THE DELPHI BUREAU (1972)
Directed by: Paul Wendkos
Written by: Sam Rolfe
Starring: Laurence Luckinbill, Celeste Holm, Dean Jagger, Cameron Mitchell, Bradford Dillman, Bob Crane, Joanna Pettet, Dub Taylor.
THE DELPHI BUREAU is kind of the father, or more likely grandfather, of the TV show CHUCK (also one of my favorites). Probably the father of CHUCK was the movie GOTCHA! which they referenced in the show at least once, and though I don’t remember them ever referencing either DELPHI BUREAU or THE LIQUIDATOR (another grandfather) you can easily see their DNA in that show. CHUCK is about a normal guy who works a crap job at Buy More Electronics who becomes a spy when a specially designed image based computer program called The Intersect “downloads” into his head when he opens an email from an ex friend, and he suddenly knows everything the CIA, NSA, FBI and any other 3 letter spy organization has ever known. Every intelligence file ever is now stored on his brain.
DELPHI BUREAU has the same concept, but without The Intersect, Glenn Garth Gregory is a government researcher with a photographic memory who often ends up in the field tracking down some fact for some probably pointless government report and uncovers a conspiracy... and must fight spies and terrorists. Imagine Chuck in his 40s. Glenn Garth Gregory is *not* a man of action, he’s a bookworm, like Turner in THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR, who ends up having to become a man of action... which he’s not very good at. Like Chuck and Turner his knowledge helps him out in action scenes. He’s a guy who knows how to fly a helicopter, but has never actually done it. This type of character was also the basis for James Allan Carter in my CRASH DIVE! movie... and a couple of unpublished spy novels I wrote about a guy name Roger Maxwell who also has a photographic memory. This show was a big influence on me.
THE DELPHI BUREAU only lasted one season... and really not even that, as it was part of a “Wheel Show” called THE MEN (sexist!). What the heck is a “Wheel Show” you ask? The 1970s were an innovative time in television: the Made For TV Movie became popular, and networks like ABC had a *new* Made For TV Movie every week! The other creation was the “Wheel Show” and though I really don’t know what the first one was, THE NAME OF THE GAME would be my guess. FAME IS THE NAME OF THE GAME was a TV movie directed by Stuart Rosenberg (COOL HAND LUKE) about a magazine publishing company like Time Life and all of its various magazines.
The idea of the “Wheel Show” was that it was 3 or 4 shows in one... and the format really took off, giving us The NBC Mystery Movie with COLUMBO, McCLOUD, McMILLAN & WIFE and several others. The great thing about a “Wheel Show” was that you could try out a potential TV series with an 8 episode season and if it caught on, move it to a weekly 24 episode series. Plus, if a show tanked, you could just throw a new series into the wheel to replace it. On NAME OF THE GAME Tony Franciosa’s character was written out in the third season (some behind the scenes contract conflict) and replaced by Robert Culp and Robert Wagner and Suzanne Pleshette as journalists from other magazines run by Gene Barry’s character. The NBC Mystery Movie was constantly spinning off shows into their own series and replacing them with other detectives... often interesting experiments that might never get a chance at a series like HEC RAMSAY, a cowboy version of CSI in the old west. Try pitching CSI DEADWOOD today and see where it gets you.
It’s no wonder that DELPHI BUREAU was one of my favorite shows when I was a kid, it was created by Sam Rolfe who also created HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL and THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E which were two of my other favorite shows. He was nominated for an Oscar for his screenplay to THE NAKED SPUR, a great Anthony Mann western starring Jimmy Stewart. Rolfe’s last writing credit was on STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE, so he had a great career in TV.
Though CHUCK has traces of DELPHI BUREAU in its DNA., DELPHI has obvious traces of NORTH BY NORTHWEST (the movie poster of NBNW is on the wall of Chuck’s room!) and this pilot episode was obviously inspired by the Hitchcock classic...
MERCHANT OF DEATH ASSIGNMENT
“My job is to do research when the President needs to know some facts, but when the shooting starts? That’s a whole different department.”
In the airport, an attractive woman (April Thompson played by Joanna Pettet) bumps into him... and secretly places a flower decal on his camera case. When GGG steps onto the escalator at the airport, a uniform cop wearing a motorcycle helmet with tinted visor (Stokely played by Cameron Mitchell) fires a silenced gun at the man holding the camera case... killing him. Too bad it was a pickpocket trying to steal GGG’s camera! The pickpocket dies right *on top* of GGG, knocking him onto the escalator and pinning him down when they reach the end of the escalator. The escalator was a great location for this assassination scene. GGG thinks the man may have had a heart attack, then discovers he was shot. WTF? When a motorcycle policeman arrives to help and asks GGG why he has the dead man’s camera bag, GGG says it’s *his* camera bag... and the motorcycle cop pulls out his gun and starts shooting at GGG and chasing him through the airport! GGG escapes and hails a taxi... That’s how to start a story!
Before you can say “Monsanto” GGG is speed reading agricultural books so that he can pass himself off as a Department Of Agriculture guy who will accompany Sybil to a party being thrown by Keller for his War Against Hunger Organization. Everyone in government and politics is at the party, including GGG’s friend Charlie Taggert (Bob Crane) who is comic relief on the pilot episode (but didn’t return for the series). Taggert speaks in limericks and loves to use acronyms for government agencies. The limerick part would also be used as “chapter titles” for subsequent episodes. Taggert is hitting on a beautiful woman when GGG shows up, and we get a great demonstration of GGG’s photographic memory as Taggert zings him with sports statistic questions and GGG instantly answers even the most obscure of them! Hey, this guy knows *everything*. Taggert works for S.N.I.S.W.I.S. (Sniss Wiss) the Strategic Not In Service Weapons Inventory Section and asks GGG about the F101 situation, so that we can get a little more exposition... the main bit being that Keller’s experimental farm is located about 600 miles from the Airforce Base where the planes vanished... is Keller behind the missing planes?
When he accompanies Keller and his entourage to their limo, he flashes on the limo driver... Stokely, the fake motorcycle cop who tried to kill him at the airport!
Farmland... GGG drives to the small town hotel to check in, but spots Stokely in the lobby. Stokely says Mr. Keller has reserved the best room in the hotel for GGG. (Yeah, probably bugged.) As soon as Stokely leaves, GGG asks a cowboy hanging around outside the hotel if there’s anywhere else to say in this town, and the cowboy sends him to a local boarding house. Twist: that cowboy gets picked up by Stokely and April as soon as GGG is gone...
Taggert pops up again in the field with information that it’s not just 24 F101 fighter jets that are missing, there are tanks and rocket launchers and all kinds of other weapons! Enough for *someone* to start a war! Somewhere along the line Taggert asks April “Wangly diaplut?” (What's A Nice Girl Like You Doing In A Place Like This?) and has a comic relief limerick for everything. And April keeps sending GGG to his doom, much like Eve in NORTH BY NORTHWEST.
One of the great things about this pilot episode is that everything is farm related, from those 4H girls to this harvesting machine chasing them through the corn fields. The improvised weapons GGG has to create are often farm related! Much as Jackie Chan uses whatever is at the location as a weapon, DELPHI BUREAU uses everything farm related for it’s story and scenes. This is one of those great screenwriting lessons in action: instead of a typical car chase or action scene, we get a *location specific* action scene like the harvester chasing them through the corn fields with its rotating blades.
The cinematography is great: it looks like a big theatrical movie and has some amazing moving camera work. One shot worth noting starts with GGG in an office at the Airforce Base reading fuel consumption reports... and when he closes the ledger the camera pulls back *out a huge picture window* and follows him out a door and then down exterior stairs to a Jeep and he speeds off... all in the same shot! There are many big wide shots which are composed for the big screen rather than the small screen. Many of these MOWs and wheel shows had a theatrical release overseas, so they made them feel like a movie.
Warner Archive: All kinds of great vintage movies and TV shows!
From the capital came a young man…
To uncover some worms in a can…
So they con him – they frame him…
For murder they blame him…
In turn – he eludes them…
Pursues – then eschews them…
'Till he holds all the strings to the plan…
The end – more or less, Delphian!
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