Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Trailer Tuesday: THE DELPHI BUREAU (1972)

This week’s Trailer Tuesday is for an obscure TV show from the 1970s, so it doesn’t really have a trailer... but it’s one of my favorite shows and this is *my* blog, so suck it.

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 and a couple of unpublished spy novels I wrote about a guy name Roger Maxwell who also has a photographic memory.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 movie was a hit and spawned the TV show that removed “Fame Is” from the title and ran from 1968 to 1971. The TV show was 90 minutes long and starred Gene Barry as the publisher, Tony Franciosa as a celebrity journalist for magazine like Life and Robert Stack as an investigative reporter for a magazine like Time. Susan Saint James was the executive secretary who really ran the whole operation for Barry and was a regular in every episode. Every week it was like a TV movie, featuring either Barry’s publisher or Franciosa’s celeb & current affairs journalist or Stack’s investigative reporter. And the three stars rotated. So one week might feature a Hollywood behind the scenes soap scandal kind of story and the next week might be investigating a murder and uncovering a conspiracy and the next week we might have publisher Gene Barry on his way to an Environmental Conference where the President and some Senators would be speaking and makes a wrong turn and... well, that episode L.A. 2017 was directed by some kid named Spielberg and completely blew my mind when I was a kid. Part of TV’s innovative period was doing strange things like a science fiction episode in a dramatic TV show... Barry’s car crashes on the way to the Conference and he wakes up in 2017 where *air* is at a premium.

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.

ABC’s “wheel show” THE MEN featured ASSIGNMENT VIENNA (a spy show shot on location in Vienna), JIGSAW (about a missing persons investigator), and DELPHI. The entire wheel show only lasted one season, so there were only 8 episodes of THE DELPHI BUREAU made... and only the first episode is available on DVD from Warner Archive.

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...

THE DELPHI BUREAU:
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.”

The show opens with Glenn Garth Gregory (lanky Laurence Luckinbill) doing field research at an Airforce Base where miles of surplus planes are being stored for the next big war. There was a basic accounting problem: some surplus jet planes are unaccounted for but a later report had them written off after they were destroyed in a fire... and GGG’s job is to write a report on the damaged planes, so he’s flown out to this base in Arizona to take inventory. Booooring! Except there are no damaged pieces of the airplanes and no area at the base which looks as if a fire of that size took place. Suspicious. He takes photos of the supposed burn site and hops a plane back to Washington, DC.

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!

GGG meets his boss Sybil Van Loween (Celeste Holm) in the Congressional Gallery, where he reports that something is fishy with these jet planes. 24 brand new F101 fighter planes supposedly burned at the Airforce Base, yet there is no evidence of this... and the base has used more fuel than usual, enough to fly 24 planes 600 miles. Sybil tells him that coincidentally, an arms dealer in Sudan seems to have 24 new F101 fighter jets for sale to the highest bidder terrorist or 3rd word dictator. The planes don’t seem to be in Sudan, so they must find them before they get there and fall into the wrong hands. GGG spots April from the airport in the gallery... following him? She works for Matthew Keller (Dean Jagger who always plays the villain) who used to be an arms merchant nicknamed “The Merchant Of Death” but is now funding experimental food GMOs to help feed the starving people in 3rd world countries. Though GGG doesn’t “flash” like Chuck, there’s always a moment where we can see the information pop into his head.

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?

Then GGG meets Keller at the party... and he’s confined to a wheelchair after suffering a major stroke. Or, that’s what everyone claims. With Keller is his male nurse Dobkin (David Sheiner) plus April and prissy grain geneticist Randy Jamison (Bradford Dillman, a frequent COLUMBO villain). GGG says he’d like to stop by their experimental farm and see if the Department of Agriculture can help them in some way...

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...

From here the story is filled with twists and turns, featuring an exploding horse, a scene at the County Fair where GGG is framed for murder just like Roger Thornhill is framed at the United Nations, a great cameo by Dub Taylor as a hick in a pick up truck who gives GGG a ride and tries to polish off a king sized jug of moonshine along the way, and a series of cool scenes where GGG uses his endless knowledge to McGyver his way out of dangerous situations. He knows exactly which tentpole to kick to bring down the whole tent, he knows the heat and speed at which a kerosene fire will spread. He knows the wheel base of cars, trucks, farm equipment, and fighter planes... and knows that the skid marks on a country road are a clue. He knows how to use a cage full of birds as a weapon! Every danger situation he is faced with he finds some intelligent way to escape, based on all of the crazy facts and statistics stored in that brain of his.

The pilot film does a great job of creating that paranoia required in a Thriller, with every single character from that cowboy to townspeople possibly being part of the conspiracy. GGG has no idea who he can trust, and there are some great scenes along the way where bit part townspeople end up really being badguys... and a swell scene where someone who helps him escape ends up turning him over to the police for the murder he was framed for. There is also a great scene where GGG tells the Chief Of Police that he’s a researcher for the Delphi Bureau and the Chief calls GGG’s boss Sybil... who says she’s never heard of him! You see, Delphi Bureau is a secret organization that works directly for the President and there is maximum deniability. They can neither confirm nor deny that GGG is an employee... and when the Chief of Police asks GGG where the Delphi Bureau offices are? GGG doesn’t know, he meets Sybil in various places in D.C.... maybe there is no office? The Chief Of Police thinks GGG is lying, which removes the authorities from the equation. GGG can’t go to the police for the rest of the story, he’s on his own.

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.

There’s a great suspense scene when Stokely, April, and the Cowboy come to the boarding house to kill him... and he uses a 4H group as cover much like Turner used those hippie kids in the apartment building for cover after the elevator ride with Joubert in THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR. One of the great scenes has April and GGG in a grain silo, he thinks she’s setting him up to be killed and pulls a gun he’s found someplace along the way... and then drops it in the corn. Um, not what a spy does. Now he’s digging through the corn for the gun and discovers... a jet fighter plane! They are shipping the planes in cargo containers of grain to the starving people of Africa! That’s when the badguys open the silo chute and try to drown them in corn!

There’s a nice conveyor belt escape, we find out who is behind the scheme (by now everyone is a suspect) and it *is* a surprise, and then we get our big action set piece at the end... that NORTH BY NORTHWEST crop duster corn field chase... but with GGG and April being chased by a harvesting machine with giant rotating blades. Can GGG and April outrun the machine?

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.

This end harvester chase scene is great! As GGG and April run through the corn fields, holding hands, they try to out maneuver the harvester, but Stokely is an expert when it comes to driving farm equipment and turns to chase them... closer and closer and closer! When April trips on a corn stalk and goes down, the harvester is too close for GGG to help her up so he sacrifices himself: luring the harvester away from her and after him... then he stumbles in the corn field with the harvester is heading right at him! As he’s about to be run over, GGG grabs the undercarriage of the tractor and does a Yakima Canutt, hanging on for dear life and getting knocked from his place again and again by corn stalks until his next stop will be the rotating blades of the harvester! Of course, he uses his never ending knowledge to figure out an escape from this certain death.

The show does a great job of finding that line between action spy show and light comedy, much as NORTH BY NORTHWEST and CHUCK did. The cast is amazing for a TV pilot episode, every supporting actor you’ve ever seen pops up... and because there are so many names in the cast you really can’t guess who the villain is... all of these people have played villains before! Laurence Luckinbill is a great Cary Grant substitute for TV, charming and good looking enough to be the lead without being too good looking. There’s a nice rivalry between Luckinbill and Crane’s characters over women, and Crane is better looking and more self confident... making Luckinbill the obvious underdog. It’s like Chuck and Shaw in CHUCK Season 3... but Luckinbill plays his role less nervous and more just not heroic. GGG drives the cool James Bond car (a Jaguar XKE convertible) and drinks martinis and looks good in a suit... but when the shooting starts that a whole other department. Well, he wishes it were.

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.

I love stories about people who use brains instead of brawn and use their knowledge to take down bad guys. That’s what Roger Thornhill and Turner and Chuck and Glenn Garth Gregory and some of my characters have in common. They are terrible in a fist fight, hate guns, but manage to use all kinds of seemingly pointless facts and stats and knowledge to win the battle. I hope Warner Archives releases the rest of THE DELPHI BUREAU so I have something to watch when I've finished binging on CHUCK! (currently finishing up Season 3...)

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!



Bill


BUY THE DVD AT AMAZON:



















No comments:

eXTReMe Tracker