A German commander of occupational forces plans to force a kidnapped conductor to perform a Wagner piece on Bastille Day as propaganda for the Nazis in France. The Jericho team plots to ...
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A German commander of occupational forces plans to force a kidnapped conductor to perform a Wagner piece on Bastille Day as propaganda for the Nazis in France. The Jericho team plots to sabotage this plan by taking the conductor's entire orchestra out of the country. Written by
One of the least-known of the numerous series spawned by the success of THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., which is ironic because JERICHO was an MGM Arena Production executive produced by Norman Felton, developer of U.N.C.L.E. Co-creator credits go to the esteemed team of Levinson and Link, just a year or so shy of premiering their most enduring creation, COLUMBO.
The premise, judging by this episode alone, appears to be U.N.C.L.E. set in World War II. Don Francks plays American Franklin Sheppard, John Leyton plays British Nicholas Gage, and thoroughly Italian actor Marino Mase plays Frenchman Jean-Gaston Andre. Francks is the Napoleon Soloesque leader of the trio, Leyton the poor man's Ilya, a pretty boy with an anachronistic Beatles mop top, and Mase the bombastic risk taking hot dog. The team works well together and the actors enjoyed an easy chemistry right out of the gate.
Broadcast as the third episode, this was actually the pilot. And if an international cast fighting Nazis stirs up memories of THE RAT PATROL, they will only be heightened by the welcome guest appearance of Eric Braedon (still billed as Hans Gudegast) as Major Richter. He steals every scene he's in.
The setting is Occupied France, and Jericho--codename for our trio--is assigned to put the kibosh on a propaganda Bastille Day concert of Wagner music. Jericho initially balks at the unimportance of the mission, but morale and a renowned conductor and his orchestra being used as pawns by the Nazis warrants a table-turning.
Jericho plots not only to quash the concert, but to sneak conductor Paul Marchand and all 101 members of his orchestra across the Channel to England! Jericho's plotting and playing out the mission is similar to that seen on MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, which premiered this same 1966-67 season. Adding to that vibe is the Lalo Schifrin score, with cues strikingly similar to those on MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, martial drums and all. No complaints--I loved it!
One thing I didn't love was the mass slaughter of Nazis over the course of the episode. Yeah, they're the bad guys, but Jericho, with machine guns and grenades, kill wantonly and relentlessly. A couple Nazis, investigating oboe music emanating from a manhole, get machine-gunned in the face. Attempts at humor inserted into the carnage--a woman bringing her birdcage into the house while bullets fly--failed to lighten the mood.
The guest cast is good, though never used to its full potential. Even Braedon seems to be hovering in the background instead of front and center. I wanted him to have a larger, more commanding role. Nehemiah Persoff plays Paul Marchand, and gets a couple good scenes, but nothing like he would enjoy a month later in the outstanding "Odds on Evil" episode of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE. Ben Wright plays Mallory, Jericho's contact who gave them this assignment and presumably another at the conclusion. He appeared poised to play this show's answer to Mr. Waverly, but he vanished after this one appearance.
What will keep me tuning in, so to speak, will be Don Francks as team leader Sheppard. He has a determined, weather-beaten face that testifies to a hard-knock life with many missions behind him. He just commands attention and respect. Leyton was a lightweight, and ugh--that ridiculous hair. I'm a stickler for period dress and styles, and I wish the producers had insisted on it, but it's obvious Leyton was the most David McCallumesque actor they could contract. Andre has charisma, but he lost me with his turn as the hot dog frog who disobeys orders to rescue a countryman, an amateur stunt that jeopardized the lives of over 100 people. He'll need reining in.
Alas, Francks will never get the chance to whip these whelps into seasoned fighting men since the series was torpedoed after a mere sixteen episodes (blame Batmania, which turned out to be a more indomitable foe than the Nazi hordes). This was a good even if flawed opening salvo in a series that's ripe for rediscovery, especially for my fellow fans of spy shows of the Sixties. Can't wait to see 'em all!
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