Man in a Suitcase 1.22 – Burden of Proof

For our last little look at Man in a Suitcase, I naturally picked the one with Roger Delgado. And I’m thrilled to say that this is one of those pleasant and happy occasions where our son recognized an actor. “The Master?!” he shouted. Sadly, like some other actors I really enjoy from the period, including Gerald Sim and Charles Lloyd Pack, Delgado is only in this one for a very short time. The bulk of it is carried by John Gregson, with Nicola Pagett as his wife, and Wolfe Morris as a genuinely frightening villain.

Well, sadly, other than spotting the Master and a great sequence where McGill bugs a room with a variety of cameras and tape recorders, some of which he expects to be discovered, our son didn’t really enjoy this one either. The problem this time: torture. Gregson’s character spends a surprisingly long time, for a show of this day, getting bruised and bloodied, and Morris’s character has the upper hand for about the final third of the story. So yeah, this one’s a pretty nasty story, and so we end our look at Man in a Suitcase with our son largely unsatisfied with it. But we’ll try another ITC series for a short sample in a couple of weeks and see how it goes.

Man in a Suitcase 1.17 – Somebody Loses, Somebody…. Wins?

Naturally, I picked this one because it features Jacqueline Pearce, and her false eyelashes, in practically the whole show. It also features Philip Madoc, and his reliable German accent, in a couple of short scenes. I watched it when I got this set in from Network a few years ago and really enjoyed it. I’m thinking it was probably made a couple of months after Funeral in Berlin was released, so spy stories built around East Germany were really in vogue at the time.

“Somebody Loses, Somebody…. Wins?” was the only episode of Man in a Suitcase directed by John Glen. At the time, he was working as a film editor at ITC and done some work on this series, Danger Man, and The Sentimental Agent. Fourteen years later, he’d direct his first feature film, For Your Eyes Only. Then he’d helm the next four Bond films. I mentioned that this evening because, of course, our son has had enough cultural understanding of James Bond, plus he saw the trailer for No Time to Die a few weeks ago, and he’s chomping at the bit for me to let him watch those.

But honestly, he’s not yet ready for the complexities of Bond quite yet. Every once in a while, we’ll hit an episode of something that he does not understand – most recently the Saint installment “The Imprudent Politician” – and instead of asking us to pause it and explain it, he just starts resenting his misunderstanding. This one features McGill dealing with an ex-girlfriend, a client, and the fellow he’s looking for, and all of them are lying about who they really are. The ex may have even defected. Or possibly she’s a double agent. He sadly thought that the grown-ups understood what was happening and what was the truth, and just radiated unhappiness until we put on the brakes and clarified everything.

Eventually people started shooting at each other and driving cars very fast. That was better.

Man in a Suitcase 1.15 – The Sitting Pigeon

Wow, what a lot of cops! That’s James Grout, Mark Eden, George Sewell, and Garfield Morgan joining Richard Bradford in this office. That’s Strange from Inspector Morse, Parker from Lord Peter Wimsey, Craven from Special Branch, and Haskins from The Sweeney. This might be taken down and used as evidence that I’ve watched a heck of a lot of British TV detective shows. Also joining in on this tale of coppers and villains trying to stay out of Wormwood Scrubs, Carol Cleveland and David Garfield. And a lot of slang.

This is the first time in I don’t know how long that our son tuned out, not because he couldn’t follow the plot, but because he couldn’t follow the words. Patch? Porridge? Pigeon? He missed that the villains have brought in a fixer from Liverpool who the local police don’t know. I did try and help him along, because I thought it was a very good episode absolutely packed with lovely location filming all around London, wrapping up with a visit to the gorgeous Syon House Gardens. I mean, you want to see what the city looked like in early 1967, this is for you. It’s an even better travelogue than the great-for-location-spotting Avengers episode “Take Me to Your Leader”. I think it was just a little too subtle for him in places, prompting several interruptions.

Man in a Suitcase 1.10 – Day of Execution

I initially selected “Day of Execution” a couple of months ago because of its superb guest cast, including Donald Sutherland and Rosemary Nicols as two of McGill’s friends, Robert Urquhart as a contact at a local newspaper, and, toward the end, T.P. McKenna as somebody who keeps sending McGill death threats but calling him “Mariocki” for some reason. Last week, I double-checked the five I’d picked to show our son, and noticed that Philip Broadley wrote this one. We’ve mentioned this writer several times here at the blog, most recently two weeks ago, and I started really looking forward to this. Man in a Suitcase seems to be exactly the right series where Broadley would excel.

Boy, did he ever. This episode is terrific. I’d watched maybe eight or nine episodes from Network’s DVD set when I got it about three years ago and other things got in the way, and never realized that McGill had a real place to live in London. Or maybe just for this one installment he does. He has a nice two-story apartment with a curious little half-kitchen partway up the stairs and regular dry cleaning service.

An old college buddy is in town, and he’s been romancing an attractive girlfriend. The rules of the economy of speaking parts tells us that at least one of them is in on these mistaken identity death threats, but this story keeps the audience guessing who, how, and why for a really long time, sustaining the tension beautifully through some location filming at Heathrow Airport and a cracking nighttime car chase. Our son said that for the most part he enjoyed it, but he also felt it was a little slow to him. So maybe it didn’t sustain itself quite as well in his corner, but I thought it was excellent.

Man in a Suitcase 1.1 – Man From the Dead

We’ve been making a short trip through the ITC catalog to align – slash – pad out the TV that we’re watching with the movies that I plan to write about, and this morning, we looked at the first of five sampler episodes of Man in a Suitcase. It’s not the lightest or most fun of ITC’s series, but it was often very entertaining and intelligent. Sort of a proto-Burn Notice, it starred Richard Bradford as McGill, a disgraced former American intelligence operative who claimed that his superior ordered him to stand down and let a valuable asset defect in the early 1960s. The superior’s body washed up in the Mediterranean, nobody can corroborate his story, and the tarnished McGill has spent years bumming around Europe, bounty hunting and doing discreet, unlicensed investigations. Have luggage, will travel.

Man in a Suitcase was created by Dennis Spooner and Richard Harris, and made in 1966-67. It was shown in the UK starting in the fall of 1967 in most of the ITV regions, and some of the 30 episodes, perhaps 17, were networked by ABC in the summer of 1968, on Friday evenings opposite repeats of Star Trek on NBC. It has one of television’s greatest theme tunes, and, like Danger Man, it was regularly seen in syndication on UHF stations for the next twenty-odd years. As I mentioned a couple of months ago, it was among the ITC series that we got in Atlanta on WVEU-69 in 1986-87, exactly when my interest in British television was sparkling, although the rule of “too much to watch” meant that I only tuned in a couple of times. I believe I was probably less interested in it because the lead actor is an American.

Several of ITC’s adventure series didn’t have what we think of as “pilot” episodes that set up the premise. Man in a Suitcase does, but it’s not really essential to following the premise. During its first UK screening, “Man From the Dead” was actually shown sixth. It goes into the backstory of McGill’s disgrace when the superior who gave him that fatal order is spotted alive in London. Like many adventure series from the period, like a favorite Avengers installment, the audience is given a pretty strong clue that the man is truly alive, because it’s a photo of that well-known thespian John Barrie. Also appearing in this one: Stuart Damon is one of McGill’s former associates. Co-creator Dennis Spooner didn’t actually do very much work on Man in a Suitcase; not long after they filmed this one, he would move over to Elstree to work on The Champions, where Damon would find regular work as one of that show’s leads.

Our son enjoyed it, but admitted it was a little confusing in places. I liked how they were very subtle and discreet about the intelligence agencies, and at one point McGill follows one man to an office for a Baltic Nations import-export-development-whatnot, an obvious visual clue, from its day, that this is the London front for at least one gang of Soviet operatives, but of course this was lost on our son. He enjoyed the fisticuffs and the locations and the straightforward nature of the plot, if not necessarily the characterization. The climax includes a remarkable beatdown, shot from a long distance at a since-demolished greyhound racing track, as McGill gets on the receiving end of at least twelve Russian agents.

I told him we’re likely to see more of this in the next week. Even when he lost a fight, Simon Templar usually just had a sore head and his hair slightly mussed. When McGill scraps, it shows. Maybe they only made thirty episodes because the character retired in 1968 to do something less likely to get himself concussed, like fighting bulls or skydiving without a chute.