Apr 162012
 
Reviewed by Michael Shonk


CITY OF ANGELS. NBC / Universal, 1976. Roy Huggins Public Art Production. Cast: Wayne Rogers as Jake Axminster, Elaine Joyce as Marsha Finch, Philip Sterling as Michael Brimm, Clifton James as Lt. Quint. Created by Stephen Cannell and Roy Huggins. Executive Producer: Jo Swerling Jr.

CITY OF ANGELS Wayne Rogers

    From the opening theme to the star and the writing, City of Angels tried to give us a believable 30’s hardboiled PI and occasionally succeeded, as in “The November Plan,” but more often failed.

    For example, listen to Oscar winner Nelson Riddle’s theme here.

    A nice theme but it fails to establish the 1930’s setting or mood. The soundtrack made heavy use of the Universal sound library, so far too often we heard generic background music that also failed to fit the time period. Though in a couple of episodes such as “Say Goodbye to Yesterday” the background music was a positive asset to the story.

CITY OF ANGELS Wayne Rogers

    The writers tried to take advantage of the volatile period of American history that was the 1930s. To establish setting the series often name-dropped (Harry Cohn of Superior Pictures aka Columbia Pictures) and used the politics of the period as the backdrop for the drama. But in the end the episodes were typical TV mysteries, rushed from lack of production time with clunky dialog, plot holes and often lacking in logic.

    Much like Philip Marlowe, Jake spent much of his time dealing with the problems of the rich. Jake began as a mercenary Sam Spade wannabe who enjoyed the thrill of fighting the system, then during the series changed into a hard luck James Rockford type.

    Jake had only two friends in the world. Marsha, who he let use his outer office rent-free for her switchboard service used by prostitutes, and Mike, his attorney with an office across the hall. He either was beat up by or bribed his police contact Lt. Quint.

CITY OF ANGELS Wayne Rogers

    To be a hardboiled PI, a character that is often unlikable, you need an actor with certain type of appeal. Actors such as Bogart, Mitchum, Garner and Janssen could make you like the character no matter how the character behaved. Wayne Rogers never pulled it off despite coming close in “The November Plan.”

    The costumes, transportation, and locations were generally a plus, but by the end of the series it seemed as if they were running out of 1930s-like exterior locations.

    From the beginning, Roy Huggins was credited as producer with Philip DeGuere, Jr. as executive story consultant until the episode “A Sudden Silence.” The credits for the rest of the series episodes changed to Philip DeGuere, Jr. and William F. Phillips as the producers instead of Huggins. Perhaps it is time to consider the influence of the late Philip DeGuere, Jr. (Simon and Simon) on the series.

    City of Angels aired Tuesday at 10pm opposite ABC’s Marcus Welby (or Family in March/April) and CBS’s Switch. The ratings began well but faded fast.

        EPISODE GUIDE:

“The November Plan.” Part 1 (2/3/76), Part Two (2/10/76), Part Three (2/17/76). Teleplay by Stephen J. Cannell. Story by Roy Huggins and Stephen J. Cannell. Directed by Don Medford. Guest Cast: Diane Ladd, Meredith Baxter Birney, Laurence Luckinbill, Lloyd Nolan, Dorothy Malone, Jack Kruschen, Steve Kanaly * Jake’s client has been framed for murder of her boyfriend after they witness a fight at a formal party. Jake discovers the disappearance of a Pulitzer prized reporter ties into the murder and involves some of the most powerful corrupt people in Los Angeles. Very loosely based on a real event.

“The Parting Shot.” (2/24/76). Teleplay by Philip DeGuere Jr. Story by John Thomas James (Roy Huggins). Directed by Sigmund Neufeld Jr. Guest Cast: Donna Mills, Corinne Michaels, Stefan Gerasch * Rich man hires Jake to discover if his wife is cheating on him. Before Jake finds out anything his client is shot and in a coma. The man assumed to be the wife’s lover is arrested. The daughter who hates her step-mom likes Jake. The solution to the shooting reminds one of John Dickson Carr.

“A Lonely Way To Die.” (3/2/76). Written and Directed by Douglas Heyes. Guest Cast: Belinda J. Montgomery, William Smith, Lynn Carlin * A predictable mystery features a popular ex-governor who wants to be President but has a secret. His rebellious daughter blames him for her mother’s mental problems. Jake gets involved when a girl he was trying to help turns up dead. The ending wants to be cynical but instead was a lame cop out.

“The House on Orange Grove Avenue.” (3/16/76). Teleplay by Stephen & Elinor Karpf. Story by John Thomas James. Directed by Robert Douglas. Guest Cast: Susan Howard, Susan Sullivan, Lara Parker * Jake is hired by two sisters publicly believed to have murdered one’s husband and his mistress seven years ago. The episode drowns in false cynicism with a weak pointless ending.

“Palm Springs Answer.” (3/23/76). Teleplay by Merwin Gerard. Story by John Thomas James. Directed by Allen Reisner. Guest Cast: Signe Hasso, Terry Kiser, George Gaynes * Sweet naïve mother hires Jake to find her good girl daughter, who is really a dancer with information about a murder with mob connections.

“The Losers.” (4/6/76). Teleplay by Gloryette Clark & John Thomas James. Story by John Thomas James. Directed by Barry Shear. Guest Cast: Marcia Strassman, Brett Halsey, Broderick Crawford * Loyal remake of Roy Huggins’ script for the TV Movie The Outsider minus the LSD subplot and visits to the L.A. nightclub scene (reviewed here on this blog). Jake is hired by a rich businessman to follow a girl he claims may be stealing from him.

“A Sudden Silence.” (4/13/76). Teleplay by Douglas Heyes. Story by Roy Huggins (not John Thomas James). Directed by Douglas Heyes. Guest Cast: Darleen Carr, Joel Fabian, Edward Winter * Young headstrong daughter of a rich conservative is involved with the anti-fascist movement growing on her college campus. She hires Jake to discover who is following her. Her boyfriend is murdered and the politics of the 30s plays a major role in the plot.

“The Castle of Dreams.” (4/20/76). Teleplay by Stephen J. Cannell. Story By Stephen J. Cannell and Philip DeGuere Jr. Directed by Robert Douglas. Guest Cast: James Luisi Veronica Hamel, Jack Kruschen * Marsha witnesses the kidnapping of one of her call girls who had just witnessed a murder. Jake goes nuts when Marsha is arrested and Quint hides her from lawyer Mike Brimm and Jake. This episode was more interested in establishing the relationship between the regulars than the mystery.

“Say Goodbye To Yesterday.”(5/4/76). Teleplay by Gloryette Clark. Story by John Thomas James. Directed by Jerry London. Guest Cast: G.D. Spradlin, Cassie Yates, Jack Colvin * A rich oil tycoon and his wife are in love. When she disappears, Jake is hired to find her. The trail leads to a Chinese Madame in Portland, a nightclub singer, a nun, and a murder Jake will solve for Quint.

“The Bloodshot Eye.” (5/11/76). Written by Philip DeGuere, Jr. Directed by Hy Averback. Guest Cast: Geoffrey Lewis, Charles Tyner, Robert Donner * Insurance agency hires Jake to confirm the reports of a death of a man in New Mexico. Jake ends up caught up in the corruption of a small New Mexico town.

“Match Point.” (5/18/76). Written by Richard Boeth. Directed by Ralph Senensky. Guest Cast: Dana Wynter, Renee Jarrett, Victor Holchak * A man is killed during a tennis tournament where Jake provided security. The political changes in Europe play an important role.

    The series is currently not available on official DVD or download. Source of episodes: Thomas Film Classics

 Posted by at 7:33 pm
Apr 102012
 

THE LAWBREAKERS. MGM, 1961. Jack Warden, Vera Miles, Ken Lynch, Arch Johnson, Robert H. Harris, Robert Douglas, Jay Adler, Robert Bailey. Theme & background music: Duke Ellington. Screenwriters: Paul Monash & W.R. Burnett. Director: Joseph M. Newman.

THE LAWBREAKERS Asphalt Jungle

   Among several other sources, IMDB says that this film was cobbled together from two episodes of The Asphalt Jungle, a tough, hardboiled crime series shown on ABC in 1961 as a summer fill-in. Combing through the list of episodes and their descriptions, however, the only matchup that fits is that of a single episode, “The Lady and the Lawyer,” the second in the series (9 April 1961).

   Some material may have come from the previous episode, to help establish the characters, but there’s only one real story line, that of a big name attorney who works for the local syndicate on the side. He also has money problems. Trying to support a wife and family as well as a mistress (Vera Miles) extends his resources too far – the lady has expensive tastes – and when desperation sets in, well, that’s where the story begins.

   Jack Warden plays the guy on the other side, a cop, and an honest one. Promoted to Commissioner when his predecessor can’t stand the heat, he proves to be formidable force against crime. He succeeds easily enough in this film, but I’ll have to come up with the rest of the series on DVD before I can tell you how he fares from here on out.

THE LAWBREAKERS Asphalt Jungle

   As a femme fatale, Vera Miles is beautiful and alluring enough, but (to my mind) rather too icy cold to compare with the more sultry ladies who often appeared in the noir films of the 50s and 60s – more of a Grace Kelly type than an Audrey Totter or Marie Windsor. Not that she’s a pushover, by any means, not at all. You have to keep a close eye on women like this.

   There are several killings in the movie, served well by the black-and-white camera work, with one of the dead men being that of Bob Bailey’s character, the latter being one of the better players of Johnny Dollar on Old-Time Radio – he had one of the toughest voices to ever come from a man so slim. His part in The Lawbreakers may have been his longest roles in the movies, even though (sad to say) his character’s part ends so quickly.

   Overall, then, even though concocted somehow from a TV series, the film works well as a film, especially if you like your movies hardboiled and tough, which this movie is, except when Jack Warden breaks down a delivers a sort of sappy soliloquy to the press in a plea for some cooperation. He meant well, but I wish he hadn’t done it.

Note:   For more about The Lawbreakers, check out Mike Grost’s website, and the usual detailed analysis he does of all the movies he covers.

THE LAWBREAKERS Asphalt Jungle

 Posted by at 6:35 am
Apr 072012
 
Reviewed by Michael Shonk


I DEAL IN DANGER. 20th Century Fox, 1966. Compiled from the first four episodes of the TV series Blue Light. Robert Goulet, Christine Carère, Horst Frank, Donald Harron, Werner Peters, Eva Pflug, John van Dreelan. Written by Larry Cohen. Produced by Buck Houghton. Directed and Executive Produced by Walter Grauman.

    For those who visit here just to read the articles and reviews, but don’t read the comments, you are missing out on half the fun. Why it is like buying Playboy just to read the articles and ignore the pictures!

    During the comments for my original look at the TV series Blue Light, David Bushman of the Paley Center mentioned a detailed look at the series in Television Chronicles, featuring interviews with Larry Cohen and Walter Grauman.

    Randy Cox was kind enough to send me a copy. I had originally updated the comments for the original Blue Light review, but thought an update and review of the movie made from the first four TV series episodes might be of some interest.

    It began with Walter Grauman:

    “I was a World War II veteran, a pilot in World War II in Europe, and flew B-25 bombers, and I was always fascinated with the war. I don’t know what gave me the idea, I don’t remember at this point, and I don’t know why I liked the title Blue Light. I just did.”

    Cohen wrote a screenplay for the Mirisch company (Return of the Seven) and was at the Walter Mirisch’s office when he met Grauman, who was close friends with Mirisch. They started to discuss ideas for a TV series. Grauman mentioned his idea for WWII spies and the title Blue Light. It was Cohen who then came up with the format of an American turncoat who goes to Germany, poses as a Nazi sympathizer who broadcasts against the Allies, but was really a double agent.

    There were discussions about the title. Cohen at one time suggested the title 13 Rue Madeleine after the Fox movie with James Cagney. But in the end it was decided to keep the title Blue Light.

    Walter Grauman and Robert Goulet were represented by the same agency, CMA. As Grauman explained, “When Bill Self, then the head of Fox was interested in the show, CMA said, ‘Look, we can package it with a name’…”

    William Self liked the idea and the star, and he sold it to ABC.

    Cohen added that Goulet had a development fund to have scripts written for him to star. It was Goulet’s company that paid Cohen to write the pilot script. Everyone, including ABC, liked the script. ABC was so pleased with the script they bought the series, a seventeen episode commitment, before the pilot was even filmed.

    The first episode, despite a trade paper critic’s raves about the on location shooting, was shot in Los Angeles. The filming in Germany began with the next episode.

    Larry Cohen remained in Los Angeles and at the Fox studio lot, while Walter Grauman headed up the film company to film in Germany. Cohen explained why he did not go to Germany. It was Christmas time and Cohen did not want to leave his family.

    [As a brief aside, notice the speed this was made. Shooting began in December and first episode aired January 12th.]

    Cohen described the writing process for the series, “So, I started the show, and I wrote most of the stories. I wrote outlines for all the stories in the show and gave them out to writers for the writers to write the scripts, but it turned out that most of the scripts weren’t very good, and I ended up having to rewrite them anyway. So it got down to finally just writing all of the scripts myself. Some of them I credited to friends of mine, people I wanted to give a job to.”

    Cohen was having fun wandering the Fox lot and more important to him, “because everything I wrote they shot.” There was no time to change the scripts.

    Walter Grauman also fondly remembers the series, but he was having much less fun. Shooting in Germany gave the series a realistic and unique look compared to the other series on the air. But there were production problems. While the Germany crew was good, art director Rolf Zehetbauer would later win an Oscar for Cabaret, they were slower than Hollywood crews.

    Grauman explained his problem, “There were two executives at Fox, and one on the show. … They had a ball in Germany. I was shooting 17, 18, hours a day, and Larry was writing the scripts here and sending them (to us). There was no fax in that day, so we just got them by air (mail).

    “We started in midseason, and I was falling behind. With each show I’d fall maybe two days, a day behind, and I could see that what was going to happen was that we were going to get to a point where we wouldn’t make our air date.

    “I wanted to bring the company back, that was the primary reason, plus the fact that I was exhausted and couldn’t keep doing one show after another. But the guys that were there, the Fox representatives, they loved having the production over there because it was a playground for them.”

    Finally Grauman sent a cable to William Self of Fox saying that he would bring the company home or come home without them. The next day the Blue Light company was headed back to Los Angeles.

    The article praised the acting ability of Robert Goulet. Cohen, whom more than once called Goulet a very nice guy, said, “…I guess he was just too good looking for the audience to get past the good looks to the person behind it and all…But he was a good actor. I thought he acted the part well.”

    The character of Suzanne Duchard was mentioned in passing and nothing was said about the actress Christine Carère.

    There was an unexpected problem caused by one of the guest cast when everyone involved with the series received a health warning from the Health Department. Werner Peters (Heinrich Elm (“The Last Man” and “Return of Elm”) had tuberculosis and would die from the disease.

    The ratings were never good. ABC tried the series in other time slots and changed the opening at least three times, but nothing worked and the show was cancelled after its order of 17 episodes.

    The article also discusses I Deal in Danger.

    Bill Groves wrote, “In the 50s and 60s, it was not uncommon for half-hour TV episodes to be thus edited together as features and make the rounds of the drive-in circuit, and the practice is still utilized today (1996) to some extent for foreign release.

    Larry Cohen explained, “It was my idea when I wrote them to be able to put four shows together and make a feature. I told them, ‘Let me write four shows continuous, and that way you can make a feature picture out of them for syndication or for Europe or something.’ I didn’t realize they were going to release the picture theatrically in America, which they did. It actually played on a double-feature with a James Garner movie in New York called Mister Buddwing, and we were the second feature. It played all over New York. I was surprised. And the audience was a little pissed off, too, because some people came out of the theaters saying, ‘Hey, we saw this on television.’…”

    So how was I Deal in Danger? It has the look and budget of the The Man from U.N.C.L.E. theatrical films also put together from TV episodes. I Deal with Danger was more seamless than the usual such attempt and is worth watching on DVD.

    Cohen’s attempt to write four half hour episodes and turn it into an hour and thirty-three minute movie was more noticeable when it aired as half hour episodes than as a movie. When I watched the series I wondered if this was an early arc series where each story lead into the next. I also wonder if Blue Light lost viewers who agree with those today who prefer their stand-alone episodic series versus the time investment that is required for a multi-part series.

    The movie version is edited from the first four episodes (“The Last Man,” “Target David March,” “The Fortress Below,” and “The Weapon Within”). Most notably missing was the main plot of “Target David March” where a British officer decides on his own to send in three Commandos to assassinate March. It was not missed.

    Until the series is available, I Deal with Danger is a worthy substitute.

            Source:

Television Chronicles: Issue 5 (April 1996). Rubber Chicken Publication. Managing Editor/Writer: Bill Groves. Publisher: Donovan Brandt.

 Posted by at 6:55 pm
Apr 062012
 
FIRST YOU READ, THEN YOU WRITE
by Francis M. Nevins


   When stuck for something to write about, browse the Web. I did that recently and discovered on the Bernard Herrmann Society website an excellent item to kick off this column with, an interview with composer Fred Steiner (1923-2011), whose main claim to fame for mystery lovers is that he wrote the theme for the Perry Mason TV series, which you may listen to here.

   Here, laboriously transcribed by my own fingers, is what he had to say on that subject in the 2003 interview:

   “A lot of people have asked me about it. ‘How did you come up with that theme?’ I really don’t know. I found some old sketches for the Perry Mason theme, some old pencil sketches, and they have no resemblance to what I finally came up with. So it’s a complete mystery to me.

   “I think the first time we recorded it, of all things, was in Mexico City, because of union complications. The original title was ‘Park Avenue Beat.’ And the reason for that was, I conceived of Perry Mason as this very sophisticated lawyer, eats at the best restaurants, tailor-made suits and so on, and at the same time he’s mixed in with these underworld bad guys, murder and crime.

   “The underlying beat is R&B, rhythm and blues, and for the crazy reason that in those days, and even to this day, jazz or R&B is always associated with crime. You look at those old film noir pictures, they’ve always got jazz going for some reason or other. It’s like every time you see a Nazi they play Wagner.

   “[The theme is] a piece of symphonic R&B. That’s why it’s called ‘Park Avenue Beat,’ but since then it’s been known as the Perry Mason theme… It’s always been used. It’s gone through several changes depending on the timing, because they would change the main titles year in and year out.”

   During the late Fifties and early Sixties when Perry Mason was in prime time, the head of the CBS west coast music department was Lud Gluskin (1898-1989) and the best-known composer working for him of course was Herrmann (1911-1975), whose ominous music was heard frequently in the episodes from the first two years of the series.

   Steiner went on to tell of another Herrmann-Mason connection:

   “I heard a story from Bernard Herrmann that at one point somebody said that they were tired of the theme and could we get something else. So Lud Gluskin got Benny to write the theme, but then the story is that Benny Herrmann said ‘What do you want me to write a theme for? Steiner’s is perfectly good.’ So they relented, went back to my theme. They never changed it.”

   Listening to Steiner’s words as Perry Mason would listen to the testimony of a witness against his client, do you detect the ambiguity I do? If Steiner were on the stand and you were cross-examining him, wouldn’t you ask the same question I would?

   “Mr. Steiner, do you know whether Herrmann actually wrote a new theme for the series before he persuaded his bosses that they didn’t need one?”

   Steiner died last June so the answer may never be known. But if he had replied that Herrmann did indeed write such a theme, wouldn’t you love to knew where it is? Or better still, to hear it?

   At least we can see Steiner and hear the interview on YouTube.

***

   From the Fifties let’s retreat to 1928, the year Fred Dannay and his cousin Manny Lee were writing The Roman Hat Mystery and creating Ellery Queen. How did they come up with the name?

   It’s been known for decades that Ellery was the name of Fred’s closest friend when he was growing up in Elmira, New York. How they settled on Queen was explained in an audio recording played at the Columbia University’s Queen centennial conference in 2005.

   The speaker is Patricia Lee Caldwell (1928- ), Manny’s oldest daughter, who had the story from her mother, Manny’s first wife, Betty Miller (1909-1974). Manny had married her in 1927 when she was 18 years old and he was 22. They were living in an apartment on Ocean Avenue in Brooklyn when their daughter was born.

   “My mother told me that the families used to get together a lot over the weekends… She said that one weekend cousin Fred and Manny were playing cards… I think she said it was bridge… This was … around the time when they were writing The Roman Hat Mystery, and they were trying to think of a name for their character and for their pseudonym.

   “They had already decided on Ellery … but they hadn’t decided on a last name. Well, they were playing cards, and my mother said that they suddenly looked at the picture cards and they said: ‘Yeah, wait, the picture cards. Maybe this will give us something.’

   “And they suddenly decided it would be Ellery King … but it didn’t seem quite right, and so they diddled around with it a little and they said: ‘No, Queen. Queen!’ The letter Q is extremely unusual in the English alphabet, and it would be much more memorable.”

   And which of us shall say that it wasn’t?

***

   Now let’s jump forward to a time when Ellery Queen was a household word, specifically to the fall of 1946 when the first volume of The Queen’s Awards brought together the prizewinners in the first annual story contest that Fred Dannay conducted for Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.

   Among the winners of the six second prizes — $250 apiece, which was a nice chunk of money in those days — was William Faulkner for “An Error in Chemistry” (EQMM, June 1946), the future Nobel laureate’s only original contribution to the magazine. (The two other Faulkner stories Fred bought were reprints.)

   From various Faulkner biographies we learn that he lost no time deriding both the magazine and the prize. “What a commentary,” he wrote his agent. “In France I am the father of a literary movement. In Europe I am considered the best modern American and among the first of all writers. In America I eke out a hack’s motion picture wages by winning second prize in a manufactured mystery story contest.”

   A true Southern gentleman, yes?

 Posted by at 11:58 pm
Apr 052012
 
A TV Series Review by Michael Shonk


HONG KONG. ABC / 20th Century Fox. 1960-61, 26 episodes at 60 minutes each. Cast: Rod Taylor as Glenn Evans, Lloyd Bochner as Chief Inspector Neil Campbell, Gerald Jann as Ling. Created by Robert Buckner. Executive Producer: William Self.

HONG KONG Rod Taylor

   The series currently is not available on DVD. I have viewed six episodes of the series. More are available in the collector-to-collector market.

   Hong Kong is another unjustly forgotten treasure from television’s past. The series, with its black and white film and quality talent behind the camera, created an atmosphere reminiscent of film noir.

   Among the writers were Jonathan Latimer (novel: Headed for a Hearse; film: The Glass Key, 1942; TV’s Perry Mason) and Sam Ross (Naked City). Herbert Hirschman (Perry Mason) produced many of the episodes.

HONG KONG Rod Taylor

   But it is the list of directors that is truly impressive, Walter Doniger (Bat Masterson), Paul Henreid (Alfred Hitchcock Presents), Ida Lupino (Have Gun Will Travel; The Hitch-Hiker, 1953), Fletcher Markle (Jigsaw, 1949), and Stuart Rosenberg (Cool Hand Luke, 1967).

   The cast performed well, with Rod Taylor (Time Machine, 1960) starring in his first TV series as Glenn Davis, hardboiled reporter and ladies man. Lloyd Bochner (Twilight Zone) was perfect in his breakout role as the very British Neil Campbell.

   A hidden treasure, all by itself, was the movie quality soundtrack done by future Oscar winner Lionel Newman. Take a listen.

   Sadly, ABC was determined to waste the quality series on a suicide mission against NBC’s ratings hit Wagon Train. The Indians had a better chance. However, ABC, 20th Century Fox and powerful sponsor Kaiser Industries (who also sponsored Maverick) strongly supported this series.

HONG KONG Rod Taylor

   In Broadcasting (4/11/60) ABC President Treyz claimed Hong Kong was the “most expensive weekly one-hour series in the history of ABC, and I believe, in the history of the television medium.”

   Hong Kong was about the adventures of World Wide News’ foreign correspondent, Glenn Davis. Glenn drove a great car, a white convertible. He was a close friend of British Chief Inspector Neil Campbell. In early episodes Glenn hung out at Tully’s, a restaurant run by Tully, a shady character with helpful contacts (Jack Kruschen).

   The ratings for the series were disappointing from the very beginning. Hong Kong‘s premiere episode (9/28/60) finished third in its time slot to NBC’S Wagon Train and CBS’ second place Aquanauts (later called Malibu Run). (Broadcasting, 10/3/60)

HONG KONG Rod Taylor

   Despite rumors Hong Kong was to be cancelled at mid-season, sponsor Kaiser Industries continued to support the series after some changes were made by the 20th Century Fox’s new Vice President in charge of TV Production, Roy Huggins (Maverick). (Broadcasting, 12/12/60)

   Glenn found a new place to hangout. Tully’s was replaced by the Golden Dagger, a supper club run by Ching Mei (Mai Tai Sing). The Golden Dagger featured popular singers (including Julie London, Anne Francis) for the occasional love interest of the week and added more music to the series.

   What didn’t change were the fistfights, mysteries, and romance to appeal to all types of viewers, but who continued to watch Wagon Train.

   ABC tried Hong Kong at 10pm (preempting Naked City) on January 25, 1961. The ratings were a success with a 42.1 share but lower than Naked City‘s usual 43 share. And the episodes at 7:30pm continued to fail in the ratings against the competition. (Broadcasting 1/30/61)

HONG KONG Rod Taylor

   Thousands protested when the series was cancelled. Hong Kong was a success in syndication. There is a fan site for Rod Taylor that has some more about the series and its cancellation.

   For those not wanting to bother with the link, the website’s highlight is a copy of a January 1962 gossipy styled article from newspaper syndicate NEA. It claimed the studio cancelled the series when “a big talent agency” that had brought the series to Fox raised their fees beyond what Fox was willing to pay. The “sponsor” was upset so Fox offered Rod Taylor a role in Follow the Sun. Taylor by then was in Italy shooting a movie for MGM.

   The article also mentions the plans for a sequel called Dateline: San Francisco. In the pilot, Glenn Davis relocates from Hong Kong to San Francisco. To get Rod Taylor to agree to star, the NEA article claimed, 20th Century Fox gave Taylor a contract for three theatrical films.

HONG KONG Rod Taylor

   The website also states that the archives of the University of Iowa Libraries has a copy “of the story for the pilot,” entitled “The Castle” that was written by Robert Blees and Dorothy Robinson (Hong Kong episode “With Deadly Sorrow”).

   In Broadcasting (2/19/62), Dateline: San Francisco was listed as a pilot for 20th Century Fox to be produced by Jules Bricken (Riverboat) and written by Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts (Mannix). Filming began February 12, 1962.

 Posted by at 10:07 pm
Mar 192012
 
A TV Review by Michael Shonk


PROBE. NBC / Warner Brothers, TV Movie, 21 February 1972. Cast: Hugh O’Brian, Elke Sommer, Burgess Meredith, Lilia Skala, Angel Tompkins and Sir John Gielgud. Created, written and produced by Leslie Stevens. Directed by Russell Mayberry.

PROBE Hugh O'Brian

   To view the opening credits on YouTube, click here.

   Probe remains one of my favorite TV Movie pilots. It would lead to the TV series Search (a series I will review once I track down all the episodes). While the series is not available in studio approved DVD, this TV Movie is available as a Warner Archive DVD on demand.

   Probe is a fine example of 70s TV, charming and entertaining, but when examined more closely, seriously flawed.

   Hugh O’Brian played field agent Hugh Lockwood, aka Probe One. He worked for World Securities Corporation, Probe Division (Programmed Retrieval Operations). The agency’s purpose was to search and recover any object or person that was missing. His boss was Director of Probe Control, V.C.R. Cameron, played by Burgess Meredith.

PROBE Hugh O'Brian

   Each field agent was equipped with new futuristic (for the 70s) gadgets. There was the mini-scanner that worked like a camera and allowed Probe Control to monitor the life signs of the agent and others.

   The scanner was magnetized so it could be attached to jewelry such as a ring or a pendant. Dental implants allowed the agent to communicate with Probe Control when talking aloud was not possible. Agents had a surgically implanted earpiece that allowed them to stay in contact with Probe Control (the earpiece could be temporarily disabled by a head cold).

PROBE Hugh O'Brian

   Probe Control was located in the basement of the World Securities Corporation building. There, several trained technicians, with the aide of huge computers, assisted the field agent and monitored for any problems.

   Probe Control could serve as translator for any foreign language, give directions, and help open safes. Senior technician Gloria Harding (Angel Tompkins) monitored medical telemetry. By measuring vital signs and the number of vital signs, Gloria could tell if a suspect was lying, how the agent was feeling, and if there was anyone hiding nearby to spring a trap on the agent.

   The TV Movie began with an action scene with Lockwood rushing through gunfire to save a kidnapped political official. That solved, his next case involved the missing Entourage Diamond Collection last seen in Nazi hands.

   Lockwood heads to Europe to talk to the woman who was the last person known to see the diamonds. At the client’s request, Chief Diamond Appraiser Harold Streeter (Sir John Gielgud) accompanied Lockwood to confirm the diamonds when found was genuine. There, Lockwood met the woman’s daughter Uli (Elke Sommer) for the required love interest.

PROBE Hugh O'Brian

   The search for the diamonds had plenty of twists, action, and even humor; Mom disappears, suspicious fellows lurk in the background, Nazis, fights, traps, and Lockwood trying to seduce willing Uli with Probe Control objecting in his ear. (My favorite line came from Gloria reacting to Lockwood verbally seducing Uli, “Do we have to listen to this?”)

   What made this movie fun and special were the gadgets and banter between hero Lockwood, overprotective Cameron, and catty Gloria. The actual story and field scenes were bland and forgettable. O’Brian seemed bored, and the chemistry between O’Brian and Sommer was nonexistent. Sadly, Sir John Gielgud was wasted in this his first TV Movie (TV Guide, February 12, 1972).

PROBE Hugh O'Brian

   In the Los Angeles Herald Examiner’s “TV Weekly” (October 15,1972), Hugh O’Brian discussed what he thought was wrong with the pilot.

   “Probe Control is a wonderful gimmick,” he said, “Yes, it’s a great tool. But the FBI doesn’t use a gun until it must. The pilot made me too much the puppet. Now, I’m in command. But there’s to be still less emphasis on Probe Control. We’ve all agreed on that – the network and Warner’s – everybody.”

   That quote is a valuable lesson to anyone interested in television, nothing is ever allowed to upstage the star.

   The answer to how wise such change was must wait for our look at the series, but without Probe Control this would have been just another TV PI movie, and a boring one at that.

 Posted by at 1:04 am
Mar 122012
 
MAKE A LIST:
American TV Series with Female Licensed PI’s
by Michael Shonk


   This is a list of the female licensed PI’s featured in American TV series only. We will save the amateurs such as Murder She Wrote ’s Jessica Fletcher, female spies such as Mrs. Smith in Mr. & Mrs. Smith, and female cops such as Samantha Spade in Without a Trace for other lists.

       THE LIST:

HONEY WEST (ABC 1965-1966). Based on a series of books by G.G. Fickling (Gloria and Forrest Fickling), the series starred Anne Francis as licensed PI Honey West. Honey West’s first television appearance was in Burke’s Law episode “Who Killed the Jackpot” (April 21, 1965).

FEMALE TV Private Eyes

MOST DEADLY GAME (ABC, 1970-1971) Yvette Mimieux played Vanessa Smith, one of three criminologists who worked together solving unusual murders.

CHARLIE’S ANGELS (ABC, 1976-1981) Charlie’s “angels” were female PIs Sabrina Duncan (Kate Jackson), Jill Munroe (Farah Fawcett), Kelly Garrett (Jaclyn Smith), Kris Munroe (Cheryl Ladd), Tiffany Welles (Shelley Hack), and Julie Rogers (Tanya Roberts).

FEMALE TV Private Eyes

REMINGTON STEELE (NBC, 1982-1987) PI Laura Holt (Stephanie Zimbalist) created a fictional male boss for her agency to attract clients who thought the idea of a female PI was too feminine. Then one day he walked in…

FEMALE TV Private Eyes

TUCKER’S WITCH (CBS, 1982-1983) Catherine Hicks as Mrs. Amanda Turker. PI and witch. See: http://mysteryfile.com/blog/?p=6805

PARTNERS IN CRIME (NBC, 1984) PI Raymond Caulfield left his agency to his ex-wives, proper brunette Carole Stanwyck (Lynda Carter) and fun loving blonde Sydney Kovak (Loni Anderson).

ME AND MOM (ABC, 1985) PI Kate Morgan (Lisa Eilbacher) solved crimes with her mom’s (Holland Taylor) help.

LEG WORK (CBS, 1987) Margaret Colin as former assistant district attorney turned PI Claire McCarron, who liked to live beyond her means in New York.

FEMALE TV Private Eyes

DIAMONDS (CBS Lste Night, 1987-1988) Married couple Christina Towne (Peggy Smithhart) and Mike Devitt (Nicholas Campbell) played PIs on a TV series. The series got cancelled and they got divorced. Later they decided to start their own PI agency.

SYDNEY (CBS, 1990) Sitcom starring Valerie Bertinelli as PI Sydney Kells.

BAYWATCH NIGHTS (Syndicated, 1995-1997) Ryan McBride (Angie Harmon) and Mitch Buchannon (David Hasselhoff) leave the beach to become PIs.

SNOOPS (ABC, 1999) PI agency owned by PI Glenn Hall (Gina Gershon). The staff featured Dana Plant (Paula Marshall), Roberta Young (Paula Jai Parker) and token guy Manny (Danny Nucci).

FEMALE TV Private Eyes

WILD CARD (Lifetime, 2003-2005) Zoe Busiek (Joey Fisher) teamed up with Dan Lennox (Chris Potter) as PIs for an insurance company. Rae Dawn Chong played PI Sophia Mason in the first season.

VERONICA MARS (UPN 2004-2006) (CW, 2006-2007) Veronica (Kristen Bell) was a student and part time PI in her father’s PI agency.

FEMALE TV Private Eyes

SEX DECOY (Fox Reality, 2009) Reality series with PI Sandra Hope. She and her operatives entrap cheating husbands for our viewing pleasure.

THE GOOD WIFE (CBS, 2009–present). Law drama. PI Kalinda Sharma (Archie Panjab) works for the law firm Lockhart Gardner.

CHARLIE’S ANGELS (ABC, 2011) Remake with new “angels,” Kate Prince (Annie Ilonzeh), Eve French (Minka Kelly), and Abby Sampson (Rachael Taylor).

       PI or Not PI:

KHAN (CBS, 1975) PI Khan (Khigh Dhiegh) was helped by his two college aged children, a son, and his criminologist student daughter Anna (Irene Yah-Ling Sun).

MOONLIGHTING (ABC, 1985-1989) Model Maddie Hayes (Cybill Shepherd) was horrified to discover she owned the Blue Moon detective agency. The agency employed one PI, David Addison (Bruce Willis). David and Maddie solved crimes and found ways to drive up each other’s blood pressure.

FEMALE TV Private Eyes

EYE TO EYE (ABC, 1985) PI Oscar Poole (Charles Durning) teams up with ex-partner’s young sexy daughter, Tracy Doyle (Stephanie Faracy).

TOTAL SECURITY (ABC, 1997) High-tech security firm with large staff including Jody Kiplinger (Debrah Farentino) and Ellie Jones (Tracey Needham).

V.I.P. (Syndicated, 1998-2002) Pamela Anderson plays Vallery Irons, the “Remington Steele” of bodyguards. While the public believes Vallery is the world’s greatest bodyguard, it is her staff that does all the work. The staff included ex-spy Tasha Dexter (Molly Culver), Nikki (Natalie Raitano) weapons expert, Kay (Leah Lail) computer expert, and Quick (Shaun Baker) marksman and ex-boxer.

FEMALE TV Private Eyes

THE HUNTRESS (USA, 2000-2001) Dorothy “Dottie” Thorson (Annette O’Toole) and her daughter, Brandi (Jordana Spiro) ran a bounty hunting business.

EYES (ABC, 2005) Harlan Judd (Tim Daly) ran a high-tech investigation firm. The female members of the staff included Nora Gage (Garcelle Beauvais), Meg Bardo (A.J. Langer), Leslie Town (Laura Leighton), and Trish Agermeyer (Natalie Zea).

   Did I miss anyone?

   I recommend the Thrilling Detective website as a good place to look, especially this page: http://www.thrillingdetective.com/tveyes.html

   Other sources include the usual “suspects”: IMDB.com, TV.com, and Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows, 1946-Present, by Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh (Ballantine, Ninth edition).

 Posted by at 11:13 pm
Mar 062012
 

LADY AGAINST THE ODDS Dol Bonner

LADY AGAINST THE ODDS. Made-for-TV movie, NBC, 20 April 1992. Crystal Bernard (Dol Bonner), Annabeth Gish, Rob Estes, Kevin Kilner, John Finn, Dan Castellaneta, Heather McAdam, Steven Flynn, Roy Thinnes, Polly Bergen, Barbara Luna. Based on the novel The Hand in the Glove, by Rex Stout. Director: Bradford May.

   The Hand in the Glove is one of the small handful of mysteries written by Rex Stout that did not include Nero Wolfe as a character, and I have to admit that I’ve never read it, perhaps for that very same reason. In fact there’s no doubt about it. I confess!

   While it may be true that as a devout Nero Wolfe fan – and I have been since I was 12 – I might not have missed anything by passing this one by, but looking back, I kind of wish that I hadn’t. At least I could talk intelligently about it, instead of what I am doing now, and I apologize. But I’ll fake it a little, and maybe not too many people will notice.

LADY AGAINST THE ODDS Dol Bonner

   For example. I do know that the book took place in New York circa 1937 (when the book was written) and the movie takes place in Los Angeles in 1943.

   And whereas in the book wealthy businessman P. L. Storrs (Roy Thinnes) hires female PI Dol Bonner to check out the charlatan who’s inveigling his way into his family, in the movie it’s a wartime buddy of their dead son who’s doing the same, and whom she’s asked to investigate.

LADY AGAINST THE ODDS Dol Bonner

   This is the kind of job that Dol and Sylvia Raffray, her partner in PI work, are equipped to do. They’re not ready for the big leagues, though, as they quickly discover when their client is found hanged from a tree behind his mansion. The killer used gloves to protect his hands; hence the title of the novel.

   The color photography is quite terrific, reproducing the period in wonderful detail – the clothing, the hairdos, the newspapers, the automobiles – all extremely well done. But there’s no spark to the tale. It may be that there are too many characters, and it takes a lot of time for the viewer to know who each of them are, and their relationships to each other. All of these characters seem to have known each other for a long time before the story begins. It takes the viewer a while to catch up.

LADY AGAINST THE ODDS Dol Bonner

   To be honest, and I’m sure you realize this, I’m talking about me. But I don’t believe the movie did all that well in the ratings, and assuming that it was intended to be a pilot for a possible series, it didn’t work, no matter how much money was spent on production.

   There’s no spark to the story, as I said before. I’ll lay some of the blame on the actors also. When you watch a movie and you see actors playing their roles, instead of being their roles, then you know that something is just not working.

 Posted by at 11:30 pm
Mar 032012
 
A TV Review by Michael Shonk


HUNTER.   CBS / Lorimar Production. 1977.   PILOT: (never aired)   Cast: James Franciscus as James Hunter. Guest Cast: Linda Evans, Ned Beatty. Written by William Blinn. Directed and Produced by Tom Gries. Executive Produced by Lee Rich and Philip Capice.   SERIES:   Cast: James Franciscus as Jim Hunter, Linda Evans as Marty Shaw, Ralph Bellamy as General Howard Baker. Created by William Blinn. Produced by Christopher Morgan. Executive produced by Lee Rich or Lee Rich and Philip Capice.

HUNTER James Franciscus

   The fifty-four minute pilot proposed series premise featured James Hunter as a man who had spent eight years in prison for a crime (fraud and bribery) he did not commit (a popular character trait in the 70s). He now wants to find the man who framed him, his former boss Mr. Ingersoll, and clear his name.

   The weekly series abandoned that premise, James Hunter is a rare books bookstore owner and spy, and Marty Shaw (the doomed prostitute in the pilot, played by Linda Evans) is now a famous model and spy.

   It is 1977 and the seeds of our distrust in the American government are growing. Spymaster General Baker is told to start a new covert agency of six agents. His first choice is retired “Agency” spy, now Santa Barbara (CA) bookstore owner, Jim Hunter. The unnamed agency’s purpose is to watch over any activity threatening the country be it from overseas or within our own government. Marty Shaw was another agent working for Baker.

   Hunter resigned from the “Agency” in 1969 because he disapproved of our side’s methods. He works alone or is assigned someone or to a “Control” in trouble. All episodes but two has Baker assigning Marty to assist. Marty also had her own assignments away from Hunter.

HUNTER James Franciscus

   Hunter and Marty’s relationship reminds one of Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin in Man from U.N.C.L.E.; both are talented capable spies on their own and together. But Hunter and Marty are also unmarried lovers who live in different parts of the country and openly shared a bed during assignments. The chemistry between Franciscus and Evans worked well. It is not a surprise that their chemistry was the only part of the pilot to survive.

   Of the two covers, Marty’s modeling was the most useful. The bookstore never played a significant role in any episode. But each episode had Hunter sitting at a desk in front of a wall of bookshelves when Baker would call and give Hunter his new assignment.

   The action took place in the United States, except for a flashback to Hunter’s days as head of operations in West Berlin (“The K Group”). Exotic locales did not play a role. Gadgets were not used. Everyone seemed to drive huge Oldsmobiles rather than the latest sports cars. The series featured the usual TV action of chases, fights and gunplay. The music by Richard Shores (Man from U.N.C.L.E.) was nothing special but set the right spy genre mood.

HUNTER James Franciscus

   Hunter was no lost gem, but a better than average TV spy series that deserves to be remembered. Some of the twists were worthy of the best of TV spy shows such as using a third mystery group interrupting business between the Americans and the Russians.

   Too often the series abandoned all logic such as when Hunter would learn someone is about to kill someone, and without bothering to phone a warning, Hunter would race off so he could arrive at the last moment to save the day.

   CBS picked up Hunter in 1976 to replace any early failures in the upcoming 1976-1977 fall schedule (Broadcasting 8/23/76). It would premiere February 18, 1977, Friday at 10pm (Eastern) opposite NBC’s Quincy and ABC’s Friday’s Movie.

          HUNTER Episode Guide:

PILOT. Hunter’s search for the man who framed him leads him to a 25th reunion of Ingersoll’s former military unit. While in the hotel underground parking lot Hunter escapes a deadly attack by a tank. Later he escapes an exploding room service cart, and falls for prostitute Marty Shaw. We see the recluse Ingersoll from the back only as he gave orders to his evil minions. In the end, a killer goes to jail and Hunter is no closer to Ingersoll.

“Bluebird Is Back.” Guest Cast: Edward Mulhare. An archenemy of Hunter’s, Bluebird is a killer who enjoys his work. He leaves a trail of victims that lead Hunter and Marty to a Russian plot to discredit the American atomic electric plant design.

“Mirror Image.” Guest Cast: Diana Muldaur. A Russian double of Hunter must fool Marty in a plan to assassinate General Baker and frame Hunter.

HUNTER James Franciscus

“Lysenko Syndrome.” Guest Cast: William Windom. Windom is a wonderfully over the top mad scientist. First they program an American agent to kill Hunter. Then they program Marty to, when learning Hunter is dead, kill her Uncle, an Admiral.

“The Hit.” Guest cast: Nehemiah Persoff. When a hitman dies during the car chase, Hunter switches wallets and takes his place. Now all Hunter has to do is find out who hired the hitman and who is the target.

“Costa Rican Connection.” Guest Cast: Donald O’Connor. After the murder of a witness for a Senate Committee looking into the connection between organized crime and the “GIA” (CIA), Hunter and Marty need to convince the last witness to testify.

“The K Group” (Part One). Guest Cast: Vic Morrow. Hunter and others want to know who killed the East German spy at an L.A. film festival.

“The K Group” (Part Two). Hunter, Marty and Baker must stop the rogue American agents from assassinating an American government official.

“Barking Dog.” Guest Cast: Robert Mandan. An American scientist demands ten million dollars in 48 hours or he will poison the southern California water supply. This episode even has a scene when the villain reveals all to a tied up Marty.

“Yesterday, Upon the Stair.” Guest Cast: David Wayne. Hunter is sent to help with a spy exchange involving his favorite spy teacher. Things go wrong during the exchange and both sides’ spies disappear, kidnapped by persons unknown.

HUNTER James Franciscus

“The Backup.” Guest Cast: Leif Erickson. An American agent disappears after his attempt to escort a Chinese defector to a safe house fails. Hunter is sent in to find the agent and get the defector back.

“The Hand Is Burning.” (Note: My DVD is missing opening titles. Title from TVTango.com). An American agent with information about African nation Chand is killed in Los Angeles. Hunter and Marty save the Republic of Chand, uncover political corruption, and find the killer.

“The Lovejoy Files.” Guest Cast: Sorrel Booke. A file meant for the President’s eyes-only is missing. A group agrees to ransom it, but when Hunter and a man from government archives arrive to pick it up, a third group steals it from them.

“UFM 13.”. Guest Cast: Cameron Mitchell. Hunter goes undercover to stop an American radical conservative group from using stolen plutonium to make an atomic bomb.

   Currently there is no official DVD available for Hunter. Warner Brothers took over Lorimar so they probably have the rights to the series. The show’s introduction can be seen on YouTube here, in French.

 Posted by at 8:16 am
Feb 252012
 
A TV Review by Michael Shonk


AWAKE. NBC. 20th Century Fox Television. “Pilot.” 01 March 2012, Thursday at 10pm (Eastern). Cast: Jason Isaacs as Detective Michael Britten, Laura Allen as Hannah, Dylan Minnette as Rex, Steve Harris as Det. Freeman, Wilmer Valderrama as Det. Vega, Cherry Jones as Dr. Evans, B.D. Wong as Dr. John Lee, Michaela McManus as Tara. Written and created by Kyle Killen. Directed By David Slade. Free sneak preview available at NBC.com, Hulu.com, iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, and other streaming and downloading services.

AWAKE - NBC 2012

   Detective Michael Britten (Jason Isaacs, Case Histories) was driving one night, his wife and son with him in the car. For reasons unknown the car goes off a cliff and crashes. Now Michael has two lives, one where his wife is alive and his son is dead, and the other where his son is alive and his wife is dead.

   We see him with his wife Hannah (Laura Allen, Terriers) who is trying hard to accept and move on from the death of their son. At work, his partner Det. Freeman (Steve Harris, The Practice) is reassigned and Det. Vega (Wilmer Valderrama, That 70′s Show) is made his new partner. His superiors force Michael to see therapist Dr Lee (B.D. Wong, Law & Order: SVU). His new case has him trying to catch a serial killer who poses for security cameras. Back home he falls asleep next to his wife.

AWAKE - NBC 2012

   He wakes alone. He walks down the hallway of his home and greets his very alive son. In this life, his wife is dead. Freeman continues to work with him and Vega remains a patrolman. His superiors force him to see therapist Dr. Evans (Cherry Jones, 24). The case here is a kidnapped child.

   The characters in the two worlds seem to be opposites: the wife versus the son, the inexperienced new partner versus the experienced partner, the gruff male shrink versus the sweet female shrink.

   Unexplainably, the crimes connect as Michael finds clues in one life that leads to the solution of the crime in his other life.

AWAKE - NBC 2012

   Each therapist tries to convince him that his or her world is the real one and that he needs to accept the death of the loved one in his “dream” world.

   Those who enjoy procedural TV drama should enjoy the double dose every week. Those who enjoy series with deeper mysteries running through the background will find much to speculate about.

   Why did he crash? Why did they find alcohol in his bloodstream after the crash when he hadn’t had a drink that night? Which life is real? Does either world exist beyond Michael?

AWAKE - NBC 2012

   Why did both of his partners have life changing events happen to them, yet see those events as they related to Michael? When Michael woke and could not find his wife or son, why did he freak out?

   Can Michael survive living two lives? Given a chance to live life with his wife and his son, Michael sees no reason to accept the death of either. Except his wife and son can’t move on and start a new life without Michael losing one of them.

   Time will tell how long show creator Kyle Killen (Lone Star) and the writers can keep this premise interesting, but this episode is worth watching.

AWAKE - NBC 2012

 Posted by at 11:38 pm

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