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The Six Million Dollar Man 3.9 – The Bionic Criminal

Monte Markham returned for a second outing as the other bionic man, now renamed Barney Hiller without in-story comment, in this pretty entertaining story by Peter Allan Fields and Richard Carr. This was the fourth of seven episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man that Carr wrote or co-wrote; he’d been writing for westerns and other dramas since the early 1950s. Among his credits is a first season Batman story for the Riddler.

Our son enjoyed this one more than Barney’s original appearance, which surprised me. It is a good story: Barney agrees to be reactivated for 48 hours in an experiment to see whether bionic powers can be turned off and on again in case of national emergencies, but is blackmailed by a former OSI scientist, played by Donald Moffat, into robbing banks. We know Moffat as Rem in Logan’s Run already, and I am pleasantly amused that we got to see one of his bionic appearances alongside our screenings of Run.

But while this episode does have another slow-motion bionic fistfight, which pleased our son, it’s nowhere as destructive and entertaining as the one in Barney’s first appearance. The deciding factor, it turns out, is a long scene where Barney tries to resume his career as a race car driver. A fast car put this one over the top. Six year-olds!

Two other thoughts strike me: there’s an incredibly long flashback with several clips to Barney’s initial outing. It seems really strange to devote almost four minutes to an in-story memory. This episode is one of the few we’ve seen that does not have a pre-title sequence at all, where a “Previously on…” recap might normally go. I wonder why they decided to build a nearly four minute flashback into the narrative instead of just cutting something shorter together before the opening credits.

But the really unusual surprise is that Alan Openheimer returns in this story as Dr. Wells. By chance, this morning’s viewing comes just as a couple of Doctor Who fans – there will always be a couple of Doctor Who fans to make you roll your eyes and sadly say “there are these couple of Doctor Who fans…” – are outraged and upset that the powers that be have recast the role of the First Doctor for a team-up episode. Apparently, every other recasting in all of television and film is acceptable, but because each Doctor is special and magical and sacred, and the show invented the concept of regeneration, then if any Doctor now or in the future were to meet an old version in a team-up, then they should only use one of the last few Doctors, and honorably retire the ones played by actors who have died.

So in The Six Million Dollar Man, we’ve got a character who’s been played by Martin Balsam, then Alan Oppenheimer, then Martin E. Brooks, then Oppenheimer again, and Brooks will take back over the next time Dr. Wells is seen. The world kept turning. But David Bradley playing the First Doctor is some kind of sacrilege despite William Hartnell being dead since 1975. It’s a fictional character in a popular drama, not a blessed holy relic, you know.

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The Six Million Dollar Man 2.20 – The Bionic Woman (part two)

Bless his heart. Our son did better than I feared as Jaime died on the operating table. He squeezed Mommy’s arm very tightly and he was subdued and quiet and very surprised. This certainly wasn’t what he expected. I’m sure it’s not what anybody expected, either. The entire plot about Malachi Throne and the stolen $20 plates is over and done with – as cheaply as possible – by the halfway point of the episode.

The rest of the episode is Jaime’s slow and sad deterioration, with her body rejecting the bionics and Dr. Wells having no idea what’s gone wrong until it’s too late. Guest stars die occasionally in shows like these, and so the overwhelming attachment that the audience had for Lindsey Wagner’s character surprised everybody. We went ahead and spoiled her return for him, since he seemed blue and out of sorts.

We’ll take a few weeks’ break from this show. Jaime Sommers will be back around the end of the month.

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The Six Million Dollar Man 2.19 – The Bionic Woman (part one)

I was a little antsy about how our son’s going to handle the end of this two-part adventure before we sat down. Now I’m a lot antsy. After all, when the producers of The Six Million Dollar Man decided to make a two-part story to let Lee Majors stretch his acting muscles – and, sadly, his singing voice – and break Steve Austin’s heart, they didn’t know that they had a big companion show in the offing.

So obviously, this is all going to turn out okay down the road, but for those of you who don’t know, the original two-parter that introduces Jaime Sommers, the Bionic Woman, was not intended to launch a franchise. It will end tomorrow night with the character’s death. And our son has never seen a major guest star die before. The only hope I had is that he was going to be a little impatient with all the lovey-dovey stuff this week.

Nope. Not at all. “You’ve never liked the kissy stuff before,” exclaimed Mommy. And he did like it. He was absolutely charmed by Steve and Jaime falling in love and announcing their engagement. Oh, man. Tomorrow’s going to hurt.

Also of note…

* The villain is a counterfeiter played by the great Malachi Throne. He vows revenge on Steve Austin. Our son believes Steve and Jaime will both punch him in the face.

* The episode was written by Kenneth Johnson, and it’s darn near his first screenwriting credit. IMDB credits him with just a couple of episodes of Adam-12 and Griff prior to this. Johnson became Jaime Sommers’ principal writer and went on to become American TV’s go-to guy for sci-fi in the seventies and eighties, developing The Incredible Hulk, Alien Nation, and V, among others.

* I was a little bothered that Steve didn’t explain bionics to Jaime before sending for Dr. Wells to make her a cyborg. She didn’t have any choice in the matter; men made all her decisions. Let’s be honest, though. Few of us would have been bothered had we seen this when it was made, 41 years ago. Times have changed for the better.

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The Six Million Dollar Man 2.5 – The Seven Million Dollar Man

I decided to jump straight into another “best of” season, and I’ve picked six episodes from season two of The Six Million Dollar Man, shown from 1974-75. This story by Peter Allan Fields, a drama writer who worked on dozens of American shows but had the most check marks on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, with contributions to ten installments, introduces a second cyborg: Barney Miller, a former race driver who lost all his limbs in an accident and has been lined up as the next agent in the OSI.

Unfortunately, Barney, played by Monte Markham, doesn’t take to becoming a metal man very well. He’s rash and violent and turns what should have been a super-speed snatch into a chance to throw four armed men around like rag dolls long after the goods are secured. Inevitably, this leads to a fight with Steve, which really entertained the daylights out of our son. I’m glad he’s enjoying these slow-motion scraps. It’s just possible that after we let him watch his first Marvel movie in a year or so, they’ll look a little less thrilling.

Incidentally, not only is the character named Barney Miller – the celebrated and long-running police precinct sitcom of that name would begin two months later on the same network – but the bartender who gives Barney one drink too many is the spitting image of Abe Vigoda.

Actually, the most surprising part of the episode comes right after the opening titles. Oscar, Dr. Wells, and a nurse at the secure facility – a different character than Jean, who was played by Barbara Anderson in the original movie – all deny that the nurse had given a mysterious man in a red Mercedes a confidential tape. The gate guard denies the guy existed. Steve tells his friends not to gaslight him. I honestly was not aware of that term before 2014, when I read about gaslighting and the word’s origin in an old film noir, but clearly misunderstood that it was a reasonably new word. Yet here the word is shown to be in use forty years earlier. And it’s indisputably 1974 – the lavender-and-white leisure suit that Lee Majors wears in the show’s final scene couldn’t have come from any other time.

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The Six Million Dollar Man: Wine, Women and War (1973)

There has been a time or two where I’ve picked a screencap, I admit, to show off a pretty girl. I trust this picture of Steve Austin in Jamaica redresses any grievance caused.

Anyway, this morning we watched the second of the three Six Million Dollar Man movies, and it went over much better than the slow origin movie. It was really full of surprises, not least of which was the theme song. This movie opens and closes with a none-more-seventies theme belted by, of all people, Dusty Springfield. It’s kind of interesting the way this whole thing plays out as a kid-friendly James Bond adventure involving an actual real-world foreign country, Russia, rather than the sort of Eastovia and Nosuchlandias that you usually see on seventies adventure teevee, and hiring Springfield for a big booming Bond theme helps cement it. There’s even a big underground base, albeit not in a volcano.

And speaking of James Bond, I looked over the cast lists of the second and third movies, intending to watch just one for the blog, and had the choice of Britt Ekland, who’d be the lead Bond girl in The Man With the Golden Gun, in this one, and Luciana Paluzzi, who played Fiona in Thunderball, in the next one. I shrugged and went with this because David McCallum is in it as well. He plays a Russian, because he did that well enough in The Man from UNCLE.

The great irony is that this shot opens with Michele Carey’s character asking Steve “Is there anything you’re not good at?” Yes. Choosing a tuxedo.

New to the regular cast this time out, it’s Richard Anderson as Oscar Goldman, the new head of the OSI. Darren McGavin’s character from the previous film is not mentioned, and Oscar is largely kept out of sight, just being unpleasant, secretive and bossy from afar. Alan Oppenheimer takes over from Martin Balsam as the second Dr. Rudy Wells, and the bad guy is an arms dealer played by perennial seventies teevee baddie Eric Braeden.

Our son really did enjoy this a lot more than the origin movie, as well he should. It’s a much better and much smoother film, with a solid and entertaining plot by writer Glen A. Larson. He produced this and the next movie for Universal in between seasons of McCloud, though he did not produce the series proper, and I was interested to see that he had used Britt Ekland twice for McCloud as well, and would hire her yet again for a memorable Battlestar Galactica installment.

But our son started the movie a little restless again, perhaps worried that this would be a long character drama with angst and debates instead of opening with bionic night vision eyes, super strength, and depth charges like it does. He enjoyed it, but was still a little confused about something that was keeping him from understanding the story and embracing it. Finally, Mom figured it out: he didn’t understand that Steve Austin’s powers are a secret. That’s completely different from today, when kids are used to their favorite superheroes being celebrities. It works better these days, doesn’t it?

Anyway, the day is saved once Sapphire and Steel show up and — wait.

Anyway, the day is saved once Steve follows his old Russian buddy Alexi and his girl-of-the-week Katrina into the villain’s underground base where he’s got eight nuclear weapons stored. Braeden is reliably evil, McCallum sounds reasonably Russian, and Ekland is easy on the eyes. Steve gets to punch through walls and cold-cock henchmen, and he does that thing he will always do in the series, when the power needs to be shut off and so he closes down some high voltage terminal and cables erupt and sparks go everywhere. There’s a countdown and a big explosion, and the youngest member of this audience was thrilled, much more pleased than he was with the origin movie.

Mommy suggested that he’d have enjoyed it as much if we just showed him the last ten minutes, but he really did get into things long before then. About halfway through, Alexi figures out that Steve is on a secret assignment – Steve himself hadn’t figured that out yet – and shoots him in the stomach with what turns out to be a tranquilizer gun. Our son was really worried for the hero then, especially since the story doesn’t come back to Steve for a couple of minutes. Was he dead? Grievously injured? Certainly not, but it was nice to see him worried for the hero. That bodes well for the scrapes he’ll be getting into soon.

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Freaky Friday (1976)

Wow, is this movie ever dated! Smoking moms, electric typewriter class, male chauvinist pigs… was this really made forty years ago, or four hundred and forty? It’s really entertaining, but is it ever a time capsule, and not just in society’s attitudes toward women, but back to those days when men’s careers in TV and movie entertainment were forever on the brink of disaster for fear of blustery, easily-displeased clients and bosses. You recall how every single episode of Bewitched featured Derwin – I mean, Darrin – perpetually skating between a successful sale and Larry Tate spontaneously combusting? The dad in this movie, played by John Astin, is similarly between the Scylla and Charybdis.

And with that world of crazy white-collar suburbia comes the life where Dad needs a new freshly-pressed suit for three important gigs a day and Mom is scrambling between catering for two dozen at no notice, pressing silk shirts (with Jon Pertwee-frilled fronts), and seeing that the drapes and curtains are regularly cleaned by professionals. The oil change and detailing place does to-your-garage delivery for $14.50 (about $63 in today’s currency, but this was California, after all), but at least you don’t have to drive your thirteen year-old daughter to the orthodontist, because she goes there herself on the city bus.

And looking back, yes, I do kind of recall the 1970s being kind of like that for my parents. Mom’s days included constant trips to the dry cleaners because men wore three-piece suits in every profession the other side of soda jerk, and I swear we must have had an expense account at the package store for all the evening entertaining they did. So yeah, once she got done ironing blouses and shirts, and having conferences at the school, she’d enjoy a quick break with Days of Our Lives before heading to the cleaners and the salon and probably the package store before taking my brother and me to the pediatrician or the dentist or the barber shop, and really only somebody as naive as a thirteen year-old could possibly want to swap places with a “stay-at-home mom” in the 1970s.

As a teenaged actress, Jodie Foster was omnipresent in the 1970s. This was the first of two Disney live-action films that she made, and far better-remembered than Candleshoe, which is also really entertaining. Astonishingly, she made Freaky Friday the same year that she made Taxi Driver, which I expect the PR people at Buena Vista did not mention. She’s fun as Annabel, but she doesn’t seem to be having half the fun that Barbara Harris, who plays her mother Ellen, does. Harris gets to chew gum and skateboard and dance and own the neighborhood baseball diamond and throw boomerangs while making goo-goo eyes at teenaged neighbors.

The water skiing stuff is all stunt doubles and rear-screen projection, of course, but the fun comedy of errors, which mainly involves lots of slow-burns in the classroom as Mom-in-Jodie Foster’s-body has no idea how to fit in, slowly gives way to more slapstick and a car chase happening at the same time as the water skiing tomfoolery.

Daniel was kind of restless during the movie, but did he ever come alive at the climax. It’s really entertaining, with Harris’s stunt double creating all kinds of skiing chaos while Foster leads police on a wild chase across Los Angeles landmarks. I’m almost positive they take the family’s red VW bug down the same staircase that David Janssen’s stunt double went down on a motorcycle in the Harry O pilot a couple of years earlier. Then they invariably end up in the concrete-channeled Los Angeles River, where they successfully avoid running into any model shoots or giant ants and the funniest thing that Daniel has ever seen happens: one of the police cars gets squashed triangular by one of the tunnels.

Almost immediately, this gag became the second-funniest thing he’d ever seen, because the final remaining police car gets cleaved in half when it runs into a concrete fork in the river, the driver’s side running up the left channel, and the passenger side running up the right. I have never heard this kid laugh so hard. When he’s old enough for me to let him hear Jackie Gleason swearing for a hundred minutes, he is going to die laughing over Smokey & the Bandit.

Perhaps it’s a bit wrong for Foster, Harris, and Astin – never mind a pretty deep bench of recognizable supporting players including Ruth Buzzi, Sorrell Booke, Marc McClure, Dick Van Patten, Alan Oppenheimer, and Al Molinaro – to get totally upstaged by stunt drivers and gimmick cars, but he is only four, dear readers!

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