NBC Movie of the Week, Originally aired May 21, 1977
One of the last gems I found on YouTube in the ‘08/’09 period was this tv pilot which I thoroughly enjoyed. As a more casual Star Trek fan I was also intrigued by the fact that this was created and written by Gene Roddenberry and it’s unfortunate it didn’t make into a series.
Robert Culp plays William Sebastian, a brilliant and well known criminologist who has been dabbling in and researching the occult. His theory is that the more heinous murders committed by humans that had no definable logic in motive must have been committed due to other more powerful and unseen forces. As a result of his flirtations with the dark side and backing out of a deal with the devil, he has just one minor problem: He has a hole in his heart, like a dagger or some object has been shoved through it.
A little healing black magic from his housekeeper, Lillith (Mrs. Gene Roddenberry – Majel Barrett), Sebastian is able to continue to live and walk around. But the spell does not offer a permanent fix. Sebastian has to find the doll that the object is impaled in.
He has been asked to look into a case in England at the request of Anitra Cyon (Ann Bell), who believes her brother, Geoffrey (James Villiers), is under the influence of evil supernatural forces which has contributed to his sudden and extensive wealth. In order to proceed with the case, Sebastian will need help from his former partner, Dr. “Hamm” Hamilton (Gig Young.) The movie opens with Hamm’s arrival at Sebastian’s home – having been requested there by telegram – and this great voice over to set the tone for the movie.
“I come here to meet a man I vowed never to see again. He was vain, arrogant, selfish, but his brilliance was still irresistible. He was also dangerous – never to me – but this evening began for both of us, a slide into horrors unimaginable, a descent into a corner of hell….”
Sebastian explains about the hole in his heart and asks for Hamm’s help with the case in England. Initially Hamm says no, after all, he has some issues of his own going on including a more than casual drinking habit and is facing an inquiry by the hospital he works for. He reconsiders after learning about Sebastian’s condition but suggests that Sebastian didn’t need a compulsive drinker as an assistant. The good doctor’s drinking habits, however, were corrected by Lilith.
Here’s another one of those miscellaneous clips I found on YouTube back in 2008 that just fueled my growing interest in Robert Culp. This clip amused me to no end and I still get a good laugh from it when I go back and watch it. This particular episode of Get Smart was a spoof of I Spy and although Culp is not credited for this appearance, the scene is totally his.
So! Kind gentlemen and lovely ladies, it would please me to have you to watch this clip…
In the early exploration of All Things Culp, I mined my way through YouTube. Back in 2008 there wasn’t a whole lot of stuff posted, a couple episodes of I Spy , one or two made for tv movies and various miscellaneous vids that I’ll cover in other posts. Amongst the miscellaneous stuff, however, was a vid that single handedly sold me on Bill Maxwell and The Greatest American Hero series. This vid is brilliant.
I was sold. I bought all three seasons in fairly short order.
I was especially sold on Culp’s Bill Maxwell, the calcified, old school Fed who freaked out and took off in the pilot after the visit with the “green guys” and the bequeathing of the suit to Ralph. He returned, however, out of a sense of duty and curious to see what the fuss was all about. By the end of the pilot, he was becoming quite comfortable with the idea of this supersuit and with this first regular season episode, he was ready to run the whole show, much to Ralph’s chagrin. Honestly, if the pilot for The Greatest American Hero didn’t sell you on watching this show, The Hit Car should have. This is by far my favorite episode.
So what’s the fuss all about? Read on…
Starlet Wilde has agreed to testify against Johnny “The Dancer” Diamante, the biggest “dope dealing slug” that FBI agent Bill Maxwell has been trying to nail for 15 years. After another Fed attempts to drive Starlet to LA from San Francisco and is shot in the process, Bill decides to go to San Francisco and bring her down himself – with help from Ralph and the suit.
Ralph, meanwhile, is trying to organize his class to do a Shakespeare play which will get them some credits for English Lit (which nobody seems to particularly care about). During the first meeting for the play, unfortunately, Bill shows up, tells Ralph they have a flight to San Francisco at 7 o’clock and it was go time.
Ralph, indignant, protests, saying he can’t just up and leave not without having to tend to some stuff first, like finding a babysitter for his son, Kevin. Bill solves that problem quick and asks for the next one. Pam tries to slip out but Bill doesn’t let her, telling her plainly, “You’re in this.” He then explains to both Ralph and Pam about his 15 years trying to nail Johnny Diamante and makes it clear. “We’re gonna get this guy, Ralph. Finally.”
Pam doesn’t care to be a “third string utility man” and Ralph’s not happy about Bill just barging in and taking things over. “Bill, you cannot going around changing people’s lives to suit yourself!” he says. “Sure I can,” Bill replies.
Despite neither of them liking the situation, there’s a grudging agreement to go along with Bill. Ralph asks Pam to take over the rehearsals for the play and Ralph and Bill head out…where Bill finds his hubcaps in the front seat of his car courtesy of Ralph’s students.
In San Francisco they arrive at the dumpy hotel room where Starlet is hiding. Starlet is pleasantly surprised to see Ralph – which annoys Bill.
Once inside her room, she tells Bill that she refuses to fly, citing some astro chart mumbo jumbo. There’s some lively discussion about driving versus flying, killers being on their tail and the stars predicting the future. Starlet also turns the charm on Ralph, which did I mention really annoys Bill? “Okay, boys and girls, over here please. Let’s put a dimmer on the goo goo eyes and try n’ hold a thought. We have killers after us in the immediate vicinity.”
Well Startlet doesn’t think there’s anybody outside the hotel room and she goes over and pulls back the curtain which suddenly shatters in gunfire. Bill pushes Starlet down to the floor and out of the line of fire and then hollers for Ralph to get out there and stop the gunmen.
Ralph sputters and mutters but does his thing, jumping through the bathroom window and flying across the way, only to crash into the penthouse across the street from the hotel. He manages to make his way out the suite, down the stairs and through the lobby all the while people are staring and snickering at him. He commandeers a trench coat on his way out.
Back at Starlet’s hotel room, Ralph knocks at the door. He gives Bill the bad news about not getting the hit guys and proceeds to confuse poor Ms. Starlet, who can’t figure out how Ralph ended up outside, when the last she knew, he was in the bathroom. Neither Ralph, nor Bill make any attempt to explain and Bill quickly changes the subject, they need to rethink their scenario as it’s obvious the hit guys are on to them.
Starlet still refuses to fly. In fact, so does Ralph.
Bill, sick of them both, gives in to having to drive back to LA.
During the drive, Starlet is impressed by Ralph’s intellect as he’s sitting there reading Shakespeare. Bill, in turn, is simply amazed by her lack thereof…
Having driven for a while, and hearing enough of Starlet prattle on confusing The Taming of the Shrew with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe? Bill decides they’re going to stop at an FBI safe house in Salinas for the night. Only Starlet refuses, telling him they can’t stop until Santa Barbara – her astro chart and all. She can’t sleep except by the water.
Bill’s livid. Not wanting to hear the arguing, Ralph makes a suggestion to Bill that Pam’s boss has a beach house in Santa Barbara. If Pam can borrow it, they can stop there. Starlet thinks it sounds wonderful. Bill’s irritated as all hell by this point but they stop and phone Pam.
Somehow, Pam manages to get use of the beach house (would have been interesting to have scene showing her trying to explain this to her boss) and is there waiting for the trio when they arrive. Bill praises her on getting the beach house but laments that there’s no food. There’s then some added animosity from Pam toward Starlet. A great cap off to an already wonderful evening.
The next morning they prepare to head out. Bill, starving by this point, is making due with stale dog biscuits that would “float in a tub of spit forever.” There’s a nice scene here between Bill and Pam where he at least acknowledges that Starlet’s been putting the moves on Ralph and tells Pam that she’s more than welcome to set the show girl straight, with what we today call a good bitch slapping. It’s hard to tell tho’ if Pam appreciates the gesture since it was presented in such a Neanderthal way.
While this is going on, Ralph’s in the bathroom, putting on his red jammies. He sees a holograph in the mirror of the two hit men outside the beach house. At the same time, Starlet’s pounding on the door to use the facilities. She eventually busts in, makes a little pass at Ralph who deflects it and heads out to tell Bill what he’s seen.
Bill gathers the troops and lays out the plan rapid fire. He takes no grief from either Pam or Ralph and tells them to do what he says. Pam sees that Starlet is down and away from the windows while Ralph does his thing with the suit. Bill, meanwhile, goes right out the front door – John Wayne style. He catches the attention of the hit guys and exchanges fire with them, taking a wound to his hand. Ralph gets the drop on the two hit men and tosses one head over heels in Bill’s direction. While Bill places that one under arrest, Ralph chases after the second hit man who tries to make his escape in another vehicle. Ralph catches him and Bill follows up to pick up the guy. By this point there’s sirens in the air and the heat is on. Bill tells Ralph to disappear, won’t let him take the car and can’t let him take the van. Ralph indignant once again, issues a warning to Bill that his patience is running pretty thin with this “partnership.” He then takes to the air and tries to fly, only to go dive bombing right into the ocean. The two hit men are completely stupefied by what they’ve witnessed. Bill advises them to forget what they saw but after their arrest they babble on and end up in a mental ward somewhere.
They make it to the courthouse in LA, but not without a new hit squad trying to nail Starlet. Bill takes a shot to the leg this time but Starlet is spared and is ushered inside where the grand jury is waiting. Bill calls the entire mission a success….until he finds out later from the District Attorney that Starlet took the 5th and refused to testify.
At this point, Ralph figures out there was a different scenario going on the whole time and he explains it to Bill. They weren’t trying to kill Starlet, they were trying to kill Bill. Bill doesn’t buy it at first until he thinks about for a minute and it makes sense.
As they drive away from the courthouse, Bill and Ralph both lament about their day of which neither one has much sympathy for the other. Bill then makes an excuse about stopping for some cigars and he pulls up to a little Italian restaurant where, inside, Johnny Diamante is complaining about his day too. “The only thing that’s worked out in the last 24 hours is this tuxedo,” Johnny says to his henchman, Mike, “and if I didn’t look so good in this thing I’d smack you right in the mouth!” If Johnny thought his day was going bad it got worse, when Bill comes walking in with a cheerful rendition of “The Gang’s All Here” and walks (limps) up to Johnny’s booth, pulling a gun.
A tense moment passes before Bill takes hold of Johnny’s plate of spaghetti and dumps in right on Johnny’s lap. He not only just dumps it, he pushes the plate right into Johnny’s gut and then lets it slide down to the floor.
Bill doesn’t stop there. He then takes Johnny’s glass of wine and carefully pours that into his lap too all the while seeing out of the corner of his eye as Mike tries to move for a gun and Bill simply tells him to freeze.
In parting, Bill asks for Johnny to say hello to all the pretty people at the Grammy’s…
Knowing full well he’s angered Johnny, Bill returns to the car and asks Ralph to drive. Johnny and Mike follow in a truck that has the Hit Car in it. Once again, the conversation between Ralph and Bill is a bit one sided with Ralph prattling on about how they need to communicate better if this partnership is going to work. All Bill is concerned with is that Johnny is following them.
They arrive at the school, which Bill figures will work good for his scenario – the place is supposed to be empty. Only it’s not. Ralph has a dress rehearsal scheduled which sends Bill into code red mode and he tells everyone to get down just as Johnny opens fire through the doorway from the Hit Car.
The shootout underway, Bill faces down the Hit Car (and runs from it) while Ralph struggles with the change of outfits. Finally, Ralph gets his act together and flies in under the Hit Car. He tips the Hit Car on its side effectively trapping Johnny and Mike.
Upon seeing Ralph, Johnny realizes his hit guys weren’t kidding when they said a “supah guy” broke up the hit. Bill gives Johnny the same advice he gave the hit men: You didn’t see any of this. It didn’t happen. Johnny has no problem with that.
For all his bluster about Ralph’s students and sometimes Ralph, Bill shows up at the opening night of the kids play. He tells Ralph that he wasn’t there as any show of support, however. He just likes Shakespeare….
…and to listen to the baseball game on his transistor radio.
Great interactions between the characters (and conflict), great plot twist and nice use of a 1966 Dodge Charger (I’m a car nut). The scene where Bill dumps the pasta on Johnny’s lap is classic. In fact, I loved this episode so much I played around with the footage and created a couple of “trailers” for the ep (kinda like a movie trailer). Here’s one of them…
The Greatest American Hero – Season One is available at Amazon.com, either as a download or you can purchase the DVD set. You can also download the Hit Car episode itself through Amazon for about the price of a cup of coffee!
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.
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.