Friday 29 March 2024

Thriller - Late Date (1961 episode)

Late Date is episode 27 of the first season of the 1960-62 Boris Karloff-hosted Thriller TV anthology series. It first went to air in April 1961. I love all the American anthology series of that era. Thriller is uneven, but that’s part of the appeal an an anthology series - you never know whether you’re going to get a clunker or an absolute gem of an episode.

Thriller started out very much in the mould of the very popular Alfred Hitchcock Presents series, focusing on twisted crime stories with nasty stings in the tail. Initially audiences were a little underwhelmed by Thriller but as the series began to focus on supernatural horror audience enthusiasm started to build. There’s a noticeable and dramatic difference between the crime episodes and the supernatural horror episodes. Most fans prefer the horror stories and it’s arguable that the crime episodes are a little underrated.

Late Date is very much a crime story. It’s a suspense thriller story with a bit of a Hitchcock vibe and some definite film noir flavouring. It’s based on a Cornell Woolrich story so you expect some darkness.

It opens with a woman’s dead body on a bed, and a distraught man on the stairs. The man is Jim Weeks (Edward Platt) and the woman was his wife. His much younger brother Larry (Larry Pennell) assures him that the woman had it coming to her, and that everything will be OK. Larry has a plan to get his brother off the hook.

It’s a very elaborate plan. Maybe too elaborate for a plan that will have to be improvised. Right from the start everything that could go wrong does go wrong. In fact so many things go wrong that the story veers in the direction of black comedy, and black comedy in the Hitchcock manner. But it never quite becomes a black comedy. The emphasis remains on the suspense.

And there’s plenty of nail-biting suspense. Larry is quick-thinking and resourceful but he’s always just a millimetre ahead of disaster.

Of course there’s going to be a sting in the tail.

There’s some fascinating moral ambiguity here. We know Jim is a murderer but we see everything from Larry’s point of view and we like Larry and we admire his resourcefulness. We also admire his loyalty to his brother. We really want Larry’s scheme to work. We feel he deserves to get away with it - he’s tried so hard and he’s been through so much.

I haven’t read the original Cornell Woolrich story but Donald S. Sanford’s script feels very Woolrichian (within the limitations of what you could get away with on network television in 1961).

Herschel Daugherty directs with plenty of style and energy. Daugherty and cinematography Ray Rennahan achieve a very film noir atmosphere and a surprisingly cinematic look. Lots of shadows. This is a story that really benefits from being shot in black-and-white. There are some beautifully composed shots. This episode was made by people who cared about what they were doing.

Jody Fair is very good as Jim’s stepdaughter Helen. Edward Platt is fine. However this episode belongs to Larry Pennell and he’s excellent and very sympathetic and very human.

I love the inexorability of fate in this tale. You can see the things that are going to go wrong before they happen and that adds to the tension. As soon as you see Larry take the spare tyre out of the boot of his car (so there’ll be room for the body) you just know he’s going to get a flat tyre. The audience knows it, but Larry doesn’t know it. And there’s nothing he could do about it anyway.

Late Date is definitely worth seeing. Highly recommended.

I’ve reviewed lots of other episodes of Thriller - here, here, here and here.

Saturday 16 March 2024

The Outer Limits - three season 2 episodes

I love horror/thriller/science fiction anthology TV series and The Outer Limits which aired on the American ABC network from 1963 to 1965 is one of my favourites. It certainly plays fast and loose with science but it was consistently inventive and original. It was created by Leslie Stevens.

I’m just starting to delve in the second (and final) season so I thought I’d review a couple of episodes.

Producer Joseph Stefano (who also wrote many of the scripts) had been the main guiding force but left the series after the first season. There was a slight change of emphasis in the second season, with fewer monsters.

Some of the stories were crazy but they were almost always at least interesting.

We do have to confront the special effects issue. This series has gained a reputation for the extreme cheesiness of many of the special effects. And yes, they are cheesy. Often very much so. The problem wasn’t really the technology of the time. The problem was that The Outer Limits was trying to do ambitious science fiction stories on a 1963 TV budget. It couldn’t be done. They went ahead and did it anyway. Younger viewers today may have real problems getting past the cheesy effects. You just have to accept them and concentrate on the stories.

The Invisible Enemy

The Invisible Enemy was written by Jerry Sohl and directed by Byron Haskin. It aired in October 1964. It concerns the first manned mission to Mars. It ends disastrously, with Mission Control hearing the screams of the astronauts before contact is lost.

The second mission is supposed to be better prepared. They have a super-computer at Mission Control. And the four astronauts are under strict instructions never to get out of sight of one another. They also have a bazooka that fires nuclear-tipped projectiles.

Predictably the first thing that happens is that one of them does get out of sight of the others and he is never seen again.

The audience knows from the start what’s going on. The sandy plain where they landed isn’t a plain, it’s a sand sea. And there are sand shark monsters lurking in that sea. The astronauts take a long while to figure this out. In the meantime another member of the crew vanishes.

Mission Control is really annoyed. They’re inclined to blame the spacecraft commander, Major Merritt (Adam West, yes Batman). They want the mission completed. They want the bad guys destroyed. They want to open up Mars for colonisation.

It becomes a test of survival, with a race-against-time factor.

This episode reflects ideas about Mars that would soon become untenable when unmanned space probes reached the Red Planet. The assumption here is that Mars has a breathable atmosphere. This was presumably so the actors wouldn’t have to wear helmets the whole time. The low gravity on Mars is ignored.

It has to be admitted that the sand sharks are incredibly cheesy.

The main interest of the story is the tough decisions that may have to be made by Mission Control and by Major Merritt, and the price that may have to be paid for the conquest of space. It’s not a bad story.

Wolf 359

Wolf 359 was written by Richard Landau and Seeleg Lester and directed by Laslo Benedek. It first went to air in November 1964. This one is really wild.

Jonathan Meridith heads a research project out in the desert. He and his team have created a miniature replica of a planet eight light-years away. It’s like a computer model except it’s real. The replica planet has a diameter of a few feet. Time is speeded up several millionfold on the miniature planet. Dr Meridith wants to watch the process of evolution on a distant planet take place before his very eyes in his laboratory. He has a special viewer gizmo that magnifies things a millionfold.

The problem is that something really is going on on that tiny world. Meridith has seen something very weird through that viewer. What he sees loses a bit of its impact because the special effect comes across as a bit too goofy.

The science is of course totally nonsensical and there’s lots of loopy technobabble but it has to be said that it’s a clever and original idea.

I, Robot

I, Robot was written Robert C. Dennis, based on Eando Binder’s robot stories published in the Amazing Stories pulp in the late 30s and early 40s. It was directed by Leon Benson. It first went to air in November 1964.

An eccentric scientist has built an almost-human robot. He has named it Adam. Adam appears to have the ability to think for himself. He also appears to have some capacity for emotion.

The scientist is now dead and the robot is blamed. Cynical but smart newspaper reporter Judson Ellis (Leonard Nimoy) smells a story. Trial lawyer Thurman Cutler (Howard da Silva) is coaxed out of retirement to handle the case. The robot is tried for murder. The events that led up to the scientist’s death unfold in a series of flashbacks.

There is some attempt to grapple with the problems posed by artificial intelligences. Adam appears to be capable of thinking but is he really? He appears to have emotions but are these merely simulated emotions - is he simply copying human behaviour without understanding it?

There’s a bit of speechifying at the end but mercifully it doesn’t get political.

The robot does have that classic Tin Man look but he doesn’t look any sillier than robots from big-budget movies of the time. It’s a reasonably successful episode.

Final Thoughts

These three episodes are typical of the series in combining incredibly cheesy special effects with reasonably good writing. They’re all worth a look. Wolf 359 is the best, with the coolness of its ideas.

Thursday 22 February 2024

The Twilight Zone - The After Hours

Of the many and varied horror, science fiction and mystery anthology series that were such a feature of American television in the late 50s and early 60s The Twilight Zone is probably the one with the most glowing reputation. I have always had slightly mixed feelings about this series. There are many episodes that I love unreservedly and at its best it had a unique atmosphere that was profoundly unsettling rather than overtly scary.

On the other hand it could at times be a bit sentimental, and rather preachy. It’s the episodes written by Rod Serling with which I mostly have issues. Serling was definitely prone to sentimentalism and he could be very preachy. At his worst the preachiness could be clumsy. He did write some great episodes, but he wrote quite a few that I find difficult to enjoy.

Having said all that, my all-time favourite episode was in fact written by Rod Serling - The After Hours.

This is episode 34 of the first season of The Twilight Zone. It originally went to air on June 10, 1960. It was directed by Douglas Heyes (arguably The Twilight Zone’s ace director).

It’s a tricky episode to discuss, because I really don’t want to spoil any of the twists.

It starts innocently enough. Marsha White (Anne Francis) has gone to a department store to buy a gift for her mother. She’s looking for a gold thimble. She is advised to go to the ninth floor. Which she does. That’s something that will later be disturbing and perplexing for both Marsha and the store staff.

She finds the thimble but later finds, to her intense disappointment, that it is damaged. Naturally she complains and for some reason which she cannot fathom this causes great consternation to the staff. Then she has a shock. She is advised to lie down and rest. She has a sleep and when she wakes up things start to get really strange.

Marsha finds herself in a very frightening situation and it’s the kind of situation which would lend itself to a horror plot. But there’s no actual horror here. No gore. No bloodshed. No violence. No monsters. Nothing except a gradually increasing atmosphere of strangeness and disorientation. To the extent that it is horror, it is very subtle existential horror.

This is more akin to the literary genre of weird fiction than to horror. The temptation would have been there to give the story a horror story ending but Serling cleverly resists this temptation. This is The Twilight Zone and Serling here achieves exactly the feel that he had in mind when he created the series.

One of the great strengths of this episode is that this time Serling has no real axe to grind. He’s simply trying to make us feel uneasy. And he succeeds admirably.

Douglas Heyes as usual does a fine job as director. The visuals are impressive and a bit creepy. There aren’t any special effects as such. Everything is achieved through fine directing and good production design. 

And some very special props.

Anne Francis is excellent, playing Marsha as a woman who is bewildered and disoriented rather than hysterical. The supporting cast is very good, but this episode belongs to Anne Francis. There are some lovely nuances to her performance. You don’t fully appreciate just how good her acting is until you get to the end of the story, and then you realise what her performance has been leading up to. And according to director Douglas Heyes most of the really clever touches were her own ideas. Anne Francis was a very fine actress but I don’t think she was ever better than this.

The After Hours is a great example of what is now a lost art - short-form television drama. The half-hour television episode or standalone television drama was a very distinctive form and while it has its weaknesses it had very considerable strengths as well. It required discipline, focus and economy. Information that the viewer required (information about what sort of people the characters are, what kind of place it is that forms the setting of the story) had to be conveyed with extreme economy. 

Which meant that the sets, the set dressing, the lighting, the costumes and the makeup had to be carefully thought out because most of that vital information was going to be conveyed through an immediate visual impression. There just wasn’t time for detailed explanations. 

And the actors and actresses had to give the viewer an instantaneous impression of the characters they played, with no time for them to tell their life stories.

In The After Hours Serling and Douglas Heyes give us a master-class in this lost art. There’s not a single wasted shot, or a single unnecessary line of dialogue.

The After Hours is beautifully shot, and by 1960 television standards it’s visually very very impressive.

I’ve seen The After Hours at least three times now and I think I like it even more with each viewing. Very highly recommended.

I've also reviewed some other Twilight Zone episodes here and also here.

Thursday 25 January 2024

The Avengers - Stay Tuned

Stay Tuned is another Tara King episode of The Avengers, and this one is a corker. It was written by Tony Williamson and directed by Don Chaffey and first aired in February 1969.

Steed is getting ready to leave for three weeks holiday. As he’s about to walk out the door Tara arrives and she’s decidedly puzzled. Steed has already had his three-week holiday. Steed assumes that she’s playing a joke on him, until she advises him to check his suitcase. It’s full of dirty laundry and souvenirs he bought on his vacation. She also shows him today’s newspaper, whereupon Steed realises he has lost three weeks of his life.

He must have been somewhere during those three weeks but he has no idea where. He doesn’t remember a thing.

He also tries to crash Tara’s car, but he doesn’t know why.

The forensics people check his car. It has been in France and Italy, and it has recently been sideswiped by another vehicle.
And then Steed finds himself once again getting ready to set off on that very same holiday. Losing his memory is bad enough but he seems to be condemned to keep living the same events over and over again.

To solve the problem he will have to figure out why Tara lied to him. She would never lie to him. It doesn’t make sense.

Even when we start to realise at least some of what is going there’s still plenty of suspense and weirdness. Steed of course fears that he is going mad, and it has to be admitted that the evidence tends to point that way. Tara on the other hand refuses to believe that Steed has gone mad. One way or another she’s going to find the solution to the puzzle, or at least help Steed to do so.

A nice touch is Tara’s very genuine concern for Steed, which is clearly more than just professional concern.

Mother doesn’t appear in the early part of this episode. He’s on leave, so Father has taken over. Father is of course a woman, and both Father and Father’s flat add further surreal touches. And Mother will put in an appearance later - he has an important part to play in the plot.

Both Patrick Macnee and Linda Thorson are in fine acting form. Roger Delgado provides a menacing and sinister presence. 

And it’s always a treat to see Howard Marion-Crawford. He plays Collins, an agent assigned by Father to keep an eye on Steed.

And we get a good fight scene between Linda Thorson and Kate O’Mara. Honestly, what more could you want?

The bizarre psychiatrist’s office set, the mysterious room in the house in Fitzherbert Street and the man following Steed and Steed’s totally unaccountable failure to spot this man even when he’s only a few feet away from him add further bizarre disturbing touches.

The set design is top-notch. There’s a wonderful atmosphere - there’s something very wrong and unsettling about everything but Steed just can’t put the pieces together.

Stay Tuned is yet another Tara King episode that compares more than favourably the best Emma Peel episodes. Highly recommended.

Sunday 31 December 2023

E.C. Tubb’s Space: 1999 Rogue Planet (TV tie-in novel)

E.C. Tubb’s Rogue Planet, published in 1977, was the ninth of the Space: 1999 TV tie-in novels. It is an original novel, not a novelisation of episodes from the TV series. It’s based on Year One of the TV series.

E.C. Tubb was a prolific British science fiction writer. He wrote several Space: 1999 novels.

It’s relaxation time for the crew of Moonbase Alpha. They’re enjoying an amateur performance of Hamlet, but when the ghost of Hamlet’s father appears they see and hear something strange, something Shakespeare certainly did not write. It’s a warning that Moonbase Alpha is heading for danger. But every member of the audience saw and heard something different. And every member of the audience agrees that what they saw and heard was terrifying.

Was it some kind of mass delusion? Was it some mysterious message beamed from somewhere in space? Not long afterwards some kind of temporary collective madness afflicts the Alphans. It passes, but again it was terrifying and inexplicable.

Moonbase Alpha’s commander, John Koenig, wants answers. The base’s chief scientist Victor Bergman and chief medical officer Dr Helena Russell cannot provide answers, only speculation. Alpha’s instruments can detect nothing threatening.

Then the brain appears. It can’t be a brain of course, but it looks like one. An enormous brain the size of a planet. And Moonbase Alpha is trapped in a separate miniature universe. There appears to be no escape but some means of escape must be found. One crew member has already died of old age and he was only thirty-two. The same fate may await all of the inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha.

Space: 1999 was a great series (or at least Year One was great) but you do have to accept the outrageous premise of the series - the Moon being thrown out of orbit and hurtling through space at an absurd speed like a gigantic spaceship. You also have to accept the idea that in the almost unimaginable vastness and emptiness of space they keep encountering countless planets and alien spacecraft. But then the science fiction genre as a whole requires a huge suspension of disbelief. If you love science fiction you learn to accept some wacky science.

The novel captures the feel of the series extremely well. The principal characters - Commander Koenig, Dr Russell, Professor Bergman, chief Eagle pilot Alan Carter etc - behave the way they behave in the TV series. There’s the same mix of space adventure and reasonably cool science fiction concepts.

There’s a reasonable amount of emphasis on Koenig’s responsibilities as commander and the need to be strong and decisive while always bearing in mind that he’s dealing with people not machines. Similarly with Dr Russell there’s emphasis on the awesome responsibilities she has to shoulder alone.

Tubb’s prose is straightforward but pleasing enough.

It’s a very entertaining story with a few serious touches. The crew of Moonbase Alpha have to confront the imminent threats of death (death from accelerated ageing which is certainly a very frightening prospect) and madness. Death is ever-present in this story, in varying forms.

Space: 1999 was not a series that offered spectacular space battles. It offered action, but the action was more likely to be battles against strange unseen alien forces rather than hostile star fleets. This novel follows the same sort of formula. There are narrow escapes from mortal danger but the dangers in this case come from strange force fields and from being trapped in caverns and suchlike things.

This novel also offers us an alien life form that is genuinely alien.

Rogue Planet is a very decent science fiction novel. If you’re a fan of the TV series you’ll enjoy and even if you’ve never seen the series you’ll probably find it entertaining. Highly recommended.

I’ve reviewed one of Tubb’s other Space: 1999 novels, Alien Seed (which is excellent). I’ve also reviewed another Space: 1999 novel, John Rankine’s Android Planet (which is quite good).

Sunday 3 December 2023

The Saint in colour, part 2

A few selected episodes from the colour era of The Saint. I slightly prefer the black-and-white episodes but there was plenty of fun to be had in the colour seasons as well.

Locate and Destroy

Locate and Destroy (scripted by John Stanton and directed by Leslie Norman) went to air in December 1966.

Locate and Destroy begins with what seems to be an attempted hold-up in an art dealer’s shop in Lima, Peru. Simon Templar naturally just happens to be on hand and foils the robbery. Except that it wasn’t a robbery. This much is obvious to the Saint. He decides that he’d like to find out what was really going on. The fact that it’s none of his business is merely an added attraction. In fact what is really going on is a bit too obvious from the start, and the story relies on too many clumsy clichéd narrow escapes.

This one is a bit disappointing. It’s not terrible, it’s just very average.

The Better Mouse Trap

The Better Mouse Trap (scripted by Leigh Vance and directed by Gordon Flemyng) screened in November 1966.

The Saint is in Cannes and of course crime has followed him there, in the shape of a series of daring jewel robberies. Naturally the police assume Simon is the thief. They always do. 

And naturally this adventure involves a woman, a Canadian. The thieves are trying to cover their tracks by framing Simon.

As often happens in Simon’s adventures the woman is somewhat ambiguous. The viewer certainly has plenty of reason to suspect that she’s mixed up in the robberies.

This is very much a stock-standard Saint episode, enlivened by a comic turn by Ronnie Barker as a bumbling French policeman. There’s the usual stock footage to convince us we’re in the south of France.

Nothing special, but it’s executed competently.

Little Girl Lost

Little Girl Lost (scripted by Leigh Vance and directed by Roy Ward Baker) went to air in December 1966.

Simon is in Ireland where he rescues a young woman from a couple of thugs. The woman claims to be Hitler’s daughter! Simon is sure she’s either mad or lying but he likes a good story and she is pretty and it all sounds like it could be an amusing adventure.

There’s a millionaire mixed up in it and a couple of crooked private detectives, Simon and the girl get chased through the countryside and there’s young love thwarted and a matter of a hundred thousand pounds. And quite a bit of fisticuffs. 

Oh, and there’s a castle and a dungeon as well.

All in all this is a delightful light-hearted romp.

Paper Chase

Paper Chase (directed by Leslie Norman and written by Harry W. Junkin and Michael Cramoy) went to air in December 1966.

A chap named Redmond from the Foreign Office has defected to East Germany taking with him a vital file. Simon gets inveigled into working temporarily for British intelligence since he can identify the defector. But it’s not as simple as that. The East German spy who was Redmond’s contact wasn’t what he seemed to be. And Redmond finds he’s been conned.

There’s also a pretty girl (naturally). She’d like to go to London with Redmond. Or with Simon. Or with anybody who’ll take her.

This story gives Roger Moore a chance to do the James Bond thing which of course he does pretty well. There’s a lot more action than usual and some decent suspense.

All in all this is a pretty good spy thriller episode.

Flight Plan

Flight Plan (directed by Roy Ward Baker and scripted by Alfred Shaughnessy) went to air in December 1966.

Diana Gregory (Fiona Lewis) arrives in London to meet her brother Mike but a phoney nun tries to kidnap her. Luckily when a damsel is in distress you can be sure that Simon Templar will be at hand to rescue her. But then there’s another mystery - her brother, an R.A.F. pilot, is nowhere to be found.

Mike had been one of the pilots testing the new top-secret British fighter the Osprey (which appears to be the supersonic version of the Harrier that was planned at one stage) and it doesn’t take Simon long to figure out that there’s some kind of plot afoot involving that aircraft. Mike turns out to be a bit of a loose cannon, being a drunkard who passes bad cheques. Just the sort of person who get mixed up in an espionage plot.

This is a decent spy thriller episode with the added bonus of aerial adventure (although the aerial stuff is of course almost entirely stock footage). William Gaunt (from The Champions) plays Mike.

Final Thoughts

Five episodes, two of them a bit on the routine side but three of them very good.

Tuesday 31 October 2023

Callan Uncovered

Callan Uncovered is a collection of the Callan short stories written by James Mitchell. Mitchell was the creator and main scriptwriter for Callan, probably the most acclaimed TV spy series of all time. The book also includes a complete script for an episode that was never made plus a treatment for another unmade episode.

The first of the stories (a Christmas assassination tale) was written for TV Times in 1967, shortly after David Callan made his screen debut in A Magnum for Schneider and at about the time that the first season of Callan started airing. The other twenty-four short stories appeared in the Sunday Express over the next few years.

Callan was a spy series that was character rather than plot-driven. The focus was on the psychology of British government assassin David Callan, a killer who no longer enjoyed killing. There’s also an emphasis on the fact that Callan’s victims are not just targets. They are real people. They have wives, and daughters. They have the normal human hopes and fears. In order to carry out his assignments Callan has to get close to his victims which makes it impossible not to see them as real people.

The problem with these stories is that they were written for newspaper publication and they therefore are fairly short short stories with not a lot of scope for characterisation. In fact some of the stories are really just vignettes. They’re mood pieces. They do however manage to capture the cynical seedy paranoid atmosphere of the series.

I’m assuming that these stories are reprinted in roughly the order in which they were written. I suspect that this is so because the quality of the stories gradually improves. It seems as if Mitchell took a while to get a handle on the very short story format. The first half dozen stories are pretty then but after that Mitchell really hits his stride and gives us some very punchy, twisted, dark and cynical tales.

In fact the mood is more cynical than the TV series. The whole point of the TV series is that in the Cold War the good guys weren’t much better than the bad guys. In these stories it’s hard not to see the British intelligence services as out-and-out bad guys. This is the British government not just assassinating foreign agents but brutally murdering British citizens who are often quite innocent merely because their existence is potentially inconvenient to the government. It’s pretty chilling stuff. Hunter is sinister and creepy enough in the TV series but in some of these stories he is clearly evil, and it’s the worst sort of evil, the evil that cloaks itself in high principles which in reality are nothing more than expediency.

Mitchell takes the opportunity to do the occasional quirky story which would not have worked on TV. A story like File on a Careful Cowboy would have come across as slightly surreal on TV and that’s not consistent with the overall tone of the series.

The Stories

In File on a Deadly Deadshot six men enjoying a weekend of shooting. One is the intended target of an assassin. One of the others is the assassin, and Callan has to find out which one. There’s a bit of an attempt in this story to flesh out the Callan-Hunter relationship.

In File on an Angry Artist Callan gets a surveillance job. A struggling artist with a major anger problem may be in possession of top-secret documents.

In File on a Reckless Rider it seems like members of a fox hunt are being targeted but maybe there’s more to it.

File on a Weeping Widow is better developed than most of these stories. The widow of a racing car driver is suspected of espionage but the suspicions are very vague. It’s enough to get her a Red File, but Hunter is prepared to be convinced that she’s clean. Callan’s job is to find evidence to clear her. Callan gets personally involved, in fact he falls in love with the woman. Hunter isn’t totally heartless. If she turns out to be a spy he won’t ask Callan to kill her. He’ll get Meres to do it instead.

File on an Angry Actor presents Callan with a rather unusual assignment. It’s not often that the Section’s target for assassination is a famous movie star. Callan gets a job working on the star’s latest movie and Lonely gets work as an extra.

File on a Lucky Lady is the most successful of the stories so far. Callan has to keep a rich girl alive and unharmed. Hunter fears she may be kidnapped in order to put pressure on here fabulously wealthy father. There’s a bit more action and excitement in this story.

File on a Dancing Decoy introduces Callan to the world of ballet. A Russian ballerina defected a while back but why was it so easy for her? Is she being used?

The diary concerned in File on a Deadly Diary was kept by the late husband of Lady Black. Diaries of important people are always likely to prove embarrassing to someone. In this case there are lots of nasty people who want the diary. Some want to publish it. Some want to suppress it. Including some unexpected interested groups.

File on a Classy Club. The club is a gambling club. Very exclusive. Callan finds he is now a member. His assignment is to lose money. Lots of money. He assumes Hunter has some good reason wanting this to happen but in this case there are several important things that Hunter does not know. And if there’s one thing that upsets Hunter it’s things happening that he doesn’t know about.

Callan finds himself at a health farm in File on a Fearsome Farm, which isn’t much fun except for the dishy Natasha Biscayne.

File on a Careful Cowboy takes Callan to the Wild West. Well actually it’s a dude ranch in the south of France. A senior Mafiosi likes to live out gunslinger fantasies. Callan and Meres find themselves having to enact a classic western showdown scene.

Sometimes Callan’s job involves killing people but sometimes it requires him to keep someone alive, and sometimes that’s even more unpleasant. That’s the case in File on a Doomed Defector, the defector being someone who richly deserves killing.

In File on a Pining Poet Callan discovers that even economists can fall in love, but sometimes important economists fall in love with KGB agents.

File on a Powerful Picador gets Callan mixed up with matadors and picadors and dangerous women.

File on a Difficult Don takes Callan to Oxford. A brilliant young don who breaks codes for the Section is causing Hunter a good deal of concern. The East Germans might be about to snatch him. Callan has to pose as a military historian, which he does quite successfully. But he may have misread the situation pertaining to that troublesome don.

File on a Darling Daughter involves a general and his junkie daughter and a drug-pusher who is mixed up in espionage. Meres gets the opportunity to indulge his tastes for sadism and torture.

Callan hates working with amateurs and in File on an Awesome Amateur that’s just what he has to do. He’s also not sure why a poet should be so important. Nice to see the CIA as the bad guys in this one.

File on a Joyous Juliet deals with a pretty young actress who is having an affair with an older married man. That older man just happens to have developed a horrifying new nerve gas. And he has a possessive wife. All of which makes Hunter very nervous.

File on a Mourning Mother involves a young man, now deceased, who had a secret. In fat several secrets. What matters to Hunter is how many other people shared these little secrets. A very dark cynical story.

Dealing with the KGB is hard enough but in File on an Angry American Hunter has the CIA to deal with and that’s much trickier. And Hunter doesn’t like the idea of the CIA killing people in Britain. There’s another reason that Hunter is very unhappy about this case, as Callan will find out.

In File on a Deadly Don Callan has to kill a mafiosi on his home turf. It’s a job he’d rather not take on but Hunter has private reasons for wanting this kill.

In File on a Tired Traitor Hunter wants Callan to bring in Alfred Dawes, accused of treason twenty-seven years earlier. It seems that for a lot of people the past cannot stay buried.

File on a Harassed Hunter takes Hunter out of the office, in fact for this case he plays the part of Callan’s sidekick. And he hasn’t forgotten how to use a gun. This is one of several stories which give us tantalising glimpses into Hunter’s personal life.

File on a Beautiful Boxer concerns rich playboy Rod Mercer who designs marine engines. The Israelis bought some and decided they were faulty, so they’re going to kill him. The Admiralty likes the engines and wants Mercer kept alive, so it’s Callan’s job to make sure he stays alive. A nice little story.

Goodbye Mary Lee is the unmade script. It would be interesting to know when it was written. Hunter is several times referred to as Colonel Hunter, which only happens in the early episodes which suggests it’s an early script. Callan appears to have left the Section. Meres is mentioned, but doesn’t appear in the story. It’s hard to guess just where this episode was intended to be slotted in.

Callan has fallen in love with an American senator’s daughter who just happens to be mixed up in every fashionable radical cause going. And she may have involved herself in espionage.

The CIA wants Hunter to get the girl, Mary Lee, out of the way (not killed, you can’t go around killing senators’ daughters). Hunter has no idea that Mary Lee has a boyfriend, and his name is David Callan.

There are lots of double-crosses in this episode as Callan tries desperately to keep his new lady love out of trouble. He’s hoping he won’t have to kill anybody. It’s a typically cynical Callan episode content-wise.

Final Thoughts

There was a Callan movie, a somewhat later TV-movie, several novels and these short stories but Callan always worked best as a TV series. TV in the late 60s/early 70s was the perfect medium for creating the enclosed paranoid seedy atmosphere that the series required.

But having said that the short stories are enjoyable and interesting in being even more cynical than the series. Highly recommended.

I've also reviewed the Callan novel Russian Roulette.