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Young Indiana Jones 1.12 – Mexico, 1916

I remember vividly just how ridiculous ABC’s promotional department was, promoting their new show in late February and March of 1992 with a clip of Indy composing a letter to his father. “I’ve joined the Mexican revolution. Sorry about high school.” I thought that was entirely the wrong tone to take, and surely viewers who tuned in to Young Indiana Jones and the Curse of the Jackal looking for that sort of goofy humor switched off two hours later completely baffled. This was not the wacky “TGIF”-style show that the ads suggested.

If only the show could have been this wild and exciting every week, though! It’s really fun. Indy follows bandits into Mexico after they’ve attacked a border town, but ends up captured and only escapes death because General Pancho Villa is in a good mood. Also riding with Villa is an increasingly disillusioned Belgian man named Remy Baudouin, who has been hoping for vengeance since federal Mexican troops killed his wife some time previously. Remy is played by Ronny Coutteure, who effectively takes Lloyd Owen’s place as co-star in the series.

Indy is inspired by Villa’s drive for justice and resolves to aid in his revolution, but he joins Remy in losing his drive. This isn’t his war, and it isn’t his country. Remy wants to return to Belgium and fight the Germans, and the hour ends with Indy accompanying him.

But getting there is full of superbly directed gunfights and action, lots of explosions, and far, far more action than any typical American TV drama of the period, even the better ones like China Beach that spent a lot of money on extras and location filming each week. Our son was in heaven; he says this was by far the best episode he’s seen so far, and I think he’s right.

Incidentally, getting there also means wrapping up the loose end of the killer who got away with the lost treasure in episode one, and Indy killing somebody for the first time. I think that this had a little more weight in the original broadcast when both halves of the jackal adventure were shown together. The story flowed better and there’s more of a sense of righteousness in seeing the villain get his just rewards in the same movie. It also had one of the better bookends of the broadcast episodes, which reveals that Indy did ensure that the stolen jackal treasure made its way to a museum.

I enjoyed the surprise of learning who played the very small role of an American soldier early in the hour. It was Ed Bishop, who spent the sixties and early seventies as one of the go-to American actors in the ITC adventure shows, and providing voices and occasional onscreen roles for Gerry Anderson. I kicked myself for a second for not recognizing him, but I guess there’s one part of my brain that stores “UK TV 1960s/70s” data, and another, much smaller part of my brain that stores “US TV 1990s,” and it never occurs to me that some actors can indeed make their way across the decades and continents to keep finding work!

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Journey to the Far Side of the Sun (1969)

Let’s get one thing clear from the start: Journey to the Far Side of the Sun, which was made under the title Doppelganger in 1969, isn’t a great movie. In fact, it rivals Disney’s The Black Hole as one of the silliest and least scientifically plausible films ever made. But there’s still a lot to recommend it, such as a fantastic musical score by Barry Gray, terrific visual effects, and one heck of a good cast.

Included in the cast, in a tiny bit part, is Nicholas Courtney. And, for regular readers of this blog, I’m delighted to say that our son recognized him even without the Brigadier’s distinctive mustache. I punched the air.

He also figured out very, very quickly that this movie was made by Gerry Anderson’s team. It perhaps helped a little that the look, feel, and sound of Anderson was fresh in his mind; last night, he rewatched the Thunderbirds episode “The Cham-Cham.” Journey to the Far Side of the Sun was directed by Robert Parrish, but the cinematography is by Anderson regular John Read, and this looks precisely like an episode of one of the Supermarionation series, only with live actors. I think it helped our son with a feeling of comfort. Journey is fairly justifiably accused of following in the footsteps of 2001, but the working-man’s-world of the near future in that movie is its own thing. This is the world of Captain Scarlet, right down to the camera decisions to spend agonizing minutes panning across control rooms while nobody really moves, focusing at dials counting down, and getting emergency crews into position for crash landing airplanes.

Adding a little bit to the Scarlet similarity, NASA’s liaison with the EuroSEC space program is played by Ed Bishop, who was the voice of Captain Blue. Other small parts are played by Cy Grant (Lt. Green), and Jeremy Wilkin (Captain Ochre). Wilkin passed away last month; we’ll see him again in Doctor Who next weekend.

The film’s leads are played by Roy Thinnes, Ian Hendry, Lynn Loring, and Patrick Wymark. Backing them up is an all-star cast of recognizable faces from film and TV, including George Sewell, Vladek Sheybal, Philip Madoc, sixties spy movie regular Loni von Friedl, and the great Herbert Lom, who plays a foreign agent with a camera in his artificial eye to snap secret photos of the plans for Sun Probe.

Unfortunately, two big problems are working against this awesome cast. First off, this movie is paced more like a glacier than just about anything I can think of. The rocket doesn’t launch until halfway through the film, and twice we have to mark the passage of time with slow and trippy psychedelic sequences. A big problem upfront is that Patrick Wymark’s character, the director of EuroSEC, has to find the money to fund his mission to a new planet on the far side of the sun. Agonizing minutes are spent worrying and arguing about money, instead of just having NASA immediately pay for it in exchange for sending an American astronaut on the mission.

The astronaut’s marriage is in trouble. Mercifully, Wikipedia tells me that they chopped out a massive subplot about his wife’s affair, otherwise we’d never have got into space. Either the astronaut can’t have a baby because of space radiation or because his wife is secretly taking birth control pills. Neither really matters much. But they keep introducing new elements and complications. Ian Hendry, who is awesome here, is out of shape and shouldn’t go on the mission. This is all interesting character development, but none of it ends up mattering.

It’s like the Andersons and scriptwriter Donald James were writing an interesting prime-time drama about the machinations of life among astronauts getting ready for a mission, and were told instead to do it all in forty-five minutes and then do something with the rocket and another planet. So you’ve got spies, a broken marriage, a physicist who’s not fit to fly, budget troubles, security leaks… Wymark had played the lead in The Plane Makers and The Power Game, a backstabbing boardroom drama that ran for seven seasons earlier in the sixties. I think Journey could have made a good show like that. I don’t think our son would have had all the neat rockets and crash landings to keep his attention, but I’d probably give it a spin.

Or possibly not. Bishop and Sewell were pretty boring in the TV series UFO, which the Andersons made soon after this.

The plot of the movie is about the mission and a mystery. Why did Thinnes and Hendry turn back and return to Earth halfway through their six week mission, when Thinnes insists they landed on the hidden planet on the far side of the sun? The answer won’t surprise anybody who read this chestnut of a story when they were a little kid thumbing through schlocky pulp sci-fi from the thirties, but I enjoyed the way that Read and Parrish kept finding hints for the audience in the form of mirrors. If you like watching Gerry Anderson’s work or a cast full of great actors, this isn’t a bad way to spend a hundred minutes. If you’re looking for an even remotely plausible science fiction adventure, though… you’re really, really going to have to check your disbelief at the door.

Today’s feature was a gift from Nikka Valken, and I invite you all to check out her Society 6 page and buy some of her fun artwork! 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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