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The New Avengers 2.1 – Dead Men are Dangerous

And now back to 1977, for the second and final series of The New Avengers. Believe it or not, I’m really flying blind with this run. I’ve only seen five of these thirteen episodes, and didn’t enjoy them very much. Brian Clemens’ “Dead Men are Dangerous” isn’t bad at all, though. I liked it much better than the ones I’ve seen before. At least as far as I remember.

I do have a quibble with one intensely silly flaw, though. Like “The Last of the Cybernauts…??”, this begins with a pre-title sequence that the narrative later tells us happened in the past, in this case “ten years ago,” so call it 1967. Then, Steed drove his old school chum and rival, played by Clive Revill, over to a prepared breach in the border so Revill could smuggle himself into East Germany. But Revill is a double agent and guards were waiting to kill Steed. Revill took a bullet in the chest but was dragged away, and spent the next decade being a top spy for the other side while the bullet pressed closer and closer against his heart.

So with days left to live, Revill decides to avenge all of his old jealousies and second-place finishes behind Steed, their school’s “Victor Ludorum.” Gambit’s girlfriend-of-the-week, a teacher played by Gabrielle Drake, identifies Revill as being in his mid-forties. Which, admittedly, Revill himself was at the time, but come on, his character and Steed have to be at least ten years older than that. Were they trying to pretend that the star of the show wasn’t middle-aged?

Our son enjoyed it and thought it was really exciting in places. I liked it just fine, but I might have liked it a little more had we not seen at least three of Steed’s oldest friends die in this show already. Incidentally, Steed has a lovely new home in this series. It’s Fulmer Hall in Buckinghamshire, and it appears in at least four episodes. One of his old aunts must have left it to him, because I just don’t believe the Ministry pays nearly enough for the mortgage on it.

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The Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries 2.5 – The Mystery of the Hollywood Phantom (part two)

Padding, padding, padding. There are barely sixty minutes of story between these two parts, and to add insult to injury, the “scenes from what you’re about to watch” bit, the credits, and the recap of part one takes – no lie – eight full minutes. Even worse, the little teaser scene, apart from spoiling absolutely everything of note in the adventure, includes almost the whole of Jaclyn Smith’s cameo, so we get to see it twice!

One thing they didn’t spoil in the teaser was the identity of the fellow in the Phantom of the Opera mask. No, the producers did that themselves by casting Casey Kasem in a very small role and then having a guy in a Phantom of the Opera mask who speaks with one of the most distinctive voices in radio and cartoons.

Kasem’s bad guy gets clobbered and Nancy is rescued in another scene spoiled in the teaser, when Robert Wagner, pretending to be on set as Pete Ryan from Switch, intercepts the kidnapping. Bizarrely, this kind of preceded an actual incident in 1996, when a shoplifter in Baltimore ran onto the set of Homicide: Life on the Street and surrendered to actors Clark Johnson and Richard Belzer, who were acting as Lewis and Munch. Only Johnson and Belzer kept their cool and didn’t give their criminal a knuckle sandwich like Wagner gives Kasem.

Switch is a mostly forgotten piece of television. It ran for three seasons and my parents often watched it, but it never seemed to turn up in syndication and has never been licensed for home video. There’s a couple of poor bootlegs on YouTube.

Anyway, our son liked this a little more than part one, until Nancy and Frank’s inevitable smooch at the end, anyway. Clive Revill gets maybe two lines, the studio tour tram goes through the ice tunnel again, Joe has an incredibly convenient lockpick in his shoe, and the grownups rolled their eyes at the missed opportunity.

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The Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries 2.4 – The Mystery of the Hollywood Phantom (part one)

Well, this wasn’t anywhere even close to being as good as I hoped. The kid didn’t much like it either; he found it far too creepy. In the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew’s second team-up, they are at a detectives’ convention at a hotel next door to Universal Studios when some goon in a Phantom of the Opera mask, and far more resources and technology than is in any way probable, starts playing And Then There Were None with some famous detectives. Plus there’s the Studio tour, so we get to see the collapsing bridge, and the Jaws bit, and the Earthquake bit.

I paused before the tour started to explain to our son how phenomenally popular the tour was in the seventies, and reminded him of the weird rotating tunnel that Bigfoot carried Steve Austin through. Sure as shooting, we got to see the tunnel again. But there was a little too much creeping around at night for our son’s liking, and the cliffhanger, where the villain snatches Joe, had our son hiding behind his mom’s arm.

But here’s where I got disappointed: the story seems to have originally been shown over two Sundays: October 2 and October 9, 1977, but the preview for part one on the DVD has scenes from both episodes, which is the sort of thing you’d expect to see if this had originally been a two hour special broken into two halves for syndication and home video. And the scenes were incredibly promising: it looked like some of the detectives that our heroes would be meeting in cameos are Marshal Sam McCloud, Kelly Garrett, and Pete Ryan. Unfortunately, only Dennis Weaver appears in part one, and, in a big bummer, Weaver is playing himself on the Universal lot waiting for a setup while shooting McCloud when he rescues Nancy Drew from a runaway truck. (That’s a delightful in-joke at least, because Weaver had such a memorable experience in 1971 with a runaway truck.)

So it looks as though who I thought were Garrett and Ryan will actually be Jaclyn Smith and Robert Wagner on the sets of Charlie’s Angels and Switch. Big missed opportunity, I say. (Except… like this show, McCloud and Switch were both produced by Glen A. Larson at Universal, but Angels wasn’t. Shrug.)

But the strangest cameo of all is… not Peter Falk. It’s Casey Kasem, the immortal voice of American Top 40, playing “Paul Hamilton,” who claims to have once been a respected actor but is now Peter Falk’s double for long shots on the Columbo set at Universal. All credit to Kasem, he does a really terrific impersonation of Columbo, right down to having just one more thing to ask Frank and Nancy. I’d expect nothing less from the man who read long distance dedications for little dogs named Snuggles.

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The Twilight Zone 1.18 – Gramma / Personal Demons / Cold Reading

Last night, our son was fairly ambivalent about our selection from The Twilight Zone. Tonight, we finished our week-long trip to the eighties Zone with a segment that scared the devil out of him and a segment that ranks as his all-time favorite story from this series.

“Gramma” is a Harlan Ellison adaptation of a then-recent short story by Stephen King. It’s tight, cramped, claustrophobic and practically the whole half-hour is carried by a young actor called Barret Oliver who is freaking out about being trapped in his remote house alone with his huge, wheezing, asthmatic bed-ridden grandmother, who may be a beast or a witch or an Old One. Our son was petrified. He told us, bluntly, that he never, ever wants to see this again.

But then there was “Cold Reading,” which was so fun that he was disappointed that there isn’t a sequel. In this one, a live radio show called Dick Noble, African Explorer gets interrupted by a voodoo totem that makes every sound effect in the production come true, with rain, macaws, jungle drummers, and monkeys causing havoc in the studio. The impresario in charge of the show is pleased at last with the authenticity he’s long craved, but his ability to rewrite on the fly gets called up for duty before the actors can get to the pages with the earthquakes and plane crashes. This was silly enough for our son to love to pieces.

Between the two, there was a bit of self-indulgence on the part of writer Rockne S. O’Bannon, who contributed a story about a writer, also called Rockne S. O’Bannon, who is desperately looking for an original idea and tormented by a gang of creatures in monks’ robes that only he can see. Martin Balsam plays the fictional O’Bannon, and Clive Revill his agent.

That’s all from the eighties Zone for a good while, although we may step back in and look at some later episodes down the line. I thought these were a little uneven, much like the original series, but there were some good performances and good ideas, and “A Message from Charity” and “Paladin of the Lost Hour” were as great as I remembered them.

Today’s feature was a gift from Marie’s brother Karl and we really appreciate it! If you would like to support this blog, you can buy us a DVD of a movie that we’d like to watch one day. We’ll be happy to give you a shout-out and link to the site of your choice when we write about it. Here’s our wishlist!

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