Fri 1 Nov 2013
STRYKER: FANFARE FOR A DEATH SCENE. Made-for-TV movie (busted pilot), 1964. Richard Egan, Viveca Lindfors, Burgess Meredith, Telly Savalas, J.D. Cannon, Tina Louise, Al Hirt, Edward Asner, King Deigh. Screenplay Marion Hargrove. Directed by Leslie Stevens.
John Styker (Richard Egan) is a wealthy industrialist, but once upon a time he was an operative of the OSS, G2, and later the CIA, and when the white phone in his modern office rings he answers, sent off on another mission for the ultra secret Provisional Bureau of Intelligence.
Professor George Bannerman (Burgess Meredith) holds all the knowledge of America’s most secret intelligence data in his head, and his head isn’t working right. When the staff at the sanitarium he is held in is poisoned using spotted hemlock, Bannerman escapes taking his beloved trumpet with him, and the hunt is on.
J. D. Cannon and Edward Asner are agents of the PBI, but they don’t believe Stryker’s pet theory about the Golden Horde, a shadow government of descendants of the Mongol Khans led by the descendant of Genghis Khan himself, Ilchedai Khan (Telly Savalas) a jovial sadist, with his henchman Kingh Deigh and beautiful Circassian helper Tina Louise.
This jazzy spy pilot in the mode of Peter Gunn has a terrific score by Dominic Frontiere and is directed by Leslie Stevens, using many of the camera tricks of Stevens’ Outer Limits including a well shot karate battle between Egan and Deigh in a darkened room lighted only by slatted blinds.
The plot gallops along as Ilchedai Khan uses Stryker to find Bannerman, and Stryker keeps tabs on a famous classical trumpeter Reynaldo Mendel (Al Hirt) whom Bannerman idolizes, but Styker knows he’s being set up and even allows himself to be captured so he can learn more of Ichedai Khan’s plot.
The story is fairly silly but fun, and the outre elements from Telly Savalas’s latter day Fu Manchu to Viveca Lindfors as sadistic imperial princess of the Mongol and Russian blood are pure Sax Rohmer with a dash of James Bond thrown in the mix. The sets, like those of The Outer Limits, make ample use of shadows and open spaces to give the thing a unique look for television.
A fairly imaginative effort with some bright tongue-n-cheek elements.
“You will do no such thing. Until we absolutely have to …”
It all builds to a fairly surprising ending as Styker tracks down Bannerman using a concert to lure his quarry and outwitting Ilchedai Khan — this time.
Like many unsold pilots this one is a study in what might have been, but stands alone as a fairly ambitious example of high concept nonsense. Meredith does well with no dialogue, in portraying a psychotic breakdown and comes to a spectacular end.