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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.

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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!

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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.

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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…?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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