Jason King 1.5 – Variations on a Theme

This blog’s meant to be about sharing experiences with my kid more than it is me, so let’s be very, very clear on this one: the kid barely tolerated Philip Broadley’s “Variations on a Theme.” This is a murky, shadowy spy story with nobody telling anybody much of anything, and the only actress who does want to tell somebody something is – in that way of damsels in distress in the fiction of days gone by – “too scared” to talk. He was restless and bored and the only time he brightened up was when a VW Beetle or hippie van showed up on screen, which was constantly, because the streets of Vienna were full of them in 1971.

From a production standpoint, though, I thought this was fascinating. I wonder whether the script was actually finished before they shipped Peter Wyngarde off to Vienna with what appears to be a single cameraman, and a few reels of what looks like 8mm film, with the ambient sound of crowd noises and music dubbed on later. So you’ve got Wyngarde outside the Vienna airport with all the resolution of somebody’s home movie, and actors in London watching him in 16mm.

The other interesting thing about the production is, of course, all the great guest actors. Ralph Bates is here as the spy who can’t quite come in from the cold yet, and Alexandra Bastedo is a Russian agent posing as a Swedish journalist, and Julian Glover, who our kid saw earlier this week when he watched The Empire Strikes Back again, is a British spy who really should have been used in other episodes beyond this. No, the kid still couldn’t recognize a face, but when I said “You saw him as the AT-AT commander the other day,” he replied “Well, you told me then that he was in everything, guess you’re right!”

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