Tuesday, 30 March 2010
Monday, 18 January 2010
Director: Don Sharp
Starring: Christopher Lee, Douglas Wilmer, Tsai Chin, Heinz Drache, Howard Marion-Crawford, Roger Hanin, Rupert Davies, Kenneth Fortescue, Joseph Furst, Burt Kwouk, Eric Young
Music: Bruce Montgomery
Based on characters created by Sax Rohmer
Following on from yesterday's Circus of Fear, The Brides of Fu Manchu is another Harry Alan Towers written and produced film project. It also features Christopher Lee and Heinz Drache who had appeared in Circus of Fear.
The Brides of Fu Manchu is the second in Towers pulp period adventure series featuring Christopher Lee as Sax Rohmer's indestructible Asian supervillain, Fu Manchu.
Imagine a person, tall, lean, and feline; high-shouldered with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan: a close shaven skull and long magnetic eyes of the true cat green.Invest him with all the cruel cunning of an entire Eastern race, accumulated in one giant interllect. With all the resources of science, past and present; with all the resources of a wealthy government - which, however, already has denied all knowledge of his existence.Imagine that malevolent being, and you have a mental picture of the yellow peril incarnate in one man - FU MANCHU.
At that moment, Fu Manchu (Christopher Lee) and his Daughter, Lin Tang (Tsai Chin) enter the chamber. It is revealed that Professor Merlin is an expert in radio transmission, and Fu Manchu demands that the Professor works on a special project for him. Merlin's response is simple and to the point: 'Go to Hell!'Then Lin Tang has Michelle freed from her shackles and brought before her. It appears that over the duration of her captivity, Michelle has been brainwashed. Lin Tan gives her a knife. First she is told to hold it at her Father's throat, which she does. Realising that Fu Manchu needs his expertise, Merlin calls Fu Manchu's bluff and suggests that he cannot be killed. Fu Manchu agrees and adopts another strategy to coerce the Professor. One of the other captive women is unchained from a pillar and brought to a giant stone tablet. To two metal rings embedded in the tablet the girl is tied by her hair. Then, a sliding stone trapdoor is released under the tablet and beneath is a pit of venomous snakes.
Fu Manchu then gives Michelle the order -- not to kill the girl -- but simply to cut her 'free'. Michelle obeys and the other girl falls to her death in the pit of snakes.
Strolling casually along the Thames is Research Chemist Hans Baumer (Heinz Drache) with his lovely companion Marie Lentz (Marie Versini). Suddenly, a team of Fu Manchu's Dacoits attack, attempting to kidnap Baumer. However Baumer is pretty good with his fists and fights off the attack.As the information on the attack is relayed to Nayland Smith, later, do they realise that the Dacoits weren't after Baumer at all, but after Marie, who is the daughter of Hydro-electric specialist Otto Lenz. Marie works in a hospital, and a second team of Dacoits arrive to kidnap her while she is on duty. Thankfully, Nayland Smith arrives just in the nick of time to fight of the kidnappers.
Nayland Smith suspects Fu Manchu is behind the abduction attempts to find a lead. Unfortunately, his only lead is Marie, and finally Fu Manchu's minions manage to kidnap her on their third attempt. But Baumer has a plan. If Fu Manchu has been using these girls to coerce the scientists and industrialists to do Fu Manchu's work, that it would follow suit, that Marie's kidnapping would work in the same way. So Baumer impersonates, Otto Lentz so he can infiltrate Fu Manchu's organisation.
Also working on the case is a French inspector, Pierre Grimaldi played by Roger Hanin who helps Nayland Smith put together the pieces of Fu Manchu's scheme which uses radio waves as a method of carrying large amounts of energy, which can be used for destructive purposes. And that is just what Fu Manchu has in mind. His plan starts with the destruction of the Windsor Castle and ends with total world domination.
This is not the only bit of amusing co-incidental casting in the film. Douglas Wilmer is something of a mystery to me. Apart from his two stints as Nayland Smith (in this, and the next film, The Vengeance of Fu Manchu), I cannot recall seeing him in any other production. However, I have seen numerous stills of him as Sherlock Holmes from the BBC television production from the 1960s - prior to Peter Cushing taking over the role. Juxtaposed next to that, in this film as Nayland Smith's offsider, Dr. Petrie, we have actor Howard Marion-Crawford who at one time played Dr. Watson in Sheldon Reynold's Sherlock Holmes television series. So in Brides of Fu Manchu, we have Holmes and Watson after the villainous Fu Manchu. Now I am not trying to link the Sherlock Holmes stories to the Fu Manchu stories -- although I am sure that if copyrights permit, then some well-read and enterprising intertextual author has already married to two characters in a novel -- but I find the parallels in the careers of many English actors and the characters they play to be very fascinating in the way they over lap. Don't get me started on Christopher Lee's connections with Sherlock Holmes or this review will go on forever!The Fu Manchu films are perfect examples of the law of diminishing returns. I found the first film, The Face of Fu Manchu to be quite a good little adventure. This film is a small step down from the earlier outing but is still very entertaining, but each instalment is weaker than the previous outing, and after the third film, the piss-poor plots and shoe-string budgets were below acceptable standard and the films have little to recommend them beyond the presence of Christopher Lee.
SPY CONNECTIONS:Christopher Lee - played Scaramanga in The Man With The Golden Gun
Tsai Chin - appeared in the pretitle sequence in You Only Live Twice
Burt Kwouk - appeared in Goldfinger, You Only Live Twice, and Bullet to Beijing
Roger Hanin - appeared in many Eurospy productions
Harry Alan Towers - produced Bullet to Beijing and Midnight in St Petersberg
Joseph Furst - played Dr. Metz in Diamonds Are Forever
Eric Young - appeared in The Chairman
More evil tales featuring the Devil Doctor:
The Face Of Fu Manchu (1965)
The Vengeance Of Fu Manchu (1967)
The Castle Of Fu Manchu (1969)
Or the similarly themed (although without Fu Manchu), Hammer's Terror Of The Tongs (1961)
Friday, 1 January 2010
Starring: Dharmendra, Sharmila Tagore, David, Helen
Music: Shanker Jaikishen
Most of the Bollywood spy films that I have looked at have ripped a page from the James Bond hand-book. Some have been quite blatant, in their appropriation of the formula and have recreated Bondian set-pieces almost scene for scene. Others have just taken the globetrotting spy formula and transposed it to India, adding a healthy dose of family drama to the mix. But Yakeen is a little bit different, but not so very surprising. It borrows from the Hitchcock school of spy films – those that feature an innocent character, who is not a spy, accidentally getting dragged into a world of espionage. Arguably, it was a style of film that was started with The 39 Steps, and continued through various films such as Saboteur, The Man Who Knew Too Much (56) till ultimately North By North West (Topaz and Torn Curtain are a different style). Following on, Hitchcock’s template was utilised by Stanely Donen who made Charade and Arabesque, and it is these two films that most directly have influenced Yakeen – right down to the theme music which bears more than a passing resemblance to Henry Mancini’s theme for Charade.
As the story opens, we are introduced to Rajesh (Dharmendra), who works as a scientist in a top-secret military facility in India. The location is never really specified, but I would suggest it’s near Bangalore. Rajesh works tirelessy for his hard-nosed boss, Dr. Sharma. So much so, that his girlfriend Rita (Sharmila Tagore) has grown tired of waiting to see him.
Out of desperation, Rajesh fakes at accident at the facility so he can have some time off to go and see Rita. Initially she is not thrilled to see him as he has let her down time and time again. But gradually he wears her defences down and she agrees to marry him.
But before Rajesh can get married, he needs the permission of Dr. Sharma. Sharma refuses to allow Rajesh to marry at this time. Their top-secret work is at a critical stage and Sharma needs Rajesh’s complete attention. Rajesh doesn’t take the refusal well, and threatens to ‘destroy’ anybody who stands between Rita and his happiness.
Later that evening, Rajesh is called back to Dr. Sharma’s office, but upon arrival finds Sharma dead, with a bullet hole in his forehead. Rajesh does the right thing and contacts the authorities, and is asked to give a statement.
After he returns home, he is confronted in his lounge-room by Mr Roy, the Chief of the Investigation Department, who has a tape recording of the confrontation that Rajesh and Sharma had earlier in the day. Rajesh’s assertion that he would ‘destroy’ anybody who stopped him from marrying Rita, now puts him at the top of the suspects list. Rajesh is arrested.
At the police station, Rajesh is lead to a room where once again he to be interrogated by Mr. Roy, but this time Roy has two other officials, D’mello and Sriwastava, on hand to hear Rajesh’s testimony. The interrogation isn’t as tough as Rajesh expected. Mr. Roy plays the rest of the tape recording from Sharma’s office which indicated that a third party that was after the facilities top secret formula, was responsible for Sharma’s death. Rajesh is in the clear. Well almost. The security chiefs have a favour to ask Rajesh. They want him to work undercover with them to draw out the real killers.
The plan is simple – they want Rajesh to go through with the criminal prosecution as if he is guilty. The they would arrange for him to escape from custody. Eventually the killers would contact Rajesh – because he knows about the secret formula – and he would be recruited by the bad guys. Rajesh reluctantly agrees, although there is one catch to the arrangement. He is not allowed to tell anyone, including Rita, that he is working for the Security chiefs.
The plan goes smoothly until Rajesh’s manufactured escape from custody. The bad guys must have an inside man, because as soon as Rajesh escapes from the transport van, he is captured by the bad guys. He is rendered unconscious and flown to Mozambique in Portugeese [SIC] Africa. At the villain’s lair, Rajesh meets Garson, who is a dead ringer for Rajesh (also played by Dharmendra). Well almost a dead ringer. Garson has red hair, blue eyes and a moustache, but apart from that, he could be a dead ringer for Rajesh. The villains, dye Garson’s hair, shave off his moustache and use contact lens to change the colour of his eyes. The last problem they have though is Garson’s voice, which doesn’t sound like Rajesh’s. They overcome this problem by scarring Garson’s neck. As he returns to India in Rajesh’s stead, it will be deduced that he was captured and tortured and can no longer speak.
And so it goes. Garson is sent back to India to blow-up the top-secret facility, posing as Rajesh. And in the meantime, Rajesh must escape from his captors in Africa and make his way back to India in time to save the military facility and, of course Rita, who can tell that Rajesh is not the same anymore. And as I intimated earlier, there is an inside man throwing a monkey wrench into the proceedings as well.
As with many Bollywood spy films, Yakeen spends a great deal of the first half building up the family drama, which drags the story out a bit. But the second half flies along with a pretty tight little spy story, with some groovy incidental music and a show-stopping number by Helen in the ‘Club Ago Ago’ nightclub. It amused me to see that the swinging backing band during this scene was billed as ‘The Monkees’.
After a slow start, Yakeen is an incredibly entertaining espionage adventure, and as someone who is still a novice at watching Bollywood films, I found it a refreshing change form the usual spy hijinx and tropes that I am used to seeing. (Meaning that there may be quite a few Hitchcock inspired Bollywood films out there, but I haven’t discovered them yet).
A big thanks to K.V.Ramesh who steered me towards this title.
Saturday, 5 December 2009
Director: Alvin Rakoff
Starring: Roger Moore, Stuart Damon, Isla Blair, Ronald Radd, Carol Friday, Willoughby Goddard, Paul Faussino, Alan Rowe, Anthony Stamboulieh
Music: Edwin Astley
Based on characters created by Leslie Charteris
The Saint television series episodes were generally self contained, unlike the trend in current television series where a back story is played out over many episodes. In some instances this back story comes to the fore and these episodes are considered to be the core episodes. But there is none of this in The Saint. For an episode to become a core episode it must contain either a plot that is exceptionally well written, or a cast of guest actors who viewers are drawn to. However, The Ex-King of Diamonds is neither of these things, but I still believe it is one of the core episodes of the series. Its plot is serviceable, without being spectacular, and the guest stars, while being familiar faces, aren't really major drawcards either. What makes The Ex-King of Diamonds unique is that the crew behind this episode, producer Bob Baker, writer John Kruse, and even Roger Moore were trying something new. They could see that The Saint's run was coming to an end and were looking towards their next project - but more on that later. In the meantime,let's have a quick look at the plot and see if it reminds you of another popular ITC series.
The episode begins on the Cote d'Azur, at Nice airport, where two men have just arrived. One of them is Simon Templar, AKA The Saint (Roger Moore). The other is wealthy Texan millionaire, Rod Huston (Stuart Damon). They have both been invited, along with many other wealthy individuals, to the 'Hotel Magnificent' in Monte Carlo for the gaming season. Throughout the season, Boris, the ex-King of Slovania (Willoughby Goddard) is to be the banker at his own priate baccarat table, where he hopes to make enough money to finance a coup, which will see him regain his Kingship.
But first, Templar and Huston have to travel from Nice to Monte Carlo, and their chosen mode of transporation is the motor car. Huston heads off first, but is soon overtaken by Templar in his high-powered vintage saloon. Huston isn't pleased to be overtaken, and presses the pedal to the metal in an attempt to keep up, and possibly overtake Templar. This results in an egoccentric car chase, with each driver trying to prove who is the better man.
This one up-manship doesn't stop at just a car race either. Upon arrival in Nice, both men also vie for the attention of Janine Flambeau (Isla Blair) - although it must be said both men strike out with their initial advances. Then the boys engage in some crap shooting. It doesn't seem to matter what they do, these two seem to be at logger-heads with each other.
Then the card game begins. Watching in the wings is Janine, along with her father, Professor Henri Flambeau (Ronald Radd), who happens to be a brilliant mathematician and the author of 'Probability in Gambling'. As the game continues, Boris has an extra-ordinary run of luck. So much so, that Flambeau believes that Boris is cheating using marked cards. During a break in the game, Flambeau shares his theory with Templar.
The game continues. Meanwhile Flambeau decides to take his 'marked card' theory further, and with Janine in tow, he heads to the factory where the playing cards are manufactured. His investigation is curtailed quickly, when he is captured and Janine is clubbed from behind and rendered unconcious.
The card game is over for the evening. Boris has won a large amount of cash, much to the chagrin of Templar and Huston who adjorn to a patio outside. Here, Templar shares Flambeau's theory that Boris is using marked cards. Huston is furious that Templar didn't tell him earlier and a fist fight errupts. Huston wants a piece of Templar, and then once finished, he wants a piece of Boris too. But Templar manages to dissuade him with a well placed punch to the jaw.
To get to the bottom of Boris' scheme, Templar and Huston agree to team up. To learn more, they decide to track down Professor Flambeau - good thing to, because when they discover him, unconcious, he is being positioned in a crashed car, while Boris' goons pour petrol over the vehicle. Obviously they are planning to 'stage' an accident. Templar and Huston step in and fight off Boris' goons. The Professor is rescued, but where is Janine? It seems that the mystery is far from over.
So, does the story seem familiar to you? You have two head-strong dilettante playboys on the Cote d'Azur -one English, the other American - they both encounter each other on the road, where a car chase follows - then later get into a fist fight! It's The Persuaders! The Ex-King of Diamonds was a tryout for The Persuaders television series, and many of the elements in this episode found there way into the pilot for The Persuaders, Overture. Of course there are many differences too. Rod Huston is a slow talkin' Texan, whereas Tony Curtis as Danny Wilde, was a motor-mouth from the Bronx. But still, the dynamic is the same. First, an outward antagonism, that slowly builds to respect and then friendship.
The Ex-King of Diamonds is a must see episode for fans of Roger Moore's The Saint series and The Persuaders. It isn't as fast paced as some of The Saint episodes - primarily because it has to built up the relationship between Templar and Huston, but time never seems to drag. The characters are good and bounce off each other well. The story itself, seems derivative of quite a few familiar (to spy fans) stories. The first is, obviously, Casino Royale. We have a villain who needs to make a lot of cash (to repay a debt) quickly by playing cards. The card marking could come from the film Kaleidoscope, with Warren Beatty, or even bears more than a passing resemblance to the season one, Mission Impossible episode, Odds on Evil. What I am saying here, is that the plot, even in 1969, had been used quite substantially by spy shows - but that doesn't really matter. It's what's playing out over the top with Templar and Huston that is important, and here the buddy formula that was to prove so successful (in my eyes at least) in The Persuaders was given its first tryout -and for me that is a joy to watch.
Sunday, 29 November 2009
AKA: Dance of Death
Country: France / Italy
Director: Jacques Nahum
Starring: Felix Marten, Jean Desailly, Michele Mercier, Francoise Brion, Nicole Mirel
Music: Paul Durand
Based on an idea by Leslie Charteris
I am guessing that Paramount did not have the rights to The Saint character in the United States, and when they released this French import (as Dance of Death), all the Saintly accoutrements had to be removed. Even the character’s name is no longer Simon Templar, but Stuart Thomson – and he is no longer a criminal. Instead he is a ‘world famous private detective’. These changes, as small as they may seem, change the whole tone of the film.
As the film begins, on the streets of Boston, the police are chasing notorious gangster ‘Smokey Johnny’. Trying to evade capture he rushes up to the nearest car on the curb and tries to force his way in. The car happens to belong to millionaire Freddy Pellman (Jean Desailly), who is forced back inside. As the police open fire on ‘Smokey’, during the distraction, Pellman produces a golf club and strikes the gangster who is then forced back onto the streets, making him an easier target for the police to pick off. ‘Smokey’ is shot down, and Pellman is applauded for being a hero.
One year later, now living in Paris, Pellman receives a death threat in the mail. Associates of ‘Smokey Johnny’ have tracked him down and want revenge. Pellman refuses to go to the police, and instead hires the services of Stuart Thomson (Felix Marten) – ‘the world famous private detective’. Thomson doesn’t come cheap though, but Pellman is loaded and agrees to Thomson’s exorbitant fee.
The men head back to Pellman’s estate, which is huge –- after all he is a millionaire. There, Thomson is introduced to a coterie of suspicious characters – the chauffeur, the butler, and the cook all have mysterious pasts. Added to this, it appears that Pellman is a bit of a womaniser and has three personal secretaries working for him, Gina (Nicole Mirel), Danny (Michel Mercier), and Nora (Francoise Brion). As you can imagine, any film scenario that sets up three beautiful women working for the same boss, there is going to be some ‘catty’ conflict, and this film doesn’t let you down on that score. The antagonism goes up a notch once Thomson enters the scene.
On Thomson’s first night on the job, Pellman takes his girls, and Thomson tagging along for protection, to a swank nightclub. Here, some associates of the late ‘Smokey Johnny’ attack Pellman, luckily Thomson steps in and gives the goons a good thrashing.
Later that night, back at the estate, someone breaks in, and makes another attempt on Pellman’s life, only they went to the wrong room, and the knife meant for Pellman ended up embedded in the wooden bedhead where Gina was sleeping. With Pellman’s estate, so well guarded and Thomson on the job, it now seems like there is an insider working with Smokey’s associates, and it is now up to Thomson to work out who?
This review is actually based on the US Dance of Death version of the film, and as such, with the film altering of the Saint-like character to be a detective, I’d be very curious to see the French original, where I am sure the Saint’s motivation would be rather different. Still, Dance of Death is a passable time killer with enough twists and turns (and red herrings) to satisfy most mystery fans.
Thanks to Tanner at the Double-O-Section for help with this review.
Thursday, 26 November 2009
Starring: Simon Dutton, Vince Edwards, Günther Maria Halmer, Arielle Dombasle, Gérard Hérold, Christoph M. Ohrt, Manfred Lehmann, Donald Arthur, Alexandra Kazan
Music: Günther Fischer
Based on characters created by Leslie Charteris
Now this is more like it! So far I haven't been too impressed with this six tele-movie Saint series. I liked The Brazilian Connection for the rapport between The Saint (Simon Dutton) and Inspector Teal (David Ryall), but the others have been pretty limp. However, Wrong Number is a good one and it is a legitimate spy story to boot.
This episode is set in Berlin in the summer of 1989, just months before the Berlin Wall came down. And in that way, this show is a fascinating time capsule. There is still East and West Berlin, and a small amount of Cold War tension, but really you can tell the stern opposition between the two sides has thawed. Although the 'wall' is a prominent part of the story -- it acts more as a landmark than a barrier. In fact, there seems to be very little difficulty for Simon Templar to travel from East to West. In fact, that's how the episode begins, with Templar crossing at a check-point into the American sector.
From there he drives to the Hotel Intercontinental and checks into his usual suite - room 432. Before Templar has even had a chance to unpack the phone rings. The voice on the other end says, 'You're blown. Meet me at Conrads,' and then rings off. Templar is confused and rings down to reception to enquire about the call. The reception girl says that there was no call for him but a call for room 423 -- she obviously put the call through to the wrong room.
Templar's not the type to sit on his hands and he immediately goes to investigate room 423. When he gets there, he finds the door ajar, and the occupant of the room -- a Mr. Anton -- dead in his bath tub. Templar immediately calls the police.Templar can't just leave it at that though. He has to dig deeper and makes his ways to Conrads, which just happens to be a coffee-shop / bar. There he sits, watching and waiting. When Templar begins puffing on a very distinctive white pipe, which happened to belong to Mr. Anton, and which Templar discretely removed from the hotel room, one of the patrons becomes visibly agitated and leaves the coffee shop. Templar follows and a good thing too, as two goons are waiting outside for the contact. They open fire. Templar steers the contact into his car and races off. The goons follow in hot pursuit. Soon, the two cars racing through the streets of Berlin catch the attention of the local police and they too join the pursuit.
The car chase grinds to a halt in a dead-end street. The goons crash and the driver is killed. The second goon manages to escape. Meanwhile the police have Templar and his contact bailed up -- that is until the contact, Otto Schmidt (Günther Maria Halmer) reveals himself to be an operative for an organisation called A.T.L.A.S. -- which stands for Anti-Terrorism Liaison Agency Service. The police release them.Herr Schmidt takes Templar to meet the heads of A.T.L.A.S., where he is recruited -- or more correctly offers to assist them in their investigations. It appears that a known terrorist Peter Lang is at work in the area and he is in the midst of a major arms deal. Co-incidentally at this time, US General Donovan (Vince Edwards) is innitiating a program whereby US nuclear warheads are transported from West Berlin back to the United States for decommissioning.
Of course I can't really know how Simon Dutton felt about his stint as the Saint, but to my mind, he was in someways better off than some of the previous actors who played the character. Rather than being studio bound, Dutton got to travel all over the world to make this series -- France for The Blue Dulac, Australia for Fear in Fun Park and Germany for this installment, Wrong Number. But by the same token, Dutton didn't have the safety net of a Saintly seasoned and consistent crew working on each of the movies. Each country seemed to supply its own director, crew and supporting actors, which means the series is wildly uneven. But as I mentioned at the top, this is a good entry in the series -- possibly the best, and Dutton gives another likable performance.
Spy-spotters may recognise Vince Edwards as General Donovan. In the sixties, Edwards played super-agent Charles Hood in the polished but disappointing Hammerhead, based on the novel by James Mayo.
If I had to recommend just one of the Simon Dutton Saint series, this would be the one, and that is not just because it has a rather heavy espionage based plot. Wrong Number has the best story and best acting out of the six episodes as well, which makes it a clear winner. It is also interesting watching the last throes of the Cold War play out in their actual locations.
More Simon Dutton as The Saint
• The Brazillian Connection.
• The Software Murders.
• The Blue Dulac.
• Fear in Fun Park.
Wednesday, 25 November 2009
Country: United States / United Kingdom
Director: James Frawley
Starring: Andrew Clarke, Kevin Tighe, Christopher Marcantel, George Rose, Holland Taylor, Caitlin Clarke, Ben Vereen
Music: Mark Snow
Based on characters created by Leslie Charteris
The Saint in Manhattan is a Saint for the Magnum PI generation. Actually, its probably a few years too late for Magnum, but this pilot episode for a proposed new series has the same smirk and high living like Magnum, and added to that, Clarke has a moustache of Tom Selleck proportions. Clarke cops a bit of flack for keeping the 'mo', but the Saint has had a moustache before. As always, though, in this day and age, any actor who takes on the role of the Saint is compared to Roger Moore, who was clean shaven. I must admit I like Andrew Clarke as an actor and he has been in some good productions – ANZACS springs to mind. But in the work I have seen he has always played a pretty down to earth Australian, so seeing him as a wealthy, womanising high roller, was a stretch for me. And maybe because I know him from his other work, I found his accent flittered between a fake Etonian and his natural Australian accent.
The show opens with a message sent from Special Branch, Scotland Yard to Inspector John Fernack of the New York Police advising him of the imminent arrival of Simon Templar (Andrew Clarke) in New York. Fernack rushes to the airport and watches as the passengers disembark from the Concorde that has just arrived from England. A stewardess walks up to Fernack and hands him a ticket folder, which he opens. Inside in Simon Templar’s calling card.
Meanwhile Templar is being chauffeured by helicopter to a heliport, where his car – with the number plate ST 1 – awaits him. It appears that times have changed, and Templar now drives a very sleek black Lamborghini, which he drives back to his palatial penthouse apartment in downtown Manhattan.
But soon Templar is bored and complaining of malaise to his butler, Woods (George Rose). His restlessness doesn’t last long with the arrival of a letter from an old flame, Margo. Margo also happens to be a world class ballerina. She is in New York to perform Sleeping Beauty, but she has been receiving strange threats. She requires a bodyguard and asks Templar to help out, which he gladly does.
As a promotional gimmick, during the opening night ballet performance, Margo is to wear the multi-million dollar ‘Empress of Austria’ diamond tiara, which belongs to two of the leading patrons of the ballet, Walter and Fran Grogan. After the show, Margo hands back the tiara only to discover it is a fake. As they search backstage, in the tiara’s original carry case there is a calling card – the Saint’s! So Templar is the prime suspect for the theft.
The Saint in Manhattan is essentially a formulaic whodunit, with the Saint investigating all the suspects in between sparring bouts with Inspector Fernack. The story itself may be nothing special, but the dialogue is pretty witty. It is a pity that Clarke doesn’t have the panache or charm to deliver the lines with the sly wink that they deserve.
As I mentioned at the top, The Saint in Manhattan was the pilot episode for a prospective series, but it would be my guess that the show didn’t generate the response and enthusiasm expected and no further episodes were made at the time. However the Saint would return two years later, but with Simon Dutton taking over as Simon Templar.
It’s interesting to compare the two. The Saint in Manhattan had pretty high production values, but was let down by Andrew Clarke’s performance. No maybe that’s unfair – let’s just say that Clarke was miscast in the role. Whereas the following Saint series, in Dutton they had a great Saint, but at times the series looked gritty where it should have looked glamorous and jet-setting. And some of the plots were just clunky, without any wit or panache.
I have probably made The Saint in Manhattan sound absolutely terrible. It is not, but it is what it is…one hour of network television. You can see the same formulaic storytelling in any mystery show of the same era (and probably many from today too).
A special 'thank you' to Tanner from the Double-O-Section for help with this review.
Tuesday, 24 November 2009
Country: United Kingdom
Director: Jeremy Summers
Starring: Ian Ogilvy, Judy Geeson, Olga Karlatos, Maurice Roeves, Mona Bruce, Marino Mase’, Richard Wyler, Moray Watson
Music: John Scott
Brian Dee, Irving Martin
Based on characters created by Leslie Charteris
The Judas Game was the first broadcast episode of The Return of the Saint, and in many ways signified the direction the series was going to take. This ‘Saint’ lives in a complicated, political world, and while in many ways he is still a knight in shining armour, he is also a hardened professional – almost like a mercenary. In this episode Templar is coerced by M.I.6 into undertaking a dangerous mission. The white knight element is still there, because Templar has had a relationship with the girl he is sent to rescue, but also it is suggested that Templar is the best man for the job – which in fact suggests his skills are better than all of the agents on the M.I.6 payroll.
The Judas Game starts on a cliff-face and Simon Templar (Ian Ogilvy) is doing some mountaineering with his climbing partner, Algernon (Richard Wyler). As Algernon climbs ahead, and set the safety rope for Templar to climb on, he does not secure a piton correctly. Templar, applying his weight to the rope, nearly falls as the piton is pulled from the rock. Angry at Algernon’s life threatening incompetence, Templar chases Algernon up the mountain solo, without a safety rope. When he catches up with him on a ledge and demands an explanation, Algernon simply pulls out an identification card. He works for M.I.6 and the ‘mishap’ was a test to see if Templar had the skills for a particular mission. It seems he does.
The dual heads of M.I.6 are Buckingham (Moray Watson) and Dame Edith (Mona Bruce) and they want Templar to rescue one of their intelligence agents, Selma Morell (Judy Geeson) who was captured by the Albanian Secret police while she was holidaying in Yugoslavia. Morell is a specialist in counter-insurgency, and it is feared that if she breaks under torture, then armed with her knowledge, Albanian terrorists will start popping up all around the globe and committing acts of barbarism. It appears that she is now being held in an inpenetratable fortress, with a mountainous cliff face on one side. Templar’s climbing skills are required to free Morell.
One of the common plot devices in stories like this, where a free agent is called in to do work for the professionals, is that the outsider is used because there is a mole in the service and security has been compromised, and I am pleased to say that hoary old chestnut is used again here. From the moment Templar begins his mission, the whole Albanian army is on his tail – but not for one second does this seem like a problem for Templar. But this is not Rambo – Templar does not take on the army with a machine gun. Naturally he outwits them.
With the opening scenes of treachery on a mountain, the story bears more than a passing resemblance to The Eiger Sanction, and then now with the rescue from a mountain top fortress, the story passes into Alistair MacLean territory with nods to both Where Eagles Dare and The Guns of Navarone. But they are just ‘nods’, because after laying down that elaborate groundwork, highlighting Templar’s climbing skills, he actually penetrates the inpenetratable fortress in a food delivery van.
It’s bizarre seeing Judy Geeson in a role like Selma Morell. During the sixties, Geeson almost made a career out of playing ditzy blonde dolly birds in films like Hammerhead and To Sir With Love. Here she is required to play a tough, self-reliant and intelligent woman, and I must confess I found it hard to believe. In my mind, her screen persona is so intrinsically linked with the light dolly birds, that I could accept her in a serious role – but hey, that may be my baggage!
Eurospy fans may recognise Richard Wyler in the role of Algernon. Whyler had a brief stint as a leading man in the sixties with roles in FX-18 Superspy, Dick Smart 2.007 and Jess Franco’s The Seven Secrets of Sumuru. Here though, his role is little more than a silent, scouring henchman – for the good guys, no less.
The Judas Game is a pretty slick package, with some nice location footage filmed in Monte Argentario in Italy. The action sequences too, are expertly handled, with some quasi Bondian fireworks, where Templar opens the gate to the inpenetratable fortress with a bazooka. Yes, this episode would get low marks for realism, but would score high marks for adventure and fun. And that’s probably just the way it should be.