Wednesday 28 April 2021

Thriller (1960) - four episodes

Thriller (AKA Boris Karloff Presents) screened on NBC from 1960 to 1962, was one of the legendary American anthology series of that era. What’s interesting about these series is that they all had their own distinctive flavours. Alfred Hitchcock Presents concentrated on crime stories with ironic stings in the tail. The Twilight Zone concentrated on unsettling stories of the weird and paranormal. The Outer Limits was science fiction generously laced with horror. Thriller started life as a mystery/suspense series in the Alfred Hitchcock Presents mould but quite early on the decision was made to move into overt horror but this was a gradual progression rather than a sudden change.

As a result of this what was great about Thriller was that you could never be quite sure if you were going to get supernatural horror or stories dealing purely with human evil. What makes the first season so interesting is that the early forays into horror are often stories that appear to be supernatural horror but turn out to have rational explanations but as the series progressed the supernatural starts to make its presence felt.

All of the American anthology series of that era have their strengths but Thriller had a visual style that was more flamboyant and more gothic than any of its rivals.

I’ve picked four episodes from the first half of the first season to talk about today.

The Purple Room

The Purple Room (written and directed by Douglas Heyes) has a classic much-used setup for a haunted house story. Duncan Corey (Rip Torn) has inherited an old house called Black Oak from his brother. The house is in the middle of an area slated for redevelopment so in a couple of years it will be worth a fortune. Under the terms of the will Duncan cannot sell the house until he has lived in it for one year, but he must make his decision as to whether he will live in it after spending just one night there.

If he decides not to live there the house will go to his cousin Rachel Judson (Patricia Barry) and her husband Oliver (Richard Anderson).

Duncan is both a cynic and a sceptic. He wants to sell that house and he is arrogant and selfish.

Rachel and Oliver meet him at the house and they seem to be pretty obviously trying to spook him, with tales of ghosts and mysterious deaths and other assorted horrors associated with the house. Duncan isn’t worried. He doesn’t believe in ghosts and he has a gun so he’s confident he can deal with any humans who might try any fake haunting nonsense. Duncan has very good reason to suspect that Rachel and Oliver are going to do anything they can to frighten him so when he starts to hear all the classic haunted house sounds - the creaking doors, the footsteps on the stairs, chains rattling etc - he naturally assumes that they’re responsible for those sounds.

But Duncan is not quite as confident as he seems to be. Being alone in an old isolated very spooky house, lit only by candles, really is pretty scary. He starts to get a bit spooked. And he suspects that Rachel and Oliver have drugged him as well.

Things don’t turn out the way any of the three protagonists expected when the plot twists start to kick in. The setup might be utterly conventional but Douglas Heyes (a great television) writer knows how to take such a setup and add some nasty twists.

The first thing you’ll notice about this episode is that the exterior shots of Black Oak are in fact the Bates House from Psycho. Thriller was made at Universal Studios and that house (which has been used many times since) was available and let’s face it, it’s a fantastic setting.

The three leads all give fine performances. They don’t trust each other and the viewer isn’t going to trust any of them. We know there’s going to be dirty work afoot, even if the supernatural doesn’t take a hand. And this being Thriller we can’t be absolutely certain that the supernatural won’t take a hand.

What’s striking about this episode is just how moody and atmospheric it is. And how gothic it is. Low-key lighting, lots of shadows, night scenes. Not quite what you expect from a 1960 television series. It doesn’t really look like television. It looks rather cinematic.

With a very strong cast, great writing and directing by Douglas Heyes and all that atmosphere this really is a very very good episode.

The Prediction

The Prediction (directed by John Brahm and written by Donald S. Sanford) is one of several episodes in which Karloff himself takes the starring rôle.

He plays Clay Mace, who has a very successful mentalist act. Clay is just an entertainer and would never claim to have any actual occult or paranormal powers. Or at least he thought he didn’t have any such powers, until one night he sees a vision of a young boxer being killed in the ring. And the prediction comes true.

Other predictions come true as well. This is very upsetting for Clay. Not only did he never claim to possess such powers, he never wanted to.

Clay’s assistant in his act is a charming young and beautiful woman named Noreen (Audrey Dalton). Noreen’s father is a drunk and treats her badly so she looks to Clay as a substitute father figure. Things get awkward when Clay sees a vision of the future which involves Noreen’s fiancé. The ending is effective and satisfying.

This is another example of Thriller taking an unoriginal idea but making it work, and work very well. Once again there’s plenty of slightly unsettling atmosphere, the visuals are impressive by 1960 television standards, the directing is tight and the performances are superb.

Karloff is in great form - slightly spooky but very sympathetic. Clay is a man desperately trying to come to terms with a very unwelcome gift which threatens his peace of mind and even his sanity. Karloff never overplays his performance.

The supporting cast is strong. Audrey Dalton is charming and likeable. Alan Caillou is terrific as her caddish father. Abraham Sofaer is wonderful as Gus, the owner of the club in which Clay does his act and a loyal friend.

The basic story idea had been done before (most notably in 1934 in the movie The Clairvoyant with Claude Rains) but it’s executed extremely well and Karloff’s performance is enough to make it something special.

Hay-Fork and Bill-Hook

Hay-Fork and Bill-Hook (written by Alan Caillou and directed by Herschel Daugherty) really piles on the gothic atmosphere. Detective-Inspector Harry Roberts (Kenneth Haigh) has been sent from Scotland Yard to investigate a murder in the small Welsh village of Dark Woods. An old man was killed - he was stabbed with a hay-fork and a cross was carved on his throat with a bill-hook. Which certainly looks like a ritual murder - this is the way the locals used to deal with witches.

The villagers of Dark Woods are not still living in the Middle Ages, They’re still living in a time earlier than that, a time when druids carried out ritual sacrifices. Witchcraft is taken for granted in Dark Woods. Harry Roberts is appalled to discover that the local policeman (there’s only one), a man named Evans, believes implicitly in witches. The Chief Constable, Sir Wilfred (Alan Caillou), assures Roberts that all the villagers believe in witchcraft. Sir Wilfred is worried that the villagers might found out that Roberts’ wife Nesta (Audrey Dalton) thought she saw a black dog on the road. The villagers think black dogs are symbols of witchcraft.

And now the villagers have burnt an old woman for witchcraft.

Harry Roberts slowly comes to realise that the village of Dark Woods is not part of the modern world. He’s not dealing with ordinary murders.

This episode is in some ways an anticipation of the wonderful 1973 British horror movie The Wicker Man, which also deals with a city policeman confronting ancient beliefs in a remote community.

Once again the acting is a major strength and when combined with lots of gothic cinematography the result is a very fine episode.

Well of Doom

Well of Doom (adapted by Donald S. Sanford from a story by John Clemons and directed by John Brahm) again features the kind of gothic visuals more usually associated with Universal horror movies of the 30s than with 1960s television. It’s obvious that the similarities to the look of those 30s Universal movies is very deliberate. And the gothic atmosphere is laid on very very thick indeed. The original short story by John Clemons had appeared in the Thrilling Mystery pulp magazine in 1936.

It is night and Robert Penrose (Ronald Howard), heir to a large estate and to be married the following day, is on his way to his bachelor party when he and faithful family retainer Teal (Torin Thatcher) are kidnapped. It’s not an ordinary kidnapping - they have been kidnapped by Beelzebub himself (calling himself Squire Moloch) and his servant Master Styx (Richard Kiel).

Penrose, who has apparently been a somewhat irresponsible rich young man in his youth, tries to buy his way out of trouble but Moloch informs him that all his money would not be enough to purchase his freedom. Penrose ends up being imprisoned in a dark dungeon where he slowly becomes aware of Moloch’s fiendish intentions.

The story is fine but it’s the visuals and the acting that make this one of the great Thriller episodes. Ronald Howard is excellent as the slightly effete slightly ineffectual hero who is going to have to play the hero if he’s to have any chance of survival. Henry Daniell goes gloriously over-the-top as the evil Moloch. Richard Kiel is equally good as the sinister Master Styx. Fintan Meyler is OK as Penrose’s bride-to-be but it’s really a very small part.

Well of Doom is a perfect example of Thriller at its most typical and at its best.

Final Thoughts

So, four episodes and all of them excellent and highly recommended. And they’re a fine example of Thriller in its transitional phase from a mystery/suspense series to a horror series.

I’ve posted a number of previous Thriller reviews here, here and here.

Sunday 18 April 2021

three Outer Limits episodes (1964)

Reviews of a few more episodes from the first season of one of my all-time favourite anthology TV series, The Outer Limits.

The Outer Limits did not achieve the same level of commercial success or continuing popularity as The Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents and that may be partly due to the limitations of 1960s television special effects. The Outer Limits was never afraid to show the monsters but they weren’t always very convincing.

In actual fact the crudity of the special effects isn’t really a problem. The Outer Limits is really a science fiction series focused on the writing rather than the effects. And even though there were monsters the writing was focused on ideas and moral dilemmas rather than monsters and aliens.

While The Twilight Zone was often visually superior The Outer Limits has stood the test of time a lot better.

The Bellero Shield

The Bellero Shield was written by Joseph Stefano and Lou Morheim and directed by John Brahm. It went to air on February 10th 1964.

Richard Bellero (Martin Landau) is a scientist working on lasers. He is also the son of fabulously wealthy industrialist Richard Bellero Sr (Neil Hamilton) and he desperately craves his father’s approval and he also hopes that when his father retires he will take over Bellero Industries. His rabidly anti-war father however fears that the lasers could be used as weapon. He is not impressed by the laser experiments and he is not impressed by his son’s choice of a wife.

The younger Bellero has been aiming his lasers into outer space and that has now had an unexpected result. The laser has formed a kind of bridge into outer space and a creature has travelled down that bridge into Bellero’s laboratory. The creature seems to be some kind of creature of light.

The creature seems harmless and friendly, if a bit suspicious of humans. The creature is obviously intelligent and communicating with it is no problem. Young Bellero is excited by the scientific implications but his wife Judith (Sally Kellerman) sees other possibilities - possibilities of limitless power and wealth.

Judith then decides to do something that seems very clever, if very ruthless, but in practice it isn’t so clever after all.

This episode is a science fictional version of one of Shakespeare’s more famous plays. If I tell you which one it will give away most of the details of the plot. Trying to do a Shakespearian Outer Limits episode was certainly bold but it works quite well, largely due to Sally Kellerman’s powerhouse performance.

In fact The Bellero Shield is one of the best episodes of the series. The science stuff is very dubious indeed (although quite imaginative, especially the communication through the eyes) but the science stuff is not the point of the story. This is a human tragedy in science fictional guise. It’s also an episode that demonstrates why The Outer Limits was on the whole a lot more successful than The Twilight Zone - it avoids the sentimentality and the heavy-handed moralising that so often afflicted The Twilight Zone.

The Invisibles

The Invisibles was written by Joseph Stefano and directed by Gerd Oswald. It went to air on February 3rd 1964.

The Invisibles is inspired a bit too obviously by Robert A. Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters. Aliens that look a bit like crabs have reached the Earth and they plan to take over by having themselves implanted into humans, thus forming a kind of alien-human hybrid. The idea is to take over a lot of very important people.

Of course the aliens have human allies. Until they’re implanted into humans the aliens are almost defenceless.

Three disreputable men, outsiders and losers, are part of the latest intake. Their task is not to be implanted with the aliens but to get close to those important people and do the implanting. Luis B. Spain (Don Gordon), Genero Planetta and Henry Castle will first be inoculated against alien implantation. The implantation does not always work entirely successfully and when it doesn’t work the results are most unfortunate.

The conspirators have lined up a job for Spain as chauffeur to a general in Washington.

The conspiracy is almost perfect, except that there is a traitor in their midst - a US Government agent.

Apart from The Puppet Masters the other obvious influence is Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Once the aliens have been implanted the alien-human hybrid looks just like a normal human. Like The Puppet Masters and Invasion of the Body Snatchers this episode can be viewed as a political allegory about communism (or about modern mass society in general).

The Invisibles might not be dazzlingly original but it’s very well executed, it’s tense and it has some definitely creepy moments. Director Gerd Oswald adds to the creepiness with some effectively disturbing low-angle shots. Joseph Stefano (the producer of the series) wrote the script. The idea of the aliens using outcasts and losers as their servants works well and adds to the paranoia - these are men who have never trusted anybody in their lives. Don Gordon’s performance as Spain is a plus.

Specimen: Unknown

Specimen: Unknown was written by Stephen Lord and directed by Gerd Oswald. It went to air on February 24th 1964.

The crew members of an orbital space laboratory find some strange vaguely plant-like objects on the outside of the spacecraft. They decide, somewhat rashly, to bring them aboard to study them. They prove to be some kind of spores which, when exposed to artificial sunlight, grow into what appear to be plants.

Unfortunately they prove to be deadly plants which give off poisonous gases and release hundreds of new spores. One crew member dies.

When it comes time for the space laboratory crew to board the shuttle craft for their return to Earth they decide, very rashly indeed, to bring the specimens with them. Those specimens then start releasing their poisonous gases and releasing new spores.

Ground control now faces a horrifying decision. Do they risk bringing the shuttle craft back to Earth with its four astronauts and its deadly cargo, or do they destroy the shuttle to ensure that those killer plants never reach Earth? Is it worth sacrificing four lives to protect many lives? Is it worth risking life on Earth in order to save those four men?

Will the writers find a way to resolve the dilemma happily, or take the risk of a downbeat ending? This is The Outer Limits, a program that was prepared to risk downbeat endings but on the other hand downbeat endings were not popular with the networks so we really can’t be sure which way the writers will jump.

The most amazing thing about this episode is that it portrays the astronauts (and indeed the whole space program) as shockingly incompetent and dangerously reckless. When they first encounter the spores these astronauts (who are supposed to be scientists) take no precautions whatsoever in dealing with an alien life form that could potentially be dangerous. They make no effort to isolate the spores. They do not wear any protective gear. The guys at Ground Control are similarly clueless. They seem to have no notion whatsoever that the astronauts are behaving foolishly and recklessly.

On the whole this episode works extremely well.

Final Thoughts

Three episodes, two of them (The Bellero Shield and The Invisibles) very very good indeed and the third one pretty decent as well. At this stage of its first season The Outer Limits really was on a roll.

Saturday 10 April 2021

Simon & Simon, season one (1983-84)

Simon & Simon is a quirky private eye series that premiered on CBS in 1981. Its roots however go back further than that. The original pilot, Pirate’s Key, went to air in 1978. It was set in Florida. When the series was finally given the green light the setting was changed to San Diego. Apparently the pilot also has a very different kind of tone.

Simon & Simon was an immediate ratings disaster and after a single 13-episode season was on the verge of cancellation. It was saved by a change of time slot. A very clever change of time slot - it now followed the established private eye hit Magnum, P.I. and to cement the relationship in viewers’ minds a crossover episode was made. Simon & Simon now became a major hit (and Magnum, P.I.’s ratings were boosted as well).

There’s some similarity in tone between the two series. Both are slightly offbeat and both rely quite a bit on charm, style and wit. Magnum, P.I. skilfully combines these elements this with some occasional very dark subject matter. Simon & Simon is more consistently light-hearted but the idea that Magnum, P.I. fans would probably enjoy Simon & Simon was a pretty sound one.

As so often happened in American television the series gradually became, under network pressure, more and more conventional. That first season remains genuinely offbeat and incredibly entertaining.

Brothers Rick and A.J. Simon run a small private detective agency in San Diego, right cross the street from Myron Fowler’s huge Peerless Detective Agency. The Simon & Simon agency survives (just) because it offers the personal touch. And also they’re cheaper!

Their relationship with Myron Fowler is uneasy to say the least but this is basically a lighthearted series so that aspect is mostly played in a humorous way. Rick and A.J. do get along very well with Myron’s daughter Janet (Jeannie Wilson). She’s a lawyer and she helps them out a lot, much to Myron’s disgust.

The brothers (in the finest television tradition) make an ill-matched pair. A.J. looks like he could be an accountant and he has the sense of responsibility and the work ethic to match. Everything about him screams middle class. He dresses neat. He wears nice suits. He drives a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air convertible. He’s a bit of a yuppie. Rick by contrast is a good ole boy. While A.J. does the paperwork he watches sports on TV and drinks beer. He wears jeans. He looks disreputable and he’s totally irresponsible. He drives a pick-up truck.

Rick and A.J. squabble constantly but in fact they’re very close. It’s not just brotherly affection. Despite their differences they like one another. And they work together as a team because they trust each other. It’s a classic Odd Couple setup but it works because Gerald McRaney (as Rick) and Jameson Parker (as A.J.) have genuine charm and the scripts make the most of their relationship.

It was a series that had enormous potential. There have been plenty of series with enormous potential that were cancelled after a single season because in those days the networks had no patience with any series that was not an immediate hit. Simon & Simon just got very very lucky. It was given the opportunity to survive and viewers came to love the show enough to keep it going for eight seasons.

While Magnum, P.I. remains the great American private eye series of the 80s Simon & Simon runs it a pretty close second. Both series have a slightly offbeat feel but each has its own distinctive flavour. Thomas Magnum is the ultimate glamorous private eye even if his glamour is borrowed (he lives in a mansion he doesn’t own and drives a Ferrari he doesn’t own). He’s impossibly good-looking and sexy. The Simon brothers are totally unglamorous. They’re the kinds of guys nobody ever notices. They’re just ordinary.

No matter how appealing your lead characters might be you still need stories that will persuade people to start watching and keep them watching until the closing credits. The first season scripts consistently do this. There are always a few nice unexpected touches. Some of the stories are outrageous, but they never become merely silly.

The humour is good-natured. There’s no graphic violence. This is a feelgood series but it’s a smart quirky witty feelgood series.

I should also mention the great opening titles sequence and the opening theme tune, both of which were unfortunately changed to something more conventional for the second season.

Episode Guide

In Details at Eleven the brothers have to find a missing girl but finding her is just the start of their troubles. It’s what she’s running away from that matters. There’s a whole world of corruption to deal with. Political corruption and media corruption. Corrupt people who are very dangerous. They play for keeps.

In Love, Christy Rick is overjoyed when blonde bombshell college student Christy hires the brothers to get her stolen car back. Unfortunately Christy is the kind of blonde who gives blondes a bad name. She’s spoilt and rich and doesn’t care about her car. What she cares about is the biology test paper that’s in the car, the test paper she stole (Christy doesn’t see why she should have to study for tests because after all she’s blonde and rich). Getting the car back gets Rick and A.J. into all sorts of trouble with some very nasty criminal elements. Untrustworthy clients getting private eyes into trouble were a staple of private eye series but this episode handles the theme pretty well. It’s light-hearted fun and it works.

Trapdoors deals with computer crime, a new and exciting subject in 1981. A 13-year-old has hacked into the local bank’s computer. The kid, Terry, has an awesome computer setup in his bedroom. He has a dial-up connection. A real dial-up connection - you have to dial the number by hand on a telephone handset. There was no internet to connect to. Even bulletin board services were in their infancy. And he has a tape drive! If you’re of a certain age you’ll get a nostalgia blast from this episode. Terry hasn’t exactly been robbing the bank - he’s been borrowing money from other people’s accounts and collecting the interest. The bank hires the Simon brothers to catch the kid but of course the story is not as straightforward as it seems. As well as early 80s computers the story also involves role-playing games so there’s even more 80s nostalgia. And it’s a great story.

In A Recipe for Disaster a woman hires the Simon brothers when she thinks her estranged husband has kidnapped their daughter. But that’s not what happened at all. Sure Steve Gaines has his daughter with him down in Mexico where’s he’s working on an oil field. In fact Gaines in in trouble. A lot more people could be in trouble. A whole town full of people. It’s all to do with oil and money. Rick and A.J. will have to try to get both Gaines and his daughter out of that trouble. Lots of action in this one, and suspense, and humour as well (as the kid slowly drives A.J. and Rick insane). Rick also has a new gadget to play with. He loves gadgets. A very enjoyable episode.

In The Least Dangerous Game Rick and A.J. are hired by the zoo. There was an unfortunate incident there. One of the lions ate one of the keepers. That’s not good publicity for the zoo so the brothers’ job is to preserve the zoo’s good name by smearing the character of the keeper. Nothing about this case adds up. The Simon brothers re more and more suspicious but the solution to the mystery is weirder than they could have imagined. And Rick almost gets eaten by a bear. The Simon & Simon is pretty well established by now - clever scripts like this one combining humour and mystery with a few offbeat touches. A fine episode.

The Dead Letter File
presents the Simon brothers with an opportunity to make a name for themselves. The only thing is, the murder took place in 1959. If there was a murder. The trouble with a 23-year-old murder case is that everyone involved is dead. Everybody except the murderer. The case involves tacos and burgers, and disc jockeys. It’s a typical episode, which means it’s clever and amusing and charming. It’s good stuff.

In The Hottest Ticket in Town the trouble starts when Rick and A.J. agree to try to get tickets for the sold-out Rick Brewster concert for their cousin Dianne. They manage to get hold of not the three tickers that she asked for but 8,000 tickets. They’ve stumbled on a racket. They try to do the right thing but people keep misunderstanding their intentions and pointing guns at them and hitting them. It’s a fun and original kind of episode, the kind of slightly offbeat thing this series did so well. John Travolta’s older brother Joey plays rock star Rick Brewster.

Ashes to Ashes, and None Too Soon is a tangled tale of love and diamonds. The Simon brothers hate serving papers on people but private detectives have to eat. This time they have reason to doubt the identity of the man they served the papers on, and then there’s a corpse to deal with. And there’s a Fed to deal with as well. And a woman. Actually two women. It’s all delightfully complicated. A great episode.

The Uncivil Servant brings the brothers an unexpected and very reluctant client - Myron Fowler. There’s a serious security leak at the Peerless Detective Agency and it has to be investigated by an outsider. Nobody will talk. They’re all too scared. What kind of monster could reduce grown men to abject terror? Could it be the Mob? In fact it’s worse. It’s a man from the IRS. The IRS is no laughing matter but there is plenty of humour in this episode, much of it courtesy of Jerry Stiller as a discount furniture king who does his own TV commercials which are so awful that Rick just can’t stop watching them. It all turns out to be a tale of revenge long delayed. And it’s great fun.

In Earth to Stacey Rick thinks he’s been clever, poaching a client from right under Myron Fowler’s nose. But Stacey proves to be something of a nightmare client. She’s rich, spoilt and crazy. Her husband-to-be stood her up at the altar and she wants him found. Finding him is easy but after that things get complicated and Stacey gets crazier. It’s a typical Simon & Simon episode - clever and whimsical.

Double Entry
starts with a very routine surveillance case. A woman thinks her husband is cheating on her. The surveillance reveals that something quite different is going on. Then the husband gets kidnapped. It’s a pretty solid episode with some amusing interplay between the brothers and their client who seems to be enjoying the whole thing way too much.

In Matchmaker Rick and A.J. are offered a case by Vicky Whittaker. Whittaker works for an insurance company which wants to buy back stolen antiques from a burglary gang. The brothers have worked for Whittaker before and they know she’s totally untrustworthy and would double-cross her own mother but the money on offer is good. The burglary racket is worked from a computerised dating service so A.J. will have to date lots of beautiful women in order to find the one behind the racket. Dating beautiful women in the line of duty is just one of those unpleasant jobs a private eye has to do. The brothers still have a bad feeling that Whittaker os going to land them in trouble, and she does. It’s an amusing little episode with everybody having problems with love.

In Tanks for the Memories the Simon brothers are hired by their old high school teacher to find a former classmate of theirs, and they find themselves plunged into a world of survivalists, mercenaries and crazies. They’ve also stumbled into the middle of an FBI investigation. Lance LeGault plays a totally crazed mercenary leader and as you’d expect he has a great time chewing the scenery. There’s even a bit of A-Team style action. A fun ending to the season.

Final Thoughts

The first season of Simon & Simon is an example of a great TV series which, given a chance, was always eventually going to build a big audience. Luckily it was, against the odds, given that chance. This first season is just amazingly charming and enjoyable. Highly recommended.

Thursday 1 April 2021

Danger Man, the final season (1967)

By 1967 Danger Man (or Secret Agent as it was retitled in the US) had made Patrick McGoohan the highest paid actor on British television. McGoohan however was anxious to do something more ambitious and after only two episodes of the final season were shot he persuaded Lew Grade to allow him to make The Prisoner. There are many who believe that the character McGoohan played in The Prisoner was in fact John Drake, the hero of Danger Man, and that The Prisoner is a kind of surreal coda to Danger Man.

Those final two episodes, Koroshi and Shinda Shima, were the first to be shot in colour and both were set in Japan (and captured the Japanese flavour quite well with imaginative sets and judicious use of stock footage). I don’t think it was exactly an accident that Japan was chosen as a setting. At the time the final season of Danger Man was in production the fifth Bond movie, You Only Live Twice, was about to be released and of course it was set in Japan.

In fact, to make the most out of this amazing coincidence those final two episodes were spliced together into a feature-length film under the title Koroshi.

It’s important to remember that these two Danger Man episodes were filmed before You Only Live Twice was released so although the Bond movie influence is obvious they cannot really be accused of ripping off You Only Live Twice.

The Bond connection is interesting since John Drake is both very Bondian and is also at the same time a kind of anti-Bond (McGoohan in fact was offered the part of Bond but turned it down because as a conservative Catholic he considered it to be morally dubious). Drake is just as cool as Bond, but MGoohan insisted that the character should only resort to violence when it was absolutely necessary and also insisted that he should not jump into bed with any of the glamorous dangerous women he encountered.

Danger Man is therefore Bond without the gratuitous sex and violence and with a more cerebral feel and a bit more cynicism and moral ambiguity (there are times when Drake is very uncomfortable with the things he had to do). Both the original 1960 half-hour series and the later one-hour series (which lasted from 1964 to 1967) manage to be some of the most intelligent and enthralling spy television ever made. With the violence kept to a minimum the series has to rely on good writing and fortunately the scripts are generally excellent and often quite complex. And of course McGoohan’s considerable acting ability (and undoubted star power) helps a great deal.

Apart from the Japanese setting the 1967 season was clearly intended to be more overtly Bondian. Bringing in Peter Yates (later to establish himself as one of the greatest action movie directors of all time with movies like Robbery and Bullitt) as a director was a pretty strong indication of this.

The fact that McGoohan bailed out after just two episodes of the final season may be an indication that he disapproved of the Bond movie feel that had started to creep in although it’s also likely that he was simply desperately anxious to get started on The Prisoner. Quitting a hit series in this manner is the sort of thing an actor would not normally get away with but Lew Grade, the boss of ITC, had immense faith in McGoohan and when Lew Grade had faith in someone he was prepared to allow them an astonishing amount of leeway. When McGoohan later moved to America he would learn a bitter lesson - US networks were nowhere near as tolerant of such things as Lew Grade.

Obviously ITC had only a fraction of the budget that a Bond movie would have had but by the standards of 1960s television Danger Man was an expensive series and these two episodes boast some very impressive sets (secret underground headquarters and that sort of thing) and very high production values. They look very slick. And of course there are lots of gadgets.

Koroshi begins with a clever murder, of a Japanese girl in Tokyo. Ako Nakamura is (or rather was) an agent with M9, the British intelligence agency for which John Drake works. Her final message was crucially important and Drake is sent to Japan to find out what happened to her. He finds that her apartment is now occupied by an English girl named Rosemary. Maybe Rosemary can help him. Maybe he can trust Rosemary. Maybe.

She does lead him to Sanders (Ronald Howard), an Englishman with a deep knowledge of and love for Japanese culture. Sanders introduces Drake to the world of kabuki. Sanders is particularly fond of the koroshi or murder scene. He loves the poetry of death. Drake will very nearly experience the poetry of death, not once but twice.

The murder (and attempted murder) scenes are imaginatively and the fight among the kabuki costumes is especially good.

Drake has stumbled upon a very ancient Japanese equivalent of Murder Incorporated, suppressed centuries earlier but now apparently revived.

Shinda Shima opens with another Bond movie reference, this time to Thunderball, with an underwater action scene. Koroshi and Shinda Shima do not exactly constitute a two-part episode but they can be considered to be linked episodes although the link is not obvious at first. And Shinda Shima is even more Bondian than Koroshi.

Drake is on the trail of Edwards, a British electronic experiment who has sold out. He hasn’t sold out to the Soviets but to an international criminal organisation. They want Edwards to break a top-secret code for them. Drake poses as Edwards to infiltrate the organisation. This episode has a diabolical criminal mastermind and a beautiful dangerous woman (played by Yôko Tani who played a lot of similar rôles at this time).

There’s plenty of action and (by Danger Man standards) lots of fight scenes. Much of Shinda Shima takes place on the tiny island of that name (it means the Murdered Island). Just the sort of island an international criminal organisation would choose as its secret headquarters.

Watching these two episodes offers us a fascinating glimpse of what Danger Man might have become has McGoohan been prepared to finish the season. It seems likely that it would not have been to McGoohan’s tastes but it might have meant Danger Man breaking through in the US in a much bigger way, possibly even to the same extent that The Avengers broke through in the same year. 1967 might have been the year that British spy series cracked the US market wide open, offering the kinds of stylish thrills that American series such as Mission: Impossible were offering but with a distinctive British flavour. In retrospect maybe Lew Grade should have tried harder to persuade McGoohan to complete the final season of Danger Man. On the other hand the 1965-66 final black-and-white season of Danger Man probably provides a better lead-in to The Prisoner so perhaps McGoohan’s instincts were right. And McGoohan may have been right in not wanting John Drake to turn into James Bond.

So Koroshi and Shinda Shima remain as tantalising glimpses of a television might-have-been. And they’re pretty entertaining as well.