Can You See?!

I set up a Google alert recently for “robert culp” and have gotten back alerts the past few days for blog posts talking about the movie Hickey & Boggs. It’s great to see the film discussed because it’s a good film and one worthy of discussion but too often in these posts I’m seeing the character names be mixed up. Either the wrong character is attributed to the wrong actor or the characters first names are swapped.

For the record: Al Hickey was played by Bill Cosby. Frank Boggs was played by Robert Culp.

“Can you see?!”

 

 

 

I Spy: A Cup of Kindness

Originally aired: September 22, 1965

No sooner had I been introduced to Robert Culp through the Columbo: Death Lends a Hand episode, I set out to find anything and everything I could of his work and material. Roaming through YouTube one day I discovered there were a couple of episodes of I Spy that had been posted (this was before the more official posting of the episodes that now run in their entirety and are uncut on both YouTube and formerly on Hulu). The first episode I found was this one, “A Cup of Kindness.”

We all know the expression, “You had me at hello?” Yeah, that’s pretty much what happened here. I loved this episode at first viewing and thoroughly enjoyed viewing it again when I went back to do my caps for this post. I won’t say how many total screen caps I ended up doing because…um…well, it was a lot.

But suffice it to say, not long after viewing this episode (along with the very first episode of I Spy, “So Long Patrick Henry” also posted at YouTube at the time) I bought all three seasons of I Spy. In one shot. Wham, bam, thank ya sir.

So here we go, the episode that introduced me to Kelly Robinson, Alexander Scott, tennis, Hong Kong and ascot ties!

Kelly and Scotty return to their hotel room only to realize from the shadow showing in the door vent that somebody is sneaking around within. They dismiss their busboy and, always being prepared, remove weapons from their sports bags. They then enter the room, which appears to be empty. They both notice two feet showing from behind the floor length curtain by the window. They get the drop, only to find it’s just a pair of shoes. They immediately turn to the closet next to them but their visitor is actually across the room, watching them from behind a book shelf. He announces himself, with gun drawn.

The intruder turns out, is not really an intruder at all. His name is Russ Conley and he’s Kelly’s former instructor from spy school. The intrusion turns to a nice reunion and Kelly introduces Scotty to Russ. Russ, turns out, did have a reason for seeing the boys, as he had a message to deliver to them from “the department.”

He gives the envelope to Kelly who goes to check it out. The message is in code, so Kelly retrieves their codex (hidden with the number six of their room number on the door) and deciphers the message. The decoded message is short and grim. The man delivering the message, Russ, was a double agent and had to be killed. Kelly is clearly shocked by the news of his old teacher and the assignment that’s now been placed within his and Scotty’s hands.

Kelly shoves aside his feelings about the assignment and maintains a cool detachment as he rejoins Russ and Scotty for a drink. Kelly hands the decoded message to Scotty, folded and says nothing to Russ, other than confirming that it’s a new assignment. While Scotty reads the message, Kelly pours a beer for Russ and toasts him. Kelly then proceeds to tip Russ’s glass too far, spilling some beer on him. The tactic serves one obvious purpose – to get Russ out of the room for a few moments while Kelly and Scotty absorb their new assignment. Then I got to thinking about it, the gesture also serves another purpose, a way for Kelly to say “Damn you!” without having to speak it.

Considering the warm and friendly introduction Scotty had witnessed just a few minutes earlier, he asks Kelly the blunt and obvious question. What are you going to do? Kelly’s reply is equally as blunt. Kill him.

Without letting on that their assignment had to do with him, Kelly and Scotty go about showing Russ the sights of Hong Kong. They go up to Victoria Peak (the bluff that overlooks Hong Kong and the harbor) and have a somewhat coded conversation about becoming corrupt. By the end of it, it becomes clear. Russ knows of what was in the coded message and that he’s been branded a traitor by the government. As he and Kelly stand near the edge of the bluff, Russ asks if Kelly’s going to push him off. Kelly is unable to do the task.

They ride on the ferry and talk. Russ tells his story of what happened, how he’d been captured and tortured. He couldn’t bring himself to swallow the cyanide tablet. Whether or not Kelly and Scotty are sympathetic it’s hard to tell. Maybe Russ wasn’t a double agent, but he had still sold out to the other side and there’s a slight issue with trust at this point. Russ pleads, however, for their help to prove that he wasn’t a double agent. He had a non-functioning duplicate of the component he had traded his life for. He knew where the real one was located. All they had to do was switch the real component for the fake one.

Russ knows where the component is located and offers to show them. Walking through a crowded market area, Russ gives Kelly and Scotty the slip. They find him in short order and he explains that he was only showing that he could’ve walked away and disappeared if he wanted to, if he were truly guilty. Kelly and Scotty don’t seem to be any more assured by this demonstration. Russ then shows them where the component is located, an import/export business. There’s still some skepticism from Kelly and Scotty, about how Russ could even know where this small device is located. He insists, however, that it’s there.

They decide to try to prove it and Kelly sets up a beautiful little shuck and jive. He goes in with a box of firecrackers and a couple of his tennis rackets. He immediately turns on the charm to the girl working behind the counter, even interrupting her with another customer. When she basically tells him to heel, he bides his time, lighting a cigarette. (Note that more than one cigarette is already coming out of the pack when Culp goes to tap it on his finger. Whether that was intentional or a slight goof, Culp grins a little but carries on flawlessly.)

When the clerk finishes with her customer and turns her attention to Kelly, he’s all charm. His request is very simple. He wants to ship out a package of firecrackers and his tennis rackets. The girl attempts to explain to him that theirs is not that type of business and that he would need to go elsewhere. Kelly refuses to accept that and asks to see the manager. The manager/owner basically tells Kelly the same thing. As they’re talking though, Kelly has strategically placed his lit cigarette near the exposed fuse of the box of firecrackers. When it goes off, chaos ensues and gives Kelly enough time to watch the manager dash to the back office and check the safe.

Before the firecrackers die down and the manager returns to the front office, Kelly dashes back and jumps behind a display. He feigns surprise for what happened and attempts to apologize. The manager wants to hear nothing of it and he removes Kelly, bodily, from the office.

Outside, Kelly reports to Russ and Scotty. It’s there. All they have to do now is make the switch. Back at the hotel, they make their plan but afterward, Kelly still seems bothered by something.

The next day, they set up. Scotty and Russ will break in from the alley while Kelly pulls another diversion again using the same firecracker trick. The clerk behind the counter is less than enthusiastic to see Kelly again.

In fact, she’s essentially non-responsive to any of his charming antics. Kelly, naturally, picks up on her offense and apologizes for his foolishness from the day before. As he’s talking to her, however, the lit cigarette is once again strategically placed near the exposed fuse of the firecrackers.

When the firecrackers suddenly start popping, it starts the clock ticking. Scotty and Russ blow the metal covering off the back window of the office and proceed to cut the gate while Kelly carries on with his ruse out in the front office, which turns into a free-for-all once the firecrackers die down. The manager gets a little rough with Kelly, Kelly gets rough back (although his karate chop attempt against the manager hurts himself more than it does the big manager) and Kelly ends up in a battle royal with all the exporter dudes henchmen (before which he’s plunked on the counter like a rag doll and sent flying down the length of it!)

And I mean battle royal! Every possible fight technique you can think of is utilized in this sequence and it’s one of my favorite fight scenes with Culp. He’s not only throwing punches, he’s jumping on the counters, scaling walls, swinging from the overhead pipes, giving a boot to the head here n’ there, coming down to the floor long enough to stuff one guy into a desk and then swinging on a hanging overhead lamp. Oh, and the hammer toss! I can’t forget the hammer toss!

Despite Kelly’s gallant efforts, he still gets beat by the bad guys and Scotty and Russ are caught too. The exporter manager tosses everyone in a supply room. No problem, Kelly figures. After all, Russ was the expert on this stuff, being in locked rooms and all. So Kelly asks, “what do we do, Teach?”

Russ, unfortunately, doesn’t have much of an answer, which doesn’t sit well with Scotty. He starts to go around the supply room, trying to find something that might give them an advantage to bust out of the place. Meantime, the exporter manager returns and gives them 15 minutes to decide if they’re going to tell him who they are and what they’re up to. And with 15 minutes until their fate, Scotty wasn’t interested in having to wait for a spark of genius to come from Russ. He starts to gather some stuff together with Kelly helping, although Kelly has no idea what his partner is up to. One thing Scotty needs is for one of the crates of codfish to be opened. Kelly tries to pry it open bare handed, but can’t do it. Scotty asks Russ for the component to use to pry open the crate. Russ hesitates, out of fear of damaging the component, but is overruled by Kelly and Scotty. He hands it over and they pry the box open.

Kelly watches as Scotty puts the ingredients together in an old shoe box; chemical fertilizer, dry ice and a flammable liquid. Scotty explains that the concoction won’t blow the door off the place but would create enough smoke and chaos to give them the upper hand. The only thing left needed was a fuse, and the only thing they had was cigarettes. After determining how far a cigarette burns in five minutes, Scotty clipped another cigarette to the same length and lit it. He set it in the box and everyone took cover within the room. They had just about five minutes until their hosts returned.

No sooner do the bad guys open the door when Scotty’s homemade bomb goes off. Chaos erupts and the boys have a momentary advantage over the bad guys. There’s a fight and gunfire and a close call for Kelly who’s nearly shot by one of the bad guys. Russ saves Kelly and they make their escape. The three jump into a cab and it’s here that Kelly and Scotty find their suspicions confirmed. Russ points a gun at them while instructing the driver to go to Victoria Peak.

At Victoria Peak, the truth about Russ comes to light. He has, in fact, gone corrupt. With the component back with him, he can now sell it to an even higher bidder. The only thing left was to dispose of Kelly and Scotty. Kelly belittles Russ for setting it up to shoot them in the back.

Scotty, however, isn’t going to stand and take a bullet in the back and he turns suddenly and charges at Russ. Russ shoots, hitting Scotty in the leg as Kelly also charges at Russ and there’s a struggle and scuffle. Kelly knocks the gun from Russ’s hand and during the course of the struggle, Kelly drops down to the ground on his back, pulling Russ with him. He flips him over and sends him tumbling off the edge of the cliff.

Although this had been the mission all along, Kelly is horrified. After all, Russ had been his teacher and somebody he had respected at one time. The deed done all the same, Kelly picks up the component (Russ had made Scotty put it down on the ground earlier) and turns his attention to his wounded partner. Kelly apologizes for what’s happened but Scotty shakes it off. Kelly didn’t have to apologize for anything.

With their assignment complete and Scotty on the mend, Kelly’s kinda bummed by what happened with Russ. But not for too long. The girl who worked as a clerk at the import/export place comes knocking on the boys’ hotel room door. Kelly’s surprised to see her.  She carries with her a box of firecrackers, like what Kelly used with his ruses. She tells the boys that she was cleared of any wrongdoing, since she had been working at the place for only a few days and had no idea what was going on. She then lights the fuse on the box of firecrackers, sending Kelly and Scotty both diving under their beds.

But the box doesn’t go off….at first. She was told it wouldn’t but had wanted to see how they would react. Then all of a sudden, it does go off and she winds up under the bed with Kelly.

Yeah… Yeah, I would have too.

 

 

 

 

 

The first season DVD for “I Spy” is available at Amazon.com.

A Tip of the Hat…

Previously I had to give a wag of the finger to Newsweek, for failure to even mention Robert Culp or put a dinky lil’ picture of him in their multi-page spread of notable folks who passed away in 2010.

This time I give a tip of the hat to New York Times Magazine in their year-end selection of notable folks who passed in 2010 with this interesting reflection on Culp titled “The Self Conscious Hunk.”

Self-conscious? I take it the writer never saw that issue of Oui magazine or the Playboy spread… Ahem…

Anyway, the piece speaks positively of Culp but I have some comments on a couple of points made.

The piece talks about Culp’s “slickness” in reference to his portrayal of Kelly Robinson and what it all meant to be a man in the mid-1960s with the smarm and charm and getting the girls. The first season of I Spy, Kelly’s wardrobe consisted of the expected playboy type clothes, nice suits, ect. His hair was short, jet black and never out of place. He sported ascot ties occasionally, very debonair, along with a Rolex watch and black onyx ring. If your dictionary needed a photo for the word “suave” Robert Culp as Kelly Robinson was it.

The writer went on to say that by the time of 1969’s “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice” Culp’s “slickness” had gotten old and more grizzled actors like Elliot Gould and Jack Nicholson would go on to dominate and represent the whole masculine definition through the 1970s.

Thing was, Culp wasn’t even really that “slick” by 1969. In my own personal observation, by the second season of I Spy, Kelly Robinson was starting to look a little rough around the edges. The hair got a little longer, the grey was threatening to show and Kelly just wasn’t as polished looking as when first introduced. Not that Culp wasn’t still fluid and suave as Robinson, he was. But Culp – through Kelly – looked to be reflecting both the wear and tear of the spy business and Kelly’s own inner demons along with the fast changing times that became the post-1965 world. The revolution, as it was, culturally and socially and the redefining of the role of a man. Ascot ties and close crop hair need not apply.

The writer goes on to say that Culp’s stardom essentially ended after B&C&T&A and that he was “confined largely to supporting roles on TV.” I’m not so sure Culp was “confined.”  To say that Culp couldn’t have been of the same super star status as Jack Nicholson is pure crock. Maybe Culp made some decisions in his career that kept it from the super star path, but Culp was no less suited to being on par with any of the other actors who were considered to represent the masculine definition of the 1970s. That Culp couldn’t have been “grizzled” and “emotionally messy?” Sure he could have. With aplomb.

Although I disagree on a couple of points in the piece, I’m not complaining. All matters of opinion are subjective anyway and every one of us sees things a little differently.  Still, I tip my hat to the New York Times Magazine for including Culp in their list, not so much to mark his death but, as they explain in their overview of the section, to include him as part of “a collection of narratives that celebrate lives.”

Too bad Newsweek couldn’t spill any ink for him for that.

What?!

The latest issue of Newsweek magazine honors some of the notable folks who we lost in 2010. Unfortunately, there was somebody missing from that list…

What?!

No mention at all of Robert Culp. None. For shame Newsweek!

Inside Out

Originally released October 1975 (UK), January 1976 (US)

**Contains spoilers**

I purchased this publicity photo of Robert Culp for this movie off eBay back in September 2010. The photo prompted me to try to find this movie as I knew little of it and seriously, a pose like that? Facing down some bad dude, dressed in a military uniform? SOLD!

At the time it was only available on places like iOffer and the occasional vintage VHS tape on eBay. I was almost going go with a DVD “copy” from iOffer when I learned that Warner Brothers would be releasing the film through their Archive Collection as a DVD on demand. It couldn’t have  been more than two weeks after I bought the photo and started searching for the movie. Strangely enough the same thing happened when I first “discovered” Culp and went looking for I Spy DVDs. Just a few weeks later, all three seasons were released.

Although there’s mixed reviews out there for Inside Out, I enjoyed the film and found it to be a pretty good caper type movie. Culp plays Sly Wells, an ex-con and former thief, now trying to live quietly and keep out of jail in Amsterdam. Telly Savalas is Harry Morgan, a WWII veteran and former POW living in London trying to find his next big hustle (indeed, his flat is for sale and his car is repossessed at the start of the movie). Harry gets a letter from the former POW camp Kommandant who had a business proposition for him: Help him find six million dollars in Nazi gold persumed lost during the war.

The answer to the gold’s location lies with a high ranking Nazi official who is being held in a high security prison in West Berlin. To get the answer, he’ll have to be removed from the prison for a little while and then returned – with no one knowing he’s gone.

Harry tells the former Kommandant that he knows somebody who might be able to help them. Enter Sly Wells.

Sly is a little gun shy at first (staying out of jail has been nice) but given the potential financial windfall if they pull it off, he agrees. He and Harry fly to West Berlin to meet with former Kommandant Ernst Furben (James Mason). Furben shows them the Seigfried Prison and then Harry sets up Sly and himself at a fancy hotel. Harry then sets out to get some help from a few more players in our caper.

Harry makes a connection with an old friend who is a dealer in precious metals and gems. He agrees to help convert the gold into cash – for a price of course. Further details are hashed out over dinner where Harry is introduced to the lovely Erika – a nurse – and learns about Udo Blimpermann, a man with an insatiable appetite and the owner of the largest West Berlin costume company.

Harry brings Erika and Udo back to the hotel later that evening, although getting Udo to the room causes quote a commotion because he’s eaten too much and has passed out. Harry introduces Sly to the two newest additions to the troop. Sly takes a shine to Erika as she does to him.

Now if I had met Sly looking the way he did with the black robe and all…I’d have taken a shine too. Chess? I don’t know how to play chess but who cares?!

Ahem. Moving right along…

The next day, Ernst introduces Sly to Schmidt, who served in a transportation company during the war and had originally been assigned to pick up the gold at a train depot. His orders were overruled by the SS at the depot. He didn’t know it was gold that he was going to be picking up but found out when he witnessed one of the boxes drop and break open while being unloaded from the train.

Harry, meanwhile, makes contact with the ranking NCO at the prison, Prior, a guy that was a POW along with Harry during the war. Harry elicits the Master Sergeant’s help (again, for a cut of the profits) and Harry, Sly, Ernst and Schmidt and Prior have a meeting back at the hotel to lay out the early foundation of their plan.

Sly takes care of some logistics with a helping hand from Erika, including finding an abandoned public building to borrow for awhile and a few props to go with it. Erika also studies up on preparing the proper amount of a tranquilizer drug for Holtz – the top Nazi being held at the prison.

Ernst and Schmidt, meanwhile, set up a simple blackmail against the doctor who is allowed in and out of the prison to see Holtz. Holtz, by the way is the only prisoner in the ENTIRE prison. He’s guarded 24 hours a day by an entire compliment of American soldiers.

With everything in place, and American military uniforms care of Udo Blimpermann, Harry and Sly arrive at the prison with the doctor to make the switch, which is to leave the doctor behind in Holtz’s cell and bring Holtz out dressed as the doc. Holtz is told he’s being given a vitamin B12 shot when in fact it’s the tranquilizer. Doc switches his clothes for Holtz’s and Holtz is ready to go. Doc remains behind in the cell and Harry gives the story that Holtz will need to see a dental surgeon in the morning and Master Sergeant Prior issues orders that ensure the prisoner will not be seen by anyone other than the “doc” the next morning – along with a “dental surgeon” (Ernst).

Harry and Sly escort Holtz out of the prison, although barely – a few checkpoint protocols are nearly breached but between Harry (acting as an Army Major) and Prior they manage to pull enough rank to make it out of the prison. They make a quick stop to pick up Erika and as they drive on to the abandoned public building Sly had scouted earlier, Erika and Sly do up some makeup on Holtz to make him look like he did during the war.

At the old courthouse, Harry, Sly and Erika bring Holtz in (who’s just loopy enough under the tranq to walk upright but not comprehend what’s going on). He’s put into a Nazi uniform and stood up at the doorway, just as the effects of the tranq are wearing off. He enters the old courtroom where Ernst, Sly and Schmidt are waiting for him. Ernst wears a uniform of the German High Command, Sly is dressed in the uniform of the SS (the fact that Culp looks so good in it is just so wrong) and Schmidt is dressed as a very convincing Hitler. All of it convinces Holtz that he’s right back in 1942. Hitler wants to know where the gold is. It takes a little time to jar Holtz’s memory but they succeed.

There’s just one slight problem. The location of the gold, at Holtz’s former summer residence, is located in East Germany (remember, this was 1975 and Germany was still very much divided. Berlin, also divided East and West, was located in East Germany). Harry, Sly, Ernst and Schmidt make their way through Checkpoint Charlie and cross over into East Germany. They locate Holtz’s former summer residence and know that the underground bunker was to the left of the residence but here they come up to their next problem: The underground bunker where Holtz hid the gold now has a tenement building sitting over it.

To gain access to the building, Ernst figures to contact a former fellow German soldier who had defected to the Russians at the end of the war. Ernst is sure they can get his help, with the promise of a cut. The man’s loyalty to the Russians, however, proves stronger. He holds everyone at gunpoint until a Russian colonel arrives.

The Russian colonel, however, is more easily persuaded by money. He shoots down Ernst’s former comrade and instead of arresting the Americans, he agrees to help them to get the gold – for a cut.

Sly, knowing they might need an ace in the hole, manages to snag the dead East German’s gun without the Russian seeing him and quietly pockets it in his trench coat.

The Russian colonel mobilizes the East German police and has the building evacuated under the guise of there being an unexploded bomb inside. Harry, Sly, Ernst and Schmidt go in as a bomb disposal team. They access the bomb shelter by blowing a hole through the basement floor. Down in the bunker they find the gold, hidden behind a folding dressing screen. The fruits of their labor realized, the four men bask for a moment in the glow of the gold.

They load up the gold in their truck and return to the garage of Holtz’s summer residence (next door to the tenement building) to change back to their American uniforms and get the hell out of Dodge. When Schmidt goes to open the garage doors, however, the Russian colonel is right there. He orders them to load the gold into his car after which he will kill them. Harry attempts to disarm the Russian only to trigger a brief but chaotic shootout in the garage. Schmidt goes down by the Russian’s gun, Sly takes the Russian down. Harry doesn’t allow much of a pause upon Schmidt’s death and he, Sly and Ernst clear out immediately following the shooting. They get half way to the checkpoint when Sly suddenly turns the car in a 180. At the checkpoint crossing they came over with four in the car, he explains. They had to go back with four in the car.

So they go back for Schmidt, sit him up in the back seat and head back to the checkpoint. They clear through, but not before being told the flags on their car are on wrong. (Dead body in the back seat? No problem. Flags wrong on staff car? Problem).  The guard at the checkpoint fixes the flags and then sends them on their way. Cleared through, they stop at a bridge to dump Schmidt’s body into the river. They then arrive at the business of the gem dealer to unload the gold. Sly makes one final stop to see Erika, who has been keeping a watch over a more heavily sedated Holtz, to let her know they had been successful.

The next morning, Harry, Sly and Ernst head back to the Siegfried Prison with Holtz, but not before being held up by a jackknifed truck and pile of wooden shipping pallets all over the road. The clean up will only take about five minutes…but they have to wait an hour for a tow truck. The boys certainly don’t have an hour to wait so Harry makes a suggestion to Sly: Jump the car.  Sly thinks he’s crazy but they had little choice so Sly agrees to do it.

I loved Culp’s look of grim determination as he’s speeding the car across the bridge. Successfully jumping the car, they continue on to the prison and arrive to return Holtz back to his prison cell (but not without nearly getting their cover blown).  Nonetheless, they get Holtz back in, they (and the Doc) get back out and after leaving their car in the middle of a busy street in West Berlin, the only thing left for Harry, Sly and Ernst to do is laugh all the way to the bank.

As I said at the beginning, despite mixed reviews, I enjoyed this one. There is one part where the movie drags a little and I literally looked at my watch and thought “Uh, fellas, you got about 30 minutes left of this movie and you haven’t gotten Holtz out of the prison yet!” But those last 30 minutes move a good pace. The music in this thing was the only thing I had  a problem with. The dramatic music was good, but the cheezy-even-for-the-70s wah wah stuff seemed poorly chosen.

I also found interesting seeing the scenes of West Berlin of that time period, especially the scene where Erika and Sly go to the observation deck at the checkpoint and look toward East Berlin. The portion of the Berlin Wall that can be seen didn’t have as much graffiti on it as it did by the time it came down in 1989 and the part of East Berlin that can be seen looks frozen in time, with wrecked buildings that made it look like the war had ended yesterday, not thirty years earlier.

A good film and an enjoyable Culp performance!

“Inside Out” is available from the Warner Brothers Archive and also through Amazon.com.