Monday, 11 June 2018

The Adventurer (1972) episode 15: Action!

Just as only Joan Crawford could control Trog, so it seems only actor Barry Morse could exert a similarly calming influence on Gene during the making of The Adventurer. It didn’t take long for Morse to pick up on the massive ego trip Gene was on “he conceived the impression that he was the most important person on this planet…but that opinion may perhaps have been restricted to just himself”.

While many Adventurer crew and co-stars were destined for a less than harmonious relationship with Gene, Morse realised early on that the best…if not only…way to deal with Gene was to play along with his delusions of grandeur. Evidentially the makers of the show took note of the rapport between the two, and as a result handed over the directorial reigns of the show to Morse for three episodes. “It soon became apparent that many of the directors we had on the Adventurer series, couldn’t or didn’t get along very well with Gene Barry” recalled Morse on the 2006 DVD release “and so the producer said to me ‘do you think you would be able to direct some of these shows, because you obviously seem to be able to get along well with Gene’”. Morse’s recollections of how to direct Gene in the show are particularly priceless “I started to deal with Gene Barry in much the same way that I would have dealt with my infant grandchildren, first thing in the morning I would say ‘Oh Gene, hello, how handsome you look today, gosh you are a good looking fellow aren’t you. Well now Gene, I tell you what we’re going to do, we’re going to shoot a scene in this room, and that means you have to come in the door. Yes, how do you do that? I hear you cry...well I’ll tell you, you go to the outside of the door and you get up…no, if I were you I wouldn’t use that hand…I’d use the other hand because it would be easier for you to get in’ ...and I’d go through things like that and in no time at all of course I had him doing what I wanted him to do, and he seemed to be reasonably happy doing it.”

When an actor gets to direct episodes of the TV series he is also starring in, that story doesn’t always have a happy ending. Famously when Robert Vaughn talked the ITC powers that be into letting him direct an episode of The Protectors, the resulting once seen never forgotten travesty- featuring Vaughn’s business partner in a prominent role and a plot centred around the chase for a defecating dog - makes the absolute worse of The Adventurer look like gold dust sprinkled onto 16mm film in comparison. While The Adventurer isn’t a series renowned for making wise decisions, putting Barry Morse into the director’s chair may well have been one of its finer ‘light bulb above the head’ moments. Morse does the best with the poisoned chalice that he’d been handed, and despite being an infrequent director (his other directorial credits include an episode of The Fugitive and a TV movie adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s The Ugly Little Boy) there is little to separate his work on the show with that of such experienced old pros as Val Guest and Cyril Frankel.

The only Adventurer episode to have been written by Brian Clemens, Action! sends Gene off to Scotland, via a gruelling late night train journey. Since Gene arrives at Waverly Station in a less than presentable state he is soon hustled away into a waiting taxi by his entourage. Thus avoiding the masses, who of course have turned up in their droves to welcome the star. Gene is all cut up about letting the fans down “I hate disappointing my fans, but overnight rail journeys are a little much”. This however turns out to be the least of his problems as the people posing as his entourage are actually an ‘anti-militant group’ who plan on brainwashing him. Cunningly passing themselves off as a bunch of luvvies, the anti-militant group whisk Gene away to a Scottish castle where they manage to convince Gene they are making a movie with him as the star. In reality they are actually prepping Gene to assassinate his friend General McCready (Cec Linder) by having Gene rehearse a scene from the movie where he assassinates a general, over and over. If that wasn’t enough to blur fantasy and reality in Gene’s mind, they are also using some kind of brainwashing machine on him. Not just any old brainwashing machine either, but one with lots of groovy, far out flashing lights, like the one used on Candace Glendenning in Tower of Evil….guaranteed to blow your mind or your money back (minus P&P costs).

What with Mr Parminter and the Scottish police in the dark as to Gene’s whereabouts, and Gene programmed to kill the general under the mistaken belief he is just acting in a movie, an unlikely heroine emerges in the form of Ann Somerby, a freelance journalist commissioned by the Gene Bradley fanclub to document his Scottish visit, who inadvertently stumbles upon the brainwashing plot. There can’t be many TV action series that haven’t done that plot where the main character gets brainwashed, resulting in a race against time to snap them out of it before they commit some horrible deed. The timing for The Adventurer turning to that old chestnut can’t be faulted though. Finally an Adventurer storyline comes up with a justifiable reason for why Gene is behaving like a zombie. Gene’s haggard appearance and confused state in this episode really does nail the demeanour of someone who has been violently woken up from a long nap.

As the only player in The Adventurer story who knew how the push all the right buttons when it came to its leading man, Morse cannily piles on the type of adulation Gene craved, taking that aspect of the show to new heights of ridiculousness with the Ann Somerby character. Wherever Gene goes, Ann follows…does she ever sleep? It doesn’t appear so, as she follows him around everywhere, recording every minute detail of his existence into her trusted dictaphone “subject is on castle terrace, drinking what appears to be coffee…or maybe tea”.

Morse probably didn’t have to look far for inspiration in this episode, with the anti-militant group given the unenviable task of working with a barely coherent actor who seems to have little understanding of what is going on around him “what is this a movie…you…me…she…we’re on a movie together?”. Ann Somerby’s O.T.T. running commentary on Gene’s activities also mirror the tongue in cheek flattery that Morse worked into the daily routine when directing Adventurer episodes. Some particularly rib-tickling Ann Somerby outbursts include “subject is wearing blue leather suit and patterned shirt…and is looking very, very handsome” and “Gene Bradley the actor has allot to learn from Gene Bradley the man…AND WHAT A MAN!!!”.
Ann’s permanently jolly demeanour and unresolved daddy issues make her come across as a mixture of a Blue Peter presenter and Sandra Bernhard’s character in The King of Comedy. The blasé attitude displayed towards Ann in this episode does serve to remind you that The Adventurer dates from a period when stalking wasn’t taken at all seriously. It is hard to believe you could do this kind of story these days without casting a more critical eye over Ann’s obsession and their consequences. As a product of more naïve times though, The Adventurer simplistically depicts Ann as an intrepid Nancy Drew type whose behaviour is seen as sweet and more than welcomed by the object of her affections.

“Now I see it clearly. My whole life is pointed in one direction. I see that now. There never has been any choice for me!”

While Ann is star struck and Gene is brainwashed, your average cineaste is likely to experience a sense of deja-vu about this episode, due to it mostly having being filmed at Knebworth House. A lavish Tudor stately home, which has also served as a filming location for Horror Hospital, Sir Henry at Rawlinson End, Keep It Up Downstairs…and other films that Knebworth House is too embarrassed to mention on its website. It is a location that amusingly connects this Adventurer episode to far more deviant movies. Ann spies on Gene from the gates of the house, where Dennis Price had his head cut off in Horror Hospital, while Gene holds conversations on the very steps that Tony Kenyon and Mary Millington cavorted on in Keep It Up Downstairs. Needless to say, if walls could talk, I’d love to hear what Knebworth House would have to say about all the carrying on that has gone on there over the years.

Of course it wouldn’t be an Adventurer episode without the height of at least one cast member winding Gene up the wrong way. The recipient of that honour this week being Alexandra Bastedo…because why should Stuart Damon be the only cast member of The Champions to suffer the Gene experience? Cast as Lola Wells, a member of the anti-militant group who masquerades as Gene’s leading lady, at 5’6’’ Bastedo’s height shouldn’t really have been much of a problem. The episode itself however suggests otherwise. In the scene where they are first introduced, Gene is standing while Bastedo is seated. In their second scene together on the steps of Knebworth House, Gene is standing on a higher step than she is, and in their final scene together Bastedo is required to stand in a ditch while in Gene’s presence.

A slight disappointment to Action! (and rather ironic given that title) is the decision to keep the final confrontation between Gene and the anti-militant group largely off-screen. Just as the fisticuffs begin, with Gene slapping a bald man around the face and remarking “you’re not my type”, we cut elsewhere, and when we return seconds later all members of the group have been KO’ed by Gene. Was filming a punch-up outside of Barry Morse’s comfort zone or (more likely) was Gene just not up to it? The aftermath is though amusingly cartoonish, with the room littered with the bodies of Gene’s failed opponents. Things get a bit Irving Klaw as well, with Ann Somerby sitting on top of and restraining Alexandra Bastedo “we’re triumphant after one dolly of a fight”.

As the forces of left-wing terrorism are defeated and Mr Parminter is on hand to clean up the mess, all that is left for Gene to do is whisk a mentally unbalanced woman who is half his age off to Blackpool for a dirty weekend. At least that seems to be the plan, judging from what can be deciphered from Gene’s mumblings to her about how he believes in free love and Blackpool. It goes without saying that hearing Gene work a shout out for Blackpool into an Adventurer episode is as weirdly incongruous as Telly Savalas singing the praises of Brum in ‘Telly Savalas looks at Birmingham’.

While Action! has a happy ending, one that sees Gene and Ann heading off to a North West seaside town to rehearse ‘Last Tango in Blackpool’, this is an episode somewhat tarnished these days due to Ann Somerby’s subsequent behaviour. In 1973 she was effectively blackballed from journalism, after she let down all the wheels of Lew Grade’s Rolls Royce in retaliation for him failing to commission a second series of The Adventurer. Even more infamous was her failed 1981 attempt to assassinate US president Ronald Reagan, in an ill-advised attempt to impress Gene Bradley. She was quickly arrested on the scene whilst excitedly yelling “I did it for you Gene” into a Dictaphone. Ann Somerby was released from prison in 2016, Gene currently blocks her on Twitter.

“The idea had been growing in my brain for some time: TRUE force. All the king's men cannot put it back together again.”

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