Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Six Million Dollar Man: Wine, Women And War [2nd Pilot]

If it stars Britt Ekland, can James Bond ... or The Six Million Dollar Man be far behind?

It's pretty clear from the opening minutes of The Six Million Dollar Man's second pilot, Wine, Women And War [1973], the creators had some intentions for Lee Majors that perhaps deviated from Author Martin Caidin's original concept found in Cyborg. The original pilot was mostly true to that original vision. That Pilot was a vintage, slow-paced, table setter for the re-birth of damaged pilot Steve Austin as The Six Million Dollar Man, but Wine, Women And War gets right down to business with an international flavor, a handful of women and a secret agent vibe.

Herbie J. Pilato wrote in The Bionic Book, "Larson believes pilot films or episodes that kick off a series should have flashy, ear-catching opening credits, with a 'movie feel' and other large scale attributes." Writer/ producer Glen A. Larson added, "We were not that far from the James Bond heyday." Yes, even the pilot has a Bond-like baddie. The whole thing comes dangerous close to the world of writer Ian Fleming or producer Albert R. Broccoli's vision of 007.

The first several minutes take place in exotic Alexandria and Steve Austin is clearly being established and groomed here as an American version of James Bond 007. It's no surprise or coincidence that Swedish beauty Britt Ekland, Bond girl extraordinaire from the film The Man With The Golden Gun [1974] starring opposite Roger Moore, would feature in this second effort if the 007 cocktail is what they had in mind. A submarine, binoculars, sharp suits and you're suppose to the idea very quickly.

Martin Caidin was truly incensed by what was happening to the property that was born from his book Cyborg. Pilato wrote, "He became extremely dissatisfied with the show's direction. He refused to be associated with the project...." Caidin demanded, "I wanted my name off the credits. Creatively they were grasping at straws. I was embarrassed." Pilato reported Caidin's words. "They didn't need that Bond shit. Those first few shows were pure crap. They were ridiculous from a technical standpoint, and had nothing to do with reality. Larson was a very successful producer, but we didn't get along. When he turned it into James Bond, I raised holy hell with Dick Irving. I said, 'Dick, you're gonna kill the damn thing. We've got a great thing going here and you're gonna blow it completely with this bullshit!"

Conversely, Larson had his own thoughts on Caidin calling him a "CIA groupie." He recalls fondly, "He sat down one day and told me 12 ways to kill someone without anyone ever finding out it was murder." Larson points to a frequent problem between writers and television producers calling Caidin "a little too attached to his prose," and not understanding "television very well."

The one and only Richard Anderson. Take a look at the opening credits. This is a unique alternative to the opening title sequence we would come to know and love, but worth a look for giving us that retro agent 70s style. You'll note Oscar Goldman, formerly played by the late, great Darren McGavin in the first pilot film, has now been replaced by the equally terrific and certainly iconic Richard Anderson in the part.

The Wine, Women And War story was penned by none other than Larson. Larson would later move on to Battlestar Galactica [1977-1978] territory and would take Britt Ekland with him for The Gun On Ice Planet Zero episode. Of course, Larson would also deliver us good things with Buck Rogers In The 25th Century [1979]. He would also produce Lee Major's other network effort The Fall Guy [1981]. Larson certainly has a flair for the dramatic adventure and he leaves his stamp upon this second outing.

Steve Austin has twelve minutes to complete his mission. The American sub that waits on standby simply cannot believe he could finish such a mission is such a brief period of time, but of course, what they don't know - this is the Bionic Man.

Austin boards a yacht and his green bionic retina does its scanning. Unable to complete his mission Austin narrowly escapes diving overboard as the yacht explodes in a ball of gunfire and flames.

The approach is clearly more comic book in nature with this second pilot. Austin swims at great speeds. Aquaman would be proud. The creators use stock footage from war films as Austin's enemies drop depth charges. The editing in the sequence is dodgy at best. It's a little hard to fathom ;). Austin unites with his submarine team and escapes. Austin is hurt and his arm is badly damaged. Medivac is en route. The Captain submits they must forget what they have seen and if they don't get help soon they're "going to lose what must be the most valuable man in the world." Wow. That's heavy. Yes, human worth seems to be less an issue here given the price tag associated with Austin.

While McGavin was a wonderful actor it's refreshing to see the face we knew and loved in Oscar Goldman - the face of Richard Anderson. This is the very first exchange between Lee Majors and Richard Anderson in their respective roles. It's clear from the very beginning their was immense chemistry between the two. Further, Anderson really picks up where McGavin left off with the character. This is a wonderful sequence.

It's pretty clear in this entry too that Austin is still getting his bearings within his new modified body and his frustration and anger has justifiably carried over from the first outing.

Dr. Rudy Wells is informed by Goldman that Austin is tasked with finding a nuclear arms catalogue. It went missing in the nuclear black market. Goldman makes the eerie suggestion that the Unites States has populated the globe with weapons itself and of course, "naturally we've lost a few." Oh well.

Dr. Wells is clearly a confidante to Goldman and the OSI. Wells admits Austin is less than enthusiastic to work with Goldman and his organization. Goldman expects Austin's help "with or without his cooperation."

Wells mediates giving Austin no small comfort that he has the full run of the floor within the assigned building. The floor? Steve understands the limits of his freedom as a protected government asset. Steve, quick to temper, declares, "I'm nobody's robot!" He exits and runs into Harry, an old military comrade. The man suggests Austin head to the Bahamas for a little relaxation. Austin makes his escape and knocks the bars from his room window. Harry sees him to the airport and after his departure Harry makes a phone call alerting an unknown party that Austin is "on his way."

On the plane Austin meets the always delightful Britt Ekland. He believes she has been set up to meet him by Harry. She slaps him in the face and Austin crushes his second glass of the episode, just in case we weren't fully aware of his strength. It highlights his lack of control.

It's funny, but as much as they try to give Austin a Bond swagger you never quite picture him in the British role and thus it never quite works. In fact, Majors is no Roger Moore and I love them both. With time it might have worked, but the creators wisely reeled their Bionic creation back down to Earth for the ensuing season.

Austin checks in with Wells and explains he is experiencing body malfunctions [i.e. the crushed glass]. Wells explains it's merely a power surge resulting from an adrenaline rush.

Midway through the episode, with his new found freedom, Majors finally seems to be relaxing into the role. He's less wooden and that Bionic Man swagger we remember begins to shine through.

Majors discovers his neighbor is Ekland whom he met on the plane. He attempts to apologize to her, but is greeted by a Russian with a gun. Russians with guns and beautiful women never smack of Bond. Still, the cold war analogies will know no bounds for a series of this vintage.

Later, he meets another Barbie play thing. Yes, the life of a playboy does have its benefits. Cynthia Holland is a friend of Harry. Her friends call her Cyn. Yes, we can imagine.

On the golf course with Cyn, Austin spots Ekland again. She's accompanied by the businessman, Mr. Finletter, owner the exploding yacht Austin narrowly escaped in the beginning. Austin hits a golf ball and nearly sends it into outer space catching everyone's attention. It's a humorous moment, but one that gives his enemies a chance to take notice. Is that a sensible or good thing?

Here's a cute moment between Austin and Cyn.

The Spy Who Loved Me? Of course, Wine, Women And War pre-dates the Roger Moore error, except for Live And Let Die and pays tribute to the Sean Connery period. Austin plays the women and Bond card nicely in the episode, which is paced a little better thanks to the scripting hand of Glen A. Larsen, but I still prefer the first film. Austin is like an American version of The Saint, but fortunately they moved away from this formula inevitably. Austin meets with his Russian friend, Alexi, and they each smash glasses together. That's four at this point. One more and we may start losing count.

It turns out Alexi Kaslov knows quite a bit about Austin, but Austin is unfamiliar with the Russian mission regarding Finletter. As Austin attempts to depart he is shot. The Russians expect to buy arms from Finletter. It's relatively clear that a web of international spy connections is being established on a television scale to present their 007 scenario.

Harry arrives in the Bahamas. Austin is captured by the Russians. He is kept aboard another yacht with a bikini-clad Ekland. No, imprisonment can't be all that bad. The gorgeous Ekland insists Austin is "a guest of the Soviet Union," but that he musn't use the radio or cause trouble unless shagging and the removal of cottonware is involved. Two men stand by with machine guns, but Austin plays along with Ekland. Wouldn't you? Like Bond, Austin score on Ekland. He gets the undergarments off and offers his best Roger Moore in bed impersonation. Majors has scored Barbara Anderson and Britt Ekland in just two episodes - not bad for a cyborg! Of coure, if you're the Bionic Man that has to resonate well with the ladies in the stamina arena. Ekland was one heck of a babe.

A romp in the hay, a french kiss and a crushed wall later and Austin escapes his captors once again. Austin arrives back at Harry's place only to cold cock him and discover Harry set him up. Oscar Goldman had Harry send Steve to the Bahamas as part of his incompleted mission. Austin wants out yet again, but learns that an innocent woman was killed by Finletter, injecting his character with the humanity we always loved in him.

There's an added dimension in that Oscar never used the murdered girl to manipulate Steve. He learns of this through a colleague, but it gives Oscar the first sign of humanity and additional unexpected depth.

Austin stows away aboard Finletter's car as Finletter escorts Austin's Russian friend to another location as part of their business transaction.

In a very Bond-esque conclusion, they are brought to a massive weapons facility. War games are the rule of the day. The installation looks like something right out of the Bond classics.

Armed with new information Austin returns to Harry and is informed the mission is over. Harry Donner doesn't believe Finletter has any weapons of mass destruction, but Austin has other evidence concerning the weapons silos.

Harry takes a bi-plane skyward and Austin parachutes in for the final confrontation. The cheese factor is undeniable. Dusty Springfield closes out the pilot in vintage Bondian, 70s style soundtrack fashion.

Finally, none of the trademark sound effects or brilliant bionic powers are ever on display here. There's an ocassional wall punch, broken phone and crushed glass [okay, several crushed glasses], but The Six Million Dollar Man we know and love is still to come.

Classic Quote: Ekland: "In Russia they say all American men are soft." Austin: "We rise to the ocassion" [as he breaks his chains].

Majors to Ekland: "Sorry I had to violate your porthole" [breaking through the wall after sex].

I laughed at several of these goofy one liners and The One To Be Pitied made fun of me, calling me several unflattering names, and indicated that it appealed to my inner nine year old. What's wrong with that?

Nice stunt double. Not unlike Caidin's strong opinion on the matter, I can't deny The Six Million Dollar Man has a way to go. And listen, Ekland is a beauty, but a solid actress she's not. Solid thighs yes, solid delivery, not so much. That about sums up the problem with The Six Million Dollar Man on the surface in its presentation of Wine, Women And War.

Harve Bennett was quoted in SciFiNow #55 in a TimeWarp section on The Bionic Woman about Glen Larson. "Without denigrating Glen, he made a conceptual mistake. And that was deciding he was going to do James Bond and put Lee Majors in a tuxedo with a blue-ruffled shirt. That's not Lee Majors. There's an image in the original pilot of Lee Majors coming from a flight ar Edwards Air Force Base. He's wearing khakis and he's got a toothpick in his mouth. That's Lee Majors. He's a shit-kicker." See Pilot.

Lee Majors is meant to be human and he's missing something here as James Bond-lite. Majors is not Roger Moore and that's a good thing for The Six Million Dollar Man. He's American and he's The Six Million Dollar Man, which is the humanity this second pilot seems to side-step. The influence of wine and women can have that effect. Wine, Women And War: C. Writer: Glen A. Larson. Director: Russ Mayberry.


PDXWiz said...

Clearly, Steve is 'adjusting'--and so are the production team members. The plot doesn't really excite me. And neither does Britt Ekland (I've probably seen the Galactica two-parter Gun on Ice Planet Zero a dozen times over the years) and she has the acting ability of a primitive android. I don't even think she's all that attractive. At least not in Gun on Ice...

Richard Anderson always struck me as being perfectly cast to be Oscar. He had excellent chemistry with both Lee and Lindsay, so it was clear that he was both friend and mentor to both of them.

Even with the differences between the original novel and the pilot, the pilot is much closer to the book than this film. ...I don't recall ever seeing this film, and I can't recall if I have the book or not. Between all of the talk of Jaime and Steve lately on various blogs and in a Facebook group dedicated to Lindsay, I'm really getting antsy for a bionic fix!

Thanks for the cool review!

Gordon Long

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Hey Gordon,

You're not wrong. Weak. The plot and story are just plain weak here.

You make a fun observation about Britt. She's actually a lovely lady and she's particularly radiant in this movie.

There's a difference of roughly five years between her appearance here and her role in BG's Ice Planet Zero. I agree. She doesn't look great in that episode of BG. Of course, she's not made to look great, but again if you see here here- she looks pretty amazing.

Like you said, not much of an actress, and we really need to use that term loosely.

Anderson is simply brilliant and as you said, the chemistry sells this show as it rolls forward. There's tons of it.

The first Pilot, The Moon And The Desert is far and away the better of the two pictures.

Always a pleasure Gordon.