The Six Million Dollar Man 2.20 – The Bionic Woman (part two)

Bless his heart. Our son did better than I feared as Jaime died on the operating table. He squeezed Mommy’s arm very tightly and he was subdued and quiet and very surprised. This certainly wasn’t what he expected. I’m sure it’s not what anybody expected, either. The entire plot about Malachi Throne and the stolen $20 plates is over and done with – as cheaply as possible – by the halfway point of the episode.

The rest of the episode is Jaime’s slow and sad deterioration, with her body rejecting the bionics and Dr. Wells having no idea what’s gone wrong until it’s too late. Guest stars die occasionally in shows like these, and so the overwhelming attachment that the audience had for Lindsey Wagner’s character surprised everybody. We went ahead and spoiled her return for him, since he seemed blue and out of sorts.

We’ll take a few weeks’ break from this show. Jaime Sommers will be back around the end of the month.

The Six Million Dollar Man 2.19 – The Bionic Woman (part one)

I was a little antsy about how our son’s going to handle the end of this two-part adventure before we sat down. Now I’m a lot antsy. After all, when the producers of The Six Million Dollar Man decided to make a two-part story to let Lee Majors stretch his acting muscles – and, sadly, his singing voice – and break Steve Austin’s heart, they didn’t know that they had a big companion show in the offing.

So obviously, this is all going to turn out okay down the road, but for those of you who don’t know, the original two-parter that introduces Jaime Sommers, the Bionic Woman, was not intended to launch a franchise. It will end tomorrow night with the character’s death. And our son has never seen a major guest star die before. The only hope I had is that he was going to be a little impatient with all the lovey-dovey stuff this week.

Nope. Not at all. “You’ve never liked the kissy stuff before,” exclaimed Mommy. And he did like it. He was absolutely charmed by Steve and Jaime falling in love and announcing their engagement. Oh, man. Tomorrow’s going to hurt.

Also of note…

* The villain is a counterfeiter played by the great Malachi Throne. He vows revenge on Steve Austin. Our son believes Steve and Jaime will both punch him in the face.

* The episode was written by Kenneth Johnson, and it’s darn near his first screenwriting credit. IMDB credits him with just a couple of episodes of Adam-12 and Griff prior to this. Johnson became Jaime Sommers’ principal writer and went on to become American TV’s go-to guy for sci-fi in the seventies and eighties, developing The Incredible Hulk, Alien Nation, and V, among others.

* I was a little bothered that Steve didn’t explain bionics to Jaime before sending for Dr. Wells to make her a cyborg. She didn’t have any choice in the matter; men made all her decisions. Let’s be honest, though. Few of us would have been bothered had we seen this when it was made, 41 years ago. Times have changed for the better.

Ark II 1.6 – The Mind Group

This was a nice surprise. I wasn’t expecting recurring enemies in Ark II, but here’s Malachi Throne again making a return appearance as Warlord Brack.

Psychic powers and ESP were really popular in the seventies. This story is about three telepathic and telekinetic children who have been captured by Brack. With this diverse group of longhaired kids telepathically talking to each other, it’s impossible to watch this without thinking of The Tomorrow People, which was being made at the same time in England. None of them bend spoons like Uri Geller, but the oldest one does move the Ark II across a field with the power of his mind, which seemed to impress our son somewhat.

It is kind of interesting that the “magic” powers displayed by the villain two episodes ago were exposed as a fraud, but psychic powers are not. It was the seventies, man. We’re just lucky they didn’t end up in the Bermuda Triangle like so many other lost souls in that decade.

Ark II 1.1 – The Flies

In 1976, as Shazam! and Isis began their third and second seasons, CBS bought another half-hour drama from Filmation to air alongside them. Like its companion programs, Ark II was awfully earnest and mostly a humor-free zone, but its first episode surprised me by being rather more intelligent than most Saturday morning programming.

The show starred Terry Lester, who died in 2003, as Jonah, with Jean Marie Hon and Jose Flores as his companion scientists. It’s set in the 25th Century, as the Earth recovers from an ecological disaster that has left only pockets of tribes arguing with each other. There was a tendency in ’70s science fiction to depict the remnants of civilization as clinical and run by scientists, and everybody on the outside as nomadic savages. See also Logan’s Run or Buck Rogers in the 25th Century for some other examples.

I don’t believe that we ever see Jonah, Ruth, and Samuel – oh, and their talking chimpanzee, called Adam – reporting back to their scientific bosses. They ride around the southern California wasteland in the Ark II, a mammoth mobile laboratory, a six-wheeled RV thing. It looks similar enough for some people to confuse it with the Landmaster in Damnation Alley, but that was made a year later by another company. The Ark II was broken down after this show ended and its parts used in other Filmation productions.

In the first episode, the Ark II team get involved in a land squabble between a gang of kids (“the flies”) led by Jonathan Harris as a flim-flam man named Fagin, and a tribe of warlords led by Malachi Throne. Things get worse when Jonah lets Fagin know that among the trash he’s collected are some canisters of poison gas.

It’s not thrilling, seat-of-your-pants entertainment by any means, but it’s a very well-made show with two excellent guest stars and a likable lead cast. Daniel really enjoyed it, although he confessed at the end that I managed to confuse him by saying “it’s a show set in the future.” That’s all that I told him, and he filled in the blanks to conclude that it would be about two kids who use a time machine to go to the future! I’m looking forward to seeing what will come next. I saw some of this show as a kid, when it was repeated by CBS on Sunday mornings in 1978 or so, and didn’t see any of it again until I bought this DVD in 2007 and watched the first four episodes. There’s a lot for me to rediscover and my son’s intrigued as well.

Electra Woman 1.7 and 8 – Ali Baba

One of the great fun sidebars in watching this zero-budget show is watching how, with no extra money to spend, the Kroffts and their directors avoided spending even the little that they have. This time out, our heroines have a new gadget called Electra-Freeze – I’m pretty sure that’s the brand name of a soft-serve ice cream dispenser – and the villains, Ali Baba and the Genie, have a gong that creates illusions. In order to “freeze” the prop and make it shatter, the director zoomed in on Sid Haig, playing the Genie, as he reacted to what we couldn’t see, dubbed on a sound effect of a crash, and then Malachi Throne got to pick up some clear plastic, representing the frozen metal. There’s cheap and then there’s this.

And it doesn’t matter at all, because the villains are played by Malachi Throne and Sid Haig. Haig is more of a legend to fans of grindhouse horror films, but Throne also had a pretty terrific career, and was the only actor to appear as both an Electra-villain and a Bat-villain. He was False Face in 1966.

The absolute joy in this episode is watching really good actors having a ball overacting amazingly. The plot this time revolves around a Professor Nabokov, who invents a formula that makes you your opposite. Ali Baba sprays Dyna Girl with it, making her evil. Do you remember that episode of The Young Ones where Vyvyan invents a formula that turns you into an ax-wielding homicidal maniac? (“It’s basically a cure… for not being an ax-wielding homicidal maniac.”) It’s about like that. So Judy Strangis gets to join in and have a ball rolling her eyes and going nya-ha-ha-ha. Sure, it’s stupid, but how can you object when they’re having so much fun?

Daniel spent the episode running from in front of the sofa to behind it, largely unhappy about Dyna Girl turning evil, but he started singing the theme song in the bath, so I figure the world really didn’t end. But we’ll take a break from this show for a few months and finish up Batman all the same. Until then, keep your Electra-comps charged!

Batman 1.18 – Holy Rat Race

False Face is another character from the comics, but only barely. A character by that name appeared in a single eight-page strip in the Feb. 1958 issue of Batman, # 113, but unlike Mr. Zero / Mr. Freeze, DC Comics does not appear to have used the character ever again, although I see that in recent years they have used a gang of henchmen called “The False Face Society.” I’m wondering again how the producers ran across the nine year-old one-off character without a reprint readily available, or even if they didn’t, and just picked the name from some big list of trademarked characters that came with the Batman license.

The scheme, as it is finally revealed, is this: False Face used the theft of a diamond crown to finance a counterfeiting operation and planned to replace all the currency in the Gotham National Bank with his phony bills. This scheme goes awry surprisingly early in the day, and the last half of part two of the story is a chase and fight through an abandoned studio backlot. Since False Face’s moll, Blaze, betrayed him, having fallen in love with Batman as these dames are wont to do, the villain has her as a hostage in his van, which is equipped with missile launchers.

For a moment, he seems to have blown up the Batmobile, leading to a shocked gasp from Daniel, tears welling up immediately, but it’s quickly established that what False Face actually destroyed was an inflatable Batmobile, which our hero carries around in his car’s trunk for just such an occasion.

It’s on the backlot where we meet the program’s very first celebrity cameo, unless I missed one in the first eight stories. It’s an actor named Mike Ragan. I didn’t know who he is, either, but the director pays such attention to this cowboy on the set of an old west town, and his dialogue is aimed so precisely at the audience that I figured that he had to be somebody notable. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, when dozens of television westerns were in production, Ragan appeared in minor roles in what looks to be every one of them, multiple times. He racked up twenty-four credits on just Gunsmoke, The Lone Ranger, and Cheyenne. He was never a star, but anybody who appeared in that many cowboy shows was certainly known to the audience of 1966, so casting him as a cowboy here was a big, funny wink to them.

In the end credits, it’s finally revealed that False Face was played by Malachi Throne, who wasn’t really known to the audiences of that time at all, making him the odd man out of all the Batman villains, sort of like Susan Clark in the first season of Columbo. Throne, who died in 2013, was a short ways into what would become a really long and successful career in Hollywood in dozens and dozens of small parts, and, a couple of years after this, he co-starred in the hit series It Takes a Thief. Throne was not only one of the very small handful of actors to play two different Batvillains – in the 1990s, he was one of Two-Faces’s extra personalities, “The Judge,” in the celebrated Bruce Timm-Paul Dini cartoon – he is the only actor to play a villain in both Batman and Electra Woman and Dyna Girl.

When Throne passed away, the writer Mark Evanier wrote an obituary, as is his custom, and noted the infamy of his non-credited role as False Face. Evanier explained that, after part one, audiences wondered who was behind the plastic mask, and were disappointed that he was not unmasked to reveal a really big star like Frank Sinatra or Peter Sellers. Throne was also disappointed, and was said to have been annoyed by both the lack of credit and that his real face was never seen. With all respect to Mr. Throne, I can certainly see his point – he did have a career to consider – but I really like that we never saw any other face underneath that hideous mask. That’s False Face’s face.