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.

No comments: