campaign is threatened when a reporter is murdered. The senator's advisor is pegged for the crime and, though he claims innocence, he's willing to take the rap so the senator stays out of trouble, but Hawkins won't let that happen.
Guest star: Pernell Roberts (Bonanza)

The Evidence

"Now, I'm just a caveman. I was hunting, fell into a crevasse, and frozen solid. Your modern world scares me. When I see a solar eclipse, like the one I went to last year in Hawaii, I think 'Oh no! Is the moon eating the sun? I don't know. Because I'm a caveman. That's the way I think. There's one thing I do know, though…this man is innocent!"

Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer was one hell of a defense attorney, and he owes all his skills to Billy Jim Hawkins, West Virginia's most feared and respected legal expert. Now, how Hawkins actually attained his status is anybody's guess, but rest assured that he's the best. He knows just the right time to record an incriminating interview and knows just the right way to get a seemingly innocuous witness to confess to a murder while on the stand. The guy is fantastic; nobody uses their Deep South charms quite like him, except for maybe Ben Matlock or any number of other Southern TV lawyers before and since.

This is the problem with Hawkins, which is otherwise fine vintage programming. It's nothing but an exercise in watching James Stewart play his character. That's not a bad thing, necessarily, but there's no suspense or wonder about whether Hawkins will win the day. The whole point is that he does. Put a wig and a Neanderthal-style forehead attachment on Stewart, and the show is no different than "Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer," albeit less funny and a lot longer.

At approximately 70 minutes per episode (90 minutes when they aired), each one is a little too drawn out and presents so much information before the characters finally converge in the courtroom that there's never a time when the real culprit is in doubt…and it's never the person who has been charged.

Still, Stewart's performance is consistently excellent, the guest stars are always good to see, and the show, in general, is fairly well written. As vintage television, it is often a cut above its contemporary programming, though that doesn't make it any less predictable or, today, any less clichéd. While that's not really the fault of the show, it still makes it considerably less enjoyable than it would be if we hadn't seen so often after the following four decades. Watch for Stewart's performance and stay for all the references that would make Phil Hartman's funniest SNL creation, but don't be surprised when you find nothing surprising or terribly interesting about the show in general.

Like most of the on-demand material that Warner Archive releases, Hawkins: The Complete TV Movie Collection is bare bones and mediocre. The standard definition 1.33:1 transfer is mostly free of damage, but there are a lot of compression problems and muddled, fuzzy edges, especially on the faces. The mono sound is fine, with clear dialog and music. There are no extras presented in the collection.

Closing Statement

If you've ever watched a courtroom drama, then you have seen Hawkins. That doesn't mean it's completely worthless, just that it wasn't original when it aired and it certainly isn't original today. If you love watching lawyers beat the odds in obvious fashion, though, and you like James Stewart pretending to be a genteel southerner, then you can do a whole lot worse than Hawkins. Don't expect to be surprised by much, though.

The Verdict

Case dismissed.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 75
Audio: 80
Extras: 0
Acting: 86
Story: 79
Judgment: 82

Perp Profile

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
• None
Running Time: 588 Minutes
Release Year: 1973
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Crime
• Drama
• Mystery
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• None


• IMDb

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