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)

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.

Columbo: The Most Crucial Game

Columbo - The Most Crucial Game

Columbo - The Most Crucial Game

Originally aired: November 5, 1972

Two things to note here…

1. The moustache. It was real and it threw me for a loop. He looked so different with it! Outside of a game show appearance from the same year and a photo of Culp from a documentary on race relations from around the same time period (’71?), I was used to seeing Culp pretty much sans facial hair. (The Grizzly Adams beard in Hannie Caulder is a different story).

2. The Los Angeles Coliseum. If I’ve got the timeline right in my mind, about the time Culp filmed his first appearance on Columbo in 1971, he either just completed or was just about to start on filming for Hickey & Boggs. By the time this episode aired in November of 1972, Hickey & Boggs had been out in the theatres for about a month. So you could watch Culp on the big screen running around the Coliseum and then come home and watch him in the same place on the small screen!

Culp plays Paul Hanlon, general manager for a pro football team owned by Eric Wagner. Eric inherited the sports empire from his father but would rather spend his days partying and playing. Paul, however, sees a better and brighter future for himself – if he can get Eric out of the way.

Paul arrives at the Coliseum and makes his way up to the owners box. He dismisses the busboy for the afternoon, explaining that it would only be him in the box and no guests. After the busboy leaves, Paul gets on the phone to Eric, rustling him out of bed (it’s already afternoon) and telling him to do some laps in the pool and be ready to be picked up as soon as the game was over. They had a flight to catch to Montreal for a business meeting regarding the purchase of another sports team.

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Continue reading more of The Most Crucial Game…

Columbo: Death Lends a Hand

Originally aired: October 6, 1971

Here we go! The episode that started it all for me in being a Fan of All Things Culp.

Culp plays Brimmer, a former police officer turned private investigator who runs a very sophisticated investigative operation (indeed, he was not Jim Rockford. This firm had several operatives, a fleet of vehicles, electronic gizmos, highrise office space and support staff ). Brimmer’s latest case involved investigating the allegations of infidelity on the part of the young wife of Arthur Kennicut, a prominent LA newspaper publisher. Brimmer reports to Mr. Kennicut that his wife had a “clean bill of health” and was not having any affairs. Mr. Kennicut accepts this finding with relief but we find out after he leaves Brimmer’s office that the report from Brimmer was a total lie. Brimmer then attempts to blackmail Mrs. Kennicut, saying he would keep the proof of her affair quiet if she would provide him with inside information of the powerful people in LA that Mr. Kennicut had connections to.

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Right. Mrs. Kennicut throws Brimmer’s blackmail attempt right back in his face, saying she would come clean to her husband first and admit her infidelity – and then expose Brimmer’s blackmail attempt, turning those same powerful connections Brimmer wanted information on into a serious source of trouble, not to mention totally ruining his reputation and his business.

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Brimmer, a short tempered kinda guy to begin with, becomes furious with Mrs. Kennicut and accidentally kills her.

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Of course, he didn’t intend to kill. And once he realizes what he’s done, he knows the murder of this woman is worse than being exposed for the blackmail attempt.  Thus he does his damndest to cover it up, cleaning up all evidence of anything she touched from his beach house and then transporting her body across LA to leave her in an industrial area.

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It should’ve worked. Once her body is discovered the next morning, it looks like a mugging. Tragic and unfortunate, but she was killed for her money. Brimmer, in a further attempt to keep any suspicion possible away from himself shows up at Mr. Kennicut’s home to offer condolences and offer the services of his firm to find Mrs. Kennicut’s killer.

Yup, the whole cover up should’ve worked. Accept for this pesky, cigar chomping police lieutenant named Columbo…

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Despite all the charm Brimmer can put forth, he knows right off the bat that Columbo is going to be a challenge.

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Scratch that. Not a challenge. A full fledged pain in the posterior.

The rest of the episode is Brimmer trying to outwit Columbo and throw the Lieutenant off the trail. But it doesn’t work. After one particular conversation where the seemingly scatterbrained Lieutenant reveals a couple of innocent facts and makes a couple of innocent statements, Brimmer realizes the heat is on…

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Brimmer only digs himself even deeper when he tries to woo Columbo into leaving the police force and joining the detective agency with the promise of more money and complimenting him on his detective skills.

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Columbo says he’ll think it over, talk to the wife. Brimmer thinks he might have a chance.  Then two strange things happen. Brimmer’s car won’t work and he sends it off to the garage to be fixed. Then he gets a call from Mr. Kennicut; Columbo has requested that Mrs. Kennicut’s body be exhumed for some reason.

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Now this is where I have to apologize for not remembering exactly how Columbo set this up (were they looking for the contact lens in the casket? Were they looking to see if she had both lens still, or didn’t? Or…gah. Sorry!). What I do know, is the “missing” contact lens sets Brimmer on a search through his beach house, where Columbo shows up, “innocently” enough, says something to further unsettle Brimmer and Brimmer searches a little more once Columbo leaves. Then Brimmer decides he has to search his car – which is still in the shop.

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Brimmer breaks into the repair shop and finds his car. He searches the trunk and does indeed find a contact lens…

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…and the Lieutenant is waiting for him. Brimmer, indignant, storms away from Columbo and reaches for his cigarettes in his pocket. He then attempts to throw the empty cigarette package away when Columbo stops him, grabbing his hand before the contents are ejected into the wastebasket.

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The contact lens in Brimmer’s hand is evidence enough. Caught “red handed” Brimmer accepts being busted, admits his guilt and apologizes quietly to Mr. Kennicut, who was also present during this.

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I enjoyed watching this episode and for it being over 2 years since I saw it, the fact I can still remember the plot well enough speaks to how good it is. I capped it pretty much right after I watched it. Definitely a worthwhile introduction to Robert Culp!

“Death Lends a Hand” is available on the Season One DVD of Columbo available at Amazon.com.