The Hardy Boys 3.10 – Life on the Line

And you thought Roger Stone got sent to prison.

So I was really looking forward to this one. As I mentioned last month, Glen A. Larson had arranged for two of The New Avengers‘ principal directors to come work on this series. Ray Austin had directed the “Defection to Paradise” two-parter, and Sidney Hayers got the nightmare assignment of piggybacking production onto a motocross dirt bike event. No studio work here: the entire episode was filmed on location.

Sadly, Hayers somehow got lumbered with three guest stars and despite twenty years calling action – he helmed the brilliant “Hidden Tiger” episode of The Avengers, for heaven’s sake! – he couldn’t coax a performance from any of the three that didn’t have me cringing. Ana Alicia plays a biker who comes on to Frank so strongly that Frank should be looking for a candid camera, Adam Roarke is so out of tune with the other performers that I honestly wondered whether the man was an actor at all, and then there’s Leonard Stone, who you may remember as Violet Beauregard’s dad in Willy Wonka, who decides to play his mobster as Bela Lugosi dressed as the Penguin. At one point, he phones a hotel and puts a handkerchief over the receiver to disguise his voice. The clerk probably told the cops “He sounded like Bela Lugosi with a handkerchief over the receiver.”

Regular readers should know I’m very sympathetic to actors and don’t want to criticize them unduly, but these three were honestly so bad that I was looking for Joel/Mike/Jonah and the Bots in the corner of the screen. It got so awful that at one point Jack Kelly shouted “Hey, Joe!” and I replied to myself, of course, “where you goin’ with that gun in your hand?” And poor Ana Alicia, after her umpteenth scene of staring wide-eyed at Frank and, one inch from his face, bellowing “You like me, don’t you? I DON’T TAKE NO FOR AN ANSWER!” had Marie interrupting the program to tell our son to run ten miles from any woman who does that, and to never, ever do that to anybody else.

But our son is eight and likes dirt and loud engines and dune buggies chasing motorcycles. He was so taken with it, and the series overall, that he genuinely shocked me when he said “When I show my kids this show, I’m going to tell them that guy looks like Bela Lugosi dressed as the Penguin.”

Unfortunately for viewers like him who enjoyed the show, the third season was a flop and ABC cancelled it. Information on the third season is a little thin on the ground, and I’ve not been able to determine whether they had actually ordered 22 episodes and axed it while number ten was in production, or if it was a short order in the first place.

But Parker Stevenson and Shaun Cassidy had some interesting projects in their futures. Cassidy later created the splendid cult series American Gothic, and has written and produced several network series, including that Emerald City show that I forgot to watch. He’s currently an executive producer on NBC’s medical drama New Amsterdam. Stevenson later starred, briefly, in a cult favorite series of his own, Probe, which was co-created by Isaac Asimov and sounds a little like MacGyver solving impossible crimes. He did a year on Baywatch among dozens of other projects. He currently stars as one of the grownups on Netflix’s Greenhouse Academy.

Even though Jack Kelly was just an ancillary part of this season, I did want to indulge myself with a moment here. Kelly was just a few years away from retirement when The Hardy Boys was cancelled, but piggybacking what I said about westerns last night, he had three more performances as Bart Maverick ahead of him. He played Bart in one episode of Brother Bret’s short-lived 1982 NBC series, and in one of Kenny Rogers’ Gambler TV-movies. Between them, he played “Jack Kelly as Bart” in an episode of Glen A. Larson’s The Fall Guy that also put some other legendary TV cowboys back in the saddle: Roy Rogers, Pat Buttram, and James Drury and Doug McClure playing themselves playing The Virginian and Trampas. I watched that episode on YouTube in the middle of the night. Nostalgia for old westerns is mostly beyond me, but I certainly had a chuckle or two.

The Hardy Boys 3.9 – Game Plan

I used to really, really enjoy playing Monopoly in college – the sort of all-night, stamina-demanding Monopoly with enough wheeling and dealing to basically aggravate my opponents into submission – and so I spotted where this one was going immediately. Steven E. de Souza’s story uses a dice game at an Atlantic City casino as a code for drop spots on a criminal’s route. Unfortunately, I also spotted where this story was cheating with the rolls and also reorganizing the drops from the order we see them when characters revisit the tale afterward.

Continuity errors are usually small and perfectly forgivable, but every stinking time the plot came back to the game, this episode made a brand new foul. Go directly to jail, Hardy Boys!

The Hardy Boys 3.8 – Defection to Paradise (part two)

As I was putting this disk back in its tray, I noticed the episode summary on the inside of the sleeve. It claims “Soviet killers pursue her from Hawaii to the Hardy Boys’ home town of Bayport, Massachusetts.” Um, no. No, they don’t. This episode doesn’t even make it from Hawaii to the mainland, much less the other side of the country. The blurb for “Scorpion’s Sting” has another howler, claiming that Craig Stevens’ character is an “international assassin,” when the story specifies he has never killed any of the victims that he’s held for ransom. I wonder where these writeups came from. Old, inaccurate TV Guide listings, perhaps?

And “Soviet killers” does this story a disservice. Marie commented that this episode is pleasantly free from cardboard bad guys, although six of them do give David Gates a mild workover for keeping quiet about the defector. Nehemiah Persoff is really watchable as the Russian intelligence officer, primarily because he isn’t playing the role as a villain. He’s a sharp operator quietly doing his job, and he isn’t being “evil” at all.

I’m no fan of the music – if we’re talking American acts in 1978, give me Talking Heads or Television before Bread – but other than its very convenient plot holes, this was certainly the best of the five two-part Hardy stories. And yes, our son did think it was pretty good as well. Our heroes don’t smooch anybody at all; that had to help.

The Hardy Boys 3.7 – Defection to Paradise (part one)

The weird finger of coincidence was at work again. Last time we watched a Hardy Boys episode, I thought it was cute that the stars of two big 1950s TV series were appearing together, but I came embarrassingly close to misidentifying Craig Stevens’ hit show. The post nearly went out claiming that Stevens was the star of 77 Sunset Strip, not Peter Gunn. So who shows up in the very next episode? Edd Byrnes, from 77 Sunset Strip.

In the season opener, we got to hear “If” by Bread about a half-dozen times. This time, David Gates and Bread – the show was filmed during a short period they were billed under that name – appear as characters in the show. The plot centers around a defector who gets smuggled out of the Soviet Union in one of Bread’s speaker cabinets, but as soon as the tour lands in Honolulu, she gets cold feet and loses her bodyguard. Nehemiah Persoff plays a KGB officer who comes to Hawaii to execute her rather than let her secrets into American hands, and for the first time, the Hardy Boys have some conflict with their boss, because Harry is keeping lots of secrets.

I thought this one was clumsy and sloppy and full of characters having very easy access to each other, but it was probably just one rewrite from shining. However, no amount of rewriting would convince me that Bread’s manager was going to book them to fly from Moscow to Honolulu for a gig that very night! There’s a good story in here, just one told clumsily. Our son wasn’t really engaged with it, but maybe he’ll enjoy part two a little more…?

The Hardy Boys 3.6 – Scorpion’s Sting

I thought this was a pretty neat moment: Jack Kelly playing a cop arresting Craig Stevens as an international criminal. Twenty years previously, they had been the stars of two hit series: Maverick and Peter Gunn. Shame these two vets didn’t get any dialogue scenes, but the series isn’t really about these old men, is it?

“Scorpion’s Sting” is easily the best of the third season stories that we have watched. Our son loved the climax, in which the Hardy Boys use a helicopter to keep a small private plane from taking off, and I enjoyed the location spotting. That same hotel that they used for the Hawaii episode in season one gets used again as Puerto Rico, and they even use the same stretch of beach where Joe nearly had a hang gliding accident in season two.

The Hardy Boys 3.5 – Dangerous Waters

They used Anne Lockhart in the two-part season premiere, and Anne’s mother June Lockhart guest stars in this episode, along with Robert Loggia, who was appearing as a tough guy in everything in the late seventies. This one’s a pirate treasure story in Martinique, but it starts as a missing persons story. Our son really enjoyed a rescue from an old fort, and the unearthing of the old treasure chest. The pirates buried that one awfully close to the shore. One good storm and it’d be lost for good.

There’s a surprisingly grim moment when we learn the pirates intend to sell their captive to an auction in China. It immediately seemed out of place on a family hour children’s show like this. Our kid held onto that line and asked us what it meant. The quickest and most satisfying explanation I felt like digging into was that in the same way these bad guys were selling their stolen yachts to other bad guys in South America, they were selling people to other bad guys in China. To be honest, I’m still amazed the show went there.

The Hardy Boys 3.4 – Search for Atlantis

The last time that we looked at a Hardy Boys episode, I noticed that guest stars Anne Lockhart and Patrick Macnee were making semi-regular appearances in Glen A. Larson’s Battlestar Galactica, which aired right after this show on ABC Sunday nights. Tonight, we add John Colicos, who played the villain Baltar in Galactica to the cross-pollination. I hope there are more; spotting folks from Galactica‘s gigantic cast is very amusing. Also this week, Shaun Cassidy gets to smooch guest star Pamela Jean Bryant, which quite a lot of us wouldn’t have minded doing.

So anyway, tonight’s episode is set in Greece and it was written by Steven E. De Souza. At one point, Joe goes looking for clues and finds out that a guy he needs to speak with is in Athens, Georgia. I figure since it was 1978, the dude wanted to check out one of those house parties that the B-52’s were playing back then. If I had a time machine, that’d be on my list. Go down to Allen’s for a twenty-five cent beer while I was there.

The Hardy Boys 3.2 – The Last Kiss of Summer (part two)

At its core, there’s a perfectly decent sting story here that might have made for a good hour-long episode. Stretched to two with the plot about Joe’s fiance, with flashback after flashback and even more of Bread on the soundtrack, it’s not as successful.

It was also completely over our son’s head and he asked us twice to explain it to him. The con, involving lots of players and a story about a sure way to make some extra money, is as old as the hills – I seem to recall Jack Kelly being involved in a scam like this once or twice before – but the sports betting angle makes this an interesting ancestor of the MacGyver episode “Jenny’s Chance,” which was about horse racing rather than basketball. That one was also a little dense for our son, which is probably why he doesn’t remember that one particularly well.

The Hardy Boys 3.1 – The Last Kiss of Summer (part one)

And now we time-travel back to October 1978 and the third season of The Hardy Boys. Once again there are a pair of small format changes. For starters, Nancy Drew’s no longer involved, but Bart Maverick is. Jack Kelly starts a semi-regular role this season as a federal agent named Harry Hammond, but all ten episodes – the show was cancelled after a few weeks of terrible ratings opposite 60 Minutes – feature Frank and Joe. Frequent Glen A. Larson guest star Anne Lockhart is here in this opening two-parter written by Larson and Michael Sloan, and for a few minutes it looks like a massive format change might be in the works, because Joe’s fallen in love with a California girl named Jamie, played by Kristie Welch, and proposes to her. But the night before their wedding, Jamie is killed in a car accident. The other driver is a small-time criminal that the feds have been watching for six years, trying to get proof of an old robbery and murder. Joe’s not interested in waiting six years for his revenge…

Well, okay, obviously nobody watching, then or now, was fooled into thinking that Joe was getting married. This girl had a bullseye on her back from the first bars of “If” by the seventies soft-rock combo Bread. I had no idea what that godawful song was, which really surprised Marie, because she figures that’s the first time in twenty-four years of putting up with me that she knew a song and I didn’t. I told her that was her misfortune. (It’s not true, either. I swear I never in my life heard “Last Christmas” by Wham! until this past December when I looked it up to see what the heck everybody complains about every holiday. Turns out the song I thought was “Last Christmas” is actually called “Careless Whisper.”)

Anyway, after far, far more of “If” than anybody wants to hear, and a lot of Shaun Cassidy having flashbacks to his lost love, I thought our son was going to lose his mind from boredom. Things finally pick up at the end with a cliffhanger involving great white sharks. He liked that a lot.

Incidentally, your eyes aren’t deceiving you: the image quality of this episode is far, far worse than what we’ve been used to. I appreciate Shout! Factory releasing this season, but they sure didn’t do much remastering of the picture. Shame; there’s one coming up that I’m particularly interested in (finally) seeing…

The Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries 2.21 – Arson and Old Lace

Credit where it’s due: I’ve occasionally teased the producers and paymasters of this show for cutting some corners to save a little cash. But whatever they saved, they put onscreen in tonight’s hour, which put a Hardy spin on a couple of seventies obsessions: The Towering Inferno and Howard Hughes. Joseph Cotten has a breathtakingly thankless role in this episode, a character who’s both insane and evil. Rathbone is a recluse who hasn’t left his penthouse for twenty-two years, and he’s started embezzling money from his companies. Then Nancy Drew – who’s the spitting image of the “Jane Russell” in Rathbone’s past – starts investigating, and he has her kidnapped.

Six months later – and when you think about it, it’s pretty surprising that any series from the period would leave one of its characters in a villain’s clutches anywhere near that long – the Hardys finally get a lead on Nancy’s investigation, just in time for a serial arsonist, who turns out to have a pretty reasonable motive, to target Rathbone’s building. This story required a lot of extras, a lot of stuntmen, and a lot of fires on the set. Sadly, our son was really excited by the clips from the show before the titles, what with all the explosions and blazes, but the story left him cold, confused, and really unsatisfied. He did enjoy Joe Hardy saving a little kid from the building with a jump from the fourth floor to the fire department’s trampoline.

I think it’s a shame that the center of the story is Nancy being a helpless prisoner for half a year, because Nancy shouldn’t be a damsel in distress in the first place, and certainly not for such a long time. Without this chasm in the plot, it’s otherwise a very entertaining production, and features a fine cast including Jack Kelly and Pernell Roberts. And being a victim for half a year is no way for Nancy Drew to exit the show. This was the final appearance of Nancy and her dad. Janet Louise Johnson and William Schallert wouldn’t be part of the next season. I wish that the characters’ final outing would have been a more positive one.

The Bionic Woman 3.15 – The Martians are Coming, the Martians are Coming

When NBC picked up The Bionic Woman, they asked for one of those pre-credit showreels that you often saw in the seventies, with clips from the episode you’re about to watch. These are always obnoxious, but I liked the way they did this one. All the clips are from about the first seven minutes of the story.

I’m not giving away too much when I reveal this is one of those incredibly common hoax flying saucers that we often saw on TV in that decade, because the show gives it away after about ten minutes. These always let me down as a kid. But to their credit, the bad guys behind this hoax stick to their guns and keep their “holograph” projectors going even once the heroes and the audience are in on the scam. That way the kids in the audience can still have a special effect to look at.

Speaking of effects, while these are about as good as what you could expect to see on TV in 1978, there are a couple of shots where the plate which is used for the image of the flying saucer is pockmarked by two big black blobs right in the center of the picture and what looks like a huge ink smear in the upper left of the frame. Kind of hard to suspend disbelief when Universal’s special effects crew couldn’t even wipe down the plate with some glass cleaner, really. On the other hand, it gave us the opportunity to wind it back and talk with our son how they used to do special effects like this. I used to absorb every article about visual effects in magazines like Dynamite to understand how things like this were made.

In the cast, Jon Locke, who had played the leader of the Sleestak and a couple of other monsters in the last year of Land of the Lost the previous season, has a small part as one of the townspeople excited by the flying saucers. Jack Kelly plays a scientist who has been “abducted” along with Rudy Wells. Kelly is shamefully misused by this story and given next to nothing to do. Since Kelly was all over television doing guest parts during this period, often for Universal, perhaps he was only available for what looks like just two days of filming. That’s idle speculation on my part, but there are three other adult male roles in this story with much more meat on them where I’d prefer to have seen Kelly, who I really enjoy.