The Saint 2.18 – The Romantic Matron

For a really long time now, Leslie Charteris’s The Saint has been one of those properties held onto by nostalgists. That’s fair; time marches on and nothing lasts forever, but it’s interesting to think about how once upon a time, Simon Templar was such a huge character, known by just about everybody. By the eighties, he wasn’t. I’d catch a glimpse or a reference here and there in Doctor Who Magazine in 1985-86 to there being a show, presumably British, called The Saint where a writer or actor whose names I recognized contributed, but I had no idea what it was. Eventually, I noticed it in the TV listings; it started appearing weeknights at 10 on WATL-36 – this was the show I mentioned last week – and once I finally stayed up late enough to try it out, I had the time of my life. This show was terrific!

Of course I expect everybody reading this nostalgic blog today knows that, but that was certainly not the case with my high school classmates. No matter, The Saint immediately moved up to number three on my list of favorite TV shows, right behind Who and The Avengers, despite nobody at any bookstore being able to find me a program guide with an episode list. The main thing keeping me from completely digging in to the six other ITC series available on WVEU that I mentioned in that link above was that most nights I trying to stay up late and watch this, and I had to do my homework sometime. WATL’s package was a strange one. It seemed to have been 95 hours – the 71 black-and-white Saint episodes and the 24 Return of the Saint installments.

So this evening, we gave a capsule introduction to the show and character to our kid. What did he need to know? Our hero is a gentleman adventurer and former master criminal, still notorious and still unable to stay out of trouble, played by Roger Moore, featured in ITC’s longest-running adventure program. It’s second only to The Avengers for number of episodes for an action-adventure hour of its day, it ran in syndication in just about every American market in the sixties before NBC picked up the color years and played them for three seasons on the network, and I’ve picked ten installments for our sample series. Did I pick them based on the guest stars rather than the plots? Probably!

And once again, our kid proved he can do it, given the right actor. “I think that’s Patrick Troughton,” he said, and my heart grew three sizes that day. Troughton joins some other recognizable British faces, including John Carson and Joby Blanshard, as playing Argentinians in this story. A modern program would probably not do that, but I was particularly impressed with Carson, who has to smooth-talk a truly gullible young American widow into helping him move some stolen gold out of the country. It’s a role that could have veered into stereotype very easily, and he didn’t let it.

Happily, the kid really enjoyed it. I worried that I may have picked a turkey, because I had forgotten that Templar hardly appears at all until about the midpoint, while the con gets moving. But there’s enough of an undercurrent of ugliness that it works. It’s only jaded and skeptical viewers who will spot Carson’s character as a baddie; the show presents him as an unlikely good guy being followed by some thugs. Then watching Templar put things together, while engaging in some great brawls, kept his attention very well. He was really pleased with the scheme to ship the gold out of the country in the romantic matron’s car: they’ve given her a solid gold bumper! We reminded him that he saw something a little similar in Freewheelers way back when, but that really was a while back, and he didn’t remember it that well. Maybe he’ll feel like revisiting it sometime. I’ll hint at it.

Moon Zero Two (1969)

There are dozens of episodes of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 that I have not yet seen, but the only one that I have deliberately avoided – thus far – is their take on 1969’s Moon Zero Two. That’s because I’ll be damned if my first experience of a sixties Hammer directed by Roy Ward Baker with a cast this solid would be those wonderful chuckleheads riffing it. Now that I’ve seen it, and mostly enjoyed it, mock away. I’ll probably track it down soon and enjoy the jokes, assuming Joel and his robot friends don’t fall asleep during the interminable ride in the moon buggy to the missing man’s claim, because I almost did.

To be sure, it’s dated and slow and I just wish that more women dressed like this in the far-flung future of, er, 2021, but I thought that, scientific quibbles aside, this was a very good script, I loved the design and the really great music, and I enjoyed almost all of the performances. Unfortunately, American actor James Olson was cast as the lead, and he’s the weak link. We’ve seen Olson a few times before, and he was absolutely a reliable character actor in guest roles, but he does not seem or feel enthusiastic about this part. Unsmiling, monotone, and frankly radiating boredom, he’s certainly among the weakest performances by an American in any Hammer film that I’ve seen. Bizarrely, I didn’t know that Olson was in this, and was just thinking about him yesterday because I was watching a 1972 episode of Banacek set in Las Vegas, with the standard seventies Howard Hughes analogue, and remembered Olson from “Fembots in Las Vegas”, a Bionic Woman installment where he played the Hughes stand-in.

But joining Olson in this are Adrienne Corri and Catherine Schell, who are wonderful. Warren Mitchell leads a team of villains including Bernard Bresslaw, Joby Blanshard, and Dudley Foster, and, and as you might expect from a sixties Hammer, Roy Evans and Michael Ripper show up briefly. You put this many good actors in a movie, and I’m not going to complain much, especially if it looks this good. I’d love a cleaned-up Blu-ray. The only in-print option in the US is the DVD-R from the Warner Archive. I scored a cheap copy of the out-of-print properly-pressed version which pairs it with the uncut When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth. Apparently nobody realized how much nudity there is in the full Dinosaurs and it was quickly removed from shelves, because they told retailers it was the Rated G version.

The kid, on the other hand, was mostly unimpressed. I did caution him up front that this was made during a period where some science fiction was being made for adult audiences, and was made without stuff like aliens and death rays, but instead just setting tales of human greed and failure in the near future. I think there was a little eye candy for him, and some nice visuals, and a skeleton in a spacesuit moment that Steven Moffat probably remembered from his childhood and incorporated into Doctor Who‘s “Silence in the Library”. But overall, he was a little restless and we agreed afterward that this was too slow a movie for a kid who likes spaceships that jump to lightspeed.

The best little moment came when I pointed out Bernard Bresslaw and said that he’d seen him before. I let him chew on that a moment and then let him know that he had been Varga, the very first Ice Warrior in Who. The kid tolerates my astonishment that he has trouble with faces, because he knows it doesn’t actually bother me, but this was too far. “Was I seriously supposed to recognize him?” he protested. “Good grief, no,” I said, “just wanted to point out that when you cast an Ice Warrior, you cast a big guy.”

“That dude is a big guy,” he agreed.

Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) 1.2 – But What a Sweet Little Room

Since our last visit to the fun work of Randall and Hopkirk, my replacement set arrived and we’re able to pop back and enjoy the three episodes from the first DVD, the one that snapped. Interestingly, Network released two different editions of this set, and I was quite lucky to get the original one. That has the eight disks in two fat clamshell holders in a cardboard slipcase, with two stuffed booklets containing photos and very detailed production notes from ace researcher and writer Andrew Pixley. The replacement set has the eight in a single fat clamshell, and no booklets.

After watching episodes five through nine, with their breezy, light, and mildly comical tone, it was interesting to watch this one, where the producers were still figuring out what kind of show they wanted to make. This is a much more grisly hour, with the camera following a woman’s death in the pre-credits sequence like a tawdry horror film, and Jeff receiving a savage beating, with the thugs telling him to shout all he wants, as they’ve parked next to a soccer stadium during a sold-out match and nobody can hear him.

So it’s not a particularly fun episode, and it’s also lacking in familiar-to-me faces in the cast. Joby Blanshard, who would later star in Doomwatch, is here for a single scene as a police inspector, and that’s it. But while it wasn’t very fun, it was still pretty good. The criminal scheme is a little convoluted – using a fake psychic to steer recent widows and widowers to put their finances in the hands of the baddies leaves an awful lot to chance – and the more hard-boiled tone would probably have become a little repetitive after twenty-six weeks, but we enjoyed it.

Adam Adamant Lives! 1.1 – A Vintage Year for Scoundrels

So there’s this absolutely perfect little shot right at the end of the first episode of Adam Adamant Lives!, and as we watched it tonight, I said to myself: “There! That’s the picture for tonight’s blog post!” As I do. Then I put the disk in my Region 2 external drive and watched it tell me I’d bought an Australian copy. So, as with The Secret Service and a small chunk of Thunderbirds are Go which we watched on my multi-region player before I bought a separate external drive for Region 2 disks, we’ll just have to make do with a pic of the DVD box.

But then again, my history with Adam Adamant Lives! has long been one of the world’s different television formats conspiring to exasperate me. Back in the VHS tape trading days, I struggled through some incredibly ropey copies of the first six episodes, with tape hiss that was so incredibly loud that, until I actually bought this two years ago, I honestly thought that the party guests in the first scene were dancing to silence. The music in the scene is quiet, but the hiss was so loud it masked it completely. And yet it was worth the struggle to watch and listen, because the show is just so fun.

Adam Adamant Lives! stars Gerald Harper as an incredibly famous and successful gentleman adventurer from the turn of the century. In 1902, he vanished on his final case, trying to track down a Moriarty-type foe called The Face. But Adam’s first encounter with the villain saw him betrayed by his lady love, and frozen in suspended animation, left in a block of ice for “eternity.” The world never learned what happened to Adam Adamant, until his frozen tomb was uncovered in 1966.

Bizarrely, Adam’s icy resurrection is incredibly like the way that Jack Kirby and Stan Lee handled the return of Captain America in issue 4 of The Avengers, published a little over two years before this was made. Even more bizarrely, if you flash forward to the epilogue to 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger, then it’s so much like Adam escaping from the hospital in 1966 that you’ll do the same double-take I did when I saw the movie seven years ago. Adam is dazed by the sights of Picadilly Circus, while it’s Times Square that stops Cap in his tracks, but they’re awfully similar. At least Steve Rogers had the advantage of knowing what an automobile is, mind.

Adam is assisted by Georgie Jones, played by Juliet Harmer, a longtime fan of Adamant’s who lets him recuperate in her flat, much to our Victorian-era hero’s embarrassment at her social situation: dressing like a boy and allowing men to sleep overnight in her home. He doesn’t understand the slang of the present day, much like how people in the 25th Century don’t understand some of Buck Rogers’ patois.

Adam Adamant Lives! was devised by Sydney Newman and produced by Verity Lambert, and the first episode was written by Tony Williamson, Richard Harris, and Donald Cotton. So there’s lots of behind-the-scenes talent from the worlds of Doctor Who and The Avengers, which is why so many fans of those programs eventually check this one out. Having some familiar faces from the UK’s deep bench of character actors active in the 1960s helps; Joby Blanshard is a police inspector with a single scene in this one.

Our son wasn’t blown away or anything, but he liked it. The criminals in the first episode are a dreary trio running a common protection racket, nowhere as grandiose or weird as the show’s villains would become, and the story lingered a little too long on them for our son to be happy. They have the upper hand for far too long, basically, but these criminals don’t realize that Adam Adamant comes from a world where the villains die at the end of his sword stick, and he doesn’t wait around for Dixon of Dock Green to calmly make an arrest.

The scenes of Adam staggering around mod London, weakened and semi-conscious, horrified by the noise and the lights and the – surely that sign doesn’t say “striptease” on a city street?! – prurient nightmare of the contemporary world are really effective, and our kid enjoyed that scene a lot. I marveled at just how great the restoration of this print is. You’ll have to take my word for it, but the film sequences look like they were made just yesterday. The studio stuff is, like a lot of programs its age, a little variable, but it’s so nice to see Adam Adamant Lives! as it was meant to be seen… and hear it as it was meant to be heard!

The Avengers 4.11 – Man-Eater of Surrey Green

I love The Avengers because it could so easily bend its format way past the point where lesser series would snap in two. At its core, regardless of the frequent trappings of espionage and spy business, this is a show about weird crimes. This time, it’s effortlessly an homage to the first two Quatermass serials, and there isn’t a diabolical mastermind. There’s a telepathic alien plant. It’s played totally straight and if you stuck this plot in just about any other, similar series, it would be an eye-rolling mess. The Saint did something similar once. It didn’t work.

So Philip Levene’s “Man-Eater of Surrey Green” is The Avengers played as sci-fi horror, and it’s unbelievably effective. Our son is typically more still and attentive with this series than anything else we watch; he really does enjoy it and works hard to understand the grown-up concepts. As with previous installments, he was patiently working through the new information and assembling it, and when it hit home that there’s a giant plant monster at work, it chilled him to the bone. He went behind the sofa with his security blanket and into our bedroom. Then the plant takes control of Mrs. Peel, and Steed has to fight her. This episode just downright betrayed him and stabbed him in the back. He choked back tears as he told us how much he didn’t like this one.

That said, even allowing for this show’s embrace of fancy, in a story about a mind-controlling plant the size of a country house, my suspension of belief still stumbled when Mrs. Peel explains that there’s thought to be vegetable life on Mars and the moon, and that “recent photographs show whole areas of vegetation” up there. You have to force yourself to remember that Avengerland looks a lot like our Earth, but it really isn’t. That’s the only way such a silly announcement can work!

Casting note: this is probably the first episode of the fourth season to boast only one face in the cast that I recognized. Joby Blanshard later played Colin Bradley, one of the Doomwatch team, in the early seventies. Everybody else was mostly unknown to me, although a couple of them, like Derek Farr, turned up again later in Avengerland in other small roles.