TV Espionage & Spies


FOUR FORGOTTEN TV AND RADIO SPY SERIES

by Michael Shonk


WORLD OF GIANTS. ZIV Productions, 1959; syndicated. Cast: Marshall Thompson as Mel Hunter, Arthur Franz as Bill Winters and Marcia Henderson as Miss Brown.

SPY SHADOW. NBC, 1967-68. Depatrie-Freleng Productions with Mirisch-Rich Television. Voice Cast: Ted Cassidy, June Foray, Shepard Menkin, Don Messick, Paul Frees. Producers: David H. Depatie and Fritz Freleng.

FORTUNE HUNTER. Fox, 1994. BBK Productions Inc. / Columbia Pictures Television. Cast: Mark Frankel as Charlton Dial, and John Robert Hoffman as Harry Flack. Created by Steven Aspis. Co-Executive Producers: Steven Aspis & Paul Stupin. Executive Prodcuers: Frank Lupo & Carlton Cuse.

MR. I.A. MOTO. NBC Radio, 1951; sustaining. Cast: James Monk and Mr. I. A. Moto. Produced by Carol Irwin or Doris Quinlan. Announcer: Fred Collins or Ray Barret. Director: Harry W. Junkin. Writers include Harry W. Junkin, Robert Tallman and Jim Haines.

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WORLD OF GIANTS (WOG). “Special Agent.” Teleplay by Donald Duncan and Jack Laird; story by Donald Duncan. Directed and produced by Otto Lang. Guest Cast: John Gallaudet and James Seay *** While on a mission behind the Iron Curtain, American spy Mel Hunter suffered an accident that shrank him to six inches. “Special Agent” is the series first episode and is the story of Mel’s first case as a six-inch man. Mel and his normal sized partner Bill search an office for secret papers.

   There are two episodes available on YouTube – the first and last. Both are slow paced and clumsily written, even for the late fifties era. Direction and special effects did what they could with the limits of technology at the time. Drama was mocked as the most serious threats to life of our hero spy came from a cat and a falling pencil.

   According to Broadcasting, (July 28 1958, August 18 1958 and July 28 1958) WOG was originally scheduled for the 1958-59 fall season on the CBS network. It would have aired on Wednesday following Invisible Man. Production problems caused the series to be delayed. The 1958 season was a bad time for network’s ad sales; the networks were still struggling with the fallout from the quiz show scandals. Both Invisible Man and World of Giants were replaced by the live drama Pursuit. WOG would finally air in syndication starting September 1959 and last only thirteen episodes.



SPY SHADOW. “Evila the Terrible” Credits can be found here on the Big Cartoon Database. *** Villain Evila is trying to take over the World again. Her servant has invented a hypnosis ray gun that Evila uses to obtain everyone’s jewels and money. Interspy agent Richard Vance is sent to stop his old flame.

   This poorly animated and written Saturday morning cartoon is bad enough to be fun to watch. Spy Shadow was a segment of Saturday morning cartoon series, Super President Show. (Super President was the President of the United States and when needed turned into costumed superhero Super President who could change his molecular structure to any form).

   Spy Shadow featured Richard Vance, an agent for an organization named Interspy. Thanks to his training in mysterious Tibet, Vance and his shadow could separate to fight Super-villains. The episodes usually began with the villain succeeding in his/her/it evil plot of the week. Vance would try to stop the crime and bad guys. Vance would fail and get captured. The villain would usually leave Vance in an over complicated death trap. Vance’s shadow would separate from his body and save the spy/detective from the trap. The only thing that could stop the shadow was darkness, as the shadow needed light to exist.

   Both Spy Shadow and Super PresidentT episodes can be found on YouTube.




FORTUNE HUNTER. “Red Alert.” Written by Carlton Cuse; directed by Mike Levine. Guest Cast: J.G. Hertzler and Karen Witter. *** The plot has a mad man seeking to free the Ukraine from Russia by blackmailing the World with nerve gas. The nerve gas had last been seen stored in an out of date Russian satellite that had crashed in South Carolina.

   “Red Alert” featured a better than average script for the series by Carlton Cuse (Lost). Frankel offered some appeal as a cut-rate Bond while Hoffman was less hammy than usual. Karen Witter was terrible as the 90s stereotype – the female brilliant scientist/kick ass soldier with a beauty queen’s looks.

   I would not be surprised that this series still has fans, especially young men who grew up during the 90s. Fortune Hunter is a typical example of the 1990s Action TV series with a style best described as 90s version of Stephen J. Cannell does James Bond.

   However Fortune Hunter lacked any originality. The premise was a rip-off of TV series Search (1972, NBC). Former top British spy Charlton Dial now worked for Intercept Corporation, a private company specializing in high-risk assignments recovering objects. Dial was the field agent who had special contact lens and earpiece that allowed comedy relief and Intercept tech Harry to monitor Dial’s activity as a one man “Probe Control.” And not surprisingly the series had a fondness for gadgets.

   While all thirteen episodes were filmed and reportedly successfully aired around the World, Fox pulled it off the air after only five episodes aired. “Red Alert” was the last to air on Fox.



MR. I. A. MOTO. “The Bazaloff Paper.” Written and directed by Harry W. Junkin. Produced by Carol Irwin. Cast: James Monk as Moto. Guest cast: Ross Martin and Connie Lembeke. *** Moto is in the Far East searching for a murdered scientist’s paper that could change the balance of power in the Pacific.

   The character of Mr. Moto first appeared in a series of books written by John P. Marquand. I have a great fondness for the film version of Mr. Moto as portrayed by Peter Lorre. Both the books and films are still remembered today, but the same can not be said about the NBC radio series.

   The radio series was well-written, racist, sexist and an excellent example of the culture at the time. Japanese-American Moto worked as an international secret agent fighting communism and crime all over the world.

   The series aired on NBC in 1951 without a sponsor. It was a difficult time for radio, as TV was replacing it as the public’s favorite home entertainment. The focus of NBC was more on TV, and while the network produced 23 half-hours without a commercial sponsor, NBC paid little attention to promoting the series. Because of this there remains some confusion and questions about Mr. I. A. Moto.

   For example, there are two versions surviving of the same story – “Bazaloff Paper” and “Kuriloff Paper.” Some believe one was for the West Coast and the other for the East Coast. Others believe one was a rehearsal copy and the other the final air version. Here are both versions:

               Bazaloff Paper:

               Kuriloff Paper:

   More details about Mr. I. A. Moto can be found at The Digital Deli Too.

THE GRID. “Hour One/Hour Two.” TNT, US, 19 July 2004 as the first two episodes of a six-part mini-series. First shown on BBC Two, UK, 2004. Dylan McDermott, Julianna Margulies, Bernard Hill, Jemma Redgrave, James Remar, Piter Marek, Silas Carson, Olek Krupa, Barna Moricz, Emil Marwa, Robert Forster, Tom Skerritt. Director: Mikael Salomon.

   A failed poison Sarin attack in London post 9/11 leads to the creation of a international counter-terrorism team in the US led by Maren Jackson (Julianna Margulies) of the National Security Council. Others are members of the FBI (Dylan McDermott) and the CIA (Piter Marek). Characters on the British end of things are played by Bernard Hill (MI5) and Jemma Redgrave (MI6).

   In spite of the stated spirit of cooperation between the various agency involved, not-so-hidden rivalries between agencies break out almost immediately, not to mention the squabbles between MI5 and MI6 in the UK, the latter which also resents the US team’s “know it all” involvement, which by the end of episode two has proven quite wrong.

   They must have spent a lot of money putting this mini-series together. It shows, but the dazzling switches from scene to scene and country to country is just that, dazzling, and there are a lot of characters to keep straight at the same time. By the end of Hour Two, I think I was doing well, but I had better keep watching, or I am afraid all I have put together so far will be lost.

   But I say this with an ulterior motive: as a bit of persuasion to make sure I do so. The story, while very dramatically done, does not seem to break any ground that hasn’t been plowed over many times before, and I am not talking about the threat of Islamic terrorism in specifics, but anti-espionage efforts in general.

   The inclusion of intimate details in terms of personal backgrounds and animosities as well as inter-agency squabbling falls into the same category. It’s nice on the eyes so far, but while I’m sure I will continue, there’s no sense of urgency about it either, which is too bad on many levels, including the amount of time and energy that was put into this.

Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:          


17 MOMENTS OF SPRING. Gorky Film Studios, USSR, TV Mini-Series, 12 x 70m episodes, 1973. Original title: Semnadtsat mgnoveniy vesny. Vyacheslav Tikonov, Oleg Tabakov, Rotoslav Plyatt, Yekterina Gradova. Narrated by Yefim Kopelyan. Screenplay by Yulian Semyenov, based on his own novel. Director: Tatyana Lioznova.

   A man and an elderly lady stand in the wood and discuss the beauty of nature and the glory of spring after a long winter. We are in Germany, outside Berlin in February 1945 in the last days of WWII and it has indeed been a long winter.

   The man, Mr. Bolyan, is also Standartenfuherer Otto Von Stirlitz, a decorated and trusted intelligence officer in the SS who has the ears of Walter Shellenberg a popular and important officer with ties to Hitler, the general staff, and Reichmarshall Himmler of the SS. Darkly handsome and Nordic, Stirlitz seems the perfect Nazi and for six years he has been. For six years he has buried his real identity as Colonel Maxim Isayev of Soviet Intelligence while working in German intelligence and rising to an important position in SS intelligence.

   So begins the low key Soviet spy drama from 1973 that brought to life the adventures of Stirlitz, the creation of novelist Yulian Semyenov in a twelve part mini-series that rocked Soviet television and popular entertainment to its core. Power shortages happened whenever 17 Moments of Spring aired because ninety percent of television sets in Russia were tuned to Stirlitz’s adventures. Even today Stirlitz jokes are common in post Soviet Russia (and simply don’t translate into English — I tried) mostly drawing on the dour deliberate Stirlitz glacial resolve to show no emotion whatsoever and his plodding ways.

   Yulian Semyenov was the Russian Ian Fleming, like his British counterpart a journalist with intelligence ties from the war and well known by his superiors. His creation, known as Stirlitz rather than Isayev, is no James Bond however. Stirlitz is stoic, sexless, dour, brooding, self sacrificing (at one point he sees his wife he has not seen for six years and cannot reveal himself and we are treated to three minutes of baleful sad eyes), and there is precious little violence in his adventures.

   That isn’t to say Semyenov was unaware of Fleming and Bond. One of his novels about Stirlitz is called Diamonds for the Revolution of the Proletariat, in which the young Isayev is assigned to find the jewels of the Royal family that have gone missing after their execution and which are needed to fuel the new Soviet Republic, you have to wonder since that Republic certainly wasn’t forever, about the Fleming influence.

   Some of the novels were even printed in English, at least one as by Julian Semyenov even getting into an American paperback edition, but far and away 17 Moments of Spring is the best known of his works and Strilitz adventures, covering, as the title suggests, in semi documentary style, seventeen days in early spring 1945 as Strilitz strives to uncover transcripts of talks between the Western allies, England and the United States, with the crumbling panicked Nazi elite, Soviet paranoia under Stalin at least providing the McGuffin for a deliberate but fairly fascinating documentary style spy drama populated with a spate of historical characters on both sides.

   The project came into being during the period of detente, when things loosened up considerably and even a James Bond film or two got into the hands of Soviet elites. While there is a clear implication the West is not always up to any good in relation to the Soviets (and that was a two-way street in reality) the real bad guys are the Nazis and it takes a surprisingly soft middle ground stance on the role of the West, certainly giving credit where it is due despite the McGuffin about possible Western double dealing (in truth, by that point the West would not have settled the war with anything but unconditional surrender, but you have to give a spy story it’s McGuffin — nonsense or not — certainly there were those in the West arguing to save what was left of Germany to turn against the Russians). In short, the propaganda isn’t noticeably intrusive.

   Vyacheslav Tikhonov as Stirlitz and Oleg Tabakov as Shellenberg are the stand out performances here, a subtle cat-and-mouse game underway as Stirlitz falls under suspicion and the inevitable end of the Reich puts every nerve on edge as rats either try to desert the sinking ship or fanatics refuse to see the truth. Shellenberg is presented as a charming ruthless Nazi who nonetheless sees the writing on the wall and that it is increasing late to save anything including his own neck.

   While Semyenov and Stirlitz are pretty much it for Cold War Soviet spy fiction from Russia for something livelier, you might seek out the adventures of Boris Stolitzy, a smart charming hard drinking and womanizing KGB agent whose Cold War adventures were penned by a Finnish writer and who bore a resemblance to later 007 outings in that his adventures never really seemed to pit him against the West. Since the fall of the Soviet Union mystery and thriller fiction is somewhat livelier than before with writers like Boris Akkunin, but still far from well known here.

   Currently BBC 4 Extra is airing The Soviet James Bond, a half hour documentary about Semyenov and Stirlitz, and the complete series of 17 Moments of Spring can be seen on YouTube with English subtitles. It’s worth watching one episode just to see how the other side did it, and in its quiet way it is surprisingly like a John Le Carre tale crossed with early spy dramas like The House on 92nd Street and Walk East on Beacon Street. Actually it is considerably less leftist than Le Carre to be brutally honest resembling one of those politically uneasy WWII flag-wavers where the Soviets are reluctantly embraced as Allies.

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