An eccentric ex-judge (Bette Davis) and a cynical parolee (Doug McClure, The Land That Time Forgot) join forces to solve the murder of a wealthy man.
Reaction & Thoughts:
“Jake… you have all the instincts of a kamikaze pilot!”
The Judge and Jake Wyler is one of the many TV pilots Bette Davis made during her long career in showbiz. As on previous occasions, the pilot wasn’t picked up by the Network. While she never made much fuss about past rejections, this time around Davis was particularly angry with how things turned out.
Produced by NBC Universal Television and directed by David Lowell Rich (A Family Upside Down and The Concorde: Airport ’79), The Judge and Jake Wyler was conceived by Richard Levinson and William Link, the men behind many hit TV series, including Columbo, Mannix and Murder, She Wrote. For whatever reason, the powers that be decided against Levinson and Link’s proposal.
With TV pilots being nothing more than a proof of concept, it was no surprise to me that The Judge and Jake Wyler feels incomplete. But I thought it was a fine idea for a weekly series. I’m assuming that someone upstairs decided that there wasn’t room for yet another TV series about private detectives. Cannon, Kojack, McMillan & Wife, Banacek, McCloud, etc., the 1970s was clearly the decade of TV sleuths.
As was customary with rejected TV pilots, the network added footage to convert the 50-minute pilot into a feature-length film (it debuted as NBC’s TV-Movie-of-the-Week), and Davis complained that the extra material diminished the importance of her character. I have a feeling that she didn’t see the final product because I can honestly say that I didn’t see any signs of padding — Davis remains the beating heart of the movie.
Anyhow, the cast is very good. Davis gives a nicely relaxed performance as the judge-turned-private-detective who can’t stand the smell of cigarettes! Doug McClure, who plays the judge’s partner-in-crime, has great chemistry with Davis. Joan Van Ark (TV’s Knots Landing) plays a troubled heiress, Lou Jacobi (Irma La Deuce) is a police detective and Kent Smith (Cat People) has a cameo as Van Ark’s father.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
More than anything else, The Judge and Jake Wyler is an unremarkable but fun curiosity. Mostly for fans of old TV series like Barnaby Jones and Bette Davis devotees. The film is available on YouTube. Followed by a semi-sequel titled Partners in Crime with Oscar-winning actress Lee Grant (In the Heat of the Night) as the judge and Lou Antonio (Cool Hand Luke) as the ex-convict. Color, 91 minutes, Not Rated.