Vice Squad (1953): One Call, They Do It All
When you think of a police department’s vice squad, what crimes come to mind? Prostitution? Bunko? Gambling? Pornography? Con games? Sex trafficking? That sounds about right, but--as far as Captain Barnaby is concerned--that’s just kid stuff. Oh, his vice squad deals with scams and hookers--as a matter of fact he and a certain Miss Mona are awfully chummy--but he also takes on murder and bank robberies when he’s not making the occasional television appearance or convincing crazy people to go to the city clinic.
The year is 1953. The city is Los Angeles (which you might think would have major crimes and homicide divisions). The captain of detectives is Barnie Barnaby (Edward G. Robinson), a personable, polite fellow with a penchant for bending the rules a bit (can you say “harassment”?). The movie is Vice Squad. The question is “why?”
Why would the film be titled Vice Squad when it’s a story about a cop killing and bank robbery? One or two other complaints are brought to the department, one of which might be considered vice, but they are only brief diversions. Would the studio insist on “Vice Squad” because a married man is having an affair with what pretty much could be described as a “floozy” or Miss Mona (Paulette Goddard) runs “a licensed escort agency”?
Despite the misleading title, Vice Squad is a tight little story that conveys a day (or two) in the life of a police squad. It begins with a cop killing. The police soon learn from an informer looking for a deal that a tough ex-con is coming to town to rob the bank. The police take precautions, beef up security at the bank, and when the robbery goes down, they shoot several members of the gang, but the ex-con gets away with a hostage (female bank employee). It’s up to the vice squad to catch him (Edward Binns) and his one remaining accomplice (Lee Van Cleef), and save the girl (Mary Ellen Kay).Continued on the next page