Vendetta for the Saint (1969)

Wrapping up our look at this great old series, perhaps unsurprisingly we watched the famous two-part adventure. There’s actually another two-parter, but it’s not as famous as “Vendetta for the Saint,” which, in 1964, became the first “Leslie Charteris” Saint novel to be published in many, many years. Charteris didn’t actually write it, it turned out. It was ghosted by the great Harry Harrison, but it somehow seemed to be the one that every bookstore used to have in multiple editions.

Our son was really happy with the second half, but thought the first was long and he wasn’t too involved. Since part two is a giant cat-and-mouse game with Simon Templar being hunted all over Sicily by gunmen, there’s a lot for a kid to chew on, and he said that it was really exciting. Good; I think you can see a little bit of both For Your Eyes Only and Octopussy in the last twenty minutes of this. It’s a template of what was to come, and since I plan to introduce him to James Bond next year, I think he’ll like what he’ll be seeing.

For a long time, “Vendetta for the Saint” was the only color installment of the series that I saw. When I first started watching the series in high school, WATL-36 only had the black and white episodes available. Fortunately, I was long in the habit of reading the weekly TV listings very carefully to spot any monster movies or schedule changes, because some time after WATL moved on from the series, WTBS – you may have got it on cable, but it was channel 17 in Atlanta – showed this movie one Saturday afternoon.

You sometimes see essays about The Saint that call “Vendetta” and the other film, “The Fiction Makers,” examples of the way syndicators used to repackage two-part episodes as movies for foreign markets and American syndication. That isn’t true. They were both made as features and then edited into two parts for broadcast in the UK as part of the sixth season. It was partially filmed in Malta – perhaps they had such a good experience that ITC decided to come back and film Mister Jerico here the next year? – and features Templar at war with the Mafia, represented by Ian Hendry as a villain who’s trading on a false identity and gets very angry when people deduce who he really is. The Lovely Aimi MacDonald is a damsel in distress, George Pastell gets to play a hero for a change, and Fulton Mackay and Alex Scott both appear, briefly.

The kid really enjoyed this because Simon is actually fighting for his life for whacking great chunks of the story, but what I like best is that this is a fight the Saint does not need to pick, and he does it anyway. Even when he realizes that this villain, Dino Cartelli, is a little more connected and a lot more dangerous than the average Saint bad guy, Templar finds the guy’s sore spot and jabs it, repeatedly. But Cartelli gets under our hero’s skin, too. Templar drops the façade in the second half and threatens to kill his opponent. That’s how high the stakes get. It’s a great story, and such fun to revisit.

That’s all for our look at The Saint, but we’ll sample another classic ITC series next weekend. Stay tuned!

Jason King 1.16 – A Kiss for a Beautiful Killer

“So, wait, where are they?” our son asked.

“The back of Elstree Studios,” I said.

“No, no, I mean where are they in the story,” he clarified, and I answered Nosuchlandia. This time it’s in South America. Sometimes Nosuchlandia is in eastern Europe, usually some tiny Warsaw Pact nation. But yes, the backs of those Elstree Studios warehouses appear, as does the underground car park, and of course the stock footage of this house, which I swear we’ve seen at least four times before:

Joining Jason in this story of political intrigue, revolution, and the sort of totalitarian despot that UNCLE, Simon Templar, the IMF, and everybody else in the sixties and seventies routinely overthrew when they went to Nosuchlandia, it’s a great cast including Alex Scott, Maurice Roëves, Roger Lloyd-Pack, and of course Kate O’Mara, who has a considerably meatier role than she did when we saw her opposite Wyngarde in an episode of Department S. It’s probably a better story than you might think from me teasing it, but the cost-cutting charms of ITC’s series are part of the reason people adore them.

The house and the car park aren’t the only things we’ve seen before. The story opens with O’Mara’s character planning to send Jason from Paris to Nosuchlandia in a crate if he doesn’t go willingly. “Again?” our kid interjected, for indeed Jason had been shipped in a big box across the Berlin Wall in one story and to Moscow in another. Fortunately, the story plays against our expectations; in Nosuchlandia, they open the crate and find the guy who was supposed to stuff Jason in it. Jason arrives in town the proper way: first class, with a beautiful lady on his arm.

That’s all from Jason King for now. We like to mix things up to keep the shows fresh, but we’ll be back for more from this fun series at the end of March. Stay tuned!

Department S 1.14 – Les Fleurs du Mal

Another Philip Broadley script, another case that isn’t really fanciful or odd. It’s a fairly ordinary case of Stewart bluffing the villains until help shows up. It is unfortunate that we’re this far into the show and Stewart’s still telling Annabelle to stay behind when she repeatedly proves that she’s more resourceful than he is and ends up saving the day.

The villains – and there are a lot of ’em this time – include familiar faces Alex Scott and Michael Gothard. Edina Ronay is a femme fatale in an extremely unflattering wig. Ronay and Gothard’s characters share a very mod pad. It’s quite 1969.

Worzel Gummidge 2.8 – The Scarecrow Wedding

The second series ends in grand style, as, for the second time in a series, the Crowman calls all his creations home, this time to witness the wedding of Aunt Sally and Worzel Gummidge. He rescued her from a broken washing machine in a junk shop after she agrees that she’ll marry him if only he frees her. Then she goes back on her word until Sue points out that she’ll wear a pretty dress. Naturally, that’s the only reason she even walks down the aisle. She has no intention of marrying him; she only wanted to have a photographer take her picture in a pretty dress. But a scarecrow does get married, and then there is cake. Everywhere.

The episode brings back three of the new characters introduced in this series: Saucy Nancy, Pickles, and Sgt. Beetroot, and introduces two new scarecrows. Cobber Gummidge is Worzel’s cousin from Australy, played by Australian actor Alex Scott, and Soggy Boggart, who has been mentioned several times in passing and finally appears in person. Soggy is played by Talfryn Thomas, who we’ve seen in a hundred things, but they may as well have just hired one more extra, because Thomas’s lines were all cut for time. I particularly liked how everybody in attendance knows perfectly well that Pickles is going to cause trouble with his slingshot, and just kicks him in the rear whenever his back’s turned.

Interestingly, the Crowman is very specific that he did not create Aunt Sally. In her first appearance, Aunt Sally explains that the Crowman taught her how to walk and talk, but apparently somebody else is responsible for her. I should have realized. The Crowman is far too wonderful to have created anybody as ghastly as her!

That’s all for the second series of Worzel Gummidge. We like to put shows back on the shelf to keep them fresh, and we’ll look at the third series in July. Stay tuned!

Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) 1.7 – The Smile Behind the Veil

Last time, I mentioned how pleased I was to recognize a familiar location in an episode of this show. Tonight, Jeff’s been beat up again and the bad guys drive him out to throw him in the river, and before I could say anything, Marie exclaimed “It’s that bridge again!” For they had taken him to the very same bridge that Mrs. Peel had hid underneath in the Avengers story “You Have Just Been Murdered,” and which Tara had run across in the second title sequence of her series. I recognized Alex Scott, the story’s villain, immediately as well, but suddenly it’s not as amusing as spotting locations. I wonder whether there are people blogging about Doom Patrol and The Walking Dead and The Vampire Diaries and Stranger Things and noticing the same hotels and bridges and buildings popping up in each of them. (But they shouldn’t be too iconic. If you stick the Krog Street Tunnel in your TV show and try to tell me it ain’t Atlanta, I’m going to laugh at you.)

Speaking of laughing, our son’s favorite scene came about halfway through. Jeff, who’s recovered from his first attempted drowning (in a river) and is about twenty real-time minutes from his second attempted drowning (in a well), is rifling through the desk drawers of the bad guy’s big country house when he hears someone coming and so he hides in the big closet. It’s the old maid, who’s figured out this guy’s up to no good and is ready to rifle through the desk drawers as well. Then she hears someone coming and hides in the same big closet. This show’s a lot funnier than I was expecting!

Adam Adamant Lives! 1.9 – Sing a Song of Murder

It’s been about seven weeks since we last saw an episode of Adam Adamant Lives!, but that hasn’t been long enough for our son where one element of this fun program is concerned: the silly flashback scene. It may only be about fifteen seconds long, but whenever our hero gets conked on the head, he “remembers” that last trap from 1902 and the voice of the woman who betrayed him saying “So clever… but oh, so vulnerable…” You’ve never seen such eye-rolling. The kid slumped into a death pose, face to the ceiling, saying “Come on, this again?” Otherwise, he enjoyed this one!

So anyway, we’re back in 1966 for the last nine surviving episodes of this very fun series. This afternoon’s episode, “Sing a Song of Murder,” concerns a pair of villains played by Jerome Willis and Alex Scott who have perfected “hypersound,” which is a hypnotic beat hidden within a pop record. It’s the centerpiece to one of the most naive and ridiculous criminal schemes in any old show we’ve run across. It’s all done with flair and wit, and the squabbling between Willis’s dandy and Scott’s taciturn scientist is entertaining, but this really has got about as much understanding of the music world as an episode of Josie and the Pussycats.

In the real music world, the hypnotic tune, “This is the Moment,” was performed by a group by the News, and was one of two singles that the group released on Decca in 1966 before disbanding. Neither 45 seems to have troubled the charts very much.

(Note: I can play them, but I’m not presently able to get screencaps from Region 4 DVDs, so many of these entries will just have a photo of the set to illustrate it. Click the link to purchase it from Amazon UK.)

Photo credit: https://excusesandhalftruths.com

The Avengers 7.1 – Game

Quick little recap: We subscribe to the heretical-but-factual breakdown of The Avengers into seven seasons. For this final run, we will use the UK broadcast order, omitting the installments that had already been shown in America. That said, I have to agree that the admittedly more sensible people who watch and write about the show in production order have one big advantage: the first episode that was made after “Look – (stop me if you’ve heard this one) But There Were These Two Fellers…” was not actually shown in either the US or the UK until very nearly the end of the run. It is called “My Wildest Dream” and it was literally shelved for an entire year in Britain.

The mildly aggravating thing about that is “My Wildest Dream” was actually the first episode of the show directed by Robert Fuest, who I think is by leagues the most interesting visual stylist in a show just full of very good directors. This sort of messes up a goofball claim I’d made a time or ten, that “Game” was almost a statement of principles by a vibrant and stunning new director. That simply isn’t true. He wasn’t to know that his first effort would collect dust for a long time.

Strangely, even though it was made sixth in this batch, “Game” looks and feels like it was planned as an almost modern season premiere. It’s a very entertaining, simple, and straightforward story full of familiar faces like Alex Scott, Anthony Newlands, and Peter Jeffrey, but it’s visually amazing. I love the sets and the giant props, and some of Fuest’s camera tricks are just wild. There’s one great shot in a playground where Steed and Tara discover the first of several bodies. They go to a swingset, and the cameraman is sitting on one swing and the actor playing the corpse is in the one next to him, and the swings are moving at different speeds. It takes my breath away every time. Our son really enjoyed this one, especially the fantastic fight at the climax.

Here’s a very weird coincidence for you: earlier this year, I confessed that I once had screenwriting aspirations, and pilfered the villains from “The Fear Merchants” for a series I was trying to develop. Well, I also needed a lot of practice and experience in actually writing scripts, and along with my own humble fumbles, I was writing episodes of defunct programs, to see whether I could ape their formats successfully. I figured very early on that what Richard Harris was doing with his script for “Game” was basically writing an episode of Batman, and so I cut to the chase and rewrote “Game” as a Batman script using a villain called Mr. Monopoly. (I actually have a Monopoly-themed jacket and vest, made from fabric intended for children’s bedsheets. It’s kind of a fragile suit, but I haul it out every odd Halloween and sneer like Vincent Price – or Peter Jeffrey – at trick-or-treaters and co-workers.)

Anyway, I won’t say whether I thought my script was any good or not, but I learned a lot from the effort, and disappointed myself some time later when I realized it was pretty darn close to the first Mad Hatter story, “The Thirteenth Hat.” But here’s the weird coincidence: I stole from The Avengers twice as I was trying my hand at writing, and both of those episodes I robbed feature Garfield Morgan as one of the villains!

The Avengers 4.13 – Too Many Christmas Trees

I think we dodged a bullet with this one! We hope our son still has one and possibly two more Christmases believing in Santa Claus. So when Mrs. Peel gives a line about still believing in Father Christmas, we winced. We needn’t have. He doesn’t equate Santa and Father Christmas as the same character! (Incidentally, we decided long ago that Santa Claus brings one or two small gifts; all the rest are clearly from Mom and Dad. Hope to cushion the blow.)

Anyway, this story is about a gang of telepathic criminals waging a psychic assault on Steed during a Dickens-themed Christmas party at a big country house. Mediums, parlor tricks, ESP, hands around a table, all the old standbys. Alex Scott, who was in everything ITC did and quite a few Hammer films, is the chief villain, and Edwin Richfield, who we saw just a little over a week ago in “The Sea Devils,” is here and apparently up to no good. It’s an absolutely terrific episode, a heavy story lightened with witty banter and Mrs. Peel’s genuine concern for Steed as he seems incapacitated. It seems like one of the less expensive episodes, with just a few sets and not much location work, but they certainly got the most out of it.

Our son asked us to pause it because he was confused by a guillotine cigar cutter, which led to a discussion of what guillotines are. This led to me pausing it a few minutes later as Steed suffers another nightmare, in which he’s Sydney Carton from A Tale of Two Cities being led to his execution. We paused again to explain a room set up to resemble Miss Havisham’s ruined and web-covered dining room from Great Expectations. Who says this TV’s an idiot box? He’s getting an introduction to literature here!