1977: Sam Rolfe (sort of) revisits U.N.C.L.E.

Sam Rolfe dances with Jill Ireland in an early episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. while director Richard Donner hams it up.

Sam Rolfe was nothing if not persistent. In the 1970s, he re-worked his two greatest television triumphs. One, The Manhunter, took the concept of a bounty hunter, a la the western Have Gun-Will Travel, and set it during the Great Depression. It ran for one season.

With Engima, a pilot production, the writer-producer revisited the basic concept of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Enigma, like U.N.C.L.E., was a mysterious organization with a secret headquarters. Enigma’s base of operations was further out, an island in the Caribbean.

Enigma, like U.N.C.L.E., featured a dashing operative, in this case Andrew Icarus (Scott Hylands). He’s assisted by Mei San Gow (Soon-Tek Oh) and reports to Maurice Mockcastle (Guy Doleman). The supporting players were alumni of the James Bond film series (The Man With the Golden Gun and Thunderball respectively) and Doleman had been in other espionage productions.

Enigma, like U.N.C.L.E., also had a thing for triangles. U.NC.L.E.’s security badges were triangle shaped. Enigma’s headquarters made triangles a major part of the interior design.

Around this same time, Rolfe had also scripted a proposed TV movie that would have been a straight U.N.C.L.E. revival that would have been titled The Malthusian Affair. That project was commissioned by producers Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts, veteran writer-producers themselves but without U.N.C.L.E. experience. It was never produced.

With Enigma, Rolfe also wore the producer’s hat as well as writing. For director, he hired Michael O’Herlihy, who had been one of the leading directors of Hawaii Five-O but by this point had moved on. O’Herlihy also had directed one first-season episode of U.N.C.L.E. and would later direct The Say U.N.C.L.E. Affair, an episode of The A-Team with Robert Vaughn and David McCallum.

Rolfe’s Enigma had one other thing with U.N.C.L.E. Like U.N.C.L.E.’s Napoleon Solo, Andrew Icarus recruits an “innocent” to help him accomplish his mission.

This curiosity has been posted to YouTube by the Museum of Classic Chicago Television. You can take a look for yourself. The video includes commercials.

40th anniversary of Hawaii Five-O’s Nine Dragons

Wo Fat triumphs (for a while) over McGarrett in Nine Dragons

Wo Fat triumphs (for a while) over McGarrett in Nine Dragons

This year marks the 40th anniversary of one of the best episodes of the original Hawaii Five-O series, the two-hour Nine Dragons.

The first episode of the 1976-77 season was one of the best encounters between the original Steve McGarrett (Jack Lord) and the original Wo Fat (Khigh Dhiegh).

The episode also featured the most James Bond-like plot of the original 1968-80 series. Wo Fat intends to lead a coup of China, then launch a preemptive nuclear attack on the United States.

To ensure no other nations retaliate, Wo Fat abducts McGarrett. The lawman, under torture, is recorded as saying the U.S. was responsible for the deaths of Chinese leadership (that Wo Fat plans to accomplish). The film will be broadcast as the attack against the U.S. takes place, causing other countries to not attack China.

All of this, of course, is rather fantastic. Nevertheless, it features one of the best performances by Khigh Diegh as Wo Fat. The actor (1910-1991) essentially gets a chance to meld his two best-known characters: Wo Fat and the Chinese brain washing expert in the 1962 version of The Manchurian Candidate.

What’s more, Jack Lord’s McGarrett, for once in the series, is utterly defeated, at least for a time. Despite McGarrett’s resistance, he eventually gives in. McGarrett, naturally, rallies and escapes. McGarrett has no memory of the defeat until he gets a chance to view the film shortly before Wo Fat intends to use it.

Nine Dragons included contributions from one of Five-O’s best writers (Jerome Coopersmith, his next-to-last script) and directors (Michael O’Herlihy, his final effort for the series). Above all, it features one of the best scores for the show by Morton Stevens, who composed the classic Five-O theme.

Finally, the episode includes on-location filming in Hong Kong, a first for the show. To defray the cost, CBS struck a deal with Air Siam (everybody in the epiosde who takes a flight flies on Air Siam).

Five-O would not have such on-location filming until the end of the 11th season, where a two-hour episode was filmed in Singapore (The Year of the Horse), that included one-time 007 George Lazenby.

1975: ABC (with 007) and CBS (with Hawaii Five-O) try to knock off NBC’s The Rockford Files

September 1975 featured an interesting faceoff between the three U.S. commercial television networks. Both ABC and CBS wanted to try to knock off NBC’s Friday line-up, which was anchored by the private-eye show The Rockford Files.

ABC’s main programming for the evening was a new ABC Friday Night Movie. Most would be made-for-television movies. But not the debut. That honor would go to the 1971 James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever, which was being shown on television for the first time. ABC, as it typically did, made a number of trims, such as the joke told by comedian/diamond smuggler Shady Tree, that trying to find Willard Whyte “was like trying to find a virgin in a maternity ward.”

Over on CBS, the evening was comprised of a one-hour episode of M*A*S*H, which featured the introduction of Mike Farrell’s B.J. Hunnicut character, and a two-hour Hawaii Five-O story featuring another faceoff between Steve McGarrett and his arch-nemesis, international spy/bad guy Wo Fat.

It was quite an evening for lovers of adventure TV. CBS and ABC were unsuccessful, however. Rockford remained on the air (both it and Five-O had new episodes until 1980).

We’re reminded of this because, the 8th season of Five-O, which includes the Wo Fat episode called “Murder — Eyes Only,” came out this week and is available for sale. The set also features another spy-oriented story called Termionation With Extreme Prejudice,” which features the excellent character actor Dan O’Herlihy, directed by his brother, Michael O’Herlihy, one of the most frequent Five-O directors.