When I was growing up in the 1980s, “Hart to Hart”, starring Robert Wagner, Stefanie Powers and Lionel Stander seemed to be on every bleeding day, and this when there was only six channels.
Running for five seasons from 1979-1984, and then ten years later as a series of TV movies, Hart to Hart held a special place for me. My parents marriage was actively disintegrating before my eyes, two people who had loved each other now swung from disdain for each other to loathing, all played out in front of me and my younger brothers.
Then there was Jonathan and Jennifer Hart. Even then I knew their smoochy childless marriage was too good to be true. Of course they were happy. They’d no kids, a nice dog, a gravelly voiced chef/driver/factotum named Max, and Jonathan was worth about $200 million, back when that was a lot of money. Watching their globe trotting holidays (where every bar, hotel and restaurant manager knew their name), I’d happily have put up with the fact that every week someone would try to murder them, Max, their friends or even their dog. To me the novelty was that here were two married people who still loved each other.
Having said that, the show was shockingly formulaic, with the following lessons constantly applying in HartLand:
1. Jennifer Hart was a lovely, beautiful, kind and well-read woman. She was also as dim as a bag of broken bulbs down a sealed well. She was forever getting kidnapped, more often than not escaping and then flagging down the car driven by the people who kidnapped her in the first place. In the opening credits, Max would announce that she was a “lady who knew how to take care of herself” That was a lie. She was rubbish at it, having to constantly be rescued by her husband. She also was incapable of detecting anyone sneaking up behind her with chloroform, a gun or even dressed as a f**king mummy. She’d just stare blankly ahead, never look behind her, and scream “Jonathan!”when someone would sneak up behind her and grab her. Looking back, I wonder was she just looking for attention.
2. You can’t help wondering if she married him, at least initially, for his money, given that every episode seems to involve the two of them on obscene spending sprees. Having said that, given that nearly every bed scene involved her letting out an “Oh Jonathan!” when the lights went out one suggests he might be one kinky bastard, and she just lies back and thinks of Tiffany’s. One shudders to think what he’d take out of the bedside drawer once the lights went out.
3. The Harts had a drinking problem, constantly quaffing champagne at inappropriate moments. Jennifer was constantly being “drugged”. If you watch the show from the point of view that it’s the drunken imaginings of a rich man’s bored wife at home getting pissed on gin, it’s a whole different show, always ending with her ever-patient husband “rescuing” her from her latest adventure.
4. Hart Industries seemed to make money, or at least Jonathan was constantly signing deals for mergers and the like. On the odd occasion you see what his companies actually make, it’s shite. HartToy Inc made, yes, toys, including a shitty version of Simon Says (that had a bomb in it. I don’t recall if that was part of it’s charm), and an even shittier robot which he was convinced was going to be a huge success, a plastic pony and a “Snake in a Box”. No, I’ve no idea either. Funnily enough, Jonathan was always terrified that other companies might be stealing his toy plans. Looking at this crap, you can’t help thinking that maybe he was drunk most of the time too.
5. Late seventies, early eighties California was a weird place. Solving the murder of rich people seemed to be beyond the purview of the LAPD who got irritated when Jonathan would ask them to solve a murder or yet another of Jennifer’s kidnappings. But then, one could hardly blame them. “She’s kidnapped again??? What’s wrong with you people? Have you considered locking her in the basement for her own good? Have you been drinking again Mr Hart? “
6. Additionally, every gun in California seemed to be adjusted to fire a bullet three feet away from whatever you aimed at. When the guy who played The Incredible Hulk tried to murder their dog on a golf course because the dog witnessed a murder (don’t ask, just keep going) they ended up chasing him in a golf cart at about 10 feet an hour, and he still couldn’t hit them. He should have stopped the cart and stood behind Jennifer. They’d never look there.
7. California also boasted the highest nationwide incidences of people bumping their heads and getting amnesia, evil hypnotists, and people who looked like Jennifer Hart only more evil and sluttier. In fact, Jennifer Hart seemed to resemble dozens of people from ancient Egyptian queens to the aforementioned slut.
8. Jonathan Hart loved jumping on people from a height. He could easily shoot someone from a safe distance (although those wonky Californian guns…), hit someone with a tire iron or just plain punch them, but no, he’ll climb on top of something and jump on them. It was his thing. And he had lovely hair. The man was trapped in a wind tunnel but his hair reset itself. Maybe that’s how Hart Industries made money. Their super hair gel subsidised all the other crap.
9. The Harts’ friends were mostly awful people, and a bunch of murderers. After the first twenty you’d think the Harts would start wondering how they surrounded themselves with these psychos. But then, they probably didn’t notice with all the drinking, sex, and Max constantly asking them if they wanted a sandwich, even when they were pawing each other on the sofa.
10. You were never sure whether Max was a higher functioning retard or not. He could drive OK, and was a pretty good chef, but seemed to be taken in by whatever passing fad was on the go at the time. You always wondered would they arrive home from some glamourous fundraiser to find him dead, hanging from a door with his belt around neck, trousers around his ankles and Freeway licking chocolate sauce from his balls. Max seemed the sort of guy who’d give anything a go.
I recently finished the final episode of “Sons of Anarchy”, FX’s violent motorcycle gang as criminals drama starring Charlie Hunnam and Ron Perlman. It’s excellent drama, and I’ve constantly been almost recommending it to people as one of the most political TV shows on in recent years. I don’t mean in terms of political systems, but in terms of how relationships between many competing interests are managed. SOA was not as much about motor bikes as relationships between people and groups.
I say almost, because I have to be careful who I’d suggest it to. Sons of Anarchy is exceptionally and unnecessarily violent, to the point of being literally eye-poppingly gruesome, and it’s indicative of a problem faced by modern television drama.
I’m old enough to remember when some people complained that “The Professionals” or “The A Team” were encouraging young people to be violent with the casual amount of gunplay in each episode. As one of those young people I thought, and still think, that those complaints were just plain silly. But today’s level of violence, on the other hand, is reaching a stage where one has to question is it just becoming gratuitous? Even non-cable network shows which are much more restricted in what they can show on camera, like “Criminal Minds”, up the ante by featuring scenarios where families and children are regularly menaced or tortured in disturbing psychological ways.
I’m not calling for any form of censorship, of course. People can make and watch whatever they want. But surely the real challenge for creative TV writers now is to create shows that can create suspense without the easy fall back of horror?
Guy Ritchie’s “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” is “based” on the 1964-68 TV series. Based is a very loose word, especially when writing as a huge fan of the original TV series. Having said that, the movie deserves a review from the perspective of a non-UNCLE fan too, and in that context it’s very entertaining. The look and feel of the movie is very 1960s spy movie, more The Ipcress File than James Bond, and the soundtrack by Daniel Pemberton plays homage to the soundtracks of the period.
The cast carry the movie well, with Alicia Vikander in particular shining in a role that could easily have become the McGuffin object to be ferried around, rescued etc. It moves at a fair pace, the plot is pretty thin (who the baddies who want the atomic bomb are, and why is never really explained, although they seem pretty well resourced given they own a submarine). There are some quite funny moments, including a scene with an electric chair in the background, or Cavill sitting in a truck during a gun battle. Cavill and Hammer struggle to get past the slightly clunky tension of their respective CIA/KGB backgrounds but when they do, and they do, you do start to root for them as a team. Hugh Grant plays Hugh Grant, which is fine, because I happen to like Hugh Grant. Elizabeth Debicki has a nice screen presence, and could really have been given more to do other than waft in and out of scenes.
One criticism I’d have is that the set piece James Bond attack on the enemy base is almost wasted in a curious montage. It looks great, but you feel like you’d like to have seen more of it. On top of that, the movie ends curiously abruptly. The end credits, showing UNCLE files, contain a few interesting nuggets, and the movie sets up nicely for a sequel.
The usual Ritchie stuff, split screens, flashbacks to what REALLY happened, etc, are all there, and add to the entertainment. It’s not a classic. It’s no Snatch. But very enjoyable.
The UNCLE fan review. Warning: includes spoilers.
I’m not one of those fans who believes the original material is untouchable. There are people who have never forgiven JJ Abrahms for the Spock/Uhura thing, or refuse to watch Elementary because it’s set in the US and Dr. Watson is a woman. I’m happy to let each interpretation stand on its own feet. Having said that, I’m not sure if I were a huge fan of the Mission Impossible TV series I’d see much connection with the Cruise movies, as they miss the crucial self-sabotaging aspect of the original show. But that’s another story.
This movie was an interpretation of The Man from UNCLE, or rather, a view of UNCLE from such a distance that you can just about recognise a few familiar shapes. It’s an enjoyable movie, but could just as easily have been called “The Rome Caper”. Certainly, if it hadn’t been called The Man from UNCLE I’m not sure UNCLE fans would have recognised it.
Of course, you could argue that it is a prequel, and so obviously misses a lot of the original features of the TV show, and that would be a fair point. In addition, the UNCLE of the movie, a small team with east/west tensions is actually far more realistic than the TV show’s huge vaguely utopian organisation.
The one glaring difference between the show and the movie is Cavill and Hammer. Both physically impressive, (Hammer especially looks huge onscreen) are far removed from the Talk First, Then Fight approach of the original characters of Solo and Kuryakin. Also, making Kuryakin out to be borderline psychotic just isn’t the same character played by David McCallum.
It’s a different UNCLE, and I’d like to see a sequel to see where they take it. But I have serious doubts that there’ll be one.
BBC’s “The Game” by Toby Whithouse, starring Brian Cox, is a must-see if you like your spy drama closer to “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”, even though it does have its action scenes. Set in Britain in the early 1970s, the six-part series follows MI5 as they desperately attempt to prevent a KGB operation which they believe will have history changing implications for Britain.
The cast is superb, with Paul Ritter in particular standing out as the repressed deputy head of MI5. Tom Hughes plays Joe Lambe, a top MI5 operative embroiled in the case. If anything, Hughes’ male model good looks provide one of the more unbelievable parts of the show. Would MI5 really hire someone so conspicuous? As a female friend of mine pointed out, every time he appeared on screen she couldn’t resist shouting out “You’re too good looking!” Having said that, his actual performance is just as good as the rest of the cast. No himbo he.
The show looks superb, managing to look both modern and 70s dated at the same time, with MI5′s tacky, modern and brutalist headquarters in particular of note, and the IPCRESSesque soundtrack by Daniel Pemberton is a cracker, especially the main theme.
There’s just enough hint of humour in it to endear you to the characters, and also, although it has that cynicism of all these sort of shows, the team come across as genuine patriots. The Soviet plot is big and gripping, and it is refreshing to see a spy show not bogged down by technology for once.
Seriously hope the BBC commission a second series. These are characters and a setting we’d like to see more of.
At a special session of the Employment Appeals Tribunal convened in camera under the Official Secrets Act, Commander X, formally of the Royal Navy and Secret Intelligence Service today lost his appeal against dismissal from the service.
X had been dismissed 18 months previously after numerous warnings about drinking on duty and making sexual advances on both fellow employees and targeted individuals. The final incident was a fracas caused by X in the service’s quartermaster branch. The head of the branch alleged that X had turned up after lunch “with the usual four Martinis on board” and proceeded to berate staff for not being able to provide him with a discreet way of carry prophylactics. “You’ve no shortage of lasers n’ shit, but you can’t get me a handful of fucking rubber johnnies! Have you seen some of the quim I have to bang for Queen n’ country? Do you know why they call her Octopussy?”
This had been the second incident involving the Q branch. X had previously been disciplined for trying to use a dart launcher to give himself a penicillin injection. A service doctor later testified that X was “riddled” with STIs.
A number of women, both from within the service and without gave evidence of X’s inappropriate sexual advances, using service equipment to remove their clothing without consent, and searching out particularly emotionally damaged women who were vulnerable and seen as easy prey.
“The man was like a vulture if there was any woman in a 5 mile radius who’d recently lost a love one through violence. I think it got him, you know, going. And don’t get me started on age. 18 and up, he was in like Flynn,” another member of the 00 section said.
The same agent disputed a claim by X that this was all part of “serving Queen and Country”.
“That’s nonsense. The other three of us are all happily married. He’s the only one charging around pissed like a rutting rhino. It’s a complete lack of professional standards. At the MI6 family day he made a pass at my 18 year old daughter. Poured champagne on her and then tried to help her out of her wet things. I mean, does that even work?”
The head of MI6, Alex Younger, admitted that X had not been dismissed earlier because he had been a useful asset in the past. “The man is so conspicuous and incapable of doing anything discreetly that we would use him to distract attention from our real operations. He spends his days driving around in ridiculous cars and trying to bed anyone in a skirt whilst our real operatives are quietly, you know, gathering intelligence. The problem has been that he is so effective at getting attention from foreign intelligence agencies that they immediately go on alert looking for our real agents when he arrives in the f**king airport. Now we just send him to places like Denmark in the hope he might use up someone’s resources following him, wandering between seedy bars, casinos and VD clinics. I mean, who on Earth wears a tuxedo as much as this guy does? And don’t mistake him for a waiter. He’s kicked off on a number of occasions over that.”
The tribunal was reminded that X had been married, but his wife had died in suspicious circumstances, with X claiming that she’d been murdered. No charges were ever brought.
The tribunal ended in a fracas when the presiding chair of the tribunal had to order X removed when he suggested, during her delivery of her findings, that they might like to adjourn to his hotel to “review” her findings. He then physically attempted to stop her talking by forcing himself onto her with a kiss, and was only stopped when she punched him in the penis.
Guy Richie’s “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” is based on the 1964-68 TV series about agents working for an international crime fighting organisation. One of the key attributes of the TV series was that the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, even at the height of the Cold War, had Americans and Russians working together for the common good. The TV series, although not a spoof as lazy latter day TV critics would claim was nevertheless set in a world where the ideology of the US and USSR were not really alluded to. It was, in short, fantasy.
As a concept, certainly to this then teenager watching repeats in the 1980s, it was a fascinating internationalist concept, that there was far more that united us as a race than divided us. Could it have worked?
One would have to say no. There’s a telling line in the series when Robert Vaughn’s Napoleon Solo, the titular Man from U.N.C.L.E., describes THRUSH, a nasty group of international renegades that acts as the anti-U.N.C.L.E. of the series, as an organisation that “believes in the two party system: the masters and the slaves” Solo could easily be describing the Soviet government (and funder of U.N.C.L.E.) of his fellow agent Ilya Kuryakin. But more on THRUSH in a minute.
Indeed, given that U.N.C.L.E. by its own admission (via voiceover in the series) is dedicated to the maintaining of legal order anywhere in the world, that logically meant that behind the Iron Curtain U.N.C.L.E. was battling democrats and opponents of the Communist one party state. Not something one would wish to see on their TV, scenes of Solo and Kuyakin valiantly shooting people trying to hop the Berlin wall to freedom. On the flipside, what were THRUSH doing behind the Iron Curtain? Surely the United States would be quite happy with any disruption they could cause? Would it be that hard to imagine THRUSH selling its services to both sides occasionally?
If one looks at so much of the things U.N.C.L.E. could logically be expected to combat, one comes into problems. In the 1970s and 1980s the KGB funded many terrorist groups in Europe and elsewhere. They’d hardly support U.N.C.L.E. trying to undermine their efforts. Would Henry Kissinger have been pleased if U.N.C.L.E. had intervened to stop the overthrow of the (democratically elected) Communist president of Chile in 1973 as per the mandate about preserving legal order? Chances are, U.N.C.L.E. agents would have spent most of their time sitting around whilst their bosses negotiated over what they could actually investigate. They probably spend most of their time fighting copyright fraud.
We do get a glimmer in the real world of what happens when an international law enforcement organisation does operate, and it’s not always pretty. Interpol, for example, was headquartered in Vienna in the 1930s, and was seized by the Nazis, at one stage being headed by Gestapo head Reinhard Heydrich. He was head of Interpol at the time of the notorious Wannsee conference that planned the “final solution”. There have been complaints in recent years of Interpol warrants being used by Putin’s Russia to harass political opponents of his regime. Yet there are unusual glimmers of international security cooperation. Germany, France and seven other European countries, for example, have a combined military unit called Eurocorps (See symbol left).
Curiously enough, the central plot of the new movie, which focusses on the US and USSR working together to stop weapons of mass destruction falling into the wrong hands is quite believable, even today. It is easy to imagine the US, Europe, Russia or China all working together to stop nuclear or biological weapons being developed by rogue nations or indeed groups, as they are with Iran. United Nuclear Control, Logistics and Enforcement, anyone?
And that’s the key to something like U.N.C.L.E. It only works if there is a common THRUSH-like enemy that the great powers feel is a threat to global stability.
“Seven Days in May” was made in 1963 and stars Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster in a story about a plot to overthrow the President of the United States. Lancaster plays a Curtis LeMay type figure who is appalled at the plans of the President (Played by Frederic March) to sign a deeply unpopular peace treaty with Russia. The movie is based on a book written by a journalist who, having interviewed a number of senior Pentagon figures, came to believe it was a viable proposition. Interestingly, President Kennedy (Who had removed a rightwing general, Edwin A. Walker, for openly advocating far right policies whilst a serving officer) supported the making of the film, permitting filming outside the White House, a courtesy the Pentagon refused to extend to the filmakers.
What makes the movie, as in so many great motion pictures, is the moral greyness. Lancaster’s general has no doubts about the rightness of his cause, and indeed has the support of the public, whilst Douglas, who agrees with the general’s analysis of the treaty, nevertheless remains loyal to the constitution. An Oval Office confrontation between the president and the general is a high point of the movie, putting all the issues bluntly on the table, and unlike so many modern stories, it paints Lancaster, the nominal baddy, as a man whose patriotism even the president accepts.
You’d be hard pressed to find a more cynical show about American politics than the two seasons and then cancelled series “Boss”, starring Kelsey Grammar. Grammar plays a Richard Daley style mayor of Chicago, and plays it very convincingly. Many say they struggle to watch Grammar without seeing Frasier Crane, but I find him a very watchable dramatic actor, and he certainly puts his acting chops on display here. He manages to be charming, impressive, cold, neurotic and terrifying in the role of Mayor Tom Kane.
I’m not surprised that it was cancelled as a show, because it lacks charm. if there is one word to describe it, it’s bleak. The style’s similar to Glenn Close’s “Damage”, which was another great drama but was just so full of morally bankrupt or compromised people and completely devoid of humour. This is the problem with “Boss”. Having known as many politicians as I have known in my life, I just can’t believe that everyone in public office is an amoral, self-serving, unsmiling prick. Is US politics, and Chicago politics in particular different? Possibly, but I doubt it. The show lacked a genuine human angle.
Like “House of Cards” that came after it, “Boss” works on the assumption that almost everybody in politics is on the make, including Kane’s icy wife played by Connie Nielsen in a proto-Claire Underwood. It also assumes that voters are very easily manipulated by pretty speeches and handsome candidates and soundbites. Indeed, it’s a very fashionable view in media circles (outside of political correspondents, who actually know better) and indeed with growing numbers of voters, but it just ain’t true.
Kane as a mayor is convincing as the corrupt bastard who makes the buses run on time and keeps the streets clean, and I can buy voters holding their noses and voting for that. But the other candidates seem like stuffed shirts talking in soundbites, doing that thing non-politicians think is possible: moving votes by really subtle actions. You know the sort of thing: “Don’t forget to mention that your cousin was Polish. That’ll get the Polish vote on board.”
“Boss” is a watchable show, but does nothing to dispel the feeling that democracy is warping into something very very ugly.
“The Irish RM”, which ran for three series from 1983-85, has unfairly been dismissed in recent years as a bit of paddywhackery about the clever English been driven to despair by the stupid ways of the pre-independence Irish of 1897 to 1905, when it is set. I have to admit that until I rewatched the series on DVD recently I held that view myself, based on vague memories of it on TV as a child.
Watching it now, however, reveals that the show was much more subtle and balanced in its portrayal of the two countries and their views of each other. Indeed, if one is being honest, it’s arguable that there is one only episode, its final one, where the English score a clear victory over the Irish. As Yates himself discovers, what looks to an outsider like a bit of Irish stupidity is almost always revealed to be hiding some scheme behind it.
Set in a rural Cork district in 1897, the series tells in comedy drama form the tribulations of Major Sinclair Yates (Peter Bowles), a decent if unimaginative new appointment as the resident magistrate. Yates finds that not only does he have to deal with the Machiavellian smoke and mirrors of the local Catholic rural poor, but also the Protestant Anglo-Irish ascendancy who are often hand in glove with the Catholics against the stiff rule of Dublin Castle.
The show was well received in its first broadcast, not only for its entertainment value but also for the fact that it was one of the few major TV drama productions filmed in Ireland in the mid-1980s, and provided a platform for a Who’s Who of Irish acting talent including Bryan Murray in a career-defining role as the roguish but lovable Flurry Knox, Niall Toibin as his equally roguish henchman Slipper and Anna Manahan as the terrifying Mrs Cadogan. Everybody else from Mick Lally, Noel Purcell, Frank Kelly, Joe Lynch, Alan Stanford, Lise Ann McLaughlin, Pat Laffan, Eamonn Morrissey, Brendan Conroy, Virginia Lawless, David Kelly, Jonathan Ryan and others all got their bit.
In fact, it’s quite possible that no one in Ireland over 40 has not met someone who was in it at some stage. Off the top of my head I can think of three people I’ve met who had roles in it. Retweet this if you’ve met one of them!
The humour is gentle, and there is a little bit too much chasing a goose around a garden type shenanigans for my liking, but it is a charming show with some top class performances. Worth another look.
Frederick Forsyth’s 1971 novel “The Day of the Jackal” has already secured its place in novel history. The concept, about right-wing French fanatics hiring a professional assassin to murder President de Gaulle in 1963 is daring for two reasons. The first is that it reads pretty much as a cold heavily detailed step by step almost journalistic expose of the plot rather than a thriller. The second is that we all know the outcome: President de Gaulle survived a number of assassination attempts, but died peacefully in an armchair in his home. In short, not as much a Who-Did-It as How-They-Did-It.
It shouldn’t work, yet it does, and brilliantly. So brilliantly in fact, that one finds oneself reading it again despite knowing the outcome and pretty much every twist in the story. Forsyth’s great success is his ability (honed as a foreign correspondent) to communicate great detail in a absolutely readable and enjoyable manner. For years later many believed it was a true story.
The book (and even more Fred Zinnemann’s 1973 masterpiece movie) also conveys nicely the Europe and France of its day. The shadow of the war still there, yet a continent on the verge of huge integration.
The movie is a stylish joy to watch. Cold and methodical, with minimal use of music, Edward Fox as the Jackal and Michel Lonsdale as the French police chief pursuing him steal the movie. A wealth of British TV stars of the 1970s fill the background.
Both the book and the movie are an absolute treat.