Thursday, 16 August 2018

Touch of Leather (1968)

So, now that we’ve well and truly put The Adventurer to bed, let’s talk about leather… or rather ‘Touch of Leather’, an ultra-obscure 1968 British skinflick that has managed to fly under everyone’s radar for the best part of fifty years. A ‘Bachlor (sic) Film Production London’, ‘Directed by Olaf Ericson’, ‘Cast: Terry Duggan, Steve Peters, Joyce Lee, Peggy Pane, Wally Lamb and introducing Gino Gambrdella as Sam’. If none of those names ring a bell there is no need to be concerned, as all were likely pseudonyms… with one exception. Hiding behind one of those fake names is actually a well-known British comedy actor, but we’ll talk more about who ‘Mr. Gambrdella’ really is later on.

As to why Touch of Leather has been completely forgotten about until now. The answer probably lies in the fact that Touch of Leather has never been released in the UK, nor it seems was it ever intended to be. This is British sexploitation aimed firmly at the American grindhouse circuit, where it was released by the King of 1960s American ‘roughies’ Bob Cresse, the man behind such BDSM flavoured sexploitation as Hot Spur, The Scavengers, and most notorious of all Love Camp 7. Right from the get-go, it is readily apparent that Touch of Leather is a breed apart from those British sex films that had their eye on a domestic release and the British censor’s approval. While the likes of Her Private Hell, Monique and The Wife Swappers were positively bending over backwards to justify their brief nudity and sex to the British censor, Touch of Leather is far more unrepentant in its approach to sexploitation. The film’s parade of rape, cat fighting, female on female sadism and Soho striptease acts, quickly confirms that appeasing the British censor wasn’t among the filmmakers’ concerns.

Despite being far stronger meat than your common or garden British sex film, Touch of Leather is still part of a recognisable tradition of low-budget films that had one foot in the British crime genre and another in the sex genre. In that sense, it is an extreme relation to the likes of The Big Switch, Man of Violence, A Touch of the Other, and an especially close blood brother of Anthony Sloman’s Sweet and Sexy, to which it shares a great deal of similarities.

Like Sweet and Sexy, Touch of Leather features a tough but hopelessly na├»ve out of Towner who gradually becomes sucked into the Soho netherworld of crime and vice. Welshman Gary (possibly played by ‘Steve Peters’, not that that is likely to be his real name) has found himself seriously in debt, despite holding down a day job at the Soho strip club ‘The Red Mill’. Fortunately for the strippers, and all the women in the vicinity, Gary appears to be blessed with a Charles Bronson like ability to detect whenever a sexual assault is occurring. After dragging an overenthusiastic punter off one of the strippers, Gary barely has time to catch his breath before he is rushing down a back alley to the aid of another young woman Karen (Joyce Lee) who is in the process of being raped by two youthful hooligans. A grateful Karen suggests that Gary should capitalise on his ability to handle himself by turning to the world of Boxing, inadvertently leading him on a downward spiral.

Yes, Touch of Leather really is a sex film about boxing, unlikely bedfellows as they seem. Did anyone in America buying a ticket for an ‘adults only’ movie called Touch of Leather, really expect that title to refer to boxing gloves? Probably not, but if the idea of a movie about boxing sounds like a deal breaker, do stick around anyway. If you’re uninterested in boxing, so it seems were the filmmakers themselves. For a film supposedly about a man trying to make it as a boxer, Touch of Leather must spend all of about five minutes in the actual ring. Gary’s career change and burgeoning romance with Karen sees him moving in even more shady social circles than in his days at the Red Mill Club. It also sees him acquiring a few new enemies too. There is Laura (Peggy Pane) an older possessive lesbian who has been ‘keeping’ Karen. Despite Laura and Karen living together at…ahem…apartment number 69, and enough hints from Laura herself, the exact nature of the two women’s relationship is initially lost on dim-witted Gary. “She’s not your Mum is she?” Gary asks Karen in all innocence.

Gary’s boxing career also predictably brings him into contact with a few dodgy geezers, including the fast talking but thoroughly crooked Mr Sam (Gino Gambrdella). Sam soon has Gary eating out of his hand, by promising him the big time. In truth, Sam only sees Gary as his own meal ticket to fame and fortune, even if it comes at the expense of Gary’s life. Mr Sam’s main aim being to arrange a match between Gary and his prize fighter Lopez, even though Lopez is likely to make mincemeat of Gary in the ring.

The surprise celebrity casting here is the pseudonymous ‘Gino Gambrdella’, who in reality is Cockney character actor Tommy Godfrey, a mainstay of British film and sitcoms throughout the 1960s and 70s. The fact that Godfrey’s career was mostly played out in comedies, makes it doubly surprising to see him excelling here as such a vicious, manipulative character. Mr Sam is a balding, diminutive, authentic piece of East end criminality, who its easy to imagine could be the brother of Harry Flowers in Performance or the father of Bob Hoskins’ character in The Long Good Friday. Like those two, Mr Sam isn’t a man you want to be around when things don’t go right for him.

If you grew up watching Godfrey playing lovable Cockneys in sitcoms like Love Thy Neighbour or Mind Your Language, is it more than a little jarring to see him completely shed his comedy image here, playing it completely straight in a role that at one point calls for him to punch and kick a man to death. Touch of Leather is an example of how a low-budget film can sometimes offer a far greater role to the type of character actor who only tended to score bit parts in regular movies. Its difficult to think of another film that allocates Tommy Godfrey such a significant amount of screen time, or such an important role.

While the bulk of the film seems to be keeping Tommy Godfrey at arm’s length from the sexy stuff, and leads you to suspect that Tommy might not have realised just what kind of movie he was getting involved in, Touch of Leather shatters that illusion itself at around the 50 minute mark. Godfrey’s use of a fake Italian name in the credits suddenly makes perfect sense when, entering into the spirit of things, he strips off his shirt and begins humping away on top of one of his female co-stars. Mr Sam’s conquest being, strangely enough, Laura, the man hating lesbian who appears perfectly happy to let Mr Sam ride on top of her (“you’re a marvellous man….for a man”). After all, who really wants to be a lesbian when there is a love god like Tommy Godfrey around and raring to go.

In fairness, some of Laura’s dirty talk during this scene “you’re a beast…a filthy beast”, suggests she merely views putting out to Mr Sam as a means to getting him on her side, and that having sex with him is also a way of validating her own misandry. Whatever the motivation, an unholy alliance between Mr Sam and Laura is soon formed, with each benefiting if Gary dies in the ring. “I get my title fight and you get your little flower back” Mr Sam explains. Will the combined forces of boxing and lesbianism succeed in destroying Soho’s answer to Romeo and Juliet, or will true love triumph over corruption? Given that Touch of Leather was Britain’s export to the American ‘roughie’ market, a genre not exactly known for its upbeat, life affirming endings, you know which side the smart money is on.

Apart from Tommy Godfrey, the only other recognisable face here is Terry Duggan, an actor who was on the fringes of the film industry for several decades, and like Godfrey was generally side-lined to bit parts. One of his most prestigious movie credits was 2001: A Space Odyssey, where he played “ape attacked by leopard”. Duggan however is also familiar to fans of the sitcom On the Buses, where he played five small roles in the TV series, and another in the first On the Buses film. His most well-known OTB appearance being as the shopkeeper who sells Stan Butler a toilet. Duggan was also married to On the Buses star Anna Karen, who by sheer coincidence had herself been a stripper in London’s Panama Club, neatly tying into the themes of this film.

Seemingly on account of being the only actor who’d allow his real name to be used on the film, Duggan receives top-billing in Touch of Leather for the first and only time in his career. In spite of this prominent billing though, Duggan actually plays the secondary role of Pete, a boxing trainer who Mr Sam entrusts Gary to. Pete is by far the most relatable character in the film. Whereas Laura and Mr Sam are thoroughly evil, and Gary and Karen are himbo and bimbo personified, Pete is the one character who appears to have something of a conscience. Pete is more than a little disturbed by Mr Sam’s bullshitting of Gary, and Gary’s misplaced gratitude to Sam. For all these flashes of nobility though, you just know that Pete will never be able to work up the necessary heroics to truly stand up to Mr Sam. When Pete mentions to Sam that he has been thinking allot about Gary recently, Mr Sam immediately shuts down the conversation by barking back “what with?”

Tommy Godfrey and Terry Duggan are by far the two best actors in the entire film, in fact I wouldn’t be surprised if they were the only two actors in the film. The rest of the cast appearing to consists of Soho strippers playing themselves and late 1960’s glamour models trying to pass themselves off as actresses, a common practice in early British sexploitation. As Karen, female lead ‘Joyce Lee’ resembles 60s glam gal Maria Frost, and unfortunately her acting resembles that of Maria Frost’s as well. During a scene which calls for her to appear distressed as she tries to discover Gary’s whereabouts from the flaming queen who serves drinks at the Red Mill Club, her demeanour is instead so cheery and carefree that its hilariously inappropriate. As Gary, ‘Steve Peters’ is no better, and the wooden nature of his acting is only exacerbated by him playing the lead role. Peters certainly looks the part, the tall Welshman towers over the rest of the cast, and in terms of physicality convinces as a wannabe boxer. Although given how little actual boxing there is in this film, that casting methodology seems rather flawed here.

Fortunately Touch of Leather is a film that grows aware of its own strengths and weaknesses as it progresses. Tommy Godfrey and Terry Duggan gradually become the focus of attention, while Gary’s plight tends to get buried under the sheer weight of exploitation film incident, for which Touch of Leather has boundless energy for. Its as if the filmmakers felt obliged to live up to every dirty story an American audience had ever read about London…be it the Profumo Affair, the Kray twins, rip-off strip clubs, sex orgies…all manner of British kinkiness is brought to life for Americans here. True to its Soho setting, Touch of Leather is little more than wall to wall sleaze…with sex, violence and strip acts rarely far away. Just to illustrate how the narrative frequently takes a backseat here, a scene at Pete’s gym, meant to illustrate Gary’s boxing training, instead becomes distracted by two women who are wrestling about the floor of the gym. Later, when Pete and Gary are talking shop in a dressing room, the film suddenly cuts to the two wrestling gals again, this time as they are changing in an adjoining dressing room. Lingering on the bottom of one girl in particular, before begrudging cutting back to Pete and Gary talking about boxing again.

The strip-club scenes- while seemingly shot at a studio mock-up- still feel on the money in terms of period authenticity. Strip acts seem as if they are playing out in real time. The punters are a memorably sweaty, leery bunch, including one chap who keeps sucking a cigar in and out of his mouth in an obscenely phallic gesture. The real life ‘Red Mill Club’ is referenced several times over in the dialogue. Exterior work is limited to nervous, hand held shots of strip-clubs, and a lengthy view of store fronts filmed from a moving car, a sure sign that filming permits hadn’t been sought.

Of the exterior footage my friend David/‘Soundtrack68’, who knows more about London locations than I do, chipped in the following observations “it’s certainly the exterior of the old Red Mill Club on Macclesfield St. however the interiors look as if they’re studio shot due to what appears to be the very same stair-case appearing again later in a gym scene. Nice passing shot of the ‘Durex shop’ on Wardour Street too, prior to the unsavoury incident occurring in Damsey Place (which it obviously doesn’t)”. 

I’d be curious as to what extent Bob Cresse was involved in this film (though as he passed away in the late 1990s the answer is likely lost to time). Was this simply a film he picked up for American distribution? Or did he have some active or financial involvement in the production? Cresse was no stranger to British sexploitation, his Olympic International Films having released Arnold Louis Miller’s ‘London in the Raw’ in the US, with ‘additional footage’ shot by Cresse himself in order to bring Miller’s film in line with the stronger tastes of the American market. No such surgery was needed performing on Touch of Leather, which tellingly is very in touch with Cresse’s own tastes. Scenes of Laura slapping the bejesus out of Karen and the two other women wrestling about the gym, were especially likely to have found favour with Cresse. As an associate of Cresse once put it “Bob never met an actress he didn’t want to beat”.

Pseudonyms largely mask the identities of the people who made Touch of Leather. Fortunately a couple of people did leave their actual names on the film, allowing some clues as to its genesis. Producer and editor Gerry Arbeid (1934-2013) was a jack of all trades, who evidentially moved to Canada in the 1970s, where he worked on several Canuxploitation films, including as co-producer of the horror classic Black Christmas (1974). Much earlier in his career Arbeid had also worked on London in the Raw as well as an assistant to Michael Winner on Winner’s early, cash strapped movies for Harold Baim and the Fancey family. Connections which do make allot of sense, since Touch of Leather frequently comes across as a film made by someone who had been knocking around the bottom end of the film business and worked on many a B-level British crime movie, of which Touch of Leather feels like a sexually excessive version of.

Whats remarkable about Touch of Leather is that, for a film that is now fifty years old, it’s not that out of place with the low-budget British films of today. Its preoccupation with boxing, tough working class London and Krays era gangsters is still being echoed in the British crime and action movies currently gracing the shelves of your local supermarket. Consider Touch of Leather the long lost, tits and ass obsessed granddad of today’s supermarket Brit-crime movies….one that has only just come in from the cold… fifty years later. So, that’s Touch of Leather then, not so much a ‘lost’ film, but a film that nobody ever knew about for it to be considered lost in the first place…and proof that ‘Come Play With Me’ wasn’t Tommy Godfrey’s only British sex film after all. I hereby expect to receive a kicking from Tommy Godfrey in the afterlife…thats if Gene Barry doesn’t get there first.

(Special thanks to David/Soundtrack68 for the London info, and to John Charles for alerting me to the existence of Touch of Leather in the first place. Touch of Leather is available from Something Weird Video)

Sunday, 12 August 2018

The Adventurer (1972) episode 26: Somebody Doesn’t Like Me

So 26 episodes, around 50, 620 words and 28 blog posts later, we’ve finally reached the last stop for Gene Bradley, and I find myself in the likely position of having written more about The Adventurer than any other person. I don’t know if I deserve a medal or I deserve being put out of my misery. In all honesty though documenting the whole insane saga of The Adventurer has been tons of fun, and I can only hope these blog posts have managed to reflect that. The Adventurer is a mad, bad world to hide out and get lost in for a couple of weeks, and deserves to be the chief exhibit in the museum of 20th century egomania. Should such a museum ever open, I’d be happy to chip in towards a bronze statue of Gene Bradley.

Although every week has brought with it slight fears and anxieties that this is the week that I’ll dry up and run out of things to say, only a couple of episodes have proved to be such an obstacle. I’ll happily hold my hands up and be the first to admit that with ‘Love Always, Magda’ and ‘Deadlock’ you can tell I was floundering when it came to finding much entertainment value in those dud episodes. For someone prone to writers’ block though, writing up Adventurer episodes has proved remarkably easy. As if by magic hitherto unknown information…the existence of the Adventurer compilation ‘movie’ …the tie-in novelisation…has dropped into my lap, and kept fuelling this long, late night journey into the past…but now it’s early morning and we’ve reached our final destination. I’ll miss ‘em all…Mr Parminter…Diane…Brandon…Vince…or whoever was standing in for Vince that week.

Call it Stockholm syndrome but I’ll even miss Gene. Appalling as the behind the scenes stories get, I can’t really seem to work up any genuine hatred for the man. The lifelong lunacy over other actors’ height…those God-awful trousers…that whiney, room clearing voice that Catherine Schell does such a spot on impersonation of on the DVD extras…it’s all just too amusing a combo. Should anyone be under the illusion that Gene’s behaviour during The Adventurer was merely a brief moment of madness, I suggest you fast forward twenty odd years later to the 1994 revival of Burke’s Law, Aaron Spelling’s attempt to drag Gene into the Baywatch/Beverly Hills, 90210 era. The passing of time did little to diminish Gene’s ego…in one episode Gene accidently becomes a backing dancer in a music video for an Axl Rose type rockstar, in the next episode Gene is showing off his ice skating skills, another sees him KO a karate expert who is at least three times younger than him. Elliott Gould guest stars in one episode, only to have to sit down whenever he and Gene share the screen…old habits die hard. Burke, 90210 (as I like to call the 1994 version of Burke’s Law) has its moments, but it’s not The Adventurer, then again what is? I guess I’ll just have to accept that there is a Gene Bradley sized hole in my life that will never be filled.

It is not all over yet though, we’ve still got one more episode to go, the supremely appropriately entitled ‘Somebody Doesn’t Like Me’. One more episode, and one more trip to The Adventurer’s beloved docklands settings, where low-level criminal Johnny gets himself into serious trouble when he accidently overhears a group of men from the worlds of business and crime plotting to assassinate Gene Bradley. Narrowly escaping death (by hiding under a Chevrolet car) Johnny tries to capitalise on this information by attempting to sell it to Gene via Krista Magnus (Penelope Horner). Gene is rather sweet on Krista, but as she has scammed him before, senses another con and dismisses her claims that a price is on his head. Soon Gene discovers that Krista’s claims aren’t without foundation though, as attempts on his life start coming left, right and centre. “From now on I look twice at any guy with two hands in his pocket” Gene tells Parminter. Gene narrowly avoids death when a few nuts and bolts are removed from 88 Delta, forcing Gene to make an emergency landing. Gene can’t even visit a trendy hair salon without a hitman (Robin ‘Zeta One’ Hawdon) pulling a gun on him.

Drastic measures are called for, so Gene makes the decision to fake his own death by having Gavin pretend to shoot him outside of ATV studios (this series was certainly determined to go out in a blaze of self-publicity). The Adventurer then resurrects the long forgotten ‘Gene, master of disguise’ storyline as Gene goes about disguising himself as his own assassin and attempts to make contact with the men who put the hit out on him.

Words fail me when it comes to describing Gene’s very last disguise in the series. The best I can come up with is to ask you to imagine a mixture of Elvis and Charles Bronson (circa Death Wish 4 or 5), but with a put on raspy voice worthy of an obscene phone caller. Gene is so ‘method’ that he insists on wearing this elaborate get-up even when he is talking over the phone to the man who wants him dead, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the man on the other end of the phone can’t see what he looks like!! As tends to be a puzzling theme running throughout The Adventurer, Gene spends much time prepping and getting into his disguise, then never actually puts it to any practical use. Here Gene arranges a docklands meeting with the men who put the hit out on him, but prefers to hide in the shadows, rasping excuses to them from the darkness “I’ll stay here…I like to keep my eyes on you”. The moment Gene steps into the light, he removes his disguise, thereby negating any reason for him to be in disguise in the first place!!

Somebody Doesn’t Like Me benefits from some top drawer character actors as Gene’s final adversaries in the form of Reginald Marsh and an especially menacing Peter Vaughan. There is also no shortage of action or product placement. As well as the self-congratulatory ATV references, Gene’s silver Chevrolet makes a return from the dead, proving to be as indestructible as the killer in a slasher movie franchise. Somebody Doesn’t Like Me is a far darker Adventurer episode than we’re used to…its landscape is one of wintery nights, brutalist buildings, cheap rooms with dead bodies in them, corrupt businessmen, assassins for hire and with a less than whiter than white heroine in serial con-woman Krista. Britain just doesn’t seem like a nice, friendly place anymore. It is as if The Adventurer saw the writing on the wall for its type of TV action series, foresaw the shift towards the gritty cynicism of The Sweeney, Target, The Professionals, and made an eleventh hour attempt to move with the times.

Quite what qualifies as the very last episode of The Adventurer is the source of some confusion. The 2006 DVD release ends with this episode which does appear to be the last ever filmed. The IMDB, which seemingly has the episodes listed in broadcast order, has ‘The Good Book’ down as the final Adventurer episode, which was presented as the very first episode on the DVD release. While the US Amazon prime service has a different episode running order to both the DVD and the IMDB, and suggests ‘Mr Calloway is a Very Cautious Man’ was Gene Bradley’s grand finale.

Of all the potential final episodes of The Adventurer, ‘Somebody Doesn’t Like Me’ is the one that feels most worthy of that honour. The danger of death that hangs over Gene in this episode, his faked demise half way through, and the last scene in which Gene and Parminter discuss Gene’s obituaries, has about as much an air of finality as the series has to offer. Should it have ended that way? Personally I would have liked to have seen the series go out a la ‘Newhart’, with Amos Burke being woken up in 1960s Los Angeles by a blonde girlfriend and realising that the entirety of The Adventurer had just been a bad dream. That explanation is really the only way The Adventurer makes any sense. It might have gone down a little like this….

“Amos, Amos, wake up” 

“what, huh, hey you’re quite a doll…but honey I’m Gene…the movie star…the multi-millionaire… and since you’re pretty I’ll let you into a little secret…I’m a secret agent as well. You seem confused…you must have seen one of my movies… ‘The Man Who Could See Through Everything’… ‘La Vallee du Funnerre’… I’m Gene Brady…or is it Gene Bradley?” 

“Amos, quit acting all weird on me, you’re Amos Burke, the captain of the Los Angeles police homicide division and a millionaire…remember you go around Los Angeles solving all those kooky murder cases…. And remember you have that adorable little Filipino guy who chaperones you around everywhere in your Rolls Royce” 

“I’m a millionaire and a police captain? Gee, my life’s a funny thing…but it all seemed so real…I was in London…and I was a secret agent, movie star and millionaire ….and I went around all of Europe saving the world from these people who were like…giants!!!...but I dressed really weird…I don’t even want to think about those trousers…it was like I was meant to be a fairy or something”

“Gee, Amos, this Gene Bradley fella, sounds kinda interesting” 

“Yes, but he wasn’t as handsome as me, he certainly wasn’t as tall as me, that’s for sure. I also had an assistant …Vince, that was his name, only…his name seemed to change every other week and he kept getting shorter and shorter as well. Guess there must have been something wrong with him”

“You probably dreamt that on account of that guy you had working for you a couple of weeks back…he was named Vince…remember it really bugged you that he was taller than you…then you discovered he was just wearing those special built up type shoes that make people look taller...and you had him fired because of that” 

“Now that’s starting to make sense, one thing I can’t figure out though is why…wherever I’d go they’d always be these men in front of me…and they were holding these boards up with words on them, and these words were exactly what I was about to say…well not exactly because sometimes I didn’t read them correctly” 

“Gee Amos, those Brits sound an awfully weird bunch, imagine asking you to dress like a fairy” 

“And you know in Britain its considered impolite to refer to a woman as a ‘dame’ the correct term there is ‘bird’. Speaking of which there was this dame there, and she kept throwing men around and hitting them with her handbag” 

“Kinda like Honey West?” 

“Yeah, sorta like Honey, but she was Hungarian…and a giant too!!” 

“Amos, I know you don’t like taking advice from dames, but maybe you should lay off eating cheese at night. I wonder if this could all be because of that offer you got recently…remember that government guy ‘The Man’ wanted you to quit the force and work for the government as a secret agent. Maybe this is like…a warning”


“I don’t know ‘Amos Burke-Secret Agent’ has kind of a ring to it, don’t you think?” 

“No, it sounds kinda stupid, Amos. One thing that bothers me, Amos, when you were asleep you kept calling out a woman’s name, and saying things like ‘Parminter, just let me take you in my arms and kiss you’. I mean, do I have reason to be jealous? …what does this Parminter dame look like?”

 “Parminter? He…errr she…looked sort of like Rita Hayworth, but with allot less hair…but really doll-face you got nothing to worry about, you know you’re the only one for me…by the way, just remind me…what’s your name again?” 

Later that day Amos Burke stepped out onto his balcony with a prairie oyster in his hand to settle his nerves. Maybe becoming a secret agent wasn’t such a great idea after all, maybe he should just settle for the simpler things in life, like being a millionaire and a police captain. As Amos Burke surveyed the gorgeous sight of 1960s Los Angeles, he was met with a sense of relief and reassurance that Gene Bradley had just been a figment of his overworked, overactive imagination, and that there was no one in this town who was taller than he was - and that’s Burke’s Law !!!!

Thursday, 9 August 2018

The Adventurer (1972) episode 25: Make it a Million

It is hard to know just what you are going to get with each new Adventurer episode. In the last couple of weeks alone we’ve bared witness to a James Bond/Danger Diabolik imitation, a murder mystery, not forgetting an entire episode about chess. Being predictable isn’t an accusation you can throw in this series’ direction. Even having the same people at the helm isn’t a guarantee that the series won’t be veering in totally opposite directions. Whereas in last week’s episode director/actor Barry Morse revealed a far more serious side to the series, ‘Make it a Million’ is an altogether lighter experience. You have to hand it to Barry Morse, at this late stage in the series he’d have been forgiven for phoning it in as both director and actor, but none of the Adventurer episodes he directed suggest that this was the case. Mr Calloway is a Very Cautious Man being as much an outlet for his anger and his politics as Make it a Million is for his good natured and humorous side.

On account of how tonally all over the place The Adventurer had become by this point, I don’t think it would be unfair to draw comparisons to the output of Hammer films at the time. Hammer displaying a similar willingness to try their hands at just about everything during this period. Be it rebooting their Frankenstein series as a comedy, trying to muscle in on the Kung-Fu market, turning out sitcom spin-offs or adding soft-core lesbianism to their vampire movies. Admirably diverse as both The Adventurer and Hammer were, their eclecticism also seems evidence of a lack of direction and identity.

Make it a Million sees Gene returning from shooting a movie in the Himalayas, and looking as run down as you’d expect from someone who’d spent the last couple of weeks roughing it in the abominable snowman’s old stomping ground. Gene is sporting a hat not dissimilar to the one he wore in 1968’s Istanbul Express, where it’s primary purpose was seemingly to make Gene appear taller than his co-star John Saxon. Here a big hat is intended to grant Gene incognito status, since Gene is in too tired a mood to want to meet the fans. A purpose that this guise fails miserably to achieve, since almost everyone he bumps into at the airport recognises him as Gene Bradley. Not only that, but they also appear to be under the impression that Gene has been back in the country for a few weeks, and are looking forward to the soiree he is planning on throwing at his ‘new’ place in Surrey. All of which can mean just one thing, Gene has an impersonator.

We haven’t had a ‘two Genes for the price of one’ plot since ‘Double Exposure’, but whereas in that episode both Genes were working for the same side, here Gene is pitted against his lookalike. Behind the ‘fake Gene’ scheme is two unscrupulous businessmen Charlesworth and Merrick, played by future sitcom stars Paul Eddington (The Good Life, Yes Minister) and Dougie Fisher (the ‘other’ Man about the House). Their plan is to pass their fake Gene (actually a crony of theirs wearing a Gene Bradley mask) off as the real thing in order to get London’s high society to invest in a plan to build a new hi-tech plane. One that is able to land without the aid of an airfield. Quite how that would work in reality is anyone’s guess, but with the scheme seemingly having the Gene Bradley seal of approval, London’s rich and famous are queuing up to throw money at Charlesworth and Merrick. They would have gotten away with it, were it not for that pesky real Gene showing up and throwing a spanner in the works.

All the comedic possibilities of the ‘doppelganger’ premise are pursued. Real Gene impersonating the fake Gene makes a deliberate hash of pitching the scheme to investors, much to the eyeball rolling chagrin of Charlesworth and Merrick. Gene then pretends to having been mickey finned, leaving Charlesworth and Merrick to frantically try and hide his comatosed body from the rest of the party guests. Gene then gets knocked out for real by Parminter, who can’t tell the real Gene from the fake Gene. After being absent for several episodes Gavin (Garrick Hagon) also reappears, complete with a shockingly bad syrup o’fig on his head. Fortunately Gavin can tell the difference between the real Gene and the fake Gene, but only after Gene is able to confirm his identity with the magic words “Munich…Greta…Sauerkraut…and Arlene”. In the process leaving you to wonder just what debauchery has gone on between Gavin, Gene, Greta, Arlene and Sauerkraut ….and whether it has any bearing on why Gavin now wears a wig?

Make it a Million frequently borders on stage farce, complete with a mass brawl at the end which Morse shoots as pure slapstick comedy. All that seems to be missing is someone slipping on a banana skin. Surprisingly the actors who you automatically expect to be providing the comedy here- Paul Eddington and Dougie Fisher – instead play their roles completely straight, while Gene displays an uncharacteristic sense of humour about himself in this episode. “Wish I had a make-up man that good” Gene remarks of his clone. Indicating that he did tend to loosen up a bit, when Barry Morse was calling the directorial shots.

As to the identity of the ‘fake’ Gene Bradley? It’s a reveal that was probably side splitting if you worked in the film industry of the time, and completely lost on anyone who didn’t. When Gene finally unmasks the imposter and peels the face off the fake Gene, the man behind the mask is Alf Joint, a legendary stuntman who spent decades risking life and limb on movie sets by doubling for the likes of Richard Burton and Sean Connery. Casting Alf Joint as a man impersonating a famous star is a very funny in-joke, once you realise that is what Joint really did for a living. Of course it would have been even funnier had either Stuart Damon or Catherine Schell been under the mask (if only to see Gene’s reaction) but considering the amount of anonymous, backbreaking work Joint did over the years, who could really begrudge the man a rare moment in the spotlight.

Sunday, 5 August 2018

The Adventurer (1972) episode 24: Mr. Calloway is a Very Cautious Man

After 24 episodes, we know only too well what a cheeky rascal dear Gene can be. So it comes as no surprise then that this episode opens with him playing a prank on his old buddy Mr Parminter by cold calling Parminter and pretending to be a Cockney. The fact that this impersonation is right at the start of this episode means it really catches you off guard and sucker punches you with the mother of all bad accents. Gene actually might be trying to ‘do’ an Australian accent rather than a Cockney one, but I have to confess it is so terrible that I’m at a loss over just what accent Gene was attempting. Whatever the case though, be warned Gene really does out Dick and out Dyke, Dick Van Dyke when it comes to wonky accents.

As to why Gene is messing about with his old china plate Mr Parminter, well it seems Gene has decided to grass himself up. Cunningly adopting a Cockney/Australian accent, he informs Parminter that evidence incriminating ‘that film bloke Gene Bradley’ can be found at a certain London wharf. Under normal circumstances Parminter might have been dismissive about some anonymous caller trash talking Gene, but the magic word in that conversation is ‘wharf’, and my God we all know how much The Adventurer is sweet on shooting at those locations. So, it’s off to yet another stunningly unattractive docklands, where to his horror Parminter discovers that Gene appears to be in the business of shipping arms overseas. A crate bearing Gene’s ‘29, Westminster Mews’ address on it is revealed to contain dozens of machine guns. A discovery that sends the police straight round to Gene’s abode….remarkably really, considering that the number on Gene’s door suggests he actually lives at 20, Westminster Mews rather than number 29.

Incidentally the fictional ‘Westminster Mews’ is in reality Princess Gate Mews in South Kensington. Chez Gene was actually available for rental until recently, although sadly a silver Chevrolet and a bitchy, drunk butler weren’t part of the deal. More details here.

Mr Calloway is a Very Cautious Man was the second of three Adventurer episodes directed by Barry Morse, and like Morse himself comes across as well meaning and socially conscious. Morse the actor becomes a mouthpiece for Morse the director as Mr Parminter strongly rails against the arms trade and the unethical nature of the people who profit from it. As you might expect from an episode that was directed by an actor, Mr Calloway is a Very Cautious Man does have more dramatic weight and interest in character development than your average Adventurer episode. There is Gene’s fall from grace as he is arrested, hauled up in court and then lawyers up, as well as the disillusionment of Mr Parminter himself. The sight of a crestfallen looking Parminter as he briefly makes eye contact with Gene in court is far more emotionally affecting than you’d ever expect an Adventurer episode could be. This is a far more serious Mr Parminter than we’ve come to expect, as he wrestles with a sense of personal betrayal, whilst trying to act as Gene’s consciousness reminding him that “you just put the guns into terrorists’ hands”. I’d wager that this was an issue that Barry Morse really did have strong feelings about. This episode has a real fire in its belly when it comes to condemning arms dealing. Mr Parminter’s passionate disapproval of Gene’s ‘secret life’ being echoed by Gene’s surprisingly ethical defence lawyer Ingrid (Toby Robins) who suggests he should drop the arms shipment into the sea and reminds him that arms dealing is “a business most decent people shy away from”.

Of course, we the audience are slightly clued up on the fact that ‘Gene the arms dealer’ is all an act, but the onscreen characters are left in the dark for a lot longer as Gene goes about reinventing himself as a complete bastard. “I pleaded guilty to being a businessman, to making a profit” complains an unrepentant Gene. As part of his ruthless, uncaring capitalist guise, Gene gets all fashion conscious too. When the arresting officer tells Gene to get his coat, Gene prissily harrumphs “don’t you like this one” then later when he is asked to don dark glasses asks “do these do anything for me?”

Gene’s real motivation for passing himself off as an arms dealer is to entrap real arms dealers, who take the bait and reach out to him during his court case. The scalp that Gene is especially after being that of George Calloway (Freddie Jones) a notoriously elusive arms dealer who has managed to operate for several decades despite having been seen by few people. Laying eyes on Mr Calloway is no easy task, since…. Mr Calloway is a Very Cautious Man (characters say this episode’s title so many times that it effectively doubles as its unofficial catchphrase). Eventually a face to face meeting with Calloway is arranged, but only in the most cloak and dagger circumstances imaginable. Calloway’s contact with the outside world being through the law firm of Stopford and Graham, whilst in order to meet the man himself Gene has to be blindfolded and driven to a rendezvous.

Quite why it takes Mr Parminter so long to figure out that Gene is just pretending to be a bad guy again is anyone’s guess. Especially as Gene had tried the same scheme back in the episode ‘Target’ whose arms dealer villain hid behind a similar front. In ‘Target’ that front was a ‘legit’ business partner, while here it is a law firm. Mr Calloway even echoes the villain of Target, by having a secretary (Nancie Wait) who is played by a cast member of ‘Au Pair Girls’. Nancie Wait’s appearance in this episode taking the number of Au Pair Girls cast members who have appeared in this series up to five. In fact, the only ‘Au Pair Girl’ who didn’t get the call to be in The Adventurer was Me Me Lai, despite Lai being no stranger to ITC shows, having been in two Jason King episodes. Maybe it was the height thing that saw Me Me Lai being ruled out of an Adventurer role. After all, with Gene having now chased the Hungarian giantess off the show an appearance by a Burmese giantess was likely to have gone down like a lead balloon. Not that there is a great deal to envy about Nancie’s role in this episode, which mainly consists of looking confused as various people barge past her on the way to Calloway’s office. Compared to Gabrelle Drake and Astrid Frank, Nancie did rather draw the short straw when it came to Adventurer roles. Although as Nancie amusingly pointed out to me recently she did get paid a chunk of money for playing a secretary in The Adventurer, despite having zero secretarial skills at the time. Skills that she’d later acquire, when she actually became a secretary after giving up acting several years later.

This episode might have a bigger axe to grind about arms dealing than ‘Target’ but it is never at the expense of becoming dull and preachy. You can almost pin-point the precise moment that Morse realised it was time to move off the soapbox and deliver the goods action-wise. Indeed, Gene just seems to decide he was on a hiding to nothing with the arms dealer guise, and blows his cover by beating up Calloway’s heavies then demanding they reveal the whereabouts of Calloway’s hideout. As Parminter is joyously quick to point out “you’re starting to behave like the Gene Bradley I used to know”. Since the gloves are now well and truly off, the rest of the episode pits the now reunited Gene and Mr Parminter against Calloway’s heavies, who attempt to do away with them by fixing the brakes on Gene’s car. Considering the importance that plugging Chevrolets has been to this series, it comes as a shock to see Gene’s silver Stingray being trashed in this episode. A near blasphemous act by this series’ standards that only adds to the creeping sense that the end is nearly nigh for The Adventurer.

This episode’s heart is in the right place, and Mr Calloway is a Very Cautious Man does confirm the idea of Barry Morse being an all-round good egg. If I’m being honest though Mr Calloway is a Very Cautious Man is merely an effective filler episode. It’s far from being the worse the series has to offer, but it is not the type of episode you’d use as a way of getting an Adventurer novice hooked on the series either. Mr Calloway is a Very Cautious Man is also brought down a couple of notches by the distracting fact that on in least two occasions here, Gene’s mouth opens and yet the voice we hear belongs to a completely different person. When Gene tells Calloway “20 per cent in cash, the balance deposited into my Swiss account”, then later tells Parminter “I have to help sometimes…” Gene’s ‘voice’ is provided by a person who isn’t even trying to sound like Gene Barry. Indicating that someone screwed up the audio recording on this episode and Gene wasn’t around to re-dub his voice… either that or Gene is meant to have fallen victim to demonic possession during the course of this episode. Maybe Mr Parminter should have called out Max Von Sydow. It’s tempting to put the diabolically bad ‘is it meant to be Cockney or Australian’ accent Gene was sporting at the start of this episode down to demonic possession too…but c’mon you can’t blame Satan for everything.