Thursday 27 February 2020

Cannon season 2 (1972-73)

Season two of Cannon went to air on CBS in late 1972 and it’s the formula as before. I reviewed the first season of Cannon not too long ago. As private eye series of that era go Cannon definitely belongs in the second rank. It’s not in the same league as Mannix, The Rockford Files or Harry O but it’s still decent if very conventional entertainment. And William Conrad in the title rôle is a delight.

It’s interesting to compare Cannon with Mannix. Both are conventional private eye series employing a pretty similar formula, with an up-market P.I. investigating cases that mostly avoid getting into overtly grim or sleazy territory and both series put a certain emphasis on glamour (Cannon is a connoisseur of fine food and good living). They’re both private eyes who depart from the all-too-common cliché of the private eye as a maverick outsider. Interestingly both Mannix and Cannon have car phones at a time when such things were rare and expensive, another indication that we’re dealing with successful up-market private detectives. Both series have likeable charismatic leads.

So why is Mannix a great P.I. series while Cannon is a merely good series? The main differences are that overall Mannix has better scripts, faster pacing and more energy. Mannix tries that little bit harder, and it pays off.

Cannon’s problem is that the scripts in general are serviceable but they’re nothing special.

Cannon was a Quinn Martin production so you know it’s going to be well-made and it’s going to be polished. It gave the producer yet another solid hit. It also transformed William Conrad into a major star.

As in the first season Cannon himself is the only recurring character. That’s something you can only get away with if your star has charisma to burn, which William Conrad most certainly has.

Once again Cannon spends very little time in L.A. with an extraordinary number of stories having rural settings. Cannon is not a P.I. who would seem at home on the mean streets of a big city. Even when he’s in L.A. he’s mostly moving in the world of the reasonably prosperous middle class, but of course he is a high-priced private detective so that makes sense. Cannon is a series that is happy to confront corruption but it prefers to keep its distance from the really seamy side of life. Which is OK, because in the 70s movies and TV started to get a bit too obsessed with the whole mean streets thing.

As with the first season the DVD release is a bit disappointing. The image quality is not exactly pristine.

Episode Guide

Bad Cats and Sudden Death is typical Cannon. Cannon is hired by an old pal, Deputy DA Mike Arnold, who is charged with murdering his wife. It seems that the murder may be connected to a stolen car racket. The plot is adequate and while it’s nothing special it’s pretty enjoyable.

In Sky Above, Death Below a young woman persuades Cannon that the accidental death of her union boss father was murder. Unfortunately there’s no evidence, except for a very slim possibility that there was a witness. It’s a fairly routine plot but it has a good action climax with Cannon, the girl and the witness besieged in a mountaintop Indian ruin by four armed hoods. Reasonably entertaining and its features a very energetic Frank Cannon!

Bitter Legion concerns Vietnam vets being recruited for daring armed robberies. Cannon stumbles across this whilst looking for a Corporal Rowan. Rowan’s Vietnamese wife hired Cannon when her husband vanished. This one ends with a pretty spectacular shootout, with automatic weapons. Look out for Mickey Dolenz of The Monkees in a supporting rôle. A moderately good episode.

In That Was No Lady Cannon is hired to protect a female attorney who’s been getting dead threats. And since one of her assistants just got blown up when his car exploded it’s reasonable to assume the threats are serious. The attorney is defending a couple of small-time crooks accused of stealing a couple of hundred thousand dollars worth of negotiable bonds, a job that seems to Cannon to be well out of their league. It’s an interesting episode since we see Cannon breaking the case by doing the kind of methodical routine investigative work that actual private detectives spent most of their professional lives doing. And it still manages to have some excitement and it’s an entertaining episode.

Stakeout seems like a straightforward case. A bar owner is tired of getting robbed so she hires Cannon to stake the place out. Sure enough some punk tries to rob the place and Cannon is ready for him. Then things get difficult. The punk’s girl accomplice has a rich ex-cop dad who owns a big security firm and he’s determined to keep his little girl’s name out of it, by fair means or foul. Cannon doesn’t like crooked ex-cops and he’s not prepared to play ball. A reasonably entertaining episode, with Cannon being extremely stubborn and bloody-minded.

The Predators takes Cannon way out west where a rancher is facing criminal charges after an unidentified man is killed by a coyote getter. And what are coyote getters? They’re booby traps for killing coyotes. They explode and send out a shower of cyanide pellets. They’re deadly to coyotes, and obviously deadly for anything unlucky enough to step on them. Including people. Ranchers are supposed to post warning signs but this one didn’t so she’s facing prosecution. She hires Cannon to get her off the hook. Of course the case actually involves a lot more than just a very unfortunate accident.

It’s a solid if not exactly wildly original episode but it's done pretty well and it gets bonus points for the bizarre murder method.

A Long Way Down involves drugs being stolen from a hospital. A black doctor has been framed for the thefts and Cannon’s job is to prove him innocent to save the hospital from a great deal of trouble. It’s a well-organised racket run by a ruthless gang. An average episode.

The Rip Off is both interestingly original and routine. It starts well, with Cannon being employed by an insurance company to investigate a series of robberies of freight cars. They key to the robberies is the use of the very latest 1972-vintage computer technology. We’re not talking primitive punch card machines here. We’re talking about data stored on cassette tapes. Cutting edge stuff in 1972. Unfortunately the episode then becomes routine stuff with a custody dispute (involving the mastermind behind the robberies) leading to kidnapping. The computer stuff is fun though and it’s a pretty good episode.

Child of Fear takes Canon to the Lucas Ranch. Mrs Lucas’s husband has been missing for several days. The ranch is patrolled by a private army but it’s not clear exactly what it is that they’re guarding or why they’re doing it so aggressively or why Mrs Lucas seems so uncomfortable with their presence. It’s also not clear why these private guards seem so hostile towards Cannon. An average episode, entertaining enough without being anything special.

In The Shadow Man a property developer falls off a cliff but when his wife comes back with help there’s no body to be found. And the man was carrying $350,000 in negotiable securities with him at the time. The wife hires Cannon to find her husband. The awkward aspect of the case is that the wife is a prime suspect. Cannon is not quite convinced of her innocence but he’s not convinced of her guilt either. A fairly solid episode.

In Hear No Evil ex-con Dale Corey is getting some serious pressure from a group of shady businessmen. Dale had served time for illegally planting listening devices. It’s all to do with blackmail but Cannon has to figure out exactly who is blackmailing whom and why. A pretty decent episode with some effective twists.

In The Endangered Species Bill Coates is accused of shooting his own son. The evidence is circumstantial and he has a hot shot lawyer. And he has his old friend Frank Cannon working to find out what really happened. The viewer already knows what happened but we don’t know why. And it’s the why that matters if Cannon is to crack the case. A decent episode.

Nobody Beats the House is a gambling story and of course gamblers like Toby Hauser always think they can beat the house. Now Toby can’t pay and he’s going to get killed for it unless Cannon can get him out of the mess. And maybe Cannon can beat the house. A routine episode but quite watchable.

In Hard Rock Roller Coaster Cannon is hired by wealthy art dealer Raymond Thurston to solve the puzzle of the man who wandered onto his estate. The man had been badly beaten and has lost his memory completely. Thurston’s eccentric niece has adopted the man (she has a thing for birds with broken wings). The only thing the man can remember is the lyrics to a T. Rex song, Baby Boomerang. Cannon isn’t sure that the story adds up, or at least he’s not sure what it adds up to. There’s also a very clever lizard and a girl folk singer named Ariel. It’s a pretty good episode.

The Dead Samaritan gets its title from a good deed gone wrong. An accountant named Bell goes to the aid of a young woman who is being assaulted. He slugs the guy who promptly drops dead from a heart attack so now Bell is facing a murder rap and he hires Cannon to find the young woman. There were several witnesses but their stories don’t quite fit with Bell’s and Bell is not telling the truth about a number of things but there are lots of things that don’t quite add up and Cannon suspects there’s something much more complicated going on here. A good story.

Death of a Stone Seahorse involves the murder of a marine biologist. His girlfriend didn’t do it but because of her personal history she’s an obvious suspect. There are plenty of nasty little dramas connected with this particular marine biology institute and Cannon finds himself with a difficult client. Cannon gets a great line in this episode towards the end, but I won’t ruin it by telling you what it is. A serviceable episode.

Moving Target has a promising setup. Phillip Trask has written the autobiography of a tycoon but the book is a total fake. Then he decides to write another book exposing his own fake. His collaborator in the fraud drops dead on national television and now Trask is scared he’s going to be next so he hires Cannon. Cannon sets Trask up in a safe house but it’s a moving safe house - a motorhome. So there are some original touches in this one and it has a nicely worked-out plot. A very good episode.

In Murder for Murder a young woman, high on drugs, falls from a balcony to her death. Her father is convinced that two brothers, healthy industrialists, were responsible for her death and he wants revenge. Cannon has to uncover the truth before the father does something stupid. A routine episode.

To Ride a Tiger is also fairly routine. An ex-con is running a halfway house for other ex-cons, he gets accused of murdering a cop and then his lawyer disappears. Cannon is hired by the ex-con’s girlfriend to find the missing lawyer and to do that he’ll have to find the cop killer.

In Prisoners Cannon is hired by doting parents whose idiot son has managed to get himself a ten year prison sentence in Turkey for drugs. A young man has contacted the father, suggesting there may be a way to get the son out. It sounds complicated and of course it’s actually even more complicated than it seems. The central idea isn’t original but it’s used in a fairly interesting way. A solid episode.

The Seventh Grave starts promisingly. A small town newspaper owner hires Frank to gather evidence in a case involving a string of brutal rape-murders. The newspaperman is convinced that a wealthy local businessman is guilty. For the first half of the story we’re really not sure of the identity of the actual killer given that there are three men whose behaviour is decidedly suspect. Unfortunately as things get clearer they get less interesting. It’s still an OK episode.

In Catch Me If You Can Cannon is hired to catch a serial killer - by the serial killer himself. He claims he wants to be caught. Cannon has to consider that he might be on the killer’s list - he only kills successful people. The killer also desperately wants to meet the psychiatrist who’s been profiling him (an amazingly flaky psychiatrist who might well be almost as big a threat to society as the killer). There’s a very good performance by Anthony Zerbe as the killer. Otherwise it plays out pretty much as you’d expect although it’s competently done.

Press Pass to the Slammer is pretty much standard Cannon fare - several not very original ideas combined together reasonably well. There’s the reluctant witness (to what appestats to be a Mob slaying), there’s the crushing reporter prepared to go to prison for contempt of court rather than reveal her source, there’s a criminal underground railway operation. It’s passable enough entertainment.

In Deadly Heritage a woman hires Cannon to find a young man, the illegitimate son of her deceased husband. She has an urgent reason for wanting to find the young man and it might have been better had she told Cannon the reason. It’s a reasonably OK episode.

Final Thoughts

Season two confirms my impressions of season one, that Cannon is watchable enough if you’re in the mood for undemanding entertainment. It helps a great deal if you like William Conrad. Worth a rental.

Sunday 16 February 2020

M Squad season one (1957)

M Squad was an American cop series starring Lee Marvin which ran on NBC from 1957 to 1960. It was a solid ratings success. It was made by Marvin’s production company, Latimer Productions, in conjunction with Revue Studios. Marvin had had good supporting rôles in feature films such as The Big Heat but it was M Squad that proved he had the charisma for starring rôles.

M Squad can be thought of as the anti-Dragnet. They were the two best police series of the 50s but they took diametrically opposed approaches to the subject matter. Dragnet invented and defined the TV police procedural. Jack Webb, creator of Dragnet, was obsessed not just with depicting realistic police procedures but also with ordinariness. These were just regular cops doing their day-to-day jobs. The emphasis was on plot and on structure. M Squad by contrast was in the larger-than-life maverick cop mould. The emphasis was on style and action. The film noir influence was considerable. There was nothing ordinary about Lieutenant Frank Ballinger, the character played by Lee Marvin. This was the cop as hero. It would be impossible, and futile, to try to decide which was the better series. Both achieved what they set out to do, and did so very impressively indeed.

While Dragnet doesn’t avoid the seamy side of life M Squad dives head-first into it. M Squad is decidedly hardboiled. Being a cop like Frank Ballinger is not for the faint-hearted. It’s dangerous and you have to deal with a lot of sleazeballs. You have to be tougher than the bad guys. That’s no problem for Ballinger, and it’s no problem for Marvin - he radiates simmering aggression and he’s like a pressure cooker about to blow. It’s not that he lacks sensitivity, but unlikely other sensitive TV cops the sensitivity feels real. When you’re as tough as Frank Ballinger you don’t have to worry about showing your sensitive side. If someone doesn’t like it you can always slug them.

Dragnet and M Squad were also fine examples of the production line technique of American 50s television. An episode could be cranked out in a couple of days but it would still be great television. In those days a season could be anywhere from 30 to 39 episodes so even though M Squad ran for just three seasons no less than 117 episodes were made.

M Squad also benefits from some pretty cool jazz sounds on its soundtrack.

There’s a bit of an exploitation movie vibe to this series. It’s lurid and violent and sometimes sleazy and while it’s careful always to take the side of law and order and decency you also get the feeling that, like exploitation films, it’s revelling in the lurid and the sleazy.

It’s set in Chicago which for some reason didn’t get used as a setting for crime movies and television shows all that often so it provides a great opportunity to get some glimpses of that city in the late 50s.

Timeless Media Group have released all 117 episodes in their Social Edition DVD set (which includes a disc of extras as well) but the quality is extremely variable. The source material came from all over the place. Given this show’s overall vibe it doesn’t matter - if some episodes are extra-grainy or a bit muddy you can just think of it as extra noir flavouring!

Selective Episode Guide

The Alibi Witness is a neat little story. Wally Gardner is an ex-con and a total loser so it’s no surprise when he gets fingered for a robbery with violence, which becomes a homicide when the storekeeper dies. Gardner claims to have an alibi, of sorts. A guy who saw him on the street a long way from the murder scene. Finding this alibi witness promises to be next to impossible but Ballinger decides to try anyway. He figures if a guy is facing a murder rap he should be given a chance even if he probably will turn out to be guilty. The witness proves to be incredibly hard to find and the reason for this provides a nice little twist at the end. An excellent episode.

Ballinger goes undercover as a hired guy in The Specialists, trying to get the dope on a very slick trio of professional criminals. Unfortunately it seems that they’re just too well organised - they don’t appear to make mistakes. But of course it only takes one tiny mistake. A good episode.

In Family Portrait Ballinger’s partner is killed trying to gather evidence against crime boss Sam Hinder. Ballinger is now determined to nail Hinder. He needs to find one weakness and he thinks he’s found it in Hinder’s daughter but the daughter has some surprises of her own up her sleeve. An excellent nicely plotted episode.

Having to act as bodyguard to a killer like Tommy Hatch is not a job that appeals to Ballinger but in The Palace Guard that’s what he has to do. Of course while they’re protecting him the police are also looking for the evidence to put him away for good. Tommy’s wife and sister-in-law make things much more complicated. Whit Bissell is terrific as Tommy, a guy who combines arrogance, cunning, rashness and cowardice in roughly equal quantities. A good episode.

The Slow Trap is a story of robbery, infidelity and murder. Bonded messenger Eddie Lucas is robbed and the evidence suggests he arranged the robbery himself but it’s not clear how he could have contacted his accomplices. The messenger’s wife thinks another woman is behind it and Frank thinks she just might be right about that. But does that prove Eddie’s guilt or his innocence? Frank doesn’t know for sure but he does think the answer might be found at the Heracles Health Club. A good episode with some nice plot twists.

The Cover Up is a messy case that threatens to get uncomfortably close to the District Attorney. At the centre of it is possibly corruption or it might just be a particularly tangled romantic triangle. A pretty decent episode.

Blue Indigo has Frank hunting a psycho who has strangled three women. He always plays a song to them before he kills them. Always the same song, Blue Indigo. It’s not much of a clue but if Frank is lucky it might be enough. A reasonable episode.

The Long Ride starts in class M Squad style, with three murders in the first sixty seconds. A convicted murderer escapes from custody not once, but twice. And then we get a great suspense-on-a-train story, always a bonus. Terrific stuff.

The Shakedown is one of those cases in which, as Ballinger ruefully admits, nobody wins. It starts with an extortion attempt against a dry cleaning chain. It’s gritty hardboiled stuff. A very good episode.

Dolly’s Bar is a blackmail story with a decent twist. A gossip columnist is found dead in the apartment of rising theatrical star Kathy Bane. It looks bad for her since he was known to indulge in blackmail. Kathy and Frank Ballinger used to have a bit of a thing going. A very good episode.

In Lover's Lane Killing a rich young woman arrives home frantic with terror after the young man she’d been out with is shot to death by a robber. The curious thing, the thing that the police don’t like, is the matter of the impending marriage. An impending marriage to the wrong person. An OK episode although there aren’t enough suspects to make it much of a mystery.

The Frightened Wife is somewhat predictable but wth a couple of interesting twists. A man has disappeared. It could be a missing persons or a murder case. It seems to be solved when the wife confesses, but she has a very strange reason for confessing. Fairly entertaining.

Frank goes undercover to trap a nasty second-rate hoodlum in The Black Mermaid. There’s practically no limit to the number of things that can go wrong on that sort of operation, and all of them go wrong this time. Plenty of tension and excitement in this episode.

The Man in Hiding is about a bank robber and an exclusive boys’ boarding school. There doesn’t seem like there could be any link between those two things but Frank Ballinger has a hunch. A good episode in which Ballinger does some real detecting.

The Chicago Bluebeard is a man suspected of preying on women at lonely hearts’ clubs. Ballinger has to go undercover as a lonely heart and he’s not entirely comfortable doing it. A pretty good episode.

Hideout is an exciting siege episode. A couple of bank robbers are holed up in a suburban house and they’ve taken a woman and her child hostage. Frank manages to get into the house but his gun is just out of reach. Good stuff.

Shot in the Dark concerns a sniper who shoots women. He shoots from long range but only ever wounds them and not seriously, which means he has to be a pretty good shot. It makes a kind of sense until he shoots a man and kills him. That doesn’t add up and Frank has to find out why. A good episode.

The Twenty-Six Girl is a girl who runs a gambling game, but she doesn’t seem to have any connection with a routine missing persons case. A married couple has disappeared but the wife’s sister is unusually worried. So is Frank. He thinks the couple may have been murdered. Lots of false leads to confuse things in this excellent episode.

Charles Bronson guest stars as boxer Eddie Loder in The Fight. His opponent died after his last fight but the autopsy showed he was killed by a blood clot which was not caused by Eddie’s punches. But now it seems that somebody wants Eddie dead. A very good episode.

Guilty Alibi is a straightforward hit-and-run case, except that it isn’t. Witnesses saw the man driving the car hit the girl and he admits to the offence, but two of the witnesses had a vague impression that the driver was a woman. If that’s so then the case could connect up with a murder case. A good well-constructed plot expertly executed.

The Healer deals with a disturbed young woman planning to murder her father but the real villain is a quack therapist. And Frank hates quacks. The trouble is that it’s incredibly difficult to get a conviction against such people but Frank has a plan. Of course he also has to stop the girl from committing murder. A good episode.

In Day of Terror Frank’s friends the Grevilles have adopted a child but now the biological mother wants it back. Everything about the adoption was shonky and Frank has to find a way to nail some very unpleasant people without Helen Greville losing her adopted baby. An OK episode.

The $20 Plates are the last plates made by legendary counterfeiter Doc Pierce before his death. And now notes made from those plates are circulating in Chicago. Frank is working with a Treasury Department Social Agent and he has one clue - a child’s colouring book. The way the notes are being passed suggests an amateur, or a professional trying to look like an amateur. A very good episode.

The Case of the Double Face is a straightforward armed robbery case with one slight problem. It doesn’t make any sense. The robberies are small-time stuff but the suspect has no need of the money. The evidence against him is overwhelming but it still doesn’t make sense. The solution is far-fetched but it’s still an enjoyable episode. And the laundry evidence is very cool.

The System is a system for winning at craps. There is no such system and that’s what worries Frank. He thinks this system might involve guns. He’s trying to shut down a floating crap game which is hard enough but with a guy running around with a gun it’s even worse. And Frank doesn’t even know how to find the game. A very good episode.

The Woman from Paris of the title has just arrived in Chicago and she’s just been murdered. There seems to be a connection with a rich Chicago society couple but what the connection might be is a mystery. Perhaps there’s something in the murdered woman’s past. A good episode.

In Accusation the suicide of a sick old man looks suspicious. And the old man had a very pretty and much younger wife. And a good-looking young male chauffeur. The inference that the wife and the chauffeur killed the old man is obvious, but is it true? Another solid episode.

Final Thoughts

Even without Lee Marvin M Squad would have been a fine cop series. It has clever scripts and it has a nicely gritty feel to it. With Lee Marvin it’s one of the great American TV cop shows. Very highly recommended.

Sunday 9 February 2020

The Samurai, Fuma Ninja (1963)

Onmitsu kenshi (given the English language title The Samurai) which was produced between 1962 and 1965 is a landmark in television adventure series aimed at younger viewers. It raised the bar to an immense degree. It also played a very significant rôle in introducing Japanese pop culture to the West. And in Australia it became an extraordinary pop culture phenomenon.

This series was so successful for a number of reasons but the main one was, it was simply a whole lot better than contemporary American and British TV programming aimed at the same audience. It moved a lot faster. It was much more exciting. It was visually imaginative. The action sequences were clever and innovative. The sword fights are like nothing audiences had seen before. The camerawork was more dynamic. The storylines were more complex and more intelligent. It didn’t patronise its audience. It assumed they could deal with concepts like the triumph of good coming at a high price, and that they could deal with the idea that goods guys sometimes pay the ultimate price. There was nothing nihilistic about it, it was simply realistic in accepting that bad things can’t be wished away. They have to be struggled against. It was enormously popular with kids (including yours truly) but it was sophisticated enough that adult viewers can enjoy it as a stylish action adventure series.

Compared to contemporary British and American adventure series pitched at younger audiences The Samurai can be quite dark. The good guys might win but they won’t all survive and it can be a close-run thing. And victory is never permanent.

The Samurai’s format, with 13-episode story arcs, obviously allows fairly complex story-telling. Fuma. Fuma NInja (Ninpō Fūma Ichizoku) is the fifth such story arc, broadcast in Japan in 1963 and in Australia in 1965. It’s possibly the best of all the story arcs.

It is 1789, in the days of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

Edo is the seat of the Shogun’s government and the castle is extremely well defended, not just by regular guards but also by a large force of Iga Ninja, led by Tombei the Mist. In the world of this television series there are good ninja and there are bad ninja. The Iga Ninja are good ninja, brave and honourable and loyal. But the castle is under threat from some very bad ninja, the Fuma Ninja. Tombei knows something very bad is brewing but at first he has no idea what it is.

He does know that he is going to need some help from his old friend Shintaro, the legendary swordsman and samurai (and government secret agent).

The really puzzling and worrying thing in all of this is that the Fuma Ninja were all wiped out two hundred years earlier. How can they have come back? Whatever the explanation, they are back and they’re plotting something big. It concerns three mirrors, mirrors that have symbolic importance but that may also have some kind of supernatural or paranormal power. The Fuma Ninja are determined to get the mirrors and they’re prepared to kill anyone who gets in their way.

Shintaro’s sidekick is Tombei the Mist, but Tombei is not exactly a sidekick. He’s very much a hero in his own right, and his martial skills and his cunning are only slightly inferior to Shintaro’s. He is more an ally than a sidekick. There’s almost a buddy movie thing going - there is a strong friendship and complete trust between the two men. In this story cycle both men will face dangers greater than ever before.

This story cycle introduces a couple of slightly unexpected elements. Shintaro loses a sword fight. And there’s perhaps just the slightest hint of romance, or at least a hint that Shintaro is not entirely indifferent to the feminine sex. He is wounded and is nursed back to health by a charming and rather pretty young lady. He recovers his health completely, but the woman is still there. Shintaro is prepared to risk his life to keep her safe. Of course he owes her a debt, and of course he’d risk his life to protect any woman in danger. But he does seem very fond of her.

This story arc also features the series’ most memorable villain, the formidable and sinister Fuma Kotarō.

It also features lots of gadgets! Gadgets appear in other story arcs but this one features the awesome Fuma Dragon Ship. There are also the spider ninjas who are very cool, and very sinister. And the Iga Ninja meeting house, packed to the rafters with secret doors and other nasty surprises for the unwary. And, in case all that isn’t enough, there’s a sexy bad girl lady ninja.

There’s more glamour than usual. There’s also a beautiful princess. Shintaro gets lots of opportunities to demonstrate his chivalry.

Fuma Ninja also has a much greater sense of menace than other story arcs. The odds really do seem to be stacked against Shintaro and Tombei and they suffer a series of devastating disasters.

Interestingly enough a Christian convent plays an important part in this story and Shintaro finds himself with a nun who has to be protected. It’s no surprise that Shintaro, very much the gentleman, behaves with respect towards the Christian religion.

The fight scenes seem particular dynamic in this arc, and they’re also somewhat more violent than anything you’d see in British or American series of this type. These are fights to the death. There’s also, in one instalment, a double fight - two separate fights, both desperate, occurring miles apart at the same moment and there’s constant intercutting between them. You just aren’t going to see ambitious stuff like this on British or American kids’ shows of the era. And there’s the sword fight on the ceiling. There’s a constant attempt to keep the action scenes exciting and interesting.

There’s a bit of subtlety and character complexity in Fuma Ninja as well. The lady ninja is a superb warrior, except for one thing. She cannot entirely repress her emotions. When she’s put in a situation in which the rational thing to do is to kill a witness she can’t do it because she just can’t kill an innocent woman.  There are complex conflicts of loyalty, and there’s the ever-present difficulty of squaring loyalty with honour.

There’s perhaps a bit more nuance to Shintaro as well. He not only loses a sword fight, he makes mistakes. At times Fuma Kotarō out-thinks him. Of course there are also times when Shintaro out-thinks Fuma Kotarō. This is a life-and-death struggle not just between two great warriors but between two very clever men, but while they’re both clever neither is infallible.

Special mention should be made of Hirooki Ogawa’s excellent music for the series, a blend of Japanese and western influences.

It’s hard to judget the acting since I’ve only ever seen the English dubbed version but what can be said is that Kôichi Ôse as Shintaro and Fuyukichi Maki as Tombei have the necessary screen presence required of heroes whilst the actors playing the villains certainly have more than enough of the screen presence that villains require.

The Samurai is one of the great TV action adventure series and you don’t have to be a kid to enjoy it. And Fuma Ninja is this series at its best. Very highly recommended.

Saturday 1 February 2020

Perry Mason episode 2x05, The Case of the Curious Bride

Having just reviewed Erle Stanley Gardner’s The Case of the Curious Bride I’m now doing a parallel review of the Perry Mason TV series adaptation of that book which aired early in the second season (in October 1958 to be precise).

My review of the novel can be found here.

It would have been next to impossible to do completely faithful adaptations of any of the Perry Mason novels. A novel provides opportunities for levels of plot complexity that just cannot be translated to the small screen, and Gardner’s plots were very involved. The writers of the series therefore took considerable liberties when adapting the novels. In the early seasons most episodes were adaptations but in later seasons the bulk of the episodes were original stories. Most of the adaptations are quite good but obviously fans of the books were going to compare them to the books and be disappointed when particularly clever plot twists had to be discarded. For that very reason I think that on balance I prefer the episodes based on original scripts.

In this instance the basic outline remains pretty similar. A woman (named Rhoda Reynolds in the TV version) is newly married but she’d been married before and had never divorced her first husband because she thought he was dead. He isn’t dead and now he’s blackmailing her. Now the first husband has been murdered and she’s the very obvious suspect. She even admits to having struck him with an iron poker.

With that kind of evidence most defence attorneys would be dismayed, but not Perry Mason.

Complicating matters is the weak second husband, totally under the thumb of his obnoxiously domineering (and very rich and powerful) father.

There’s also Rhoda’s friendship with surgeon Dr Michael Harris, a friendship that is innocent but could very easily be misconstrued.

DA Hamilton Burger does not appear in the novel (this was an early Perry Mason novel and the character had not yet been introduced) but he does appear in the television version.

Perry pulls off some very clever tricks with bells and doors in this story and Hamilton Burger finds himself even more comprehensively outmanoeuvred than usual. While it departs from that of the novel in various ways the TV episode still boasts an eminently serviceable plot.

The TV adaptation of The Case of the Curious Bride can be considered as being pretty successful.