Posts Tagged ‘Robert Culp

07
Aug
11

The Culp Collection #2: Last of the Good Guys (1978)

Denis Dugan and Robert Culp in Last of the Good Guys

This week’s entry into The Culp Collection, my irregular trawl through the various Robert Culp TV movies which have appeared on YouTube over the last year or two, is Last of the Good Guys, a 1978 effort from Columbia Picture Productions.

The 1970s saw Culp star in a raft of made-for-television films, with the genre a popular one for US TV networks keen to give their audiences 90 minute movies that they didn’t have to leave their homes to watch. Actors such as Culp, who was still appearing in the odd theatrical release, were still big draws for TV viewers, and he became a regular in films such as 1973’s A Cold Night’s Death and Last of the Good Guys.

This time around Culp is cast as the establishment figure of Sergeant Nichols, a no-nonsense cop running an LA precinct of oddballs which includes Dennis Dugan’s Officer Johnny Lucas and Larry Hagman (who’s given Special Guest Star billing) as Sergeant Frank O’Malley. When we meet him, O’Malley is close to retirement, which immediately sets alarm bells ringing in the minds of experienced/jaded TV viewers.

We soon discover that O’Malley has been ill for a while, but doesn’t dare tell anyone in case his pension is affected. As this film aired in the same year as the first season of Dallas, in which Hagman became a household name around the globe as JR Ewing, I’m assuming the two were filmed around the same time, but this is a very different Hagman to the oil tycoon. Hagman ensures O’Malley is a sympathetic character and it’s easy for the audience to feel for him.

It’s tricky to explain the plot without giving away what could be considered a spoiler, but what happens next is the crux of the film; look away now if you’d rather not find out. Still here? OK, well O’Malley dies, leaving his wife and children to fend for themselves, until Lucas decides that he’s going to help his old buddy by pretending he’s alive right up until his retirement date, by which point he’s guaranteed a pay-out.

Knowing that Nichols won’t agree to the scam, Lucas convinces his colleagues to set up an elaborate set of tricks and ruses which essentially mean O’Malley doesn’t attend morning roll calls while Nichols slowly begins to twig that his men are up to something.

Continue reading ‘The Culp Collection #2: Last of the Good Guys (1978)’

23
Jul
11

The Culp Collection #1: A Cold Night’s Death (1973)

Following the death of Robert Culp in 2010, I made it my mission to try and watch more of his performances in films and on TV. It’s taken a while but I’ve finally got around to it, mainly thanks to YouTube and the appearance of a number of Culp TV Movies on the video channel.

To kick things off I started with A Cold Night’s Death (also known as The Chill Factor), directed by Jerrold Freedman and first shown on ABC Television on 13 January, 1973.

Culp stars as Robert Jones, a research scientist sent to a snowy research base along with colleague Frank Enari (Eli Wallach) when contact is lost with a Doctor Vogel. Snow storms have prevented previous attempts to reach the Doctor, and as we hear in a voiceover at the start, radio transmissions from Vogel had suggested that he’d been in discussions with Napoleon and Alexander the Great.

Flying in by helicopter, Jones and Enari soon discover the frozen body of Vogel sitting at the radio transmitter, with no obvious signs of anything suspicious. The pair bring with them a monkey for research purposes, a companion for the other primates being tested for the US space race.

From here the story begins to enter psychological thriller territory, with the two scientists trying to understand what happened to their predecessor while undertaking their own work. Needless to say, a type of cabin fever descends on the men, leading them to question each other about strange goings on during the night. Meanwhile, the monkeys quietly watch and listen.

It’s a simple tale that’s given a sheen of quality due to the performances of Culp and Wallach, while Freedman, a veteran of TV Movies, manages to find some interesting angles in the confined set.

While YouTube is hardly the best place to watch a film, 10 minute installments not the best viewing experience, it’s better than nothing and A Cold Night’s Death is well worth 90 minutes of your time.

14
Feb
11

Remembering Stephen J Cannell

“So that’s it. Cue the end music. Roll the production logos. Bring up the final end card and we’re at: The End.” The final words in Stephen J Cannell’s last novel, The Prostitutes’ Ball

There’s been something missing on this blog for a while now, something I’ve been acutely aware of but which, thanks to time pressures, I knew I wouldn’t be able to do justice to: a tribute to TV producer Stephen J Cannell.

It was last September that the man who created/co-created/produced/wrote/directed series such as The A-Team, The Rockford Files, Hunter, The Greatest American Hero, Stingray, Wiseguy, The Commish and many, many more died at the age of 69.

I’ve noted before that one of my earliest TV memories is watching The Greatest American Hero at the age of five while in Brisbane, Australia. My family had emigrated there in 1982 for what would turn out to be a very short time (we didn’t see the year out Down Under), but certain things linger in the mind. Barbeques. School assemblies. Ralph Hinkley in the red jammies.

A combination of Joey Scarbury’s annoyingly brilliant music and some fast-paced action with a healthy dose of humour meant that to my mind it was televisual manna from heaven, far better than most of the cartoons being thrown my way. At least, I assume that was the thought process. After thirty years things get a little hazy.

A few years later, now back in Scotland, we had a weekly adventure for The A-Team on ITV to look forward too. These days I’m a big Doctor Who fan and I now realise that I was missing the good Doctor each Saturday on BBC1 as I waded through the adverts on The Other Side to see what Hannibal, Faceman, BA and Murdock were getting up to. But The A-Team was shiny and fresh and you could play with the toys in the garden or at being the characters at school. Nobody spoke about Doctor Who back then.

Since then I’ve stumbled across various US series that grabbed my attention and stuck in the mind, usually thanks to their wit and action scenes. Episodes of Hunter and Renegade, mostly only half-watched, screened late night while at school. James Garner in the Rockford Files on weekday afternoons while at university. Repeats of Riptide at 3am on weekends on Channel 5, again while at uni.

What I didn’t realise for a long time was that all of these programmes had something in common, namely Stephen J Cannell. Born in Los Angeles in 1941, Cannell may have had severe dyslexia but he graduated from the University of Oregon in 1964 with a degree in journalism.

It was in 1968 that Cannell sold his first TV script to Universal for the Robert Wagner series, To Catch a Thief. After a few years as a jobbing scriptwriter, Cannell rose through the ranks of TV to end up one of the most powerful men in Hollywood, running his own independent studio and bringing numerous hit series to our screens.

I spent some of Christmas 2010 watching the Archive of American Television’s excellent interview with Cannell, which takes around three hours to get through but which offers a fascinating look into the mind of the man and his dedication to the writing process.

I could go on for multiple blog posts about the skill behind Cannell’s work and the way he makes it all look so simple. He admitted that much of his action/adventure output was targeted at the average Joe who gets home after a hard days work and who wants to be entertained by his TV set. Cannell was happy with being part of mainstream and so were his viewers.

Interestingly, while my love of Cannell shows hasn’t wavered over the years, my own interest in the mainstream has. It’s dangerous to generalise about TV in 2011, but I’ll have a go anyway. While the odd piece of scripted television still comes along that has the power to entertain, excite, scare, chill or in some other way engage the audience, much of it is simplified to the point of being offensive.

A Cannell show may have been dumb fun, but it was never dumbed down. Cannell was happy to keep things looking simple on the surface, but there was usually something more going on beneath. Just watch one of his Rockford’s, where a plot may begin like a standard private eye show before spiralling off into something much odder and always unique.

Continue reading ‘Remembering Stephen J Cannell’

11
Dec
10

Robert Culp and more remembered by TCM

The annual TCM Remembers video has been released, a montage of stills and clips of film professionals who passed away over the last 12 months.

The death of actor Robert Culp was the big one for me this year, someone I’ve admired for the last 30 years in one way or another. I started out as a fan of the knockabout humour of The Greatest American Hero in 1982 before going on to recognise his more nuanced performances in films such as Hickey & Boggs and Hannie Caulder.

The death of Greatest American Hero creator Stephen J Cannell has meant it’s been a double blow this year for fans of that particular show.

Watch the full video, which also contains nods to Leslie Neilsen, Kevin McCarthy, Irvin Kershner and more, below:

05
Dec
08

DVD Review: I Spy, Season One

I Spy

As the world once more goes Bond mad, with Quantum of Solace fever spreading across the globe as it opens in each new territory (pity poor old Uruguay where Bond fans have to wait another month for the film), it seemed apt to take some time to watch the first season of I Spy, a show which debuted in 1965 when the original Bondmania was at its peak.

The premise of I Spy was simple enough, though oddly the scriptwriters don’t go overboard attempting to explain it in the first few episodes: Kelly Robinson (Robert Culp) is an international tennis player, while Alexander Scott (Bill Cosby) is his coach. Together they traverse the globe, Robinson accepting invitations from the rich and famous to play against them or simply taking part in tournaments.

But all is not what it seems as the pair are actually American spies working for the US Government, investigating nefarious goings on in various exotic locations. Mad scientists, rogue agents and gorgeous women are present in most of the first 28 episodes as the two spies move from Hong Kong to Vietnam to Japan and onto Mexico at the behest of their bosses.

There are a few things that make I Spy stand out from most of their contemporaries. Firstly, unlike most TV series of the day (and of the present day), the production team actually went on location to the places they were meant to be. The first batch of episodes are set in Hong Kong so we see the Culp and Cosby on and around the island, taking the Star Ferry and pacing the backstreets of Kowloon. This gives the series a fantastic energy and colour that is lost when series are filmed on back-lots in Burbank.

The other element that made me want to sit through this first season was the interaction between the leads. It’s fair to say that the show survives repeated viewing thanks to the banter of Robert Culp and Bill Cosby, the two constantly bouncing off each other from scene to scene. I’ve mentioned my admiration for Robert Culp before on this site and it was nice to see a younger Culp on form once again.

Continue reading ‘DVD Review: I Spy, Season One’

03
Nov
07

DVD Review: The Greatest American Hero

Hailing from a time when CGI was but a glint in a computer programmers green screen monitor and Superman had just done great guns at the box office, The Greatest American Hero was an attempt to revitalise superheroes for a 1980’s TV audience. On a budget.

The series was following in the footsteps of other small screen superfolk: Wonder Woman had finished in 1979 and The Incredible Hulk was fast running out of pairs of new trousers at the time of GAH’s appearance in 1981. Creator/producer Stephen J Cannell’s (The A-Team, The Rockford Files) aim was to bring his own unique mix of humour and humanity to a new genre.

Greatest American HeroRockford Files fans were used to seeing Jim get beaten-up each week in the pursuit of justice and Cannell decided that in his new show it was the suit that had the powers, not the guy wearing it. You’ll believe a man can fly, but can he land in one piece…? All three seasons are now out on DVD.

The Pilot introduces us to high school teacher Ralph Hinkley (William Katt) who, while taking his class on a field trip through the LA desert, teams up with world-weary FBI agent Bill Maxwell (Robert Culp) as they encounter a UFO whose inhabitants gift Ralph with a magic suit. The problems start when Ralph loses the suit’s instruction manual. Cue much crashing into walls, accidental invisibility and slightly ropey special effects.

Season One introduces Ralph’s lawyer girlfriend Pam Davidson (Connie Sellecca) and his class of remedial class schoolkids. Thankfully most of the screen time is given over to the pairing of Katt and Culp, both perfect in their roles. Culp in particular is eminently watchable, with Maxwell’s Commie-bashing, post-Watergate attitude constantly at odds with Hinkley’s liberalism.

Highlights of the season include My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys, where Ralph, after a crisis of conscience, decides to give up “the jammies” (as Maxwell dubs the ridiculous red suit) for a quiet life. His meeting with TVs The Lone Ranger at a shopping mall makes him assess the concept of heroism and hero worship and makes interesting watching for all fanboys. Here’s Looking At You, Kid is another early classic, co-starring the original Mrs Robinson, Lost in Space’s June Lockhart as Pam’s mum.

Season Two is more of the same, but bumped up to a full complement of 22 episodes. Here the series format is fine tuned, with the classic episode The Beast in Black an exercise in prime-time horror. Ralph is now less bumbling, the scriptwriters ramping up the danger, not only to our heroes, but to the World at large.

Season Three would be a shorter season, and would be the end of the road for Hinkley and Maxwell. Only 56 episodes were made in total.

Up till now GAH has been something of an unknown entity to UK viewers, and there is little chance that these boxsets will be released on Region 2. If you’re a fan of sci-fi-cop-show-comedy series, want to make your friends jealous down the pub as they react with “never heard of it” or just want to immerse yourself in some classic 80s telly, then this is the series for you.

DVD Extras: Season One comes with just over an hour of new interviews with the cast. It’s also bundled with the unaired pilot for the proposed spin-off series, The Greatest American Heroine. It’s a curiosity, but doesn’t match the high standards of the original show. Season Two comes with an interview with composer Mike Post (the bloke who wrote the A-Team theme tune!) as well as, bizarrely, a Japanese language track on one episode. Why?




About the blog

A TV and film fan writes...about TV and film. More>>

Twitter


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.