Sunday, 3 July 2022

Thriller, The Return of Andrew Bentley (1961)

The Return of Andrew Bentley was episode twelve of the second season of the classic TV horror anthology series Thriller (hosted by Boris Karloff) . It originally went to air in December 1961. It was scripted by Richard Matheson from a story written by August Derleth and Mark Schorer and directed by John Newland (who also stars). With personnel like that involved my expectations were very high indeed.

When it comes to movie and television horror (and science fiction) very few people have résumés that can match that of Richard Matheson. He wrote most of the best episodes of the Twilight Zone. He adapted his own novel for the superb 1973 haunted house movie The Legend of Hell House. He adapted his own novel for the equally good 1957 science fiction movie The Incredible Shrinking Man. He wrote the screenplay for The Night of the Eagle (one of the best witchcraft movies ever made) and for Roger Corman’s excellent Poe movie The Pit and the Pendulum. And of course he wrote the screenplay for Hammer's best-ever movie, The Devil Rides Out.

As an editor and publisher August Derleth is usually credited with having turned H.P. Lovecraft into a major cult figure. Derleth was a fine horror writer in his own right.

John Newland is best remembered as the host of the supernatural/paranormal anthology series One Step Beyond.

The time period in which The Return of Andrew Bentley isn’t stated but judging by the women’s dresses and the fact the protagonists arrive on the scene in a carriage would suggest the late 19th century.

Ellis Corbett (John Newland) and his wife Sheilas (Antoinette Bower) have been summoned to the decaying gothic mansion of Ellis’s uncle Amos Wilder. Amos appears to be quite mad. He tells them he is about to die and that he is leaving the house and his considerable fortune to Ellis, on certain conditions. They must live in the house and every day they must check Amos’s burial vault, looking out for anything that might indicate that the vault has been tampered with.

It seems that Amos had been a practitioner of black magic, along with a fellow named Andrew Bentley. They had a falling out. Amos thought Andrew had gone too far. Now Amos believes that Andrew is out to get him. Andrew Bentley is dead but that doesn’t make him any less dangerous. And there’s always Andrew’s familiar to worry about.

Ellis and Sheila are plenty scared but there are two reasons they can’t just flee. The first is that they would then lose the inheritance, and they really need Uncle Amos’s money. The second reason is more honourable. Ellis made a promise to his uncle. So his motivations are both selfish and selfless which makes him more interesting than most such characters.

Initially we wonder just how much Ellis knows, or perhaps more to the point just how much he believes. Then he has a terrifying encounter in the crypt. Any scepticism he may have had soon vanishes, and Sheila sees something as well.

The episode then becomes full-blooded supernatural horror. This is not one of those stories in which the audience is left to wonder just how much of what they’ve seen might have a rational explanation. No rational explanations are possible. Ellis and Sheila are confronted with incontrovertible evidence. And the story is then played out dead straight. There is of course a way to defeat the evil, if you have the necessary knowledge of the occult.

There’s nothing tongue-in-cheek here, no jokiness and no attempt to be ironic or camp. Thriller had started life as an Alfred Hitchcock Presents-style mystery thriller series but by this time they’d realised that the series had to find its own identity as an unapologetic supernatural horror series.

The gothic atmosphere is laid on good and thick. The gloomy old house, the creepy burial vault, cobwebs everywhere, Amos’s pet falcon, loads of gothic paraphernalia, sinister caped figures, secret passageways, moody black-and-white cinematography (by John F. Warren). It looks terrific. There’s even an actual unequivocal monster, with special effects that work well enough.

John Newland does a solid job as director. He knows how to deliver the necessary scares.

He does a capable job as an actor as well. The whole cast is good, with Reggie Nalder very creepy as the ghost.

The Return of Andrew Bentley is fine supernatural horror, going all out for spookiness and scares. Great stuff. Highly recommended.

Saturday, 11 June 2022

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. - The Moonglow Affair

When the television series The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was being developed by Ian Fleming (yes, that Ian Fleming) the intention was to have two regular characters, a male spy (whom Fleming named Napoleon Solo) and his female partner, April Dancer.

So April Dancer, The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., can in fact be considered to have been created by Ian Fleming (which is why she has a cool name - all Fleming’s female characters had delightful names).

For various reasons Fleming severed his relationship with the series (one story is that he thought the series would be too Bond-like so he would in effect be competing with himself).

After Fleming’s departure it was decided there would be only one central character, Napoleon Solo. That’s why the series was called The Man from U.N.C.L.E. rather than The Men from U.N.C.L.E. and the pilot episode, called Solo, does indeed feature only Napoleon Solo. When the series went into production the first episode featured a minor character named Illya Kuryakin. He was so popular that the immediate decision was made to make him the co-star.

Miss Dancer had however not been entirely forgotten. A spin-off series, to be called The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., seemed like a tempting idea and episode twenty-three of the second season became in effect the pilot episode of The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.. This episode was The Moonglow Affair. It was scripted by Dean Hargrove and directed by Joseph Sargent and originally went to air in February 1966.

In this episode April Dancer is played by Mary Ann Mobley with her partner Mark Slate being played by Norman Fell. When The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. got the go-ahead as a spin-off series Stefanie Powers took over the role of Miss Dancer while Mark Slate became very English and was played by Noel Harrison.

By this stage the fatal decision had been made to turn both The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. into zany comic-book style adventures inspired by the Batman TV series. This ill-considered decision doomed both series. It just didn’t work. They already had the right formula, an American copy of the mixture of action and tongue-in-cheek charm that worked so well for the Bond movies, and changing that formula was an idea that only 1960s TV network executives could have come up with.

The Moonglow Affair is still in the early Man from U.N.C.L.E. style, sophisticated sand witty rather than zany and goofy.

In some ways April Dancer resembles Cinnamon Carter in Mission: Impossible, relying on her wits and her sex appeal rather than her fighting skills. She is slightly more of an action heroine than Cinnamon Carter, but she is not really a Cath Gale or an Emma Peel-style full-blown kickass action heroine.

In The Moonglow Affair both Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin have landed themselves in very bad trouble and in desperation Mr Waverley has to send a brand new agent into the field to rescue them. April Dancer is only twenty-four but Mr Waverley assures doubters that she really is fully trained and very capable.

April’s partner Mark Slate is balding middle-aged Norman Fell. In fact he’s past retirement age for a field agent which becomes a running joke through the rest of the episode.

THRUSH is trying to sabotage the American space program, and the Russian space program as well. THRUSH has its own plans for space exploration. They’re using a cosmetics company as a front and April manages to get herself chosen as Miss Moonglow, the centrepiece of their promotional plans for a new glow-in-the-dark lipstick (and that glow-in-the-dark lipstick will be used quite cleverly at the episode’s climax).

The Moonglow Affair was broadcast in February 1966. The idea of The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. series was obviously already in the air (it would make its debut in September 1966). I have no idea if Mary Ann Mobley was considered for the role in the series. She’s quite good but perhaps she didn’t quite have the star power for a series. Or perhaps the decision to put more emphasis on zany comedy made Stefanie Powers seem like a more suitable choice.

While Norman Fell was fun as the middle-aged Mark Slate that casting was obviously only going to work as a one-off.

The Moonglow Affair certainly puts April Dancer at centre stage. Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin scarcely appear in this episode at all. The idea presumably was to find out if April Dancer was likely to be a strong enough character to carry a series.

The potential of the character was obvious. The producers however clearly thought that Mary Ann Mobley was not the right actress for the upcoming series.

I like Mary Ann Mobley in this episode. I like her a lot. She’s adorable and her acting is fine, and she captures the character very well. She can be amusing, she can be sexy. She’s not called upon to do anything physical since April Dancer was not conceived of as the kind of lady spy who relies on her unarmed combat abilities. She was, incidentally, Miss America 1959. She had some bad luck as an actress, having originally landed the part of Batgirl in the Batman TV series only to be replaced by Yvonne Craig. In a way I can see why Stefanie Powers was ultimately preferred. Mary Ann Mobley is perhaps just a bit too soft and feminine.

When it came to The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. series the producers obviously wanted April’s male partner to be more of an action hero type so Norman Fell was not likely to have been seriously considered. It’s a pity. He and Mary Ann Mobley have fine chemistry and this original version of the April Dancer-Mark Slate pairing is rather delightful.

The Moonglow Affair is actually vastly superior to most of the episodes of The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. which far too often suffered from weak writing and excessive silliness. The Moonglow Affair by contrast hits just the right balance, being witty and clever and outrageous without ever descending into self-conscious goofiness or self-parody. An entire series pairing Mary Ann Mobley and Norman Fell would most likely have had more of the feel of The Avengers rather than trying unsuccessfully to ape Batman.

The Moonglow Affair is an excellent episode. A tantalising glimpse into what might have been.

Wednesday, 25 May 2022

Coronado 9 (1960-61)

Coronado 9 is a now entirely forgotten American private eye series that aired in syndication from 1960 to 1961. Thirty-nine episodes were made in total.

Rod Cameron plays PI Dan Adams. Initially we’re not told very much about him but over the course of the first ten episodes or so we can piece together the vague outlines of his story. He’s an ex-Naval Intelligence officer, unmarried and apparently never has been married, and his greatest passion in life is his sailing boat. This offers the opportunity to introduce some vaguely nautical storylines which gives the series a bit more colour.

Rod Cameron was a big hulking guy who was pretty much born to play tough guys and cops. And private eyes. He’s reasonably convincing but he is just a little lacking when it comes to personality. Which I suspect is the reason the series only lasted one season. He certainly doesn’t have the charisma of the stars of other private eye series of that era, like Darren McGavin in Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer or John Cassavetes in Johnny Staccato.

Dan Adams is also very much a straight arrow, perhaps to an excessive degree. He believes in keeping nothing from the police and he definitely does not believe in cutting legal corners. That’s no doubt a sensible philosophy for a real-life private detective but you expect a TV detective to be prepared on occasions to sail a bit closer to the wind in protecting the interests of his clients.

Dan Adams also seems to be quite uninterested in any romantic entanglements with women, another factor that possibly contributed to the show’s cancellation.

The setting is San Diego. Dan Adams actually lives on Coronado Island, in a rather cool modernist beach house.

Much of this series was directed by William Witney who a couple of decades earlier had been probably the finest ever director of movie serials. As a director of serials he had been known for his skill at shooting action scenes and he gets a few chances to demonstrate that skill in his work on Coronado 9.

Private eye series proliferated in American TV in the late 50s and the biggest problem facing the producers of such a series was to give your production some touch of individuality or originality. You could do that by having a slightly offbeat detective (such as Johnny Staccato) or you could try putting your PI in an exotic setting (Hawaiian Eye being an example). Giving Dan Adams a sailing boat and having a few episodes with some connection to boats was a kind of token attempt to give Coronado 9 a mildly exotic flavour but unfortunately apart from the opening episode the budgets weren’t sufficient to allow actual shipboard settings.

So it’s not that it’s a bad series. It just didn’t have anything much to make it stand out.

Episode Guide

This covers the dozen or so episodes I’ve watched.

In the opening episode, The Widow of Kill Cove, a woman hires Dan Adams to take her to Mexico to look for her missing husband. Adams finds he’s been set up and it’s a tense battle for survival on his boat. A pretty good way to kick off a series although it actually tells us nothing at all about Dan Adams except that he owns a boat and he’s a guy who can handle himself in a fight. He could be a PI or he could just be an ex-military guy.

Stroll in the Park clarifies the situation. He is definitely a PI. He’s been hired by a guy who was mugged while enjoying a romantic idyll in the park with a young lady. He’s a married man but the young lady in question was definitely not his wife, so of course he didn’t report the matter to the police. His big problem is that the muggers stole some papers and if he doesn’t get them back he’ll lose his job, so he’s relying on Dan to do so discreetly. Being discreet becomes more difficult when Dan discovers that he’s dealing with much more than a mugging. A good solid episode.

Doomtown is one of the countless TV and movie stories in which a city person travels to a nice little country town only to discover that all country people are evil knuckle-dragging rednecks and all country lawmen are corrupt thugs. This is a particularly tedious example of a tedious species. My advice is to skip this embarrassingly bad episode.

The Spinster of Nob Hill is an OK was it suicide or was it murder story. The police certainly think the dead woman’s husband murdered her and Dan has to find out the truth.

The Groom Came D.O.A. starts with a drive-by shooting, at a wedding. Dan has a kind of indirect connection with the groom and he agrees to look into the case. There are some nice little plot twists here and it’s a pretty effective story.

The Day Chivalry Died puts Dan in an awkward position. He runs into Joe Cardoza, an old Navy buddy,  at a party. Joe has to return to his ship (he’s now in the Coast Guard) and he asks Dan to keep an eye on his wife. Dan keeps an eye on her and what he sees is very disturbing. But is it what it appears to be? And how will the notoriously hot-headed Joe react? Dan needs the skills not of a private detective but of a marriage counsellor, a diplomat and a psychologist. And some all-in wrestling skills will come in handy too. A slightly offbeat episode and a good one.

I Came for the Funeral takes Dan to Mexico, to attend the funeral of the son of an old friend. Dan wants to find out exactly what happened to the deceased young man. It seems that whatever the circumstances everyone is overjoyed that the guy is dead. Including the Mexican police, represented by the vain, arrogant, foolish local police lieutenant. Or at least he likes people to think he is vain, arrogant and foolish. A good episode.

I Want to Be Hated is a serious misfire. Dan meets a woman on the ferry. Nancy is obviously crazy. And it’s not just your regular kind of craziness. This is bad craziness. The craziness that ends with someone in the morgue. But Dan decides to rescue her. Now I may be wrong but I’m not at all convinced that a hardbitten PI like Dan Adams would be dumb enough to try a thing like that. But he does. And it all becomes rather contrived. And it left me totally unconvinced.

Four and Twenty Buddhas is more of a straightforward private eye tale and it’s pretty good. A young Chinese girl is conned out of some valuable art treasures but Dan Adams is on the case and pretty soon he has a personal reason to nail these hoodlums. Good episode.

In Run Scared a guy who’s just come out of prison is threatening to kill Dan, for sending him to prison in the first place. Everyone assures Dan that Harry Matthews is really serious about his threat. Which is odd, because Harry has never seemed the type for vengeance. Another very competent episode.

Alibi Bye a stereotypical over-privileged spoilt rich young man kills a woman in a hit-run accident. His rich mother wants to hire Dan to prove her son’s very dubious alibi but Dan has a really bad feeling about this case.

In A Bookie Is Not a Bibliophile gambling leads to murder, although in this case in a rather indirect manner. And it may lead to more direct forms of murder as well. A solid enough episode.

Careless Joe is a musician and he’s a nice guy but he’s too fond of women and much too fond of the ponies. Now he’s in real big trouble and wants Dan to bail him out.

Remember the Alamo presents Dan with a kidnapping case but there’s that doesn’t feel right. We know that there are several possible twists in this kind of story and Remember the Alamo does a fairly good job of keeping us uncertain as to which twist it’s going to pull. It also makes great use of the wonderful Hotel del Coronado with a fine action climax. An excellent episode.

Blow, Gabriella is a spy story about two brothers. Both are young scientists. One is a scientific genius, the other is - well let’s just say he isn’t a scientific genius. This leads to some tensions, and these tensions cause one brother to get mixed up in an espionage plot. A slightly odd episode. I wish I could assure you it’s odd in a good way, but it isn’t really.

Loser's Circle is a murder case, but it’s a murder in the distant past. Except the past doesn’t always stay in the past. The mystery in this story is not too difficult to figure out.

Obituary of a Small Ape is an enjoyable spy thriller story. The small ape in question is actually a monkey and he’s the key to an espionage plot. Despite the title you’ll be pleased to know that at the end of the story the monkey is still alive and well and happy. Which is not a spoiler. The monkey is the key but whether he’s alive or dead makes no difference to the plot.

In Film Flam Dan travels to Paris and then to Algiers (through the magic of stock footage) to help out a Frenchwoman who is being blackmailed. Dan has to convince the blackmailers that he’s as crooked as they are. Not a bad episode.

Londonderry Heiress takes Dan to London, for a job as bodyguard to the daughter of a retired Irish-American gangster. Someone has been making threats against the daughter. Keeping her safe is a challenge; fending off her amorous advances is an even bigger challenge. An OK episode.

Run, Shep, Run takes Dan to an old mansion in the bayou country for a week’s duck shooting. There turns out to be shooting but it’s not the ducks being hunted. The bayou setting is effective, the plot has some decent twists and it’s reasonably exciting. All in all a good episode.

The Daley Double benefits from its setting, a movie studio where star Belinda Daley’s latest picture is being shot. Miss Daley thinks someone is trying to kill her and the recent death of her stunt double in an accident heightens her fears. So she calls in Dan Adams. The problem is that Belinda Daley has an awful lot of enemies. This one has some decent action scenes and it’s not bad.

Final Thoughts

Coronado 9 is an average sort of American private eye series for its era. If you like private eye series and you like American TV of that era it’s a harmless enough time-waster. Just don’t expect it to be in the same league as Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer or Johnny Staccato.

Timeless Media Group have released all 39 episodes of Coronado 9 in a four-DVD set. The transfers are reasonably good.

I’m a big fan of American TV of this era and of private eye series and I quite enjoyed Coronado 9. I think it’s worth a look if you can find it as a rental.

Friday, 6 May 2022

Charlie’s Angels season 3

After facing what looked like imminent disaster when Farrah Fawcett quit after the first season Charlie’s Angels had bounced back amazingly well in its second season. In fact the ratings for the second season were marginally higher than for the first. But there were more storm clouds on the horizon for Charlie’s Angels. Those storm clouds were centred over Kate Jackson. Jackson had always seen herself as the star of the series and had been somewhat miffed when Farrah Fawcett got all the attention in season one. And in season two the nightmare continued, this time with Jackson being totally overshadowed by the awesomeness that was Cheryl Ladd.

Jackson was also unhappy that the series didn’t turn out to be the very serious very feminist-centred series that she’d wanted it to be. And then Jackson was offered the lead role in Kramer vs Kramer (which she thought would have made her the biggest star in Hollywood) and the producers of Charlie’s Angels made it clear that if she tried to do a Farrah and break her contract they’d see her in court.

So the atmosphere on-set during the making of the third season was tense to say the least, with Jackson frequently refusing to talk to anybody. Finally by the end of the season producers Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg had had enough and Jackson was fired.

Now don’t get me wrong. I like Kate Jackson in Charlie’s Angels, and I like Sabrina. And I think that the third season lineup of Jackson, Jaclyn Smith and Cheryl Ladd was superb. The three stars balanced each other perfectly. Each actress, and each character, had her own strengths and the combination was, at its best, television magic.

The third season saw Farrah Fawcett back in the series as a guest star in several episodes. Farrah had broken her contract and walked on the series after the first season (to pursue what she fondly imagined would be a glittering Hollywood film career) which led to much legal wrangling. Part of the deal finally struck was that Farrah would return for several guest appearances in the third season. The problem is that by the time she did return her star was already beginning to wane and that glittering film career was turning into a total washout. The sad truth is that by season three Charlie’s Angels no longer needed Farrah Fawcett. Her replacement, Cheryl Ladd, had become hugely popular and to be brutally honest Ladd had more star quality than Farrah. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Farrah in the first season, it’s just that Cheryl Ladd was even better.

Charlie’s Angels was still riding high in the ratings during the third season. As for the scripts, let’s just say that they’re kinda variable in quality but the highs do outnumber the lows by a comfortable margin.

In fact the season starts very strongly indeed. The early to mid season episodes are generally excellent. The formula was working pretty smoothly. Whatever tensions there may have been on the set there’s no question that the lineup of Kate Jackson, Jaclyn Smith and Cheryl Ladd was a formidable one. The latter part of the season has some major ups and downs but it includes a few great episodes. By the end of the season the future looked bright for the series.

One minor factor which needs to be mentioned is the notoriously penny-pinching approach of Spelling and Goldberg to budgeting. These guys liked saving money when they could. The problem with this approach is that the Charlie’s Angels formula is all about glamour. A series about three hot lady PIs needs an atmosphere of wealth, luxury and glamour and to achieve that you do need to spend at least some money. At this stage the series was still fresh and exciting and the stories were mostly very entertaining and it didn’t matter too much but there are times when the series looks just a little cheap.

Episode Guide

The third season kicks off with the two-part story Angels in Vegas. Casino owner Frank Howell (Dean Martin) hires the Angels after two of his employees are killed in what he considers to be very suspicious circumstances. It quickly becomes obvious that somebody is out to get at Frank, but why?

Sabrina goes undercover as Frank’s personal assistant and pretty soon romance is blossoming between them. Dean Martin at 61 does not look in good shape - he doesn’t just look 30 years older than her, he looks 40 years older at least. There are still brief glimpses of the Dean Martin charm. Kris’s cover is as a backup singer for fading singing legend Marty Cole (Dick Sargent). Kelly poses as a dancer.

Suspicion falls on rival casino operator Mark Haines (Vic Morrow). There’s a subplot about a professor using a computer (OK, it’s just a pocket calculator) to wipe Frank out at the craps table.

It’s typical Charlie’s Angels stuff. The Angels have no idea what they’re doing and all three manage to hopelessly blow their covers. They basically just muddle through the case but they do so charmingly and the Las Vegas setting provides plenty of glamour.

Angel Come Home saw the first of Farrah Fawcett’s guest appearances in season 3. Jill has become a racing car driver(!) and she’s engaged to be married to another racing car driver. There’s also yet another driver with whom she’s been romantically involved and she’s going to be driving his car in the Grand Prix. It’s a brand-new super-high tech car that is going to revolutionise the whole automobile industry but someone is trying to sabotage it.

So Jill turns detective again and we have four Angels working on this case. It’s a reasonably OK story.

Farrah Fawcett is quite OK in this episode although you’re never for one minute going to buy her as a Formula 1 driver. And somehow Farrah has lost just a little of her sparkle.

Angel on High seems at first to be just another recycling of a very hackneyed idea - a young man (in this case a stunt flyer) who may or may not be the long-list son of a tycoon. But there’s a twist - he may or may not be the heir to two entirely separate fortunes. One of the joys of Charlie’s Angels is the way the Angels keep on doing wildly unprofessional things, like falling in love with people they’re supposed to be investigating and then entirely forgetting to do their job properly. In this case it’s Kelly who falls for the stunt flyer. While Kelly is busy falling in love Kris is busy pursuing another guy and totally forgets all her professional training as well. The most interesting thing about this episode is the ending, which is not the kind of ending you expect in a 70s network TV show. Overall it’s an enjoyable episode.

Angels in Springtime takes the Angels to a ritzy women-only health spa. Famous ageing actress Eve le Deux died there in a freak accident but her niece is sure it was murder and Charlie is inclined to agree. The Angels go undercover - Sabrina as a dietician, Kris as an exercise director and Kelly as a client. They quickly discover that this spa is more like a prison. They also notice an overwhelming lesbian vibe. It’s so obvious that I don’t think any viewer, in 1978 or today, could possibly miss it. Kelly certainly very obviously notices it when the staff physician examines her. As usual the Angels fail to take even the most elementary precautions to preserve either their covers or their skins.

This episode really does have a delightfully bizarre atmosphere. It’s more like a women-in-prison exploitation movie. There’s a wheelchair chase. There are cool murder and attempted murder methods. There’s another ageing actress, Norma Powers, at the spa who is worried about the missing manuscript of Eve le Deux’s autobiography which apparently includes a lengthy description of Norma’s many and varied perversion. Including foot fetishism! This episode is just so much weird twisted kinky fun.

Winning Is for Losers is another female sports star in peril story. This time it’s up-and-coming golfer Linda Frye (Jamie Lee Curtis). There are some pretty obvious suspects. Kris gets to chase a suspect in a golf cart and she gets to wrassle gators. Yes, gators. Is she awesome or what?

Haunted Angels
has the Angels coming up against ghosts. Claire Rossmore has been funding a psychic research institute run by Dr Douglas Holden. She is hoping to make contact with her deceased nephew Martin whom she had raised as her own child. Bosley, who plays bridge regularly with Claire, is convinced that the whole setup is a scam. Naturally the Angels have to infiltrate the institute, with Sabrina posing as a psychic and Kris as a graduate student in parapsychology. Kelly will meanwhile be finding out all she can about Martin. It’s not just a possible scam - there has been a murder at the institute.

The paranormal and the occult were huge fads in the 70s and if there was one thing that Charlie’s Angels did really well it was satirising those kinds of cults and fads. And in this episode the show really goes to town, with thunder crashing as attempts are made to contact the dead in the world beyond and every ghost movie cliché you can name. And it works because the tone is just right - it’s outrageous but it doesn’t go too far over the top. There’s a real murder to solve and the mystery is not bad and it’s taken fairly seriously. A very good episode.

Pom Pom Angels is about cheerleaders. Someone has decided that cheerleaders are wanton hussies who must be eliminated. The Angels have to save the cheerleaders. Seriously, can there be anything more Charlie’s Angels than a Charlie’s Angels episode about cheerleaders? Of course I know you’re thinking the same thing I’m thinking. Which of the Angels will have to go undercover as a cheerleader? Will it be Kris or Kelly? Obviously it won’t be Sabrina. Well today the gods who watch over cult TV fans are really smiling on us. We quickly learn that we’re going to get to see both Kris and Kelly as cheerleaders. How awesome is that?

The most notable thing about this episode is how competent the Angels are. The follow the obvious leads. They spot the obvious clues immediately. They don’t make any dumb mistakes. When Kris doesn’t show up to a meeting Sabrina and Kelly realise immediately that she’s in trouble and swing into action. When Sabrina is descending a staircase and is faced by a bad guy further down the stairs who is an imminent threat she doesn’t try to punch him out or wrestle with him, which just wouldn’t work. But a well-placed kick to the head works just fine. It’s the sort of thing a sensible lady detective would do.

Of course the real reason to watch this episode is to see Jaclyn Smith and Cheryl Ladd jumping about in their cute cheerleader outfits, demonstrating why Charlie’s Angels got labelled Jiggle TV.

The Angels are all at sea in Angels Ahoy. A woman was murdered on a cruise ship shortly after claiming to have seen a murderer on board. Charlie thinks it’s connected with a racket that smuggles criminals out of the country. The Angels will have to be aboard the ship on its next cruise and one of them will have to pose as a hardboiled ruthless lady gangster. Sabrina is unanimously elected. The cruise liner setting is used well and there’s a decent plot. We get a masquerade party so we get to see to Kris looking adorable again as Little Bo Peep, Sabrina in an unflattering clown costume but later looking great as a gunslinger and Kelly in a tutu. Bosley falls in love again. The Angels are back to making egregious basic mistakes such as Kelly walking straight into a trap without any backup. On the whole it’s pretty enjoyable.

Mother Angel features another Farrah Fawcett guest appearance. A 12-year-old girl, Samantha, claims to have witnessed a murder. Charlie, Bosley and the Angels don’t really believe her story until Jill finds some evidence that suggests it may be true. The audience knows the identity of both killer and victim from the start but we have no idea why the murder was committed. The Angels know even less. There’s some dialogue, a well-constructed plot and a good chase scene at the end. Another very good episode.

Angel on My Mind is odd because there’s really not much plot at all, and no surprise twists. Kris witnesses an assault then gets knocked out and loses her memory. She wanders off and nobody can find her. And being a witness to that crime means there is now someone out to get her. There could have been some real suspense here but it falls flat because Kris just never seems to be in much danger. Cheryl Ladd gives an effectively subtle low-key performance. She really does seem like a lost little girl, retreating into childhood memories. Ladd’s wonderful performance makes this a surprisingly good episode, even though it’s a very hackneyed idea. Against the odds this one really works.

Angels Belong in Heaven has the makings of a fine suspense story. A man is killed while in the process of telephoning the Townsend Detective Agency with important information. There’s a professional contract out on one of the Angels. It’s more interesting than most such stories because the Angels don’t know which one of them is the killer’s target, and the viewer doesn’t know either. It plays out as a taut and pretty effective thriller episode.

For those who like to look for subtexts there’s Kelly’s houseguest Sally, an old friend from summer camp. Does she have a girlcrush on Kelly? Or is there some lingering resentment? We know of course that Kelly would have been the most beautiful and most popular girl at the summer camp, the sort of girl obviously destined for perfect success in life and romance while Sally would have been (and still is) the slightly awkward, slightly socially inept not-quite-pretty girl destined to always lose out in the game of love to the perfect girls like Kelly. And one can’t help notice that Kelly’s fondness for Sally is just a little tinged with pity. Overall a very strong episode.

At this stage of the season Charlie’s Angels is most definitely on a roll.

Which makes the next episode, Angels in the Stretch, such a disappointment. There’s dirty work afoot at the racetrack, including murder. It’s not awful, it’s just terribly routine and uninspired. Nobody seems very interested. In most episodes at least one of the Angels gets to shine but here they’re just phoning it in.

Angels on Vacation takes the Angels to a tiny town in Arizona where Kris’s uncle is sheriff. They start to notice that everybody is terribly nervous and eventually they figure out that something really bad is going down. The problem here is that the viewer already knows exactly what’s going on, and this sort of story really only works when the viewer is as mystified as the protagonists. The way the Angels finally deal with the problem isn’t too bad. And the Angels actually get to kill bad guys. An OK episode which should have been better.

It had to happen. We had to have an episode with fake Angels. Evil doubles taking the place of the hero or heroine was a staple of TV in this era. So we get Counterfeit Angels. Three phoney Angels have been staging daring robberies. There are a couple of nice touches - having the real Angels having to impersonate the women who are impersonating them is a cute idea. The Angels get a good action scene at the end where they have to react with lightning speed to save themselves. Overall it’s a mixed bag but there is some fun to be had.

In Disco Angels a series of murders of old men seem to be linked to a disco. The Angels investigate, and pretty much blow their covers right away. There’s lots of craziness in this episode, there’s Zalman King (one of the great bad actors) as the most unhinged DJ in history, there’s a cool catfight between Kris and the disco owner’s mistress, there’s a surprisingly high sleaze factor (Kelly is posing as a record company flak promoting new discs and is flatly told by the DJ that he won’t play them unless she sleeps with him). It all adds up to wonderful entertainment.

Terror on Skis is a two-part episode and I’ve never been convinced that two-parters were a great idea. TV writers (in this case Edward J. Lakso) who were quite competent at writing 48-minute TV dramas sometimes struggled when trying to write a story at feature-film length, and having a story split over two screenings a week apart did tend to dissipate the tension. We’re into spy thriller/Bond movie territory here. Enemy spies are planning to kidnap a rising young politician. A government agent is onto them but they’e onto him as well, and they deal with the problem by killing him. Since they obviously have a security leak the Feds call in outside help - the Angels. The Angels as usual have enormous difficult maintaining their covers and the bad guys know straight away what the Angels are up to. The good guys and the bad guys are equally incompetent so it all evens out.

The ski country setting is used well and the action scenes are pretty good (by 1970s TV standards they’re very good). There is some genuine excitement. It’s an OK episode.

Angel in a Box features one of Farrah Fawcett’s guest appearances. Kris is kidnapped but the kidnappers seemed to think they were snatching Jill. The trail leads Bosley (along with Sabrina, Kelly and Jill) to a resort hotel but that trail may have been deliberately laid. Which is obvious to everyone but the Angels. A fairly weak episode.

Teen Angels sounds like guaranteed fun. Kris goes undercover as a schoolgirl at an exclusive school for rich girls, where there’s been a murder. You might think Kris would stick out like a sore thumb as the world’s oldest schoolgirl but luckily all the other schoolgirls there look like they’re pushing thirty as well so no-one notices. Kris is going to be up against a trio of mean girls, and these are really mean girls. With a blonde named Donna as the queen bee uber-bitch. And there’s also a black-gloved killer. Someone tries to barbeque the Angels, there’s a cool motorcycle chase with Kris doing an Annie Oakley bit from the sidecar. This one is so silly and goofy that it works. And Audrey Landers as Donna is a delightful evil bitch. I liked it.

In Marathon Angels a female marathon runner is kidnapped by two guys in Halloween masks. Her friend and running partner Helga (with the thickest phoney Swedish accent you’ve ever heard) calls in the Angels. Helga runs a health spa. She and her friend were about to compete in a women’s marathon organised by a ladies’ sportswear manufacturer. Charlie’s Angels was always particularly awesome when it dealt with 70s California craziness so this sounds like a promising setup.

But first things first. Kris’s pigtails. This is two episodes in a row in which she’s sported pigtails. In the previous episode the pigtails were combined with a baby doll nightie which was…interesting.

Anyway, this episode offers women in skimpy costumes, beautiful girls bound and gagged in very fetishistic poses, snakes, oil sheikhs, a female reporter who wants to expose the race as patriarchal oppression and marathon runners performing impromptu song-and-dance routines in the middle of the race. You have no idea what the story is all about or what craziness it will throw at you next so you just have to keep watching. It’s very very bad and at the same time engagingly goofy and weirdly fascinating. I think I liked it.

Angels in Waiting
has a remarkably silly premise. Bosley wants to romance some woman he’s just met in a restaurant and he’s ticked off that the Angels think he’s predictable. And they all have a stack of paperwork to do. He challenges them to a game. He’ll go off somewhere and every two hours he’ll phone them with a clue. If they figure out where he is he’ll do all the paperwork. Yes, he’s challenging them to a game of hide-and-seek. This may be the lamest idea ever for a Charlie’s Angels episode. And some guy is trying to kill Bosley but the would-be killer’s identity is obvious so that part is lame as well. It’s just a terrible episode.

Rosemary for Remembrance takes the series into more serious emotional territory. Prohibition-era gangster Jake Garfield has just been released after forty years in prison. Someone is trying to kill him, but what Jake really wants is to re-open a 44-year-old murder case - the murder of his wife Rosemary. Kris is assigned to act as Jake’s bodyguard and it turns it that she is the spitting image of Jake’s deceased wife.

Where things get interesting is when Kris starts to get drawn into Jake’s memories of the past. It’s not just that Jake starts to think that she’s his dead wife - in a spooky kind of way Kris is getting drawn into the past as well. This one has a reasonably OK mystery plot but it’s the sense of the past and the present bleeding into each other, and the identities of Rosemary and Kris bleeding into each other, that makes this an excellent episode. Plus Cheryl Ladd looks terrific in slinky 1930s dresses and hairstyles and she does some pretty decent acting as well.

Angels Remembered is a clip episode, one of those cheapskate money-saving episodes made up almost entirely of clips from earlier episodes. Even by the standards of clip episodes this one is feeble. A terrible terrible way to end the season.

Final Thoughts

On the whole this is a strong season despite a few dud episodes towards the end. And the good episodes are classic Charlie’s Angels stuff and they’re very good indeed. If you loved the first two seasons you’ll definitely want to see this season. Highly recommended.

I did a brief review of season one and a much more in-depth review of season two.

Wednesday, 20 April 2022

Knight Rider season 3 (1984-85)

Knight Rider returned for its third season in 1984. Knight Rider was one of the three great American action/adventure series of the early 80s, along with The A-Team and Airwolf. They were all thoroughly enjoyable and while the first season of Airwolf was the supreme achievement of the genre Knight Rider was still enormous fun.

The premise was pretty darned cool. An undercover cop is badly wounded but his life is saved by a mysterious tycoon. The cop gets a new identity and a new partner - an ultra-high tech car named K.I.T.T. (pretty much a mobile fortress) - and a new career as an unofficial crime-fighter. He works for a kind of vigilante justice outfit (but a respectable one) called the Foundation for Law and Government (FLAG), headed up by a suave if somewhat pompous Englishman named Devon Miles (Edward Mulhare).

The series had just the right mix of science fiction, fun, action, stunts, car chases, gadgets, humour, occasional seriousness and romance. Getting that mix right is quite an art and it’s something that the show’s creator, Glen A. Larson, was pretty good at.

David Hasselhoff may not be a great actor but he was perfect for this series. There’s one thing that has to be said for him - his performance is always enthusiastic. The car itself has its own personality and qualifies as the fourth regular cast member. It’s not easy to have chemistry with a machine but the chemistry between Michael and K.I.T.T. really does work.

For the third season some cosmetic changes were made to K.I.T.T.’s interior and the car gained even more formidable capabilities but the big news for fans was that Bonnie was back. Bonnie Barstow (played by Patricia McPherson) was the genius girl scientist/engineer who maintained K.I.T.T. and added various refinements to the car. She left after the first season to be replaced by April Curtis (Rebecca Holden). Rebecca Holden was an OK actress, April was pretty, she wasn’t an irritating character and I don’t think any Knight Rider fans actively disliked her but she wasn’t Bonnie. Bonnie just seemed to be an essential part of the team. So, wisely, the producers brought her back for the final two seasons.

K.I.T.T. is not just a super-car but a super-computer as well. The trick to making this series work was to ensure that K.I.T.T. could play a real rôle in each episode. It wasn’t enough to just throw in a car chase every time, there had to be something that needed doing that Michael could not possibly do without K.I.T.T. and could not possibly do with an ordinary car - something that required K.I.T.T.’s array of gadgetry and ability to do things that no conventional car could do. And ideally Michael had to get himself in a jam from which only K.I.T.T. could rescue him.

Of course this was the 80s so there had to be babes as well. Every case seems somehow to involve at least one glamorous young person of the female persuasion. The difficulty is that the whole concept of the show is that (apart from K.I.T.T.) Michael is a loner so you always know that any budding romance isn’t going to go anywhere. So any romances have to end one way or another before the closing titles but without making Michael appear to be a heel. This is something that the series managed to do pretty successfully.

A lot of K.I.T.T.’s super-abilities are in fact pretty much magic. They’re totally impossible and there’s no attempt to make them even the slightest bit plausible. K.I.T.T. can do just abut anything. This should be a weakness of the series but somehow it never seems to matter - Knight Rider, like The A-Team, has very much a comic-book feel.

Knight Rider has had several DVD releases. The Mill Creek complete series releases on DVD and Blu-Ray are extremely good value. The transfers on the DVD set (which is the one I own) are pretty good.

Episode Guide

Season three kicks off with the two-parter Knight of the Drones. Which starts promisingly - a prisoner (a killer named C.J. Jackson played by cult movie icon Jim Brown) breaks out of jail with the help of a cassette player that is really a robot, and a self-driving car. And there’s a glamorous female diabolical criminal mastermind named Margo Sheridan. She has plans for Jackson but neither Jackson nor the viewer has any idea what her plans actually are. Since Jackson killed Michael’s predecessor at FLAG the Foundation is taking a very keen interest in his recapture. A fine episode to kick off season three.

In The Ice Bandits diamonds belonging to the estate of an elderly lady and earmarked for the Foundation are stolen. Michael discovers that he is not the only one able to get a new face, and he also discovers that monks are not always what they seem to be. A fun episode.

Knights of the Fast Lane introduces Michael to the world of banzai racing - illegal street races for the super-rich, with super-cars. A young woman is a victim of a hit-run driver and she happens to be the daughter of a cop who was Michael’s partner when he was a rookie in the police force. And Michael used to know the daughter so this case is very much a personal matter for him and he thinks banzai racing is involved. So naturally we get lots of automotive action in this story. Plus football is involved, so K.I.T.T. has to learn to play football. And where there’s football there will be cheerleaders so we get lots of scantily-clad cheerleaders. Car racing, murder, football, babes. Is there anything else that the target audience for this series could possibly want? It works for me.

Halloween Knight I've talked about elsewhere.

In K.I.T.T. vs. K.A.R.R. Michael and K.I.T.T. come up against the K.I.T.T.’s original prototype, K.A.R.R. (Knight Automated Roving Robot). K.A.R.R. looks the same as K.I.T.T. and has much the same capabilities but unfortunately he also has a bad attitude. K.A.R.R. was found buried in the sand by a guy with a metal detector. He was foolish enough to dig up his find and K.A.R.R. thereupon offered to take him for a ride. It’s going to prove to be quite a ride. K.A.R.R. made his first appearance in season one and he wants revenge. The evil twin idea has been used countless times and using it for a super-car works pretty well in this case. It culminates in an epic machine vs machine showdown. Good stuff.

Michael and K.I.T.T. battle cattle-rustlers in The Rotten Apples. Rancher Rebecca Hammond isn’t really a rancher, she’s a child psychologist. And her ranch isn’t really a ranch, it’s a kind of halfway house for New York street kids. But if those cattle-rustlers can’t be stopped she’ll lose the ranch. K.I.T.T. has a disagreement with a horse and has to battle not one but two giant trucks. Michael has to ride a mechanical bucking bronco. The silliness level is off the scale in this episode but it’s good fun silliness. It’s like a western but somehow it works and it’s a lot of fun.

In Knight in Disgrace Michael is framed by a big-time New Orleans gangster named LaSalle. Michael is kicked out of the Foundation but LaSalle offers him a job - the job being to steal K.I.T.T.. Surely Michael is not going to go to work for a mobster? OK, so this one is a bit predictable but it’s OK.

In Dead of Knight Michael is on the trail of a criminal selling deadly chemicals to revolutionaries. An attempt to kill Michael ends with a girl dead by mistake, which gives him an added incentive to crack the case. There are deadly orchids and there’s a race against time with two lives at stake, including Michael’s. Not a bad episode, even with K.I.T.T.’s jokes.

The episode is called Lost Knight but it’s not Michael who is lost, it’s K.I.T.T. - he gets electrocuted and loses his memory. They were chasing some bad guys who’d stolen some new super high explosives. K.I.T.T. doesn’t know who he is any more but he befriends a boy. And the boy could be a key witness.

In Knight of the Chameleon Michael is up against a renegade arms dealer known as the Chameleon. He’s a man of a thousand faces, a master of disguise. The Chameleon has just escaped from custody and he has two objectives - to pull off a huge arms coup and to kill Michael Knight. Of course you know that at some stage he’s going to disguise himself as Michael. The gee-whizz jetpack is amusing and finally someone has found a real use for K.I.T.T.’s ejector seat mechanism. Good fun.

The garment trade is the scene for murder in Custom Made Killer. A series of murders in fact, all involving a deadly custom car. This episode is a good blend of action and glamour and it gives K.I.T.T. a worthy opponent in the form of the fairly scary killer car. Good stuff.

In Knight by a Nose Michael gets mixed up with a girl and a racehorse. Maxine’s beloved horse King Jack, a rising champion, has to be put down after a fall. Michael suspects that whatever happened it wasn’t as simple as that. A fairly innocuous episode in which K.I.T.T. develops a gambling habit.

Junk Yard Dog pits Michael against a ruthless toxic waste dumper but it’s K.I.T.T. who ends up in real trouble. He gets dumped in the toxic waste and it may be the end of the line for him. Even if he can be fixed, will he have lost his nerve? Can a car lose its nerve? Apparently so. This one could have been an embarrassing misfire but somehow it works. It works because David Hasselhoff makes it work - he really makes us believe that Michael believes that K.I.T.T. has emotions and since Michael believes it we believe it.

In Buy Out a company specialising in ultra high tech armoured limousines is about to make an important sale when their sales demonstration is spectacularly sabotaged. Michael has to find out what was behind the disaster. The employees were planning a buy out of the company so they stand to lose everything if the company goes under. Plenty of explosions, plenty of opportunities to show off K.I.T.T.’s capabilities and plenty of automotive mayhem. A good solid episode.

In Knightlines an employee at a high-tech corporation is accidentally killed while stealing company property, although maybe that wasn’t what he was doing and maybe it wasn’t an accident. It’s all about bugs and it’s a pretty good episode.

In The Nineteenth Hole the grand-daughter of one of Devon’s friends is organising a car race in a small town but someone is trying to stop the race. And they’re prepared to kill her to do it. The story also involves gangsters and golf, and it’s pretty entertaining.

Knight & Knerd is an obvious attempt to cash in on the unexpected success of Revenge of the Nerds. The Foundation gets a new recruit, a nerd named Elliott. The case involves the use of a new top-secret laser in a diamond robbery. It’s strictly played for broad comedy and you’ll either love it or hate it. I’m afraid I hated it. Rather cringe-inducing.

Ten Wheel Trouble deals with an attempt by a big trucking combine to put independent operators out of business, and with a trucker who may or may not have resorted to murder in order to stop them. Michael also has to deal with a precocious and feisty fifteen-year-old girl who’s as hot-headed as her big brother (the one accused or murder). It’s a pretty standard episode but there’s plenty of big rig action and K.I.T.T. takes on a truck loaded with ten tons of concrete.

An old friend of Bonnie’s is found dead in Knight in Retreat and since he was involved in top-secret work there’ll have to an investigation. Bonnie wants Michael to do the investigation even though she might not like what he finds out. There’s a glamorous lady criminal mastermind with lots of glamorous henchwomen. There’s a plot to steal a missile and a guidance system. It’s typical Knight Rider over-the-top nonsense and it’s fun.

In Knight Strike a cache of impounded weapons has been stolen from a police lock-up. The cache includes a couple of super high tech laser rifles. The case takes Michael to a survivalist convention were he gets to play with cool guns and a cute blonde. And there’s another babe who seems to want to play as well. It’s standard Knight Rider stuff but it’s executed with style and energy.

Knight Rider goes to the circus in Circus Knights. And there’s murder and mayhem. Michael decides to go undercover as a daredevil, complete with super car. I just love TV shows and movies with circus settings. K.I.T.T. gets to jump through the ring of fire, there’s a sexy tiger lady and there’s a great fiery action scene at the end. It’s good stuff.

Final Thoughts

The third season of Knight Rider is just as much fun as the first two seasons. Michael and K.I.T.T. remain a great team and there’s the right mix of action, humour and pretty girls. It’s great comfort TV. Highly recommended.

I've also reviewed season one and season two of Knight Rider.

Thursday, 7 April 2022

Thriller - Lady Killer, Possession (1973)

I purchased the complete series boxed set of Brian Clemens’ celebrated 1970s horror/thriller anthology series Thriller back in 2010. I’ve worked my way very slowly through it and I finally reached the end about a year ago. By the time I started this blog I’d already reaches season four. I’ve posted lots of reviews of the later episodes. And now I find myself wanting to revisit the earlier seasons. It is after all around twelve years since I’ve seen some of these episodes.

So if I’m going to do this I should start right from the very beginning.

Lady Killer

Lady Killer is the first episode of the first season and was originally screened in April 1973. Lady Killer was, like just about every episode, scripted by Clemens.

Lady Killer starts in an English seaside hotel. Paul Tanner is romancing Jenny Frifth (Barbara Feldon) but we’re immediately suspicious of his intentions. He sneaked it into her room to get a look at her passport before making his first approach. Then we hear him talking on the telephone to a colleague or accomplice and we realise that for some presumably dishonest reason he is planning to manipulate Jenny into falling in love with him.

Which he has no trouble doing. Jenny is pretty and seems like a pleasant person but she’s obviously shy and lonely, and we know from that phone conversation we overheard that Paul has selected her specifically because she is a lonely lady.

Jenny is swept off her feet. Had she been less lonely and a bit more worldly she might perhaps have realised that this guy is just a bit too smooth and too charming and that he knows every trick in the book when it comes to playing with a woman’s emotions. Jenny is so emotionally starved that she agrees to marry Paul even though she’s known him for just a couple of days.

Gradually she notices little things, or little things are pointed out to her, and the seeds of suspicion are planted in her mind. The problem is that Paul is incredibly quick-witted and is able to provide a plausible explanation every time.

We know that Paul is up to something and it’s pretty obvious what his plan is. But don’t despair. Brian Clemens has a few very neat plot twists up his sleeve.

The casting is quite interesting. Robert Powell was an obvious choice to play Paul. No-one could do oily sinister charm and emotional manipulativeness better than Powell.

Jenny is played by Barbara Feldon. Yes, 99 from Get Smart. She gives a terrific performance, capturing Jenny’s unworldliness and vulnerability without ever allowing her to seem ridiculous or pathetic. And her performance is totally believable - Jenny reacts the way a rather lonely woman desperate for love would react.

The other major female character, Toni, is played by Linda Thorson, which is somewhat surprising since Clemens and Thorson had a fraught and uneasy relationship on The Avengers. Thorson is excellent and her performance is also believable - she has certain logical motivations but they’re complicated by emotion and Thorson makes Toni just sympathetic enough - we don’t approve of her actions but we can understand them.

The icing on the cake for me is the presence of T.P. McKenna, one of my favourite British character actors of that era, in a secondary but crucial role.

All the performances are extremely good and, most importantly, Powell and Feldon and Powell and Thorson work exceptionally well together.

A mystery-thriller needs to have a coherent plot but it doesn’t matter if it’s a little far-fetched. That’s the nature of the mystery and thriller genres. In real life people rarely plan incredibly elaborate crimes, but that’s why real-life crime is boring. The mystery-thriller genre should have nothing to do with realism. As long as the plot has internal coherence there’s no need to ask yourself if anybody would really carry out such a complicated crime which apparently required three years’ worth of planning.

It’s a clever enough plan. Not dazzlingly original but the sheer effort and sacrifice and patience required to make it work are impressive. It won’t take most viewers very long to figure out what Paul’s plan is. That doesn’t matter because Clemens has a couple of very nifty little plot twists to spring on us in the third act. And those plot twists are very cleverly executed.

That’s so much here to enjoy but the greatest pleasure comes from the performances of Robert Powell, Barbara Feldon and Linda Thorson. They really are a joy to watch.

Lady Killer is a great way to kick off a brand new series.

Possession

Possession is episode two and already the series is shifting gears to keep us on our toes. Suddenly we’re in supernatural territory, with a haunted house story. With Thriller you could never be sure if there were going to be supernatural elements or not. And the supernatural could be handled in a rather ambiguous way in this series.

In this case the setup is a classic haunted house story. Successful businessman Ray Burns (John Carson) and his wife Penny (Joanna Dunham) have just bought a lovely old house in the country.

At first everything goes well, with just a few very tiny odd things that disturb Penny. Then there are problems with the central heating and the basement floor (which for some mysterious reason had been concreted) has to be dug up. A gruesome discovery is made, which seems to provide a partial solution to a 20-year-old mystery. This discovery also explains some increasingly odd events. There is a ghost haunting the house, but whose ghost? Is it the ghost of the victim or the murderer?

The obvious step is to get a medium to conduct a séance. As is always the case in movies and TV the séance turns out to be a seriously bad idea.

Penny is now quite frightened and Ray is pretty shaken as well.

And there’s the matter of the murder that takes place nearby. There’s no connection of course but it is an odd coincidence.

This story leads us up the garden path pretty effectively. We think it’s a very conventional ghost story but things are by no means as simple as they appear to be.

There are some clues as to what is going on, clues such as the killer’s fondness for whistling Greensleeves, but these clues can mislead us if we’re not careful.

It’s a clever variation on the haunted house theme.

So two very good episodes right at the start of season one.

Wednesday, 23 March 2022

Robert Miall's UFO-1 Flesh Hunters

UFO-1 Flesh Hunters was the first of two novelisations of Gerry Anderson’s 1970 sci-fi TV series UFO. Both were written by John Burke under the name Robert Miall. UFO-1 Flesh Hunters was published in 1970. This was a novelisation rather than an original novel and was based on the episodes Identified, Exposed, Close Up and Court Martial.

John Burke (1922-2011) wrote countless novelisations of movies and TV series in the 60s and 70s, including Moon Zero Two, based on Hammer’s extremely interesting movie of the same name. The Moon Zero Two novelisation is actually pretty good.

UFO was not just a fun alien invasion science fiction series - it also had a bit more psychological complexity than you might expect. A lot of the focus was on the personal price that had to be paid by people working for a top-secret organisation (called SHADO) set up to defend Earth from murderous attacks by UFOs. In particular there was a focus on the loneliness of command. The head of this organisation, Commander Straker, has to make frighteningly difficult decisions and he has to make those decisions alone. Even some of his subordinate commanders, such as Lieutenant Ellis (in charge of Moonbase), have to be prepared to sacrifice their personal lives if necessary. It was a surprisingly character-driven series.

The author spends the first third of the book giving us the setup - governments have known for years that alien invaders have reached Earth but they have to make sure that the public knows nothing about this, in order to prevent panic. Test pilot Paul Foster blunders across the truth, and he will face consequences.

While this part of the book necessarily involves a lot of info-dumps it’s hard to see how that cold have been avoided. Anybody who had seem the first few episodes of the series would have known all this stuff, but anybody who had started watching the series several episodes in, or anybody who hadn’t yet watched the series, was going to need to have the show’s fairly complicated premise explained.

Fans of the series would not have minded since one of the things they liked about UFO is that it wasn’t totally action-oriented.

The book also gives us an introduction to the most important characters from the series. Straker, the most interesting character of all, remains a bit of an enigma but that’s the type of man he is. He does not reveal his emotions. Not ever.

SHADO’s biggest frustration is that they have no idea why the aliens are attacking Earth. Then they get a lucky break. They recover an alien from a wrecked UFO. This answers some of their questions, and the answers are terrifying. And what they’ve learned just serves to raise more questions.

There’s a major security leak in SHADO, and there’s an ambitious plan by SHADO to discover the home planet of the aliens.

Burke shuffles the sequence of events around a little, with events from the second episode taking place before events from the opening episode. He has legitimate dramatic reasons for doing this however.

I generally enjoy TV tie-in novels but I have a strong preference for original novels based on a series rather than novelisations and this book is a good example of the potential problems with novelisations. It’s based on four episodes of the series and the novel is therefore very episodic with no strong narrative thread tying things together. Originally novels are often interesting because they offer a writer a chance to explore characters and situation in more depth and from slightly different perspectives. This book does not do this. We learn no more about the characters than we learn from watching the series. In fact, give the high standard of acting in the series and in particular given Ed Bishop’s subtle performance as Straker we actually learn a good deal less about the characters from the novel. The novel also feels incredibly rushed with no real dramatic tension or suspense.

While my experiences with original novels based on TV series has generally been quite positive I was rather disappointed by this book. The events described in the book seemed so much more interesting when watching them on the screen.

Unless you’re totally obsessive about collecting UFO memorabilia you’d be well advised to skip this book.