Thursday 1 December 2022

The Avengers - Emma Peel in colour, part one

I think that almost everyone would agree that the colour Emma Peel episodes of The Avengers are not quite as good as the black-and-white ones. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that they’re not quite as consistent, but the best of them are as good as any of the black-and-white episodes.

Here are four episodes that received the coveted four-bowlers rating on the excellent The Avengers Forever website. Do they deserve those ratings? On the whole I think I do.

Who’s Who???

Who’s Who??? was written by Philip Levene. One of the most popular ideas in 1960s/1970s action/adventure spy series was the double idea - having someone impersonate the hero and impersonating him so perfectly that the double can’t be distinguished from the real hero. It’s an idea that I intensely dislike. I think it’s lazy writing. Who’s Who??? however manages to give the idea some genuinely clever spins. Instead of doubles we have the villains using a machine that can transfer the mind and the soul of one person into another person’s body. So in this case instead of having two Steeds and two Emmas we have enemy agents Basil (Freddie Jones) and Lola (Patricia Haines) who now inhabit the bodies of Steed and Mrs Peel while Steed and Mrs Peel inhabit the bodies of Basil and Lola.

And (in a very nice touch) we have Freddie Jones and Patricia Haines doing a very creditable job of capturing Steed and Emma’s personalities and mannerisms while Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg behave convincingly like Basil and Lola. They still look like Steed and Mrs Peel but they behave in a totally different manner. It also means we get to see Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg kissing frequently and Patrick Macnee patting Diana Rigg’s bottom but it’s OK because we know that they’re actually Basil and Lola.

The purpose of the mind-swap is to use Basil and Lola, posing as Steed and Emma, to break the British floral spy network - a spy network consisting of agents using flowers as code names. The headquarters of the floral network (with an enormous Union Jack covering an entire wall and half the ceiling) is another amusing touch, as is the pompous major in charge of the network.

The end result is much cleverer and more amusing than the straightforward hackneyed double trope. And it gives Macnee and Rigg a chance to play totally different roles - Basil and Lola have none of the sophistication of Steed and Mrs Peel. They’re low-class hoods and both Macnee and Rigg have fun with that. Diana Rigg is particularly good as the gun-chewing rather tarty Lola.

The brain-swap idea was far from original but I don’t think its ever been done with more style and wit. Brilliant stuff.

The Hidden Tiger

The Hidden Tiger was also written by Philip Levene, one of the best of the writers of The Avengers. It begins with two men torn to pieces, apparently by big cats. Judging by the mayhem inflicted, most likely lions or tigers. So Steed turns to big game hunter Major Nesbit, the first of the many wildly and delightfully eccentric characters who populate this episode.

After several more unfortunates are gored to death the trail leads Steed to P.U.R.R.R., the Philanthropic Union for the Rescue, Relief and Recuperation of Cats. But they only rescue domestic cats and whatever killed those people had to be much much bigger. A domestic at couldn’t kill someone, could it? P.U.R.R.R. is run by a Mr Cheshire (played with some wonderfully odd mannerisms by legendary comic Ronnie Barker). Also working for P.U.R.R.R. are a Dr Manx and a young lady named Angora, played deliciously by a very feline Gabrielle Drake (of UFO fame).

The cat-themed sets are wonderfully witty.

One could fill pages with all the cat-themed double entendres in this episode. As Mrs Peel remarks at one stage, "Pussies galore!” Diana Rigg also does a remarkably sexy 

This episode has exactly the right mix of wit and cleverness. The plot is outlandish and has the right touch of the surreal. It really is great stuff.


Murdersville was written by Brian Clemens. And it’s a bit of a mixed bag. 

It starts superbly. Little-Storping-in-the-Swuff is the perfect, idyllic, picturesque little English village.It’s full of loveable eccentric rustics. It has a cosy pub. It’s the sort of place to which anyone would love to retire. And then, completely out of the blue, we witness a brutal murder. The villagers witness the murder, and take no notice whatsoever. Immediately we know that we’re in the bizarre surreal world of The Avengers. And all this happens within the first few minutes. It’s a brilliant start to the episode.

Little-Storping seems like such a wonderful place in which to spend one’s retirement that Mrs Peel’s childhood friend Paul has decided to do just that. Mrs Peel drives him to the village to help him settle in. And then we get another touch of the bizarre. Two of the loveable village rustics go on a destructive rampage, smashing all of Paul’s most treasured possessions.

Paul’s manservant Forbes disappears. Mrs Peel finds a body in the woods. And Paul disappears. Mrs Peel decides it’s time to call the police but it soon becomes obvious to her that there’s something very sinister going on and that she shouldn’t trust anyone in Little Storping. 

This is where the plot starts to get a little wonky. What Mrs Peel should do is quite obvious - she should take off in her car to go and fetch the cavalry. But she doesn’t. The plot requires her to behave irrationally and to make things easy for the bad guys. Patrick Macnee only makes brief appearances in this episode so it may be that Brian Clemens had to find a way to keep Mrs Peel in the village on her own even though it makes no sense.

This episode showcases a side of Mrs Peel that we haven’t seen before. We’ve seen her in tight spots before and we’ve seen her frightened before but we’ve never before seen her in a cold vengeful rage. We’ve also never seen her kill in a cold-blooded ruthless way. But in this episode that’s exactly what she does. We see her display raw emotion. This is definitely a major plus.

We also get to see her in a chastity belt, which we definitely haven’t seen before. 

Her telephone call to Steed is a wonderful comedy moment. There’s some delicious dialogue. There’s a pie fight. The episode is a weird mix of light-hearted zaniness, genuine terror and deep emotion. And mostly the disparate elements do come together.

There’s an enormous amount to enjoy here if you can ignore some really glaring plot holes. A very good episode that just misses out on greatness due to the wonkiness of the plot.


Epic was written by Brian Clemens. Some people consider this to be one of the best-ever Avengers episodes and some consider it to be one of the worst.

Has-been silent era film director Z.Z. von Schnerk (Kenneth J. Warren) has decided to make a comeback. He still has his original stars from the silent era, Stewart Kirby (Peter Wyngarde) and Damita Syn (Isa Miranda) under contract but he needs a new face and he’d decided on Mrs Peel. He’s going to make her a star. Posthumously. The film will be The Destruction of Emma Peel and it will climax with a real-life death scene. He has Mrs Peel kidnapped and she finds that she’s in the middle of a movie but she hasn’t read the script. She gets shot a couple of times and when she discovers that the guns are loaded with blanks she treats the whole thing as a joke. Until she finds a real corpse on the set. Not all the guns in this are loaded with blanks.

This is the surrealism of The Avengers pushed to an extreme. It’s also an extreme exercise in metafiction. Z.Z. von Schnerk and his faded stars can no longer tell the difference between movies and reality. But of course there’s no reality here because this is The Avengers and it’s a TV series so it’s not reality either. And that’s how Diana Rigg plays it - as if she wants the audience to be aware that this is a TV show about a man making a movie, but the movie he is making is essentially a movie about movies, packed with references to other movies.

The surrealism really works in Epic. It’s not just clever but at times genuinely disturbing and spooky (such as the wedding and funeral scenes). But then at the same time it’s all a joke. Mrs Peel isn’t sure whether she’s supposed to be scared or amused. The viewer isn’t sure whether to be scared for her or just amused.

The metafictional touches continue into the very clever tag sequence. Are we watching Mrs Peel and Steed or are we watching Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg on the set of The Avengers?

This episode has been criticised for being soulless but that misses the point. Any genuine emotion would have spoilt the effect. Epic draws attention to its own artificiality. These are not real people. It’s all just make-believe. Mrs Peel mimicking the MGM lion is a joke within a joke. The fact that Mrs Peel makes no serious attempt to escape from the movie studio is not a weakness in the plot. It’s just another part of the joke. The fact that the plot of the episode is nonsensical is part of the joke.

I think I have to come down on the side of the people who love this episode. It revels in its own archness. At times it’s almost too clever for its own good but somehow it gets away with it because we’re supposed to notice the ostentatious cleverness. Kenneth J. Warren (very obviously channelling Erich von Stroheim) and Peter Wyngarde are outrageous and delightful. Epic is great fun.

Final Thoughts

All four episodes are in their own ways Avengers classics. Murdersville has its flaws but its strengths easily make up for them. Epic is an episode that will always divide fans but I adore it. Great stuff.

Monday 31 October 2022

Thriller - Brian Clemens’ favourite episodes

I’ve finally made my way to the end of the 1970s British Brian Clemens anthology series Thriller. It’s taken me eight years to watch all 43 episodes. That might sound a bit ominous. It might suggest that I’m not a big fan of this series. Nothing could be further from the truth. I adored this series when I first saw it many years ago and I adored rewatching it. I’ve watched it slowly because I like to do that with anthology series, especially ones of which I’m particularly fond. I just like to return to them every now and then when I feel the need for reliable spooky entertainment.

And given that each episode is feature length and of course completely standalone it’s a perfectly feasible way to approach such a series.

Having reached the end I’ve decided to revisit the five episodes of which Clemens himself was most proud. Since I haven’t seen these particular episodes for seven or eight years that also seems to me to be a feasible idea.

Thriller occasionally dabbled in the supernatural. It did this very seldom, but it did do it occasionally. Which was actually a rather clever move on Clemens’ part - when you watch a Thriller episode you might be confident that everything will have a rational explanation but you can never discount the possibility that Clemens might unexpectedly throw something supernatural at you.

Someone at the Top of the Stairs

Someone at the Top of the Stairs was the third episode of the first season.

Chrissie Morton (Donna Mills) and Gillian Pemberton (Judy Carne) are two broke art students in London. They think they’ve had a fabulous stroke of good fortune when they find a room in a charming old Victorian rooming house. The rent is ridiculously cheap.

The rooming house of course turns out to be a nightmare.

At first it’s just very subtle creepy things. Odd sounds. One of Chrissie’s bras disappears. The other guests seem to laugh at inappropriate things. Various little things just don’t seem quite right. Then Chrissie discovers the peephole in the bathroom.

Chrissie’s unease grows, as does her frustration that Gillian refuses to take her fears seriously. She does find a boyfriend, Gary, but he doesn’t take her fears seriously either.

The viewer knows that there’s definitely something wrong in this house but we don’t really know much more than the two girls know. Like Chrissie we just slowly grow more uneasy.

Director John Sichel handles things carefully. He avoids anything too obvious. He’s content to let the creepiness develop through hints and through the accumulation of very trivial things, things that taken in isolation would not even be disturbing but they become unsettling when taken together.

Clemens of course wrote the script and it’s a fine effort which builds to a satisfying payoff. It’s satisfying because at the end we have to admit that this really is what all those hints have been pointing towards.

The two lead actresses, Donna Mills and Judy Carne, are effective because they really do come across as two very ordinary girls. Chrissie is the one who gets worried but she’s not hysterical. She’s reacting in a perfectly understandable way. She sees a pattern of little things adding up to something that might be sinister. Gillian’s scepticism is equally plausible. That same pattern of little things seems to her to be very unlikely to be anything to get worried over. They’re not showy performances but they work.

Someone at the Top of the Stairs is pretty effective stuff. Highly recommended.

An Echo of Theresa

An Echo of Theresa is the fourth episode of the first season. American businessman Brad Hunter (Paul Burke) has taken his wife Suzy (Polly Bergen) to London for a second honeymoon. It’s a business trip as well - an English businessman named Trasker wants to negotiate an important deal with him.

Brad starts doing strange things. He calls Suzy Theresa by mistake, and then claims that he’s never met anyone called Theresa. Although he’s never been to London he insists that a cabbie take him to an obscure street to find an old red-brick block of flats. That building was demolished years earlier - how could he possibly know it even existed? He becomes agitated an aggressive. He writes “I love Theresa” on a postcard.

Hardly surprisingly Suzy insists that he sees a psychiatrist pronto.

The psychiatrist discovers that there are two things Brad is sure of. Firstly, that he knows Theresa. Secondly, that he has never met Theresa. He knows her from Vienna, but he has never been to Vienna, in fact he has never been to Europe.

Suzy has a friend at the American Embassy who suggests that this might be a case for Matthew Earp (Dinsdale Landen) . Matthew Earp is a private detective. He claims to be not just a very good a private detective but a magnificent one and he charges accordingly for his services. And he really is as good as he thinks he is.

There are those who find this episode confusing. I have no idea why. Most of what is going on is perfectly obvious very early on. There’s simply no other plausible explanation and there are abundant and very obvious clues. Of course we still don’t know exactly how such an outlandish situation arose and we don’t know how it’s going to be resolved but we know enough for the story to lose much of its punch.

It’s played out rather oddly. Paul Burke and Polly Bergen play it very straight (and Paul Burke is very effective as a man caught in a bewildering situation) while the other main characters are more off-the-wall and seem like they would have been more at home in a different story. And Dinsdale Landen plays Matthew Earp with tongue planted firmly in cheek.

Ultimately it’s Dinsdale Landen’s gloriously over-ripe performance that makes this one worth watching.

An Echo of Theresa is interesting and at times very clever, but it’s not a complete success.

One Deadly Owner

One Deadly Owner was the fourth episode of the second season. It went to air in February 1974.

Fashion model Helen Cook (Donna Mills) buts herself a new car - a Rolls-Royce. It has only had one careful owner. Her boyfriend Peter (Jeremy Brett) thinks the car is a foolish extravagance. The odd things is that Helen feel that it rather than her choosing the car, it chose her.

The car seems to have a mind of its own. It takes her places she doesn’t want to go. And then she finds the ear-ring in the boot. She tracks down the previous owner, a very rich man named Jacey (Laurence Payne). She’s sure the ear-ring belonged to Jacey’s wife. His wife left him a few months earlier. Helen becomes convinced that there’s some mystery involving the wife and she feels compelled to solve the mystery.

Most of the things that happen early on are not really frightening or even particularly disturbing - they’re just puzzling. It’s almost as if Helen is being led on. Led on by the car.

Now I know what you’re thinking - that this haunted car story sounds a bit like John Carpenter’s Christine, based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name. But Brian Clemens came up with the idea of a possessed car almost a decade before King. And they are two quite different stories.

In this outing we know from the start that there’s something vaguely supernatural (or paranormal) going on. We also know that a crime has been committed, and there are multiple plausible suspects. It’s both a haunted car story and a whodunit and it works equally well both ways.

One of this episode’s major assets is that Donna Mills and Jeremy Brett work so well together. Their relationship is convincing and both give fine performances.

The fact that it’s a rather low-key story works in its favour. We’re slowly drawn in, just the way Helen Cook is slowly drawn in.

This is an extremely good episode.

A Coffin for the Bride

A Coffin for the Bride opened the third season. We know what is going on right from the start. A ex-merchant seaman (played by Michael Jayston) marries rich middle-aged women and then drowns them in the bathtub (after they have made wills in his favour of course). The murders are successfully passed off as accidents but a lawyer named Mason (Michael Gwynn) is convinced that murder is indeed what they were. Mason is just a very ordinary solicitor but he’s intelligent and once he gets an idea into his head he pursues it grimly. And he does not intend to forget this particular murderer.

The killer, calling himself Mark Walker, has now found himself in a very curious position. He has fallen for a woman. Really fallen for her. A young pretty woman named Stella (Helen Mirren). This time he really wants the woman, and not for the purposes of murder or profit.

But of course he still has a living to make, and murder is his business. He already has his next victim picked out, a rich widow named Angela. I can’t tell you any more without risking spoilers.

The twist ending is outlandish but justly celebrated - there are hints earlier on and when the big reveal comes you realise that of course that had to be the explanation. Which is of course the hallmark of good writing.

It’s not just the ending that makes this one notable. The performances by Helen Mirren and Michael Gwynn are superb but it’s Michael Jayston who really impresses. Mark Walker is a monster but he has odd vulnerabilities. They certainly don’t justify his actions but they do suggest that there are things in his past that have made him into a monster.

Arthur English is a delight as the friendly barman Freddy.

A bravura effort from scriptwriter Clemens and from a fine cast make this deservedly one of the most fondly remembered episodes of the entire series.

I'm the Girl He Wants to Kill

I'm the Girl He Wants to Kill is the second episode of season three. This is a pure suspense episode - we know the killer’s identity right from the start. But the police don’t know. They think they do, but they don’t.

It starts with the murder of a woman. Then there’s a second murder. They’re clearly the work of a serial killer. Ann Rogers, an American working in London, saw the killer. Unfortunately she can’t identify him from the police mug shots file.

She does however fall for Mark (Tony Selby), the Detective-Sergeant in charge of the case, and Mark falls for her. A few weeks later she sees the killer in the street, she recognises him and he recognises her. She realises immediately that he’s going to try to kill her. She returns to her office and as usual she has to work late. There’s nobody else in the building, apart from the security guard. But the killer is inside the building. What follows is a cat-and-mouse game which occupies the whole of the second half of the episode. 

To makes things even more exciting the killer has locked the building so there seems to be no escape for Ann.

Robert Lang plays the killer and he’s a wonderful choice. He’s just one of those scary sinister-looking actors. Julie Sommars is very good as Ann - she’s convincingly terrified but she’s also quick-witted.

A deserted office building proves to be a fine setting for such a suspense story. Everything looks so harmless, except that there’s a psycho running loose.

The tension builds up and up and when you think it’s all over, it isn’t.

This is an effective Brian Clemens script and it’s perfectly executed by director Shaun O’Riordan.

This is a classic woman-in-peril story which works beautifully.

Final Thoughts

I’m not totally sold on An Echo of Theresa but the other four Brian Clemens favourites can certainly be very highly recommended.

Sunday 2 October 2022

Hannay (1988-89)

Hannay is a thirteen-episode (spread over two seasons) TV series featuring the hero of John Buchan’s classic thrillers, Richard Hannay. The series serves as a kind of prequel to The 39 Steps.

The episodes really have nothing to do with Buchan, apart from borrowing his hero. They’re all original stories. If you’re expecting the stories to be in the same class as Buchan’s novels you’ll be disappointed.

The stories are all over the place as far as tone is concerned. The best episodes are very lightweight and rely to an embarrassing degree on unlikely narrow escapes carried out by methods that are both silly and corny. These stories are much more like a cross between an Edwardian Boys’ Own Adventure Paper tale and an episode of Ripping Yarns. But they are fun in their own way. Other episodes are much more humourless and try to be serious. Many episodes are not spy tales at all but mysteries, some good while others are not so good.

The series does have one huge asset - Robert Powell as Hannay. He played Hannay in the 1970s movie version of The 39 Steps and he was by far the best thing about that film. In fact I’d go so far as to say that Robert Powell is the definitive screen Richard Hannay. Even better than Robert Donat in Hitchcock’s 1935 movie (which I rate as one of the ten best movies ever made).

At least he should be a huge asset. Unfortunately his performances are uncharacteristically restrained. A bit too restrained. If you’re going to put Robert Powell in an adventure series then you expect him to go totally over-the-top. You expect him to sparkle. But he doesn’t.

I can’t help thinking this series would have been much much better had it been made fifteen years earlier. For starters a younger more vigorous Robert Powell would have been a lot more fun. And it would have featured fewer ludicrously anachronistic social attitudes.

The biggest problem with this series is that not a single character behaves as you would expect people to behave in 1912. They’re all 1980s people wearing period costume. All the political, social and cultural attitudes are pure 1980s.

The characters we’re supposed to find sympathetic never express a single thought that is at variance with the orthodoxies of late 1980s social attitudes. This has the effect of making them seem self-satisfied and at the same time lacking in any actual personality. The characters we’re supposed to find unsympathetic come across as cardboard cut-out villains. Richard Hannay himself has no real personality whatsoever.

The TV series was shot entirely on videotape. Even the location shooting (of which there’s quite a bit) was shot on videotape. In spite of this looks it looks quite handsome. This is British TV at the tail end of its golden age so the costumes are terrific and it takes advantage of the abundance of superb character actors in Britain at that time.

Episode Guide

The first episode, The Fellowship of the Black Stone, opens with Hannay getting shot in South Africa. He is left for dead and is found clutching a black stone. His would-be assassin was notorious German spy Count von Schwabing (Gavin Richards). And a fine melodrama villain he turns out to be. He doesn’t actually twirl his moustache before carrying out dastardly deeds but you know that he’d like to.

On the ship carrying him back to Britain Hannay encounters the Earl of Haslemere (David Waller) and the earl’s daughter, the Lady Anne. Hannay is charmed by Lady Anne, to say the least.

Hannay had worked for the British Secret Service but had left their employ some years earlier. He finds himself caught up in a spy drama anyway, with the Germans hatching dastardly plots and poor Hannay getting himself repeatedly captured, tortured and threatened with certain death. Fortunately, although the German secret service is very efficient their agents have never been taught to tie a knot properly. Hannay keeps escaping by slipping out of his bonds.

The highlight of this episode is Charles Gray as a senior Scotland Yard man.

It’s all breathless stuff with a reasonable amount of action. A fine episode.

In A Point of Honour Hannay meets Lady Madrigal Fitzjames on a train. They get off at the wrong station and then arrive at the wrong country house. The staff assume they are the honeymooning couple whose arrival they were expecting. Hannay and Madrigal decide to have a bit of fun. They pretend they really are the honeymooners.

As it happens there’s an immensely valuable diamond necklace sitting in the safe. And things will soon get complicated and dangerous.

Historical anachronisms are always a problem in series such as this. I have to say that in this episode I just didn’t buy Lady Madrigal’s behaviour. The story takes place shortly before the First World War. We assume it’s around 1912. I don’t believe any well brought up lady at that time would have risked her reputation so recklessly. It would have been social suicide and would have wrecked any chance she might have of making an even halfway respectable marriage. Had she been one of the Bright Young Things of the 1920s then I might have found it plausible. But not in 1912.

It’s still an amusing, clever and entertaining story with a certain amount of charm.

In Voyage into Fear Hannay is accosted in an art gallery by a young girl who insists that there is a dangerous man who is trying to kidnap her. She insists that Hannay should pretend to be her father, to get her out of the gallery and back home safely. Hannay is inclined to think it’s all nonsense until he realises that the girl might be telling the truth.

Then things start to go badly wrong, Hannay and the girl are drugged and they wake up on board a ship, having absolutely no idea where they are. This is a really fun episode.

Death With Due Notice is a murder mystery story. Several men have received anonymous threatening letters, all in the form of quotations from Shakespeare. A routine episode that doesn’t really have the right flavour.

Act of Riot is one of the worst pieces of television I have ever seen in my life. A clumsy embarrassingly obvious script, stodgy direction, heavy-handed political messaging, atrocious acting, leaden pacing, a total lack of action, dull and humourless. Robert Powell is clearly bored and uninterested and I can’t say that I blame him.

The Hazard of the Die is better. At least it’s a spy story. The wife of a Cabinet Minister loses heavily at the casino at Monte Carlo and is trapped into espionage. The first problem is that there really aren’t enough plot twists. It’s a bit predictable. The second problem is a total lack of action. This is an adventure series. We’d like to get some adventure. It all falls just a bit flat.

So the first season of six episodes is a mixed bag. The first three are terrific fun. The next three are pretty dull.

The second season opens with Coup de Grace. Hannay gets involved with a woman and he’s charmed by her, and he meets charismatic hard-driving businessman and gambler Sir Marcus Leonard (Anthony Valentine). And Hannay gets caught in the middle. With Anthony Valentine as guest star you assume you’re going to be in for some fun and Valentine certainly delivers the goods. What’s strange is that Robert Powell allows himself to be totally overshadowed by Valentine. It’s a crime plot rather than an espionage or adventure tale but it’s a decent story.

The series gets right back on track with The Terrors of the Earth. Not only is it a spy story, it’s a totally outrageous spy tale. There’s actually some action and Hannay gets to be much more energetic and pro-active than usual. And Robert Powell’s performance has some zest. A very entertaining episode.

In Double Jeopardy a rich dying man entrusts Hannay with some diamonds. Hannay is to pass them on to a man named Desmond Leigh but only on certain conditions. This puts Hannay in a very awkward spot. Leigh has failed to meet those conditions but he has a young wife. Then the plot gets really convoluted with a murder and a kidnapping and Hannay under suspicion and all manner of conspiracies. The plot might be convoluted but it’s quite nicely constructed with some fine twists. A very good episode.

The Good Samaritan gets off to a promising start. Hannay is in central Europe, he’s on a train and he’s just met a beautiful mysterious woman. There’s a shady oilman of indeterminate nationality. And oh yeah, there’s a corpse. And a vanishing lady. It’s hard to go wrong with those ingredients. This is a terrific episode which movies along at break-neck pace.

In That Rough Music an old friend of Hannay’s dies and leaves his estate and fortune to his half-African daughter. A totally unconvincing story told in a very clumsy manner.

The Confidence Man is a major improvement. Hannay comes to the rescue of a music-hall proprietress menaced by an extortion racket. Hannay’s initial attempt to help ends in disaster. He realises he’s going to have to be much cleverer and he turns out to be a rather goof confidence trickster, all naturally in a good cause. A lightweight episode but it moves along briskly and it’s fun.

Say the Bells of Shoreditch involves a disappearing bridegroom. The young man works for his father who runs a shipping and insurance empire. There’s something strange going on in the company with all sorts of rumours flying around.

The jilted bride is Hannay’s goddaughter so he feels compelled to find the missing young man. Hannay discovers an ingenious and dangerous conspiracy.

Final Thoughts

Most of the episodes are quite entertaining but the series just doesn’t quite ring true. It’s very very uneven. The bad episodes are absolutely terrible but the good ones are very good. And the good episodes do outnumber the bad.

The biggest problem is that the series can’t decide if it wants to be fun or if it wants to be serious. Hannay is a slight disappointment but it’s still worth a look.

Network have released the complete series on DVD.

Wednesday 31 August 2022

Mediterranean Caper (It Takes a Thief tie-in novel #2)

Published in 1969, Mediterranean Caper was the second TV tie-in novel based on the very successful 1968-1970 American TV spy series It Takes a Thief.

It was written by Gil Brewer, much better remembered as one of the great hardboiled/noir writers of the 1950s.

If you’ve never seen the TV series (and if you haven’t you should because it’s terrific) Al Mundy is a cat burglar facing a long prison sentence. One of those shadowy US intelligence agencies offers him a deal - he can stay out of prison if he agrees to steal for the government. He finds himself, very reluctantly, working as a spy.

He doesn’t like it. The SIA (the agency in question) is pretty ruthless. They offered him his freedom but he isn’t free at all. He’s under permanent house arrest and he has to do whatever they tell him to do. Sometimes he thinks prison would have been better - criminals have better ethical standards than intelligence agencies. But he has no choice.

Looking at it another way, he has no skills other than being an extremely accomplished thief and at least he gets to do what he does best. And his missions always seem to bring him in contact with beautiful glamorous women. Al likes beautiful glamorous women. And they tend to like him.

In this case he has to steal a coded formula and he has to rescue a Soviet defector named Marina. Her defection went wrong and she’s fallen into the hands of the KGB. She’s being held somewhere in Marseilles. And the Red Chinese are after her as well.

And, as luck would have it, this Soviet defector happens to be a beautiful glamorous woman.

This mission turns out to be a very easy one. Too easy. He gets the formula but he loses it. He gets the girl but she’s the wrong girl.

It gets worse. Not only has Marina been captured, the bad guys have Miss Agnew as well. Miss Agnew is Al’s parole officer but she also works for SIA. She’s more or less his keeper. Al has a thing for Miss Agnew. His feelings are not reciprocated but that doesn’t worry Al. He’s sure that eventually his charm will win her over. But now she’s in the hands of a madman, the fiendish Red Chinese spymaster Hu Yang who has an obsession with American women. Al has a fair idea what Hu Yang plans to do to Miss Agnew and it isn’t a pretty thought.

TV tie-in novels were often written by authors who had only seen the original outline for the series in question and maybe the first couple of episodes. Sometimes they hadn’t seen a single episode. As a result the tie-in novels often have a slightly different feel compared to the TV series. Sometimes they’re a bit sleazier. That’s not the case here. But this novel does have more of a Bond movie feel than the series. Hu Yang is very much a Bond villain.

Brewer certainly does know how to tell an action-packed tale.

The Al Mundy of the TV series is a charming rogue and Brewer gets that part right. The character in the book is recognisable as the character from the TV series.

Brewer also captures the essential element of the series - Al is very unhappy about working for SIA. Al’s moral standards are flexible but he’s basically a decent guy. He likes stealing but he’s not keen on violence unless he has no alternative. In this novel Al really doesn’t care about the secret formula. He’s not unpatriotic but he’s not overly patriotic either. Politics bores and disgusts him. He does however very much dislike the idea of pretty girls falling into the hands of lust-crazed madmen. His main motivations are to do what he has to do to avoid getting sent back to prison and to rescue the two girls. If the SIA ends up getting that formula then that’s fine but Al doesn’t care.

Brewer was a noir writer so the idea of writing about a man forced into spying against his will would have had some appeal to him.

Mediterranean Caper is lightweight but it’s fun and breezy. Highly recommended, especially if you’re a fan of the TV show.

I reviewed the first season of It Takes a Thief a while back.

I’ve also reviewed a couple of Gil Brewer’s noir novels, The Three-Way Split and The Vengeful Virgin.

Monday 1 August 2022

The Bionic Woman season one (1976)

The Six Million Dollar Man had been a big success so when writer Kenneth Johnson came up with a story idea for an episode featuring a bionic woman the producers were enthusiastic. After all if a bionic man was super-cool then a bionic woman would be totally awesome. And so the bionic woman, Jaime Sommers, was launched on the small screen with a two-part Six Million Dollar Man episode. The original intention was that this would be a one-off appearance but it didn’t take long to figure out that featuring her in a spin-off series would be an even better idea.

Now there’s one thing I have to say upfront. It’s impossible to discuss The Bionic Woman without discussing the episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man which introduced the character and which preceded The Bionic Woman series. And it’s impossible to say anything about those episodes without revealing some spoilers for those episodes. It probably doesn’t really matter because anyone interested in either series is almost certainly already aware of certain events that happen during those episodes. The very existence of The Bionic Woman series is in some ways a spoiler for those episodes.

But if you’ve never seen those two early two-part episodes and you’re really spoiler-phobic you might want to skip the next section and jump ahead to the episode guide for The Bionic Woman.

The early crossover episodes

Jaime made her first appearance in a two-part episode called The Bionic Woman (written by Kenneth Johnson) which went to air during the second season, in March 1975.

The Bionic Woman

Steve decides he wants to buy a ranch in his home town as a way of getting back to his roots, and to have a refuge from the craziness of his life as a secret agent. It just so happens that this small town has produced two celebrities - Steve Austin the astronaut (obviously) and Jaime Sommers, a rising star on the women’s professional tennis circuit. Steve and Jaime were high school sweethearts years earlier but they both had ambitions that made marriage seem impractical. But Steve soon discovers that he’s still in love with Jaime.

Their newly rekindled romance is just starting to blossom when Jaime has a terrible sky-diving accident. She’s dying but Steve knows that there’s a way to save her - all he has to do is persuade Oscar Goldman that the government really needs a bionic woman. And all Oscar Goldman has to do is persuade the US Government to shell out another six million dollars to rebuild Jaime.

The first instalment of this two-parter takes a long time to get going. There is perhaps too much time spent on the Steve-Jaime romance, and way too much time spent on Steve’s parents doing folksy things. The extended treatment of the romance was I guess necessary in order to make it plausible that Steve would do anything, absolutely anything, to save Jaime.

The transformation of Jaime into the bionic woman is also pretty much travelling ground that was already travelled in the first of the Six Million Dollar Man TV movies. On the other hand Lindsay Wagner is cute and likeable and she and Lee Majors do have some genuine chemistry.

The producers didn’t want Jaime to be an exact clone of Steve Austin so instead of a bionic eye she has a bionic ear.

There is a spy plot mixed in here somewhere but the main focus is very much on the Steve-Jaime love story. It’s not the sort of thing that you would have expected the Six Million Dollar Man target audience to have gone for but in fact the viewers loved it.

This is a very emotion-heavy episode with an ending that was not only daring for network TV in the mid-70s but turned out to be rather rash. The ending does pack a punch.

The Return of The Bionic Woman

The Return of The Bionic Woman was screened during the third season of The Six Million Dollar Man in September 1975.

This episode also introduces the third actor to play the rôle of Dr Rudy Wells, the medical genius responsible for Steve’s bionics.

Steve is badly injured on a mission involving a gangland war. He is rushed to the hospital in which Dr Rudy Wells does his bionic surgery. Steve is only semi-conscious but he is sure he sees Jaime in an adjoining room. But that can’t be. It can’t be her. Oscar assures him that he was delirious. Then he sees her again. Oscar has a lot of explaining to do. There’s also a lot of explaining to do to the audience but writer Kenneth Johnson comes up with an explanation that doesn’t stretch credibility too far (given that this is a science fiction series).

Jaime is alive but not she’s not exactly well. She has lost all her memories. She has no idea who Steve is. Which is a bit of a blow, considering that they were engaged to be married. Steve has other blows to deal with, such as Jaime falling in love with the young genius doctor who saved her.

So, like the earlier two-parter, this is going to be another very emotion-driven episode. It has to be emphasised just how bold a move it was in the mid-70s to have two two-part episodes of an action-adventure-science fiction series devoted almost entirely to romance plots.

It was also quite an acting challenge for Lindsay Wagner. She has to play Jaime as Jaime, but as a slightly different Jaime. Without her memories she is just a little bit child-like and innocent. The whole world is new to her. She has to rediscover the world, and she has to face the most complicated human challenge imaginable - she has to start her emotional life all over again.

The Bionic Woman Episode Guide

The Bionic Woman series kicks off with Welcome Home, Jaime and it’s another daring move - beginning an action/adventure series with a two-part episode focused almost entirely on emotional drama. This was just not done on network TV in 1976. In fact the whole “how Jaime Sommers became the bionic woman and it affected her emotionally” tale is a six-episode story arc (beginning with four episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man) and that was most certainly not done at that time. Kenneth Johnson (who wrote all six episodes and created The Bionic Woman) was years ahead of his time. Whether you think multi-episode story arcs are a good thing or a bad thing is another matter (I think that on the whole they’re a bad idea).

Jaime has had yet another operation, the hope being to regenerate some of her brain cells so that she can get her memory back. It works, up to a point. She now remembers a lot more. But she still doesn’t remember being engaged to marry Steve Austin. She is however about to find out.

In the second part we finally start to see Jaime doing some serious secret agent stuff, and showing off her bionic abilities. The big difference between Steve Austin and Jaime is that she has a bionic ear instead of a bionic eye and his story makes plenty of use of that bionic ear. It’s what keeps her one step ahead of the bad guys.

This two-parter is still basically part of the introductory story arc, giving us Jaime’s backstory and establishing her character and also establishing the vital fact that much of her past has been lost to her. She’s not just going to be battling bad guys but presumably also trying to re-establish her own identity.

So in some ways you could argue that the first season proper started with episode three by which time the format of the show had been more or less finalised.

There’s a definite Clark Kent vibe to the series - on the surface Jaime is a mild-mannered bubbly pretty young schoolteacher but she has a hidden identity as a secret agent with super-powers. This gives the series an interestingly different vibe to The Six Million Dollar Man. There never was anything ordinary about Steve Austin. Before he became the bionic man he was already a hero - a test pilot and world-famous astronaut. Being a hero comes naturally to him. Becoming the bionic man hasn’t changed his life all that much. He was already doing extraordinary things that no ordinary person could ever hope to do. But before becoming the bionic woman Jaime Sommers really was just an ordinary girl. Being a super-heroine does not come naturally to her.

Also interesting is that Steve Austin had to be coerced into becoming a secret agent and he was initially very resentful. Even though he’s a born hero there’s a part of him that would like to return to the small town in which he was born and become ordinary. Jaime on the other hand is not only a volunteer - she was the one who pressured Oscar Goldman into letting her become a secret agent. She’s the complete opposite of Steve Austin - she’s an ordinary girl who yearns to be extraordinary.

The series itself has a slightly different feel compared to The Six Million Dollar Man. In a lot of the stories Jaime isn’t doing the secret agent thing, she just gets involved in situations in which her bionic power happen to come in handy. The Bionic Woman at times feels more like a family-oriented adventure series while The Six Million Dollar Man was more overtly a sci-fi/spy series.

While The Six Million Dollar Man has Steve dealing with missions involving national security a lot of the stories in The Bionic Woman involve Jaime personally, or involve people she knows personally.

There was an intention to continue doing crossover episodes and in fact Steve Austin makes his reappearance as early as the fourth episode.

Angel of Mercy takes Jaime to the South American republic of Costa Bravo where the American ambassador is trapped in the middle of a civil war. Jaime has to get him out, with the help of hardbitten helicopter pilot Jack Starkey (played surprisingly by Andy Griffith). Her cover is that she’s a nurse. Maybe that wasn’t one of Oscar’s brightest ideas - she knows nothing about nursing and can’t stand the sight of blood (which adds some amusing moments). This one is rather similar to one of the first season episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man, Little Orphan Airplane, with this time Jaime using her bionic powers to rebuild a broken-down aircraft. Jaime gets to use her bionic powers a lot in this episode.This episode works, largely because Lindsay Wagner is so charming and amusing. She really was starting to settle into the role.

A Thing of the Past takes Jaime back to her day-to-day life as a schoolteacher. The only excitement is that the school bus crashes but no-one is hurt thanks to the quick-thinking bus driver. And then the world of gangsters starts to intrude into Jaime’s small-town everyday life. That bus driver had a past and it’s caught up to him and Jaime is caught in the middle. It’s an OK episode. Lee Majors makes a totally unnecessary brief appearance but given that The Bionic Woman hadn’t yet established itself it made sense from a promotional point of view. It is however Jaime who does all the heroic stuff.

In Claws Jaime has to mind a wild animal farm for her friend Susan Victor (played by Tippi Hedren who in real-life was involved in caring for big cats). One of Susan’s animals is a ridiculously tame pet lion but the local ranchers are convinced that the lion has been killing their steers. If Jaime can’t discover what’s really going on then the future looks grim for the lion. This is an episode that veers dangerously close to heart-warming territory.

In The Deadly Missiles a ballistic missile with a de-activated warhead lands in a reservoir near Los Angeles. It appears to have been fired from the ranch of wealthy industrialist J.T. Connors (Forrest Tucker), an old friend of Jaime’s. Jaime refuses to believe that J.T. could actually be involved. But her job is to find out. And she has to find out before somebody fires another missile with a live warhead. Jaime is torn between her duty and her loyalty to a friend. A pretty decent episode.

In Bionic Beauty Oscar orders Jaime to enter a beauty pageant. The pageant is a threat to national security but he doesn’t know why. Jaime has to find that out. This episode is mostly filler with the beauty pageant stuff distracting from the actual plot. But since the plot isn’t particularly good maybe it was a good idea after all to focus on the beautiful girls. Not a very impressive episode.

In Jaime's Mother Jaime thinks she’s seen her mother. Which is disturbing, since her mother died in 1966. Jaime fears she’s going mad. Oscar isn’t happy. But Jaime still thinks her mother may be alive. This is another episode more focused on Jaime personally and on her emotional state than on secret agent missions although there’s more to the reappearance of Jaime’s mother than one might think. It’s all a bit contrived and with a bit too much emotional angst.

In Winning Is Everything Jaime has to enter a desert car race in a south-west Asian country. Oscar has hired failed Grand Prix driver Tim Sanders to drive with Jaime as navigator. Her real mission is to pick up a tape hidden by an American spy. Almost the entire episode is taken up with the car race (which I guess is exciting) and the very feeble plot gets largely forgotten. Not much of an episode really.

Canyon of Death is another episode in which Jaime gets personally involved. One of her pupils, John Little Bear, wanders off into a restricted area in the desert and discovers something very dangerous. It relates to the testing of a top-secret atomic-powered jetpack flying suit. This is definitely an episode aimed squarely at a very young audience. The idea of an atomic-powered flying suit is amusingly retro for 1976. Not a very good episode.

Fly Jaime is basically a rehash of the Six Million Dollar Man episode Survival of the Fittest. Rudy Wells has to fly to South America, on a charter flight, to pick up a secret formula. Jaime goes along as his bodyguard (masquerading as stewardess Miss Winters). The plane crashes and the survivors are stranded on a deserted island and among the passengers are killers after that secret formula. It’s OK but if you’ve seen the Six Million Dollar Man episode referred to then you’ve seen this one.

The Jailing of Jaime
starts out with Jaime getting a straightforward assignment - to deliver a top-secret code-breaking device to a military base. It turns out no to be so straightforward and Jaime winds up in jail, suspected of treason. Of course no prison can hold the bionic woman for very long. She breaks out, determined to clear her name. Her ability to break out of impossible places will come in handy again later. A routine but entertaining episode and we do get to see just how strong she really is.

It was an ironclad rule in the 60s and 70s that every action-adventure series had to have at least one episode in which an evil double of the hero or heroine was running around causing mayhem. And so we get Mirror Image. Yes, the bad guys have surgically altered a woman to make her look exactly like Jaime and her mission is to kill Oscar Goldman. The idea is hackneyed but it’s executed reasonably well with Lindsay Wagner varying her performance subtly when she’s playing the double. A good episode.

The Bionic Woman goes spooky in The Ghosthunter, with Jaime up against witches, ghosts and things that go bump in the night. A top government scientist and his daughter have been troubled by what appear to be ghostly visitations. The scientist’s wife, now deceased, had been the descendant of a woman accused of witchcraft in 1692. Jaime soon discovers that weird things really are going on. The episode does a good job of keeping us uncertain as to whether these are genuinely supernatural happenings. There’s a possibility it maybe be an elaborate espionage conspiracy, or it could be something paranormal or overtly supernatural. We’re also kept in doubt not just about the nature of these happenings but also the source. A pretty good way to end the first season.

Final Thoughts

The scripts are sometimes a little on the weak side but the coolness of the concept and Lindsay Wagner’s performances carry the show through a few less than brilliant episodes. On the whole it’s a fun series and it’s worth a look.

Sunday 3 July 2022

Thriller, The Return of Andrew Bentley (1961)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday 11 June 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday 25 May 2022

Coronado 9 (1960-61)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Episode Guide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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