Monday, 12 March 2018

The Adventurer (1972)

It must have been music to the ears of Gene Barry “you play this guy ‘the Adventurer’, his actual name is nearly identical to your own, and he is a playboy…a millionaire…a famous film star that everybody loves, and women want him, and men want to be him, the public regularly mobs him for his autograph, and get this Gene…this guy is also a secret agent, and week in, week out you save the world…and we’ll pay you a shed load of money, and you and your family will get to travel all over Europe filming this thing”. To any slightly faded movie star with the slightest bit of an ego, it must have been an offer you couldn’t refuse…and by all accounts Gene Barry had more than just the slightest bit of an ego.

Before he signed on the dotted line to play The Adventurer though, Barry had been A. Burke, or more precisely Amos Burke, the crime fighting chief of police (who also happened to be a millionaire) in the hit American TV series Burke’s Law (1963-1966). The origins of The Adventurer can be traced back to Burke’s Law, especially its third season where apropos of nothing Burke decided to hand in his police badge and become a globetrotting spy with an array of gadgets at his disposal. An audience baffling career change that also necessitated a series title change to ‘Amos Burke- Secret Agent’. Attempting to muscle in on James Bond territory couldn’t save Burke from the axe in 1966 though. Presumably Lew Grade caught an episode of ‘Amos Burke –Secret Agent’ in the re-runs, and had a light bulb above the head idea to add Barry to his collection of once big time movie stars turned small screen action heroes and revive Amos Burke –Secret Agent in all but name for his new ITC series.

I first fell under the spell of The Adventurer in the early days of ITV4, a channel which in its infancy was deeply into airing all the old ITC shows. Now, I’m not usually one to subscribe to the ‘so bad, its good’ mentality, or riff on so-called bad movies or TV shows, but The Adventurer is one of those cases, like ‘Fire Maidens from Outer Space’ or ‘The Wife Swappers’, where I have to concede that this thing only works these days as an unintentional comedy. Trying to sell this to people as legitimately great television, will either result in me being driven deaf by the laugher of others, or beaten to a pulp by an angry mob. As an ITC series, it is decidedly below par, but as a source of unintentional comedy The Adventurer is the gift that keeps on giving, especially over how the show overfeeds Barry’s ego on an almost ‘La Grande Bouffe’ scale. Understand, I honesty…cross my heart and hope to die… do love The Adventurer, and yet I do love to mock the show as well, but it is an affectionate Eric Morecambe-Des O’Connor kind of mockery. Ideally the first thing you’d do after reading this is order the DVD release, The Adventurer is a disease this blog wants to infect you with, but be warned there is no known cure!!!

“He’s Everybody’s Pin-Up, Nobody’s Fool” claimed the ITC publicity department. Over the course of 26 episodes, Gene Barry plays Gene Bradley, star of such classic Hollywood movies as ‘The Man Who Could See Through Everything’, and not forgetting the 60s French art-house hit ‘La Vallee du Funnerre’. Beneath the showbiz veneer however, movie star Bradley leads a secret, double life as an international crime buster for the US government. A task he is aided in by Mr. Parminter (Barry Morse), a lovable, yet buffoonish British government official, as well as glamorous assistant Diane Marsh (Catherine Schell)…and briefly a younger, male assistant called Vince Elliot (Stuart Damon). The Adventurer seems to have been conceived along the lines of ITC’s other big show of 1972 ‘The Protectors’. A half hour time slot, some big business sponsorship (Brut had money in The Protectors, while Chevrolet sponsored The Adventurer) and the casting of a known American star alongside a supporting actress and actor who were comparatively unknown in the States.

Other than the fact that the character never visits Hong Kong, and isn't called Steve Mallen this is an entirely accurate advert for The Adventurer.

Even when watching The Adventurer on ITV4, at a time when this little remembered show had been the subject of almost no documentation, something did always strike you as being a little ‘off’ with the show, even if you couldn’t quite put your finger on what. Why were there several episodes were Gene Bradley is largely absent? Why did Diane keep disappearing and reappearing in the show? And why did the show struggle to keep hold of the actor playing the younger male assistant role…sometimes the character would be played by Stuart Damon…the next week he’d be played by Garrick Hagon…the next week he’d be played by Ed Bishop. Sure the name of character would change every time a different actor played him, but it is clear this was always intended to be the same character.

The reasons why The Adventurer turned into such a clusterfuck remained a mystery, that is until the 2006 DVD release, whose extras saw stars Barry Morse, Catherine Schell and Stuart Damon finally spill the beans on just what went wrong with the show. The Adventurer is one of those rare instances where I’d recommend watching the DVD extras before the actual series, it provides you with justifiable reasons why the show turned out such a malformation, and entirely absolves you of any guilt you might feel over turning Gene Barry into a subject of ridicule (an essential factor in enjoying The Adventurer these days). Barry, who was still in the land of the living at the time, declined to be interviewed for the DVD, and it is easy to see why, since the memories of his co-stars do portray him as quite the all-round douchebag. Whereas the onscreen Gene Bradley is on a mission to rid the world of evil doers, the off screen Gene Barry seemed equally driven to rid the show of his co-stars. Interviews with his co-stars paint Barry as a pampered, egomaniac with a peculiar fixation about his height, and appearing to be taller than he really was. No surprise then that 6’3’ Stuart Damon didn’t last long on the show, remaining in two episodes before his role was recast with a succession of increasingly shorter actors.


The predictably immodest sleeve notes of his 1964 album ‘Gene Barry Sings of Love and Things’ refers to him as “the tall and handsome actor” and indicate Gene’s height obsession had been going on for quite some time. Indeed once you become wise to the height ‘thing’ it becomes difficult to look at Barry’s acting appearances in the same light. Sure enough, scenes where Barry is standing and others are seated, scenes where Barry is in close-up and his co-stars are in the background, and an aversion to showing Barry in the same profile shots as certain, possibly taller actors are rife in The Adventurer, Amos Burke- Secret Agent, Burke’s Law and going right back to War of the Worlds. Heck, was the fact that even the Martians in that movie turn out to be shorter than Gene, at the actor’s own insistence? Picking up on this can be a pastime that is as insanely distracting as it is funny. Well, for us anyway, less so I suspect if you were there and the victim of a cranky, Hollywood legend who decided to make your life hell for the simple reason of being taller than him.

Even though the ‘making of’ documentary finds Damon looking back on incidents that are over thirty years old, and from the perspective of someone who has managed to have a successful career in spite of this experience, you can tell pain, anger and frustration still go hand in hand with this trip down memory lane. It’s amazing they talked Damon into being interviewed for the DVD, considering this must have been one of the worse moments of his career, if not his entire life. Maybe getting the Adventurer experience off his chest was cathartic for him, you certainly hope that was the case. The shit hit the fan the moment Barry laid eyes on Damon, in the DVD extras Damon recalls Barry staring up at him and asking “how the hell tall are you?”, when Damon’s jokey reply “6’3’ but I slouch allot on screen” failed to get a response from Barry he knew he was essentially finished on the show. Either due to embarrassment or cowardliness, none of the crew could bring themselves to tell Damon he’d been fired. Leading to the actor doing some detective work himself, spotting actors wearing costumes intended for his character, and discovering from the shows’ costume mistress that he’d been given the push, before confronting the show’s makers. While he left the show after two episodes, Damon’s contract tied him up in career limbo for a year “I almost went crazy that year”.

Co-star Catherine Schell fared slightly better, but a combination of being forced into ever smaller sized shoes by Barry, and pressure by Barry on the show’s producers to have her fired because of her height, meant her time on the show too would turn out to be limited. Unlike Damon however, the makers of the show obviously felt Schell wasn’t as disposable and at the behest of the moneymen, Schell was sneaked back onto the set to shoot several episodes while Barry was on holiday. It was all going so well, until a scriptwriter, unaware of the situation, wrote a scene with Schell and Barry together, forcing an unhappy reunion. “I remember when he was fluffing his lines, he shouted at me as if it was my fault, so I got my courage and shouted at him, I made him feel very small which he was anyway, regardless of what his publicity said”.

Plenty of drinks may be required to get through all 26 episodes of The Adventurer, but fear not Dennis Price will be along later in the series to keep us (and himself) topped up, so let the adventuring begin, and don’t forget to slouch allot, or else the ghost of Gene Barry might insist on you being replaced by a shorter audience.

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