(Cue dramatic music)
A man running frantically down the street. He is being followed by a black sedan. He ducks into a building, climbs the stairs, and knocks on a door.
Before anyone can answer a machine gun cuts him down.
Door opens and private detective Mike Barnett appears.
Barnett hears a click – ducks – and the gun fires another salvo . . . and ROLL CREDITS
And so opens another episode of one of the earliest of the TV detective shows, originally called `Man Against Crime’, but retitled as `Follow That Man’ starring Ralph Bellamy.
Beginning in 1949, and produced and broadcast live as a stage bound production (as many shows were at that time) until 1952, the show was one of the early hits of Television for CBS.
It moved to the Dumont network in 1953 and 1954, and ran on NBC from 1953-1956 (it was simulcast by Dumont and NBC during 1953-54). The show was sponsored by the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, and the star was often seen smoking cigarettes (of course, everyone did back then).
As world weary, but tough as nails P.I. Mike Barnett, Ralph Bellamy broke a lot of the `rules’ for TV detectives. He didn’t carry a gun, and was chummy with the police . . .sometimes even working with them on cases.
Ralph Bellamy (1904-1991) had a career that spanned 6 decades. During the 1930’s he was part of the Hollywood group known as the `Irish Mafia’, A-List actors who were mainly of Irish descent. They included James Cagney, Pat O'Brien, Spencer Tracy, Frank Morgan and Frank McHugh.
Bellamy was nominated for an Academy Award for best supporting actor in The Awful Truth (1937) and saw good reviews in His Girl Friday (1940). He portrayed a different detective - Ellery Queen - in a few films during the 1940s, but he never really made it as a leading man in film.
Bellamy did television, and appeared on Broadway to much acclaim during the 1950s, and is perhaps best remembered for his role as Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Sunrise at Campobello. Bellamy reprised that role in 1960 in the film version.
Filmed as tough, often violent, little film noirs Follow That Man episodes hold up pretty well after more than half a century. We’re lucky enough to have a pretty good selection from seasons 4 and 5 residing on the Internet Archive.
A Complete List of Available episodes can be viewed here.