Killmaster Art by George Gross

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Mar 132015
 

When I was a teenager, I was semi-addicted to the “Nick Carter: Killmaster” paperback spy novels. Written by a vast army of ghost writers, the series chronicled the adventures of American AXE agent Nicholas Huntington Carter, codenamed “N3″ with a “Killmaster” rating, who routinely armed himself with a “stripped-down” Luger pistol he called Wilhelmina, a stiletto knife called Hugo, and a gas capsule named Pierre. He carried out missions around the world for his boss, David Hawk, in over 250 slim novels, published between 1964 and 1990 for Ace (later Jove) Books.

The Killmaster capers were generally action-packed, and liberally spiced with graphic sexual encounters that went far beyond anything I’d read in Ian Fleming. The quality of the individual novels varied widely, depending on which of the publisher’s many ghosts were at the typewriter, and a number of different artists contributed the lurid cover art over the run of the series.

Of these artists, my favorite was George Gross, an old hand at men’s adventure art, who had worked extensively for the old pulp magazines and the later, “men’s sweat” periodicals. He was the primary Carter cover artist from the late 1970’s and through the 80s (he also painted many covers for Warner Books’ “Avenger” series around the same time). Here are a few of his Carter covers, all featuring the same unnamed model….

A MAN CALLED SLOANE: "The Shangri-La Syndrome"

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Jan 122015
 

Well, we come at last to the final episode of A Man Called Sloane, “The Shangri-La Syndrome,” directed by none other than T.R. Sloane himself, Robert Conrad, and originally airing on the 22nd of December, 1979.

I wish I could say that the series went out on a high note, but “Syndrome” is, in every way, a seriously lackluster affair.

Sloane is investigating the theft of some top secret material from Doctor Karla Meredith’s (Daphne Reid) scientific institute. A meeting with one of her (young and pretty, ‘natch) researchers is interrupted by an intruder whom Sloane pursues. By the time Sloane gets back, she is dead of apparent old age. It turns out that Meredith is working with KARTEL and an ex-Nazi named (of course) Hans Kruger (Dennis Cole) to clone a South American dictator.

There are some interesting concepts in here – Kruger is being kept young by an age-reversing formula and must stay in a hot environment to avoid reverting his to his true age – but nothing is done with them. There’s only one gadget in this episode, and it’s rather pedestrian, too.

It’s a shame that the series came out when it did. NBC in 1979 was something of a creative wasteland, with network head Fred Silverman desperate to attract viewers to the floundering net. His approach to this was to program shows that were colorful, titillating, and, basically, stupid. This was the season of Supertrain, Buck Rogers In The 25th Century, Hello Larry and Pink Lady & Jeff.

It’s also unfortunate that the producers didn’t bother to actually give Conrad a character to play. Sloane was Conrad, basically, and was never shown to have any personal life, nor was there any backstory ever revealed for the character. In the pilot film – where the character was played by Robert Logan – Sloane was established as an art and antiques dealer, which at least provided him with a cover for his international travel, and provided a little color. This appears to have been forgotten by the time of the actual series. The character of Torque was badly used as well. A giant with a multi-purpose cybernetic hand should have been a lot more useful and interesting than he actually was. I don’t blame actor Ji-Tu Cumbuka, though. He simply wasn’t given anything much to do most of the time.

Anyway, it was fun re-visiting the series (again). I’m planning to finally review the pilot film, T.R. Sloane/Death Ray 2000 in the next week or so. Stay tuned!

A MAN CALLED SLOANE: "Architect of Evil"

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Jan 062015
 

I don’t know if it was because I was groggy and watching it at four in the morning, but I really enjoyed the penultimate episode of A Man Called Sloane, “Architect of Evil.” (Original air date: December 15th, 1979.)

Worthington Pendergast (Michael Pataki) is the titular architect, who has conceived a “perfect city” for KARTEL to build and rule in an undisclosed location. Who will construct – and ultimately, live in – this city? Well, Pendergast has a typically complicated and insane plan to solve that problem: using a ray projector that can increase the mass of objects, he intends to sink a ship carrying nuclear waste which will then contaminate a large portion of the West Coast of America. This will dispossess millions of people, who KARTEL (will somehow) then draft as slave labor to build their city.

Unfortunately for Pendergast, the unique “blue crystal” that makes the ray weapon work, has been stolen from his home safe along with his other valuables, by a cat burglar named Harry Helms (John Aprea), who has no idea what it is and thinks it’s worthless. Fortunately, UNIT had Pendergast under observation and caught the thief on film, so Sloane is able to track him down, and ultimately impersonate him (an impersonation which, as usual, isn’t very effective) in order to infiltrate Pendergast’s operation…

The story is nonsensical, but for some reason, it plays out pretty well. Pataki’s villain is suitably over-the-top, executing his own henchmen with sonic deathtraps and playing Bach’s tocatta and fugue in D minor on the organ to relieve stress. There’s a sequence set in a health club where burglar Helms attempts to kill Sloane in a manner highly reminiscent of the Shrublands scene in Thunderball, and an interesting – and unusual climax featuring Sloane, Torque, a helicopter, and a lot of soapsuds.

Well directed by veteran TV and B-movie (Cujo, Alligator) director Lewis Teague, “Architect of Evil” is a satisfyingly silly but entertaining hour of spy-fi adventure, and is probably one of the best in the series.

Only one more episode to go!

The Men From U.N.C.L.E.

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Jan 052015
 

Well, stills are starting to leak out from Warner Brothers’ new Man From U.N.C.L.E. film, directed by Guy Ritchie and due for an August release. I want to be excited about it, but so far, I’m not. The casting bugs me: Man Of Steel‘s Henry Cavill is playing Napoleon Solo, while The Lone Ranger‘s Armie Hammer assumes the role of Illya Kuryakin.

They’re both very “Hollywood” choices – big, beefy, square-jawed heroic-looking types… but that’s exactly the kind of actors that U.N.C.L.E. creators Sam Rolfe and Norman Felton didn’t want to play those roles. Rolfe & Felton specifically cast Robert Vaughn and David McCallum back in the day because neither of them were beefcake types. They wanted handsome men who were of normal stature, and not the stereotypical “action” sort of guys.

I’m also concerned that the movie is another unnecessary “origin” story, showing the two agents working together for the first time, with lots of obligatory friction, before U.N.C.L.E. (the organization) is founded. The film is set in the 60s, though, so that’s good.

Anyway, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it turns out okay…

A MAN CALLED SLOANE: "Lady Bug"

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Dec 232014
 

Episode ten (originally airing on December 8th, 1979) of A Man Called Sloane, “Lady Bug,” features more spy-fi gadgets than any other episode, including a gas-spewing silver dollar, a submersible automobile, a tape-recording wristwatch, a keyring that can give off electric shocks, and a cigarette case with a 2-way TV communicator. Oh, and The Director (Dan O’Herlihy) plays around with a rocket-launching umbrella in the lab, much to “Q”-girl Kelli’s (Karen Purcill) dismay.

The villain of the piece is a KARTEL contractor named Chandler (the late Edie Adams), a glamorous, middle-aged woman who likes to surround herself with young male bodybuilders. She’s working with a disgruntled entomologist (!) who has bred a hybrid species of “devil locusts” that can strip a field of crops in a matter of seconds, and whose bites are fatal to humans. With the help of a pretty young entomologist (Barbara Rucker), Torque and many of those aforementioned gadgets, Sloane manages to save America’s breadbasket from KARTEL’s sinister plan to corner the world’s food supply.

“Lady Bug” is a hoot, with an entirely ludicrous – but amusing – plot and a great performance by Adams, who seems to be enjoying her opportunity to play against her usual image, with charm and a sly wit. Torque actually gets a little bit more to do in this episode, rescuing Sloane from a grasshopper (!) and demonstrating a few new accessories for his cybernetic hand. There’s also a fun homage to Hitchcock’s North By Northwest when a low-flying crop duster drops a load of poison gas on Sloane and his lady faire in a field. Unfortunately, there’s also a judo match between Sloane and a henchman (played by Martin Kove), where it’s clearly – even on my crappy copy of the show – a stunt double filling in for Conrad.

A fun episode. Two more to go!

A MAN CALLED SLOANE: "Sweethearts Of Disaster"

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Dec 152014
 

The ninth episode of A Man Called Sloane (originally airing on December 1st, 1979) opens with Sloane and Torque in France, covertly observing a test of a laser cannon in an isolated valley that in no way resembles L.A.’s Bronson Canyon. (Sure!) They’re not the only ones, as Sloane observes an attractive woman (Andrea Howard) also watching. As these bystanders stand by, a team of six women attack the scientists testing the laser, beat them up, and steal the weapon.

Sloane repels down a cliff to intercept their fleeing truck, only to have his ass handed to him by the “Sweethearts,” and then be tossed unceremoniously off the moving vehicle.

It’s not a total embarrassment for UNIT’s “only Top Priority Agent,” though – somehow, in the melee, he managed to steal the ruby needed to make the laser cannon function. Anyway, UNIT decides to try and lure the thieves into the open by having Torque pose as an African king who is auctioning off one of the only two other rubies capable powering the device. KARTEL baddie Bannister (Ted Hamilton) and his all-female terrorist squad – The Sweethearts – as well as the beautiful KGB agent that Sloane saw in France, all converge in Vancouver to fight over the gem. The usual hi jinks ensue.

As a poster on the IMDb points out, this is a smaller-scale, faster-paced remake of the Death Ray 2000 pilot film, which hadn’t been seen on TV yet, with the gratuitous addition of the sexy “Sweethearts” – a virtual necessity on Fred Silverman’s NBC at the time. The episode is briskly directed by veteran B-movie and TV auteur Jack Starret (Cleopatra Jones, Race With The Devil), who, in keeping with the tradition of nepotism on the Sloane set, cast his daughter as one of the Sweethearts! Not the series’ best episode, but far from its worst.

• Andrea Howard, who portrays KBG operative Anna, also co-starred with Don Adams the following year in the first Get Smart feature, The Nude Bomb, where she inexplicably took the place of Barbara Feldon’s 99. She was pretty and likable, but a poor substitute for Feldon.

• With so much of today’s TV being shot in Canada, I find it interesting and amusing that in this 1979 production, Los Angeles is standing in for Vancouver, rather than the other way around!

A MAN CALLED SLOANE: "Samurai"

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Dec 082014
 

Episode eight of A Man Called Sloane (Originally airing on November 24th, 1979) features yet another “old enemy” of T.R. Sloane’s – this guy’s got a lot of old enemies! Didn’t he ever, you know, kill, any bad guys?

In this case, it’s a man named Tanaka (the always-welcome Mako), a martial arts master, who’s escaped from a Jakarta prison and founded his own religious cult in the U.S. Aside from exploiting the youth of America with his so-called religion, he also takes on odd jobs for KARTEL, like kidnapping the daughter of a South American Premier (right out from under Sloane’s nose!).

KARTEL demands that the Premier resign – publicly, on live TV – so one of their puppet politicians can assume leadership of the country. UNIT’s only lead is a young woman named Carrie Baldwin (Nancy Conrad), a former member of Tanaka’s cult. Eventually, Sloane and Tanaka face off in a decently staged – if too brief swordfight – and, with the help of a faked newscast, the girl is saved.

This episode is more down-to-earth than previous installments, with no big sci-fi MacGuffin or mad scientists. Sloane even has to do some legwork this time. Fortunately, Mako portrays Tanaka as a worthy adversary with some honor and respect for his opponent, and he even gets to knock Robert Conrad around a bit!

• More nepotism! Nancy Conrad is – no surprise – Robert Conrad’s daughter. Like Conrad’s wife, Lavelda (who guest starred in episode four), Nancy appears to have pretty much only acted in projects Mr. Conrad starred in, including Baa Baa Black Sheep and Murph the Surf!

• This is episode is written by TV veteran Dick Nelson, who scripted an earlier entry, “Tuned For Destruction,” as well as several episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

A MAN CALLED SLOANE: "Collision Course"

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Dec 012014
 

The seventh episode of A Man Called Sloane (original airdate, November 17, 1979) begins with Sloane in London, where he is to meet another UNIT agent at a planetarium. When he arrives, he discovers his contact – an old friend – murdered, with strange markings on his neck. Noticing a beautiful woman apparently fleeing from the scene, he follows, and is attacked by a couple of thugs.

Investigating the agent’s death, Sloane discovers that an old adversary, Jefferson Crane (Eric Braeden, The Rat Patrol), a man that Sloane believed he had killed some years before, is behind a plot of cosmic proportions. Using two stolen nuclear missiles, he plans to divert a comet (the fictional Caesar’s Comet, which the script would have us believe was first spotted at the time of Julius Caesar’s assassination, and which has returned every 100 years since) and crash it into the Earth.

Soap opera veteran and popular heavy Braeden makes a satisfactory villain, and Nancy DeCarl, as the dead agent’s sister, is a lovely girl of the week, but the story is pretty unspectacular. For one thing, while the script goes to great lengths to emphasize how involved and difficult it was to calculate the comet’s trajectory, it also posits that the U.S. military transports nukes around on the back of easily hijack-able trucks. (Actually, stealing nukes is made to look very easy throughout the series!)

Not one of the stronger episodes, unfortunately… though the scene where a bunch of polo players on horseback attack a van containing Sloane, Torque and the girl is both kinda cool and damned weird.

• This episode was written by Stephen Kandel, a frequent contributor to various spy-fi shows, including Mission: Impossible, The Wild Wild West, It Takes A Thief and MacGyver.

"This Organization Does Not Tolerate Failure…"

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Nov 252014
 

I don’t know if this image is official or fan-made, but it made this long-time Bond fan smile… and with the rumors that Christophe Waltz is playing SPECTRE mastermind Ernst Stavros Blofeld in the as-yet-untitled film, I’m hopeful that we can put that QUANTUM idiocy behind us and welcome the original evil empire back to the series.

A MAN CALLED SLOANE: "The Venus Microbe"

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Nov 242014
 

Episode six of A Man Called Sloane (original airdate: October 27, 1979) centers around a lethal alien microorganism brought back to Earth by a Venus probe. (Funny how in reality, our interplanetary probes aren’t actually ever intended to return to Earth, though they regularly do in fiction!) This “microbe” is so dangerous that the government both fears that it might get loose and salivates at the thought of using it as a weapon. Thus, they have a team working on an “antidote.”

Dr. Franklyn (Alex Henteloff) is part of that team of government scientists, but KARTEL has snagged him in a honeytrap using a professional seductress named Charlene (Zacki Murphy), and turned him. He steals both the microbe and antidote with her help, inadvertently trapping a couple of his colleagues in a sealed chamber and exposing them to the microbe.

Sloane and Torque happen to be visiting the lab at the time, and chase after him. Unfortunately, KARTEL has him covered, and our heroes are attacked by an “ambulance” with a rocket launching “siren.” We discover here, for the first time, that Sloane’s vintage Cord has some defensive capabilities, as he employs a good old fashioned oil slick to thwart his would-be assassins. (“I guess we gave them the slip!”) Unfortunately, the ambulance attack has allowed Franklyn and Charlene to escape with their deadly prize.

Franklyn turns the microbe and the as-yet-untested antidote over to casino proprietor and KARTEL honcho Jonathan Cambro (veteran character actor Monte Markham). Obviously, KARTEL needs to know the antidote works, so the sinister Cambro forces Franklyn to test it on himself. It doesn’t work. Apparently the good doctor misplaced a page while transcribing the formula, and that page is now in the hands of neophyte private eye Melissa Nelson (Morgan Fairchild). Eventually, Melissa and Sloane combine forces, and with only 48 hours to recover the antidote (remember those trapped scientists?), go after the sinister Cambro.

Not the strongest episode, but Fairchild and Conrad play off each other quite well, and Markham is, as always, excellent in his villainous role. The science is ludicrous, of course, and the plot is all-too predictable, but it moves along briskly.

• Scriptwriter Marc Brandel also contributed scripts to Danger Man and Amos Burke, Secret Agent.