Once upon a time Americans could tune in their local indie TV station to get a dose of International productions from England. You didnt have to beg your cable operator to carry BBCAmerica or illegally download the series. They came in with a tweak of the antenna if you had a cool programmer at your UHF channel. The Avengers and The Saint were the major imports. This Spy Collection gives us a taste of four other imported series from the late 60s to early 70s. Be prepared for big lapels and groovy Euro fashions. This isnt merely a sampler of British TV with random episodes. These are the first box sets of The Prisoner, The Champions, The Protectors andThe Persuaders! inside the mega set case.
The Prisoner (1967) is the prime cut of this collection. Patrick McGoohan (Braveheart) plays an English spy who abruptly resigns from his agency. Before he can split for a vacation, hes kidnapped and taken to a remote island. Everyone is known by a number instead of their real name. Hes become Number 6. Number 2 is the person in charge of making him confess as to why he retired. Number 6 wants to find out who is Number 1. Its a battle of wits. This is truly a cult series since its worth picking apart for clues and codes. The show is about to get revamped by AMC this year. For those who care, watch the original first. Unfortunately you only get the first 4 of the 17 episodes.
The Champions (1968) unloads the goofiness. “The Beginning” has a trio of United Nations law enforcement agents crash in the Himalayas. They are saved by the locals who not merely nurse them back to health, but endow them with ESP, telepathy and precognition. They become a super people with enhanced senses and outrageous strength. This was the one in the batch that just came off way too stupid even by kitsch standards. The best reason to watch is Alexandra Bastedos freak fashions.
The Persuaders! (1971) unites Roger Moore and Tony Curtis in the South of France. Both men play extremely rich playboys. Moore is an upper class snob who plays games with the family money. Curtis had to earn his millions as a tough kid from Brooklyn. The duo are brought together by an insane retired judge that wants them to deliver justice to people who skipped out of his courtroom on technicalities. If they decline their mission, they go to jail on a trumped up assault charge. What makes the show click is Curtis and Moore one upping each other on the screen. Theyre playing a thespian version of horse with Yank versus Brit humor. Even with two major stars, The Persuaders! didnt make a major impact. It lasted 24 episodes. The failure of the series to get renewed a second season allowed Roger Moore to become James Bond. Tony would go on to host VH1s Hollywood Babylon. This is the truly fun series in this collection with Curtis and Moore keeping things as lively as the peppy soundtrack.
The Protectors (1972) brings Robert Vaughn (Pootie Tang) back to the deception game. Instead of being a spy like his role in The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Vaughn plays Harry Rule, an extremely rich private detective. Hes a swinging American in London with a cool pad and dog. The Countess Caroline di Contini (Nyree Dawn Porter) is royalty who gets in on the game with Vaughn. The third member of their little team is Paul Buchet (Tony Anholt). He pretty much does whatever the other two dont want to tolerate. The series was produced by Gerry Anderson, the guy behind The Thunderbirds. Its hard to watch the action without seeing strings being tugged on the actors. Each episode is only 25 minutes long even though the plots seem to be made for an hour long show. They cut away most of the exposition, preparation and recap action. Vaughn makes sure that he always looks good. He never gets better looking that Porter. She sizzles when she plays up her title.
People often complain about samplers since they normally require you to rebuy the episodes if you want the complete series. The good news here is that if you like The Champions, The Protectors or The Persuaders!, you can nab the remainder of their episodes in the second box set. While you can hunt down the remaining 4 sets of The Prisoner, its cheaper to snag the complete collection. The Spy Collection is like having your own UHF channel with more the enough English programming to keep you intrigued. We get doses of Robert Vaughn after U.N.C.L.E. and Roger Moore before Bond. Transport yourself into a time when British spies fought on shag carpet.
The Prisoner: “Arrival,” “The Chimes of Big Ben” (alternate version), “A. B. and C.” and “Free for All.”
The Persuaders: “Overture,” “The Gold Napoleon,” “Take Seven,” “Greensleeves,” “Powerswitch,” “The Time and the Place,” “Someone Like Me,” “Anyone Can Play,” “The Old, the New, and the Deadly,” “Angie Angie,” “Chain of Events,” “That’s Me Over There” and “The Long Goodbye.”
The Protectors: “2000 Ft to Die,” “Brother Hood,” “See No Evil,” “Disappearing Trick,” “Ceremony for the Dead,” “It Was All Over in Leipzig,” “The Quick Brown Fox,” “King Con,” “Thinkback,” “A Kind of Wild Justice,” “Balance of Terror,” “Triple Cross,” “The Numbers Game,” “For the Rest of Your Natural …,” “The Bodyguards,” “A Matter of Life and Death,” “The Big Hit,” “One and One Makes One,” “Talkdown,” “Vocal,” ” With a Little Help from My Friends,” “Chase,” “Your Witness,” “It Could Be Practically Anywhere on the Island,” “The First Circle” and “A Case for the Right.”
The Champions: “The Beginning,” “The Invisible Man,” “Reply Box No. 666,” “The Experiment,” “Happening,” “Operation Deep-Freeze,” “The Survivors,” “To Trap A Rat,” “The Iron Man,” “The Ghost Plane,” “The Dark Island,” “The Fanatics,” “Twelve Hours,” “The Search” and “The Gilded Cage.”
The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The Protectors was shot on 16mm so the image is softer than the other shows. The audio is Dolby Digital 2.0 although its merely split mono tracks. Youre not going to get the surround feel as the cars zip around the screen.
Foreign File Cabinet lets you see the opening and closing credits of The Prisoner with foreign languages on the file cabinet sequence.
Photo Gallery as production pictures from each Prisoner episode.
Interactive Guide to the Village lets you understand the space Number Six roams.
Broadcast Trailers tease the episodes.
The Persuaders! Commentary Tracks feature Roger Moore, producer Robert S. Baker, and production executive Johnny Goodman on three episodes. Moore is the most talkative of the trio.
Photo Gallery gives us stills of Tony Curtis and Roger Moore.
Roger Moore and Tony Curtis Biographies are text summaries of what the duo have done on screen.
Photo Gallery present more stills of The Champions.
Cast Biographies and Filmographies let us know what this super powered trio have accomplished.
The Protectors Audio Commentary allows John Hough to discuss his directing on “2000 Ft to Die.” He gives plenty of details about the series.
The Spy Collection is a fine collection for fans of Euro espionage action. The Prisoner is the strongest of the batch. The complicated plots and the intensity of McGoohan are not matched by the remaining three shows. The Champions is a freakish display with its trio of uberhumans that can barely be beaten. The Protectors and The Persuaders! remind us that rich people love to put themselves in jeopardy to solve a mystery. If youre curious about these shows, theyre less expensive in this collection than bought separately.
A&E Home Video presents The Spy Collection. Starring Roger Moore, Tony Curtis, Robert Vaughn and Patrick McGoohan. Boxset Contents: 2,310 on 14 DVDs. Released on DVD: February 24, 2009. Available at Amazon.