Friday, May 14, 2010

The Protectors Series 1 Ep1: 2000 Ft To Die

Tony Anholt: The future face of Space:1999, Year Two. The late Tony Anholt played Security Chief Tony Verdeschi in Space:1999, but first landed the role of agent Paul Buchet for The Protectors.

It's FAB FRIDAY! It's time to continue our quest for all things wonderful in the intriguing, colorful and exciting world of Gerry And Sylvia Anderson.

Boy, I'm feeling a bit guilty in retrospect springing The Protectors on you all. Truth be told, it's not exactly all that, well, FAB. It's just not. Perhaps it gets better. The promise of James Bond 007 adventure and intrigue never quite came to fruition for me in this introductory installment. The Saint and the escapades of Simon Templar it's not my friends. I loved Roger Moore's The Saint [1962-1969] and its six series and 118 episodes, but based upon the evidence here The Protectors has a way to go to catch Roger Moore. It doesn't hold a candle. Perhaps there are those who advocate for The Protectors out there that could enlighten me on the series' direction and if it improves going forward. The pilot here is a spotty little affair and never quite achieves FAB status I'm afraid to report.

So, it's official. I'm completely all over the map of Anderson now taking on my fourth series to date. I know this is adversely affecting my coverage of Thunderbirds, Space:1999 and UFO and my apologies to you in advance. Technically, The Protectors doesn't even qualify as science fiction does it? Apart from Gerry Anderson's involvement, and some of the crossover of actors [including guest appearances by Ed Bishop and Vladek Sheybal from UFO in Series One as well as Prentis Hancock from Space:1999 in Series Two], The Protectors simply doesn't fall anywhere near the genre requirements for this blog. But, we can blur the lines for this one. One science fiction connection throughout the series is the involvement of Space:1999, Year Two's Tony Anholt. Anholt was a regular cast member and it still falls under the umbrella of all things wonderful in the world of Gerry Anderson in my blog. I may have to slip a little Protectors in from time to time. Mind you, tackling it had nothing to do with the fact that each episode of The Protectors was only 25 minutes in length. That had nothing to do with it at all. Okay, maybe it had a little to do with that point. With Space:1999, UFO and Thunderbirds clocking in at nearly an hour, The Protectors was a tight, quick, fleeting 25 minute option and my little fingers and tight schedule are certainly open to that kind of relaxed, non-committment now and again. Time is of the essence as they say, so yes, The Protectors called my name as ripe for a short and sweet treatment essentially cutting my time on Gerry Anderson's FAB FRIDAY by half. Okay, my time constraints aside, the fact Tony Anholt was featured in the series with actors Robert Vaughn [The Man From U.N.C.L.E.] and the late Nyree Dawn Porter appealed to me. It was an intriguing diversion if you will, don't you think? Okay, maybe not, but not to fret, my concentration will more likely be on the others going forward.

The Protectors [1972-1974] aired in for two seasons. A potential third series was in the works, just as a potential third season was considered for Space:1999, but like our sci-fi classic, The Protectors fell by the way side tossed aside into the dustbin of television history, but that's why I'm here. Let's kick things off with the very Bond-like announcement of the first episode of The Protectors, Series 1, Episode 1, 2000 Ft To Die.

The opening shot of an airplane high above a security-protected home compound sets the tone of daring do. In the plane, Harry Rule [Robert Vaughn] gives the signal to two men who jump leaving a smoke trail through the air as they fall. Parachutes unfurl and Rule follows suit a short time later, but further away. Soldiers look on at the initial two jumpers. Distracted Rule drops in behind the soldiers. Inside the home a gentleman opens the window to find an envelope. On the ground now, Rule quickly handcuffs a bomb to the man's wrist. Rule informs the man he has 30 seconds to open the safe. The man complies. Rule knocks him unconscious. Grabbing the contents of the safe he makes a copy of the document. Rule closes the safe and slips away grabbing a driver's cap to match his navy blue garb and off he goes passed unsuspecting personnel in the compound. Thise seemed a little unlikely. Was it that busy in the house not to notice a stranger? Rule crashes through the front gates and switches into a car that looks awfully familiar to the cars used in UFO. Welcome to the non-stop world of action adventure a la The Protectors.

Welcome to the lived-in, reality of international live action Gerry Anderson style. Apart from UFO, this is a real first for Anderson on television who exited the comfort zone of science fiction and puppets for something more mainstream. It's interesting to see Vaughn in this persona. Rule contacts an off-sight location indicating he needs to use the computer to "crack" a code. Leave it to Anderson to incorporate a computer. It wouldn't be Anderson if there wasn't a computer. The breezy sounds of a slick 1970s score sweeps along in Rule's residence as he slips into a suit jacket. Rule is Mr. Cool. Rule's computer spits out a read out. A child's picture sits near a train set. Could it be his son?

Rule meets with Contessa Caroline di Contini [Nyree Dawn Porter]. Here's a nice exchange between Rule and Contini regarding the status on "the team."

Oh boy, chic '70s ultra-hip, ultra-trendy dancing bird cages.
Rule meets with the one remaining "team" member, Freddie Reiwald and his stunt friend Ransome. A man watches from a distant table. Contini takes her shoes off and dances to the groovy tunes in a strange ultra-hip '70s bird cage. Contini is an old gal, but a pretty believable Protector-styled secret agent. Rule learns of a synthetic gold making scheme. Things move very quickly in 25 minutes.

Later, Rule heads to a social engagement held by Contini under the guise of a magazine writer/ publisher. The gold is being shipped out from Rome. The sequence establishes the International tone of The Protectors.

Under cover of the night, Contini and Rule head to a warehouse and are fired upon a number of assailants from a car. Rule hits him with a forklift while Contini fires back. The two disable their attackers. One of the attackers is the man Rule spoke with earlier at Contini's party.

Contini believes their team colleague must cancel his skydiving stunt because his life is in jeopardy. Rule and Contini meet with him, but are unable to persuade them. Maybe that was a job for The Persuaders [1971-1972] starring Roger Moore and Tony Curtis. Rule meets with Paul Buchet [Tony Anholt]. The three Protectors: Rule, Buchet and Contini, go to the skydiving jump site for the stunt filming.

Ransome tries to sabotage Reiwald's jump equipment because his girlfriend Susan is slated to die if Reiwald doesn't die first. Buchet and Contini are on the ground trying to locate Susan who is held hostage. Rule is in the plane preparing an alternate jump plan whereby Reiwald's parachute won't open, but giving Rule the chance to save him by hooking him to his own equipment as they fall. Contini and Buchet spot the assassins masked as camera men at the site, but they need time to disable him. A fourth Protector, Chino [Anthony Chinn] disables one of the men protecting the gunman. Rule and the other man jump to carry on the charade. Rule's plan buys Buchet and Contini time to stop the killers. It's all very cheesy, not-so-good, '70s fun.

Rule takes out the final killer. The killer was Ackland, the leader of their "team." WTF!? WOW! What a twist. Okay, maybe not. I really wasn't all that impressed or dismayed. I certainly wasn't connecting with any of the characters on any level in this short 25 minutes. Perhaps the highlight for me was Tom Jones kicking it in for the closing. I actually kind of enjoy the old Welshmen's voice.

The first installment of The Protectors was a reasonably unexciting, unimpressive debut, but certainly gives you the conceptual tablesetter. Gerry Anderson was definitely attempting to slip into the crime adventure niche. For fans of The Saint, James Bond and Mission:Impossible, this could be a series up your alley, but The Protectors has a way to go to drive home some credibility within the genre for this fanatic. The script definitely feels rushed thanks in part to these terse 25 minute installments. It certainly gives you pause and allows you to appreciate the details permitted for UFO and Space:1999. The retro nature of this live action, spy drama isn't exactly aging well. We'll see. I must admit I took a critical drubbing from The One To Be Pitied and The Boy Wonder for tackling this viewing experience and serving up an hour of my life to it. They were unmerciful and wondered if I planned on giving more time away each week to this "garbage." They are unrelenting and harsh. Granted, they aren't exactly on board with my sci-fi classics either. I continue my lonely journey in appreciating all that I love and call classic in television.
2000 Ft To Die: D+ [plus for the Tom Jones closing track]
Writer: Terence Feeley
Director: John Hough
I know my conclusion to the pilot entry of The Protectors is clearly antithetical to my generally rousing opening introduction to the wonderful world of Gerry Anderson that is FAB FRIDAY, but I cannot defend this one. The low marks to this first installment of The Protectors are deserved. This, of course, is just one entry. There is more to a series than just one episode. I'm uncertain just how often I will tackle The Protectors going forward with much bigger fish to fry. Space:1999, Thunderbirds and UFO will have to take precedence and if I had to shorten that list it would have to be Space:1999 and UFO. This decision is largely a result of my love for science fiction over spy dramas. This incarnation of Gerry Anderson's vision isn't necessarily my cup of tea, unless it improved. Most of all, what The Protectors lacks is originality, the spark of genuine creative sparkle, vision and ingenuity that truly lit the worlds of the aforementioned sci-fi enterprises that yielded from the minds of the Andersons. Nothing can compare to those classics. The Protectors falls squarely within a mold of The Saint and James Bond, but lacks the substance. Whether Anderson was able to inject his own style, craft, resourcefulness and clever wit into the two series run of The Protectors is another question and one I cannot answer today. I'm not sure that answer will happen here, but I suspect I'll want to visit a few more before all is said and done.

The Cast:
Harry Rule [Robert Vaughn]
Contessa Caroline Di Contini [Nyree Dawn Porter]
Paul Buchet [Tony Anholt]
Chino [Anthony Chinn]
Suki [Yasuko Nagazumi]
The Cast Details:
Robert Vaughn [1932-present]. American born. Harry Rule on The Protectors [1972-1974]. Vaughn has been best known as Napoleon Solo in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. [1964-1968] for four seasons. He was also one of The Magnificent Seven [1960]. He appeared in the cult science fiction classic Battle Beyond The Stars [1980]. He joined the series The A-Team for its fifth and final season [1987]. He landed a recurring role in Season Eight of Law & Order [2004]. Ironically, speaking of law and order, he is most famous for a series of television advertisements as a spokesman for personal injury law firms. He has landed a spot in a British series called Hustle [2004-]. His film credits include Bullitt [1968], The Towering Inferno [1974], Battle Beyond The Stars [1980] and Superman III.
Nyree Dawn Porter [1940-2001]. New Zealand born. Contessa Caroline Di Contini on The Protectors. The Contessa is the wealthy widow of her own detective agency based in Rome. She appeared in 48 of the 52 episodes of The Protectors. She carries two episodes in Goodbye George and The Tiger And The Goat, both in Series Two. She appeared in an episode of The Saint [The Scorpion]. Porter appeared along with Barry Morse in the final episode of Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles [USA; 1980] called The Martians. She passed away somewhat unexpectedly from leukemia.
Tony Anholt [1941-2002]. Singapore born British Actor. Paul Buchet on The Protectors. He is best known for his role in Year Two of Space:1999 as Security Chief Tony Verdeschi. Sadly, he died of a brain tumor.
Anthony Chinn [1930-present]. Guyana born. Chino on The Protectors in Series One. He appeared uncredited in Dr. No [1962], Goldfinger [1964] and You Only Live Twice [1967]. He also appeared in A View To A Kill [1985]. He received small roles in Raiders Of The Lost Ark [1981] and The Fifth Element [1997].
Yasuko Nagazumi [1943-present]. Suki on The Protectors. She is best known for Series One of The Protectors and for her role as Yasko Nugami in Year Two of Space:1999. She also appeared in You Only Live Twice [1967]. She currently produces and manages in Hollywood.

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