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.
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.
Nov 192014
 
In 1993 DC Comics published a 4-issue revival of their 1950 spy comic, Danger Trail. The '93 miniseries was written by Len Wein, and illustrated by Carmine Infantino and Frank McLaughlin. The story was a fairly shameless rip-off of various James Bond movies, and featured DC superspy King Faraday in an adventure pitting him against the supervillain Kobra.

It was enjoyable stuff, but highly derivative. Fortunately, DC had the good sense to hire comicdom's premiere spy artist, Paul Gulacy, to draw the dynamic, eye-catching covers. Check them out:

Nov 172014
 
Episode five of A Man Called Sloane (original airdate, October 20th, 1979) is probably the best of the run so far... except for one annoying little thing, which I'll gripe about later.

The episode opens at an airport in some Central American country, where UNIT's gadget girl Kelly (series regular Karen Purcill) is waiting to board a plane to the United States after enjoying a long-overdue vacation. Unexpectedly, Sloane and Torque show up, pursued by armed troops, and, pressing her into service as an impromptu courier, give her a top secret microchip, which she hides in her ring while the boys lead their pursuers away.

Unfortunately, Kelly's plane disappears in The Demon's Triangle ("Like the Devil's Triangle, only not as well known," according to The Director). There's only one inhabited island in the area – Corsair Island – so Sloane and Torque are off to the Caribbean to search for Kelly and the microchip, which – not unexpectedly – could compromise national security if it should fall into the wrong hands.

Well, the island is lorded over by Morgan Lancaster (Clive Revill) who claims to be the direct descendant of Sir Henry Morgan. He has a device that allows him to remotely control aircraft, and he's behind the disappearance of Kelly's flight. Surprisingly, he has no knowledge of the microchip nor Kelly's UNIT ties – all he wanted was the pilot, one of the few men on Earth qualified to fly America's most top secret aircraft, the XT-100 (which stock footage reveals to be an apparent code name for the then-new B1 bomber). The experimental plane is scheduled to make a test-flight over the area, and Lancaster needs a qualified pilot to bring it down with his machine.

Needless to say, Sloane and Torque not only rescue Kelly from the modern-day pirate's clutches and retrieve the microchip MacGuffin, but foil his skyjacking plans as well.

"Demon's Triangle" has a clever, pulpy script and makes good use of the characters. It's nice to see Kelly out of the lab, and she uses her wits to keep the microchip out of Lancaster's hands. Revill makes a fine Bondian villain, and delivers his comic book dialogue with relish. Sloane, Kelly & Torque escape from a prison cell through an absurd but cleverly-executed plan, and the producers even manage a fair approximation of a Caribbean island setting. Hell, the villain's lair is even hidden within "Voodoo Mountain!" That's some fun spy-fi, right there!

My only complaint? Why call it "Demon's Triangle?" Did someone at NBC Standard & Practices think that the names "Devil's Triangle" or "Bermuda Triangle" were trademarked by a rival network? Cripes!

• This episode was written by Jimmy Sangster, who also wrote the great 60's spy-fi classic, Deadlier Than The Male, and the 1980 telefilm, Once Upon A Spy.

• Clive Revill also played the villain – a different but similar character – in the pilot film T.R. Sloane (a/k/a Death Ray 2000).
Nov 102014
 
The fourth episode of A Man Called Sloane (original airdate: October 13th, 1979) is a pretty good one. "Masquerade of Terror" begins when Jeremy Mason (veteran heavy Richard Lynch), a master of disguise and old enemy of T.R. Sloane's, escapes from prison. KARTEL hires him to impersonate a U.S. general in order to steal a top secret laser satellite system known as Seeker.

UNIT's only lead to Mason is a nightclub dancer he's obsessed with named Linda Daniels (LaVelda Fann). Sloane and Torque keep her under watch, waiting for Mason to make contact, but they don't have to wait long before Mason, in disguise, kidnaps her right from under their noses.

The episode has two intertwining plots: Mason wants revenge on Sloane for putting him away, and KARTEL wants to use Seeker to assassinate a visiting African dignitary. Actually, the realization of the Seeker satellite weapon is pretty cool. Unlike the laser satellites seen in Diamonds Are Forever or Real Genius, the Seeker homes in on its targets with small targeting discs. These discs have to be physically placed on or within the designated targets, but it makes it impossible for the orbiting weapon to miss.

Richard Lynch is awesomely evil as usual, and makes a very formidable foil for Sloane. His ability to whip up Mission: Impossible-styled disguises using only standard make-up is unbelievable, but it's a classic spy-fi trope. LaVelda (as she is billed in this episode) is a lovely woman and has genuine chemistry with Conrad. She dances great, too!

This one's a lot of fun, and probably the best in the series so far.

• Lavelda is Robert Conrad's wife, and according to her IMDb page, she has pretty much only acted in her husband's productions, including guest roles on The Duke, High Sierra Search & Rescue and the TV movie Sworn to Vengeance.
Nov 032014
 
In re-watching this series, I'm struck by just how bad Thomas Remington Sloane is at maintaining a cover. In each of the first three episodes, his undercover identities are completely blown within minutes of meeting his opponents — or sometimes even their underlings! Well, I guess it's difficult suppress your natural persona and pose as someone else when you're as cool as T.R. Sloane!

Anyway, in the third episode (original airdate: October 6, 1979), "Tuned For Destruction," UNIT agents Sloane and Torque are pitted against a rogue ex-general named "Wild Bill" McAvoy (the always reliable Geoffrey Lewis), and his personal aide-de-camp, Corporal Comfort (pretty soap opera vet Denise Duberry), who are using a newly-invented sonic, amped-up tuning fork "Metal Debilitator" (which can create instant metal fatigue in metal objects like safes, gates, etc.) to penetrate the defenses of a government facility in order to steal a nuclear bomb.

Of course, Sloane attempts to infiltrate McAvoy's private army by posing as a merc, only to be exposed immediately, and moments later, Torque – who had snuck into the villain's compound to back-up Sloane – is also captured... and his cybernetic hand disintegrated by the Metal Debilitator!

The boys ultimately escape and foil the plot, and there's a great helicopter-to-moving-halftrack transfer stunt by Conrad's stunt double to liven up the final act. There's also a pretty decent martial arts fight in the opening scene between Conrad (who appears to be doing most of the fighting himself) and an Asian mercenary.

Interestingly, McAvoy is revealed to be working for the organization KARTEL – a mysterious group of war profiteers and arms merchants first mentioned in the (at the time still unaired) TV movie pilot, T.R. Sloane (a/k/a Death Ray 2000).

• This is one of two Sloane episodes penned by Dick Nelson, whose other spy-fi writing credits include episodes of It Takes A Thief and The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
Oct 272014
 
In the second episode (airing September 29, 1979) of NBC's A Man Called Sloane (although, from the amount of footage in this episode that is incorporated into the series titles, it was probably shot first), "The Seduction Squad," Sloane and Torque are investigating acts of industrial sabotage that threaten the country's defense contractors. Eventually, it turns out that important industrial and military figures have been seduced and hypnotically brainwashed by the supermodel operatives of a slightly fey fashion and cosmetics king played by I Spy's Robert Culp. His goal? War in the Middle East... though I'm still not exactly sure what he expected to get out of it.

Not a lot to discuss here. Sloane and Torque go through the usual motions, and aside from an action-packed opening scene featuring Sybil Danning, explosions and a great zipwire stunt, it's not a particularly involving episode. The women of the titular Squad are all pretty hot, though, big hair and all, and Culp's clearly having a hell of a good time, camping it up as the heavy. He and Conrad - or, more precisely, their stunt doubles - do get a little hand-to-hand combat in near the climax, though.

Anthony Eisley, star of one of my favorite Eurospy flicks, Lightning Bolt, and Robert Conrad's co-star on Hawaiian Eye, shows up here as a Defense Department bigwig who is brainwashed into nearly starting WWIII.
Oct 202014
 
In the debut episode of A Man Called Sloane (airing September 22, 1979), top level UNIT agent Thomas Remington Sloane (Robert Conrad) and his partner Torque (Ji-Tu Cumbuka), a giant of a man with a huge, mechanical hand, are investigating the thefts of "K3" plutonium pellets from the U.S. government.

As it turns out, the thefts have been arranged by Manfred Baranoff (the always great Roddy McDowall), a mad scientist building a private army of super-strong androids. Posing as a mercenary thief with irradiated K3 pellets to sell, Sloane attempts to infiltrate Baranoff's organization, only to have his cover immediately blown. Needless to say, agent Sloane is captured, and locked in a rather nice bedroom sealed with deadly electrical force fields. With the help of pretty Sara Nightingale (Diane Stilwell), an artist employed by Baranoff to sculpt his android's faces, Sloane escapes from his prison.

In a nice twist, Sloane discovers Baranoff's body lying on the floor of a now-empty laboratory – the scientist has been murdered by one of his own creations, a "perfect" android named Alexander (Chris Marlowe). Alexander takes command of the other 'droids, and plans an assault on a scientific laboratory, where he plans to secure enough radioactive material to power himself and his army forever.

It's a fun little bit of Seventies spy-fi fluff, with a nicely layered performance – as usual – from McDowall. There are a couple of decent fight scenes, with Conrad actually involved in the action. Unlike on The Wild Wild West, where the athletic star insisted on doing all his own stunts, on Sloane, the mercurial Conrad wasn't always as enthusiastic, and frequently let his doubles do the sweating.

The only spy gadget in this episode worth mentioning is a two-way radio hidden within a rather ostentatious money clip. And, as will frequently happen over the dozen episodes, Sloane's towering, cyborg sidekick Torque has little-to-nothing to do in this installment.

Probably because I grew up as a science fiction fan in the Seventies (i.e. "The Roger Moore 007 Years"), I find that I am very fond of the more sci-fi spy-fi; androids and death rays are so much more exotic (and fun) McGuffins than dreary old "secret documents" or mundane nuclear warheads. I love the more down-to-earth, realistic spy stories, too, but I'm not a snob.

The title of this Sloane episode is reminiscent of the episode titles on The Wild Wild West, which all began with the words "The Night of...," and specifically, the title of the first Dr. Loveless episode, "The Night The Little Wizard Shook the World." Coincidence?
Oct 172014
 
A few years back, I started a separate blog for my interest in over-the-top spy films and television shows, the not-so-cleverly-titled Spy-Fi Channel. I posted a lot of stuff there in 2009, but over the next few years, as my interests turned more toward my 70s sci-fi nostalgia and the Space: 1970 blog, the spy site sort of slowly died. In fact, it was one of a couple of blogs that I gradually stopped updating - like my Guns In The Gutters site, devoted to my reviews of crime comics.

Anyway, I've been thinking I needed to a.) update this site more often and b.) clean up my online presence, so I'll be taking both of those zombie blogs offline. However, because I did put a lot of work into the material on those sites, I'll be taking some of that content and re-posting it here. This means that this site (which also has, much to my dismay, been too-infrequently updated of late) will be somewhat more lively in the coming months as I mix in a bunch of my spy-fi-related material (and crime comics reviews!) with any new personal and pop culture topics that may catch my fancy.

Which brings me to A Man Called Sloane.

A Man Called Sloane was a half-season adventure series that aired on NBC in 1979. It starred Robert Conrad (The Wild Wild West, Baa Baa Black Sheep) as Thomas Remington Sloane III, the (only) Top Priority agent for a secret organization called UNIT. Though the format harkened back to the 60s and shows like The Man from U.N.C.L.E., it was still very much a product of its time, with ludicrous plots, lots of cheesecake, and Conrad's patented macho swagger. Needless to say, I loved it as a kid.  Back in '09, I got my hands on a set of bootleg DVDs and reviewed all twelve episodes of the show. That represented a lot of time and work, so rather than let those posts disappear into the digital aether, I'll be re-running those reviews here over the next few months.

Of course, I'll be editing them a bit and adding a few new thoughts and observations (as I've watched most of the episodes more than once now). I even plan on writing at least one new article for the series, as I never reviewed the original T.R.Sloane TV pilot film (a/k/a Death Ray 2000), which starred Robert Logan as superspy Sloane.

As I mentioned above, it won't only be reruns here; I'll be getting back to posting those "Wednesday Covers," and will almost certainly have a Halloween post or two. I'll also continue to keep you updated on my various comics projects and will continue posting about cheesy B action movies, comic strips, etc.

Look for the first Sloane review on Monday.
Apr 292013
 
Phil Corrigan, alias Secret Agent X-9, was a popular comic strip character of the 30's and 40's (though the feature ran well into the 90's) created by the acclaimed mystery writer Dashiell Hammett and artist Alex Raymond (who would later go on to create Flash Gordon, and then Rip Kirby for the same newspaper syndicate). Universal Studios produced two movie serials based on the character, both simply titled, Secret Agent X-9; the first in 1937 and the second in 1945.

The 1937 serial has Agent X-9 functioning pretty much as a standard movie G-Man, chasing after a ring of international jewel thieves. It’s a very decent serial; Scott Kolk makes an adequate X-9, and Jean Rogers (Dale Arden in Flash Gordon) is a lovely leading lady. Unfortunately, it’s not really a spy story. Instead, it’s pure, Depression-era, cops and robbers melodrama.

The 1945 serial, on the other hand, is a genuine espionage adventure. This one stars a young, up and coming Lloyd Bridges as Phil Corrigan, Secret Agent X-9. The charismatic and talented Bridges was a far better actor than most other serial heroes, and his nascent star quality really infuses the 13-chapter serial with energy. Unlike some other chapterplays of the era, you don’t get bored between fistfights and car chases.

The story is set in 1943 on the aptly-named Shadow Island, a small isle of intrigue somewhere off the coast of China, which the Japanese have allowed to remain neutral. Of course, secret agents from all over the world descend upon the island, which is portrayed as a sort of South Pacific Casbalanca. Shadow Island is run by a saloon owner named Lucky Kamber (Cy Kendall), but he’s only allowed to operate at the sufferance of a sly and slinky Japanese agent called Nabura (Victoria Horne in faux Asian make-up).

The plot revolves around the accidental discovery by a Japanese scientist (Benson Fong, Charlie Chan’s #3 son) that aviation fuel can be manufactured cheaply by mixing an artificial chemical called 722 with water. Seeing the obvious benefits for Japan’s war plans, Nabura devises an intricate plan to steal the formula for 722 from an American scientist in the States. Fortunately, Australian spy Lynn Moore (Jan Wiley) learns of the plan and, in response to her report, American Intelligence sends Phil Corrigan to Shadow Island to foil the plot. Soon after X-9’s arrival, he finds himself not only teamed with the pretty Aussie agent, but partnered with a very competent Chinese operative named Ah Fong (the great Keye Luke, Charlie Chan’s #1 son). It’s a good thing, too, because X-9’s got his hands full.

Shadow Island swarms with suspicious characters. Among the various factions maneuvering on Shadow Island are a mysterious French couple – Hotel owners Papa and Mama Pierre – whose motives and loyalties are unknown, and an enigmatic gentleman known only as Solo (Samuel S. Hinds) who sits for endless hours at Kamber’s bar playing tiddley winks. Additionally, there’s a Japanese submarine (and its crew) standing by to facilitate Nabura’s scheme, and a "civilian" German freighter commanded by Herr Kapitan Graf, in port.

Needless to say, double (and triple) crosses, gunfights, brawls and shadow skulking are the order of the day on this island of spies, and X-9 has to keep on his toes if he’s going to foil Nabura’s machinations. The serial is briskly-paced (unusually so, for a Universal serial, which tended to be more leisurely than those produced by studios like Republic and Columbia) by directors Lewis Collins and Ray Taylor, and has fairly high production values. The pre-WWII setting is fascinating, and the cliffhangers are all pretty exciting. The final chapter is satisfying, too – not always the case with these Saturday matinee chapterplays.

VCI Entertainment offers both Secret Agent X-9 serials on DVD. Both look good, but the 1945 serial looks particularly fine for its age. There’s some occasional, minor print damage here and there, but the transfer is very solid for the most part. The VCI disc also includes a commentary over the first chapter by mystery writer and comic strip historian Max Allan Collins, an interview with Bridges’ son, Beau Bridges, a still gallery, and trailers for other VCI serial discs.

I'm a big fan of old serials, and the 1945 Secret Agent X-9 is one of my very favorites. Not only is it a great serial, but a fun spy movie, too.