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, is 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.

Eurospy Binge

 Action Movies, Spy-Fi  Comments Off
Feb 072013
Over the last couple of weeks, I have been indulging in a Eurospy movie binge, working my way through my meager collection of 60s James Bond knock-offs whenever my back starts aching from spending too much time at the computer.

My definition of "Eurospy" is rather flexible; I include 007-inspired films from England as well as those produced on the Continent. This means that entertainments like the two "Hugh Drummond" flicks with Richard Johnson - Deadlier Than The Male & Some Girls Do - as well as Hammerhead, with Vince Edwards as secret agent Charles Hood, have been part of my pseudo-marathon.

I even ordered a new disc for the occasion - a Swedish, Region 2 import of 1966's Killers Are Challenged/Our Man In Casablanca, with Richard Harrison as agent Bob Fleming. I ordered it from Diabolik DVD and was very impressed with their service. I enjoyed the movie, too.

So far, this binge has included: Deadlier Than The Male, Some Girls Do, Hammerhead, Fury In Marrakesh, Lightning Bolt, Kiss The Girls And Make Them Die, Special Mission Lady Chaplain, Mission Bloody Mary, From The Orient With Fury and the aforementioned Killers Are Challenged. Before I'm done, I'll probably be watching Murder For Sale, Espionage In Tangiers, and Modesty Blaise as well.

What triggered this craving for badly-dubbed, bizarro sub-Bondian hijinks? I have no idea. But I'm really enjoying myself, and finding that I'm really getting caught up in the adventures of these amusingly dickish "superspies," enjoying all the gorgeous spy vixens (Daliha Lavi, Margaret Lee, Mitsouko, Helga Line, Daniela Bianchi, Beverly Adams, Elke Sommer.... sigh) and digging the utterly bonkers plots.

Surprisingly, I'm not tiring of them at all, and wish I owned more....
Jan 172013
I'll be placing my pre-order for the Twilight Time Blu-ray release of In Like Flint as soon as it becomes available tomorrow afternoon. 

The company did a great job with the first Derek Flint film, Our Man Flint, which I received last week. While I had some minor issues with the picture quality of the video transfer (shame that 20th Century Fox didn't provide Twilight Time with a better master), the new supplements were worth the price of the disc all by themselves. John Cork and his Cloverland crew did a terrific job on the new retrospective featurettes, and it was cool to see my online blog "buddy," Matthew Bradford (alias "Tanner" of the great Dounle-O Section blog) onscreen as one of the talking heads.

As much as I enjoy the first Flint film, I have a slight preference toward its sequel. It's not really as good as its predecessor - and somewhat more overtly comic - but it was the first Derek Flint adventure I saw as a teenager (on the WCSH 6 Sunday morning "Great Show" movie). At the time, I was just becoming the James Bond/superspy fan that I am today, and In Like Flint was really the first of the Bond imitators/spoofs I ever saw.

Dec 312012
Anyone else remember when TNT used to have Man from U.N.C.L.E. marathons on New Year's Eve?

Here's wishing the half-dozen or so readers of this blog a very Happy New Year. For myself, I'm working to make 2013 the year that I return to comics in a big way, with the long-delayed publication of Perils On Planet X, a new Femme Noir graphic novel, and more. Have a great time tonight, and celebrate safely - perhaps you can take a cue from Napoleon Solo, and spend the evening at home with a few close friends...


 DVD previews, Spy-Fi  Comments Off
Dec 212012
Well, I don't much like the fact that it's a Limited Edition disc, nor that it's so pricey, but I went ahead and pre-ordered the Twilight Time Blu-ray release of Our Man Flint, the first of two Derek Flint superspy capers starring James Coburn. It's supposed to come out in mid-January, with the sequel, In Like Flint, to follow in February. I'll probably pre-order that one, too. Because these discs are only issued in limited numbers, I can't really follow my usual method of buying used discs cheap on the secondary market; when these suckers go out of print, the price only goes up.

So, why did I bite the bullet on this one? Well, first of all, I'm a huge fan of the movie, and even though I have the very nice Ultimate Flint Collection DVDs that Fox put out a few years ago, this Blu-ray has a buttload of new bonus features, including a couple of new documentaries by John Cork - the guy who put together all the great documentaries on the James Bond and Charlie Chan discs. Ultimately, I just couldn't pass it up.

What can I say? I'm weak.
Dec 172012
There are a few James Bond knock-offs that I remember watching on TV in the late 70s (& 1980) that I have never heard anyone else mention. One of these was Billion Dollar Threat, a 1979 TV movie that starred Dale Robinette as secret agent Robert Sands, who must foil the nefarious plan of mad scientist Horatio Black - played by none other than John Steed himself, Patrick Macnee - to destroy the ozone layer with a nuclear missile.

I actually taped this one off of TV, so I watched it a number of times. It was a pretty fair - if cheap - little Bondian adventure, written by Hammer Studios vet Jimmy Sangster (Deadlier Than The Male), who seemed to have a penchant for this type of stuff....

Because Sangster also wrote the 1980 ABC telefilm, Once Upon A Spy, which starred a pre-Cheers Ted Danson as a computer expert/reluctant spy who is drafted into a mission to stop another mad scientist - this time portrayed by The Man With The Golden Gun, Scaramanga, in the guise of Sir Christopher Lee - who has a laser cannon (another one?). I remember it as being a bit more deliberately campy than Billion Dollar Threat, in a Man From U.N.C.L.E. sort of way.

Sangster didn't write (I wonder how he missed out on this one), but legitimate 007 veteran Richard Maibaum (Goldfinger, Thunderball, et al) did, the same year's S*H*E - Security Hazards Expert, which starred Cornelia Sharpe as Lavinia Keane, a sort of female Bond in a globetrotting adventure that I remember watching but am unable to recall a single detail of. Omar Sharif played her adversary, an International blackmailer.

None of these are available on DVD, although S*H*E did get a VHS release.I would really like to see all of these again one day....
Oct 052012

Today is Global James Bond Day, celebrating 50 years of Ian Fleming's creation on the silver screen. And this is a video montage of great moments from the 007 films, set to Scouting for Girls' song, "I Wish I Was James Bond."

Don't we all?
Aug 082012
For the last week or so, I've been posting scans of the racy, goofy, and outright nutty covers to the "Agent 0008" spy novels by Clyde Allison over on my Facebook homepage, where they've been - ahem - warmly received. I thought this one might be a little too "hot" for Facebook, though, so I've chosen to post it here on my blog instead. Enjoy!