Mar 262015

CROSSING JORDAN. “Pilot Episode.” NBC. 24 September 2001 (Season 1, Episode 1). Jill Hennessy, Miguel Ferrer, Ken Howard, Lois Nettleton, plus a large ensemble cast. Creator/screenwriter: Tim Kring. Director: Allan Arkush.

   Please forgive the lack of screen credits. This is the only episode of Crossing Jordan I’ve seen so far, and I haven’t yet placed names with faces, nor do I know how long some of the faces will last. I didn’t include any names in the guest cast, either, since most of this first episode was devoted to introducing the characters, not the story itself.

   Which was OK, or maybe even more than that, but if you’ll allow me, I’ll get to that in a minute. The series was on for six years, and I won’t lie to you: I’d barely heard of it before buying a box set of DVDs of the first season. I can’t tell you why it’s been under my radar all this time.

   Or maybe I can. (A) A lack of time to follow everything that’s on TV, even crime-solving shows, and (B) an assumption that new shows won’t last, so why start watching them, but missing one like this one that does catch on, and it’s too late to catch up with the story line, or so I think.

   Dr. Jordan Cavanaugh (Jill Hennessy) is a medical examiner who insists on helping the police solve the cases her dead bodies involve her in, against all of their wishes. She’s beautiful, smart-talking, feisty, has a problem with anger management, and as a direct result, she has run out of places to work until her former boss, Dr. Garret Macy (Miguel Ferrer), convinces his superiorss to hire her back at the Massachusetts Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

   I gather her father (Ken Howard) doesn’t stick around for the entire series, but at least during the first season he’s an ex-homicide detective who helps Jordan solve her cases by playing a version of killer/victim to re-enact the crime given the facts as she has them. He’s glad to see her again, but Jordan has problems, in the pilot, at least, with the fact that there is a new woman in his life, Jordan’s mother having been murdered when she was a child. This may explain some of the chips on her shoulder.

   There are quite few others in the ensemble cast, as I said earlier, all of whom get a brief introduction and some exposure in this first episode. The story itself is interesting without being overly memorable. It turns out that a young prostitute, found dead in an alley and suspected of dying of a drug overdose, is actually a virgin. It is then discovered that she came to Boston looking for her father, and — well, I needn’t tell you everything, need I?

   I do like the characters, and so did the general viewing public, given that the series lasted for so long. It’s one I’ll keep watching, at least through the first season, which is all that’s been officially released on DVD. (The problem being rights to the music played in the back ground.)

 Posted by at 3:12 am
Mar 192015

WHY DIDN’T THEY ASK EVANS? ITV, UK, 30 March 1980. PBS: Mobil Showcase, US, 21 May 1981, Three hours. Francesca Annis, John Gielgud, Bernard Miles, Eric Porter,Leigh Lawson, James Warwick, Madeline Smith, Connie Booth, Robert Longden. Based on the novel by Agatha Christie (also known as The Boomerang Clue). Directors: John Davies & Tony Wharmby.

   I read and reviewed The Boomerang Clue, the US title of the novel this long three-hour British TV movie was based on not too long ago. And since the TV version so closely follows the book version, I’m going to make it easy on myself and simply summarize the plot by repeating four paragraphs from that earlier review:

    “This one begins with a young Bobby Jones (not the famous one) hitting a golf ball and doing dreadfully at it, trying mightily several swings in succession, but hearing a cry, discovers a dying man lying at the bottom of cliff. He had fallen perhaps, as Bobby and his golfing partner believe, not to mention the police and the coroner’s jury, but we the reader know better.

    “Before he dies, though, the man utters a dying question: ‘Why didn’t they ask Evans?’ We are at page 9 and the end of Chapter One, and anyone who can stop here is a better person than I.

    “Assisting Bobby in his quest for the truth, especially after surviving being poisoned by eight grains of morphia, is his childhood friend, Lady Frances Derwent, whom he calls Frankie. Together they make a great pair of amateur detectives, continuing to investigate the case even after the authorities have written the man’s death off as an accident.

    “The tone is light and witty, as if investigating a murder is a lark, but this intrepid pair of detectives do an excellent job of it, even to the extent of faking an automobile accident and inserting an “invalid” Frankie into their primary suspect’s home.”

   There are a couple of changes that where made in translating the book into film, but only one maybe matters. It is as good as a direct scene-for-scene production as you could ever hope for. (A later British telecast in 2011 wrote Miss Marple into the story and changed all kinds of other things around. From what I’ve read about it, it sounds horrible.)

   On the other hand, while scene-for-scene may sound ideal, it does make for a long production, three hours worth, and viewing it on DVD, I found that watching it over the course of two evening was possible but making it very difficult to remember by the end what had happened at the beginning. Luckily I had read the book only a few months earlier.

   Before pointing out the biggest change, I’d like to say that in the movie version I didn’t get the same light-hearted “let’s solve a murder” feeling the two young sleuths seemed to have in the opening half of the book. They tried, but it just didn’t seem to be there. But many scenes were just as I’d imagined them, especially the opening one, with a body being found on the rocks beneath a tall cliff along the shoreline of Wales.

   The major difference between the book and the movie comes at the end, when the killer (in the book) writes a long letter to Frankie explaining how the murder was carried out and tying up the loose ends.

   In the movie, the two — the killer and Frankie — have a direct confrontation in an empty house. The set-up for this didn’t make sense while I was watching it, but later on I realized that doing it as it was done in the book, reading a letter aloud on a TV screen would have bored everyone, including me.

   I believe but am not positive that this movie was shown in its entirety in one evening. (The video above is only Part 1 of 3.) If it did, the attention span necessary would have to have been even greater, but commercials (in the UK) would have helped considerably in terms of snacks, bathroom breaks and whatever else that would have been needed to get through what was, all-in-all, a very nicely done piece of entertainment.

 Posted by at 4:51 pm
Mar 182015

PROFILER. Pilot Episode. NBC, 21 September 1996. (Season 1, Episode 1.) Ally Walker, Robert Davi, Julian McMahon, Roma Maffia, Michael Whaley, Peter Frechette, Erica Gimpel, Caitlin Wachs. Creator/screenplay: Cynthia Saunders. Director: John Patterson.

   I came by the DVD box for this series in part by accident. I saw a large lot of DVDs up for bids on eBay, and not only in the lot were all four seasons of this series, but three seasons of another NBC series that ran at the same time, The Pretender.

   I’d never heard of either series — I wasn’t watching much network TV at the time — but the opening bid was cheap enough ($99 for 65 DVDs) — and lo and behold, no one bid against me. Of the other DVDs in the the lot I kept another 15 or 20. The rest, mostly movies — romantic comedies — from the same time period, I’ll soon be donating to the Local Library.

   What I didn’t realize at the time, but I soon found out, was that basic premise of Profiler is catching another serial criminal every week, not always a killer, but arsonists and other assorted low life. Over and above that, and how it plays out over the entire length of the season I don’t know, is the presence of Ally Walker’s character’s nemesis, a serial killer dubbed “Jack of All Trades,” who notices that Dr. Samantha “Sam” Waters, is back in action again after a three years’ leave of absence.

   Whew. Sorry for that last sentence. I know it’s a long one. Sam is forensic psychologist with the unique ability to personalize crime scenes and “see” the killer, not with extrasensory perception, but by picking up clues that others miss. She’s called into action as this episode begins by her former mentor, Bailey Malone (Robert Davi) when the police in Atlanta run into a brick wall trying to catch a killer who has been killing another beautiful woman every Saturday night.

   I should also mention that “Jack of All Trades,” whom Sam was never able to catch, murdered her husband three years ago, and is one of those serial killers who loves to taunt the police — and Sam in particular — about their ineffectiveness in nabbing him?

   I don’t know how many more in this set I will watch, but I do have four seasons’ worth, so I may. There seems to be a good chemistry between the leading players (see above), which is always a help. On the negative side, a recognized the killer as soon as the character appeared on the screen. Maybe I ought to be a profiler. Either that, or Sam ought to have listened to her own deductions to that point. They were right on target.

 Posted by at 10:35 pm
Mar 172015

“HOLLYWOOD.” An episode of Law & Order: LA, 29 September 2010. (Season 1, Episode 1.) Skeet Ulrich, Corey Stoll, Regina Hall, Wanda De Jesus, Alfred Molina. Guest Cast: Shawnee Smith, John Patrick Amedori, Danielle Panabaker, Wyatt Russell, Jessica Lu.
Created by Dick Wolf; developed by Blake Masters. Director: Allen Coulter.

   Actually there was only one season. The series was a mess, and half the cast disappeared before it was over, to be replaced partway through by an entirely new group of attorneys and police detectives. It was a spinoff of the original Law & Order, which had just finished its 20-year run the previous spring.

   I will let anyone who knows more about the problems the series had go ahead and talk about them in the comments. I’ve not seen any more of the series than this first episode, and I confess that I simply wasn’t paying much attention to what was happening back then. (All I know is what I read online using Google.)

   The setting of the first episode was of course a natural, that being Hollywood, which is probably the first place people think of when they think of L.A. They didn’t have to think too hard to come up with a plot, even though it turns out to be a complicated one. The essence, though, is the convoluted relationship a young female actress slash party girl has with her mother, who has been guiding her and mentoring her and (no surprise) trading in on her daughter’s notoriety and fame for quite some time.

   What I really wanted to bring up again, following Michael Shonk’s recent article about 30-minute TV dramas, is that this first episode of Law & Order: LA is only 40 minutes long, after the commercials have been removed. In this case, forty minutes was simply not long enough, especially for a first episode.

   With both cops and later on lawyers involved, not to mention a story to tell, plus a lot of people who are interviewed by the police or otherwise connected to the case, there is little chance for any of them to get more than two minutes at a time of screen time. When the show was over, I knew who did it and why, but of the primary players, I couldn’t even have told you their characters’ names (or the stars’ names either, for that matter; I didn’t recognize any but one of them). One of the leading suspects was on screen for his two minutes early on, and when his character was brought back into it again toward the end, I barely remembered seeing him before.

   The actors have to talk fast to get all of the story in, too fast for me most of the time, and the locations are switched so quickly they have to identified by the equivalent of silent film insert cards. It’s an approach that works fine when viewers have been watching a series for many years, but not for a very first episode of a spinoff, already cramped for time. Not for me, anyway.

 Posted by at 5:16 pm
Mar 152015
Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:          

FATHER BROWN. BBC, UK, 2013 to date. 35 episodes. Mark Williams, Sorcha Cusack, Nancy Carroll, Alex Price, Hugo Speer, Tom Chambers. Created by Rachel Flowerday and Tahin Guner. Inspired by the stories of G. K. Chesterton.

   So, Father Dowling — no, wait, this one is British and there is no cute nun — Father Brown, that’s right Father Brown, is watching this couple making out; Father Brown is climbing over a fence; Father Brown has been poisoned; Father Brown has a broken leg and is being held hostage by a killer policeman; Father Brown pretends madness to go undercover in an asylum; Father Brown is trapped beneath a castle in a dungeon; Father Brown has to stop a bomb …

   Father Brown (Mark Williams) has a nosy housekeeper (Sorcha Cusack), a randy aristocrat friend (Nancy Carroll), her semi-honest roguish chauffer (Alex Price), a full time parish in Kembleford in the Cotswolds (where there are more murders than Chicago and Miss Marple’s St. Mary’s Mead combined) at St. Mary’s, and two policeman whose lives he is the bane of (Hugo Speer and Tom Chambers who replaced him).

   Father Brown is tall, hardy, and about as meek as a truck driver.

   Father Brown wouldn’t know a paradox if it hit him with a lorry.

   They have actually adapted a few stories by Chesterton. Not that you would know it unless you looked at the title, the only thing vaguely resembling Chesterton.

   That awful television movie with Barnard Hughes was better than this. Walter Connally’s wholly miscast Father Brown was better. Kenneth More, seemingly miscast, was brilliant as was Alec Guiness, also seemingly miscast. Mark Williams is just miscast. It is difficult for a man his size to appear to be a meek, blinking, slightly pudgy, and unassuming priest with the power of an Old Testament prophet. This Father Brown has the power of a Jessica Fletcher.

   The time is the 1950’s, God knows why since the stories end twenty years before that. Father Brown, who traveled extensively in the stories, is a parish priest and served in WWII. He deals with ex-Nazis and refugees and once with radiation poisoning. He seldom leaves Kembleford and his church, St. Mary’s. No one much respects him. Flambeau has a British accent, they couldn’t be bothered to hire an actor who could at least fake a French accent.

   You know it isn’t Chesterton because communist and atheists tend to turn out to be innocent. You know it isn’t Agatha Christie because the young lovers almost never turn out to be the murderers.

   This Father Brown never rises to the occasion. He never blinks behind his spectacles while transformed into a figure of Biblical strength. He never simply observes because he knows human nature and intuits the truth. He is never for one instant of film Chesterton’s priest in anything but name.

   It’s an attractive enough series, and I might like it if it wasn’t the only Father Brown we will get. The actors are personable, and the mysteries no worse than usual, but of course it could be so much more, and instead it is, as I said, “Murder, He Prayed.”

   If you are not an admirer of Chesterton’s stories you may not get why I feel such rancor for this unassuming little series. Try to imagine though they made a situation comedy out of The Great Gatsby. Try imagining they cast Pee Wee Herman as Sherlock Holmes. Try to imagine that the only Shakespeare there was to read was the Lamb’s version.

   You are not going to get good television from people incapable of respecting their source. You are going to get this, a series that disappoints week after week, hints at Chesterton (admittedly not easy to film though the More series did it), but never fulfills the promise. You get what seldom happens on series shown on PBS, the lowest common denominator, just like network television.

   This one wasn’t even designed to be shown at night in England. It was an afternoon series according to Wikipedia.

   This might have worked despite all that if they respected the original in any way, if they understood what made Chesterton’s stories work, what made Father Brown a rival of Sherlock Holmes — the rival of Sherlock Holmes.

   This Father Brown isn’t even a rival of Jessica Fletcher.

   If you like it despite all that, fine. But don’t kid yourself that anyone connected to this ever read a single Father Brown story and understood it or what gave it power. Father Brown the comic book would be better.

 Posted by at 10:10 pm
Mar 012015

“RABBIT FOOT.” An episode of Schlitz Playhouse, CBS, 9 July 1954 (Season 3, Episode 45). Stephen McNally, Paul Langton, Harry Shannon. Screenplay: Lawrence L. Goldman. Director: Christian Nyby.

   When the series went into syndication, the Schlitz had to go, so they called it Herald Playhouse, under which guise this episode ended up on a DVD of old television mysteries from Alpha Video.

   What’s remarkable, something that I didn’t realize before, is that Schlitz Playhouse was on CBS for eight years, first at 60 minutes, then 30, then alternating with Lux Playhouse for its final season. If I added up the numbers correctly, there were nearly 350 episodes in all.

   I wonder where that puts it in the ranking of longest-running anthology series? It’s a lot of different sets, different actors, and a brand new script from scratch every week. I know there had to be some comedies and straight dramas in the mix, but I imagine a good percentage of the episodes were crime-oriented, such as this one.

   Everyone involved with this episode had long careers in movies and on TV, with the star, Stephen McNally, probably the most recognizable name today. But Harry Stanton has the almost unique distinction of being the only person involved in the making of both Citizen Kane and High Noon, being in the cast of each. (The other is William H. O’Brien, but he almost doesn’t count, since he was an uncredited member of the cast of each; in fact, almost his entire career was uncredited.)

   I’ll leave you to check out the careers of the others in this particular cast. What caught my eye was the name of the scriptwriter, Lawrence L. Goldman, whose name came up on this blog as the author of Black Fire, one half of an Ace Double paperback that I reviewed here not too long ago.

   I should say something about the story, which has only three sets, the couple of storefronts along the main street of a small southern town, inside the local police station, and a swamp somewhere outside of town, filled with bubbling quagmires and alligators, and when you see that at the beginning, I think you know immediately what the ending is going to be.

   And you’d be right. A bedraggled stranger comes into town with a satchel of stolen bank loot, claiming to be a detective from a couple of towns over who has killed the real robber in the swamp. We the viewer sense something is wrong with the story right away, and with less than 30 minutes of running time, it doesn’t take the police chief and his second-in-command to catch on either. But they need proof, and by means of a lucky rabbit’s foot, prove it they do.

   Not so lucky for the rabbit, of course. It never is.

 Posted by at 10:38 pm
Feb 252015

“POSSESSION.” An episode of Thriller, ATV, England, 21 April 1973. (Series 1, Episode 2.) John Carson, Joanna Dunham, Hilary Hardiman, Athol Coats, James Cossins, Richard Aylen. Story: Brian Clemens. Director: John Cooper.

   An all-British cast this time — recall that Barbara Feldon co-starred in the first episode, “Lady Killer,” reviewed here — and instead of being an out-and-out Alfred Hitchcockian crime story, this one borders on the supernatural.

   But of course, it’s a crime story as well, with a newly married couple in their new home — an isolated manor, of course — with the body of the previous owner found cemented over in the basement. When the female half of the married couple starts hearing whistling in the house at odd hours, mostly during the night, and the rooms ransacked while the two of them are in bed and the doors tightly locked, that’s when they call in a mystic, who helps them hold a seance, with even more deadly consequences.

   I’m sorry that that last sentence was such a long one, but it happens sometimes. I’m not overly fond of ghost stories, but if I’m going to watch one, the British do them best. I’m not sure why, but England is a country that for some reason, ghosts seem to find a likelier place to not find a final resting place than the US.

   Adding to general overall spookiness of the proceedings is the lighting, very effectively done, plus a very minimal musical score, often non-existent while the camera work focuses on a rack of knives in the kitchen, a set of rickety stairs leading to the dimly lit basement, and of course the whistling coming from seemingly nowhere.

   It is the male half of the couple who is seemingly possessed (John Carson, who sounds a lot like James Mason), while it is left to his wife (the beautiful Joanna Dunham) to look concerned, then worried, then out-and-out frightened. Not everyone leaves this story alive, nor is the ending convincing that all things supernatural in the tale have been entirely explained away (deliberately so).

   Nicely done.

 Posted by at 3:47 am
Feb 222015
Reviewed by MIKE TOONEY:

  McMILLAN & WIFE. NBC, 40 episodes, 1971-77. Regular cast: Rock Hudson, Susan Saint James, John Schuck, Nancy Walker.

   This TV series, a star vehicle for Rock Hudson, came close to being a fantasy, what with Police Commissioner Hudson personally solving murder cases best left to the homicide detectives. (Quincy had a similar premise.) McMillan & Wife was also too long, an hour and a half to two hours, inevitably leading to a lot of “padding” and “business” that had little or nothing to do with the main plot.

   Sometimes the padding was more interesting than the story — which is hardly a recommendation — with Nancy Walker as the McMillan’s housekeeper stealing most scenes. Still, the cast was amiable even if the stories dragged.

   So it is something of a pleasant surprise to note that several stories by Edward D. Hoch, master of the impossible crime tale, were adapted for this series. The results, of course, were predictably mixed.

“Cop of the Year.” Season 2, Episode 3. First broadcast: November 19, 1972. Guest cast: Martin E. Brooks, Edmond O’Brien, Lorraine Gary, Kenneth Mars, Charles Nelson Reilly, Michael Ansara, Paul Winchell, John Astin. Teleplay: Paul Mason and Oliver Hailey. Director: Robert Michael Lewis. Based on “The Leopold Locked Room” by Edward D. Hoch, EQMM, October 1971.

   In Hoch’s story, it’s Captain Leopold who gets framed for murdering his ex-wife; in the show it’s slightly off kilter Sgt. Enright (Schuck) who’s in a jam. In both cases, the central problem is the same: How could a bullet from the accused’s gun kill the victim without him firing it — and from twenty feet away instead of inches as the forensics data show? While there is some padding, this episode doesn’t waste too much time.

“Freefall to Terror.” Season 3, Episode 3. First broadcast: November 11, 1973. Guest cast: Barbara Feldon, James Olson, Tom Bosley, Dick Haymes, Edward Andrews, Tom Troupe, John Fiedler, Barbara Rhoades. Teleplay: Oliver Hailey. Director: Alf Kjellin. Based on “The Long Way Down” by Edward D. Hoch, AHMM, February 1965.

   A business executive crashes through a window in a high rise and hits the ground — over three hours later. If memory serves, both the story and the show have the same solution. Once again we have padding, such as the attempt on the victim’s life just after the opening credits, but it could have been worse.

“The Man Without a Face.” Season 3, Episode 4. First broadcast: January 6, 1974. Guest cast: Dana Wynter, Nehemiah Persoff, Stephen McNally, Donna Douglas, Steve Forrest, Vito Scotti, William Bryant, Ross Hagen, Catlin Adams. Teleplay: Don Mankiewicz and Gordon Cotler. TV story: Paul Mason. Director: Lee H. Katzin. Based on “???????” by Edward D. Hoch.

   It’s spy vs. spy, with a “dead” espionage agent bumping off former colleagues. This one gets a few points for a plot twist but then loses them for being rather predictable, overlong, and just plain boring.

And there you have it. On Mystery*File a few years ago it was noted: “As prolific as Edward D. Hoch was — with over 900 short stories to his credit — the movie and TV media have made virtually no use of his output. The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) lists just 9 films derived from his works (9/900 = 1 percent). No more eloquent testimony against the obtuseness of Hollywood can be adduced.”

PostScript: I must confess that I have no idea what story the third episode is based on. Could it be “The Spy Who Didn’t Exist,” EQMM, December 1967? Any ideas?

 Posted by at 7:31 pm
Feb 152015

MATT HELM. ABC-TV. Made-for-TV Movie: 7 May 1975. TV series: 20 September 1975 to 3 January 1976. Meadway Production in association with Columbia Pictures Television. Cast: Tony Franciosa as Matt Helm, Laraine Stephens as Claire Kronski, and Gene Evans as Sergeant Hanrahan. Based on characters created by Donald Hamilton. Developed for television by Sam Rolfe. Produced by Charles B. Fitzsimons and Ken Pettus. Executive Story Consultant: James Schmerer. Executive Consultant: Irving Allen.

   As with many fictional characters, Matt Helm has an identity crisis when it comes to his life in books, films and television. Matt Helm has always adapted to what was popular at the time. The character created by Donald Hamilton for a series of books, starting with Death of a Citizen in 1960, was a government assassin fighting the Cold War during a time when such a paperback series character was popular.

   The movie Helm was one of the endless numbers of James Bond parodies popular in films during the 60s and 70s. And the TV version joined the large group of ex-something (be it ex-con, ex-cop, or in Helm’s case ex-spy) turned 70’s PI with a fast car. Matt Helm liked to join the crowd.

   The TV movie version of Helm developed by Sam Rolfe was an ex-spy turned PI with a beautiful lover, a liberated lawyer who didn’t mind supplying the cheesecake. This Helm had a dark side, while he still was able to contact The Director and his old agency The Machine, Helm had quit the spy business after tiring of all the lies and bad things he had to do. While reformed and sanitized for 70s TV, this Helm was closer to Hamilton’s version than the movie version ever got.

   Sadly the TV version had something in common with the film version: both were made by Columbia Pictures and producer Irving Allen. What saved the TV Movie was the talent of writer Sam Rolfe who had created or developed such TV series as Have Gun, Will Travel, Man from U.N.C.L.E., and Delphi Bureau. His screenplay (with Harold Jack Bloom) for The Naked Spur (1953) received an Oscar nomination.

   Yes, it is a 1970s TV Movie, so there were cheesy moments and it was not quality drama, but it was and still remains a mindlessly fun entertaining TV mystery thriller. Rolfe’s script featured a strong plot and enough twists to keep the viewer involved. Rolfe, one of the best TV Movie pilot writers of the time, was also able to make Helm interesting, and the film had enough possible story directions to inspire several seasons of story lines. It would be something the weekly series would not take advantage of.

   The rest of the production was above average for the standard 70s TV Movie, thanks in large part to the work of Producer-Director Buzz Kulik. Tony Franciosa played his usual character, the same guy he played in Name of the Game, Search, and every other character he played on television. Laraine Stephens (Mrs. David Gerber. Gerber was an award winning producer (Police Story) and at the time head of Columbia Pictures Television) was fine as liberated and sexually active Claire Kronski. The only other character from the pilot to make it to the series was Helm’s police contact and friend Sergeant Hanrahan played by the capable Gene Evans.

MATT HELM. 7 May 1975. Written by Sam Rolfe. Executive Producer: Irving Allen. Produced and Directed by Buzz Kulik. Guest Cast: John Vernon, Ann Turkel, Patrick Macnee, Michael C. Gwynne. *** When a PI she hired is killed Maggie turns to Matt for help to find her father’s killer.

   Maggie’s father had been killed when she was very young. Now a successful actress Maggie can afford to hire someone to find her father’s killer. She and Matt meet through Kronski who is the actress’ lawyer. When Matt learns a casual friend and fellow PI had been killed he takes the case.

   Maggie’s father had been a Captain in the Army who was murdered by his Sergeant when he uncovered the Sergeant’s smuggling ring. The killer vanished. The murdered PI thought he had found the killer, now known as Harry Paine. Matt remembers Harry from his days with The Machine. It is not a happy memory. As Matt searches for Maggie’s father killer, everyone including an old friend from The Machine warn Matt to drop the case.

   As with most TV shows there were changes made from the TV Movie pilot to the weekly series. Jerry Fielding’s theme from the TV Movie was replaced by a theme written by Morton Stevens. The series added a new character to the supporting cast, Ethel (Jeff Donnell), an annoying woman who took Matt’s messages. On the plus side the one bad subplot from the TV Movie featuring the angry PI hating Police Sergeant (Val Bisoglio) was dropped.

   Irving Allen remained, now credited as executive consultant (there was no on air credit for executive producer). Buzz Kulik and Sam Rolfe were gone. Charles B. Fitzsimons and Ken Pettus became the producers. James Schmerer, who had been the associate producer for the film The Silencers (1966), was the series executive story consultant.

   The dark ex-spy side of Helm was basically gone. The character now was just another TV PI, closer to being Tony Franciosa than any version of Helm. The stories were inferior PI procedurals with enough plot holes to turn the cheese to Swiss, bad acting doomed by cardboard characters, directors missing shots, and enough padding to fill a mattress warehouse.

“Now I Lay Me Down To Die.” 27 September 1975. Written by Gerry Day and Bethel Leslie. Directed by Earl Bellamy. Guest Cast: Shelley Fabares, Burr DeBenning, Ian McShane. *** Rich woman known for her charity work hires Matt to find a serial killer whose last victim was her surrogate father.

   This is a cheese fest even Wisconsin would wince at. So lets play 70’s TV PI Cliché Bingo!

   It featured a serial killer. The Killer was female. She was nuts. She had duel personalities. Chris the good girl was rich and spent her time working for charities. Tina the bad girl was a hooker. She killed her johns after sex. She loved her work.

   The audience knows who the killer is before any of the characters including Chris. There is a gratuitous subplot about Chris’s evil husband. He is in debt. He is going to steal her fortune. She won’t get the money from dead Daddy’s will until next week. This subplot will be ignored at the end.

   There is more? Yep, Matt had barely started when someone (we never are really sure who or why) tries to kill him. Car Chase!! Matt tracks down Tina and gets knocked out from behind. Talking head scene where an expert refuses to answer questions while answering questions to explain killer’s actions.

   Female expert flirts with Matt. Police know where possible clue is but can’t get search warrant. Licensed PI ignoring rule of law plans illegal search believing a court of law would not toss out such evidence. Chris confesses before talking to her lawyer a few feet away. Ending ties things up in neat little bow as if victims were mere plot devices. BINGO! Extra point – famous ex-teen queen plays World’s most overdressed psycho killer hooker!

   The series faced even more challenges than bad writing and acting. ABC put it in a suicidal time slot, Saturday at 10pm-11pm, opposite of two popular series, CBS’s Carol Burnett Show and NBC’s Saturday Night at the Movies. And there may have been behind the scenes problems with Tony Franciosa’s temper.

   According to gossip columnist Maggie Daly (Chicago Tribune, 30 October 1975), while on location at the Burbank Water and Power plant Franciosa and director Richard Benedict (an ex-fighter) got into a physical fight that didn’t stop until the two fighters and the entire cast and crew were tossed off the location.

   Not surprisingly, Matt Helm lasted only thirteen episodes. The final episode to air “Die Once, Die Twice” (January 3, 1976) began with Matt happily leaving on a spy adventure for The Machine. Sadly, the mission was kept secret from us, and instead we got a 70s cheesy lawyer show featuring Kronski.

   I certainly recommend the TV Movie. But while I am curious what TV series Matt Helm might have inflicted on the spy genre, after watching four episodes of this series and its attempts at the PI and lawyer genre I rejoice ABC put TV series Matt Helm out of my misery.


And thanks to the always informative Thrilling Detective website for filling in my gaps of knowledge about the book series by Donald Hamilton.

 Posted by at 3:42 am
Feb 082015

“LADY KILLER.” An episode of Thriller, ITV, England, 14 April 1973. (Series 1, Episode 1.) US title: “The Death Policy,” as part of ABC’s late-night program Wide World of Entertainment. Robert Powell, Barbara Feldon, Linda Thorson, T.P. McKenna, Mary Wimbush. Screenwriter & series creator: Brian Clemens. Director: Bill Hays.

   I have some good news. According to TVShowsonDVD, the complete version of this highly acclaimed British TV series will be available on DVD in the US sometime early this year. The first series of 10 episodes came out here in 2006, but while I have a copy, the set has been out of print for quite some time. All six series, 43 episodes in all, have been available in the UK for a while, but that’s been it for anyone in the country without a multi-region player.

   This is good news, indeed, so I wish I didn’t have a few nits to pick with the story line. It isn’t the players. Robert Powell (The Italian Job, The Thirty-Nine Steps) does a villain very well, and Barbara Feldon (Get Smart) is a marvelously wonderful victim, an innocent from Indiana and on a leisurely visit to England, only to fall prey to a clever con man’s scheme.

   Part of the fun of watching a program such as Thriller are the twists and turns of the plot, so I’ll do my best not to tell you more than I should. Linda Thorson is part of the story, and she’s excellent as well, something I thought I’d never say, having “hated” her for such a long time for her audacity in replacing Diana Rigg in The Avengers.

   Even though I think the world of Brian Clemens, who died about a month ago — the producer of such noted shows as The Professionals and the aforementioned The Avengers among several other ventures — it’s the writing, most surprisingly, that I had a few issues with. Perhaps it’s the British style, or perhaps it was in 1973, but the suspense in “Lady Killer” is allowed to build only gradually, and then sputtered along on matters that puzzled me more than thrilled me.

   You know from the beginning that Jenny Frifth is going to be the victim, but of what? An ordinary scam, with only money involved, or does Paul Tanner (Powell) have murder in mind? (Well, so says the title.) And who is his accomplice?

   But here’s the rub. If I were to be carrying out a plot such as his, I’d be sure to carry out my conversations on the telephone with my accomplice somewhere other than in a room downstairs when my victim is supposed to be asleep upstairs with a phone next to her bed. I would also confront and take care of an interloper in my plans the same way, not downstairs with the lady sent upstairs.

   And for a gentleman supposed to be such a cool-minded criminal, why does he go to pieces when the lady decides to please him by putting on makeup and redoing her hair?

   What for me was even more off-putting was the business with the phone and the lady picking it up. For whatever reason, it was never brought up again. The aforementioned interloper also played his role very poorly, not thinking his plans through carefully enough. Here was a perfect example of Too Little Too Late, or at least Too Late, but thankfully (and luckily) not for Barbara Feldon’s character.

   You may think at this point I hated this little play, but I didn’t. The acting is superb throughout, and so are the settings, including a manor house of some magnitude, of course, and an isolated path along a rocky cliff overlooking the sea. I enjoyed this first episode in the series immensely, trying to outguess the writer at every step of the way, maybe even trying too hard. I’d still have to say that I’d have staged it a bit differently. It would not have been difficult. My nits are just that, major in their own inimitable way, but they could easily be overcome.

 Posted by at 1:57 am