TheConsummateCulp.com

Sharing the wonderfulness of Robert Culp

I Spy: So Long, Patrick Henry

 

Original airdate: September 15, 1965 (Premier)

“It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace — but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” – Patrick Henry, US statesman 1736-1799

I watched this episode on YouTube back in 2008 just after finding “A Cup of Kindness.” Where I was hooked by “Kindess,” it was this episode that sufficiently reeled me in.

The episode opens with Scotty and Kelly watching film footage of Elroy Browne (Ivan Dixon), an American athlete and Olympian, who defected to China approximately a year earlier. The footage seems to indicate some disenchantment on the part of Browne and the US Government wants to open an invitation for Browne to return to the US. He’s not particularly wanted back but the gesture at least needs to be made.

Scotty spoke to Elroy the previous year, trying to persuade him not to defect but the message went nowhere. The incident left Scotty a little bitter, as Elroy said hardly anything during Scotty’s speechify and then departed saying, “So long, Patrick Henry.”

Although Scotty doesn’t care to have to go through it again, he accepts the assignment with Kelly.

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In Hong Kong, Scotty and Kelly are waiting for Elroy, who is arriving to promote the African/Asian Games, a PR stunt dreamed up by the Red Chinese in order to further their influence on the African continent. Scotty hires a bellboy to keep an eye out for Elroy’s arrival. The kid – a big fan of James Bond – really gets into it, calling Kelly and Scotty “007” and offering to place a “small” tape recorder in the guest’s room. (Tape recorders were the size of a brick in 1965.) Kelly declines the offer and the spy-ese from the kid really irritates him. “I told him we’re spies,” Scotty explains casually. Before Kelly can really get upset Scotty adds, “…for the American Tennis Company.”

Down in the lobby of the hotel, Kelly and Scotty are waiting for Elroy to come in. When he does, Elroy recognizes Scotty. He even remembers their conversation, much to Scotty’s surprise. The fact he remembers the conversation is significant though, and the way he acts with his Chinese entourage seems to speak even further of his discontent. The only bright spot in Elroy’s life at the moment is the African Princess Amara (Cecile Tyson), whom he met in China where she’s attending the university in Peking, and has been traveling with him. They’re engaged to be married. Before parting, Elroy asks to meet with boys later, for drinks. He has a cocktail party to attend prior.

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Later, they wait at the bar…but Elroy doesn’t show. The busboy reports that Elroy left the cocktail party an hour earlier and went to his room. A minute later, Elroy’s Chinese entourage arrives, en masse. The leader of the group offers apologies to Scotty and Kelly, explaining that Mr. Browne would not be able to join them. Scotty and Kelly realize, however, that the entourage doesn’t know where Elroy is either.

As Scotty and Kelly are about to leave the bar area, the busboy comes through again and hands a piece of paper to Scotty directing them to go out front and take a cab. When they get out there and hail a cab, they find Elroy and Amara in it and are invited to come along and paint the town.

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From there, it’s a series of bar stops and various conversations. Elroy enjoys giving his “handlers” the slip. Eventually, they get to the crux of the whole thing and there’s a heated exchange between Elroy and Scotty. In the end though, it doesn’t seem like Elroy is disenchanted enough to want to return to the US. Afterall, he’s making a ton of money…

Despite his reluctance to return to the US, Elroy’s entourage figures that Kelly and Scotty are a bad influence and need to be neutralized. Although Kelly spots that they’re being bird dogged and he and Scotty try to make it appear as though the four have done nothing but traipse around Hong Kong and drink too much, it doesn’t help. Kelly and Scotty are nearly shot in a cab and they end up taking off on foot, being chased into the wee hours of the morning.

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The chase ends up going across roof tops, with Kelly taking a spill at one point and being bodily picked up by Scotty. (In his commentaries on the DVD, Culp talks about being sick as a dog during the filming of some of the chase scenes and mentions how Cosby literally had to pick him up off the ground a couple of a times.)

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From there, they end up in the shanty towns of the Hong Kong hillsides where the inhabitants watch the chase, having no idea what’s really going on. A group of them stand and stare openly at Scotty and Kelly as the two stop to take a breather. After Kelly grumbles about them being so obvious, Scotty turns it around and tells the folks that they’re filming a movie and that if they look around, they should see the bad guys coming. It works and gives Scotty and Kelly the advantage in knowing where the bad guys were coming in from and lets them get the drop on them.

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Back at the hotel, Elroy is being held captive by his “handlers” and, unknown to Scotty and Kelly, he’s been injected with typhus. Amara, also sickened with typhus is being flown back to Peking. The announcement of the Afro-Asian Games will still be made, despite Elroy not delivering it. Elroy than finds out that the whole point of the games is for China to have greater influence in and over Africa. He’s been used for nothing more than a ploy.

Scotty and Kelly get a report from the busboy about Amara being taken away and about Elroy still being in his hotel room. With a little help from the busboy, Kelly and Scotty manage to overtake Elroy’s captors (with Kelly taking the window route – and nearly slipping off the ledge!)

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Elroy offers Kelly the deal: Get Amara back and he would come back to the US. One better, he would go down to the conference and announce that whole thing was a total sham. Kelly takes off to stop the plane from leaving Hong Kong.

Kelly hurries to the airport and alerts the World Health Organization that a plane carrying typhus is attempting to take off. The radio tower attempts to order the plane to not take off but is ignored. Kelly runs out on to the runway, fights off a bad guy and then commandeers a baggage truck, which he drives directly into the path of the plane.

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Kelly ends up with a broken arm for his efforts, but he gets Amara back and returns to the hotel as the Chinese agents are nabbed. At the conference, Kelly walks in to see Elroy at the podium telling everyone what was really going on. Scotty is in the broadcast booth, making sure the message is translated.

Their mission a success, the final scene shows Elroy and Amara speaking with the press as Scotty and Kelly look on. The busboy then comes up behind them and is ready to go. Kelly learns that Scotty promised to take the kid to a movie as reward. The movie?  “The Adventures of 007” (ie, Goldfinger. Cue up Shirley Bassey). Scotty adds that the film will be a great refresher course for Kelly.

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Between this episode and the second, A Cup of Kindness, the tone of what would be I Spy is clearly set. The mix of drama and humor is well balanced and Culp’s script takes any ideas of campiness and tosses it immediately (the scene with the bellboy on the phone to Kelly offering to place his brick sized tape recorder in Browne’s room). The running joke through the episode, of course, is the bellboy’s infatuation with James Bond, but the episode itself makes it clear: This show is not James Bond.

The story itself borders on controversial (for the time). The basic concept of a man who sells out to the highest bidder and realizes that money doesn’t buy happiness isn’t new, but Culp’s twist puts a black man in that position. I Spy already had a strike against it when several NBC affiliates in the south refused to air the show because it featured a black man and a white man on equal footing. Culp’s script had to be even more insulting to those same affiliates.

Ivan Dixon plays Browne well and for having seen him only in Hogan’s Heroes, I found it refreshing to see him in a much more dramatic role.

Above all, the camaraderie between Scotty and Kelly is the greatest selling point of this show. If they had not been put on equal footing, 50/50, it never would have worked.

“So Long, Patrick Henry” is available on the first season DVD, available at Amazon.com.

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Posted in I Spy and Television by Lisa Philbrick on April 13th, 2011 at 2:45 pm.

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