Monday, 17 October 2016

The Avengers: Mister Jerico

Today a post about one of two films I have been meaning toblog about here which are related to The Avengers in one way or another; the other one is Q Planes, which is thought to be a possible inspiration for the character of Steed, and I wil blog about it at some point, although I have never managed to watch it all the way through yet! I make no bones about tagging Mister Jerico with 'The Avengers'. Mister Jerico I believe was intended to be the pilot for another series starring Patrick Macnee. Just reading the box, the names are so familiar: written by Philip Levene, original music by Laurie Johnson, produced by Julian Wintle... This, kids, is what the team behind The Avengers went on to do before they went even further on to the New Avengers.
And in fact the film is so very much like The Avengers in some ways. The font used for the titles was also used for The Avengers titles. It has Patrick Macnee in it, playing the sort of ambivalent figure he played in the earlier series of The Avengers before he became the grand old man of series 6. The trouble is that he talks as if he is Steed. Macnee's character sounds so like Steed, that if you close your eyes you can see Steed in front of you. In fact the sound track uses so many of the sound effects used in The Avengers that this film is in audio terms an extension of series 6 of The Avengers.
I was going to write that I felt this film was partly influenced by the James Bond series of films, and in fact it may well have been. However I have recently been rewatching the series of Pink Panther films and feel that they may well have been more influential. Certainly the obsession with the diamond in this film is more in line with the original Pink Panther film of 1963 than the larger concerns of James Bond. The fact that this film co-stars Herbert Lom was what made me think of the connection, although of course the characters in this film are quite different. Nonetheless, to my mind there is something of the atmosphere of the Pink Panther films rather than that of the James Bond films.
This morning I watched Live and Let Die, and was disappointed that what I inaccurately remembered as a mysterious film about voodoo and tarot cards was actually a James Bond film! I bring this up merely to make another comparison with Mr Jerico. While the clothes in Live and Let Die are obviously of their period (flairs feature highly and the many black characters are played more as caricatures) Live and Let Die does not seem as dated as Mr Jerico. The clothes in Mr Jerico are so very much of their time that they really hit you in the face and cannot be ignored. This is one of the problems with this film for me, that Patrick Macnee doesn't act that much differently to John Steed, but is so obviously not John Steed that it just seems wrong. This is of course an entirely personal viewpoint of this. I have no doubt that some people would like to see the frilly shirts and synthetic fibres of the time on his character. In addition, while I commented above that Macnee plays an ambivalent figure similar to his early Steed, in fact I think the ambivalence is that he is likeable. In reality he is a rogue, pure and unalloyed.
Production values are also more like the Pink Panther films than the Bond films. Definitely a smaller budget, so no wholesale destruction of luxury cars and what have you. Pacing is series 6-era Avengers. This film would be incredibly likeable if it didn't have so many overtones for a dyed in the wool Avengers fan like me! Perhaps it is best seen as a supporting feature - I see that it was originally billed as the supporting feature to Carry on up the Jungle, which dates it to a T. I certainly wouldn't tell anyone not to watch this film, I would just advise you not to be surprised when the conflicting emotions well up.
The final question which this film raises for me personally is whether the Avengers formula would have have been better going in a Mister Jerico direction or a New Avengers direction. My preference would have to be for a New Avengers direction, having never had any of the dislike for that series that some Avengers fans have. That said, I like to approach the New Avengers as if I am watching any 1970s series (The Professionals, say), so perhaps I had better approach Mr Jerico as if it is a Pink Panther film!

6 comments:

Mike Doran said...

Message from Chicago:

I was surprised to read that Mister Jerico apparently played only in theaters in Britain (unless I misunderstood; correction welcomed).

In the USA, Jerico was an ABC Movie Of The Week, airing on March 3rd, 1970, as part of the ABC network's highly rated Tuesday night lineup (led into by Mod Squad, led out into Marcus Welby, MD).

You're right about Jerico being a pilot (most Movies Of The Week were); ABC was the US home of The Avengers, and the net was eager to have Patrick Macnee back in the fold, so to speak.

I noticed that you didn't mention Marty Allen, the US comic who played Macnee's sidekick here; I'll guess that he wasn't as well-known in the UK. Still, his presence would have been an aid in attracting an American sponsor, had Jerico been picked up as a weekly.

If I'm recalling correctly, it was at this time that Macnee had become a more-or-less permanent resident of the US (his then-incumbent wife was an American actress, Kate Woodville); how that would have affected production is open to speculation.

Anyway, that's what I have here.

John said...

Thank you, Mike, always interesting to see how TV things can come across differently.
I genuinely don't know whether it's ever shown on TV here. A lot of shows did start out as single episode pilots, but I have a feeling Mister Jerico is exactly the wrong length and style to have done that at the time.
It's also good to see the ploy of having transatlantic casts does actually work!

Mike Doran said...

A little history:

For most of the 1970s, made-for-TV movies became the principal showcase for series pilots in the USA.
Nearly every hour-long dramatic series that got on during that decade (a few years leeway at either end) was launched as a 90-minute or two-hour Movie Of the Week (MOW, as the papers came to shorten the term); these pilots far outnumbered standalone films that aired during this time.
The US networks seemed to have the most success with crime/detective shows: the extra-length pilot film would use the added minutes to establish the star and his family of regulars who would appear in the hour episodes to come.

I gather from your posts that this wasn't the practice (practise?) in Britain; the few that got to this side of the pond tended to be all hour-long episodic series, such as the ITC/Sir Lew Grade shows, with no "origin story" pilots involved.
(I really ought to go back and read some of your earlier entries ...)

So, from Chicago, that's '30' for now.

John said...

Of course I stand to be corrected but that is exactly my understanding of what happened in the UK. I also can't think of any exceptions. Perhaps Mister Jerico was made the way it was to be attractive in the US?

Mike Doran said...

Just back from checking a reference:

Mister Jerico was co-produced by ITC/ATV, meaning Sir Lew Grade, who always had an eye on American TV as a customer for his wares.

I remember a story (probably apocryphal) about how Sir Lew was having a grumpy morning, and his wife supposedly said to him, "Why don't you sell something to the Americans? That always makes you feel better."

ITC was having a flush period with US sales, although, curiously, I can't recall any long-term successes over here (most were used as summertime replacements).

One other memory:
Years later, the American ABC network presented "A Salute To Sir Lew", an all-star gala variety hour MCed by Dave Allen, with many ITC stars singing the praises of the man who helped them get known worldwide.
Lord Grade (as he'd become by then) took the stage at the end to receive a plaque, and after a brief thank-you speech, launched into a vigorous Charleston, something he'd won prizes for as a youth.
If you recall Sir Lew's physique (he was reputedly the model for the Muppet scientist Dr Bunsen Honeydew), that was a memorable sight indeed.

John said...

What a wonderful image.
No, none of them was an enduring hit except with die-hard fans.