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Sharing the wonderfulness of Robert Culp

I Spy: Carry Me Back to Old Tsing-Tao

Originally aired: September 29, 1965

After watching So Long Patrick Henry and A Cup of Kindness on YouTube, I purchased all three seasons of I Spy off the bat. Indeed, the season DVD sets were released just weeks after I “discovered” Robert Culp and I Spy. Previous DVD sets were “theme” sets based on location or whathaveyou. My timing couldn’t have been better.

So, once I got the sets I began to watch from the beginning, meaning I watched “Patrick Henry” and “Kindness” again, since the episodes were kinda chopped on YouTube. From there I carried on with “Carry Me Back to Tsing-Tao.”

The episode opens with Kelly charming a lovely lady at a Hong Kong bar until he’s rudely interrupted by a drunken sailor. The interruption turns into an offense and the two men have to take their differences to the back alley to be settled. Turns out, the sailor is a spy like Kelly and he has information for an assignment for him.

It seems Charlie Huan aka “Papa Charlie” (Philip Ahn) wants to meet with Kelly and Scotty the following day (which is gonna put a crimp on Kelly’s plans with the lovely lady he’s been trying to woo for about a week). Kelly’s familiar with the name, as Mr.  Huan ran a lot of not-necessarily-legal stuff on the West Coast of the US. Mr. Huan also knows that Kelly and Scotty are undercover agents.

After getting the information, and being told that the sailor can’t do the meeting because he’s not “one of you cute, glamour boys” the two men realize that one of them has to come out of the alley looking like a loser.

It’s not the glamour boy. Heh…

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The next day, Kelly and Scott go to see Papa Charlie, who’s in the middle of his birthday celebration with his daughters and sons-in-law. The sons-in-law, Turkey (David Sheiner), Harold (Bernard Fox) and Morton (Michael Conrad) express an abundance of love and appreciation for Papa Charlie and it’s only for one reason; Papa Charlie is very rich and the three men want his money.

Papa Charlie excuses himself from the festivities to see to Kelly and Scotty (and let me say that Culp looks very dapper in the wine colored jacket and ascot tie). He takes them out of the big house to his quarters, a smaller more modest building on the grounds. Just before getting there he asks for them to follow him single file through the grass and to be careful of  “poison ivy.”

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In his quarters, he tells them his situation. He wishes to return to his native village in Formosa (AKA Taiwan) to live out the last few years of his life. However, he owes quite a bit in back taxes to the US government and as such, Formosa, by request of the US, will not grant Charlie a visa. He has discussed the issue with the US government and has agreed to pay $1 million to settle his debt. Once paid, he will be granted his visa.

Before Charlie can give them the money, Kelly and Scotty tell him they need to check with the government first and get instructions. Charlie tells them to do it quickly and warns them about his three sons-in-law how they’re after his money and if they found out what he was up to, they would be very dangerous.

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Kelly and Scotty receive a cable back from the US government indicating the offer is acceptable and warns that the three men in question have criminal records. They should use “extreme caution.” Scotty’s not so bothered by extreme caution. He’s wondering where Charlie has all that money hidden!

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When Kelly and Scott get back to their hotel room they’re jumped by Turkey, Harold and Mort. (I still can’t get over the fact that one of these guys is named Turkey!). The boys are roughed up a bit and when Kelly wakes up he’s staring straight into the barrel of Harold’s gun. The three men want to know why the two went to see Papa Charlie.

They don’t like Kelly’s first answer about a shark fin and a recipe for soup. Turkey slaps Kelly for that. Scotty tells them he only came along to listen to some old Fats Waller records. He gets a punch from Turkey for that.

Finally they come out and say they were talking a deal for something and were “dickering over a price.” Kelly tosses the explanation to Scotty who, not missing a beat, starts in about that they were con men and had found a piece of land to use in a deal and had asked Charlie if he would finance it for them. (I love the change in Culp’s expression as Scotty’s spinning his yarn. Heh!) Scotty and Kelly also say that Charlie agreed and that they saw his bank book.

Harold tells them that Charlie doesn’t have a bank account in any Hong Kong bank (they’d checked). Before Scotty and Kelly can get roughed up any further, one of Charlie’s daughters – Catherine – suddenly comes into the room and slaps Turkey. Scotty tells her to do it again. She does. She then tosses the three men out of the room.

Kelly and Scott are more than grateful. Kelly even tries to charm Catherine but doesn’t get far. When he tells her that he hurts pretty much all over, she has just the remedy for him: Chicken soup. (Not what he had in mind!)

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When Catherine takes them to see Charlie, they find out why they have to walk single file through the grass. The whole area has been mined with anti-personnel mines.

They tell Charlie that the government accepts the deal. He then reveals to them his $1 million…a solid gold stove. They load the stove into an old truck and off they go to deliver it to the IRS.

I love the conversation Kelly and Scott have as they drive, talking about a few pounds of the stove for themselves (gold going for about $60 an ounce, black market. Gold prices at the time of this post is around $1600 per ounce. “A couple of one way tickets to Tahiti would hardly put a dent in it!”). Of course, they don’t do this knowing that if they did, they would lose their jobs and probably any sense of self-respect. (And medical benefits – who doesn’t love plaster of paris?)

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It’s not long before Turkey, Harold and Mort catch up to Kelly and Scott and run them off the road. Both are thrown from the truck and a little worse for wear. While out cold, Turkey, Harold and Morton load up the stove into their car. (Okay, Turkey drags the stove, Harold gives commands and Mort stands over unconcious Kelly and Scotty with a gun.)  The boys come to just before the three take off and try to fight them to no avail. Kelly ends up with his already cut face planted in the dirt.

I loved Kellys line to Scotty as Scotty’s picking him up off the ground. “You look terrible.” To which Scotty replies with a bit of chuckle, “Sorry about that.”

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Turkey, Harold and Mort take the stove into town to have it looked at and determine a value for the gold. Only to find out that the stove isn’t gold at all. It’s cast iron with gold leaf paint… (and if you think they weren’t happy…)

Papa Charlie, meantime, with his visa to Formosa, packs up his meager belongings for his trip. Catherine, however, has discovered that the stove was a farce too. He tells her that there is no gold, that he did not have the money all along.

Back at the hotel, Scotty helps tape up Kelly’s ribs. (Yes, folks we’re on the 3rd episode of the series and 30 minutes into it and Culp has his shirt off!). He notices a scar on Kelly’s shoulder and Kelly tells about how he got it (the short version, he was bit by a dog). They then get a message that a stove can be bought at a shop in town.

They figure it’s a trap but they go to check it out anyway. At the shop, they speak to the proprietor about the stove and they find out about it not being gold at all. They realize they’ve been had by Papa Charlie. They figure the note came from Turkey, Harold and Mort and they go to the back alley of the store to find…

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…“The Rover Boys” waiting for them. Kelly and Scott get their just deserts and clean the alley with all three men.

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Back at their hotel room, they try to track down Papa Charlie, only to find out he has already passed through immigration and into Formosa.

“Into each life, some goofs must fall,” Scotty philosophies. “Yeah, but so many in ours?” Kelly replies.

They ponder how they can find Charlie on Formosa and then realize they could probably get their answer from Catherine.

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They tell her that they realize they were used in order for Charlie to get his sons-in-law off his back. But they warn her that once the three men figure out where Charlie went, they would go looking for him and they would kill him for his money. She tells Kelly and Scott that there is no money, no gold, nothing. They would believe her, if she’ll tell them where in Formosa Charlie is.

They promise that if she tells them, they can have the three men sent back to the US and denied any passports or visas, which would prevent them from leaving the US and finding Charlie. Catherine, however, wants a different kind of assurance and gurantee. She suddenly runs out of her father’s quarters, yelling for Turkey, Harold and Mort, who come running and set off one of the land mines. The explosion kills Turkey. Kelly yells for Harold and Mort to stay put, otherwise, they’d be killed too. And he knows that once she was through with them, she’d find something for Kelly and Scott too.

So Kelly counters with a threat of his own. He’d turn Catherine over to Harold and Mort. Catherine chooses her sides more carefully.

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Kelly, Scott and Catherine fly to Formosa and ask around for where to find Charlie. What they learn is very surprising. Papa Charlie is conducting business as usual. The meager housewares Catherine had helped him pack up, were actually made out of platinum and he is trading these pieces for diamonds and jewels and other mediums of exchange. Kelly quietly interrupts Charlie’s business day, tells him to send everyone home and then asks him to count out $1 million in the platinum pieces.

Charlie does so but says he will be left penniless now. Kelly doesn’t buy it. Kelly also doesn’t have very good luck charming any of the Asian women in this episode. Catherine pretty much ignored him as does one of Charlie’s assistants, who simply walks away from Kelly when he says hello.

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Later an IRS agent shows up at the boys hotel room because the payment was short. Four ounces short as a matter of fact. (Interesting to note that platinum in 1965 was $140 an ounce. At the time of this post, it’s around $1400 an ounce.). Kelly and Scott knew the man would be coming and as he’s telling them about the shortage, Kelly is polishing off a platinum fork. They then show him the fork, along with a matching fork, and the box that they were going to ship the forks back to the IRS with. The agent doesn’t understand until Kelly explains that they have a friend who boasted once about eating fettuccine with a golden spoon. Now they can say they ate Chinese with platinum forks.

The IRS agent thinks about this for a moment and then asks to pass the moo goo gai pan.

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When I first saw this episode, I thought “Huh…this looks familiar…”

I know the rib wrap would show up in another TGAH ep later (“Lilacs, Mr. Maxwell”) and subsequent I Spy eps, but the bandaid on the face, on the same side no less, was a hoot.

And even this felt familiar!

That’s what I get for watching these shows back and forth.

Anyway, “Carry Me Back…” was a fun episode. Where “Patrick Henry” was fairly serious, “Kindness” mixed serious with humor, “Carry Me Back…” also had a good mix of serious and humor but was pretty much an adventure in mishaps. I thought the plot stretched things just a tad (how would Charlie have ever, ever, known that Kelly was a undercover agent??) and was constructed purposely so that Kelly and Scotty’s mishaps would take place (seriously, wouldn ‘t the US government have waited for the back tax money to be delivered in hand to the IRS before issuing the visa? We’re talking a million bucks here!). Nonetheless, the episode offered some great banter and some classic lines.

Kelly and Scotty’s adversaries included…

– Bernard Fox, who was seen several times on the sitcom Bewitched as Dr. Bombay, played it straight here but would show up later on Hogan’s Heroes as the memorable, hapless and bombastic Colonel Crittenden.

– Michael Conrad, a frequent face seen on television through the 60s and 70s and best known as Sgt Phil Esterhaus on Hill Street Blues in the early 80s.

– David Sheiner, another frequent face on television during the 60s and through the 80s, doing multiple guest spots on shows such as The Man from UNCLE, Mission Impossible, and The Fugitive. He also was one of Oscar’s poker buddies in the 1968 movie The Odd Couple. He may have been hard to recognize here as he either shaved his head or wore a skull cap for the role.

– Philip Ahn, sly old fox “Papa Charlie,” was born in the US of Korean descent. A veteran character actor playing various Asian characters in film and television he had a long career spanning from the 1930s until his death in 1978. He is probably most known for his role as Master Kan in the David Carradine tv series Kung Fu.

Conrad, Sheiner and Ahn would each return for a second time on other I Spy episodes.

Also of note is George Murdock, the drunken sailor at the beginning of the episode who gives Kelly the assignment. Another veteran character actor who made a career out of playing judges, cops and bad guys, he appeared on numerous television shows and in films, incuding frequent guest appearances on shows such as Banacek, Ironside, Barney Miller, and Battlestar Gallatica.

Kelly and Scotty’s discussion about the gold stove and taking a piece or two for themselves is listed in the Memorable Quotes section for I Spy on the IMDB.

And one final programming note…it’s a good thing this episode of I Spy didn’t air on Monday, October 4th, 1965 because it never would have been seen. NBC dropped all of it’s regular daytime and nighttime programming to allow wall-to-wall coverage of Pope Paul VI’s visit to the US (the first such visit to the US by a Pope). ABC and CBS also provided wall-to-wall coverage but with a few exceptions here and there. ABC was in the particularly sticky situation of having to choose between coverage of the papal visit and airing the National League baseball pennant game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants (if it was so needed…and good Lord man, life does have it’s priorities!).  Fortunately, the Dodgers saved them from such a decision by clinching the pennant over the weekend.

The first season of I Spy, of course, is available at Amazon.com.

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Posted in I Spy and Television by Lisa Philbrick on January 10th, 2012 at 7:39 pm.

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