Saturday, 18 January 2020

Columbo - The Bye-Bye Sky High I.Q. Murder Case

The Bye-Bye Sky High I.Q. Murder Case was the third and final instalment of the truncated sixth season of Columbo. It went to air in May 1977.

As the title suggests this is a very light-hearted Columbo mystery. It’s a case of murder at the Sigma Club. The Sigma Club is a kind of social club for very high I.Q. people. The joke is that they’re all hopeless misfits and totally socially inept. They have nothing in common and don’t seem to like each other very much but without the Sigma Club they’d have no social lives at all.

Two of the members of the club are partners in a very large accounting firm. One of them, Oliver Brandt (Theodore Bikel) has been embezzling funds. The other, Bertie Hastings, has discovered the embezzlement so naturally he has to be murdered. These are of course not spoilers since, as in every Columbo episode, we know the identity of the killer right from the start. The murder method is the sort of thing that a very intelligent but very arrogant person might come up with - it’s incredibly ingenious but ludicrously over-complicated. It does involve some wonderful contraptions though.

As usual we get a battle of wits between the murderer and Columbo but the irony is that despite the killer’s high I.Q. we never believe he has a chance of winning - it just never occurs to him that policemen might actually know their jobs.

Much of the fun comes from the other members of the club who come up with their own theories to explain the murder. They naturally assume that a mere policeman could never solve such a difficult case and it’s amusing to see their discomfiture when Columbo has to break it to them gently that their theories have already been thought of by the police and dismissed as unworkable.

In this episode Peter Falk doesn’t have a major star to play off but Theodore Bikel does a fine job. His gradual psychological unravelling is so convincing that we feel kind of sorry for him.

Kenneth Mars is surprisingly restrained and doesn’t get very much to do which is a pity since his character, a welder with a genius-level I.Q., might have had potential.

Samantha Eggar is very good as Brandt’s wife, a woman who just assumes her husband will provide her with unlimited spending money and seems genuinely puzzled when he blames her for the mess he’s in. It’s impossible to conceive of a more shallow and selfish woman but what makes this performance interesting is that she is entirely unaware of her character flaws. She’s not conniving or deceitful or vindictive - she’s more like someone who simply hasn’t developed any adult emotions. She’s actually more interesting than the murderer.

Look out for Jamie Lee Curtis in a small but amusing part as a waitress. Carol Jones is excellent as a geeky 14-year-old girl genius. The two bitchy male secretaries are fun also.

The ending is perhaps a bit contrived.

This is not perhaps a Columbo episode of the first rank but it’s sufficiently witty and amusing that its minor flaws can be overlooked. Recommended.

It’s hard to make a judgment on the sixth season as a whole since there were only three episodes. The DVD release, quite reasonably, combines the sixth and seventh seasons in a single boxed set.

Friday, 10 January 2020

Invaders season two (1967-68)

The Invaders started life as a mid-season replacement on ABC in 1967. It did well enough to get a second full season but that unfortunately was the end of the line. Which was a pity because it’s a fascinating oddity among 1960s American science fiction TV series. It was a Quinn Martin production and was their only serious foray into science fiction. As a result it plays more like a typical Quinn Martin series (such as The Fugitive) with science fiction elements tacked on. Surprisingly this works rather well, giving the series the feel of everyday life suddenly coming into collision with nightmare. The second season which started airing in late 1967 starts off being pretty similar to the first, and that’s not a bad thing.

The kinship with 1950s sci-fi paranoia movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers is very obvious. An architect named David Vincent accidentally discovers that alien invaders are among us. Nobody knew because the aliens look just like us. They’re from a planet that is dying and now they want our planet. They are most definitely hostile. They have already managed to infiltrate themselves into society, at least to a limited extent. As in other classic examples of the alien invasion paranoia genre David Vincent’s problem is that he can’t get the authorities or anyone else to believe him.

The Invaders however departs slightly from the usual formula. A few people do believe him. He acquires a few allies. Most of them are not in a position to do very much but sometimes he does get help. And at least he knows that are a few fellow believers. In fact there’s a slowly accumulating number of them. There isn’t the same sense of despair that you get in The X-Files where Mulder always seems destined to lose and to be the only true believer. The other key difference from The X-Files is that in 1967 when The Invaders began production it was still possible to believe that the government could be trusted. The problem isn’t that you can’t trust anyone. The Air Force officers Vincent encounters really would do something, they really would help him, if only he had hard evidence. But they won’t risk their careers without hard evidence. That makes Vincent’s task easier in many ways but also more frustrating. It’s more heart-breaking when he finds evidence and it slips through his fingers. There’s still plenty of paranoia but it’s more subtle. Like Mulder he gets labelled as a nut and a crank but let’s be honest - when you start telling people that aliens have invaded it’s quite natural for them to react that way. 

He is also a man who lacks Mulder’s cynicism. David Vincent really likes his country. Even though he’s a city boy when he finds himself in small town America he really likes that kind of society as well. There’s more at stake for him because he’s fighting to save a society that he very much thinks is worth saving. He’s also very intense. Perhaps too intense.

Being a Quinn Martin production The Invaders is naturally extremely well made with a surprising amount of location shooting. The special effects are simple but mostly effective. The fact the aliens look human means there’s no need for alien makeup effects which is a huge advantage. This series doesn’t really look dated at all.

It also doesn’t feel dated. If you can accept the basic premise then the plot lines are fairly believable. This genre lends itself to political allegories but fortunately The Invaders generally does not try to bludgeon viewers with political messages. You can of course read political subtexts into it. It’s up to you.

One unusual feature is that while the aliens have some advanced technologies they’re actually easy to kill. If you shoot them they die. Which means that while they’re formidable enemies they’re not unbeatable. It’s always believable that David Vincent has a fighting chance of survival and even a chance of winning some victories, without the writers having to resort to outlandish plot devices to explain those victories.

There is of course the matter of the crooked fingers which give away the identity of the invaders. The inherent problem with stories featuring aliens who look exactly human is that they would be impossible to defeat. It’s just too big an advantage. With means that they have to be given a weakness. There has to be something that reveals their identity. And it has to be something that most people would not even notice but that those in the know would be able to spot. The crooked fingers are a bit lame but they do the job and I’m not sure what else the series could have done. At least they don’t require any iffy make effects.

Which brings us to an unusual feature of this series - while the aliens have some advanced technologies they also have some serious vulnerabilities. Being able to take human form is a big advantage but it brings with a big weakness - when they’re in human form anything that can kill a human can kill them. They can also die in accidents, such as car accidents. They have a limited mind control ability but it can only be exercised at very close range and it isn’t fool-proof. They don’t have destructor beams that can level whole city blocks, they don’t have the ability to make themselves invisible or walk through walls or see through walls. The invaders are also not entirely united - at times some of the aliens will actually help David Vincent, although they do so for their own reasons. They’re formidable enemies they’re far from unbeatable. It’s always believable that David Vincent has a fighting chance of survival and even a chance of winning some victories, without the writers having to resort to outlandish plot devices to explain those victories. It’s a clever touch. The invaders win some battles and lose others.

There are several episodes in which David Vincent gets to see the aliens’ point of view, or at least we get to see that they have a point of view. They’re doing what they believe they have to do. It’s interesting that Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, made at almost exactly the same time, also shows us the the point of view of the aliens seeking to destroy us. What makes both series interesting is that knowing how the aliens see things doesn’t help. It’s still a case of either we destroy them or they destroy us. Understanding an enemy’s motivations does not necessarily mean that any kind of negotiation or compromise is possible. Both series approach the alien menace idea with surprising sophistication.

The tone is unrelievedly dark. David Vincent wins some battles, but there's always a price to be paid. Often a very high price. This series is actually considerably darker and more downbeat than The X-Files.

Episode Guide

Condition: Red involves a plot by the aliens to sabotage the computers at the Cheyenne Mountain Complex of NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command). David Vincent uncovers the plot when a young woman is killed after falling from a horse. She later makes a full recovery and Vincent suspects she’s an alien. She happens to be married to an officer in the computer section at NORAD. As always Vincent’s problem is getting anyone to listen to him but occasionally people do and in this case intelligence officer Major Stanhope (who had at one time been involved in investigations of UFO phenomena) believes him. But can the plot be stopped? If it can’t be stopped twenty UFOs will be able to penetrate the NORAD defences. A solid season opener with some tense moments.

In The Saucer David Vincent finds a man who has not only seen one of the alien spaceships, he claims he knows when it will appear again. It looks like this is the break Vincent has been hoping for, especially when he manages to capture the alien ship. But things never work out that neatly. To complicate matters there’s a couple on the run from the police (with the girl played by the always awesome Anne Francis). They end up right in the middle of things which turns out to be both a good thing and a bad thing. This is an episode that tries to combine some human drama with the sci-fi plot, and does so fairly successfully. A good episode.

The Watchers starts with a shocking accident. A man walks in front of an aircraft that is landing at an airstrip at a remote mountain resort. But it’s no accident. David Vincent is soon on the scene and witnesses the arrival of Paul Cook and his blind niece Maggie. Cook is a very important defence contractor whose company is about to upgrade the country’s air defences. If the aliens can get hold of the secrets of those defences they will be unstoppable. Kevin McCarthy guest stars as Cook, a treat for cult movie fans given that he was the star of the sci-fi paranoia classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers which was a major inspiration for The Invaders.

It's a good episode that showcases one of David Vincent’s major assets in his fight against the invaders - he has the ability to talk about seemingly crazy stuff while seeming to be calm and reasonable and sane. A very good episode.

In Valley of the Shadow an accident threatens the invaders. One of their number is involved in a traffic accident. The alien murders a doctor who tries to examine him (the aliens have no pulse and no heartbeat). The alien is taken into custody. For Vincent it’s an opportunity to unmask them publicly and an even bigger opportunity when dozens of people see the alien vanish before their eyes after being shot. The aliens however are prepared to take ruthless steps to prevent any word getting out. Another good story in which Vincent seems to be so close to getting the evidence he needs.

There are some fascinating and devious twists to this story. They don’t exactly take the series in a new direction but they do raise questions and add extra layers of ambiguity. A very very good episode.

The Enemy begins with one of the alien saucers making a disastrous crash landing. One crew member survives and is rescued by a human woman, a nurse named Gale Frazer,  who is determined to nurse him back to health. Her plans are threatened by the arrival of David Vincent. This is one of several episodes in which we see a different side of the aliens. They’re not necessarily mere monsters. This particular alien might be a dangerous enemy to Earth but he’s a long way from home and he’s alone and frightened. He needs help. His emotions are the same as ours. Or at least that’s what Gale Frazer thinks. She’d better hope she’s right about that. If it turns out that his emotions are not the same as ours she could be in big trouble. This episode could easily have come unstuck but it works pretty well.

The Trial is a departure from the usual formula for this series. David Vincent is trying to save an old army buddy accused of murder. He didn’t kill a man, he killed an alien, but that’s not exactly easy to prove in court. And what actually happened is not clear-cut even to Vincent. Courtroom dramas are risky. They rely heavily on dialogue scenes and that means sacrificing the action scenes that fans expect from a series such as this. The challenge in this episode is that it seems like the only way to get Vincent’s friend off the hook for murder is to prove the existence of the aliens but the whole point of the series is that David Vincent never manages to get the hard evidence that would prove such a thing. The problem is solved fairly satisfactorily but by its nature it’s an episode that is a bit slow and static. It is an interesting experiment though.

In The Spores the aliens have a suitcase full of spores. It’s an experiment and if it succeeds they will be able to grow practically unlimited numbers of new aliens. The van in which the aliens are carrying the spores crashes and a cop sees two of them vaporise. The case of spores goes missing and the police, David Vincent and the aliens are all hunting it but it changes hands so many times it seems like no-one is going to get it. Another very good episode.

In Dark Outpost the aliens have problems. Their people are getting sick so they’ve had to set up a secret hospital for them, in a disused army camp. David Vincent, along with a party of student geologists, discovers their hospital. This episode takes the mind control element a bit further and there’s a psychological battle between the humans and the aliens. Not a bad episode.

Summit Meeting is a two-parter that moves the series into a paranoid conspiracy theory world that seems like an anticipation of The X-Files. A summit conference of leaders of the major powers may be a cover for some plan by the invaders to poison the world with radiation or maybe the radiation plan is a cover for something else. David Vincent finds out about the plot from Michael Tressider, a major defence contractor who knows that the invaders are among us. Vincent soon has reason to believe that the aliens have infiltrated the worlds of government and diplomacy and even the Pentagon at the highest levels. This is real Trust No One stuff.

The Prophet is Brother Avery, a travelling preacher with a large following who claims to have spoken to the heavenly multitudes. David Vincent suspects that these heavenly multitudes are the aliens and that Brother Avery is preparing the way for a large-scale invasion. Vincent infiltrates himself into the organisation but he has to convince Sister Claire to help him get the evidence and Sister Claire is very much a true believer. A good episode.

There’s such a thing as being too paranoid and there’s such a thing as being not paranoid enough and David Vincent makes both mistakes in Labyrinth. He has the proof he needs in the form of X-rays of an alien and he has the support of a government program set up to study UFOs but it’s not enough. Lots of terrific paranoid twists in this excellent episode.

In The Captive an alien is caught breaking into the Soviet Embassy. The Russians realise they’re dealing with something very strange. Like all the aliens this one has no pulse and they have other evidence that whatever he is he’s not human. Knowing his reputation as an investigator of UFOs they call on David Vincent for help. But will the Deputy Ambassador risk his career by reporting the presence of aliens to his government? And the aliens want Vincent’s help as well. There’s a clever mix of different levels and varieties of paranoia and risk in this extremely good episode.

The Believers represents a major change for the series. David Vincent has finally managed to convince a number of people that he is right abut the invaders. And they’re important, influential, powerful people. Now he has an organisation behind him - an organisation of believers. Unfortunately the aliens know this too and they’re determined to strike back. Interestingly this episode ramps up the paranoia even further. The more people you have on your side the more likely you are to be betrayed. An excellent episode.

In The Ransom Vincent and one of his followers capture an alien leader. A very important man, or so he says. So important that the aliens may be prepared to make an attractive deal to secure his release. But can Vincent trust him?

David Vincent continues to build up his anti-invader group in Task Force. He’s trying to get major news magazine publisher William Mace to support him but the aliens are in the process of taking over the Mace publishing empire. Not an outstanding episode but still quite decent.

In The Possessed Vincent gets a message from his old friend Ted Willard but Ted seems very confused when Vincent arrives. Ted and his brother Martin are doing research into mind control. This is another story in which the motives of the aliens are slightly ambiguous, suggesting that they’re evil but perhaps not entirely evil. And those who help the aliens have tangled motives as well. A good story.

Counter-Attack marks a further stage in the development of the overall second season story arc. Vincent’s group has now obtained the means to strike back at the invaders. The story however focuses mainly on questions of loyalty and betrayal. Even David Vincent’s loyalty is questioned. A very good episode.

In The Pit the aliens are trying to sabotage the work at a research establishment. They seem to be particularly intersected in the dream machine and in the electro-magnetic engine project. A fairly routine episode.

There’s a three-way battle going on in The Organization which starts when David Vincent is looking for alien wreckage, vital evidence of the existence of the aliens, in a freighter. The aliens got there first and removed the evidence but they removed something else, a narcotics shipment belonging to a drugs syndicate. The syndicate wants the shipment back but may they may need Vincent’s help. He may need the mobster’s help to get that evidence. And that aliens may try to cut a deal. It comes down to whether the mobsters trust Vincent more than the aliens, and whether Vincent’s group can work with gangsters. This episode is typical of the growing moral complexity of the second season and it’s excellent, with a fine guest starring performance by J.D. Cannon as gangster Peter Kalter.

There’s a subtle Cold War subtext throughout the second season and it becomes overt in The Peacemaker. Maybe a war to the death between humans and the aliens isn’t such a great idea? Maybe a negotiated compromise would be better for both sides. Peaceful co-existence. But of course it’s all a matter of trust. David Vincent isn’t sure he can trust the aliens but maybe there are people closer to home who can be trusted even less. If the major themes of the first season were paranoia and belief then the second season themes are trust and betrayal. This is an extremely good episode.

In The Vise David Vincent trees to persuade a Senate investigator that a man about to be appointed to a senior position in the space program is an alien. This puts the investigator in an awkward personal position. This is an episode that tries to address social issues, always a bad idea. This one is too predictable and not a very successful episode.

The Miracle starts in a small town where a girl witnesses what she thinks is a miracle in a grotto where the Virgin Mary supposedly appeared to some children years earlier. In fact what she saw was an alien dying and vaporising. The alien left behind a crystal, a key part of a powerful new weapon, and David Vincent has to find a way to get hold of it. A reasonably OK episode.

The Life Seekers is a further exploration of the theme that maybe the aliens aren’t quite as simplistically evil as they originally seemed to be, and that maybe they’re not united either. Two aliens want David Vincent’s help but they may be able to help him even more. Another very good episode.

The Pursued is one of several episodes in which David Vincent finds a possible ally among the aliens but this story offers some new twists. The alien involved is young, pretty and decidedly female. She’s a really sweet likeable girl. Except for one minor personality quirk. When she gets stressed she gets so angry she could just kill someone. And she does. She kills lots of people. She doesn’t mean to. It just happens. She’s real sorry afterwards. And it really isn’t her fault - she’s the result of a failed alien experiment in simulating human emotions. She could be very very useful to David Vincent’s resistance movement if he can just stop her from killing anyone for a while. So there’s interesting moral ambiguity, plus it’s an exciting manhunt (or womanhunt) story with no less than four groups wanting to get their hands on her. An excellent episode.

The series moves well and truly into proto X-Files territory with Inquisition. The aliens are about to launch an all-out attack but David Vincent and his organisation of Believers have more immediate problems - a corrupt ruthless ambitious Special Prosecutor who charges Vincent and the other leader of the Believers, Edgar Scoville, with murder. The government may destroy the Believers before they can take action to stop the alien offensive. The paranoia level is at maximum in this episode. 

Final Thoughts

There’s an interesting change that takes place midway through the second season. David Vincent acquires an organisation, informal but including important people. He’s not a lone crusader any longer. And the aliens are no longer a mysterious inexplicable terror. They are people, with their own hopes and fears. There is still deadly hostility but there are temporary truces and negotiations. It’s not just a war. There’s now diplomacy, of a sort. Deals can be made.

For those who think that thematic complexity, character development and ongoing story arcs are a modern phenomenon and a sign of the superiority of modern television this may come as a shock. The Invaders is more than a sequence of standalone stories. There is an evolving background story. David Vincent starts out as a man completely alone, regarded as a madman, desperate and paranoid. He remains paranoid (and quite rightly so) but he has to learn to trust people and form alliances. He has to become a leader and take responsibility. He has to be prepared, to a limited extent, to listen to what the aliens have to say. He has to learn to consider the long game. Over the course of the second season he does so, and he finds himself the leader of an organised resistance group rather than being a lone paranoid outsider.

This was to be the final season which is a pity in many ways but on the other hand it does mean that the series did not have to suffer the ignominious decline into silliness that was the fate of just about every other American science fiction series of its era. And perhaps there really wasn’t anywhere left for the series to go. The second season of The Invaders is very different from the first but it’s more complex and more multi-layered. Very highly recommended.

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

Perry Mason - The Case of the Buried Clock (TV mini-review)

My current project is to pick the episodes of the 1957-66 Perry Mason TV series that are actually based on Erle Stanley Gardner’s novels and read the novel, then watch the TV episode and do parallel reviews of both the novel and the TV episode. My review of Gardner’s novel The Case of the Buried Clock can be found here at Vintage Pop Fictions.

The Case of the Buried Clock is a 1943 Perry Mason novel, with a typically delightfully convoluted plot. Of course if you’re going to adapt a novel into a one-hour TV drama you’re going to have to streamline the plot a good deal. Unfortunately that means eliminating some fascinating plot elements. Francis M. Cockrell’s script eliminates a lot of the best things in the novel (the sidereal time thing, the missing bullet, the interesting stuff about the murder weapon, most of the cross-examination fun). What I miss most of all from the book is the epic battle of wits between Mason and Deputy D.A. McNair. In fact the only thing it keeps is the central element in the eventual solution.

Lots of characters are eliminated. Even key suspects are eliminated! That’s understandable. There’s so much misdirection in the novel but to retain all of it would have made the teleplay hopelessly complicated and difficult to follow. A lot of incidents that all contribute to the plot are comprised into a smaller number of manageable incidents.

In the TV version Dr Blane has discovered that his son-in-law has been embezzling money from the family bank and now he’s turned to blackmail. When the son-in-law turns up dead the police draw the logical conclusions. There’s a clever unbreakable alibi element. The solution to the crime does seem to be pulled out of a hat - in the novel we’re more thoroughly prepared for it so the twist is more satisfying.

And in the TV drama the clock seems like too much of a gimmick rather than an integrate part of an ingenious story.

The Dr Blane of the television version is actually an amalgam of two of the key characters in the novel, which is probably a necessary change but it does make him a slightly puzzling and contradictory character. Is he a banker or a doctor? He’s both, but in Gardner's novel the banker and the doctor are two entirely separate characters.

Watching this episode I can understand why after the first season the producers turned more and more to original teleplays rather than adaptations of the novels. The episodes based directly on the novels usually compare unfavourably to the source material while the original stories tend to work much more effectively. When you try to compress a novel into a single hour of television there’s someways the danger that the major plot twists will come as too much of a surprise.

The Perry Mason novels and the TV series are in my view equally good (and both are very good indeed) but the TV series is best enjoyed as a series inspired by the novels rather than as an attempt at straightforward adaptation.

The TV version of The Case of the Buried Clock is definitely worth a look but you’ll like it more if you don’t read the book first.

Friday, 20 December 2019

The Andromeda Breakthrough

A for Andromeda, broadcast by the BBC in 1961, was one of the most famous science fiction television series of all time (and is now tragically lost). The follow-up series The Andromeda Breakthrough, broadcast the following year and which picks up at exactly the point at which A for Andromeda leaves off, does however survive. Both were co-written by astronomer and science fiction author Sir Fred Hoyle and John Elliot. The novelisation of The Andromeda Breakthrough was published in 1964.

The Andromeda Breakthrough is arguably somewhat underrated. My review can be found at Vintage Pop Fictions.

Thursday, 12 December 2019

Magnum, P.I. season 2 (1981-82)

The second season of Magnum, P.I. originally screened in 1981-82. The cast is unchanged from the first season. Thomas Magnum still lives in the guest house of Robin Masters’ luxury Honolulu estate and still gets to drive Robin’s Ferrari, when Higgins (Robin’s majordomo) will let him. Once again we never actually see Robin Masters. He’s like a figure of legend. Magnum’s buddies from the Vietnam War Rick (Larry Manetti) and T.C. (Roger E. Mosley) are still regularly getting conned into helping out on cases. Higgins still tells interminable stories about the Second World War and still has his two Dobermans and the dogs still want to kill Magnum.

On the surface this is a standard private eye drama, albeit an extremely stylish one. There are however unexpected complexities and subtleties. There’s plenty of humour, there’s some fine writing, some emotional drama and most importantly all these elements are balanced perfectly. This series is enormous fun but it’s clever and intelligent fun. And it has its darker and more serious moments, and it’s not afraid to have the occasional downbeat ending.

Vietnam is an inescapable presence in this series. The war plays a major role in several episode plot lines. Magnum still has Vietnam-related nightmares. For T.C. and Rick it’s obvious that the war is something that they have also never quite gotten over.

It’s also worth pointing out that Higgins is a veteran as well, of World War 2. And there are hints that he also has found that the experience of war is something that stays with you. Every now and then when he’s recounting one of his tales of glorious adventure with the Desert Rats you’ll see a flash of genuine pain and you realise that his stories are more than mere bombast, that he saw terrible things and hasn’t forgotten them.

It’s interesting to note how differently Higgins deals with this. He talks about the war constantly, and still sees it as something glorious and honourable. Magnum and his buddies very rarely talk about it and never in terms of glory. But in their own ways they’re all trying to deal with life after war. That’s the one theme that runs continuously through this series, and makes it at times a bit more than just a private eye series.

Magnum’s relationship with Higgins is fascinating because it doesn’t develop they way you naturally expect it to. It starts with intense antagonism. Gradually a degree of mutual respect is built up. You expect that Magnum and Higgins will eventually develop some vague kind of mutual understanding. But it doesn’t happen. The antagonisms run too deep. Higgins cannot overcome his disapproval of what he sees as Magnum’s irresponsibility and frivolousness (and one can’t help suspecting he disapproves of Magnum’s decision to leave the Navy). Magnum for his part cannot get past his initial impression of Higgins as being too much like the type of pompous spit-and-polish regular officers he had undoubtedly encountered in the Navy. So despite occasional flashes of sympathy they continue to squabble and their squabbles remain as petty and childish as ever.

Tom Selleck as Thomas Magnum has a wonderful ability to switch gears from lighthearted fun to quite convincing moments of emotional pain. Magnum is a complex guy. He’s every bit as irresponsible and frivolous as Higgins thinks he is but he has a strong moral sense as well. In some ways he’s too moral to be a successful private eye.

One thing I love about this series is the Hawaii Five-O references scattered through it. And in this season there are guest appearances by Zulu (who played Kono in Hawaii Five-O) in The Jororo Kill and Kam Fong (who played Chin Ho Kelly in Hawaii Five-O) in The Last Page.

Overall Magnum, P.I. is what you expect from a series with Donald P. Bellisario as co-creator and executive producer - it has both style and substance.

Episode Guide

Billy Joe Bob hires Magnum to find his sister and Magnum is afraid of what he might actually find. A reasonable opening episode.

Dead Man’s Channel is an entertaining story of an archaeologist whose boat disappears. His daughter hires Thomas to find her father but it appears that he had disappeared in an area of water under an old Hawaiian curse. This is a good story.

In The Woman on the Beach Rick meets an absolutely amazing woman and falls hard for her. The only problem is that the woman has been dead for forty years. Magnum doesn’t believe in ghosts but it’s difficult to find a rational explanation. An excellent episode and a fine example of one of the strength of this series - the idea that the past can never be entirely escaped.

From Moscow to Maui is a routine spy drama about a Russian defector.

With Memories Are Forever we’re back to dealing with the past. This time Thomas is sure he’s seen a girl that he was crazy about him once but that can’t be because she’s dead. To complicate matters the Navy is also not going to let him get away from his past. One of the nest of the Vietnam-oriented episodes, and in fact one of the nest episodes of the season.

In Tropical Madness Higgins may have found love but could it be too good to be true?

Wave Goodbye concerns a surfer girl found dead. She wasn’t what you’d call an overly good or moral person but Magnum still feels very strongly that she didn’t deserve to die this way. A solid episode.

Mad Buck Gibson is a hell-raising writer whose ex-wife employs Magnum to keep him alive. Mostly he seems to need protection from himself. It takes a while for Magnum to figure out just what is driving Mad Buck Gibson. This one veers a bit close to sentimentality but it’s not bad.

The Taking of Dick McWilliams is a kidnapping case with some nasty twists. An OK episode.

In The Sixth Position Magnum gets another bodyguard assignment, a type of work he dislikes at the best of times but guarding prima ballerina is particularly exasperating. Or rather Kendall Chase is particularly exasperating. A solid enough episode.

Ghost Writer is about a woman ghost writing the biography of a man she’s never met. And someone is out to stop her. This one has a complex and effective plot although the main twist is not entirely unexpected.

In The Jororo Kill a female journalist hires Thomas to find a renegade MI6 agent. Thomas should have known better than to trust a journalist. This one has some contrived moments but some good action and suspense.

Computer Date lands Magnum in an awkward situation. He’s been hired to find out if a client’s wife has been playing around but it seems that she’s been playing around with Rick. To say that this puts a strain on his friendship with Rick is putting it mildly and there’s worse to come. A nicely tangled plot and a very satisfying episode.

Try To Remember deals with another classic Magnum theme - memory. Thomas sustains severe head injuries and the Ferrari is wrecked. That’s the least of his problems. The woman he’d been hired to find is dead, he’s the prime suspect and he can’t remember a thing that happened. Another very fine episode.

Italian Ice is a mixture of melodrama and farce. Thomas flies to Sicily to rescue a young woman from the mansion of a wealthy and wicked count. He soon has reason to wish he hasn’t volunteered for this job, as his romantic life collapses into chaos. The girl decides she’s madly in love with Magnum bat that’s just one of the nightmares he has to deal with. It’s a fatal attraction type of story and it’s done fairly well.

One More Summer is a football story so it’s almost incomprehensible to a non-American like myself. A star quarterback hires Magnum to protect him and Magnum has to go undercover a a member of the team. Magnum had been a pretty good player once but that was a long time ago. It’s a decent enough plot and an OK episode.

Texas Lightning is the nickname of high-stakes poker payer Jeannie Lowry in the episode of that title. She hires Magnum as bodyguard for a game on a yacht belonging to a billionaire. There’s certainly a high-stakes game about to be played but it isn’t poker. And Magnum is a player, whether he wants to be or not. His loyalties are also going to be sorely tested. A very good episode with some nice twists.

Double Jeopardy plunges Thomas into the bizarre world of Hollywood movie-making. The movie adaptation of Robin’s latest book is being shot partly on the estate. Magnum is persuaded to accept a job as stunt double to the star. He is also somewhat overawed by the leading lady Olivia Ross, being a long-time fan of hers. Being involved in the movie comes in handy when he has to investigate a shooting on set - a prop gun had been changed for a gun loaded with live ammunition. The plot twists aren’t too difficult to predict but it’s all done with style. His episode sees the return of Homicide cop Lieutenant Tanaka (played by Kwan Hi Lim) who would go on to appear in many future episodes, understandable enough since he’s a wonderful character. It’s a pretty solid episode.

In The Last Page Thomas thinks he’s helping a client to find his girlfriend but the client is looking for something else entirely. The client is a Vietnam vet for whom the war has never ended. He thinks he knows a way to put the war behind him but it’s a seriously bad idea and Thomas is going to have to try to prevent a tragedy. The Vietnam-centred stories always seem to be particularly effective and this is no exception.

There has to be an episode involving doubles. It was practically compulsory right through the 60, 70s and 80s. In The Elmo Ziller Story we discover that Higgins has an identical twin. Well actually he’s only a half-brother, but he’s an identical half-brother. His name is Elmo Ziller and he’s a Texas cowboy who runs a travelling rodeo and somebody is trying to kill him and steal the rodeo from his faithful daughter. Magnum doesn’t believe a word of it. He’s convinced that it really is Higgins, in disguise, although he can’t come up with a theory to explain why Higgins would want to do such an outlandish thing. But he’s still absolutely sure it’s Higgins. Well, fairly sure. And that’s what makes this one so much fun - is there a real Elmo Ziller? Is he alive? Is Higgins mixed up in some bizarre scheme? Magnum has to admit that he really doesn’t know, and we don’t know either, and it’s all great fun.

Three Minus Two takes Magnum into the world of fashion. Glamorous fashion designer Jan Kona (Jill St John) hires Magnum because it seems that someone is trying to kill her two business partners. The awkward part is that the person who stands to benefit most if the two partners are killed is Jan Kona. A solid mystery episode to round out the season, and it features a nice little skirmish in the continuing war between Magnum and Higgins.

Final Thoughts

Very much the formula as before and by this time it’s working like a well-oiled machine. Magnum, P.I. is dumb enough to be great fun and smart enough to keep audiences on their toes. Superb entertainment. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, 3 December 2019

The Avengers - 5 episodes, 5 Avengers Girls

It’s fascinating to see the way The Avengers reinvented itself so completely so many times. It’s not just the succession of different Avengers Girls. The one constant element in the series was Steed but he wasn’t constant at all. He evolved in most intriguing ways. In fact there were five subtly different Steeds. Each of these Steed variants has a quite different relationship with his female partner. What I’m planning to do here is to look at five episode, one featuring each of the five Avengers Girls.

The first version was the season one Steed. It’s difficult to make judgments on that first season since only one complete episode survives but it’s obvious that Steed was a rather hardboiled and very cynical character with a streak of genuine nastiness. That original version of The Avengers was intended as a gritty, realistic and hard-edged spy series.

The second version is the Steed of the Cathy Gale era. He has now acquired definite charm but it’s a sly sort of charm that he turns on and off when it’s useful to him. He is still cynical and calculating, and at times breathtakingly ruthless. Cathy Gale is clearly, especially in the 1962 season, a part-time operative whom Steed has recruited and he tells her as little as he can get away with. Which she resents. He lies to her and he uses her. She’s not exactly an innocent victim though. She’s well aware of Steed’s deficiencies of character and she’s well aware that espionage is not a game for children. Being a part-time spy can be fun, but she has no illusions about it.

Propellant 23 is a remarkably fine example of the Steed-Cathy Gale dynamic. She agrees to help him on the case but she is plainly irritated, she is plainly annoyed because she feels he is concealing vital information from her and using her. It’s also clear that there are times when Steed’s combination of cynicism and ruthlessness repels her. So why does she bother getting mixed up in his cases? The best guess is that it amuses and excites her.

There’s a faint suggestion that Steed exerts a kind of psychological dominance over Cathy (and that this is probably true of his relationships with women in general). There’s also a faint suggestion that this might be something that excites Mrs Gale, that she might be the kind of woman who would be attracted to such a man. There’s that subtle hint of mild perversity in The Avengers of the Cathy Gale years that interestingly enough is largely absent from the Emma Peel and Tara King eras. That touch of perversity was certainly noticed at the time. Given Mrs Gale’s penchant for leather and boots and her skills in unarmed combat most people have assumed that if Steed and Cathy had had such tastes that she would have been the dominant party. In fact when you watch the series it seems more likely that it’s Steed who would have been the dominant partner.

Box of Tricks was the third Venus Smith episode of The Avengers and when it went to air in January 1963 it marked the debut of Venus Smith Mark II. Venus started life as  a sultry torch singer but when John Bryce took over from Leonard White as producer he decided to re-invent the character - to make her younger and more bubbly. So Julie Stevens found herself having to change her whole approach to the rĂ´le.

Steed gets Venus a job singing at a club but he really wants her to keep an eye on the magician whose young lady assistant emerged from the disappearing box quite dead a couple of weeks earlier. We naturally assume this is the box of tricks referred to in the title but actually there’s a different box of tricks which is connected with the other main plot strand, involving a leakage on information from top-secret meetings chaired by General Sutherland.

The plot contains some good ideas but it doesn’t quite hang together. It also features an espionage conspiracy that is a little too dependent on the stupidity of the chosen victim.

On the other hand it is a very amusing episode. Steed’s cynicism is on full display as he gets information out of some of the girls at the club and then brushes them off in breathtakingly casual fashion. He gets some great lines out of it. His undercover stint as an eccentric hypochondriac millionaire is very funny.

Steed’s relationship with Venus is interesting. She is obviously aware that Steed works in counter-intelligence and is willing to help out although there is certainly a touch of manipulation to the arrangement. She needs all the singing work she can get and he gets her gigs in exchange for her help on certain cases. As is the case with Cathy Gale he tells her only what he thinks she needs to know, which is virtually nothing. She simply has to obey instructions. Like Mrs Gale Venus is to a considerable extent manipulated by Steed although in this episode he does seem quite fond of her, in his way. And in his defence one could point out that since she’s a complete amateur she’s probably safer not knowing too much and just obeying orders. On the whole she does a pretty fair job at carrying out his instructions. On the surface she’s an airhead and a chatterbox but she’s actually quite sensible (which of course is why Steed bothers to use her as an agent).

With the arrival of Mrs Peel we get Steed version three. The charm is now genuine. And the partnership with Mrs Peel is a genuine partnership. She’s also an amateur spy and her motivations are much the same as Mrs Gale’s - excitement and amusement. She does however obviously now have official status with the shadowy department that Steed works for. Steed does not attempt to manipulate her the way he manipulated Cathy Gale. There’s definite mutual respect and mutual affection, and while the mutual sexual attraction is obvious it’s more than just sexual attraction.

It has to be admitted that this third incarnation of Steed is quite inconsistent with the earlier versions, although I suppose one could try to argue that he’s a bit older, he may have mellowed a little, he may have been softened slightly by genuine emotional feelings toward Mrs Peel. Maybe he’s grown up.

Death’s Door shows the Steed-Mrs Peel dynamic in operation. They work effectively together because they trust each other. It’s a clever little Brian Clemens-scripted episode. There’s a vital international conference taking place but the British representative gets to the doorway leading to the conference room and refuses to enter. He’s had a dream and is now convinced he will die if he goes through that door. His dream comes true in every respect. And it seems that the same thing is destined to happen to every British representative. Steed and Mrs Peel do everything they can think of to convince Lord Melford that there’s no danger, but to no avail. Obviously someone is trying to wreck the conference but how can dreams be made to come true with such uncanny accuracy? The solution is well thought-out and manages to be both outlandish and convincing.

The dream sequences are quite impressive with an atmosphere that is surreal without resorting to silliness and genuinely unsettling. We also get to see how a man can be shot without a gun in a nicely executed little action set-piece.

The fourth Steed, the one of the Tara King era, is a subtle and perfectly plausible evolution from the previous version. The main difference is that his relationship with Tara is rather different. There’s a faint suggestion that she sees him as just a bit of a father figure, and that he sees himself in this light. Given that Tara is a professional spy and Steed trained her this of course makes perfect sense. There’s also definite sexual flirtation (if not more) between them.

Bizarre is one of the more notorious Tara King episodes. It was the very last episode of The Avengers (if you don’t count The New Avengers) which may be one of the reasons it has such a poor reputation. It seems to bring out all the bitterness of fans with the ending of the series.

Bizarre starts with a young woman discovered lying unconscious in a field, in her night dress. It doesn’t take long to figure out that she must have fallen from (or been pushed from) the night express which passed by about an hour before she was found. But how to explain her strange story about the dead man in the coffin who wasn’t dead?

There was a coffin on the train, bound for Happy Meadows. So Steed heads for the Happy Meadows cemetery to have a talk with Mr Happychap (Roy Kinnear), the man who runs the place and who believes that death can be fun. The case seems to involve a number of dead people but it is not clear exactly how dead they are, or how permanently dead they are. They are obviously very dead and very genuinely dead but they don’t stay that way. There’s also a travel agency that can arrange holidays in paradise, an agency run by the self-proclaimed charlatan the Master (Futon Mackay).

Mother gets quite a bit to do in this episode, which is fun by me since I always enjoy Patrick Newell’s performances. Roy Kinnear and Fulton Mackay dominate proceedings which is what you expect when you have two such fine comic actors and you let them loose. While the other supporting players naturally get overshadowed they’re actually uniformly good.

The final Steed, in The New Avengers, is a middle-aged version of the fourth Steed. The slight father-daughter vibe that existed with Tara is certainly there with Purdey. Most of the flirting is between Purdey and Gambit although the very strong emotional bond between Steed and Purdey suggests a past romantic involvement.

The Midas Touch is from the first season of The New Avengers and it’s top-notch stuff. For starters there’s a clever script from Brian Clemens. There’s a mad scientist, a Dr Turner, but instead of the usual mad scientist motivations this one is driven purely by a lust for gold. It’s a nicely bizarre slightly perverse touch. His brainchild is Midas, a young man who is a carrier of every disease known to science but he is immune to them all. He is in perfect health. Anyone he touches dies an agonising death. The mad scientist offers the services of Midas to a crazed power-hungry foreign politician.

The mad scientist is genuinely creepy and is played with gusto by David Swift. He’s a classic Avengers diabolical criminal mastermind. Ed Devereaux chews every piece of scenery he can get his hands on as the evil politician. His performance is a major highlight and again it’s classic Avengers stuff. Dr Turner’s gold collection, including plenty of naked golden ladies, provides the necessary  weird setting.

But this is The New Avengers so that means lots of action and violence doesn’t it? It certainly does. The violence is actually quite restrained but it has plenty of macabre and perverse overtones. The action sequences are not only terrific, they’re done with style and wit. Purdey and Gambit arguing over who directed The Treasure of the Sierra Madre in the middle of a thrilling high-octane car chase is a lovely touch. Purdey gets to demonstrate her prowess with the high kicks in a fine fight scene and it makes sense since it’s the only way she can fight this particular opponent.

There’s plenty of amusing dialogue with Purdey and Gambit indulging in some good-natured banter. Gambit is a character who has slowly grown on me. He’s more likeable than usual in this episode and he gets some good lines which Gareth Hunt delivers pretty effectively.

The New Avengers established Joanna Lumley as a major sex symbol and this episode shows why. And of course the sexiness is combined with definite hints of perversity - Purdey tied up and drooled over one of the mad scientist’s flunkeys being a case in point. And of course there’s Purdey climbing the gate and managing to give the audience a good long look at her panties. Very un-PC and I’m surprised they got away with it but I doubt that any male viewer would have been complaining. Joanna Lumley is in fine form in The Midas Touch. She gets lots to do and does it all well.

This is an episode that has enough of the flavour and stylistic dash and quirkiness of the original series combined with excellent 70s action sequences, and that’s the right combination for The New Avengers.

Sunday, 24 November 2019

Naked City season 3 (1961-62)

I’ve posted before about Naked City, not just one of the classic American cop shows but one that can truly be described as ground-breaking. It’s not just that it took advantage of the one-hour format (still fairly unusual at the beginning of the 60s) to feature complex plots, it also used the format to add considerably psychological complexity. And it was not afraid to be slightly unconventional or even just the tiniest bit experimental.

I’m going to talk about a few third season Naked City episodes that demonstrate this show’s strengths.

The Hot Minerva is definitely an offbeat episode. An extremely valuable classical Greek statue has been stolen from a museum. The thieves and the museum’s curator are all slightly odd, not quite the sorts of thieves that the detectives of the 65th Precinct usually deal with. This story is slightly tongue-in-cheek and slightly whimsical. It’s a quirky episode but it works for me.

A Case Study of Two Savages is about a nice young couple of newlyweds from Arkansas. Ansel Boake (Rip Torn) and his teenage bride Ora Mae are very much in love. Ansel wants to give Ora Mae lots of nice things. The only way he can get these nice things for her is to steal them. And that often involves killing people. In fact Ansel has to kill people for a lot of reasons. Which is OK, because he doesn't mind killing people. And Ora Mae knows that Ansel only kills people because he loves her. A great episode with a terrific performance by Tuesday Weld as Ora Mae.

The Face of the Enemy is a spree killer story, fairly unusual subject matter for 1962. Cornelius Daggett is a war hero. He killed 126 people in 1942 and the Army gave him a medal for it. Unfortunately the only thing that Cornelius Daggett has ever been any good at is killing people. And now the Army doesn’t need him to kill any more people. Nobody needs him to kill any more people. So what the hell does he do now? What he does do is drink and feel sorry for himself. His family doesn't want to know him any more. It was so much easier back on Guadalcanal. Those were good times. He killed people and everybody admired him for it. If only he were back on Guadalcanal. Pretty soon Cornelius Daggett is back on Guadalcanal, in his mind. You know this is not going to end well.

An intriguing episode because on the one hand there’s the temptation to make it a Social Problem Story and make Daggett a victim (and Detective Adam Flint’s social worker instincts are in full cry in this episode) but on the other hand the man is a drunken self-pitying loser and a psychotic killer. The episode veers between these two tendencies, which is sort of interesting.

Portrait of a Painter is (naturally) about a painter but it’s really more about evidence, particularly psychiatric evidence, and about preconceived notions affecting an investigation. The case seems open-and-shut. Roger Barmer is an artist with a history of psychiatric problems, including hostility to women, so when his wife is found stabbed to death he’s obviously the prime suspect. Barmer claims to have been out cold and to have found his wife’s body after regaining consciousness. He immediately goes to see his psychiatrist and makes a confession. At least it’s a sort of confession. Detective Flint is not happy about it at all - he feels that the psychiatrist bullied Barmer into the confession and given that Barmer has no memory of having committed the murder he thinks this confession is very very dubious. So he decides to press ahead with the investigation with an open mind. It’s an interesting and rather thought-provoking story, plus William Shatner plays the crazy artist and you just know how much fun that performance is going to be. An extremely good episode.

Let Me Die Before I Wake is quite offbeat. Joe Calageras (Jack Klugman) runs a successful trucking business with his brother Vito (Michael Constantine). The Calageras brothers are Sicilian and they have a pretty conservative outlook on life. They’re popular and well-respected. Then somebody tries to run Joe down in a truck. The truck misses Joe but hits a little girl. All the eyewitnesses are adamant that it was attempted murder but Joe insists it was an accident.

There are a lot of things that Joe doesn’t want to talk about. Like the reason he can’t leave the block. He gets as far as the corner and then he starts to sweat, his vision starts to blur, he gets dizzy. Joe also doesn’t want to talk about his wife Rosie. Unless someone will talk about these things Detectives Adam Flint and Frank Arcaro don’t see how they are going to find out the truth about that hit-run incident.

Maybe some things should get talked about. And maybe some things shouldn’t. Maybe talking about things can make things worse. Maybe it’s best not to know certain things. When there’s a powder keg of emotion ready to blow talking about it can set off the explosion. Is anybody better off then? This is an interesting performance by Klugman - he really keeps a lid on it which is not exactly his usual style. It’s another slightly unconventional but extremely interesting episode.

American television in the early 60s started to get rather keen on attempting to address social problems (much as Hollywood had had a minor obsession with Social Problem movies in the 50s). Most of these attempts were pretty cringe-inducing but Naked City was an exception. At times they did this sort of thing remarkably well. The One Marked Hot Gives Cold is an intriguing example. L. Francis Childe (the L stands for Love - yes the poor guy was named Love Childe by his parents) is thirty-one years old and he has a record of occasional outbursts of extreme violence. During his navy service he killed a fellow sailor and served a prison term. Now he’s trying to find his father. He had been left in an orphanage as a boy and had been told his parents were dead but he has reason to believe that his father is alive. He breaks into the orphanage and steals his records.

Childe has befriended a 12-year-old girl named Aggie. He has (or had) a girlfriend, a married woman. Now she has accused him of molesting Aggie. In fact we know that the relationship between Childe and Aggie, although odd, is completely innocent. They’re both lonely and craving someone to talk to. Detectives Flint and Arcaro, and Lieutenant Parker, suspect the the charges are malicious and that the relationship is innocent but when accusations like that are made they obviously have to investigate.

The treatment of the relationship between Childe and his father (when he finds him) is all very much what you expect at this period, rather Freudian and obsessed with the dangers of weak fathers. The Childe-Aggie relationship is quite touching - Aggie is probably the first human being that Childe has felt any liking for and Childe is probably the first person who has ever given Aggie the attention she craves. And he’s probably the first person who has ever taken her problems (the perfectly normal problems of a perfectly normal 12-year-old girl) seriously. This episode carefully avoids sensationalism or crassness. A grown man and a 12-year-old girl riding a merry-go-round and visiting the Children’s Zoo together could have been creepy but it isn’t really - Childe is at about the same level of emotional development as the girl. He just wants a friend.

It’s an example of this sort of thing done sensitively and perceptively. The ending is genuinely moving. It’s a very good episode.

The Fingers of Henri Tourelle is a whodunit episode and a very good one. Fashion house owner Henri Tourelle is murdered. The murder weapon, a gun, cannot be found. Between the time Tourelle died and the time the police arrived it would have been impossible for anyone to have left the building. The murderer therefore must be one of half a dozen people, the inner circle of Tourelle’s fashion empire. Each of them tells his or her story in a flashback. The solution to the puzzle is clever and the means by which Detective Adam Flint finds the solution is equally clever. Great stuff.

The central character of Goodbye Mama, Hello Auntie Maud is a house. It’s a very grand old house and Ellen Annis loves it dearly. Unfortunately her mother, a rich cantankerous old lady who is slowly dying, hates the house and wants to sell it. When Mama dies it comes as no great surprise and really it’s a good thing for everybody. Ellen will get to keep her house. The staff will get to keep their jobs (something both the butler and the chauffeur were rather worried about). And Ellen has told Auntie Maud she can live in the houses as long as she wants to. The police were a little concerned about an odd ’phone call at the time of Mama’s death but since the autopsy showed natural causes the case is soon closed.

The second corpse is more difficult to dismiss so lightly.

There’s some fine acting here from Salome Jens as Ellen, Carroll O’Connor as the butler and James Coburn as the chauffeur. Equally impressive is the subtle but oppressive atmosphere of the house. It’s a lovely old house but it seems to do things to people. An excellent episode, typical of the slightly offbeat nature of this series.

Which Is Joseph Creeley? is another demonstration of the willingness of this series to take major risks. The ending was very daringly unconventional for 1961 network TV. Joseph Creeley is convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to the electric chair. Then it is discovered that he has a brain tumour. An operation is carried out, successfully, and a startling discovery is made - the post-operation Joseph Creeley is an entire different person to the pre-operation version. He has gone from being a crazed killer to being a quiet gentle man. And he has no memory of the murder. In fact he cannot remember anything of the ten years that preceded the murder.

A retrial is ordered and the jury must decide if he can be convicted of a murder that was in effect carried out by a different man. Detective Adam Flint was the arresting officer but now he’s a witness for the defence.

Typically for this series the idea is a good one and it’s developed intelligently and provocatively, without sentimentality and without trying to treat a complex dilemma in simplistic terms. This is an excellent episode.

Ooftus Goofus is the story of George Bick, a little man who is slowly coming to realise that his life amounts to nothing and that nobody will ever take him seriously. He decides to make people listen to him. He starts out with harmless but rather clever pranks, such as switching all the prices at the local supermarket thereby creating pandemonium. The pranks gradually become more dangerous. This is a fine example of Naked City’s willingness to take risks. This story mixes whimsicality with pathos and tragedy. It has to tread a very fine line between sentimentality and black humour and between inspired whimsy and mere silliness. Somehow it succeeds and it’s genuinely moving. Mickey Rooney as George and Maureen Stapleton as his wife give bravura performances that still manage to feel real. A very fine episode.

Final Thoughts

One of the great cop shows and one that took TV police drama in risky but rewarding new directions.

Very highly recommended.