Thursday, February 23, 2023

Longstreet: The Way of the intercepting Fist

When you are blind and have a dangerous job, like insurance investigator, Zatoichi is a worthy role model. Who better to train Mike Longstreet in martial arts than the greatest ever? Not this week’s GOAT or last week’s GOAT, but the greatest, period. That would be Bruce Lee, whose guest-starring appearance on Longstreet grew into a four-episode recurring role. After thugs jump him on the waterfront, Longstreet asks Li Tsung to train his body, but he trains the detective’s mind instead in “The Way of the Intercepting Fist,” which screens Saturday at UCLA (along with Enter the Dragon).

The bomb that killed Longstreet’s wife in the pilot TV-movie also left him blind, but hardly defeated. He is working more cases than ever, but when he noses around a port-based cargo-theft operation, three longshoreman goons rough him up. Fortunately, Li comes along in time to return the favor. Suddenly feeling rather vulnerable, Longstreet asks the martial artist to help train him, which he does.

However, Li first must strip away Longstreet’s false preconceptions. Although this episode is credited to series creator Sterling Silliphant, it was written with extensive input from Lee (who previously worked with the writer on
Marlowe). He consciously took advantage of the opportunity to spread his philosophy and conception of Jeet Kune Do. At one point, Li tells Longstreet to “Be Water,” so, mic-drop.

You can also see Lee’s influence in the way Longstreet’s big showdown with his knuckle-dragging assailant, Jim Bolte, shakes out. Frankly, Li is against it, because vengeance is not a worthy goal for a true martial artist. Anyone deeply steeped in the martial arts has the discipline and wisdom to prefer the path of peace. Then, when it finally comes, it is realistically messy, rather than a one-sided beat-down ballet.

Obviously, Lee has the moves and he is charismatic delivering the wisdom Longstreet does not always want to hear. It is easy to see why Silliphant found a way to bring him back three more times. As for the regulars, James Franciscus looks pretty blow-dried as Longstreet, but he takes a credible beating. Frankly, Quinn-Martin regular Peter Mark Richman was probably miscast as his colleague Duke Paige, because he looks and sounds like a TV corporate villain (at least in this episode). As a bonus, Louis Gossett Jr. also guest-stars as Sgt. Cory, the cops’ undercover eyes and ears on the docks.

was set in New Orleans, but its brassy theme was not especially swinging, which is ironic, since it was written by the great Oliver Nelson. However, there was a jazz-themed episode four weeks later, featuring the playing of Cat Anderson, Barney Bigard, Shelly Manne, and Phil Woods.

Without question,
Longstreet is one of the few TV series that is mostly remembered for the work of a guest-star rather than its regular cast and characters. It is fascinating to see the young Bruce Lee announce himself to the world. Recommended for fans of the legend and early 1970s detective television shows, “The Way of the Intercepting Fist” screens Saturday (2/25) at UCLA.