“I have seen this Jason King in the newspapers… always a different woman!” Yes, and this time it’s Penelope Horner.
Well, I was saying last time that the kid runs hot and cold on King, and this was another very, very cold one. Quizzing him afterward, his main objection to this story by Philip Broadley was that neither he nor Jason had any idea what was going on. Jason is trying to enjoy some kissy time with the girlfriend-of-the-week – which our son didn’t like either – and is oblivious to British and Russian intelligence storming around Italy trying to swipe a cigarette lighter from a chain of Mafia types. Eventually, we paused to ask why he couldn’t concentrate on the story. “I don’t understand why everybody wants the lighter,” he said, and we replied that we didn’t either; the story hadn’t yet told us. “But there’s probably microfilm in it,” Marie added, guessing correctly.
I’ll agree that this was not a particularly strong outing, and I can see the kid’s point. It is a really odd adventure in that Jason is so removed from the action. Earlier in the run, in the story “As Easy as A.B.C.”, the difference was more obvious: we were watching the villains as the main characters in that episode. In this outing, the time is split equally between the Mafia pipeline and their business, and Jason doing his romancing, so he was front and center most of the time, but unaware of the situation. In fact, we knew much more about it than he did until the last eight or nine minutes.
Five more to go; I really think he’ll enjoy the final one, but I hope he gets some satisfaction from at least a couple more.
This hasn’t been our son’s favorite day of watching old TV with his old parents. Following this morning’s Stargate, which he found disastrously dull, he had a great day of food and Xbox and pinball and pizza, and then we watched this unbelievably slow and subtle Jason King. It’s so subtle that he may not have even realized until the finale that there was a criminal scheme anywhere at all. Ingrid Pitt and Patrick Mower are among the criminals who have targeted our hero for reasons not divulged until the very end. Jason’s aware that something is up and plays along, but I think the storytelling and the acting were so underplayed that it just looked like an hour of romance and sightseeing and driving around Greece and Italy. He’s much more interested in what I’ve told him we are watching tomorrow.
“Uh-oh,” I said, and Marie asked our son “Can you see why he said ‘uh-oh’?” and our son said “Ohhhhhh, yeah, it’s a white Jaguar!” And within a couple of minutes, it goes over the cliff for the fifth time in two years of this blog. That’s not the only bit of recycled footage in this one. At one point, a character played by Felicity Kendal is watching an old gangster movie on TV, and it’s the 1930s Chicago shootout scene from the Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) episode “Murder Ain’t What it Used to Be”. Or maybe she was watching Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased).
Anyway, this episode introduces Anne Sharp as Nicola Harvester, Jason’s publisher. She appears in seven episodes. She tries to be sympathetic as Jason falls for a (modern day) gangster’s girlfriend. Peter Wyngarde gets to stretch and be a little sad, and Kieron Moore gets to throw his weight around his gang, one of whom is played by Tony Beckley. But any story where the Jaguar going over the cliff is the high point isn’t going to be a favorite of mine. My heart has started to sink when I see that Philip Broadley has written today’s episode.
The other day, I noticed that a film crew had followed several guest actors in “All That Glisters” around Paris, but not Wyngarde, and wondered whether they scheduled the shoot for the same time he had a smaller crew following him around Vienna. I think I might be slightly wrong, because in this episode, we see Wyngarde doing some shopping, without any guest stars, at some fashionable Parisian shops like Hermes, Cartier, and Christian Dior.
Well, this was an interesting production, just not an interesting story. Philip Broadley wrote the only two-part storyline for Jason King in either this series or Department S, and King is effectively a supporting character in it. There’s a lot of location filming in Paris, and proper location filming with a real crew and most of the guest cast, although not Peter Wyngarde. Maybe he was off doing the “home movies” guerilla filming in Venice for other episodes while Clinton Greyn, Lee Patterson, Anton Rodgers, Johanna Dunham, and Michael Gwynn were in Paris for this one. Madeline Smith gets the girlfriend part in both episodes, but she didn’t get to go to Paris either.
The strangest thing about it is that the lead character is an American PI named John Mallen, played by Clinton Greyn, and he’s overdubbed. In earlier posts about ITC productions, I’ve referenced ITC’s deep bench of American and Canadian actors who they’d employ, people like Paul Maxwell, Ed Bishop, David Bauer, or Stuart Damon, but instead of using one of them, they gave this part to Greyn, who was Welsh. Perhaps Greyn tried to do the accent of a private eye from Santa Monica and the producers decided later on that they’d erred, and so they called in Shane Rimmer to overdub him. Rimmer isn’t credited. He often wasn’t in his long career – he provides a voice in the Michael Caine movie Billion Dollar Brain without a credit as well, to give another example – but it kind of makes you wish they’d have just called Rimmer in to play the part in the first place. Even the guy who plays the client is overdubbed. That sounds like Bauer, but I wouldn’t swear to it.
Anyway, the story itself is long, long, padded, and short on action. There’s a surprising twist near the end, when the story moves to a Paris-Rome express train and somebody’s going to come to a grisly and unexpected end, that I liked. But this is the sort of production where impatient men keep checking their handguns for no other reason to let the audience know they’re packing.
This blog’s meant to be about sharing experiences with my kid more than it is me, so let’s be very, very clear on this one: the kid barely tolerated Philip Broadley’s “Variations on a Theme.” This is a murky, shadowy spy story with nobody telling anybody much of anything, and the only actress who does want to tell somebody something is – in that way of damsels in distress in the fiction of days gone by – “too scared” to talk. He was restless and bored and the only time he brightened up was when a VW Beetle or hippie van showed up on screen, which was constantly, because the streets of Vienna were full of them in 1971.
From a production standpoint, though, I thought this was fascinating. I wonder whether the script was actually finished before they shipped Peter Wyngarde off to Vienna with what appears to be a single cameraman, and a few reels of what looks like 8mm film, with the ambient sound of crowd noises and music dubbed on later. So you’ve got Wyngarde outside the Vienna airport with all the resolution of somebody’s home movie, and actors in London watching him in 16mm.
The other interesting thing about the production is, of course, all the great guest actors. Ralph Bates is here as the spy who can’t quite come in from the cold yet, and Alexandra Bastedo is a Russian agent posing as a Swedish journalist, and Julian Glover, who our kid saw earlier this week when he watched The Empire Strikes Back again, is a British spy who really should have been used in other episodes beyond this. No, the kid still couldn’t recognize a face, but when I said “You saw him as the AT-AT commander the other day,” he replied “Well, you told me then that he was in everything, guess you’re right!”
When we were watching Department S, it got to where my heart would sink a little when I noted the script was by Philip Broadley. It’s not that any of them were necessarily bad, but they were so ordinary, and could have worked for any other ITC adventure series. Sadly, after two really good installments to open this show, tonight’s episode was written by Broadley, and it’s an okay story about a criminal following some very obscure clues to a fortune he’d heisted without his boss’s okay several years before. The boss is played by Frederick Jaeger, but he doesn’t help things much. The story moves about as fast as molasses, with no urgency or danger. Our son was disappointed. It was far too slow, and didn’t even have a proper fight scene.
“That was really confusing,” our son grumbled at the end of this one. I don’t think I’d agree, but it was interesting to watch an episode where absolutely everybody was angry with each other. Our heroes are all emotional and wound too tightly around this tale of an international drug rung to work at ease with each other, and the numerous villains – other than a bellhop, just about every single speaking part in this story is given over to the bad guys or somebody connected with them – are all looking for opportunities to betray each other. At one point, Cyril Shaps, channeling Peter Lorre, blackmails the femme fatale of the adventure for some smooching. You know it’s all rushing to a tragic finale, and you sort of want it to hurry up and put everybody out of their misery.
The most interesting part of the story is that we learn Jason King is a widower. The femme fatale in question looks an awful lot like his late wife, an actress named Marion. This leaves Jason acting more rashly than usual. And to think that he was sent into the field in the first place because it was Stewart who was supposedly too emotionally involved to handle the case.
The best thing about this episode is that Annabelle goes into the field and has a heck of a lot to do in it, and the other good thing is that Clinton Greyn is in it. Otherwise, none of us enjoyed this one very much. The problem is that the events would have unfolded with our without the protagonists. Like good TV heroes, they are several steps behind the villains and working to catch up. But they fail this time; unaware that there is a wild card in play, they are powerless to prevent things ending the way they do. I’m sure the characters felt like they had wasted their time investigating this. So did we, watching it.
In this blog, I’ve occasionally been down on Philip Broadley’s scripts, because they’re not as high-flying or weird as I had expected from this series. “Death on Reflection” is, again, another fairly ordinary crime, but I really enjoyed it. Broadley does something here that many of ITC’s regular writers couldn’t manage: he found room in the narrative for Sir Curtis to join the investigation as a fourth member throughout the story, not just right at the end like we saw in “The Double Death of Charlie Crippen”. Three was the “classic” ITC number, and often that meant two active leads because three’s a crowd. But it works really well here, suggesting that they missed a trick not involving Sir Curtis more frequently.
The story’s a good one about some smuggling being used with a very respectable auction house as the front. Jennifer Hilary and Paul Whistun-Jones play conspirators who are in it up to their necks, and Peter Copley has a small role as the auctioneer. Something’s been moved around Europe in pricy baroque mirrors which are selling for many times the expected price. We got a late start tonight and our son was probably too silly to give this one all the attention he should have. He interrupted the show tonight, just once, to “complain” that the mirror in the episode wasn’t working because he could not see himself in it. In fairness, that is a pretty cute riff for a nine year-old.
And now back to 1969 and more cases from the files of Department S. Tonight’s head-scratcher is from the pen of Philip Broadley, who asks why two men have entered a morgue and pumped two slugs into the corpse of a fellow who died the night before from a heart attack. Curiously, the dead man is a dead ringer for a crime lord who himself died three years previously. Except unfortunately the producers cast a recognizable face in the role and showed us his photograph. It’s actor Kieron Moore, who usually didn’t appear in no-lines parts that an unbilled extra could have played.
It’s a problem we’ve run across a few times with British television from the period – the Avengers installment “The Living Dead” comes to mind – and so the question isn’t really going to be “Is the crime lord really dead,” it’s “how is Annabelle going to get out of this mess?” This is, pleasantly, a good showcase for the character, and I enjoyed the scene where she rattled one of the crime lord’s former rivals, played by David Bauer.
The kid didn’t enjoy it all that much, unfortunately. Maybe it was a more twisty mystery than he prefers, and maybe Annabelle stays in trouble for longer than he found comfortable. I have to agree it’s not a particularly strong adventure, but it has a few good moments.
Another Philip Broadley script, another case that isn’t really fanciful or odd. It’s a fairly ordinary case of Stewart bluffing the villains until help shows up. It is unfortunate that we’re this far into the show and Stewart’s still telling Annabelle to stay behind when she repeatedly proves that she’s more resourceful than he is and ends up saving the day.
The villains – and there are a lot of ’em this time – include familiar faces Alex Scott and Michael Gothard. Edina Ronay is a femme fatale in an extremely unflattering wig. Ronay and Gothard’s characters share a very mod pad. It’s quite 1969.