November 15, 2023

Review: 21 Beacon Street (1959), the latest from ClassicFlix


he people you see above are part of an elite team, dedicated to providing sophisticated, unorthodox solutions to situations that fall beyond the scope of traditional law enforcement agencies—situations that run the gamut from blackmail to political assassination. In order to achieve their objective, the team concocts elaborate plans based on deception and disguise, not to mention split-second timing. Each member is an expert in one or more areas, and when they bring their talents together, they form an unstoppable unit, one against which the criminal mind has no chance.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it: watch all thirteen episodes of 21 Beacon Street

And now you can do just that; thanks to our friends at ClassicFlix, the entire run of 21 Beacon Street is available on DVD, in handsomely restored black-and-white episodes transferred from the original 16mm prints held at the UCLA Film & Television Archives for the first time since, I dunno, probably it's original airing.*

*Full disclosure: I received this disc gratis for the purposes of 1) reviewing, and 2) enjoying. Thanks to ClassicFlix for supplying both.

21 Beacon Street
originally aired on NBC from July 2 to September 10, 1959, as the summer replacement for The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show. Subsequently, reruns were shown on ABC from December 1959 to March 1960. And, as you might have gathered, the premise bears more than a passing resemblance to that of Mission: Impossible, which came along in 1966--enough so that the show's producer, Filmways, sued Bruce Gellar, creator of M:I, for plagiarism. The suit was settled out of court; in what may or may not have been a related development, Beacon Street's story editor, Laurence Heath*, went on to write several episodes of M:I.

*Laurence Heath's story is a remarkable one in and of itself, and some enterprising scriptwriter out there might want to consider pitching it to some studio. You can read more about it in this piece by Stephen Bowie; our own commentator, Mike Doran, has also added some knowledgeable comments about it at various websites, such as this one.

There are differences, of course. While the Impossible Missions Force is a quasi-governmental agency, 21 Beacon Street is the brainchild of private investigator Dennis Chase (Dennis Morgan), and his clientele consists mostly of private citizens who find themselves in apparently impossible situations. (The show's title refers to the address of Chase's home, where his office is located.) Working with his three-member team—secretary Joanna (Joanna Barnes) savvy attorney Brian (Brian Kelly) and tech expert Jim (James Maloney)*—Chase carefully analyzes the situation and, often working against time, concocts a plan to trap and/or expose the evildoers while thwarting their nefarious schemes. As is the case with the IMF, Chase's plans create situations where not everything—or everyone—is what it seems. 

*Not only does each character share the first name of the actor playing them, the pseudonyms used in their various plots also utilize their real first names. Surely that must be some kind of record.

While M:I's episodes had a one-hour running time, allowing for extremely complex (and detailed) setups, 21 Beacon Street episodes clock in at a tidy 30 minutes each, which means that the schemes aren't quite as elaborate, the plans aren't quite as detailed, and the stakes aren't usually as high (except for those retaining Chase's services). Still, the stories are fast-paced and entertaining, and it's always fun to see the team ad lib when things don't go quite as planned. It's also a pleasure, as always, to see guest appearances from familiar faces, including DeForest Kelley, Donna Douglas, Whit Bissell, Jerry Paris, Steve Brodie, Barney Phillips, Harry Bellaver, Sally Fraser, John Hoyt, Paul Richards, and others.

There are no extras save one, but it's an extra that I certainly appreciate. It's sometimes difficult to place these shows in any kind of context; black-and-white, no matter how clear, can make a program look older than it is, and it's often hard to tell whether or not one is watching a network series or a little-scene syndication show. Fortunately, several episodes of 21 Beacon Street include a bonus option to see the original commercials, which, in addition to being fun to watch, help put the show in historical perspective (in one episode, actor Robert Horton shills for the new line of Fords, while we also get to see promos for other ABC series) And each episode includes the standard "ABC Television Presentation" that appeared during the show's repeat run.

While 21 Beacon Street is hardly the greatest DVD release in history, it is a series that was unique for its time, an entertaining and often creative half-hour that serves us classic TV aficionado well. And all credit to ClassicFlix and their Rare Television line; they're perhaps the only company out there still dedicated to bringing to market those little-known series from the 1950s and '60s instead of simply recycling and repackaging the same old titles time after time. You'll remember a while back I reviewed their release of The O. Henry Playhouse, and future titles include the sci-fi espionage series World of Giants with Marshall Thompson, and the sitcom Angel from 1960, with Marshall Thompson and Annie Farge. Even if these shows might not have been on your most wanted list, bravo to ClassicFlix for showing you what you've been missing. TV  


  1. I always end up regretting something like this ...

    You see, I took delivery on the 21 Beacon Street DVD a while back, and in its turn that connected me with the Classic Flix sites -
    - well, right out of the gate I have to correct an error you made here.
    That Angel sitcom from 1960 is not Date With The Angels, which Betty White did several years earlier.
    The 1960 Angel was a Desilu sitcom that was a vehicle for a French comedienne named Annie Farge (far-ZHAY; accent grave over the 'e').
    On Angel, Annie Farge played a French girl who married an American architect and emigrated to the USA, where she tried to learn our ways, with comedic results; cute show as I recall, and (at age 10) Annie Farge was definite crush material.
    Angel the series only ran one season; Annie Farge stayed in the USA for a few years before returning to France, where she had a successful career, both before and behind the cameras (she passed away a few years back).
    By the bye: Angel's American husband husband was played by Marshall Thompson, just one year after the abrupt abrogation of World Of Giants, op cit.; it sure looks like a consolation prize to me, but hey, what do I know?
    By the other bye: This past week I took delivery of the World Of Giants DVD set from Classic Flix (see how this all ties together?)
    Did I ever tell here about my experience as a 13-year-old, watching syndicated reruns of WOG on the local Channel 7 movie? Funny/strange story (I'll tell you another time ...).
    So there you are - and here I am: I had to get this in right off the bat, so there we are ...
    "Til next time ...

  2. The Laurence Heath story is pretty horrific and sad.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!