Shamus McCoy

Created by Barry Beckerman

Burt Reynolds plays Burt Reynolds who plays a former pool hustler-turned Brooklyn private eye and barfly SHAMUS McCOY in 1973’s Burtsploitation comedy/action flick Shamus, a confused film that can’t decide if it’s fromage or hommage.

So they try to have it both ways. There’s a lot of smirky, wink-wink humour that hasn’t aged well, and more than a few shots of Burt in all his hairy-chested glory, just in case a few moviegoers had missed his then-recent Cosmopolitan centrefold. But they also tossed in almost enough story (and just enough shout-outs to other, better P.I. films) to make it interesting.

Down on his luck, McCoy is living in a sparsely furnished third floor walkup above a bar, sleeping on a mattress on a pool table (“Just keep your feet warm in the corner pockets” he advises a woman he picked up the night before) and reduced to one (almost) clean shirt. He charges $75 a day (plus expenses) but there aren’t a lot of takers. So when he receives an offer of $10,000 from Mister Hume, a rich eccentric who wants him to track down some diamonds, he doesn’t hesitate.

It seems the jewels were taken recently in a nasty robbery involving a flame-thrower, but that doesn’t deter McCoy. He’s on the case. He breaks-and-enters, he beats up a few suspects and potential witnesses, steals a car, picks up a girl or two, gets the shit kicked out of him several times and eventually blunders his way to the big showdown solution.

Along the way, the opening credits slyly wink at those in Harper, and there are a couple of scenes lifted from Howard Hawks’ 1946 version of Chandler’s The Big Sleepa neat spin on Marlowe’s first meeting with General Sternwood and a dead-on spoof of the bookstore scene, the latter updated for the seventies (and cringe-worthy when viewed by today’s standards). Larry Block (no, not that Larry Block) plays Springy, a motormouth barfly/informant and Joe Santos gets to do a dry run as Vinnie, a decent but P.I.-plagued cop and family man, a role he would soon be milking regularly as Sgt. Dennis Becker on The Rockford Files. Oh, and along the way, Reynolds gets to chat up Dyan Cannon, so the film does have its moments.

Some unintentional. Like, what on earth was Cannon wearing in some of those shots? She seemed to be a good sport about it, but some of those outfits were as ridiculous as some of those hats in 1940s fims. And McCoy’s blockheaded approach to investigating is fascinating to watch, in an icky, car wreck kind of way.

But it was the seventies, it was a Burt Reynolds movie and it probably raked in a ton of money.

THE TV SHOW

At the time the film was considered sorta fun, and it did well enough to prompt a novelization and, eventually, an attempt at a TV series via a made-for-television movie/pilot in 1976, entitled A Matter of Wife… or Death.

Naturally, Reynolds, a big shot movie star, wasn’t available, but the always dependable Aussie actor Rod Taylor slipped into McCoy’s gumshoes just fine, by most accounts. Larry Block and Joe Santos from the film were back, and also along for the ride were Anne Archer, John Colicos and future Wonder Woman star Lynda Carter, who had a small part as McCoy’s girlfriend Zelda, and sure knew how to wear his boxing robe well.

Unfortunately, by 1976, private eyes on the tube were a dime a dozen, and the film, intended as a pilot for a future series, slipped through the cracks.

UNDER OATH

  • Shamus, which is full of appealing New York locations and much inventive action, ultimately amounts to little more than the kind of situation melodrama that the movies these days offer for excitement. On this level it is workmanlike, well-paced, modest, sometimes scary, and sometimes genuinely funny.”
    — The New York Times
  • Dated? Even back then it was a terrible film. Crude, sexist, mean-spirited. Reynolds came off as a even bigger jerk than usual.”
    — J.D. Bussi

FILMS

  • SHAMUS | Buy the video | Buy the DVD | Watch it now!
    (aka “Passion for Danger”)
    (1973, Columbia)
    106 minutes
    Written by Barry Beckerman
    Directed by Buzz Kulik
    Music by Jerry Goldsmith
    A Robert M. Weitman Production
    Starring Burt Reynolds as SHAMUS McCOY
    Also starring Dyan Cannon, John P. Ryan, Joe Santos, Georgio Tozzi, Ronald Weyland, Larry Block, Beeson Carroll, Kevin Conway, Kay Frye, John Glover, Merwin Goldsmith, Melody Santangello, Irving Selbst, Alex Wilson, Morris the Cat (of advertising fame).

NOVELISATION

TELEVISION

  • A MATTER OF WIFE… AND DEATH
    (1976, NBC)
    Made-for-television movie/pilot
    Premiere: April 10, 1976
    Based on characters created by Barry Beckerman
    Written by Don Ingalls
    Directed by Marvin Chomsky
    Produced by Robert Weitman
    Starring Rod Taylor as SHAMUS McCOY
    Also starring Anne Archer, Dick Butkus, Larry Block Joe Santos, Lynda Carter
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith, and thanks to Billy Lucas for the lead.

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