Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Six Million Dollar Man: The Solid Gold Kidnapping [3rd Pilot]

This was originally titled The Billion Dollar Snatch. A great title with a unique connotation in certain niche markets, but not for our hero The Six Million Dollar Man.

Pre-dating the ski scene from Roger Moore's 007 in The Spy Who Loved Me [1977].The final of three pilot films for The Six Million Dollar Man arrived in November 1973 just shy of a series debut in January 1974.

As luck would have it executive producer Glen A. Larson stuck around for his second pilot film following Wine, Women And War. The Solid Gold Kidnapping would also be Larson's last for the series. Larson's 007 approach to the character is in full evidence with an opening action sequence, explosions and Steve Austin romancing a blond lover. Although this time their clothes are on. Lee Majors sexual encounter with Britt Ekland in Wine, Women And War undercover and under the covers would be his first and last for the series.

Nevertheless, Larson relished sponsoring the fashioning of an American version of James Bond in Lee Majors. He had made steps toward moving the tone of the series from the more dour Pilot [a.k.a. The Moon And The Desert] into secret agent territory with Wine, Women And War. The Solid Gold Kidnapping while capitalizing on that concept the third pilot also exhibits the fruits of a rapid growth in chemistry between principals Lee Majors and Richard Anderson. The two make the most of their time together and allow a little levity to slip into their roles. The third pilot film seems somewhere between the first executive-produced Larson outing and the series official debut, Population Zero. It's apparent a softening is occurring to the relatively hardcore approach taken with the Steve Austin character initially in that first pilot.

Remember, up until the third film, the creators and writers had already introduced a bionic man to an unsuspecting audience who attempted suicide, exhibited deep signs of emotional instability, a remoteness to intimacy with the opposite sex, a willingness to wipe out the enemy at the drop of a hat, disdain for his superiors and a discomfort in his own skin. That's a heavy dose of angst for its time. Clearly the debut pilot was fairly unconventional fair in 1973. Could it sustain an audience at that level going forward? Many of the suits had their doubts and saw to it the concept began to evolve and move toward a lighter tone.

Larson himself had already made efforts to move The Six Million Dollar Man left of the Pilot and away from writer Martin Caidin's original plan for the character based on his book Cyborg. Larson's memories of Caidin are colorful according to author Herbie J. Pilato in The Bionic Book: The Six Million Dollar Man & The Bionic Woman Reconstructed. "Martin was an off-the-wall character,... sort of a CIA groupie." Larson continued, "He was a fascinating character." But Larson felt Caidin "didn't know television very well. ... authors will sometimes cling to those words. It happens." The Solid Gold Kidnapping would be Larson's final outing as he handed the reins over to executive producer Harve Bennett for the weekly 60 minute serial beginning with Population: Zero.

The third telefilm, The Solid Gold Kidnapping, opens with the same credits that can be found noted in Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic's coverage of Wine, Women And War. The vintage era opening theme, Six Million Dollar Man, by vocalist Dusty Springfield would also be its last appearance.

Where Wine, Women And War featured Britt Ekland. The third film guests John Vernon from Animal House, as the Bondian villain, as well as Terry Carter who would later figure regularly on Glen A. Larson's Battlestar Galactica [1978-1979].

As mentioned, the wonderful Richard Anderson returns as Oscar Goldman [director of the OSI] and Larson had some glowing words on the actor regarding his importance to the world of The Six Million Dollar Man mythology. "I cast Richard Anderson because when you're doing what I call a bullshit premise, you need to surround it with as much honesty and reality as you can. Richard brought us that credibility. It was less likely that the series was going to end up as a cartoon." Ironically, as we discover with this third telefilm, the science fiction aspect does tend to dip off the reality scale to a degree, despite Larson's point. Later, Kenneth Johnson [The Incredible Hulk] would infuse the premise with his usual dose of reality and grace.

The action pacing is classic The Six Million Dollar Man with fist fights and Colonel Steve Austin in action minus the still missing slow motion, but the locale is James Bondian-like Switzerland. In that, the only thing missing from The Six Million Dollar Man is a Sean Connery accent. Seriously, how's this for Action Austin?

Mexico, London Heathrow Airport and you start to get the jet-setting nature of what is established beyond what was originally conceived for the character.

Essentially, Austin saves one ambassador from Mexico. A short time later, another is kidnapped. The ransom is, you guessed it, solid gold. To aid in finding the ambassador, Dr. Erica Bergner has been experimenting with brain cell transference to tap into a dead man's memories to gain insight into the captors. Science fiction or Glen A. Larson disapproved "bullshit"? Now, actually, the science fiction portion of it isn't entirely out of the realm of possibility, but how it's presented here is not sound in science to be sure.

Ultimately, The Solid Gold Kidnapping, apart from its silly title, offers the first evidence that the Austin character is endowed with the kind of humor that would become a staple for the character in the ongoing series. James Bond trappings aside, this particular adventure feels a little closer to the character we would come to know and love, but it's still off from the vintage series we recall so fondly complete with those slow motion bionics. The trademark slo-mo and classic theme arrive with the launch of the bionic serial.

The Solid Gold Kidnapping: C+. Writer: Larry Alexander/ Alan Caillou. Director: Russ Mayberry.

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