The Hardy Boys 3.3 – Assault on the Tower

Last year for Christmas, our son got some Marvel superheroes wall art. One of the pieces is the cover of The Avengers # 70, drawn by Sal Buscema. Tonight at supper, I asked our son whether he knew who those four villains on the cover were. I explained that they were versions of Superman, Batman, the Flash and Green Lantern. That same winter, over in DC’s Justice League of America comic, that company’s heroes were locked in combat with pastiches of Thor, Scarlet Witch, and Ant-Man.

It’s how you do a crossover, or use a character, when the writers are enthusiastic about an idea but the people who actually own the rights to a character don’t allow it because they can’t agree about the money. In another example that our son enjoyed learning about, some Doctor Who fans started making their own independent films in the early nineties, hiring Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant to play “The Stranger and Miss Brown.” Another example that I adore is a short scene in one of Laurie King’s novels where somebody who’s clearly meant to be Lord Peter Wimsey makes a short appearance, talking piffle.

And then there’s this episode of The Hardy Boys, where Patrick Macnee plays, not John Steed, but an agent from the Ministry who doesn’t have a name, but knows how to wear a bowler and carry an umbrella. The very first shot of the episode is of a chess board, bowler, and an umbrella, pulling back to reveal the special guest star. Our son instantly beamed and shouted “Steed!” Thank heavens. The way his memory for faces runs, if we’d have waited another month, he may not have recognized him.

The rational part of me has known for years that this was bound to be a little underwhelming, and yet I’ve been saving it for a rainy day for such a long time. Patrick Macnee gets a couple of chances to twinkle and shine, but the nature of The Hardy Boys‘ family hour 7 pm time slot means that anybody expecting a proper Avengers brawl is bound to be disappointed. There’s one great example when Steed and Joe turn off the lights in Steed’s flat – he appears to be back in central London – in anticipation of two intruders, and the next thing we see is the police coming in to find the villains tied up.

Speaking of villains… there have been times watching The Hardy Boys when Universal did a pretty good job pretending their backlot and the neighboring hotels were other countries. This is not one of those times. At least the not even remotely British actors pretending to be British, including such resoundingly Yankee thespians as Pernell Roberts, Leon Ames, and Dana Andrews, speak in a reasonable facsimile of British terminology and slang. Roberts even manages a not-cringeworthy attempt at a RP accent. Ames doesn’t even bother trying. But the production department were way out of their league. “Leicester” and “Sceptre” are misspelled on props, the men of the Flying Squad wear tailored Savile Row suits and operate from cavernous offices with immaculate furniture, and the plainclothes police don’t show up at crime scenes in beat-up old Ford Consuls and Granadas, but in gray Jaguars with blue lights and POLICE written on the side. And nobody calls anybody “guv,” guv.

Put another way, the episode climaxes in the sewers underneath the Tower of London, and I was about ready for the giant rat from “Gnaws” to show up and eat somebody.

The episode ends with Steed spotting a “Mrs. —” in the airport and going to meet her to the tune of Laurie Johnson’s Avengers theme. You can even say that he hesitates when about to say “Peel,” not because Universal didn’t want to aggravate the trademark owners, but because “K is for Kill” establishes that Emma no longer goes by Mrs. Peel and he was stumbling trying to remember her name.

That was cute, but if I might indulge in a little speculation, Patrick Macnee wasn’t the only name from The New Avengers to show up in The Hardy Boys. At the end of this season, directors Sidney Hayers and Ray Austin, who between them shot more than half of the UK-based New Avengers, each helmed a Hardy installment. Glen A. Larson continued to use both directors on his hit series throughout the 1980s, and had Macnee in front of the cameras as often as he could. Macnee and Anne Lockhart, who we saw in the previous story, were doing voiceovers and recurring parts in Battlestar Galactica at the same time these episodes were made.

We know that CBS was interested in an American Avengers series. They’d hired Brian Clemens to write a script for Quinn Martin’s production company. As I mentioned earlier, this was called Escapade, a deliberate clone of The Avengers starring Granville Van Dusen and Morgan Fairchild. The pilot was shown in May 1978 and forgotten. CBS then added The New Avengers to their late-night lineup in September 1978, and then this aired on ABC in October.

What if Glen A. Larson, by bringing Macnee, Hayers, and Austin together, was making the case that he might be suited to produce the series in America? Clearly not, as this episode shows, an Avengers set in Britain, because they really couldn’t pull it off, but is it possible that Larson might have pitched an Avengers starring Macnee, set in Los Angeles or Washington with a couple of new characters? Could it have been any good? Could it at least have been better than the Canadian New Avengers? Fun to think about, isn’t it? I wonder who the new leads might have been in Larson’s hands…

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 2.15 – The House on Possessed Hill

If I’d thought about this a little longer, we probably should have watched a Hardy Boys segment called “The House on Possessed Hill” after sundown for maximum creepiness effect instead of in the early evening before supper. But perhaps this was for the best. Michael Sloan’s story is a delightfully classic haunted house adventure, using the facade of the Bates House from Psycho on the Universal lot, and even with the sun baking our living room and counteracting the attempts of the air conditioner to keep us cool, our kid still stayed very creeped out and hid. “If we had watched that after dark, I’d have stayed behind the sofa all night,” he protested.

I haven’t seen Psycho since I was in college, but of course I recognized the house immediately in the pre-credits scenes from the episode. However, I didn’t recognize Melanie Griffith, who plays the main guest star, until her name popped on screen. Lloyd Bochner is also in this one, playing her character’s doctor. I’ve seen Melanie Griffith in a dozen or more movies, and only seen Psycho and one of its sequels maybe twice. I guess sometimes houses are even more iconic than people!

I have to give all credit to Universal on a couple of points here. First, as anybody who’s followed this category has realized by now, they were insanely good at picking future Hollywood superstars for guest star parts in this series. And second, we all know that house is an empty facade on a backlot that can only be shot from a couple of positions without spoiling the illusion, but their dressers did an amazing job making it look like the creepiest, most lonely and isolated old haunted house for ten miles.

Griffith plays a girl with psychic powers. Frank’s able to find rational explanations for just about everything that happens in the episode, but not quite all of them, and once again, Joe sees something supernatural and bizarre right at the end that his brother misses. I enjoy the reverse symmetry with Universal’s Six Million Dollar Man, where all the ghosts and witches were hoaxes and the aliens and UFOs were genuine, while here it’s the flying saucers that are fake but the vampires and parapsychology are real.

The Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries 2.5 – The Mystery of the Hollywood Phantom (part two)

Padding, padding, padding. There are barely sixty minutes of story between these two parts, and to add insult to injury, the “scenes from what you’re about to watch” bit, the credits, and the recap of part one takes – no lie – eight full minutes. Even worse, the little teaser scene, apart from spoiling absolutely everything of note in the adventure, includes almost the whole of Jaclyn Smith’s cameo, so we get to see it twice!

One thing they didn’t spoil in the teaser was the identity of the fellow in the Phantom of the Opera mask. No, the producers did that themselves by casting Casey Kasem in a very small role and then having a guy in a Phantom of the Opera mask who speaks with one of the most distinctive voices in radio and cartoons.

Kasem’s bad guy gets clobbered and Nancy is rescued in another scene spoiled in the teaser, when Robert Wagner, pretending to be on set as Pete Ryan from Switch, intercepts the kidnapping. Bizarrely, this kind of preceded an actual incident in 1996, when a shoplifter in Baltimore ran onto the set of Homicide: Life on the Street and surrendered to actors Clark Johnson and Richard Belzer, who were acting as Lewis and Munch. Only Johnson and Belzer kept their cool and didn’t give their criminal a knuckle sandwich like Wagner gives Kasem.

Switch is a mostly forgotten piece of television. It ran for three seasons and my parents often watched it, but it never seemed to turn up in syndication and has never been licensed for home video. There’s a couple of poor bootlegs on YouTube.

Anyway, our son liked this a little more than part one, until Nancy and Frank’s inevitable smooch at the end, anyway. Clive Revill gets maybe two lines, the studio tour tram goes through the ice tunnel again, Joe has an incredibly convenient lockpick in his shoe, and the grownups rolled their eyes at the missed opportunity.

The Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries 2.4 – The Mystery of the Hollywood Phantom (part one)

Well, this wasn’t anywhere even close to being as good as I hoped. The kid didn’t much like it either; he found it far too creepy. In the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew’s second team-up, they are at a detectives’ convention at a hotel next door to Universal Studios when some goon in a Phantom of the Opera mask, and far more resources and technology than is in any way probable, starts playing And Then There Were None with some famous detectives. Plus there’s the Studio tour, so we get to see the collapsing bridge, and the Jaws bit, and the Earthquake bit.

I paused before the tour started to explain to our son how phenomenally popular the tour was in the seventies, and reminded him of the weird rotating tunnel that Bigfoot carried Steve Austin through. Sure as shooting, we got to see the tunnel again. But there was a little too much creeping around at night for our son’s liking, and the cliffhanger, where the villain snatches Joe, had our son hiding behind his mom’s arm.

But here’s where I got disappointed: the story seems to have originally been shown over two Sundays: October 2 and October 9, 1977, but the preview for part one on the DVD has scenes from both episodes, which is the sort of thing you’d expect to see if this had originally been a two hour special broken into two halves for syndication and home video. And the scenes were incredibly promising: it looked like some of the detectives that our heroes would be meeting in cameos are Marshal Sam McCloud, Kelly Garrett, and Pete Ryan. Unfortunately, only Dennis Weaver appears in part one, and, in a big bummer, Weaver is playing himself on the Universal lot waiting for a setup while shooting McCloud when he rescues Nancy Drew from a runaway truck. (That’s a delightful in-joke at least, because Weaver had such a memorable experience in 1971 with a runaway truck.)

So it looks as though who I thought were Garrett and Ryan will actually be Jaclyn Smith and Robert Wagner on the sets of Charlie’s Angels and Switch. Big missed opportunity, I say. (Except… like this show, McCloud and Switch were both produced by Glen A. Larson at Universal, but Angels wasn’t. Shrug.)

But the strangest cameo of all is… not Peter Falk. It’s Casey Kasem, the immortal voice of American Top 40, playing “Paul Hamilton,” who claims to have once been a respected actor but is now Peter Falk’s double for long shots on the Columbo set at Universal. All credit to Kasem, he does a really terrific impersonation of Columbo, right down to having just one more thing to ask Frank and Nancy. I’d expect nothing less from the man who read long distance dedications for little dogs named Snuggles.

The Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries 2.2 – The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew Meet Dracula (part two)

That’s a better screen grab.

Anyway, tonight we watched part two of Michael Sloan and Glen A. Larson’s season two opener of The Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries and it’s… more of the same, with another pair of tunes by Paul Williams and one more by Shaun Cassidy. Shaun, as Joe, gets to smooch Nancy’s friend, and Nancy and Frank get to make goo-goo eyes and will they / won’t they each other. Universal’s costume department got to pull every Oktoberfest outfit out of mothballs to dress the extras, and the props department provided a very silly fake bat for some poor guy to dance around on a wire. This was some very, very silly television, although I did genuinely smile during a cute denouement after the real culprit who is pretending to be Dracula gets handcuffed.

Speaking of Paul Williams, isn’t it so darn weird that he was omnipresent in the seventies, and wrote so many good songs that were hits for everybody in pop music and provided so many memorable tunes for Hollywood soundtracks… and yet he seems to have made the top 100 charts on his own only one time? (“Waking Up Alone” made #60 in 1972.)

Our son pretended to be frightened all night, pronouncing this the creepiest Hardy Boys story ever, and playing up the fake-scared business to let us know that his Doggie would watch the scary bits and let him know what happened while he hid on the staircase. If I didn’t know he was playing at being scared, it would almost make me feel bad about what we’re going to watch Sunday night. Unpleasant dreams, viewers.

The Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries 2.1 – The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew Meet Dracula (part one)

So okay, it seems faintly ridiculous for me to celebrate the first time that the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew ever crossed over into each other’s stories with a screen grab of Frank and Joe with guest star Lorne Greene, but I’d say it was even more ridiculous that this big meeting did not result in a single useable photo of Pamela Sue Martin sharing good face time with either Parker Stevenson or Shaun Cassidy. Is this a harbinger of a troubled television season, or am I reading too much into things? We’ll see as we spend the next couple of months tackling the second season of this program.

Our son was initially excited to see this back in the rotation, because he really did enjoy the first batch of fourteen – the Hardys’ segments more than Nancy’s, just like most of America then – but this one turned around and gave him a really solid set of frights. The convoluted plot sees Frank and Joe tagging along with a small-change rock band to the Dracula’s Castle Festival in Transylvania, because their dad has vanished on the trail of some art thefts that may be carried out by someone in the entourage of a big rock star who’s playing dates all over Europe. For backup and background, Dad Hardy had been in touch with Carson Drew and his daughter Nancy, who really has no time for the “amateur hour” antics of Frank and Joe.

The “meet cute” involves our heroes unwittingly sending each others’ luggage back to the lobby of a hotel in Munich, much to our son’s glee. He cackled with laughter as the tensions escalated until it ends with Frank flipped onto his back. But then the business of some undead fiend possibly stalking the grounds and tombs of the castle while the bands play – Paul Williams and Bernie Taupin are among the musicians – gave him some behind the sofa frights. And I thought we all knew this simply has to be a Scooby Doo plot!

Anyway, the first cast change to note is that that Jean Casey’s character of George Fayne isn’t present, but actress Ruth Cox is here as a nearly identical character, Bess Marvin. Even weirder, George will be back in some future episodes, but played by a different actress. Lisa Eilbacher’s character, Callie Shaw, has been dropped, and so has the character of Ned Nickerson. Maybe they were freeing up space for more guest stars, who also include John Van Dreelen, Norbert Schiller, and Leon Askin. Perhaps it’s just me, but it does feel slightly silly to pack your guest cast with European actors and then ask Lorne Greene to attempt a Romanian accent as a grouchy police inspector.

The Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries 1.3 – The Mystery of Witches’ Hollow

Our son was particularly happy with parts of tonight’s story, which looks to be one of several in this series written by Michael Sloan, who frequently collaborated with producer Glen A. Larson in the seventies and early eighties. Sloan worked on Larson shows like McCloud, Quincy M.E., and Battlestar Galactica. The villain has a big black mountain lion to scare off any nosey teenage detectives, prompting our son to remind us that he really, really likes cats. Our heroes are out in the deep forests of Massachusetts with their gal-pal Callie and a new recurring character, a nervous, food-loving character drawn in very, very broad strokes called Chet, looking for Callie’s missing uncle.

The scene that did have our son frightened has somebody creeping up on the boys while they’re camping in the woods, while the big black cat is stalking Callie. This wasn’t a bad hour, but I think the sight of our son hopping to the other sofa to hide his face in worry for Callie was probably the high point of it!