Like a lot of obscurities from MGM's On-Demand label, Vice Squad has crept on cat's feet to Screen Archives and lately, Warner Archive listings. Viewers know it, if at all, from late PM slots, then infrequent TCM play, VS having otherwise pulled 1953 duty filling cop/robber dates between adrenalin shot of3-Dand grenade burst of Cinemascope, square in that summer of hope's renewal for a beat-down industry. United Artists distributed and was part investor in this venture thought promising thanks to tyro trio Arthur Gardner, Jules Levy, and Arnold Laven, whose first (so far only) feature, Without Warning, had been bought by vet producer Sol Lesser, then sold to UA, everyone coming out rosy. G,L&L, plus Vice Squad's exploitable title and micro-budgeting, looked to be safe bets for hot weather exploitation.
Trade sources peggedGardner as administrator, Levy a point-man for deals, with Laven pulling much of creative duty. Whatever sold was catnip to this team. All were young and a two of three vote guided policy. They'd tried getting Invaders From Mars off the ground, but lack of funds saw rival Ed Alperson grabbing those marbles. Profit G,L&L made off Without Warning enabled Vice Squad. Edward G. Robinson was had for comparative pittance ($50K according to co-star Paulette Goddard'sbiographer Julie Gilbert), his stock HUAC-diminished to what Robinson later called "a B picture phase of my career." Fallen name Goddard, says Gilbert, received $15,000 for three day's work on Vice Squad. Hard times weren't theirs alone --- many off contract payrolls took work where it could be had for whatever they could get.
Gardner, Levy, and Laven understood the value they'd gotten in Edward G. Robinson. Life has shaped Eddie, the three told Variety. People who really know him, love him for what he is. He doesn't have to ham it up any longer. That's for kids practicing to be mimics. So we asked him to play himself. Much to their credit and Vice Squad's good was said recognition of Robinson's icon status and how to make a most of it. Walk through this, Eddie, G,L,&L were quoted as saying, and you'll be great. Vice Squad does show a relaxed star, Robinson doing what we most enjoy, whatever his own appreciation of reduced circumstances. This was an actor incapable of a poor or indifferent performance. Mature players, said the producing team, are not types. Their years of experience have made them into believable people, which was, added Variety, what these documentary mellers need more than anything else.
Shooting of Vice Squad was like camera conducted tour of Los Angeles circa '53, always a best feature of budget thrillers set on streets. Gardner, Levy, and Laven even scored access to the new Hollywood Freeway just days before it opened to traffic, a fifty-five million dollar set, according to trades. Vice Squad was less noir than police procedural, an insider peek at law enforcement wheels on the grind. Civil liberties take a hike under detective Robinson's command. He's for rousting suspect/civilians alike, ordering frame-ups and illegal arrests like black coffee. Those fed up with soft on crime must have rocked balconies cheering. Being it's vice we're examining, there's B-girl round-upping and inventory of underthings gathered during raids. That last, plus Paulette Goddard's winking maintenance of an "escort service," amounted to spice denied home viewers of tamer Racket Squad and closer-quartered precincts at home. Even cheap fare like Vice Squad paced way ahead of TV competition by getting outdoors more and clearer spelling out of blotter content, this being fresh meat to a 50's audience, and not a little titillating.
Trade reviews were good, with emphasis on"exploitation facets." One of these was television spotting, United Artists committed now to spend largely (Variety) after ad-fueled success of Moulin Rouge, High Noon, and The Moon Is Blue ($600K was sunk in Moulin promotion alone). Trailers for TV had become a must-do since rapturous response to 1952's Sudden Fear and aKing Kongreissue the same season, but it does not fit all products, said the trade. Best results seem to come where actual scenes from the negative have a high "teaser' appeal. Melodrama and horror subjects make up into potent come-on, but lush musicals in Technicolor are not advantageously sold on a tiny black-and-white parlor receiver. Vice Squad was singled out by Variety for its title which was a lulu for home shock value (as were "gruesome scenes" in another TV-spot-made hit,The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms).
Vice Squad sold beyond even optimist outlook. Bookings finessed in "A" houses more than returned bacon, and holdovers were rife. Patronage voted at ticket windows for Eddie back in holsters. To hammer the point, ad design even borrowed key art of Robinson from 1937's Bullets Or Ballotsto let everyone know he'd conduct business-as-usual. Trade trumpets by late August peggedVice Squad as a sleeper, andmajor studio heads keep asking to see the picture, according to columnist Frank Scully. The William Morris agency put together a Vice Squad pilot with Edward G. Robinson for hopeful vid placement, but showing that around got no bites. The feature returned $918K in domestic rentals and $722K more foreign, one of United Artists' best performers among small budget titles that year (only I, The Jury in 3-D topped it). For their profit-making effort, Gardner, Levy, and Laven got another UA ticket punched with Code File: FBI, released in September 1954 as Down Three Dark Streets, also a crackerjack police job available from MGM On Demand DVD.