Monday 27 December 2021

13 Demon Street (1959)

13 Demon Street was a horror anthology series created by Curt Siodmak. It was made in Sweden in 1959 but was shot in English with mostly American casts. Thirteen episodes were made. It was aired in syndication in the United States.

Curt Siodmak (brother of film director Robert Siodmak) had a varied and interesting career as a novelist, screenwriter and occasional director, mostly in the science fiction and horror genres.

Lon Chaney Jr provides an introduction to each episode, in the guise of a man who has been cursed for all eternity for some terrible crime. He can only escape the curse if he can find some crime more heinous than his own, so he is telling us these stories in the hope of convincing us that there really are worse crimes than his own (although he doesn’t tell us what his crime was).

Three episodes were later edited together to make a movie called The Devil’s Messenger, and since all three episodes were quite good the movie ended up as a reasonably good anthology movie.

One of the recurring themes in this series seems to be the fuzziness of the boundary between reality and illusion, and between sanity and madness. Strange things happen, but are they really happening? These are ideas that are explored fairly effectively in several episodes.

It’s also a series that captures an atmosphere of subtle weirdness quite well.

A few other episodes are available from various sources. Something Weird Video’s DVD release of another interesting anthology series of that era, The Veil, includes two episodes of 13 Demon Street as extras. The horror in 13 Demon Street is perhaps slightly more overt but like The Veil it suffers at times from not providing totally satisfying payoffs. It’s less original than The Veil but overall it’s slightly more effective.

The Vine of Death

The Vine of Death was directed by Curt Siodmak who also co-wrote the script with Leo Guild. An archaeologist in Copenhagen plants some 4,000-year-old bulbs, from an extinct vine known as the Mirada Death Vine. Legend has it that the vine has an affinity for dead human bodies. The bulbs appear to be hopelessly desiccated but the archaeologist, Dr Frank Dylan, has the crazy idea that he can get them to grow.

There’s a romantic triangle involving Dr Dylan’s wife Terry and a neighbour. It leads to murder, and it leads to other bizarre consequences.

This is a genuinely weird and creepy story and it’s pretty good.

The Black Hand

The Black Hand was directed by Curt Siodmak and written by Siodmak and Richard Jairus Castle. It’s a pretty hackneyed idea. Dr Heinz Schloss is involved in an auto accident and to escape from his burning car he has to amputate his own hand (which is at least a suitably macabre touch).

He transplants a psychopathic murderer’s hand onto his arm (without knowing that it’s a murderer’s hand) and of course you know what’s going to happen next. It’s mostly predictable but the fact Dr Schloss is a surgeon adds a bit of interest - a surgeon has to be able to trust his hands.

It’s reasonably well executed but the basic idea has been handled better before, notably in the movies The Hands of Orlac (1924) and Mad Love (1935).

The Photograph

The Photograph was written and directed by Curt Siodmak. Donald Powell is a fashion photographer and he’s a bit of a creep. His friend Charlie thinks he needs a break. He should go to Maine and do some real photography. Donald takes his advice. The first thing that attracts his interest in Maine is an old house, but he’s even more interested in the young woman who emerges from the house. For Donald it’s an instantaneous obsession. With disastrous consequences.

Now it’s one of the photos he took in Maine that has him worried. It doesn’t look the same any more.

This episode is inspired by the classic M.R. James ghost story The Mezzotint. It’s slightly more interesting than it appears at first glance since there’s considerable ambiguity about what actually happened in Maine. It’s even possible that nothing happened.


Fever was written and directed by Curt Siodmak.

This episode shows much more promise. It’s a tale of a young doctor in Vienna the early years of the 20th century who is treating an ageing, brooding, alcoholic painter. The artist painted the same woman over and over, and the doctor becomes obsessed with her. Then he sees her in the house cross the street. But there isn’t a house across the street. And surely she’d be much older by now? So it it really her? Is she alive? Is he dreaming or awake? OK, it’s an idea that’s been done before but it’s executed with considerable skill and style.

And it is a nicely spooky story. I liked this one.

The Girl in the Glacier

The Girl in the Glacier was written and directed by Curt Siodmak. The body of a naked girl, frozen in the ice of a glacier for 50,000 years, is found in a mineshaft. The block of ice in which she is embedded is taken to a museum. Dr. Ben Seastrom, the anthropologist put in charge of trying to preserve the girl’s body, becomes obsessed by her. He starts to develop some pretty strange ideas about her.

In fact he starts to fall in love with the long-dead girl. He buys some pretty clothes for her. He also gets the idea that maybe she isn’t really dead, that maybe if he can find a way to very slowly unfreeze her she’ll come back to life. Maybe he’s brilliant but he’s clearly crazy. Or is he?

Again it’s not a dazzlingly original idea but it’s handled quite well.

Condemned in the Crystal

Condemned in the Crystal was directed by Curt Siodmak and written by Dory Previn (better known as a singer-songwriter).

John Radian is a middle-aged man troubled by dreams. The dreams take place in an old semi-derelict building and they are about the foretelling of the future. His psychiatrist explains to him that he wants to know his future but is also afraid of knowing. The psychiatrist suggests that he should face his fears. He should go to that building (the building really exists and Radian knows where it is).

Radian takes his doctor’s advice. When he finds the building he finds a gypsy woman, a fortune-teller. She sees John Radian’s future in her crystal ball. She tells him his future and that he cannot escape it. Of course he tries to do so.

This is a nicely suspenseful episode, with some cleverly ambiguous touches. We know what is going to happen because we’ve heard the fortune-teller tell Radian, but her prediction seems to make no sense. We cannot see (and John Radian cannot see) how such a thing could happen. The ending is effective. A good episode.

Final Thoughts

It’s not easy to make an overall judgment on this series based on the half-dozen episodes that I’ve seen. A couple of the episodes are certainly unoriginal but others really are pleasingly weird and disturbing. 13 Demon Street had potential and it’s worth a look.

Friday 10 December 2021

The Saint in colour

In 1966 ITC decided it was time to switch to colour for the new season of The Saint. There were a couple of other minor changes as well, the most notable being that we now get a voiceover introduction to each episode rather than having Simon Templar break the fourth wall and address the audience directly.

Overall though it’s the formula as before. If you have a formula that works why change it?

So, some reviews of early fifth season episodes chosen at random.

The Queen’s Ransom

In The Queen’s Ransom (which aired in 1966) Simon finds himself involved, very indirectly, in a revolution after he saves the life of a deposed Middle Eastern king. The revolution is intended to restore King Fallouda to his throne. The Saint has mixed feelings about revolutions but in this case he feels that the restoration of the king really would a good idea. The problem is that the money to finance the revolution will have to come from the sale of Queen Adana’s jewels and they’re in a safety deposit box in Zurich. The Queen will have to fetch them and Simon’s job is to protect her and the jewels.

This episode then becomes a kind of Couple on the Run story as Simon and Queen Adana are chased about Europe by the king’s enemies who intend to get those jewels. It’s a typical Saintly adventure, with Adana and Simon at each other’s throats at first, much to Simon’s amusement.

There’s the usual Saintly mix of adventure with a dash of humour but with quite a bit more action compared to the earlier black-and-white seasons. And the action is noticeably more violent (although it’s still very restrained compared to the direction British television would take in the mid-70s).

The sparks really do fly between the Queen and the Saint. There’s no hint of romance (Queen Adana is very happily married to the King and is absolutely faithful to him). Queen Adana tries her best to be regal and mostly succeeds although at times she is reminded that before she was a queen she was the daughter of a London bus driver. Dawn Addams does a fine job of being queenly while giving us occasional subtle glimpses of her working-class background.

A very entertaining episode.

The Reluctant Revolution

The Reluctant Revolution takes place in the South American dictatorship of San Pablo. Simon runs across an attractive young woman named Diane (played by Jennie Linden) who has a gun in her purse. He fears she might be going to try to kill someone and that proves to be the case. She wants to kill the dictator’s right-hand man, and that gets both Diane and Simon mixed up in an attempted revolution.

The Saint isn’t altogether sure he approves of revolutions. They usually end with a lot of innocent people being killed. If only one could have a revolution without bloodshed. Perhaps it can be done, if Simon can make use of his skills as a confidence trickster.

An enjoyable episode.

Interlude in Venice

In Interlude in Venice Simon is seeing the sights when trouble finds him (as it always does) and he has to rescue an American girl from a too-insistent would-be Lothario. The American girl, Cathy, is about to get herself in more hot water (something she seems to have a talent for), this time with a sleazy prince. 

This one was perhaps a bit too ambitious, with lots of blue-screen stuff to convince us that Roger Moore is really zipping around the canals of Venice when quite obviously the entire episode was shot in the studio. At least the blue-screen stuff is fairly well done.

As you would expect it turns out that things are not quite what they seem. A pretty decent episode.

The House on Dragon’s Rock

The House on Dragon’s Rock, which was directed by Roger Moore, is a very untypical episode of The Saint. It’s more like a 1950s science fiction monster movie with a bit of Hammer-style gothic atmosphere thrown in. Simon arrives in a small Welsh village to find that strange and disturbing things have been happening. The latest mystery is the disappearance of a shepherd named Owen and when Owen is finally found the mystery remains as deep as ever.

The villagers are convinced that it has something to do with the scientific experiments being carried out in the big old house on Dragon’s Rock.

This is not just a monster movie story, it’s also a mad scientist story with Anthony Bate as Dr Charles Sardon making a pretty effective mad scientist. Dr Sardon has his own ideas about the future of the planet.

Much of this episode was actually shot in Wales, with mostly Welsh actors. To venture so far from the studio was highly unusual for 1960s British television. And there are special effects. OK, the special effects are roughly of the standard you’d expect in a 1960s Doctor Who episode but given the tone of the episode they work well enough.

There has to be a pretty girl in an episode of The Saint and in this case it’s Annette Andre (later to be better known from her regular role in Randall and Hopkirk, Deceased).

Roger Moore plays things pretty straight which, given the outlandish plot, was probably a very sound idea.

There’s an obvious attempt to get away from the flat lighting so characteristic of 1960s television and achieve a more atmospheric effect.

The House on Dragon’s Rock is a great deal of fun.

The Man Who Liked Lions

A journalist, a friend of Simon’s, is murdered in broad daylight in Rome. Needless to say Simon makes it his business to find out why. The trail leads him first to artist Claudia Molinelli but what Simon really wants is to find the Man Who Likes Lions. Eventually he finds him. He is Tiberio Magadino (Peter Wyngarde) and apart from being obsessed with lions he is obsessed by Ancient Rome. He dreams of recapturing the glory of Ancient Rome but it’s the way he earns his living that interests Simon.

The plot isn’t all that special but it’s the outrageous execution that makes this a memorable episode.

This is one of several memorable TV guest roles that Peter Wyngarde did in the 60s before finding fame in Department S and Jason King. His most notorious guest role of course was in the A Touch of Brimstone episode of The Avengers (the one with Mrs Peel as the Queen of Sin).

Friday 26 November 2021

John Theydon’s Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (TV tie-in novel)

Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons was the first of three TV tie-novels accompanying Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s TV series of the same name. Written by John William Jennison (1911-1980) under the name John Theydon the novel appeared in 1967.

If you’re thinking of reading this book I’m assuming you’re a fan of the TV series (which I reviewed here a few years ago).

Earth attacked and destroyed a Martian city after a series of misunderstandings (and driven to a large extent by panic). The Mysterons, the masters of the city, recreated it and are now undertaking a program of vengeance against the Earth. Earth’s only effective defence is an international security organisation known as Spectrum. The Mysterons have the power to destroy things (and people) and then recreate them. People recreated in this way are effectively slaves of the Mysterons. Spectrum does however have one ace up its sleeve. One of their operatives, Captain Scarlet, was Mysteronised but is no longer a slave of the Mysterons, and he is indestructible.

The novel concerns an attempt by the Mysterons to disrupt the world’s weather (a popular science fictional idea in the 60s that was also utilised in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea).

The Mysterons make use of a bitter scientific rivalry between Professor Deitz (who believes the world’s weather can be controlled by satellites) and Professor Stahndahl (who believes he can control the planet’s weather by bouncing a beam off a newly discovered electro-magnetic layer surrounding the Earth).

The first target of the Mysterons is London which gets hit with a tropical storm of extraordinary severity. Captain Scarlet and Rhapsody Angel (one of Spectrum’s five beautiful girl fighter pilots known as the Angels) are on leave in London at the time and are lucky to survive.

The next target is Florida. The most savage hurricane in history is just three hours from the coast. The only thing that Colonel White commander of Spectrum) can think of to do is to order three of the Angels to nuke the hurricane!

Colonel White suspects that one of Professor Deitz’s for weather-control satellites has been destroyed and recreated by the Mysterons and is responsible for the weather chaos. That satellite has to be intercepted and destroyed but destroying something that has been Mysteronised is no easy task. There is a way the satellite could be destroyed but it will be risky.

Unfortunately for Spectrum the Mysterons’ plan is actually much more devious than just hijacking a satellite. Somehow Captain Scarlet will have to find the secret laboratory from which all the damage is being done. Captain Scarlet’s indestructibility will be put to the test during this adventure.

Theydon was obviously aiming to include as much as possible of the high-tech Spectrum equipment featured in the series. The Angel Interceptors, the Spectrum Pursuit Vehicles (kind of like high-speed wheeled super-tanks) and the Spectrum Passenger Jets all feature in this tale. He also clearly wanted to find ways to work into the story as many as possible of the show’s main characters - Captain Scarlet and his buddy Captain Blue, Colonel White, all five Angels and of course the sinister Mysteron agent (and former Spectrum officer) Captain Black. Captain Scarlet’s indestructibility naturally has to play an important part. Theydon wants to throw everything into the mix and he does so pretty successfully.

There’s non-stop action, plenty of narrow escapes and lots of things get blown up. And some of them get blown up by nuclear weapons! Rhapsody Angel is captured by the Mysterons and has to be saved.

The plotting is frenetic and reasonably effective.

This is a book aimed at younger readers so there’s no sex and the violence is not too graphic. There is (as in the TV series) some mild flirtation between Captain Scarlet and one of the Angels but it’s all very wholesome. The tone is very close to that of the series.

Overall it’s a surprisingly entertaining little adventure. It’s definitely worth a look if you’re a fan of the TV series. Recommended.

Saturday 13 November 2021

Lexx (1996-2002)

Lexx is a series that lies slightly outside the usual time frame covered by this blog but if you’re talking about cult TV then Lexx is about as cult as you can get. Compared to most US and British sci-fi series Lexx is wildly different. This ain’t Star Trek.

The first season of Lexx is a series of four TV movies. It then became a regular series for three further series.

Lexx polarised sci-fi fans at the time and it still polarises people.

It’s the story of four oddly assorted people (only one of whom is entirely human) who roam the galaxy in the most powerful and destructive spacecraft ever built, the Lexx. The Lexx is a living spaceship.

At this point, if you’ve never seen Lexx, you might be thinking that it sounds like a rip-off of Farscape. In fact Lexx preceded Farscape by a couple of years so if there was any borrowing of ideas going on it was Farscape that copied Lexx. And Lexx is as different from Farscape as any two series could possibly be. Lexx is very very unconventional.

Lexx was a Canadian-German co-production, and that’s significant. It has a very European feel. It rejects conventional Anglo-American approaches altogether. It’s interesting to compare it to Star Maidens, a much earlier example of a distinctively European approach to sci-fi (Star Maidens was an Anglo-German production). Lexx, like Star Maidens, is sci-fi with sexual themes and they’re very sexual and they’re kinda kinky.

Stanley Tweedle (Brian Downey), a very unimportant very low-level functionary in the service of His Divine Shadow, gets caught in the middle of a revolution in the Cluster (the capital city of the League of 20,000 Planets). Also caught up in this revolution are 790, Zev Bellringer (Eva Habermann) and Kai and these four will end up forming the crew of the Lexx.

790 used to be a robot but all that’s left of him is a head, but he still has his robot brain. Unfortunately when Zev’s transformation into a love slave went slightly wrong he became part love slave and since the only female around is Zev he develops a sexual obsession with her.

Kai (Michael McManus) is the last of the Brunnen-G, warriors who once won great victories for humanity. He’s been dead for 2,000 years but he can be reactivated. Kai is used by His Divine Shadow as a merciless assassin. Kai can be reanimated with proto-blood but the supply is limited.

Zev is a woman who failed in her wifely duties. As punishment she was reprogrammed into a living sex slave. But something went wrong. She’s now almost entirely a human woman and almost entirely a love slave but she has just a touch of Cluster Lizard in her. Since Cluster Lizards are awesome killing machines that touch of Cluster Lizard can come in handy. What makes this particularly useful is that people look at her and just see a pretty young girl and they tend to underestimate her. If they upset her she can turn them into minced dog food in a trice. And she’s quite happy to do this.

As for His Divine Shadow, he rules the League of 20,000 Planets in the name of order (and a kind of religion) but his regime is both totalitarian and arbitrarily brutal. There are heretics who seek to destroy his regime.

So why did (and do) so many people hate Lexx? That’s easy enough to answer. Lexx rides roughshod over the conventions of both its genre and series television as well. Many science fiction fans could not accept the way it combines apparently incompatible elements - it veers from goofy comedy to incredible darkness and nihilism, it combines extreme violence with overt sexuality. And it does not have conventional sci-fi heroes. Many viewers could accept the idea of a cast that included a few amusing misfits but they could not accept a series without at least one conventional Square-Jawed Hero and at least one conventional Strong Capable Woman.

The four regulars are all misfits, but they’re not even conventional anti-heroes or flawed heroes. Stanley is cowardly and untrustworthy, and obsessed with getting into Zev’s pants. Kai is a merciless killer. 790 is a disembodied robot head who wants to be Zev’s sex slave. Zev is a sweet girl but she’s totally amoral and she’s a nymphomaniac. All four take great delight in slaughtering their enemies, or even just anyone who gets in their way. They do what it takes to survive. And they’re the Good Guys.

is also cheerfully politically incorrect and cheerfully sleazy.

If your idea of TV sci-fi is Star Trek: The Next Generation it’s all a bit bewildering. It has dialogue that you just don’t get in Star Trek: TNG. At one point Zev asks 790, “What sort of robot are you?” To which he replies, “I’m a robot that wants to live in your underpants.”

Of course the very things that some sci-fi fans hated about Lexx are the very things that made other fans love it with a passion. Lexx is sci-fi for grown-ups. This is not a kids’ show. While its critics saw it as appallingly disreputable its fans saw it as delightfully disreputable and loved its wild unconventionality.

Lexx is also extraordinarily impressive visually. It was the first sci-fi series to use CGI effectively and imaginatively. There is so much sexual symbolism in the visuals that one’s head begins to spin. This is not a kids’ show. But given the sexlessness of most TV science fiction Lexx’s approach is refreshing.

It also covers all bases when it comes to eye candy. Female viewers could swoon over the handsome psychologically tortured bad boy Kai. Male viewers could drool over the luscious Zev.

Episode Guide

The first movie, I Worship His Shadow, explains how four misfits gained control of the most powerful destructive force in the galaxy. It gives us our first glimpse into the Lexx universe. Or rather, the two Lexx universes. There’s the Light Universe and the Dark Universe. The Light Universe represents order, the Dark Universe represents evilness. But this is Lexx, so things are not that simple. The Light Universe is ruled by His Divine Shadow and there is certainly order there, but in fact it’s a bureaucratic dystopian nightmare. There’s chaos in the Dark Universe, but also the possibility of freedom and dignity. If you can survive.

Super Nova
takes us to the home planet of the Brunnen-G, where Zev hopes to find a way to restore Kai to life. At the moment he has a kind of precarious half-life. He can be revived for brief periods but that’s not enough to give Zev what she needs. As she admits to Stanley, her sexual needs are beyond measurement. The Brunnen-G home world is an abandoned dying planet with a sun that is only prevented from going supernova by artificial means. Giggerota the Wicked, who featured in the first episode, makes a reappearance. She’s not a very nice lady. For one thing she’s a cannibal, and that’s one of her lesser character flaws. Both Giggerota and the Divine Predecessors (the disembodied brains of previous incarnations of His Divine Shadow) are trying to get control of the Lexx.

Visually this episode is perhaps even more bizarrely imaginative than the first episode. It also significantly ramps up the kinkiness factor and the erotic subtexts. Eva Habermann even has a brief but memorable nude scene.

We get to know some of the characters a bit better. Stanley is a coward who displays occasional brief flashes of courage, and he’s treacherous and untrustworthy but capable of occasional moments of self-sacrificing loyalty. He’s more than a mere comic character. Zev is single-minded, ruthless and driven by lust.

Things take a decided turn for the grungy and the gruesome in Eating Pattern. Lexx is hungry. Less is of course a living spaceship and he has to eat. And if Lexx is starving his crew starves - they depend on him for their food supply. So although the planet Klaagia on which they have chosen to land looks very uninviting (it’s literally a garbage dump) they don’t have much choice. The planet’s inhabitants are very excited to see Zev. What they see is fresh meat. They depend on a substance called Pattern, and you can’t make Pattern without meat. The only meat on the planet is human. But fresh human meat makes excellent Pattern.

It’s a nightmare planet ruled by the clearly insane Bog (Rutger Hauer giving a deliciously off-the-wall performance). There’s also a pretty young woman named Wist (Doreen Jacobi). She’s cute and sexy and very very dangerous. Everyone on the planet is insane but it takes a while before we figure out the horrifying explanation.

It’s Rutger Hauer and Doreen Jacobi who make this episode worth watching.

Giga Shadow gets into seriously epic territory. Things have been happening in the Light Universe. Scary things, like the Cleansing and the Rebirth. And the emergence of the Giga Shadow. Heretical clerics, including Yottskry (Malcom McDowell) have tried to stop the Giga Shadow and have failed. The crew of the Lexx know nothing of this when they decide to return to the Light Universe to replenish Kai’s proto-blood supply.

We get more character development. Zev had a horrific and very artificial upbringing. She doesn’t really know what it’s like to be human, and she doesn’t really know what it’s like to be a woman. But she is a woman and she’s having to learn to grow up and deal with a woman’s emotions. She shows unexpected tenderness and unexpected emotional depth in this episode. Eva Habermann gives a startlingly good performance.

And Kai changes as well. He’s dead but he lives and he’s having to come to terms with that. And he gets a pet - a cute little baby cluster lizard. He actually manages to bond emotionally with his pet. Perhaps Zev will be able to teach him to bond emotionally with her? Stanley displays surprising intelligence and we start to see that while he’s still a coward there are smidgeons of decency and even bravery buried deeply within him.

Final Thoughts

Lexx is dark, richly imaginative, intelligent, crazy, sexy, sleazy, violent, outrageous, inspired, visually lush, funny and goofy and if you just go with the flow it’s an amazing ride. Very highly recommended.

Thursday 28 October 2021

a second look at Hart to Hart season 1 (1980)

I did a brief writeup of the first season of Hart to Hart a while back and I was a bit lukewarm about this series. Having watched a few more episodes I’m inclined to be a bit more generous.

Hart to Hart was created by Sidney Sheldon who as well as having a successful career in television was also one of the bestselling novelists of all time. Neither his TV series not his novels were ever going to be described as art but they weren’t supposed to be. Sheldon was perfectly content to be an entertainer and laugh all the way to the bank.

The executive producers on Hart to Hart were Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg, who were of course also responsible (among many other series) for Charlie’s Angels. And Hart to Hart strikes me in much the same way that Charlie’s Angels does. Both shows have a winning formula. Both Hart to Hart and Charlie’s Angels have glamorous charismatic leads, and both feature comic relief (provided by Lionel Stander and David Doyle respectively) that can be a bit overdone. And both series suffer somewhat from lazy writing. You often find yourself thinking that a bit more effort put into the scripts might have paid dividends. Both both series were hugely successful. Which tends to indicate that Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg probably knew a whole lot more about making successful television than I do.

In fact it’s possible that in the case of both shows the secret of their success was that they didn’t try too hard. They were television comfort food. They didn’t alienate viewers (who just wanted something relaxing and entertaining to watch) by trying to be too clever or too arty.

And both series succeeded by creating an aura of glamour, by having very attractive leads and by offering good-natured fun. And occasionally both series would come up with episodes that were unexpectedly good.

Hart to Hart (to an even greater extent than than Charlie’s Angels) is all about glamour. This was after all a concept dreamed up by Sidney Sheldon - take rich glamorous beautiful people and have them murder each other, with style. In this case you have a husband and wife who are rich and famous and don’t need to bother with work unless they feel like it (which they rarely do). They amuse themselves by solving murders. Being rich they don’t need to get paid for this, and being rich they can rely on the police indulging their hobby. It was a formula that obviously appealed to viewers. And it does work. Jonathan and Jennifer Hart are rich and famous but they’re not obnoxious about it. They’re likeable and really they’re just like any normal married couple (who happen to be fabulously rich and famous).

Glamour is something that doesn’t really exist in modern television or movies. Sure there are rich people, but real glamour is a different thing. Real glamour comes from sublime self-confidence, it has to be effortless, and Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers have it. This is the glamour that movie stars used to have. They don’t make movie stars like Robert Wagner any more and even in the 80s they didn’t make movie stars like Robert Wagner any more. That’s why his performance works. The producers wanted a Cary Grant for the 80s and that’s what they got. His career started in 1950 and seventy years later he’s still working. His earlier series It Takes a Thief is well worth checking out. Stefanie Powers had already demonstrated her suitability for this kind of light-hearted television with The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. back in the 60s.

Compared to other hugely successful 80s TV series Hart To Hart is not so obviously 80s. The stories could just as easily have taken place in the 1930s and the characters could easily have been taken from golden age Hollywood movies. It’s a series that takes place in its own universe where money and class never go out of fashion.

What’s also great about this series is that there’s no fashionable irony, and no snarkiness.

The DVD release includes a documentary which features many of the key people behind the series - Sidney Sheldon, executive producer Leonard Goldberg, writer Tom Mankiewicz and the two stars, Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers.

Episode Guide

In Which Way, Freeway? A rich jeweller is murdered and the key witness is Freeway (the Harts’ dog). Actually here are two key witness, Freeway and his doggie friend Suzie. And the murderers will have to do something about those witnesses. The plot is really pretty thin and a bit far-fetched but there’s an excellent golf cart chase and there’s a luggage cart chase as well. And there are cute doggies in danger, to provide the necessary suspense (and emotional investment for the audience). It has no right to work, but somehow it does.

In Downhill to Death Jennifer is doing something unusual. She’s working (she’s supposedly a journalist). She’s in a restaurant interviewing a punk rocker when she overhears a conversation between a man and a woman in a neighbouring booth, and the subject of conversation is murder. And the man is an old friend of the Harts. Could he really be plotting to murder his wife? This one has a reasonably twisty plot and (something of a defining characteristic of this series) an unusual chase, this time with snowmobiles. Very entertaining.

The Raid is more of an action episode. A husband-and-wife scientist team is kidnapped in a mythical South American country. They work for Jonathan and they’re also friends of the Harts. The local police won’t help, nor will the State Department so Jonathan teams up with an old buddy (a would-be revolutionary but a good revolutionary not one of the bad ones) to foil the kidnappers. A routine episode.

Things take a decided turn for the silly in Sixth Sense. A young female psychic working for Jonathan has a precognitive vision of her own murder. This was 1980, when ESP was still fashionable and some people still thought it was just vaguely plausible. That vision turns out to be both true and false. The plot is a bit complicated and very silly and very goofy. To a large extent it’s an excuse for the two leads to really ham it up, with Jonathan playacting as a Sam Spade-style hardboiled private eye and Stefanie Powers really going to town as a gypsy fortune-teller. If you’re going to do an episode such as this you have to be prepared to go totally over-the-top and embrace the fun and the goofiness and that’s what Wagner and Powers do (Powers is particularly good). And it actually works. It really does come across as charming and fun.

A woman tries, unsuccessfully, to kill Jennifer’s hairdresser in Does She or Doesn't She? Barry (the hairdresser) doesn’t seem the type to get involved in that kind of romantic drama. He likes women but he won’t have anything to do with married women. And Sally Hutchins is married. The Harts figure that maybe something else is going on here and that’s enough to get them interested. Quite a decent plot in this episode. Good stuff.

Cruise at Your Own Risk
takes the Harts to sea. There have been burglaries on several of Jonathan’s cruise liners (yes apart from all the other things he owns he owns three cruise liners). The insurance company is being difficult so the Harts set out to solve the burglary themselves. Jonathan will pose as a businessman taking his mistress on a cruise (with Jennifer playing the mistress). It’s fun to hear guest star John Hillerman (from Magnum, P.I.) talking with his natural American accent. OK, the plot is a bit thin but it’s enjoyable fluff which is what this series is all about.

The question in Too Many Cooks Are Murder is why anyone would want to try to murder a French chef. The answer is that he’s made a discovery, but no-one knows what the discovery is. All the Harts (who happened to be present when the attempt was made) know is that it’s something worth killing for. This one works quite well.

In Death Set the Harts’ friends Darryl and Blair Craddock are having marital problems. Darryl is starting to think that maybe his very rich family was right about Blair marrying him for his money. It all leads to a shooting tragedy. The Harts witnessed the shooting but even they don’t know what really happened. They are however determined to find out. What they uncover is a decent little mystery. You don’t want to think too much about some of the details of the plot but all in all a good solid season finale.

Final Thoughts

Watching Hart To Hart is like skipping dinner and going straight to dessert. Maybe it’s not nutritious but it goes down very easily. It aims to glamour and effortless charm and that’s what it achieves. This series has definitely grown on me. Recommended.

Sunday 10 October 2021

Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974-75), updated review

Carl Kolchak, investigative reporter with a nose for stories involving the supernatural, the paranormal and the just plain weird, made his first appearance in two TV movies. These were successful enough to spawn a series, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, which aired on the American ABC network in 1974-75. Sadly the series lasted only a single season. The network might have been well advised to give the series more time to establish an audience. After its cancellation it quickly achieved cult status and became extremely popular in syndication.

Kolchak: The Night Stalker was to the 70s what The X-Files was to the 90s. Kolchak keeps running across stories that just cannot be explained except as supernatural or paranormal phenomena or occasionally just weird fringe science. If only he could just get hold of some hard evidence. But he never does. Or if he does, it gets taken away from him or destroyed. Or for some reason his stories just get killed. But just like Mulder Carl Kolchak never gives up.

Darren McGavin was perfectly cast as Kolchak, a rumpled eccentric who revels in his reputation as a pushy oddball. Kolchak has its tongue-in-cheek side and it has its darker side as well and McGavin handles both effortlessly (anyone who doubts McGavin’s ability to be dark and edgy obviously hasn’t seen him in the late 50s Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer series).

You just really really want Kolchak to one day get the evidence he needs, you know he never will but you know he’ll just keep on trying. He’s a reporter. He doesn’t care about having doors slammed in his face. He doesn’t care about being harassed by the cops. He doesn’t care if people thinks he’s annoying and pushy. He doesn’t care if he makes his editor want to tear his hair out. Those are just the challenges that make being a reporter so much fun. And Kolchak loves being a reporter more than life itself.

This is a series that had a lot of promise but it never quite found its feet. Of course it wasn’t given time to do so. At times it does rely too much on Monster of the Week stories. It’s never quite sure if it wants to stick to the slightly jokey tongue-in-cheek tone or if it wants to get dark and serious. The episodes that rely on special effects suffer from the fact that the effects sometimes look cheap. But the promise was there and there are plenty of solid episodes with original and creepy ideas.

The series may just have been ahead of its time. Even science fiction series had a rough time on US television in the 60s. Weird stuff seemed to be accepted in anthology series (such as The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone) but perhaps audiences were not ready for a series that must have seemed an odd mix of a conventional newspaper reporter drama with outrageous story lines. It may have been too much of a collision between television drama normality and weirdness. The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone really didn’t pretend to take place in our reality, but Kolchak did. Two decades later The X-Files was a major hit, following just about the same formula.

Episode Guide

In Mr R.I.N.G. Kolchak stumble across a secret government robotics project called R.I.N.G. (Robomatic Internalized Nerve Ganglia). And it appears that one of their robots is loose, and he’s kinda dangerous. This is a very paranoid X-Files sort of story with the US Government, and especially the military, as the enemy. And the military is a much scarier enemy than any mere monster. An extremely good episode.

They Have Been, They Are, They Will Be… is the other Kolchak episode that is in the X-Files kind of mould. It starts with some seriously weird unexplained happenings. Zoo animals supposedly vanishing. People dying and the post-mortems reveal odd disturbing things. Electronic equipment that goes missing. There’s no actual evidence of anything, so why are the Feds so interested and what are they covering up? If you can’t afford fancy special effects a really good option is to avoid showing anything and rely on suggestion and that’s what his episode does. A lot of people don’t like this episode and I can see why. It is very low-key and lacks any real scares. But it is extremely interesting and I’m quite fond of it.

In Primal Scream an oil company has found some strange cells in a core sample from the Arctic. What’s really strange is that the cells are millions of years old but they show signs of life. Then there are the murders. Murders so brutal it’s as if they were carried out by something not quite human. And Carl Kolchak has some photos of footprints are they’re not quite human either. A fairly typical Kolchak episode, a bit silly but kind of fun.

The better Kolchak episodes are the ones that don’t rely on guys in monster suits and have to rely instead on atmosphere and genuine scares. Episodes like The Trevi Collection in which Kolchak discovers the links between the worlds of high fashion and witchcraft. There are some women who want to have it all, and they are willing to practise the black arts to achieve their desires. Store mannequins are always slightly creepy (the whole uncanny valley thing) and they play a big rôle in this episode. There are also a couple of pretty devious murders. On the whole an excellent episode.

In Chopper a graveyard is cleared for the construction of condominiums. Disturbing the dead is not a good idea. Several brutal slayings follow, with witnesses reporting a headless figure on a motorcycle. Carl gets some photos of tyre tracks but that makes things more confusing - such tyres have not been made for nearly twenty years. They’re the tyres you would have expected to find on the sorts of motorcycles that were popular with motorcycle gangs in the 1950s. Of course there’s no point in trying to tell the police any of this. Kolchak will have to deal with this mystery on his own, if he lives long enough. A pretty decent idea mostly well executed even if the headless biker is a bit unconvincing.

Demon in Lace involves the mysterious deaths of a number of young male college students. There’s no obvious cause of death but they died looking very scared. In each case the body was found along with the body of a young woman, but what worries Kolchak is that the young women had not died at the same time as the young men. And then there’s that Mesopotamian tablet with the weird inscription. The translation of one of the words as succubus worries Kolchak a lot. A truly excellent episode.

Legacy of Terror begins with two murders, both victims having had their hearts torn out. Literally. The only people Carl can think of who do things like that are the Aztecs, but Aztecs in Chicago in the 1970s. It seems unlikely. Then a third similar murder follows and Kolchak starts to see a pattern. A very good episode.

The Knightly Murders begins with a political boss being killed by a crossbow bolt. More murders follow, all done with medieval weaponry. Is the murderer a disgruntled medievalist, an actual medieval knight, some kind of lunatic or something else entirely. Kolchak has his own ideas after having a close encounter with a lance. John Dehner guest stars as the delightfully egotistical, highly literary but incurably lazy Captain Vernon Rausch, a legend in the Homicide Squad. A good fun episode.

What do eternal youth, Greek goddesses and dating agencies have in common? Quite a lot perhaps. Beauty and physical perfection seem to Carl to be the connecting thread. Youth Killer actually starts with 90-year-olds dropping dead all over Chicago. Not very unusual, but the circumstances are puzzling. Carl is particularly intrigued by the ring and the glass eye. This is one of the best Kolchak episodes, combining cleverness with subtle creepiness and wit.

The Sentry takes place in a gigantic underground data storage facility. It seems there have been a few accidents at the facility. Bodies found with teeth marks. Reptilian teeth marks. The cop in charge of the case is a glamorous lady detective but she’s determined to stop Carl from digging around in this case. The setting is very cool but the monsters are pretty silly.  It’s still a fun episode in a good kind of way.

Final Thoughts

OK, some of the guy-in-a-rubber-suit monsters are a bit embarrassing and there are a few dud episodes but the good episodes outnumber the bad ones by a considerable margin. And the good episodes are often very good indeed. Darren McGavin is so likeable he makes even the weaker episodes watchable.

Kolchak: The Night Stalker is immense fun. Highly recommended.

Saturday 25 September 2021

Columbo Goes to the Guillotine/Murder, Smoke and Shadows

In 1978, after an astonishingly successful run on NBC, Lieutenant Columbo finally hung up his crumpled raincoat for good. Or so it seemed. But it was not the end after all. In 1989 Columbo returned in a series of TV movies, this time on ABC, which continued intermittently until 2003. I approached this later incarnation with trepidation, fearing that it would be a disappointment.

It actually gets off to a pretty good start with an ambitious locked-room mystery, Columbo Goes to the Guillotine. It combines stage magic (always a winner in my book), psychic phenomena and some delightful mockery of the CIA.

We have to wait a long time for Columbo to make his entrance but the setup for the murder is extremely clever, genuinely puzzling and thoroughly entertaining. Elliott Blake (Anthony Andrews) is a psychic and he’s being studied at the Anneman Institute for Psychic Research. This time they’re convinced they have a real psychic on their hands and they’re very excited. The Pentagon and the CIA are excited as well - this will give them a vital weapon against the commies (the episode went to air in early 1989 when the Soviet Union still existed).

However the CIA wants to be sure. And what better way to be sure than getting renowned magician and sceptic Max Dyson (Anthony Zerbe) to try to debunk Blake. Dyson has exposed countless fraudulent psychics and phoney mediums and if Blake is using trickery then he’s the man to uncover that trickery. Of course you can see how tis might lead to murder, and it does. And it’s a wonderfully ingenious murder.

The way in which Columbo unravels the mystery is entirely satisfying. The vital clues are provided by a fifteen-year-old aspiring magician named Tommy. Introducing a precocious kid is always a risk but in this case it works. Tommy’s most important contribution comes when he tells Columbo that it’s not that difficult to figure out how a trick is done as long as you always keep in mind that it is a trick.

The murder is almost a perfect murder but there are a couple of tiny details that to Columbo’s mind just don’t quite fit. The plot is excellent, combining intricacy with the expected battle of wits between Columbo and the suspect.

Anthony Andrews is pretty good as the suspect constantly dogged by the rumpled homicide lieutenant. Pretty good, but I can’t help thinking this episode might have worked better with the two major supporting rôles reversed. Anthony Zerbe is a more colourful actor than Andrews and might have been a more formidable opponent for Columbo. Zerbe is an absolute delight as Max.

Oddly enough the one minor weakness in this episode is Peter Falk whose performance seems a bit mannered and a bit overdone. It had been eleven years since he’d played the part and he doesn’t seem entirely convincing. In the 1970s episodes Columbo was an outrageous but believable character, a very smart cop who was a bit eccentric but who carefully played up his eccentricities to put suspects off-guard. In this 1989 incarnation he just seems too obviously an actor. It’s almost as if he’s forgotten how he used to play the rôle and he’s trying too hard.

The magic stuff is terrific and the explanations of how the tricks were worked are fascinating.

All in all Columbo Goes to the Guillotine is surprisingly successful. Maybe not quite equal to the very best of the earlier episodes but still very good and very enjoyable.

Murder, Smoke and Shadows went to air in late February 1989. Once again there’s an attempt to make the setting as colourful, and as artificial, as possible. This time it’s the world of movies. Whizz-kid film director Alex Brady has a problem. A few years earlier when he and his friends Lenny Fisher and Buddy Coates were aspiring film-makers still making ultra low budget movies Lenny’s sister Jenny was killed when a stunt went wrong.  Alex panicked and left her to die. Lenny didn’t know about this but he does now and he’s arrived in Hollywood to wreck Alex’s career. Alex isn’t going to let that happen.

As in Columbo Goes to the Guillotine the murder is devious and ingenious. Alex’s attempts to cover his tracks are less clever. He knows a lot about making movies but as a murderer he’s at best a gifted amateur.

It just hasn’t occurred to Alex that the police are professionals at this sort of thing and they have vast resources. The ability of the police in general and Columbo in particular to piece together the story of a murder is as impressive as Alex’s ability to tell a story on film.

It’s another clever plot even if the theatricality is overdone at times. The ending is very theatrical indeed but it’s in keeping with the feel of the story.

Again Peter Falk’s performance seems not quite right. He just isn’t relaxing into the part they way he used to. Columbo’s malicious glee when he nails his suspect also seems a bit out of character.

A Columbo story depends a lot on the quality of the villain. Fisher Stevens as Alex is quite good but there is one big problem. At twenty-five Stevens was ridiculously young to be playing the part of a film director so well established that books have been written about his films. He looks even younger than twenty-five and comes across as being more like a precocious high school kid than a seasoned Hollywood veteran. Setting so much of the episode in Alex’s private little “boys’ club” hideaway with its train sets and pinball machines and soda fountain just makes him seem even younger. If only Stevens had been ten years older his performance might have worked splendidly - he certainly plays Alex as the kind of self-centred manipulative narcissist you’d expect to find in Hollywood.

Alex is also a Columbo villain who loses his cool quickly and seems cocky in a teenaged way rather than the type of smooth confident murderer who might present a real challenge to Lieutenant Columbo.

Steven Hill plays a small rôle as a ruthless producer whom Alex has made the mistake of crossing and Hill's assured performance, while very entertaining, also serves to make Alex seem like a naughty schoolboy.

So this episode has some problems. It does have its strengths however. The film studio setting is used very effectively and the story is basically excellent. So it’s a mixed bag but still enjoyable.

Was it a good idea to resurrect Columbo? Probably not. Both these episodes are brave attempts and they’re reasonably successful but the magic is not quite there.

Sunday 12 September 2021

Callan: This Man Alone

Callan: This Man Alone is a 2016 feature-length documentary on the classic Callan TV series (arguably the greatest TV spy series ever made). It features interviews with many of the key people involved in the making of the series - writers, directors, actors, producers. There are also brief snippets from audio interviews with Callan creator James Mitchell and stars Edward Woodward and Anthony Valentine. The documentary was clearly a labour of love and it provides plenty of fascinating anecdotes and some good insights into what it was that made Callan great television.

James Mitchell had already written several novels (including spy thrillers under the name James Munro) and had written scripts for several of the best TV series of the 60s (The Avengers, The Troubleshooters) when he wrote the TV play A Magnum for Schneider for the very prestigious Armchair Theatre anthology series produced by Britain’s ABC Television. Even before it went to air ABC felt it had the potential to become a regular series. A Magnum for Schneider introduced reluctant British government assassin David Callan to the world.

One thing that comes through pretty clearly is that if you want to make great television you have to set your sights high. Mitchell certainly set his sights high with Callan right from the start. Once it becomes evident that you’re aiming to make an intelligent provocative television series you’ll have the best writers, directors and actors falling over themselves to work on the show and that makes things a whole lot easier.

An interesting point which comes through in this documentary is the way this series turned setbacks to its advantages. Significant cast changes had to be made at various times. Wth new characters coming into the series (notably Cross but also several new Hunters) the dynamics between Callan and his superior change, and the dynamics between Callan and Cross are quite different from the dynamics between Callan and Toby Meres. This is one of the things that kept the series consistently interesting for the whole of its four-season run.

One of the reasons for Callan’s success was that it was made at the right time, between 1967 and 1972. This was the era in which British TV was shot mostly in the studio and on videotape. This was perfect for Callan - it gave the series a seedy claustrophobic feel. Had it entered production in 1974 (in the wake of the sensation created by The Sweeney) it would have been shot on film and on location and it would have featured a lot more action. Even if nothing else had changed it would have been a different series and it would not have worked half as well. Callan needed a murky enclosed oppressive atmosphere. Everything in Callan looks a bit tawdry. Even Hunter’s office is tawdry. Callan’s flat is tidy (he’s an ex-soldier) but it’s depressingly stifling.

Callan produced numerous spin-offs - a series of original novels and short stories by James Mitchell, a movie in 1974 and a TV movie (Wet Job) in 1981. The universal opinion among those interviewed for the documentary (an opinion which I share) is that the 1974 movie doesn’t quite work. By necessity it had have a bit more action, it had to have a slightly more expansive look and inevitably it lost some of the claustrophobic feel. As a result it’s not quite Callan. It’s by no means a bad movie but it doesn’t have the flavour of the TV series.

To be honest the only original Callan novel I’ve read, Russian Roulette, isn’t quite authentic Callan either. Mitchell was obviously trying to do something slightly different with the novels, which is fair enough, but I really think that the whole Callan concept worked better on TV. Which is logical. James Mitchell created the idea specifically for television, to take advantage of the things that television does particularly well.

If you’re a Callan aficionado then you’ll want to see Callan: This Man Alone. Network have released it in a three-disc pack with new transfers of several of the black-and-white episodes.

You might also want to check out my reviews of Callan: The Monochrome Years, the original version of A Magnum for Schneider, the Richmond File season four story arc and the Callan movie.

Wednesday 1 September 2021

Dragnet (1954, movie spin-off from the TV series)

The first television series to spawn a spin-off movie (an actual feature film, not just a few episodes of the series cobbled together) was Dragnet. The Dragnet movie, directed by Jack Webb, was released in 1954 and it was a very substantial hit.

The movie differs from the TV series in being an inverted mystery and of course being in colour with a fair bit of location shooting but overall it captures the tone of the series remarkably well. And of course it features the stars of the TV series. If you're a fan of the series you'll want to see the movie.

I reviewed the television series right here a couple of years ago. My review of the movie can be found here at my Classic Movie Ramblings blog.

Monday 16 August 2021

Miami Vice, season one (1985)

Miami Vice erupted onto television screens in 1985 and nothing would ever be quite the same again.

This is Miami in the 80s. The decade of greed. The place is swimming in money, almost all of it drug money. It has corrupted everything. Nobody can be trusted. Not the cops, not judges, nobody. If you’re a cop you especially can’t trust cops. The town is filled with local cops, state cops, DEA agents, FBI agents and you don’t know who they are. That drug dealer you just busted might be a DEA agent. None of these agents communicate very well.

There were traces of cynicism in earlier American cop shows but Miami Vice does mark a major cultural change. In this series the cynicism is front and centre. The two protagonists, Crockett and Tubbs, are part of the War On Drugs and it’s a war that is obviously being lost. Crockett and Tubbs know that the war is being lost. They’re still willing to keep fighting but they don’t expect to win. They’re honest but they’re surrounded by people who are dishonest and those dishonest people have all the power and all the money.

Other American cop shows had tried to take a realistic (or at least semi-realistic) view of crime and the difficulties in combating it but with Miami Vice for the first time we have a major network TV series suggesting that maybe it’s all futile.

Miami Vice was very much a return to the world of film noir. People were and sometimes still are misled by the sunshine and the glamour and the glitz and don’t notice how very film noir it is. Visually it is the polar opposite of film noir, but content-wise it’s pure noir. In fact the visuals increase the noirness of the series by contrasting the superficial glamour with the corruption and degradation lurking just beneath the surface.

The series actually has a lot in common with the neo-noir films of the 60s and 70s, especially Polanski’s Chinatown. There’s the same mix of money, glamour, sunshine, decadence and corruption.

Miami Vice is very cinematic. This was obvious enough at the time but it’s even more obvious now when you get the chance to see it on a big-screen TV in high definition. The aim had been to bring feature film production values to television and that aim is achieved. It was a very very expensive series to make and it was money well spent.

Miami itself is one of the stars of the show. It doesn’t just give Miami Vice a different look to the typical cop show shot in LA, it gives it a whole different vibe, making the most of the art deco architecture and the light.

Compared to earlier American cop shows Miami Vice upped the ante when it came to violence, both the quantity of violence and the intensity. It also broke new ground for a network TV cop show in terms of emotional intensity and complexity.

What makes Miami Vice so distinctive is that it combines gritty realism with extreme glamour and it combines extraordinary cynicism and pessimism with extreme style and high fashion. That was a totally new combination for viewers.

It’s also a weird blend of ultra-realism and fantasy. Crockett and Tubbs are ordinary street cops and they’re scrupulously honest (that’s what gets them into so much trouble) and yet they can obviously afford to spend astronomical amounts of money on clothes and Crockett drives a Ferrari for crying out loud.

Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas make a naturally great team. They get good support from Michael Talbott and John Diehl as Detectives Switek and Zito (who add some lighter touches) and from Saundra Santiago (as Gina) and Olivia Brown (as Trudi), also Miami Vice cops. Edward James Olmos as the dour but oddly sympathetic Lieutenant Castillo rounds off the regular cast.

The cinematic visual style, the radical use of colours (you can’t make a show dark and edgy with a colour palette of pastels but Miami Vice does it anyway and makes it work), the cutting-edge fashions and the music elevated the series to immediate iconic status.

Episode Guide

The pilot episode, Brother’s Keeper, starts with two prologues in which two cops get murdered in drug busts gone wrong, one in New York and one in Miami.

James “Sonny” Crockett (Don Johnson) has been working on a case for months targeting a big-time cocaine dealer named Calderone. Everything seems to go wrong on this case, including his partner getting killed. Now Crockett has a new problem. The black dude he just tried to bust is actually a New York cop named Rafael Tubbs (Philip Michael Thomas). Or at least he says he’s a cop and he seems to be a cop. Tubbs suggest that he and Crockett should team up, which Crockett thinks is a terrible idea. Crockett is already offended because Tubbs has suggested that everything is going wrong because someone in Miami Vice is on the take. The reason Crockett is so angry is that he also thinks one of his fellow Miami Vice cops is crooked but he doesn’t want some cop from out of town pointing this out.

Crockett has relationship problems as well. Like most TV cops he has a failed marriage behind him and he doesn’t know if he’s still in love with his wife or with someone else he’s met. At least his relationship with Elvis is pretty good. Elvis is his pet alligator. With alligators (unlike cops) you always know where you stand.

Elvis provides the moments of occasional comic relief which are needed in a series which could otherwise be a bit too relentlessly bleak.

Heart of Darkness takes Crockett and Tubbs into the porn industry but there’s murder involved as well. Even worse, the Feds are mixed up in it. There’s an FBI agent undercover but he’s stopped reporting in. Maybe he’s gone over to the other side. Maybe he hasn’t. Should Crockett and Tubbs trust him or not? It’s a tough judgment call. A fine episode.

Cool Runnin' starts with a very minor drug deal that takes an unexpected turn when three Jamaicans let loose with machine pistols. Then a couple of cops fall victim to the same gang. The only lead that Crockett and Tubbs have is a fast-talking small-time crook-turned-informant named Noogie who might be able to lead them to the killers. There’s lots of action and there’s lots of comedy courtesy of Noogie but this is Miami Vice so there’s a serious subtext as well. Crockett cuts some corners and pus his informant’s life in unnecessary danger but he feels bad about it and is prepared to take risks to try to get Noogie out of the jam he’s put him in in.

Crockett is being established as a complex character - he can be ruthless and he can be caring as well, sometimes at the same time. Crockett is good at his job but it exacts a toll on him. And Tubbs is starting to find out about the demands of the job as well and how he and Crockett are in a world where being the good guys is complicated. An excellent episode.

Calderone, the big-time coke dealer with whom Crockett and Tubbs clashed in the pilot episode, is back in the two-part story Calderone’s Return. He’s back and he’s hired an international hitman to thin out the competition. And Crockett is on his hit list. There’s lots of suspense and lots of emotional drama as the pressure gets to Crockett and he starts jumping at shadows. He’s also going through a divorce at the time so he’s under extreme emotional stress. Lots of action and gunplay with a memorable shoot-out at the end.

In the second part the action moves to the Bahamas and the boys soon find themselves very very alone. And this time it’s Tubbs who is under the emotional pressure as he discovers just how unpleasant it is to have to use someone you’ve become involved with. Miami Vice switches back and forth between glamour, extreme violence and emotional drama and does so very effectively. This is another story with a strong film noir vibe and it’s a superb episode.

In One Eyed Jack Crockett tries to help out an old girlfriend with gambling problems and finds himself up against a very nasty operator named de Marco but even worse he’s in the sights of Internal Affairs. Crockett and Tubbs come up with a good plan to set up a gambling kingpin but good plans don’t always run smoothly. They also get to meet their new lieutenant and he’s quite something. Another good but dark episode.

In No Exit Miami Vice are trying to nail an illegal arms dealer (played by Bruce Willis). He’s a particularly repellant individual but the Miami Vice cops discover that there are even sleazier people they have to deal with and those even sleazier people work for the Federal Government. A very good but very cynical episode.

The Great McCarthy combines offshore powerboat racing and drug smuggling, and murder. Crockett gets to prove that there’s nothing he can’t do - we discover that he can beat anybody at snooker and he can beat anybody at powerboat racing. Tubbs gets emotionally involved with the drug smuggler’s girlfriend and Crockett is convinced his friend is going to get hurt. Not a bad episode with plenty of cool powerboat racing scenes.

In Glades a vital witness in a drugs case, Joey Bramlette, disappears. Crockett and Tubbs have to find him. He’s gone back to his home deep in the Everglades. They do find him and they discover that the drug lord he was going to testify against has kidnapped his daughter. Crockett and Tubbs find themselves in very unfamiliar territory and up against about twenty Colombians armed with automatic weapons, and all they have is half a dozen gun-toting hicks. And they’re going to have to launch a full-scale assault on the house in which the little girl is being held. The stage is set for an epic gun battle, which is both tense and outrageously over-the-top. There’s quite a bit of fun in this very good and very offbeat episode.

Give a Little, Take a Little sees Crockett and Tubbs up against a crime kingpin who runs both the narcotics and prostitution rackets. Sonny thinks he’s got a lucky break when an informant gives him some key information but Sonny ends in jail when he refuses to name the informant. Gina (the fellow Miami Vice cop with whom Crockett is romantically involved) goes undercover as a hooker and finds out just how you sometimes have to go to maintain your cover. An episode wth plenty of plot but the main focus is on the price that has to be paid for catching big-time criminals. An excellent episode.

In Little Prince the messed-up son of a fabulously rich tycoon is busted for possession of heroin. Crockett is convinced the kid, Mark Jorgensen Jr, could lead them to some major dealers. That expectation is more than fulfilled, but not in the Way Crockett and Tubbs anticipated. This is a character-driven episode and if you can get past the unsympathetic nature of those characters there is some depth to the story. And again Crockett and Tubbs find themselves having to do things they’re not entirely comfortable with. Not much action at all but still an interesting episode.

Milk Run starts with a couple of dumb kids who think they’re going to get rich bringing in drugs from Colombia. Crockett and Tubbs think they’ve managed to scare some sense into the kids but it’s never that simple. Crockett and Tubbs are also investigating an explosion in a coke lab which they think can lead them to a couple of drug king-pins. Crockett is still worried about those two dumb kids, and he has reason to worry. An excellent episode with Crockett showing his compassionate side.

Golden Triangle is a two-parter. It starts with a case involving corrupt cops shaking down prostitutes. That leads on to a bigger case, involving a robbery. The puzzle about the robbery is figuring out what the robbers were trying to steal. When Crockett and Tubbs do figure that out it leads them on to a third and much bigger case. A case which is very personal indeed to their boss, Lieutenant Castillo. A case with roots going back five years, to the jungles of South-East Asia. It’s a case that doesn’t just involve organised crime, it involves the biggest organised crime operation of them all, the CIA. An excellent episode that displays the series’ characteristic disdain for federal agencies such as the FBI and the CIA. I don’t normally like episodes of cop shows in which a cop has a personal stake in a case but in this instance it’s handled without resorting to clichés.

In Smuggler's Blues someone is killing drug smugglers after kidnapping members of their families and it’s obvious that the someone doing the killing works in law enforcement. He could be in any branch of law enforcement. Crockett and Tubbs pose as drug smugglers which takes them to Colombia where they get lots of aggravation but their troubles get even worse when they get bak to Miami. There’s a mail-biting ending. A very good action-packed episode.

In Rites of Passage Diane Gordon has just arrived in Miami where she gets introduced to the world of cocaine and high-class prostitution by a sleaze named Traynor. Diane’s sister Valerie (Pam Grier), a new York homicide cop, has also arrived in Miami looking for her kid sister. Things get complicated for Tubbs since Valerie is an old flame and the romance is soon rekindled. Saving Diane is not going to be so simple. She doesn’t want to be saved. The episode then takes several dark turns. Pam Grier’s guest starring spot is a definite highlight, there’s some good comic relief from Switek and Zito posing as pest exterminators but mostly this is a very dark, and very effective, episode. It’s also one of those Miami Vice episodes that suggests it’s all pretty futile. If they bust Traynor another Traynor will immediately take over. As long as there’s the lure of glamour, drugs and money girls like Diane are going to be seduced by those things.

The Maze
is a hostage drama that starts with a cop getting killed. Crockett and Tubbs think that another cop’s recklessness was to blame. The hostages are held in an derelict apartment building that is like a maze and that’s only the beginning of the difficulties facing the police. And Tubbs is in the building with the hostages. This episode gives us a close look at the seamy side of Miami. An excellent episode.

Made for Each Other is an episode you’ll either love or hate. Crockett and Tubbs hardly appear at all. It’s almost totally focused on Switek and Zito and on informers Noogie and Izzy. And it’s totally focused on comedy. Considering how grim and downbeat Miami Vice could be it wasn’t an entirely bad idea to throw in a comic relief episode very occasionally. What matters is that it is genuinely very funny. Switek’s relationship with his new girlfriend Darlene and the theft of the cement mixer are highlights. I liked this one.

In The Home Invaders Robbery asks Vice for help in investigating a series of violent home invasions. The head of the Robbery detail, Lieutenant Malone, was Sonny’s old boss and mentor. Castillo is convinced that Malone is making a mess of the case. Tubbs doesn’t appear in this episode and Castillo gets to do some action hero stuff. A very good episode with Sonny not being sure where his loyalties lie. Don Johnson and Edward James Olmos really shine in this one, with Crockett being all emotion and Castillo being all ice-cold control.

Nobody Lives Forever involves both love and death. It’s Crockett who’s in love, but maybe that’s not a good idea. He has to try to find a way to make it work without risking both personal and professional disaster. And there are three punks with a death wish but they’re likely to take a lot of other people with them. There’s a lot of romance in this episode but there’s plenty of mayhem as well. A pretty good episode as Crockett has to figure out what he really wants in life.

Evan is a misfire. It’s an example of what happens when political messaging is more important than a coherent plot. On a case Crockett encounters a former colleague who is in deep cover. There’s lots of angsting about their shared guilt concerning the death of another cop. It’s all too contrived and just doesn’t ring true.

Lombard is the season finale. Gangster Albert Lombard has been subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury. He’s been granted immunity from prosecution, which means he can’t incriminate himself, which means he can’t take the Fifth. He’s going to have to talk. If he talks he’s a dead man. If he doesn’t talk he faces five years in prison for contempt. He can’t win. And the Mob has decided not to take the chance that he will talk. They’ve put out a contract on him. Miami Vice have to keep him alive. This episode is Miami Vice at its best - slightly unpredictable, lots of violent action and fascinating character interactions between Lombard (who becomes a more and more complex character) and Crockett and Tubbs. It ends the season in fine style.

Final Thoughts

Miami Vice redefined the American cop show the way The Sweeney had redefined the British cop show a decade earlier. It made every other cop show on television suddenly look stodgy and quaint. A great series. Very highly recommended.