My article about the second season of I Spy, inspired by the release of Timeless’s DVD complete set, the piece became a monster, way beyond anything I had thought it would be when I began writing on the series.
The monster was such a behemoth that it crashed computers, and then had to be sent in segmented phases so that text and photos could be converted into the format that were desired in cyberspace.
Somewhere in the 2Gs and 2Fs segments, two of the most fondly remembered and loved episodes of I Spy did not appear in the article on Season Two. That’s okay, though. This piece allows the two episodes, “Mainly on the Plains” and “The Warlord”, to have a spotlight shone on them.
And thus, away we go, to Spain, where Frankenstein’s Monster becomes a man of brilliance and delusion, of poignant despair and hearty good cheer. He holds the key to death on a vast scale, and it casts a shadow over his mind. Only fictional characters that he so fondly cherishes offers him streaks of light in the grey dominance of depression.
Scotty and Kelly play Sancho Panza to Boris Karloff’s Don Quixote.
“Mainly on the Plains” opens with a lengthy pan shot, with Robert Culp and Boris Karloff approaching a fountain standing in the Plaza de Espana in Seville. In this grand setting, with the expansive architecture in the background, we are visually introduced to two of the main players, including Don Ernesto Silvando (Karloff). Kelly and the Don stop by the fountain, which was necessary because of the length of time the shot endures, and the fact that Boris was suffering from emphysema and had steel braces over his legs under his pants. The two then stroll slowly toward the mosaics of the different provinces of Spain while the bad guys come into the Foreground and watch them. They talk of the secrets the old man holds and want to pry from him. If they can’t do it peacefully, if they feel he is going to give his secrets to another country like America, then they will silence him.
All this, in one shot.
Now, this is not in league with Orson Welles’ complexly executed opening shot from Touch of Evil, but you ain’t hardly never seen anything like it on TV.
Horst, the blondie bad guy, tries to gain the Don’s friendship, but the old man has a gift for accents, knowing exactly where a person comes from by the way they speak. He knows Horst (Carl Schell, Maximillan Schell’s brother) has lied to him about his place of origin.
When Kelly has left the Don, after making plans to meet and introduce him to Scotty, he is approached in one of the Pavilions at gunpoint by Horst, who wants to know who the hell Kelly is and what he wants with the Don.
Kelly responds with the fluid grace he is known for on the tennis courts.
Kelly tucks the gun inside Horst’s jacket, finger on the trigger. When he decides not to kill Horst, the man is disdainful that the American would not shoot because it is a “sunny day.”
The Don is a scientist who has discovered a powerful equation of immense doomsday potential, and both countries want it fiercely. The Don is a lover of Cervantes Don Quixote, and along with his multitude of translations of the book, he decides to take Kelly and Scotty on a journey with him to Madrid.
Before they can even start, the bad guys try to assassinate the Don, but the bullet hits a passing milk can, spraying Kelly’s backside wetly. Since the weapon had a silencer, and was fired from a rooftop far away, Kelly and Scotty both look puzzled, as if Kelly has suddenly wet his pants.
The Don doesn’t notice because he is reading a passage from Don Quixote to them.
The journey delves into the Don’s psyche. As he has Scotty and Kelly become his escorts, his own personal Sancho Panzas, and enacts sequences from Don Quixote, there is a tenderness in Karloff’s performance, a torn man burdened by having to make a decision that could have world shaking consequences. His eyes can gleam with laughter; his eyes can mist with sadness at the pain he sees in himself and in the world.
Tilting windmills with ferocious delight, the Don has to be carried away when the inhabitant within shoots buckshot into Kelly’s behind.
This leads to one of those delightful sequences between Cosby and Culp that just adds to the pleasure they obviously have working with Boris. Bill pulls pellets from Kelly’s butt, with lines like, “She loves me, she loves me not.” While Bob regrets that he has but one AH!HA!HA! to give for his country.
I find it pleasing that at the end of his career, Boris got to play different kinds of roles than he often did in movies. On what is perhaps the only decent episode of The Girl from Uncle, Boris plays Mother Muffin, a woman villain. I don’t know whose casting idea that was, but it made the episode sparkle, with Robert Vaughn helping things along as Napoleon Solo.
In this role in I Spy, Boris is introspective, obstinate, impenetrable, vulnerable, loveable, and heroic.
Enacting more scenes from Cervantes’ book, he sets free a van full of prisoners, believing he is acting in the cause of justice and freedom. When Kelly wipes the dust off the prison van sign and asks Scotty what it says, “And don’t lie,” Scotty explains about “the short life of el fugitivo.”
Horst and his men eventually make prisoners of the trio. They try for an escape, but Horst is positioned on the rooftop of an abandoned fortress, aiming down into the courtyard where they have made their play to disarm the bad guys.
Scotty and Kelly in another locked room, but not alone this time, the villains intend to torture the Don for the vital destructive knowledge in his head.
Kelly convinces Scotty to hit that “Fletcher” in the head; his favorite substitute for the word “Fucker.”
Scotty shows how he best plays the guitar.
After their escape through the courtyard, Kelly again finds himself forced to take part in the Don’s delusional state (if indeed that is what it is) to fight man to man, to establish who is not a coward. Scotty explains that according to the code of chivalry, Kelly has to play the game. If he wins, the Don becomes his vassal and must do whatever he asks.
Kelly can’t even pronounce the “Maguffin” they are after, but he understands it’s important, and reluctantly engages in a stick fight with the Don, as Scotty watches, shaking his head at Kelly’s pitifulness.
The tag scene between the three men is genuinely affectionate. You can see all of them had a good time playing together. Boris rallies them for one last Quixote challenge.
If you are a Boris Karloff fan and have never seen his performance here, it is something you will treasure.
And now boys and girls, just to keep you on your toes, once again something completely different from last week’s episode.
In “The Warlord” Robert Culp writes the script that would earn him an Emmy Nomination for Outstanding Writing Achievement in Drama.
It is also a reflection of Bob’s long-standing love of Terry and the Pirates. It wasn’t just on-screen that there was a love of comics, and in this script, and “The Tiger”, there is a profound display of the influence Milton Caniff had on Bob.
Not content to create the Warlord, and to play Kelly Robinson, Bob also had it in mind to play the Chinese Warlord who reflected generations of obligation and duty to a way of life threatened to be extinguished by current regimes and outside political forces.
Kelly and Scott are briefed on their new assignment while watching newsreel footage of a privileged, rich, white woman kidnapped during a raid on a native village. The imperious father wants the government to pay ransom to have her returned safely to him. The Government orders Scotty and Kelly to make the payment, because Kelly once knew the flighty jetsetter.
The two agents are hijacked by Chuang-Tzu and taken to Katherine in an isolated palace, camouflaged by jungle tree and leaf and overgrown land, static in time, as if in a feudal era.
Katherine is changed, philosophical and in quiet, intense love with this man whose way of life is so estranged from the life she has known.
Bob had it in mind from the time he was writing the script that he wanted to play the Warlord. In the entertainment business it is often not enough to want to do it, you have to find the way to have the chance to do it.
You have to comprehend how the people who make the final decisions are playing the game.
He knew there was good chance he would be rejected to do an Asian role if he could not show visually how he intended to approach it.
If you can’t trust that they will “see” it in their heads, your only other option is to show them it already done.
He found the makeup artist John Chambers.
Somehow, when he was back in California filming the stage sequences for the I Spys filmed abroad, Bob worked with John, telling him what he wanted. The makeup had to be done unlike the usual Hollywood approaches, a challenge that Chambers met and fulfilled.
Chambers told Bob he would not charge the company if Bob could not get the show made. The sets and design and ambitions of the script almost precluded it being made, but Leon Chooluck found a way the show could afford to build the sets in Spain. The sets are marvelously grand and filmed with elegance and ambiance by Fouad Said.
While “The Warlord” was being filmed, John Chambers received a letter asking him to the gorilla make-up for Planet of the Apes. John Chambers was also the make-up genius depicted in the film Argo, played by John Goodman, and in real-life helped pull off the daring rescue of people in danger of being murdered.
There is a genuine poetic quality to image and words in “The Warlord”. An operatic feel of connections and endings. A simplicity in inexplicable love. A complexity of consequences and elemental truths of nature.
FROM ROBERT CULP’S I SPY TELESCRIPT:
CHUANG-TZU: Thoughts. Joining. Separating. Going on. The curse of memory.
SCOTTY: Why a curse?
CHUANG-TZU: In all memory is implicit loss. Are you familiar with the ancient form of the Haiku?
SCOTTY: A little.
CHUANG-TZU: The long night. The sound of water says what I think. They translate poorly. There is a game I remember seeing in England, a game of child’s play. A game quite common. But to me, strange and fascinating. The children dance about the chairs. One by one, the chairs are removed, and the children who have lost a place in the game, drop out. One by one. A whole history of activity and laughter and shouting, put back the chairs. The act of winning, to win…the child must finish alone. One child. And one child. And at last the game is over.
The dialogue is quietly haunting. There are no histrionics. It is the inevitable ending, realized with the man who speaks, knowing it is not only his end he alludes to, but the end of a way of life, centuries old.
A gentleness during the approach of unrelenting savagery.
Culp’s script quietly acknowledges the unanswerable, with his last, quiet, introspective question.
How do the geese know when it is time to migrate?
The hardcover edition of Detectives Inc. is still available. Continued sales on the series can help make the new Detectives Inc.: A Fear of Perverse Photos/A Repercussion of Violent Reprisal a reality. The hardcover edition of Detectives Inc. is still available. Continued sales on the series can help make the new Detectives Inc.: A Fear of Perverse Photos/A Repercussion of Violent Reprisal a reality. I’m not sure if IDW still has any volumes left of the hardcover, but you can buy it on Amazon.
The newly designed http://www.donmcgregor.com is up and running, and Gary and Dawn Guzzo have brought it up to date. I’m talking to Gary recently about having an update Blog right there on that very page where I can Post and you can reply. Check us out!
The biggest I Spy forum on the internet is here, and without Tatia Loring, this Riding Shotgun piece could never have become the in-depth, visually elaborate I Spy celebration that I wanted to do.
My two-part Starlog interview with Robert Culp is available on the forum:
Part One: “Robert Culp – A Volatile Talent in the Electronic Wasteland”.
Part Two: “Robert Culp – Building A Career in The Hollywood Jungle”
Okay, I love I Spy. You all know that from viewing this. One of the best books ever done on a television series is Marc Cushman and Linda LaRosa’s I Spy: A History and Episode Guide to the Groundbreaking Television Series. People often asked me over the years if I would write an I Spy book. I could never have done one as all-inclusive and well researched as this one. You can find the book here.