Mike Connors, likable action star, dies at 91

Mike Connors in a first-season episode of Mannix, an iconic image used in the show's main titles.

Mike Connors in a first-season episode of Mannix, an image used in the show’s main titles.

Mike Connors, who often played rugged but likable heroes, has died at 91, according to an obituary posted by Variety.

Connors was best known as the private eye title character in Mannix (1967-75). But he also participated in the 1960s spy craze as the star of Kiss The Girls and Make Them Die, a 1966 film which had a plot very similar to the 1979 James Bond film Moonraker.

Connors was athletic, having played basketball at the University of California-Los Angeles under legendary coach John Wooden. For a time, he was billed as Touch Connors, a nickname he picked up from his basketball days.

He displayed his athleticism in the Mannix pilot, written by Bruce Geller and directed by Leonard J. Horn.

In the story’s climax, a helicopter piloted by a killer dive bombs Mannix at a California desert golf course. Images from the sequence would be incorporated in the show’s main and end titles.

In the show’s first season, Mannix worked at a large detective agency with a rigid set of rules devised by owner Lew Wickersham (Joseph Campanella). This was devised to set up a conflict of the individual (Mannix) coping with the system. Wickersham was based on Lew Wasserman, the head of MCA Corp., the then-parent company of Universal Studios.

During that first season, there was a recurring bit where Joe would demonstrate to Intertect just how good he was only to purposely goof up.

In one episode, while on the firing range, he fires bulleyes at the first three targets perfects and then purposely miss the next five. In another, Mannix and other Interect operatives went on a foot race. Mannix would have easily won but decided to go off and enjoy a smoke instead.

That was all thrown out in the show’s second season as Joe struck off on his own, helped only by his secretary Peggy Fair (Gail Fisher).

Mannix absorbed a lot — A LOT — of punishment throughout the show’s eight seasons. As played by Connors, he was both tough and compassionate, always on the side of the underdog.

Prior to Mannix, Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die was an amusing project for Connors. The film included a sequence where agent Kelly (Connors) climbs into the Christ the Redeemer statue, fighting off enemy operatives.

The actor’s career was extensive, with his IMDB.COM entry listing more than 100 credits.

Lost love: Similarities between Allied, Casino Royale

Brad Pitt

Brad Pitt

Spoilers for Allied

By Nicolás Suszczyk, Guest Writer

Some days ago I decided to watch Allied, which had recently premiered in my country. I barely knew something about the plot.  I found a movie that touched my deepest emotions. I linked the love story with the ill-fated James Bond and Vesper Lynd relationship in the novel and film Casino Royale.

The film is set during World War II. The main figure is a Canadian agent named Max Vatan (played by Brad Pitt, in a very emotionless performance I must add).

Recruited by the British, he is assigned to to terminate a Nazi German ambassador in Morocco. There, he meets his “wife,” French Resistance agent Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard), who has infiltrated the Nazi society and befriended the wives of their enemy agent targets.

At first, he refuses to fall for her. But the attraction is stronger and they make love inside a car, hiding from a fiery sandstorm.

The day arrives and the mission is successful. They kill the ambassador, eliminate a few enemy agents and escape. They fall in love and marry back in London.

Things seem to go well and admist a WWII bombing she gives birth to Anna, their little girl.

But happiness doesn’t last long. His superiors inform Max that his wife is suspected of being a spy for the Nazis, a woman who killed the real Marianne Beausejour and took her place. A bait with false information is set up for her, and Max is given two options if they confirm Marianne is a mole: He kills her or they’re both executed for treason.

After some investigation by Max on his own, he discovers the truth: Marianne was a spy. She claims the Nazis threatened to kill her daughter, but she swears to have truly loved him from the beginning. They both plan to escape to South America after Max eliminates – one by one – all the people who were blackmailing his wife.

As they are about to leave the country, he is captured and his boss ignores all the reasons given by Vatan to save them. Seeing there is no way out for his loved one, Marianne dedicates a last “je t’aime” to Max and shots herself. The film ends with a letter from the woman to her daughter, whom Max is taking care of.

I have to admit this story made me cry, way more than Casino Royale. That’s probably because I knew the ending for the Ian Fleming novel before reading it or watching the film and because director Robert Zemeckis really knows how to make his audience weep, as he showed in films such as the acclaimed Forest Gump.

But the subject I wanted to bring up here are the many connections between this movie and Casino Royale.

First of all, Vatan is working for the British and the party scenes are very reminiscent to the lifestyle Ian Fleming had during this time: men in tuxedos, booze, cigars, and beautifully dressed and made up women.

French is also widely spoken trough the film, very much like in Casino Royale.

Max contacts people to check the true identity of his wife: an alcoholic soldier who lost his arm and a disfigured comrade who has lost an eye on the line of fire. These physical attributes are shared with Gettler, the black-patched agent of SMERSH who trails Vesper, and the hotel receptionist whom Bond interrogates about Gettler, who has lost an arm during the war.

In Allied, Marianne wants to change her life and escape from the Nazi threat by marrying Max, which is what Vesper hopes to do with James by escaping to South America trough Le Havre in Casino Royale.

While 007 and Vesper didn’t have a family and Bond’s patriotism is enormous, Vatan does not hestitate before betraying his country for the love of Marianne and the daughter they had in common.

If Vesper Lynd was blackmailed with her captured Polish boyfriend, Marianne is blackmailed with the life of her daughter by an incouspicious looking old woman who babysitted Anna and a jeweler who drops by to a party she was hosting to “offer her a necklace.”

Allied poster

Allied poster

Marianne is leaking information to the enemy in a similar way to what Vesper was doing to that number at Invalides she was calling when he almost discovers her, while being controlled all the time. In the latter case, it was a man with a black patch.

Both women share the same ending: while Vesper dies after an overdose of pills while the secret agent was asleep, Marianne shots herself in front of her husband and the capturing agents. They both leave a letter for posterity: Vespers’ is dedicated to 007, revealing the truth and a few information on how she was blackmailed and some leads. Marianne’s letter is dedicated to Anna, telling her a words of love and some memoirs of the happy times.

A main difference is again established between Max Vatan and James Bond.

In the very last scene,  Vatan is seen retired, walking next to a teenage Anna on the farm he always dreamed of having. He holds a good memory of his wife, with photos of her across his room.

On the other hand, a saddened Bond feels furious for the damage Vesper’s actions caused to his country and he swears to go behind the men who threatened her. He would complement the moment by reporting that “the bitch is dead,” even tough when he would pay a visit to her grave in a future novel, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Both Casino Royale and Allied are a testimony to how WWII affected lives and relationships and how enemies or allies haunted the private lives of these men and women who dedicated their life to a major cause.

Dick Gautier, who played Hymie the Robot, dies

Don Adams and Dick Gautier in Get Smart

Don Adams and Dick Gautier in Get Smart

Dick Gautier, perhaps best remembered as Hymie the Robot on Get Smart, has died at 85, according to an obituary posted by The Hollywood Reporter.

Gautier’s career lasted more than 50 years, according to his IMDB.COM entry. His career highlights included a 1961 Tony nomination for Bye Bye Birdie, according to the Reporter obituary.

Still, he made a big impression in six episodes of the spy spoof Get Smart as Hymie, a robot with a super computer for a brain and incredibly strong. Hymie was originally built by the villainous organization KAOS but became an ally of Maxwell Smart (Don Adams).

Hymie, being a robot, sometimes took things too literally such as one episode where the Chief of Control (Edward Platt) said, “Hymie will you knock that stuff off?” Hymie proceeded to knock some papers on a desk to the floor. In another episode, Hymie said he’d like to work for IBM because “it’s a nice way to meet some intelligent machines.”

The six Hymie episodes were written by actor Gary Clarke under the name C.F. L’Amoreaux, a variation of his real name. Clarke’s acting credits included The Virginian television series.

Gautier appeared one final time as Hymie in a 1989 TV movie, Get Smart, Again! It would be his only appearance without Clarke writing for Hymie.

Happy New Year, hoping for a better 2017

Our other annual greeting

The Spy Commander had considered retiring this greeting with the death of Robert Vaughn in November. But I decided against it.

It’s an amusing image and a perfect example of how Vaughn created the role of Napoleon Solo. Also, art outlives the artist. That’s the way of the world.

So, to all our readers, here’s hoping you have a great 2017 — or at least, you have a better year than 2016.

Once more, Napoleon Solo reminds everyone to party responsibly.

solonye

Bernard Fox, busy character actor, dies at 89

Bernard Fox in The Thor Affair, one of the better episodes in the third season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Bernard Fox in The Thor Affair, one of the better episodes in the third season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Bernard Fox, a busy character actor whose career extended into the 21st century, has died at 89, according to an obituary in The Hollywood Reporter.

Fox, born in Wales, had roles beginning in the mid-1950s to 2001, according to his entry in IMDB.com.

The actor made guest appearances in a number of 1960s spy shows.

Among them: Three episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (a two-parter in the second season as well as the title character in The Thor Affair in the third), one episode of The Girl From U.N.C.LE. (The Mother Muffin Affair, where he played a bumbling lieutenant of Boris Karloff’s Mother Muffin), The Wild Wild West and It Takes a Thief.

Fox could do both drama and comedy, but was often cast in comedic roles. The Hollywood Reporter obit led with his role as Dr. Bombay in Bewitched. He also played RAF Colonel Crittendon in Hogan’s Heroes.

In the latter role, Fox’s character didn’t know about Colonel Robert Hogan’s espionage operation in Stalag 13. But Crittendon, because he had more seniority, outranked Hogan (Bob Crane) and became the ranking Allied officer in the German prison camp every time he was stationed there.

This, of course, complicated whatever operation Hogan had underway at the time.

1963: The Outer Limits tackles espionage

Episode title card for The Hundred Days of the Dragon

Episode title card for The Hundred Days of the Dragon

The Outer Limits is one of the leading examples of a cult television show. It only lasted a season and a half on ABC. In fact a revival on cable television lasted seven years (1995-2002) on cable television, far longer than the orignal.

Yet, the first version, created by Leslie Stevens, remains fondly remembered. The anthology series emphasized science fiction, although the first season usually featured “the Bear,” the production crew’s nickname for a monster.

The show’s second episode, The Hundred Days of the Dragon, mixed espionage and science fiction, but with no “bear.”

An Asian nation hostile to U.S. interests has developed a serum that turns human tissue pliable for short period of time. The nation’s leader, Li-Chin Sung (Richard Loo) intends to make use of the scientific breakthrough.

One of the nation’s operatives has the same physical dimensions as William Lyons Selby (Sidney Blackmer), the leading American candidate for president who is almost certain to be elected. The operative has even had a finger removed because Selby lost a finger in a hunting accident.

The serum is injected into the operative. Once his skin becomes pliable, a mold of Selby’s face is pressed upon his face. The agent can now pass for the American candidate. Naturally, he’s already had voice training and can mimic Selby’s voice.

Later, in the United States, the agent assassinates Selby. He uses the serum on Selby and uses a mold to make him look like someone else. The agent again ingests the serum to make him look like Selby.

Selby’s double is elected president. Eventually, the new vice president, Ted Pearson (Philip Pine), suspects something is up. The double intends to replace other U.S. with doubles.

The episode was written by Allan Balter and Robert Mintz. Balter would form a partnership with William Read Woodfield and the pair would write key episodes during the first three episodes of Mission: Impossible.

When first broadcast on Sept. 23, 1963, viewers no doubt felt they had just watched some escapist television. Less than two months later, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated for real, although no science fiction serum was involved.

Looking back, the main weakness of the episode is the ease the operative assassinates Selby. There should have been a lot more security around. Still, for its day, The Hundred Days of the Dragon is suspenseful and sells you on the science fiction involved.

Vice President Pearson gets revenge for the operative who assassinated Selby.

Vice President Pearson gets revenge for the killing of Selby.

At the end, the conspiracy has been broken. We see another apprehended agent who looks exactly like Vice President Pearson. U.S. officials also now have samples of the serum.

Pearson injects Selby’s double one more time with the serum. In an act of vengeance, Pearson disfigures the killer’s face.

However, Pearson’s vengeance only goes so far. A military aide tells the now-president a nuclear strike can be made immediately. Pearson declines, because it would only start a war with no victors.

One of the highlights of the episode was the score by Dominic Frontiere, composer for the first season and a production executive for the series. More than a half-century later, The Hundred Days of the Dragon remains a memorable entry for The Outer Limits.

Changes made to home video of our favorite series

“I don’t understand these changes, Illya.”

Many of the blog’s favorite television series have made it to home video over the past decade — but not exactly as they appeared during their original run.

Some of this is a given. “Bumpers,” where we’re told the show will be back after a station break, and previews for coming episodes are usually clipped before going out for home video.

Still, sometimes changes are made for other reasons. Here’s a look at the differences between the shows as they appeared first run and what you get on home video.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (1964-68): When the series made its home video debut in 2007 some musical changes were made.

For example, some first-episodes use a different version of Jerry Goldsmith’s U.N.C.L.E. theme. The Project Strigas Affair, the ninth episode aired, uses the version of the theme (arranged by Morton Stevens) utilized for most of the second half of the season.

There are similar substitutions in other first-season episodes, though why they were made isn’t apparent.

One plus, however, was the third-season set included one “bumper” (for The Abominable Showman Affair) in which veteran cartoon voice June Foray told the audience the show would return after station identification.

Another plus is how the first-season set included the original color version of the pilot, when the plan was to call the series Solo.

However, it doesn’t include another, black-and-white version of the plot which has a short presentation by star Robert Vaughn explaining the show and its format to network executive and potential advertisers. Bootleg versions of that have circulated among collectors for years.

Hawaii Five-O logo in the main title

Hawaii Five-O logo in the main title

Hawaii Five-O (1968-1980): In the first season, James MacArthur’s title card read, “With James MacArthur as Danny.” Starting with the second season, it said, “With James MacArthur as Dan Williams.” However, in the home video versions of seasons two through four, the first-season title card remains.

The second-season set, meanwhile, doesn’t include the episode “Bored, She Hung Herself.” That episode aired only once and has never been repeated on CBS or shown in syndication. That ban has continued into the home video area.

The 11th season set has episodes that involve music clearance issues. The two-part story Number One With a Bullet involves the Kumu, the Hawaiian mob, trying to force its way into Hawaii’s disco business.

Both parts include disco hits of the late 1970s. In the home video version, the original hit songs are only heard in Part I while “generic” disco music is substituted for Part II.

Another episode, The Execution File, included a rendition of “If You Think I’m Sexy” performed by a Rod Stewart soundalike. But in the home video version, it gets cut in favor of generic disco music.

The FBI logo from the main titles.

The FBI logo from the main titles.

The FBI (1965-1974): For a number of seasons, lead sponsor Ford Motor Co. got its logo in the main titles. This was clipped when the show went into syndication.

As a result, most of the home video episodes also don’t include the Ford logo. However, there a few episodes in the season two, three and five sets that include the automaker’s familiar oval.

Another change occurs in the end titles, starting with the third-season set. During the 1967-68 season, Warner Bros. changed its logo from the familiar WB shield to a shield with a single W. In other seasons, Warners changed the logo a few times.

With the DVD release, all of those alternate Warners logos are gone, except for a couple of third-season episodes with the single W logo. Almost all of the alternative company logos were replaced with the old WB shield that the company went back to a number of years ago.

The biggest plus for the home video release is in the second half of the first season. It includes an episode never aired on ABC, The Hiding Place. According to Jonathan Etter’s book Quinn Martin, Producer, Ford didn’t want the episode aired for fear it would spur a boycott.