Friday, June 24, 2016

Charlie’s Angels 1:18 “Terror on Ward One”

Airdate: 2/16/77

A would-be rapist is attacking young nurses at a nearby hospital; its administrator hires the Angels to nab the guy, and bring order (and safety) back to his institution. Undercover as nurses, Jill and Kelly investigate possible suspects like the “kissing intern” Quincy and head surgeon Dr. Danworth, while Bosley poses as a patient (he actually does have a toe malady) to get the skinny on his irascible roommate, George Halvorsen.  

Possibilities: rampant amphetamine abuse on the ward, particularly by Danworth, could lead to emotional side effects (e.g. attempted rape), and Quincy’s frustration over his failure to uphold his Don Juan image could be acted out physically (e.g. attempted rape).  But in the end, he Angels discover the true culprits: an orderly and his mother, a nurse, exacting revenge on Danworth for the failed-surgical death of their father/husband. All’s well that ends well., except for Bosley, who gets the wrong surgery when Halvorsem switches meds and ID bracelet with him.

Decent enough potboiler with refreshing change of scenery – a hospital – to liven things up. I must confess that I didn’t guess the actual whodunit – there are plenty of red herrings throughout to keep even the most devout Christie fan guessing, including the Halvorsen character, whose byplay with Bosley amount to the funniest, quirkiest dialogue the series has seen yet.
But the episode certainly seems a bit dated, owing to a couple of factors. For one, the topic of rape is taken far more seriously now (thankfully); it’s impossible not cringe during one early conversation in which a nurse glibly explains her attempted rape with the line, “Maybe he heard blondes have more fun.” Even the word ‘rape” is thrown around all-too frequently as a shorthand for ‘attack,’ and using it as a topic, without confronting its emotional and psychological ramifications would be deemed nothing less than irresponsible by today’s standards.

And the other thing: it’s pretty hard for us to accept a hospital so loosely run that they wouldn’t notice a pair of strange nurses (Jill and Kelly) come from out of nowhere, or fail to assign them duties or even wonder why they don’t seem to be performing any. And even bigger stretch comes when Halvorsen switches meds and ID bracelet with Bosley, evading the notice of any authority figures or even the nurse who administered them. Either hospitals were not as security-conscious back then (doubtful), or those TV-audiences didn’t care as much (more likely).

Gotta love the Quincy character – the Lothario with cold feet – who has his own private pad on the ward, complete with then-novel microwave oven (well, he does keep people out with a “DANGER: RADIATION” sign).

Good, not great, late-season entry.

Client: Ed Main (hospital adminstrator)

Plot difficulty level: 5

Rating: ***

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Charlie’s Angels 1:17 “The Vegas Connection”

Airdate: 2/9/77

Business George Mallin has been robbed… by his wife, Tina. Her peculiar way of disposing of the loot, by gradually, intentionally losing it at a poker game once a month, is explained when she confesses to the Angels that she is being blackmailed by someone with pictures of her doing the nasty for money. That “someone” is a sleazebucket named Cass Harper, a Vegas chorus girl director who lures young ladies in with the promise of a job, then pulls the rug out, leaving them with no choice but to sell themselves to the high-rollers he pimps them out to. Stage two: photograph the indiscretion, blackmail the client. One girl who almost falls for the ploy, Elisabeth, confesses to the Angels her plight; she helps them with a setup where Bosley is a client, and undercover Kelly is one of the “girls.” Sabrina poses as a tax auditor, alerting the casino owner, Max, that Cass is stealing – enough to draw attention to a loathsome creep out to ruin the lives of innocent people for cash.

Las Vegas in the 70s was huge – just about every major TV drama from that decade had an episode set there – and Angels was no exception. Sin City gets utilized quite nicely here, and don’t miss all that introductory B-roll of the city’s main stretch, with one marquis after another of the big-name entertainers of the era. My only quibble s that it takes too long to get there; we have to slog through the twenty-minute setup-story about Mrs. Mallin and how she connects to the prostitution ring. Just another case of byzantine for byzantine’s sake. Keep it simple, stupid.

But once things get rolling, it’s a rollicking good time, with plenty of gambling action on the floor, and a great, campy backstage drama, involving Kelly and the “elder” showgirl Avril, behind the curtain (no doubt inspired by All About Eve, it’s an unknowing precursor to Showgirls; we even get a classic catfight!). Jill has a good car chase fighting off sleazy dude who’s on to her, and Bosley finally gets a chance at romance, playing the nurturing father figure who gives Elisabeth the good night kiss she always wanted but never got – awwww. (Wait a second, isn’t he supposed to be married?) If that’s
not enough, we even get a truly satisfying final scene in which the Angels, and all the done-wrong women, get their comeuppance on a body-casted Cass (they write obscenities on his plaster – you go girls!).

So what’s not to like? Have patience and you’ll be rewarded with a delightful combo of sharp writing, engaging supporting characters and daffy fun. Angels has finally hit its groove.

Client: Mr. Mallin

Plot difficulty level: 7

Rating: ***1/2

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Charlie’s Angels 1:16 “Dirty Business”

Airdate: 2/2/77

A film laboratory is the target of arson; its owner, Marvin Goldman, uneasily finds his near-loss to be the Angels’ next case, thanks to their hiring by his mother. Looking for clues, Jill forms an alliance with Paul Baylor, a district attorney also on the case, tipped off by anonymous phone calls threatening the lab. The Angels watch the films, attempting to determine a motive, but are mostly befuddled – one in particular, about a soldier rallying his troops by smooshing white bread in his hands, incites the equally befuddling ire of its lead actor when Sabrina inquires about its meaning. 

A vetting of local investors in Mr. Goldman’s venture turns up little except paranoia and hostility, and no wonder: Kelly scopes out one of the directors to discover the films are pornographic – and the investors blackmailed into investing by their secretly being filmed in sexual acts. The disgust the Angels have for their client is outweighed now by the discovery that Jill’s assailant may be the same man caught on film in one of Marvin’s shots. He turns out to be a cop, Baylor’s accomplice, returning from planting evidence. The real criminals are thusly penalized; Marvin received impunity for his cooperation.

Potentially seedy subject matter is actually done treated rather mildly, owing to the standards and practices of 1976 TV. But it is provocative; despite the giveaway title we don’t really learn of the “free-form” nature of Marvin’s films until about a third of the way through (modern audiences are sure to figure it out after about ten minutes). Still, it is a shame it can’t be confronted: the actual climax deals with the unrelated cops-planting-evidence story, and it’s a comparative bore. 

The Jill/Baylor story is nice too – I always appreciate the series for the Angels’ cooperation with men, rather than the unbudging “girl-power,” male-distrusting titans they’ve morphed into in recent incarnations. But Jill did her trusting/then wounded routine in the “Angel Trap” episode a few weeks ago; lets give another Angel a chance in the limelight, shall we?

I suppose another trend I’m noticing is the everything-at-the-end approach. In the interest of building a mystery, we’re essentially totally confused for 45 minutes until the denouement, at which point a barrage of information supposedly explains everything. Angels always did this to a certain extent, but recently it feels very bottom heavy. Lets try to even out the clarity so it’s not so much of a puzzler, okay?

Not bad, but ultimately unsatisfying. And that tirade by the soldier-actor whom Sabrina converses with still makes no sense.

Client: Esther Goldman (Marvin’s mom)

Plot difficulty level: 7

Rating: **1/2

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Charlie’s Angels 1:15 “Angels on a String”

Airdate: 1/19/77

Polish professor Peter Wycinski is staying at a California chalet to deliver an anti-Communist speech intended to press forward a UN resolution – the same locale lodged by the vacationing Angels. But Sabrina is goo-goo eyed over the professor, he longtime idol, and her would-be vacation becomes an exercise in paranoia when she suspects his life may be threatened by some suspicious-looking men. One of them attempts to detain her, but she wrests loose and infiltrates Wycinski’s FBI-protected speech venue by posing as a klurzy waitress. Meantime Jill and Kelly spy on the bad duded and give chase when they notice a hostge – who turns out to be… Wycinski! A doppelganger had been arranged, by pro-Coms, to give a bogus, agenda-sabotaging oration, but the Angels step in just in the nick thwart such nefarious, anti-American scheming. Three cheers for the blonde, brown and brunette!

Another political entry (see “Angel Trap”) is mostly intrigue – precious little is revealed about what’s actually going on until the end – leaving Sabrina as the sole protagonist, the only one who suspects foul play and must orchestrate a scheme to uncover a web of conspiracy that seems to get larger and larger. In this way I was reminded of Hitchcock’s classic “one man” movies (usually starring Jimmy Stewart or Cary Grant); pretty lofty comparison, I might add, but for the most part, the film earns it. Classic actor Theodore Bikel is perfectly cast: his esteem as an actor aptly informs his equally venerable character, and Sabrina’s idolatry of him feels natural (although why she all of a sudden has a thing for political theorists is a bit bewildering).

I also appreciated seeing one Angel take the lead for a change, as opposed to the usual even-handed teamwork. It gives the viewer a chance to explore the psyche of a single character in greater depth; here, we get that in Sabrina’s lengthy opening tête-à-tête with Wycinski, revealing the softer, more intellectual side of a regularly brazen, no-nonsense persona.

The chalet, the setting for most of he episode, is an absolutely sublime example of 70s style and architecture. Take note of all those awful greens and that woodsy, faux-cottage scenery. Fantastic!

A bit slower than average, but well-worth the required patience. Another winner!

Client: none (the Angels are actually on vacation).

Plot difficulty level: 6

Rating: ***1/2

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Charlie’s Angels 1:14 “The Big Tap-Out”

Airdate: 1/12/77

A big-time bank robber is caught after a heist but released with no evidence of his theft. The prosecutor, Charlie’s client, needs extra assistance for this case – he informs the Angels that their man, Roy David, usually gambles his loot away. When he does well, he runs the straight and narrow, but when he “taps out,” he steals again; the girls ensure that he does the latter, and soon. Sabrina poses as a horserace gambler, using her computer expertise to predict the winners, successfully arousing Roy’s interest. The Angels devise a way Sabrina can successfully pick a winner, followed immediately by a loser, and a hapless Roy finds himself in the red for 20 large. 

Now to completely clean him out they enlist the services of a master blackjack dealer to crash Roy’s weekly game -  and down crashes his ill-gotten fortune. The crook, as predicted, returns to his crookery by stealing the casino floor plans from Jill and robbing the place blind. He escapes with the loot, but gets rear-ended by a clueless-acting Kelly, and cavalcade of players – police, bystanders, tow truck drivers – conspire to get his trunk-stowed money, and Roy’s caught red-handed this time.

Far better-than-average episode is thanks mainly to a quick-witted, razor sharp teleplay by McCabe and Miss Miller scribe Brian McKay, clearly inspired by 1974’s California Split, also directed by Robert Altman (cleverly indicated by a scene featuring a movie theater with Split on its marquee). The centerpiece, for my money, is the midpoint blackjack game where Roy loses his pants – it’s expertly timed, photographed and acted, reminiscent of the best moments in films like The Cincinnati Kid and The Sting. And then here’s the finale, an arch, crafty comeuppance with enough tongue-in-cheek to do Altman proud. Well, that’s what you get when you hire a screenwriter: movie quality work

And kudos to main player Richard Romanus as Roy. He knows how to handle this dialogue in a smooth, understated way, slithering throughout his scenes with equal parts skill and slime, and most importantly, intelligence. I sort of hoped he’d win in the end – that way we could have a sequel, and he could be the Angels’ resident villain, good for multiple capers. Also props to veteran character actor Bert Remsen as down-on-his-luck better Pinky Tibbs, one of the Angels' accomplices. Ruddy cheeked, raspy-voiced, he adds good local color to help flesh out the caper story.

My only quibble is a credibility stretch near the beginning – Roy cracks the safe, steals the loot, and then stashes it down the mail hatch, presumably addressed to himself. Wouldn’t the cops have checked there right away, despite it being the technical property of the federal government? Yes, it’s clever of the crook, but with such high stakes the law oughta be cleverer. But anyway, minor point.
Kelly, wearing glasses for the finale. Sweet!
Let’s keep this level of writing up, and we’ll bring the season home with more hand wringing mysteries. I’m game!

Client: Ben McMasters (Prosecutor; Charlie works pro bono on this one)

Plot difficulty level: 6  (but a delight to follow)

Rating:  ****

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Charlie’s Angels 1:13 “Angel Trap"

Airdate: 1/5/77

Some bad-ass dude is killing Charlie’s WWII colleagues, the most recent victim being a poolgoer evidently trying to recreate the finale of The Great Gatsby. The culprit appears to be a highly trained and experienced assassin, all the more worrisome for the Angels’ client, a former commander named John Kamden, who fears that he will be next in line. A mysterious French woman named Janine offers up the suggestion that their man may be named Jericho, who once worked for the Allies, and so the Angels, using a well-protected Kamden as bait, attempt to entrap him with a combination of coordinated teamwork, feminine wiles and crafty machinations. Jericho eventually leans of the ruse, but he’s taken down by the Good Guys before he can do anything with the knowledge, and we ultimately learn of his hire for a French politician who wanted ex-soldiers taken out who knew anything of his WWII-era “special skills.”

It may be hard to believe now, but one of the most influential films of the 70s was The Day of the Jackal – it pretty much invented the character of the quiet assassin, whose every move, random as it might seem, was entirely calculated for getting the job done. As we’ve already seen Charlie’s Angels wasn’t exactly shy about exploiting current trends, but I’m certainly not gonna complain about their imitation of such a fine film, especially when it’s done this well. The shooting sequences are done with just the right kind of hair-trigger suspense, particularly the climactic one, involving a park, a hot dog vendor and a pet kitty.

But there’s another arresting element here, that of the titular “trap,” in which Jill builds an undercover relationship with Jericho, building one lie on top of another so he won’t suspect her identity. She shows atypical vulnerability after he realizes her betrayal – another instance where an Angel is allowed to be “human,” something which occurs far too infrequently on the show.

Unlike its inspirations, this episode’s plot is reasonably easy to follow, after a pretty information-heavy intro (don’t be late for this one), and the debriefing scene isn’t exactly a walk in the park either. But in between it’s really just a cat and mouse game, and Fernando Lamas as Jericho is delightful with his quasi-Euro accent, playing the debonair, Italian leather jacket-clad smoothie for maximum effect. The same can hardly be said for John Larch as Kamden, delivering his lines with such marble-mouthed incoherence I had to repeatedly go back on my DVD to figure out what the hell he was saying (and unfortunately he has most of the plot-elaborating dialogue). 
Sabrina, the card-playing Angel

But on balance I was entertained throughout. An intriguing, gripping yarn this side of John LeCarre.

Client: John Kamden

Plot difficulty level: 6  (mostly for the beginning and end)

Rating: ***1/2

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