“Second Thunder.” An episode of BLUE THUNDER. ABC, 6 January 1984. Rastar Production Inc and Public Arts Inc in association with Sony Pictures Television. Cast: James Farentino as Frank Chaney, Dana Carvey as “Jafo” Wonderlove, Sandy McPeak as Captain Braddock, Bubba Smith as Bubba, Dick Butkus as “Ski” and Ann Cooper as J. J. Douglas. Guest Cast: Richard Lynch. Executive Producer: Roy Huggins. Co-Executive Producer: David Moessinger. Producers: Jeri Taylor and Donald A. Baer. Teleplay by David Moessinger and Jeri Taylor. Story by Fred McKnight. Directed by Gilbert Shilton.
There are very few reasons to remember this series unless you were a young person during 1984 and enjoyed watching helicopters and explosions.
The success of the film BLUE THUNDER in 1983 led Columbia Pictures (owned by Sony) to adapt the idea into a TV series. ABC bought the idea and scheduled it as a mid-season replacement for Friday at 9 to 10pm (Eastern).
According to TVTango.com, the first episode “Second Thunder” received the ratings of 17.9 versus CBS’s DALLAS (25.4) and NBC’s Movie THE JERK, TOO (9.6 overall). The series was quickly cancelled with only 11 episodes filmed and aired.
The most positive part of this was that one of television’s most creative producers, Roy Huggins, came out of semi-retirement to executive produce (showrun) the series.
However, Huggins did not last long. As he explained, “The people at ABC wanted to produce the show. I wasn’t being allowed to produce the show, so I quit. I had the same argument 35 years ago when I started in television. These people weren’t even born then.” (ROY HUGGINS: CREATOR OF MAVERICK, 77 SUNSET STRIP, THE FUGITIVE AND THE ROCKFORD FILES by Paul Green, McFarland 2014)
The series attempted to mimic the film’s style but not its substance. There was a key difference between the two as the TV version approved of the idea of local police possessing top military hardware while the movie’s had the opposite view. Oh, and one of the character’s nickname “Jafo” bowed to TV censors and the f stood for “frustrated” (“Just Another Frustrated Observer”) rather than the stronger f word used in the film.
The first episode “Second Thunder” featured a drug smuggler with a grudge against Blue Thunder’s pilot Frank. The bad guy P.V.C. is willing to kill as many people as necessary to get Frank to meet him in a shoot-out in the sky. Frank is willing, but his Captain won’t let him because it is not by the book.
Currently all eleven episodes are available to view on You Tube, but BLUE THUNDER was released on DVD in 2006. Here is “Second Thunder.”
The problems of this episode and the series overall are obvious – lack of budget, bad writing, and a cliché cast of characters. You know what you are in for when the helicopter Blue Thunder is the most interesting character.
In this episode, James Farentino came off smug and annoying as the self-centered rogue pilot Lt. Frank Chaney. Dana Carvey was tolerable as the too cute character “Jafo,” the navigator and computer expert. As if Carvey was not enough humor the series featured the comedic relief team of Dick Butkus and Bubba Smith, two ex-football players in real life and in character, who manned the “Rolling Thunder” a giant van that supplied ground support and offer something to go with the helicopter should any toy company be interested.
Sandy McPeak offered nothing new playing the by the book grumpy Captain Braddock who dislikes Frank and exists only for gratuitous character conflict. Only Richard Lynch gave a nice performance as the cliché villain with a less than sane sense of humor.
While TV series have starred helicopters before (WHIRLYBIRDS (Syndicated, 1957), CHOPPER ONE (ABC, 1974), etc), the season of 1983-84 featured two, BLUE THUNDER and CBS’s AIRWOLF. The latter was the more successful of the two with viewers. BLUE THUNDER may have had the better helicopter but AIRWOLF offered more interesting characters, relationships that interested the viewer and better stories.
Granted the series was aimed at a young audience but the writing was horrible by even kid TV standards. The script was burdened by too many amateurish writing errors such as characters that told us what was happening as if this was radio and we couldn’t see.
“Here they come with the bomb,” Jafo announces as we watch the bomb squad arrive carrying the bomb.
Somehow they resisted labeling that device as “The Bomb,” but every gadget used in Blue Thunder had a button that would light up with its name so when Frank told “Jafo” to use some gadget such as “whisper mode” a button lit up with “whisper mode” on it.
The villain’s name P.V.C. was pointless when the intent was it to be mysterious. The writers made the mistake of having Captain Braddock comment about how mysterious it was but then never answered the mystery. The villain’s end would insult the intelligence of a comic book reader. (It did mine.)
Weak acting with bad characters and inept writing, you would think they would at least get the star’s scenes right. But even the air action with Blue Thunder was flawed by a lack of budget that forced the use of too many reused shots and footage from the film.
Toss in bad production values such as cheap sets and locations that had been overused by THE A-TEAM and you give up trying to find any redeeming value to this TV series.
And it was not just this one episode; for example in the last episode “The Island” Bubba and Ski take their positions behind barrels marked petrol for their gun battle with the bad guys.
Thanks to the DVD and the helicopter there are several reviews of BLUE THUNDER on the Internet, yet none I found mentioned Roy Huggins.
I wonder what kind of series BLUE THUNDER would have been if ABC had let Huggins have his way. It is interesting that the next series Huggins would work on was NBC’s HUNTER when Stephen J. Cannell asked him to take over after the disastrous first season. One of Huggins first changes with HUNTER was to feature less action and focus more on developing the characters. Funny, that is just what BLUE THUNDER needed (and some decent Huggins approved writers).
THE WHISTLER. Syndicated, 1954-55. – CBS Television Film Sales Inc – Lindsley Parsons Production (first 13 episodes) Joel Malone Associates (final 26 episodes). Cast: William Forman as The Whistler. Music by Wilbur Hatch. Produced by Joel Malone.
THE WHISTLER began as a radio anthology suspense drama featuring unexpected twists. It aired on the West Coast CBS radio network. While attempts to succeed on the East Coast were failures, the radio show proved very popular on the West Coast to Chicago and lasted between 1942 and 1955. You can listen to over 400 radio episodes at Archives.org.
The radio program would lead to eight films from Columbia Studios: THE WHISTLER (1944), THE MARK OF THE WHISTLER (1944), THE POWER OF THE WHISTLER (1945), THE VOICE OF THE WHISTLER (1945), MYSTERIOUS INTRUDER (1945), THE SECRET OF THE WHISTLER (1946), THE THIRTEENTH HOUR (1947), and THE RETURN OF THE WHISTLER (1948).
Here on YouTube is MYSTERIOUS INTRUDER, starring Richard Dix and directed by William Castle, for as long as the link lasts.
In February 1954 CBS TV Film Sales had three programs in early development to become a possible TV series. The three were ESCAPE, ROMANCE, and THE WHISTLER. (1)
In April CBS TV Film sannounced plans to bring the radio series THE WHISTLER to television through syndication. (2)
September 1954 Lindsley Parsons Production (FILES OF JEFFREY JONES) was signed to produce twenty-six episodes of THE WHISTLER. (3) (4)
“Billboard” reported (5) there were production problems on THE WHISTLER over cost and length of shooting. Joel Malone, who was the show’s producer and who “Billboard” called the “originator” of THE WHISTLER TV series, formed his own production company Joel Malone Associates to take over production from Lindsley Parsons Production.
“Broadcasting” (6) interviewed Joel Malone (CRIME BY NIGHT, APPOINTMENT WITH DEATH). Malone had edited and written THE WHISTER radio series since 1946. He had written or helped write around two hundred THE WHISTLER radio scripts.
Malone made changes in production methods. Shooting took place six days a week, taking off only Sunday and a major holiday such as Thanksgiving. Starting in November, Malone and company filmed thirteen episodes in little over a month. An article (7) about the cost of filming syndicated TV series included a photo of the cast and crew of THE WHISTLER shooting on the streets of Los Angeles at 3am.
The article (6) noted the shooting day of November 24, 1954, when filming of the episode “Kind Thought” ended, by 1pm the same day the next episode’s cast was ready at the studio to begin work on “Roark Island.”
The stories were the main attraction for THE WHISTLER in all its forms. Joel Malone wisely used his co-writers from the radio series, Harold Swanton (ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENT, WAGON TRAIN and PERRY MASON) and Adrian Gendot (DANGEROUS ASSIGNMENT, SKY KING and PERRY MASON).
No doubt helpful in maintaining the speed of production was the reuse of the radio scripts to make the TV episodes. Sadly, the budget and the restrictions of 50’s television against violence and true visual horror prevented the TV episodes from reaching the suspense of the radio versions.
Most of the TV episodes were directed either by Malone, Will Jason (SHOTGUN SLADE), or William F. Claxton (TWILIGHT ZONE and LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRARIE). I found the Claxton episodes the most creative visually.
The music and famous opening stayed much the same through all the formats. The iconic theme song written by Wilbur Hatch and performed by Dorothy Roberts remains recognizable today. The Whistler himself remained a character of mystery, a shadow drifting through the world observing and commenting on the story and characters. While others including William Forman played the character in other formats, Forman was the only one to play it on the TV series.
The acting was an important selling point for the TV series as it was for the radio version. The TV series attracted such talent as Howard Duff, Marie Windsor, and Linda Stirling. It often reused actors in more than one episode, actors such as Martha Vickers, Craig Stevens, John Ireland, Nancy Gates, John Howard, Robert Hutton, Marshall Thompson and many more.
Most likely shooting began with the hiring of Lindsley Parsons Production in September 1954.
We do know it was on the air in October 1954 when the series major sponsor Signal Oil had it in 28 markets (8). Signal Oil was the West Coast part of Standard Oil. This limited the area Signal Oil would sponsor THE WHISTLER. The series other major sponsor, Lipton also did so in only some markets. Both sponsors limited their support to alternated weeks. (4)
The series lasted one season of thirty-nine episodes, thus leaving enough episodes for THE WHISTLER to be sold over and over for many years. The extra cost of producing an anthology series, plus the lack of a national weekly sponsor probably played important roles in the decision to stop shooting new episodes.
Considering the shooting schedule of thirteen episodes a month, shooting for the series most likely ended in January 1955. By February 1955 (9) Joel Malone was busy with NAVY LOG for CBS-TV network where it would appear in primetime in 1955-56 for CBS before moving to ABC where it remained on air until 1958.
THE WHISTLER TV SERIES EPISODE INDEX
Twenty-six of the thirty-nine episodes can be viewed at Archive.org. (Scroll down to zip files and the TV episodes begin at 18 and ends with 30.) The episodes are also available on YouTube. Below I have linked to two of my favorite episodes.
EPISODES BY LINDSLEY PARSONS PRODUCTIONS
“Search For An Unknown.” Written by Joel Malone and Adrian Gendot. Directed by Will Jason. Cast: Barton MacLane, King Donovan and Jean Howell. *** Businessman hires a PI to find who is threatening to kill him and three other people – four people without any connection.
“Backfire.” Written by Joel Malone. Directed by Frank MacDonald. Cast: Lon Chaney and Dorothy Green. *** Ex-con chauffer falls for the wife of his rich employer. When she dumps him he thinks of revenge.
“Cup O’Gold.” Written by Joel Malone and Adrian Gendot. Directed by Will Jason. Cast: Tom Brown and Barbara Wooddell (sic). *** A corrupt member of the D.A.’s office turns to murder. A woman sees him run from the scene, but fails to identify him as the killer to the police.
“Letters From Aaron Burr.” Written by Joel Malone and Adrian Gendot. Directed by William H. Claxton. Cast: Howard Duff and Martha Vickers. *** When he leaves prison Ernie finds a persistent beautiful young woman representing a rich old lady who wants to help him.
NOTE TO PROOFREADERS: William Claxton on-air credit in Lindsley Parsons Production episodes used the middle initial H but it would change to F for the Joel Malone Associates episodes.
“Fatal Fraud.” Written by Joel Malone and Adrian Gendot. Directed by William H. Claxton. Cast: Patric Knowles and Marie Windsor. *** Marie Windsor plays a femme fatale who uses two men to help her steal a quarter of a million dollars.
“Grave Secre.” Written by Joel Malone and Adrian Gendot. Directed by Will Jason. Cast: Miriam Hopkins and Murvyn Vye. *** Harriett has kept her secret about her killing her employer, but it is another secret she will regret.
“Lady In Waiting.” Written by Joel Malone and Adrian Gendot. Directed by William H. Claxton. Cast: Nancy Gates and Craig Stevens. *** A mobster’s love for a nice girl causes her a great deal of trouble.
“The Big Jump.”. Written by Joel Malone. Directed by Will Jason. Cast: John Ireland and Tina Craver. *** A crook in New York fakes his death and escapes to San Francisco where he goes straight. He has a new life as a happily married man until one of his fellow thieves from New York spots him.
EPISODES BY JOEL MALONE ASSOCIATES
“Cancelled Flight.” Written by Joel Malone and Adrian Gendot. Directed by Will Jason. Cast: Richard Arlen and Barbara Woodell. *** Two partners fall out when the police get too close to their smuggling operation.
“The Blank Wall.” Written by Joel Malone. Directed by Will Jason. Cast: Wallace Ford, and Philip Van Zandt. *** A respected bank employee is proud when his daughter agreed to marry the Bank’s owner son. But her happiness is threaten when a man from his hidden past as an ex-con tries to blackmail him.
“Sleep My Pretty One.” Screenplay by Joel Malone. Based on a Radio Play by Ruth Bourne. Directed by William F. Claxton. Cast: Martha Vickers, Paul Langton and Linda Stirling. ***A doctor may have the cure for a sick patient but the drug must be tested first. He turns to his fiancee for help.
“The Pattern.” . Written by Joel Malone and Adrian Gendot. Directed by Will Jason. Cast: Robert Ellenstein, Ellen Corby and Ken Tobey. *** A bookstore owner tells his detective friend that he had found a pattern of suspicious deaths and that the next death would happen on his street.
“The Jubilee Earring.” Written by Harold Swanton. Directed by William F. Claxton. Cast: Marguerite Chapman, Douglas Kennedy and Art Gilmore. *** A successful female executive is heading to a 10 year reunion with her two closest College friends, one a professional football player who has always wanted to marry her.
“The Glass Dime.” .Teleplay by Ellis Marcus and Harold Swanton. Based on a Radio Play by Adrian Gendot. Directed by William F. Claxton. Cast: Robert Hutton and Eve Miller. ***On the run from the cops a desperate con man steals from his rich uncle.
“Lovely Look.” . Screenplay by Joel Malone. Based on a Radio Play by Mary Ruth Funk. Directed by Will Jason. Cast: Murvyn Vye and Pamela Duncan. *** An unhappy husband falls for the new housekeeper.
“The Other Hand.”. Screenplay by Joel Malone. Story by Joel Malone and Harold Swanton. Directed by William F. Claxton. Cast: John Howard, Dorothy Green and Angela Greene. *** A businessman checks himself into a sanitarium for rest when the stress of work and his relationships with two women get too much for him.
“A Case For Mr. Carrington.” . Screenplay by Harold Swanton. Story by Joel Malone and Harold Swanton. Directed by William F. Claxton. Cast: Patric Knowles, Paul Dubov and Reginald Denny. *** Gordon prepares a plan to murder with the help of a book written by the local Police Inspector.
“Man Who Ran.” Screenplay by Joel Malone. Story by Tommy Tomlinson and Harold Swanton. Directed by Charles F. Haas. Cast: Les Tremayne and Dorothy Patrick. *** A bored accountant seeks to escape his routine existence.
“Death Sentence.” . Written by Fred Hegelund and Harold Swanton. Directed by Joel Malone. Cast: Marshall Thompson, Dani Sue Nolan and John Doucette. *** Told he has three months to live Martin confesses, for money to take care of his family, to a murder he didn’t commit.
“Dark Hour.” Written by Joel Malone. Directed by Charles F. Hass. Cast: Robert Hutton and Nancy Gates *** Young lawyer believes in the innocence of his client despite the arguments of the DA, the Uncle of his girlfriend.
“The First Year.” Screenplay by Joel Malone. Story by Joel Malone and Harold Swanton. Directed by Joel Malone. Cast: Virginia Field, Craig Stevens and John Hoyt. *** A disapproving Uncle sets up his will to punish his niece for marrying a playboy. To receive his fortune they need to stay married and together for ten years.
“Meeting On Tenth Street.” Screenplay by Joel Malone. Story by Joel Malone and Harold Swanton. Directed by Joel Malone. Cast: Robert Ellenstein, Peggy Webber and Willis B. Bouchey. *** A rejected suitor hires a hitman to kill his romantic rival.
“Silent Partner.” Screenplay by Joel Malone. Story by Joel Malone and Harold Swanton. Directed by Joel Malone. Cast: Charles McGraw and Hugh Sanders. *** Matt, the original owner of a large ranch finds himself being pushed out by his partner.
“An Actor’s Life.” Screenplay by Joel Malone. Based on a Radio Play by Gene Fromherz. Directed by William F. Claxton. Cast: Arthur Franz and Margaret Field. *** Julie is a successful singer in Hollywood with problems. She fears her boss who is forcing her to marry him, and now an ex-boyfriend arrives needing her help to get an acting job in Hollywood.
“Trigger Man.” Screenplay by Adrian Gendot. and Harold Swanton. Story by Robert and Beatrice Gruskin. Directed by Joel Malone. Cast: Marshall Thompson, and Dani Sue Nolan. *** Dave, a promising young lawyer, is warned by those around him that there will be a price to pay if he continues to work for a mobster.
“Marriage Contract.” Screenplay by Joel Malone. Story by George & Gertrude Fass and Harold Swanton. Directed by Joel Malone. Cast: Charles Winninger and Tom Brown. *** Eddie becomes a rich man’s lawyer and friend to get into the old man’s will. He succeeds until a twenty-four year old woman with no interest in the money agrees to marry the old man.
TV EPISODES NOT VIEWED
“A Friendly Case of Blackmail”
“Incident at Scully’s Key.’ 16 mm film print: Lindsley Parsons Production, directed by Will Jason, written by Joel Malone and Adrian Gendot, cast: Audrey Totter and Carleton Young (10)
LOST AND FOUND AT YOU TUBE: SHOESTRING
by Michael Shonk
“Mocking Bird.” An episode of SHOESTRING. BBC/BBC1, UK, 19 October 1980. Cast: Trevor Eve as PI Eddie Shoestring, Michael Medwin as Don Satchley, Doran Goodwin as Erica Bayliss and Liz Crowther as Sonia. Guest Cast: Frederick Jaeger, John J. Carney, Patti Love, David Sibley. Created by Richard Harris and Robert Banks Stewart. Written by William Hood. Theme by George Fenton. Directed by Ben Bolt. Produced by Robert Banks Stewart.
SHOESTRING is perhaps as fondly remembered overseas as THE ROCKFORD FILES remains here in the States. And it is easy to see why as both are blessed with clever writing, likeable characters and a talented lead actor.
SHOESTRING is on DVD but has never been released on the American format NTSC region 1 so you will need a multi-format DVD player if you wish to buy the DVD.
While there are more episodes of the series on YouTube, I have chosen a special program, SHAW TAYLOR’S CRIME FILES where British celebrity Shaw Taylor MBE takes a quick look at the series. A complete episode of SHOESTRING from its second season “Mocking Bird” begins around the 3:19 point.
SHOESTRING was still popular when Trevor Eve decided to leave due to his fear of being type-casted. Here is an excerpt from a popular British TV series CULT OF… that looked at various cult TV favorites, in this case THE CULT OF SHOESTRING.
“Undercover.” From the COLUMBO series. ABC/Universal TV, 2 May 1994. Starring Peter Falk as Columbo. Teleplay by Gerry Day. Based on story by Ed McBain. Produced and Directed by Vincent McEveety. Created by Richard Levinson and William Link. Executive Producer: Peter Falk. Producer: Christopher Seiter. Guest Cast: Ed Begley Jr, Burt Young, Harrison Page, Shera Danese, Tyne Daly.
Sorry for the commercial interruptions on this YouTube video.
OK, who is this character posing as Columbo? Where is the inverted mystery? The real Columbo, one properly dressed in his car with his dog does not arrive on screen until the final scene. Until then this imposter works in a police station where he shares a desk with his partner, needs his Captain’s approval to take the case, goes undercover, carries a gun and gets knocked out by the bad guy in this average TV mystery.
And the most unforgiving flaw with this cop show posing as a Columbo episode, was I knew who the killer was while Columbo believed it was another suspect. We expect more from Columbo.
After a man is murdered by someone searching for a piece of a photograph, the alleged Columbo goes undercover searching for the killer and the photograph that would lead to the location of the missing four million dollars from a botched bank robbery.
The acting, directing and production values were up to usual Columbo standards. The script by Gerry Day (Wagon Train, Dennis the Menace, Murder She Wrote) had its moments such as when one character described Burt Young’s character as looking like that guy from Rocky. But there was nothing about this episode that made it special enough to abandon the series premise of the inverted mystery or the main character’s methods.
Columbo does a story by Ed McBain, master of the police procedurals! There are so many things wrong with that sentence.
The McBain book adapted here was Jigsaw (1970). This and the episode “No Time to Die” (adapted from McBain’s book So Long As You Both Shall Live (1976) and was the only COLUMBO episode without a murder) were the only Columbo episodes not originally written for the series. Both books were from McBain’s 87th Precinct book series.
This episode is also available on DVD (Mystery Movie Collection: 1994-2003).
ROGUE. DirecTV, Season One (10 episodes), April-May 2013. Thandie Newton, Marton Csokas, Sarah Jeffery, Joshua Sasse, Kavan Smith, Leah Gibson, Jarod Joseph, Ian Tracey, Ian Hart.
I don’t have a hookup with DirecTV, so I had to wait for the series to come out on DVD to be able to watch it, that and a span of a couple of weeks to find the time. For me, it started slowly but gradually caught my attention, and I ended up watching the last two episodes in one evening (last night).
The star of the series is without a doubt Thandie Newton, who plays Grace Travis, a black police officer from the San Jose Police Department who has been working undercover for the Oakland police to get the goods on Jimmy Laszlo (Marton Csokas), a local crime boss controlling the waterfront area. But obsessed with finding out who killed her young son in what was written off as a tragic but accidental drive-by shooting, she finds herself getting deeper and deeper into a complicated plot of greed, revenge, mob killings and more, alienating her own family while getting closer and closer to the man she is supposed to be bringing down.
It takes all ten episodes for the entire story line to work its way through, and naturally there is plenty of violence to go along with it, some of shockingly graphic. And perhaps equally naturally not everyone in the cast survives to the end, some a lot sooner than viewers might expect, including this one. There is also, given the freedom of not being seen on broadcast TV, quite a few almost as graphic sex scenes.
The setting, mostly in around the Oakland waterfront (but probably filmed in Canada) and the seedier sections of that particular town, is beautifully filmed, and the plot has enough twists and turns to keep everyone’s minds constantly in high gear.
The largest downside is the level of the actors’ performances. I found them uneven, to say it mildly, from actor and actor, and even in the case of some of the players, from scene to scene. Some of the dialogue is awkward and clunky, though, and tough to bring off convincingly, so the actors don’t deserve all of the blame.
Thandie Newton carries the show well, however. The character she plays is both tough and vulnerable, and she is placed in any number of situations in which she can show off how she tries to deal with them, and believe me, she gets into quite a few scrapes and narrow escapes. It would be a strenuous role for anyone, especially the vulnerability Newton’s character has to display, as mentioned above, and I think she nails it. I can’t imagine anyone else playing the part.
The series deserved a second season, and it got one. It’s playing now but will end its run this week.
PETROCELLI. NBC, 1974-1976. Paramount Television / Miller-Milkis Production. Cast: Barry Newman as Anthony “Tony” Petrocelli, Susan Howard as Maggie Petrocelli, and Albert Salmi as Pete Ritter. Created by Sidney J. Furie and Harold Buchman. Developed for television by E. Jack Neuman. Executive Producers: Thomas L. Miller and Edward K. Milkis. Producer: Leonard Katzman. Executive Story Consultant: Jackson Gillis. Story Editor: Dan Ullman. Music by Lalo Schifrin.
“The Golden Cage.” 11 September 1974. Teleplay by Dan Ullman. Story by Leonard Bercovici. Directed by Joseph Pevney.
Guest Cast: Joseph Campanella, Rosemary Forsyth, Morgan Woodward and William Windom.
This was the series first episode and aired opposite two other new series, ABC’s Get Christie Love and CBS’s The Manhunter. (See my review of The Manhunterhere.)
The series featured Anthony Petrocelli, a Harvard-educated lawyer and proud Italian, who decides to leave New York for the small community of San Remo, Arizona, to help the powerless and innocent. The first case involved the abused wife of the richest most powerful man in the county.
Petrocelli would last two seasons.
One note of warning, shows can come and go fast on YouTube and others remain there for years. This is one you might want to hurry to check out.
COUNTERSPY and DAVID HARDING, COUNTERSPY. TV episodes, 1958 and 1959. Bernard L. Schuberg Presentation / Telestar. Executive Producer: Herbert E. Stewart. Based on the radio seriesCounterspy (1942-1950).
COUNTERSPY. (1958) Written by Jack Anson Fink. Directed by Ralph Francis Murphy. Cast: Don Megowan as David Harding. Guest Cast: Brad Johnson, Gerald Milton and Phyllis Stanley *** A former WWII British Navy frogman puts the fins back on to help Unit C uncover the new advance by the Russians in ship navigation.
The story is weak with unbelievable characters and plot. No Russian Admiral would treat a top-secret device so carelessly while ignoring the head of security. Slow paced with a writer’s trick needed to supply tension and a lackluster soundtrack add to the episode’s flaws.
The episode has been posted on YouTube many times including here.
This is the most commonly seen episode of COUNTERSPY (this is from Alpha Video DVD collection) and may be the only surviving episode left to watch. It is commonly believed to be an unsold pilot, but the episode ends with Don Megowan (THE BEACHCOMER) doing a tease about “next week’s” episode. That seems unlikely for a pilot. Reliable TV spy historian Craig Henderson wrote at his website For Your Eyes Only (*) — a must visit for spy fans — there was a series with Megowan.
According to “Broadcasting” magazine (April 14, 1958) filming of COUNTERSPY had begun the week of April 7, 1958. The half-hour TV-film series would shoot in Hollywood and in 26 different locations throughout the world. Producer Bernard Schubert had budgeted 39 episodes at more than $35,000 for each TV-Film episode. It would be syndicated through Schubert’s company Telestar.
From “Broadcasting” (June 16,1958), “Telestar Films, New York, announced last week it is releasing three new half-hour tv (sic) film series for syndication to stations. They are COUNTERSPY, an adventure-suspense series filmed on location through out the world…”
For the curious the other two were PAROLE and yet to be titled country music show. PAROLE would become a series. TV series YOUR MUSICAL JAMBOREE was probably the country music show mentioned. According to the article, COUNTERSPY was to be released in fall of 1958.
Bernard L. Schubert was a minor player in the TV-film syndicated market that played a major role in television during the 1950s. Schubert produced such TV series as ADVENTURES OF THE FALCON, AMAZING MR MALONE, MR AND MRS NORTH, TOPPER, CROSSROADS, TV READER’S DIGEST, and WHITE HUNTER.
Craig Henderson’s website mentions a remake of COUNTERSPY. Thanks to YouTube, I was able to find the pilot remake done by Schubert with Reed Hadley (RACKET SQUAD, PUBLIC DEFENDER) as David Harding.
DAVID HARDING, COUNTERSPY. 1959). Written by Stanley Kapner. Directed by Justin Addiss. Cast: Reed Hadley as David Harding. Guest cast: Christopher Dark, Lilyan Chauvin, Ross Elliott and Vito Scotti. *** A man in a small French village risks everything to help David Harding find two missing American agents.
An improvement over Mcgowan’s version of COUNTERSPY, this was better produced featuring good use of a (now cliché) soundtrack, with a story full of tension, violence, mystery and even a spy gadget. The opening with Hadley as Harding giving a pledge perfectly fits the period’s reaction to the Cold War and is an improvement over the written scroll of the earlier version.
In January 26, 1959 issue of “Broadcasting” producer Bernard Schubert announced a new half- hour TV series COUNTERSPY would be released in May.
Why remake COUNTERSPY less than a year later? Commie-fighting heroes was one of the most popular sub-genres on TV during the fifties. One can understand Schubert’s reluctance to give up on David Harding. COUNTERSPY was not the only remake on his schedule that year.
In “Broadcasting” (February 2,1959) Schubert’s Telestar announced the filming of the pilots for two possible series, COUNTERSPY and THE NEW ADVENTURES OF MR. AND MRS. NORTH.
The June 15, 1959 issue of “Broadcasting” reported Telestar had three series about to start filming in Hollywood. They were COUNTERSPY, ALEXANDER THE GREAT, and THE NEW ADVENTURES OF MR. AND MRS. NORTH. For the curious ALEXANDER THE GREAT was to be based on the “Saturday Evening Post” short stories about an earthworm tractor salesman.
“Broadcasting” (September 7, 1959), reported 39 episodes of DAVID HARDING, COUNTERSPY starring Reed Hadley would be available for national syndication but no date was given.
September 28, 1959 “Broadcasting” had an odd item about Schubert’s plans to sneak preview episodes from Telestar’s three forthcoming TV-film series. The three series would be DAVID HARDING COUNTERSPY, ALEXANDER THE GREAT, and DAVID HARUM (another attempt by Schubert to adapt a movie turn radio series for TV, Chill Wills was to star as Harum). Plans were to feature as many as six episodes from each series.
The previews would take place in TV station studios or local movie theatres in six key U.S. regions. The audience would fill out “comment cards” that would influence the series still in production. The first sneaks were planned for late September. Does anyone know if this happened?
David Harding began as the main character in the radio series COUNTERSPY (1942-50 Blue/ABC, 1950-53 NBC, 1953-57 Mutual) and was created by Phillip H. Lord (SETH PARKER, GANGBUSTERS).
COUNTERSPY was also adapted for two films, an attempted film series by Columbia Studios. The films were DAVID HARDING COUNTERSPY (1950) and COUNTERSPY MEETS SCOTLAND YARD (1950).
While I believe the Reed Hadley pilot never went to a full series, I do believe there was a short-lived Megowan series. Are there episodes of the series still out there? This is too common a question for those of us interested in early television.
There are too many forgotten TV series, especially those syndicated, and too much misinformation in the books and databases devoted to the subject. Thanks to TV-Film collectors we continue to find the shows themselves but despite what we see and learn, common knowledge continues to rule over facts (not unusual in today’s world).
IMDb does its best, but its episode indexes are near worthless, and the site is riddled with errors such as the Reed Hadley version of COUNTERSPY being listed at IMDb under DAVID HARTMAN, COUNTERSPY (1955) instead of DAVID HARDING, COUNTERSPY (1959). The Hadley bio on IMDb has him playing the character David Harding on DAVID HARTMAN, COUNTERSPY.
One can only hope someday one of the TV archives such as Museum of Broadcasting, Paley Center and UCLA Film-TV library will index for the Internet (with episodes’ credits, plots and dates if available) the TV shows they are storing. While legally they can’t put the shows on the Internet, they should do an Internet database and end the mysteries, get rid of the accepted misinformation, and fill in the blanks of TV’s past.
(*) FULL DISCLOSURE: Back in 1973-74 I wrote for two issues of Craig Henderson’s FYEO (FOR YOUR EYES ONLY) fanzine.
ANN CLEEVES – Silent Voices. Thomas Dunne/Minotaur Books, hardcover, May 2013. Trade paperback, July 2014. First published in the UK, 2011. Police procedural; Det. Inspector Vera Stanhope #1 [#4 in the UK]. Dramatized for TV as an episode of Vera, UK, ITV, with Brenda Blethyn in the title role [Series 2, Episode 2.]
First Sentence: Vera swam slowly.
It’s not every day a police inspector finds a dead body sharing a sauna with her in a hotel health club, especially when that body is of a murder victim. Vera and her team work to find a killer in a village filled with people, and their secrets.
From the very first paragraph, one is caught up in the author’s voice; her dry humor and the character. By the end of the first chapter, one is also caught up in the story.
There is so much one could say about the characters, particularly Vera. How nice it is to have a female protagonist such as Vera. She’s a mature woman, overweight and unconcerned about her appearance — except, not totally unconcerned. She does care about being fair to her team, knows what motivates each of them, and is a very good leader; even though she drives them hard.
She’s respected by her colleagues, even when they frustrate her. The relationship she has with Joe, her sergeant, is an interesting one… “Sometimes Vera though he represented her feminine side. He had the empathy, she had the muscle. Well, the bulk.” Even with the suspects, she doesn’t just investigate clues, but motivations; what makes people do what they do, what drives them.
Cleeves has a very interesting style. Although the story is told in third person, when she focuses on Vera, it switches somewhat to first person as we gain insight on her life and character through an internal monologue and her observations… “These days, people expected senior female officers to walk straight out of Prime Suspect.”
There is a very strong sense of place and wonderful descriptions. Particularly appealing is the contrast between the town and the desolation of Vera’s home. It’s very much part of her character.
Although the story is character driven, it certainly doesn’t lack for plot or suspense. We’re given plenty of characters with motives, nice red herrings and plot twists. Vera is currently a television series done by British ITV, and very well done it is. The only way I knew the villain in the book was having seen the episode. Otherwise, it really wasn’t obvious.
Rating: VG Plus.
The Vera Stanhope series –
The Crow Trap (1999)
Telling Tales (2005)
Hidden Depths (2007)
Silent Voices (2011)
The Glass Room (2012)
Harbour Street (2014)
Vera [TV series] –
Series 1 Episode 1: Hidden Depths
Series 1 Episode 2: Telling Tales
Series 1 Episode 3: The Crow Trap
Series 1 Episode 4: Little Lazarus
Series 2 Episode 1: The Ghost Position
Series 2 Episode 2: Silent Voices
Series 2 Episode 3: Sandancers
Series 2 Episode 4: A Certain Samaritan
Series 3, Episode 1: Castles in the Air
Series 3, Episode 2: Poster Child
Series 3, Episode 3: Young Gods
Series 3 Episode 4: Prodigal Son
FIRST YOU READ, THEN YOU WRITE
by Francis M. Nevins
Anyone who’s read Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer novels — by which I mean the early ones, dating from 1947 to 1952, the ones in which Spillane overturned the whole Hammett-Chandler PI tradition by portraying Hammer as a sadistic psycho — has his own idea who should have played the character on screen.
There’s a consensus that the actors cast in the part were inadequate except perhaps for Ralph Meeker in director Robert Aldrich’s subversive version of KISS ME, DEADLY (1955), where Hammer is not the Cold War jihadi Spillane imagined but a cheap punk. It may not be coincidence that Meeker bore a certain physical resemblance to Spillane.
For my money the ideal screen Hammer would need to be a big bruiser, and of the actors from the period who are familiar to me the one I see as most like the character Spillane created was Lawrence Tierney (1919-2002). I challenge anyone to watch Tierney in that fine film noir BORN TO KILL (1947) and tell me he isn’t Hammer to the life. And judging from what I read on the Web, he was also a raging bull in the real world, serving several jail terms for beating people up in bars.
The years of the early Spillane novels coincided with the dawn years of television, but the medium’s antipathy to sex and strong violence seemed to rule out Hammer as a star of the small screen. Then in the late 1950s the character invaded America’s living rooms in the person of Darren McGavin (1922-2006), who went on to star in several other series including RIVERBOAT, THE OUTSIDER and KOLCHAK, THE NIGHT STALKER.
According to an interview McGavin gave decades later (Scarlet Street, Fall 1994), “Universal had made a contract with Spillane, and they made three pilots, one with Brian Keith. They couldn’t show them because they were all too violent.”
The Keith pilot was written and directed by soon-to-be-superstar Blake Edwards (1922-2010). I’m told on the Web that it’s out there, and someday I’d love to see it. Keith as he looked in the Fifties strikes me as an excellent choice for the part, certainly more so than McGavin, who like Ralph Meeker resembled Spillane more than the Mick’s most famous character.
“I was doing a play in New York,” McGavin recalled, “and they called me to come out and do this series. I read the script…[and] said, ‘This is ridiculous! I mean, you can’t take this shit seriously….[T]his is satire. It’s gotta be satirical.’ [The producers] said, ‘No, no, no—this is really very deadly, straight-on, dead-on serious.’”
McGavin insisted on playing the part his way, and Universal bigwig Lou Wasserman came down to the set and told him, “You can’t make fun of this material.” McGavin said, “I’m not making fun of it, I’m just treating it in a lighter manner…. We have a contract for me to say the words that are put on the paper. I don’t want anybody telling me how to do it.” What the hell did he think a director was for? Amazingly, McGavin wasn’t fired, and according to him, the episodes “were instantly successful. People thought they were funny.”
Spillane couldn’t have cared less how the character was portrayed, telling TV Guide “I just took the money and went home.” That magazine’s reviewer declared that HAMMER “could easily be the worst show on TV.” I have yet to find anyone who considered the program a laugh riot but it certainly was successful, running for two seasons of 39 episodes each. All 78 can be accessed on YouTube and are also available on a DVD set.
If the series wasn’t like the Hammer novels and wasn’t a comic parody of Spillane either, how can we describe it? I suggest we think of it as a sort of visual counterpart of Manhunt, the digest-sized crime magazine that debuted in 1953, at the height of Spillane’s popularity, and printed tons of tales by those hardboiled writers who were clients of the Scott Meredith literary agency. I don’t think it was by chance that later in the decade several of those writers got to crank out Hammer scripts, or have their Manhunt stories adapted for the Hammer series, or both.
To take the latter situation first, let’s look at Evan Hunter (1926-2005). By the time Hammer made it to the small screen, Hunter was writing mainstream bestsellers under his official name and the 87th Precinct police procedurals as Ed McBain. Earlier in his career he’d been writing tons of short stories for the hardboiled mags.
It was in Manhunt that readers of the Red Menace era first encountered an edgy alcoholic PI named Matt Cordell. Although originally published as by Evan Hunter, the byline and the protagonist magically changed their names to Curt Cannon when the stories were collected as the paperback original I LIKE ‘EM TOUGH (Gold Medal pb #743, 1958), soon to be accompanied by the novel I’M CANNON—FOR HIRE (Gold Medal pb #814, 1958).
Hunter’s career had skyrocketed so far into the stratosphere that he wasn’t interested in writing for the Hammer TV series, but three of his six Cordell stories from Manhunt were adapted by others into Hammer scripts. Hunter, needless to add, was a Scott Meredith client. So was Henry Kane (1908-1988), who found one of his Manhunt tales about PI Peter Chambers reconfigured as a Hammer exploit.
So was Robert Turner (1915-1980), who devoted a chapter of his memoir SOME OF MY BEST FRIENDS ARE WRITERS BUT I WOULDN’T WANT MY DAUGHTER TO MARRY ONE! (Sherbourne Press, 1970) to his experiences working on the Hammer series. As Turner tells it, a whole pile of Scott Meredith clients got flown out to La-La Land and tried their hands at writing for the program but only a few succeeded.
First and by far the most successful was Frank Kane (1912-1968), who was credited with 14 original scripts, 5 more written with a co-author, and 6 Manhunt tales (three of them about his own PI Johnny Liddell) Hammerized either by himself or somebody else. Kane had a habit of using gallows-humor titles for his novels and stories, and both he himself and others tended to use the same type of title for their HAMMER episodes.
Witness the following lists:
KANE NOVEL OR STORY
Slay Upon Delivery
HAMMER SCRIPT BY KANE
Crepe for Suzette
A Detective Tail
A Grave Undertaking
Lead Ache (based on Kane’s short story)
Slay Upon Delivery (not based on Kane’s short story)
HAMMER SCRIPT BY SOMEBODY ELSE
Bride and Doom
The High Cost of Dying
Just Around the Coroner
Merchant of Menace
My Fair Deadly
Stocks and Blondes
Swing Low, Sweet Harriet
Robert Turner described Kane as “a big, bluff, hearty guy with a sometimes bawdy but always lively sense of humor… He drove [the producers] crazy, because he steadfastly refused to make carbon copies of his scripts.” He “could turn out a first draft in one or two days. He never gave it to [the producers] right away, though. Not after the first time, when they told him it couldn’t possibly be any good if he’d written it that fast. From then on he just threw the thing in a drawer for two or three days and visited around the lot.”
He “would come to Hollywood for a month, write four or five scripts, and as soon as the last one was finished and okayed wouldn’t even wait for his check, but would head back to his family in New York….He always took the train….”
Another well-known crime novelist turning out Hammer exploits was Bill S. Ballinger (1912-1980), who under his B. X. Sanborn byline wrote about a dozen scripts for the series. Most of what didn’t come from East Coast hardboilers was the work of four men who over the years turned out a small army of scripts for Revue Productions’ syndicated TV programs: Fenton Earnshaw, Lawrence Kimble, Barry Shipman and, most prolific of all, Steven Thornley (reportedly a byline of prime-time teleplaywright Ken Pettus).
How about the guys who called the shots? The busiest of the Revue contract directors who worked on HAMMER was Ukraine-born Boris Sagal (1923-1981), who signed 20 of the initial 39 episodes plus 5 from the second season. Sagal soon became one of the top TV directors but his career came to a messy end: while filming the mini-series WORLD WAR III, he walked into the tail rotor blades of a helicopter and was partially decapitated.
Also noteworthy among the first season’s directors was John English (1903-1969), one of the great action specialists who spent much of his creative life helming B Westerns and cliffhanger serials at the legendary Republic Pictures. English moved into television when the new medium displaced theatrical B features and spent several years at Revue.
He directed only five segments of HAMMER but “Peace Bond” boasts perhaps the most exciting climax of any of the 78 episodes. McGavin’s mano a mano with an evil lawyer (Edmon Ryan) represents Republic-style action at its no-prop-left-unsmashed finest, every moment perfectly choreographed and complemented by the background music of Republic veteran Raoul Kraushaar.
English’s best bud at Republic was my own best friend in Hollywood, William Witney (1915-2002), the Spielberg of his generation, a wunderkind who at the start of his career was the youngest director in the business. Between 1937 and 1941 the two co-directed 17 consecutive Republic serials, their visual styles so much alike that they often got into arguments about who had shot what.
In the late Fifties, after Republic folded, Witney wound up at Revue, directing episodes of many of the same series English was working on, including MIKE HAMMER. During its second season Bill helmed 13 segments, far more than anyone else except Boris Sagal.
His HAMMER work benefits from innovations like devising L-shaped sets, with the camera positioned at the right angle of the L so he could have it point east and shoot one scene while the technicians were preparing the north arm of the L for the next sequence, then have it swing around, point north and shoot that scene while the crewmen were tearing down the furnishings from Bill’s first shot and setting up what was needed for his third.
If you watch only one of his 13 HAMMER segments, make it “Wedding Mourning” — the last episode filmed, he told me — in which Hammer for once is portrayed as something very close to the brutal psycho Spillane all unwittingly had created. Mike falls for a woman and is about to get married and change his life when his love is murdered and he runs amok, shooting and beating a swath through New York’s lowlifes. If any of the 78 HAMMER episodes qualifies as telefilm noir, this is it.
In the cast lists of any Fifties series you’re likely to find a number of men and women who were prominent in movies from earlier decades and others who were to become famous on TV in the Sixties or later. Among those once better known who appeared in HAMMER episodes were Neil Hamilton, Allan “Rocky” Lane, Keye Luke, Alan Mowbray, Tom Neal and Anna May Wong. The first three also enjoyed later TV fame, respectively as BATMAN’s Commissioner Gordon, the voice of the titular horse on MR. ED, and KUNG FU’S Master Po.
The actors who weren’t all that well known at the time of their HAMMER roles but made their marks later include Herschel Bernardi, Barrie Chase, Michael Connors, Angie Dickinson, Robert Fuller, Lorne Greene, DeForest Kelley, Dorothy Provine and Robert Vaughn. Anyone who can identify all these folks’ claims to fame either is a telefreak of the first water or has the DVD set.
While cobbling this column together I was presented with a copy of the set and have begun watching the episodes. Some of them I haven’t seen in many years, others — mainly those directed by Bill Witney or Jack English — I taped when the series was broadcast on the Encore Mystery Channel.
Will I make it through all 78? Dunno. Will I find anything interesting enough for another column? No idea. But if McGavin’s later PI series THE OUTSIDER ever comes out on DVD it might be worth exploring.
“A DEATH OF PRINCES.” An episode of Naked City, ABC, 12 October 1960 (Season 2, Episode 1). Paul Burke, Horace McMahon, Nancy Malone, with Eli Wallach, George Maharis, Jan Miner. Teleplay: Stirling Silliphant. Directed by John Brahm.
“A Death of Princes” is the second season opener of Naked City, the ABC police procedural starring Paul Burke as Detective Adam Flint and Horace McMahon as his crusty but amicable boss, Lt. Mike Parker. Guest starring is Eli Wallach portraying Detective Bane, a cynical rogue cop involved in blackmail, robbery, and murder.
In this taut, action-packed episode, Wallach’s Brooklyn-accented character is quite similar to the sociopathic hit man, Dancer (portrayed by Wallach in a great film noir role), in Don Siegel’s The Lineup, which I reviewed here.
The episode begins with church bells and gunfire. It’s Sunday. Adam (Burke) and Bane (Wallach), partners for the time being, are chasing an armed thug through an industrial district and to the top of a building overlooking the river. The criminal doesn’t have much luck. His gun jams and he cowers helplessly on the ground. That’s when Bane plugs him.
Adam realizes what just happened and is shocked his partner just killed defenseless suspect in cold blood. Bane tells Adam he saw things wrong. But he doesn’t seem to care much anyways. Of the dead man, Bane says: “Look at him, a pile of nowhere. He came, he went, and who cares.” These criminally poetic words let us know from the get-go exactly what type of character Bane is going to be.
Back in the precinct headquarters, Adam tells Mike he wants out. He no longer wants to work with Bane. Mike originally won’t hear of it, but he gradually changes his mind, allowing Adam to trail Bane to figure out what sort of criminal activity the rogue lawman is up to.
As it turns out, Bane is blackmailing three people into working for him on a job. His objective is to steal money raised during a charity prizefight. Among the people Bane is blackmailing is the boxer, Tony Bacallas (George Maharis), who turns out to be the only redeemable criminal among the bunch.
Bane, the most corrupt of the four, hates the fact that he has to rely upon what he perceives as scum, common criminals, to achieve his goals, telling them: “I despise myself because I need you.” It’s so dark, so cynical, and so very noir.
And as in many noir stories, the criminal ends up down a path that lead to his doom. “A Death of Princes” is no exception. Adam, who was originally shocked by Bane’s capacity for violence, eventually shoots and kills Bane, leaving him dying alone on the carpet. But how can we feel sorry for the guy? As Mike tells Adam: “You don’t need to eat an egg to know it’s bad.”
Naked City, of course, wasn’t just about characters and plotting. It was also known for its on location setting. This particular episode does not disappoint. There’s a great scene in the Central Park Zoo in which, if you watch carefully, you can get a glimpse of the famous Essex House sign in the background. There are some good subway scenes and a great shot of the old Yankee Stadium.
And if you like neon, there are a couple of great moments shot at night in which we see Manhattan nightspots lit up. We also learn that sometimes, at night, a car may go crashing through a building entrance, a criminal mastermind may have his plans foiled by a man with a conscience, and a good cop may have to use his gun to get rid of a bad one.
“A Death of Princes” is a very good episode with solid writing. Best of all, it features a great performance by Wallach, who seems to be the master of using his eyes to convey mood and meaning. Watch his eyes throughout the episode and you’ll see what I mean. (The entire episode can be seen on Hulu online here.)