Mister Jerico (1970)

Well, what a fine TV series this might have made! And not just for Patrick Macnee’s colorful clothes, either!

I’ve mentioned before in these pages that our son has a very patchy memory, but he impressed me yesterday. I told him that this evening we’d be watching Patrick Macnee from The Avengers in an unsold pilot movie. “You mean like Madame Sin?” he asked. And yes, exactly like Madame Sin, because this was also made by ITC to test the waters for a potential series investment, the same way that the studio tested Leonard Nimoy in Baffled! and Chad Everett in The Firechasers, which was actually written and directed by the same duo who did this. And I’d happily have swapped the full run of The Adventurer or The Protectors (about which, a little bit more in October) for a season of any of these pilots.

So joining Macnee behind the scenes are some familiar names from The Avengers, which wrapped production about three months previously. Mister Jerico was filmed in the summer of 1969 and was produced by Julian Wintle, and the music is by Laurie Johnson. The script was by Philip Levene, who’d been writing for the series right until the end, and it was directed by Sidney Hayers, who’d done some of the color Mrs. Peel episodes, most recently “Dead Man’s Treasure”, and would work with Macnee again on several New Avengers.

This is a terrific vehicle for Macnee. Philip Levene knew exactly how to cater to his many strengths and created a fine character for him: Dudley Jerico is a con artist who works the lovely cities of southern Spain and France, and Malta, where much of this was filmed. His associate, driver, and diamond expert is Wally, played by Marty Allen, who was now a solo act since his decade-plus partnership with fellow comedian Steve Rossi ended the year before. Jerico has decided to target an old acquaintance, the filthy rich Rosso, conning him out of half a million for a phony diamond. Rosso is played by the great Herbert Lom, and his secretary by Connie Stevens, and Jerico soon gets in over his head when somebody else starts baiting Rosso with the same diamond.

Honestly, I’ll praise the kid for remembering Sin the way he did, but you’d have to be about ten to not realize that Stevens is playing both the secretary and the other diamond’s other owner, Claudine. That’s because her character is actually a legend-in-the-business called Georgina and she has been setting up her scam for months, and now has to bat off Jerico and Wally as well as work her scheme. To his credit, he did figure out that the secretary must have stolen Rosso’s real diamond before Jerico could; he just didn’t realize the secretary and Claudine were the same person. So diamonds get switched and swapped and switched again, and the hotel receptionist, played by Paul Darrow, spends his time unwittingly letting people do some of their swaps out of the hotel’s vault.

It all ends splendidly and not completely predictably, either. There is certainly a car chase, but nobody’s driving a white Jaguar so I felt confident nobody was going over a cliff. Jerico finally figures out that his opponent has two identities, and the three go off into the sunset, not quite half a million richer, but ready to work together and find their next mark. They make a fine team in the end, and seventies television is all the poorer for not having Macnee, Stevens, and Allen match wits with whoever ITC wanted to bring on to play the rich jerk-of-the-week and the henchmen. Honestly, whatever network dingbats at ABC, CBS, and NBC were considering pilots for the fall 1970 season should have been shot into orbit for not ordering a package of twenty-six hours of this. And Sin and Baffled! and Firechasers!

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.