Theme : Film – Cop Out

DTW fearlessly exposes the possibility of widespread corruption in the TV Police Force.

It's been going on for ages : 1960s Los Angeles Homicide Police Captain Amos Burke and his unmarked car.
It’s been going on for ages : 1960s Los Angeles Homicide Police Captain Amos Burke and his unmarked car.

Film-makers are sometimes depressingly conservative, sometimes surprisingly ambitious. One particular bit of audaciousness is the conceit that you can take a book that took 2 years to write, that would take 2 weeks to read and boil it all down to a 2 hour movie, maybe less. Without that juicy rights cheque, how many authors would let that happen? But despite this, there are screenwriters who make a reasonable fist of the job, creating at least a shell of the original, or maybe a pared-down alternative.

One of the difficulties in doing this is the representation of a character. A novelist can spend several pages, using the protagonist’s inner thoughts, in order to give the reader a pretty good idea of who they are. In a movie you can’t do this and, even on a more leisurely TV series where you might have 12 hours to play with, you still need to catch your audience in the first episode. So you use shortcuts, character signifiers.

What they wear, what they eat, where they live, who they know and, all too often, what they drive. Most of these rely on the audience’s preconceptions or prejudices and, for many of us on this site, there is no preconception as subtly strong as who drives what and, actually, the majority of audiences are pretty car aware, in terms of status, if not exact model.

Inappropriate vehicles always stand out. Years ago, in a medical drama series called Peak Practice about a bunch of local GPs, an apparently down-to-earth female doctor started driving around in a red Lexus SC430. In any drama where a billionaire businessman gets into, say, a 15 year old S Class Mercedes, you already know that he is going to die, since the cheapo barge is just there to crash or get blown up without using up too much of the budget.

But, of all vehicle placing, the most clumsy is that relating to the ubiquitous TV Cop. How refreshing, and rare, is the cop series where the plain-clothes (there’s a clue there) detective drives a standard, two year old, middle of the range saloon. These are what their superiors want them to drive. They are hard to spot when you are doing your plain-clothes detecting and, generally, don’t fail you if you need to chase someone, or just get to an appointment on time.

But, no, instead they drive a Jensen Interceptor, Ford Gran Torino, decrepit Volvo Estate, Lexus CT, Citroen DS, Jaguar Mark 2, Ferrari Testarossa, knackered Fiat 128, Audi Quattro, Lincoln Town Car, Saab 95 Cabrio, Bristol 411, Maserati Quattroporte, Triumph Stag, Porsche 911, derelict Peugeot 403 Cabriolet, Rolls Royce Silver Ghost, Ford Sapphire Cosworth, Plymouth Barracuda, Triumph Roadster, Mercedes W140, ropey Land Rover Defender ……..

These are just a few off the top of my head, from TV series over the years. I typed these without even thinking hard – there are so many more. Of course, as most cops would tell you, if they made realistic films about everyday life in the police force, viewers would be shocked quite how dull much of it is and turn off. But there is a threshold of credibility

But the only conclusion I really draw from all this is that I watch far too much TV.

One thought on “Theme : Film – Cop Out”

  1. It could be that the Peak Practice producers imagined something slightly odd would be more realistic. Somebody has to drive such cars, don’t they? That said, I’d have thought a dark blue Fiesta or Astra or Golf or Clio might have been more typical GP transport.
    I don’t think the producers think very hard about the cars when they do have costume designers who have a lot of influence. If the costumes were treated as casually as the wheels we’d see Morse in a shell suit or the cast of Emmerdale Farm wearing Versace.

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