Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Invisible Man TV Series, 1975

I bought The Invisible Man TV series on DVD in Dec. '07, but delayed watching it until I could view the new Man from U.N.C.L.E. DVD set that also came out in Dec. When it rains, it pours! Anyway, I finished watching The Invisible Man series a few days ago and thought I'd make some comments about it.

This was the first time I had seen this series. When it was broadcast in 1975, I was a young wife and mother of two little boys in a Dallas, Texas suburb. Why didn't I watch then? More on that later.

The Invisible Man was first shown on May 6, 1975 on NBC as a TV movie to be the pilot for the series. The series was picked up and the first regular episode broadcast on Sept. 8, 1975. The screen cap above is from this episode, The Klae Resource. Besides David McCallum as Dr. Daniel Westin, Melinda Fee played his wife, Dr. Kate Westin, and Craig Stevens played Walter Carlson, their boss and the head of operations (president? COO?) of the Klae Corporation, a well-funded think tank in Los Angeles. McCallum is the invisible man, also referred to as the Klae Resource throughout the series. Melinda Fee was a beautiful actress; she reminds me of a more attractive Kate Jackson (Charlie's Angels) and her character was intelligent, optimistic, and perky. David, besides being serious eye candy for the ladies, was a very effective lead in the show. He had no problem carrying it.

The premise established in the pilot movie is that the Drs. Westin are both physicists. Daniel has developed a machine that can make both animate and inanimate objects invisible. He decides to try it on himself (why do scientists on TV or in movies make themselves the guinea pig?) and eventually can't become visible again. He also discovers that his invention is being marketed by the Klae Corp. to the military/industrial complex which greatly disturbs him. So he destroys the machine so that it can't be used for war. Around this time he becomes invisible for good. Oops! Fortunately, he has a plastic surgeon friend who had just developed a substance that can be painted on his now invisible face, hands, and wrists to make a mask that is an exact copy of his face (and hands and wrists). Well, that was lucky! With the addition of contacts that actually look like glass eyes and wig to match his hair, voila!, he's back, until he wants to be invisible again. Strangely enough, even though Dr. Westin was initially so disturbed by the idea of the government using his invisibility process that he destroyed the machine, the whole series is based upon him being a secret agent for the Klae Corp. who will provide the funds so that he and his wife can rebuild the machine and possibly cure his invisibility. More often than not his assignments are from a government request.

In a few episodes, there are even double entendres, guaranteed to fly over the kids' heads, but make the adults smile. Watching an old TV show from 1975 is a bit like being in a time machine: the land yacht cars floating down the highway on soft suspension, the super wide ties, the plaid sports jackets, the preponderance of avocado green and harvest gold, and the leading lady's hair looking a bit like wings (but she did look awfully good in a Diane Von Furstenburg wrap tie dress - those are back, you know.) Some subjects seem very modern: at least three plots revolve around "Arab oil cartels" or energy independence. Others are very dated; two involve the Soviet Union.

I personally felt that David's hair was styled unattractively in most of the series. Early on, it was OK (see picture above). Later in the series, it was starting to look like the boy on the Dutch Boy paint cans:

This was also a hair style very popular for little boys about 3-5 years old at the time. Not a sexy look. Then by the end of the series, David must have been forbidden to get his hair cut:

Hair this long was more a counter culture thing. It worked fine and looked very sexy on him, albeit more disheveled, in the movie Dogs from around the same time when he was playing a rebellious college professor. (Maybe he was growing his hair out at that time in preparation for filming Dogs?) But it just doesn't look right with a suit and tie, IMO. Even on this show the hair worked better when he was wearing turtlenecks. Guess David has a face made for turtlenecks.

Here is a list of all 13 episodes with very brief comments:

  • The Invisible Man, May 6, 1975. Pilot TV movie written by Steven Bochco.
  • The Klae Resource, Sept. 8, 1975. Finding a Howard Hughes type man. Written by Steven Bochco.
  • The Fine Art of Diplomacy, Sept. 15, 1975. Art smuggled out of the U.S. Capitol, "especially bad during the Bicentennial Year!"
  • Man of Influence, Sept. 22, 1975. Fake medium.
  • Eyes Only, Sept. 29, 1975. Woman has photographic memory.
  • Barnard Wants Out, October 6, 1975. Scientist and (eventually) daughter want to defect from USSR. Shades of Gurnius Affair: watch David dressed in a Soviet army uniform.
  • Go Directly to Jail, Nov. 3, 1975. Undercover federal drug agent prepares for a heroin bust.
  • Stop When the Red Lights Flash, Nov. 24, 1975. Crooked small town judge.
  • Pin Money, Dec. 1, 1975. Walter Carlson's kindly, gambling aunt embezzles money from the bank where she works.
  • The Klae Dynasty, Dec. 8, 1975. Owners of the think tank inter-family feud.
  • Sight Unseen, Dec. 15, 1975. Blind girl is kidnapped.
  • Power Play, Jan. 19, 1976. Nut job tries to take over. Whole episode is in lab.
  • An Attempt to Save Face, Jan. 26, 1975. Old Soviet leader wants Dr. Westin's plastic surgeon to give him a face lift.
Since this show was on only seven years after MFU went off, it was fun to watch for character actors who appeared in this and MFU. Even though there were only 13 episodes, there were quite a few. Barry Sullivan (Seven Wonders of the World) was in The Klae Resource. Two MFU "scientists" are in Sight Unseen, David Opatoshu, the one who tried to mummify Illya in Alexander the Greater and Harry Davis, the one who invented the youth machine in Bridge of Lions. It sounded like Mr. Davis' voice was dubbed though. He also appeared in Thor Affair. Nehemiah Persoff (Master's Touch) is in Bernard Wants Out. Pat Harrington, who was in three MFU episodes is in Go Directly to Jail. And, Roger C. Carmel, who was in two MFU episodes is in Stop When Red Lights Flash.

I'm not sure how prevalent the use of blue screens or, now, green screens were at that time to make things disappear on screen, but, if not for that technology, this series couldn't have been done. David had to don a skin tight full body suit and/or mask to film the shots where he is invisible.

This had to be at least fairly uncomfortable, but David always seemed willing to do uncomfortable, unusual things if the part called for it. The series certainly made use of the premise. He was often cold because he had become invisible in order to do the spying required for the case at hand. The implication of this, of course, is that he's running around naked. Commando when dressed too, since his body disappears as soon as he pulls his pants down; no briefs to slow him down. ;-) I bet David never imagined he would be unzipping and pulling his pants off in front of a beautiful actress so often without being in a porn movie. And in the earliest hour of prime time at that! Needless to say, his undressing and dressing led to many bits of dialog built around his unique situation.

Why didn't the series make it? It's hard to say how well the premise of this show was thought out. The fantasy, sci-fi elements were probably meant to appeal to kids, especially little boys. I believe the problem was with the scripts. They were variable, to say the least. Years before Hill Street Blues, LA Law, and NYPD Blue, Steven Bochco was co-creator of The Invisible Man. The scripts written by him were the best, IMO. These were the pilot movie and the first episode, The Klae Resource. After these two episodes it looks like Bochco must have left the series to sink or swim and it sunk. If Bochco episodes were the best, I think Pin Money and Stop When Red Lights Flash were the worst. Those two, especially Pin Money, are so silly, it's almost painful to watch. The better episodes, like Go Directly to Jail, have fairly believable plots and some interesting dialog.

NBC gave it a terrible time slot, Monday night at 8PM. It was on opposite Rhoda at 8PM and another new Mary Tyler Moore Show spinoff, Phyllis at 8:30PM on CBS. These were two powerhouse shows, both in the top ten for the season. (Yes, I confess, I watched them.) And, on top of that, these two shows were the lead in for All in the Family at 9PM which was the number 1 show for the entire TV season . Another negative factor, of the three TV networks at the time, NBC was the weakest at that point. Both CBS and ABC were flying high. Taken all together, this spelled disaster for The Invisible Man. And yet, even in very recent years, it has shown up on cable in the US, labeled "brilliant, but canceled" and, from what I've read, was shown in the UK up to 1990. I think with a different time slot, marketing support from the network, and better scripts, it could have made it. But, unfortunately, that didn't happen.

As for me, I have only the barest recollection of this series. The pilot TV movie aired three weeks after my second child was born. Things were hectic, I was busy, and I don't think NBC must have marketed this series much. Or if they did, they weren't trying for the right demographic. If they had shown more publicity photos of David and played up the adventure angle and the romance angle between him and his beautiful fellow physicist wife, I would have been interested. At this point, I'm just happy I finally got to see the series.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

MFU: The Adriatic Express Affair

At the beginning of the year, after many members of the Channel_D Yahoo group had received their complete series DVD set of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., it was decided that the group would start discussing each episode, one per week, starting from the beginning of the series and continuing in chronological order. This is great except that my favorite character, Illya Kuryakin, is either in few scenes or not in some of the early episodes at all. So, over on the Channel_M Yahoo group devoted to David McCallum's work, I suggested that we start watching the episodes using our favorite Illya centric ones as the criteria for viewing selection (and no need to spare the fawning comments about Illya either!). We soon agreed upon a method of picking one person each week to start the discussion of one of their favorite episodes they had listed in the database set up for this on group website.

I was fortunate enough to be selected a few weeks ago to start the discussion of one of my favorite episodes, The Adriatic Express Affair, from season two. I'm reposting what I wrote here below. I thought it might be nice to add some screen caps in the appropriate spots throughout my review. I think you'll be able to see why I set up this blog when you see the length of my review. :-)

There is so much I love about this episode I hardly know where to start. The setting is wonderful - the mystery and intrigue of a train speeding through a cold New Year's Eve on the Continent. All the characters are confined to the train. We're allowed several rather cramped sets that reinforces the sense of confinement. No driving around on the unpaved roads of MGM's backlot! It just gives it a classier feel. And, unlike some episodes, there's nothing to give away the fact that they aren't on a train traveling from Vienna to Venice.

Fascinating characters this time too. Madame Nemirovitch is quite sybaritic as she names various pleasures she enjoys and slyly adds at the end "and all the other pleasures too." She has enjoyed her life of wealth and adventure so much, she seems a bit depressed, knowing she has aged and is no longer the femme fatale she once was. But who would have thought that, cleverly disguised in polite dinner conversation, we would learn that she had thought up Thrush "43 years and 11 months" ago!? Who would suspect the female head of a cosmetics empire as being the brains behind such an evil organization as Thrush?

Juliet Mills, Hailey Mills older sister, was perfectly cast as the (literally) innocent 19 year old shampoo girl who is an accidental passenger on this trip and a big part of the action. She maintains just the right mix of coyness and righteous indignation throughout the episode.

But I've saved the best for last: the blond model. We never learn her name and I don't think she ever learns Illya's. She is the perfect quintessential fashion model. I hadn't really thought of that type going back that far, but after Mary Quant, swinging London, etc., it comes as no surprise she would be the beautiful, flighty party girl. She never seems to grasp what's going on, but certainly helps out when she's needed. And she's the perfect one night stand for Illya. ;-) She's not a bit shy and, once she sets her sights on him, she's gonna get him.

That's probably what I like best about this episode. Illya gets the beautiful girl, but parts of it are done so quietly, you really have to look for it. They start flirting in the bar, over drinks and a coy conversation about long distance phone calls. The next time we see her she opens her compartment door when Illya, Napoleon, and the chemist are in the hall. She mock complains to Illya about his long distance call taking "forever" and that she wanted to talk to him about it, pulling him into her compartment and closing the door. No argument from Illya, no complaint from Napoleon that IK has work to do, just quiet acceptance. And we don't see Illya for another two scenes! Hmmm, wonder what could be going on in that model's compartment? ;-)

Soon after Illya reappears, he and Napoleon are on the top of the train again, being cat burglars going to Madame Nemirovitch's compartment from the outside. (Even to be set up on the lot, those top of the train scenes were edge of your seat thrilling.) And, when NS mentions Illya's cat burglar skills, how many men do you know that carry white rope in the back of their trousers just in case they are called upon to climb to the top of a moving train - at night - in winter? Although we see Illya holding the rope in their compartment early in the episode, I found that a bit unexpected. I absolutely loved the scene where Illya has slipped off the top of the train and is hanging upside down in front of the model's window. She then starts kissing him through the glass, in different spots every time his head moves,lol. This girl has got it bad for him! Incidentally, very nice view of David from behind as he drops down in front of Madame N.'s window.

A bit later when Illya and Napoleon are being held in the train's makeshift jail cell comes the best known scene of the episode as they set fire to the wood floor with the help of brandy and a book of matches. This is where the model helps the most, coming in at just the right time, finding Illya and saying, "There you are! I thought you were coming back." After she give them the brandy to pour on the floor and Illya tells her to go get some bottles of soda, we get the classic line from Illya that Ellen has on her site: "I burst into flames with very little encouragement". OK, what "Illya chick" can watch him saying that and not just melt? During this scene, Illya is holding the model's shoulders through the bars in a familiar manner and before she leaves to get the soda, the camera is behind David's head with is head angled toward hers in such a way as to imply they were kissing.

Jumping to the end, we see Illya and the model and NS and Eva sitting across from one another in the dining car on New Year's Day from outside the train with snow blowing past. The model is dressed in her traveling clothes again as is everyone else. As they share champagne, Illya seems very comfortable with the model, laughing, smiling, offering her more champagne. Don't you just love seeing him like that? The model now seems very proper, subdued, and sophisticated as she offers Illya champagne from her glass which he accepts. And with a slight cough from Illya as a reaction to what NS has just said, the episode ends.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Me, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and David McCallum

When I was a teen-ager I became a big fan of the TV show The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (MFU) and most especially of David McCallum who played Illya Kuryakin. Along with millions of other girls, he was my teen crush during the mid '60s. Sadly, the show was on the air for only 3½ years. When the show went off, I was a junior in high school, preparing for my SATs and thinking about college. The show and David McCallum became a very fond memory of my teen years for me.

Because I've always lived in "fly over" parts of the US, David never came to a city where I lived when he was doing live theater work and I didn't remember hearing of any of his movies. So I lost touch with his career. Fast forward to 2006. I started watching NCIS, the CBS program in which David (his fans always seem to refer to him by his first name when talking about him) plays the forensic pathologist. That man has aged very well! Then, a few months later in the summer while channel surfing, I find The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is on every Wed. night on a cable channel. Wow, this was the first time I had seen these episodes in over 40 years. I loved it! And I loved seeing David again as young man in his '30s. (I think I know now why I was attracted to my husband so quickly. I definitely see physical similarities to David in him, especially when he was young. Once while I was looking at some informal photos taken of David and another NCIS star at some event, my husband looked at my monitor and said, "He looks like my cousin Bill." So, even a casual observer can see it, I guess.)

After starting to watch NCIS and MFU, I looked around on the Internet to see what I could find. What a thrill it was to find groups of fans who never let MFU or David or Robert Vaughn (Napoleon Solo) fade away! So I joined the Channel_D Yahoo group, devoted to MFU and the Channel_M Yahoo group, devoted to the career of David McCallum. Wow, I had a lot of catching up to do, but, boy it's been fun! As a fan, I'm not sure what I would be called. I am a "first cousin" because I saw the shows when they were first broadcast in the '60s, but my fandom lapsed in those intervening years. Fortunately, I came back at the most opportune time for MFU fans ever. The entire MFU series with many hours of extras was released on 41(!) DVDs by Time-Life in Dec. '07. Truly a great time to be a MFU fan!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Welcome to my blog!

I've created a blog, finally, so that I can write my thoughts, my musings, without taking up a lot of space on my favorite discussion boards. I hope this will be helpful so that when people see a post by me come into their email inbox from a Yahoo Group they won't groan at the thought of reading my long ramblings. But for anyone who does take the time to read my ramblings I hope you enjoy them. Thanks for visiting my blog!