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.

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!

The Saint 5.20 – The Counterfeit Countess

Well, I absolutely had to pick this one, didn’t I? It’s got the red Renault going over the cliff, it’s got another appearance by Ivor Dean as Inspector Teal, and it’s got both Alexandra Bastedo and Kate O’Mara. By a weird coincidence, my copy of the Doctor Who season 24 Blu-ray set arrived earlier today. I watched the Behind the Sofa for “Time and the Rani” and all of the participants had such nice things to say about Kate. The two actresses would appear onscreen together about a year later in an episode of “The Champions”.

This was a pretty good one that we all enjoyed a bit, despite a few hiccups. I was amazed they got Roger Moore actually out on location in the middle of a field this time instead of doubling him like they often did in the color stories, but I did wonder exactly why he got so unusually righteous about a counterfeiting operation and determined to bust heads across Europe to shut it down. But credit where it’s due: it’s a good story by Philip Broadley, about whom I’ve expressed some lack of enthusiasm in these pages previously. I couldn’t help but notice that he’d do a Department S about two years later with some men in turtlenecks doing some counterfeiting in a similar wine cellar though. Probably the same big engraving machine prop, I bet.

Speaking of the same, Philip Madoc’s villain has a silver-haired (usually called white) Persian, and I joked to myself that the cat was saying how his agent had promised him the role of henchcat to Donald Pleasance and he ended up at Elstree instead. Then I started thinking about it…

You know, that could be the same cat. The one that Donald Pleasance adored in You Only Live Twice was apparently played by a cat called Chico. Twice seems to have been filmed at Pinewood in February and March 1967; this Saint episode may have been made in the fall of 1966. I’m sure some Bond aficionado knows for certain, but I can’t confirm it. What do you think?

The Saint 5.19 – To Kill a Saint

Foiled again! I selected “To Kill a Saint,” which was first shown in February 1967, because I thought it just possible that our son might recognize two actors from their very familiar voice work on the Gerry Anderson shows that our son has enjoyed so much: Peter Dynely, who was Jeff Tracy in Thunderbirds, and Francis Matthews, who was Captain Scarlet. But the joke was on me: the episode is set in Paris, and they’re speaking with French accents, so even with a great big hint, of course the kid didn’t recognize them.

It did mean we got one last glimpse of the bumbling Parisian police contacts Quercy and Luduc, played by John Serret and Robert Cawdron. This was the sixth and last appearance of these characters. We actually saw Serret briefly in another role in the last episode we watched, “The Queen’s Ransom”. Our kid really enjoyed this one. It’s full of twists and mistaken identities and somebody trying to kill Templar and frame a crime boss, and somebody else trying to kill the crime boss and frame Templar. At one point, someone breaks into Simon’s hotel room to trash it and make him think the crime boss ordered it. As Simon, knowing he was going to catch somebody up to something and having left Luduc behind*, stomped down the corridor, eyebrow raised, our son just howled with laughter.

But I can’t help but be amused by our son just not paying any attention to actresses. I told him up front that he wouldn’t recognize Pamela Ann Davy, as he really only knows her as a cartoon version in “The Power of the Daleks”, and he certainly wouldn’t recognize Valerie Leon, who has just a tiny cameo, but this is the third of seven Saint episodes we’ve watched with Annette Andre, and she’s just another pretty girl to him. I think I’ll make a “you’ve seen her before” sign and point it at the screen. I’ll get to do that twice Sunday night…

*Simon really does owe Luduc a nice lunch once all the paperwork on this one gets finished. He did give the poor sergeant his word of honor…

The Saint 5.1 – The Queen’s Ransom

In the spring of 1966, ITC started production of The Saint and, briefly, Danger Man, in color. The result here looks a little threadbare, doesn’t it? Maybe it’s overdue for a really nice restoration, because The Prisoner began filming a few months after this and has always looked so colorful and gorgeous. I’m not sure in which order these were actually made, but they started with a block of 30 episodes and the first 27 of them became “season five,” led by “The Queen’s Ransom” in most of the ITV regions. I remember reading that it was also chosen to launch the first season on NBC in the summer of 1967, but I can’t confirm that presently.

I’m still not sure that moving to color was the right move for this series, in part because it always looked so right in black and white, but our son certainly enjoyed this one a lot. Simon pulls a great switcheroo on the bad guys that had him laughing out loud, and the whole thing is one fisticuff-fueled cat-and-mouse game with criminals while Simon brings some snobbish Nosuchlandia royalty back down to Earth. Bits of it are very reminiscent of one of the most entertaining black and white episodes, “The Golden Journey.” Dawn Addams, who our son predictably did not recognize despite seeing her twice in the last month, plays the snobby queen, with support by George Pastell and John Woodvine.

But I didn’t pick “The Queen’s Ransom” for its guest stars, actually. I picked it for the ITC white Jaguar going off a cliff again, and the darn kid didn’t realize what was happening until it was on its way to launching. “I didn’t realize it was a Jaguar,” he protested. They picked a brilliant, amazingly twisty road to shoot on, and Avengerland tells me that it’s a road on the Llyn Stwlan Reservoir in Wales. The road was also used in a Persuaders! four years later, as well as, weirdly, another Saint that we’re going to watch soon, in which the other stock ITC crash, with the Red Renault, is used. I honestly didn’t plan this. I swear I picked it for its guest stars, not its car crash.

The Saint 4.2 – The Abductors

Everybody knows that Ivor Dean played the Saint’s regular foil at Scotland Yard, Inspector Teal. It’s less well-remembered that he had another recurring irritant among the French police, Sergeant Luduc, played by Robert Cawdron. Luduc appears in six episodes, although unfortunately they couldn’t settle on a regular actor for Luduc’s superior, Inspector Quercy, and he was played by four or five different people. This time out, Templar calls Quercy a “second-hand Maigret,” which was a bit mean.

“The Abductors” is another one packed with memorable guests, including Annette Andre again, and a trio of villains played by Dudley Foster, David Garfield, and Nicholas Courtney, whose character is strangely more violent and base than we usually see from this series. Andre and Courtney crossed paths again a few years later for the Randall and Hopkirk that everybody remembers for its own amazing guest cast, “The Ghost Who Saved the Bank at Monte Carlo”, and weirdly, in 1969-70, Foster, Garfield, and Courtney each appeared one at a time in consecutive Doctor Who serials: “The Space Pirates,” “The War Games,” and “Spearhead From Space.” No, I don’t know why I know that, either.

The kid liked this one much more than the previous two. It is a very straightforward tale of criminals with a goal that’s easy for a ten year-old to follow. No weird adult stuff like mistresses or market manipulation, just plenty of driving around, making the police look like idiots, with some funny quips, great brawls, and a credibility-straining dungeon where the bad guys stuff their captives. I’ve always liked it a lot. It was one of the episodes I taped off-air in 1986-87 and rewatched several times later, but I had forgotten just how ugly and bloodthirsty Courtney’s character is. We’re so predisposed to love Who‘s Brigadier that it feels downright wrong to know this dude strangled a prostitute to death. Maybe WATL cut some of that part out from their copy to make room for an extra commercial or something.

The Saint 3.10 – The Imprudent Politician

Hey, it’s Jean Marsh and Michael Gough! Reckon they’re up to no good? Just look at them.

Back when I first started watching The Saint in 1986-87, “The Imprudent Politician” became one of my favorite episodes, in part because of the story and in part because Marsh and Gough were in it and I knew who they were from their roles in sixties Doctor Who. In time, I’d come to recognize most of the great guest cast, including Anthony Bate, Moray Watson, and Mike Pratt. And in the spring of 1988, after reading a little bit about the Profumo Scandal of 1961-62, I caught that guest star Justine Lord is being a little bit Mandy Rice-Davies in this story about blackmail that involves an accidental death and a country house full of suspects.

So no, for the small number of you hoping our kid would recognize Lord after seeing her in another episode just four days ago, he didn’t. This one took a little more work, and a little backtracking after we got started, than I would have thought. It seemed simple enough: a politician’s being blackmailed because he has a cute mistress and once passed her some insider stock information. I overlooked the reality that the kid has only a vague idea of what a mistress is or why anyone would want one, and no clue at all what insider trading is. But I wasn’t going to let this one collapse because he didn’t understand it, so we got it all cleared up and once he understood there’s a big country house full of brooding visitors who don’t seem to like each other, he said “Okay, it’s like Clue,” and he was good to go.

Mike Pratt plays one of the blackmailers in this, and you’ll remember how, as Jeff Randall, the poor guy lost just about every fight he got in? He coshes Simon Templar from behind about halfway through this story, and that’s it for his luck. He gets thrashed to within an inch of his life later on. When Monty Berman and Dennis Spooner were putting together Randall and Hopkirk, they might’ve looked at this episode and said “That’s our man!”