Saturday 25 July 2020

The Saint - The Angel’s Eye (1966)

When I did my recent post comparing the stories in Leslie Charteris’s 1953 collection The Saint in Europe with the 1960s television adaptation I mentioned that I had been unable to find a copy of the TV version of one of the stories, The Angel’s Eye. That problem has now been rectified, my boxed set from Network containing all the colour episodes having now arrived. So I can now offer my comparison of this story and the TV version (which went to air in 1966 as part of the first colour season of The Saint).

This story begins with a man named Upwater and his wife asking Simon’s help in regard to a very valuable diamond. Upwater works for a jeweller and has taken the stone to Amsterdam to be recut but the diamond cutter not only refuses to return it, he denies having ever seen it. Which of course interests the Saint. In fact he is not only interested, he is enchanted. This promises to be a rather artistic swindle and Simon is a connoisseur of swindles.

The Saint is not the only one to have taken an interest in the case, which enchants Simon even more.

The twist in this tale is really not one of Charteris’s more dazzling efforts but it’s clever and enjoyable enough and a swindle involving an immensely valuable diamond gives it the characteristic flavour of later-period Saint adventures. And the swindle is, as Simon had hoped, artistic and devious. There are also some clues scattered through the story but they won’t help you unless you know a lot about diamonds.

Harry W. Junkin wrote the television adaptation. Junkin was also the script supervisor for the series. Junkin and Charteris did not always see eye-to-eye when it came to adaptations of Saint stories, and that’s putting it mildly. 

The TV version opens in England and immediately introduces us to half a dozen key characters who were not in the original story so we know that this is not exactly going to be a faithful adaptation (and we can also therefore guess that it’s probably going to be one of the episodes that irritated Leslie Charteris).

In the TV version the diamond belongs to Lord Cranmore but he’s broke and needs to sell it. This enrages his snobbish nephew Jeremy. There are a couple of very suspicious characters hanging about who look like they might be jewel thieves. Upwater in this version is Lord Cranmore’s estate manager and he his daughter are sent to Amsterdam to have the stone recut. Replacing the middle-aged Upwater’s middle-aged wife with his daughter of course allowed the script to include an attractive young lady in the cast, and attractive young ladies were always an essential element in the TV series. 

To be fair to Junkin he has kept the core of the plot intact. All he’s really done is to add a bit of extra misdirection which actually works reasonably well. There’s still the diamond cutter who mysteriously denies any knowledge of the Angel’s Eye and Simon’s involvement still follows the same course. Perhaps Junkin has added some complications that weren’t strictly necessary but on the other hand he’s also made it a bit more of a challenge for the viewer to figure out the solution. The only weakness is that the TV version doesn’t include Simon’s explanation of the clues that allowed him to solve the problem.

Overall both the story and the TV adaptation are quite entertaining. I certainly enjoyed both.

Saturday 18 July 2020

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. - The Copenhagen Affair (novel)

The Copenhagen Affair is an original 1965 novel by Welsh writer John Oram based on the hit 1960s television spy series The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and it’s a tale of flying saucers - but there's reason to believe that these flying saucers might not be from outer space.

Like the other Man from U.N.C.L.E. TV tie-in novels I've read it does deviate in minor details from the TV series but it’s quite enjoyable.

Here’s the link to my full review at Vintage Pop Fictions.

Sunday 12 July 2020

Code 3 (1957)

Code 3 is an American cop show which lasted one season (of 39 episodes) in 1957. It was aired in syndication. It deals with cases facing the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office (which co-operated in the making of the series).

Four episodes are included in Mill Creek’s Best of TV Detectives boxed set and they’re the only four episodes that I’ve been able to see. It’s hard to draw conclusions from such a brief sampling but I get the impression that Code 3 was a series that tried to emphasise a human interest angle, to see crime as a human problem. Sometimes people are well-meaning but they make mistakes. Sometimes people do the wrong thing but they have reasons for their actions. Sometimes criminals are weak, sometimes they’re foolish, sometimes they don’t see any other way out,  but they’re not necessarily evil.

Each episode is introduced by Richard Travis in the rĂ´le of Assistant Sheriff George Barnett and there’s a brief spiel at the end by the actual Sheriff of Los Angeles County. The stories are supposedly based on actual cases. A semi-documentary feel was quite a popular approach for crime series in the ’50s.

Apart from Richard Travis (who appears only in the intros) there are no regular cast members, which is undoubtedly the reason the series only lasted one season and was not picked up by one of the networks. A successful cop show has to have regular characters whom the viewers get to know and get to care about.

Despite this Code 3 offers an interesting mix of stories.

The Rookie Sheriff deals with a central European refugee under training as a sheriff’s deputy. Rancich is quite old to be a trainee but on paper he’s ideal material. He’s intelligent and resourceful, he’s super-fit and he speaks five languages. The problem is that having been in the Underground during the war he’s much too gung-ho and he’s arrogant, overbearing and opinionated. He also thinks that if people don’t respect the police they should be taught a lesson. The other trainees hate his guts and he would have washed out of training but for the fact that the head of the academy has a stubborn faith in him.

This episode is marred by way too much speechifying. Most of the dialogue is in fact little more than speeches telling us about the perfection of American law enforcement officers and the American way of life. It’s just too heave-handed. Which is a pity because it’s actually an interesting slightly offbeat story and Rancich is in his own way a fascinating and interesting character. Despite its weaknesses it’s a reasonably good story.

In The Sniper George and Marie Thayer’s marriage is heading for the rocks. George is a not very successful real estate man. Marie is a high-flying businesswoman who also runs an art gallery. George feels inadequate and despised. 

And now somebody has tried to shoot him. It must be that sniper that they’re talking about in the papers, the crazed gunman who has murdered seven people at random. That’s the only explanation. The detectives from the Sheriff’s Department are not so sure. What’s going on here is perfectly obvious right from the start but it’s still not a bad little tale. This being the 1950s we get some pop psychology as well.

The Man with Many Faces is the story of forger Charlie Ellsworth. He is a good man and basically a solid law-abiding citizen but his fifteen-year-old daughter is dying and Charlie wants to give her a trip to Honolulu before she dies. Charlie is a skilled forger but perhaps too good. He forges cheques but they’re a bit too perfect. Despite this he might have gotten away with it if not for his hearing problem.

This is definitely an episode that takes a sympathetic view of a criminal. Quite a decent episode. 

The Benson Case takes place at the Terminal Island women’s prison. Bonnie Person is on remand, facing a murder charge. She gets wind of the fact that an undercover woman Sheriff’s Deputy has been planted in the prison and she assumes that the deputy is there to collect evidence against her. This episode has promise and some good moments but the ending seems too abrupt.

Code 3’s main virtue seems to be that the episodes are so varied, but that’s a weakness as well. The impression given by this handful of episodes is that the series doesn’t quite establish a character of its own.

Code 3 is moderately entertaining but certainly not in the same league as great 1950s cop shows such as Dragnet or M Squad. Maybe worth a rental if you really love ’50s police dramas.

Saturday 4 July 2020

Mr Rose season 3 (1968)

Mr Rose was a British crime series made by Granada Television in 1967-68. It was created by Philip Mackie who was involved as creator or writer with some of the most interesting British television series of the ’60s and ’70s such as The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes, The Caesars and Raffles.

Chief Inspector Charles Rose (played by William Mervyn) first made his appearance in 1963 as a supporting character in the third season of a detective series called The Odd Man. He was popular enough to be featured as the central character in a spin-off series, It’s Dark Outside, made in 1964-65. It’s Dark Outside then spawned a further spin-off series, Mr Rose, three seasons of which were produced in 1967 and 1968.

In The Odd Man and It’s Dark Outside Chief Inspector Rose was pompous, high-handed and sometimes rather prickly. For the Mr Rose series the character was softened somewhat, but he was softened without becoming bland. In fact he becomes rather more interesting. The slight personality change did make some sense since Rose was now living in comfortable (very comfortable) retirement, at work on his memoirs. He is as pompous as ever but, freed from the stresses and strains of his police duties, he is more relaxed and even amiable. And his eccentricities, already present, have blossomed.

In the first season he was living in Eastbourne with his manservant/chauffeur/assistant John Halifax (Donald Webster) and his secretary Drusilla Lamb (Gillian Lewis). That first season feature some of the most delightful ensemble acting you could ever wish to see. The three characters complement one another perfectly. Mr Rose is upper class with the arrogance self-assurance of his class, but he can be charming and fascinating. Halifax is working class and is in fact an ex-criminal. Miss Lamb is middle class and takes life very seriously. Halifax is devoted to him. Miss Lamb disapproves of Mr Rose’s laziness and self-indulgence and his whimsical attitudes towards the law. All three characters are, in their very different ways, extremely likeable. And the three leading players play off each other superbly. The result was some of the best British television of the ’60s.

While he is now retired Mr Rose has by no means lost his taste for crime-solving. He is not a private detective but is now a kind of consulting detective in the Sherlock Holmes mould but on an amateur basis. Crime-solving is for Charles Rose a welcome diversion from the tedious grind of memoir-writing. The fact that he is writing his memoirs does however serve as useful leverage in a number of his cases.

Unfortunately Gillian Lewis departed after the thirteen episodes of the first season. It was a blow from which the series never quite recovered because the three characters had formed a perfect balance. Nonetheless a second season of six episodes, with Mr Rose relocated to London, followed in mid-1968. Donald Webster then left and a third and final season of five episodes screened in late 1968. That third season has its moments but the loss of Webster was a fatal blow.

Mr Rose gains a new assistant in the person of Robert Trent (Eric Woofe). In the first episode he seems rather obnoxious but after that he settles down. The problem is that he’s too much like a younger Mr Rose.

Episode Guide

In The Less-Than-Iron-Duke Mr Rose goes to the assistance of an old flame, theatrical legend Sheena Coltman, who has just opened a night-club and is being pressured to pay protection money. It appears that the man behind the protection racket is a rising star in the local organised crime world, a nasty piece of work named Eddie Rice. Mr Rose decides to fight crime with crime by persuading Harry Duke, the former gangland kingpin and know to everyone as The Duke, to deal with Eddie. But will The Duke agree to such a proposal?

The Bogey Man has a promising setup. Mr Rose witnesses a fatal traffic accident. He recognises the victim as a man named Saunders, whose is (or was) ironically traffic expert. Except that it turns out that the victim isn’t Saunders, it’s someone else entirely, but Mr Rose insists that it really is Saunders. The possibility that he might be mistaken is one that he is not prepared to entertain. There’s not just a question of identity, but also one of dates. And there’s a police sergeant who might not be a police sergeant, and there are two widows. There’s a murder that might not be a murder, or perhaps there are two murders, or even more. It’s all very baffling.

The Missing Chapter is a chapter from the next volume of Mr Rose’s memoirs. The story all involves a large amount of money withdrawn from the bank by Mr Rose, a visit to the racetrack, a mysterious telephone call from a glamorous blonde and some strange behaviour by Rose’s friend publisher Nigel Chinnery. The plot is less complex than it sounds but it’s entertainingly embellished by the amateur detective efforts by Robert and by Mr Rose’s new secretary, the detective story-obsessed Miss Tait-Fairlie.

In The Jolly Good Fellow Mr Rose is to be made a Fellow of St Stephen’s College. The college is about to be presented with a rather valuable painting. It already owns a priceless painting, and Mr Rose is more than a little concerned about the non-existent security arrangements. It’s Rag Week and Mr Rose has already been the victim of one of the good-natured pranks the students get up to at this time, all in the interests of charity. Mr Rose is kidnapped by some rather likeable undergraduates and as his ransom cheerfully hands over a cheque to a local charity. But are all the pranks being planned by the students so harmless?

Free and Easy is a bit of a mess. Mr Rose has written a play but both the director and the star, an actor named Marcus Despard who looks remarkably like Mr Rose (and is in fact played by William Mervyn), have tampered with the ending. Rose is not pleased.

This episode seems to be an attempt at political satire with some scare stuff about neo-fascist plots (a positive obsession with both British and American television at the time). It’s all too clever by half and doesn’t make a great deal of sense.

Final Thoughts

The third season isn’t as bad as I’d feared but it is a bit disappointing. The dynamic between Chief Inspector Rose and Robert Trent just doesn’t have the nuances that made his relationships with John Halifax and Miss Lamb so interesting and so delightful. This is perhaps the major weakness. In the earlier seasons the interplay between the leads made even the lesser episodes thoroughly enjoyable. In this third season the uninteresting dynamic between the two leads makes the faults of the lesser episodes more obvious.

I’ve previously reviewed both the first season (by far the best) and the second season.

My advice is to buy the complete series set from Network which includes all three seasons. If you love the first two you’ll end up giving the final season a spin as well. If you’ve bought the individual season sets of seasons one and two then don’t bother with the third season unless you’re thoroughly hooked on the series.