HK and Cult Film News's Fan Box

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

MAN IN A SUITCASE: SET 2 -- DVD review by porfle

Richard Bradford's "McGill" returns for round two in Acorn Media's 4-disc DVD, MAN IN A SUITCASE: SET 2, containing the final 15 out of 30 episodes of this one-season wonder from 1967-68.

England's ITV network churned out some of the most popular shows of the 60s, such as "Danger Man", "The Saint", and "The Prisoner", and "Man in a Suitcase" is another popular though short-lived title in their illustrious roster.  The main character, known only as McGill or "Mac", is a former American intelligence agent framed for treason in order to protect the identity of a Russian double agent.  Unable to return to the US and still branded a traitor, McGill must now earn a living by hiring himself out to whoever has use for his unique talents.

These hour-long episodes are pretty nifty little yarns that can be anything from Cold War spy stories, action-adventures, mysteries, or whatever McGill happens to be involved in at the time.  Sometimes he has to go undercover ("No Friend of Mine"), and sometimes he acts as a bodyguard for someone in danger ("Blind Spot").  "Night Flight to Andorra", the final episode of the series, is interesting because it's a vastly scaled-down version of the familiar "breach the fortress" story which demonstrates how to get the most out of a limited budget and resources.

Due to his vulnerable position as an official pariah, McGill is often doublecrossed not only by the bad guys but by those who have hired him as well, causing him to be perpetually wary of just about everyone.  But unlike the cold, ruthless anti-heroes we're used to seeing, McGill has a soft spot for people in trouble and an easygoing manner that usually emerges around the ladies.

As usual, the most interesting thing about the show is simply watching the quirky Texas-born actor Richard Bradford act.  Never just walking through an episode by rote like many television series stars, the prematurely-grayhaired Bradford tries to find little things for his character to do in every scene to perk up the usual dialogues.  Sometimes it may be something as simple as a weird expression or unexpected attitude or reaction--one often wonders if it's McGill or Bradford who seems so amused by it all at times. 

I'm not even sure if Bradford's acting is all that consistently good, but it's always fun to watch.  He reminds me of another TV method actor, Michael Parks of "Then Came Bronson", who at times also seemed to be on an altogether different plane from his costars.  Bradford is constantly finding bits of business or interesting ways of interpreting his lines which will lend some added freshness to the standard situations in which his character finds himself. 

While far from lavish, the shows are well-produced and are helmed by talented directors such as John Glen (FOR YOUR EYES ONLY), Don Chaffey (JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS, ONE MILLION YEARS, B.C.), and Hammer Films mainstay Freddie Francis.  The scripts, some of which are recycled from other shows, take McGill all over the world although in fact he rarely leaves the backlot. 

Although filmed in the late 60s, we rarely see the usual lame attempts to play up the "mod" angle so prevalent in shows of that era (a couple of exceptions prove rather awkward, however, with McGill bopping around amidst an undulating gaggle of ersatz hipsters).  As always, one of the best features of the series is its cool theme music by Ron Grainer. 

Familiar faces abound in guest roles, many of them much younger than we're used to seeing them.  Felicity Kendall ("Rosemary & Thyme") is cute as a button playing a blind girl in need of Mac's protection ("Blind Spot").  Colin Blakely, who also appeared in the first episode aired ("Brainwash"), does a fine job as a priest trying to avert a revolt by aggrieved Africans against their unscrupulous white employer in "The Whisper."  In a comical episode that is one of the series' worst, "The Jigsaw Man", actor-director Michael Sarne (MYRA BRECKINRIDGE) appears as a kooky sculptor sponging off of a free-spirited heir to a fortune in order to buy clay to complete his "masterpiece." 

Ferdy Mayne is menacing in "The Revolutionaries", which also features Bruce Boa ("General Rieekan" of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK).  In his second series appearance, Donald Sutherland is a trigger-happy psycho killing his way through his former crime partners to get to a fortune in stolen gold ("Which Way Did He Go, McGill?")  A star of his own successful series many years later ("A Mind to Kill"), a barely-recognizable Philip Madoc does two guest shots in this set.  50s and 60s horror/sci-fi stalwart Robert Hutton (THE MAN WITHOUT A BODY, THE SLIME PEOPLE, COLOSSUS OF NEW YORK) plays a man who hires McGill to find out whether or not his wife is going insane in "Who's Mad Now?"

The 4-disc set from Acorn Media is in 4:9 full screen with Dolby sound and, unlike Set 1, English subtitles.  Along with a photo gallery on each disc, the main bonus feature is a recent 69-minute interview with Richard Bradford which fans will not want to miss.  Honest, intimate, sometimes wistful, and occasionally rambling, the soft-spoken Bradford recounts his history as an actor and talks of his battles with indifferent execs and coworkers on "Man in a Suitcase" and his struggles to improve the show.  Happily, he seems content with his life as an actor: "I'm truly just one blessed human being on this planet."

Not quite a cop, secret agent, or P.I. but with qualities of all three, the McGill character engages in a pleasing variety of cases that are always surprising in some way.  While not as flamboyant as some of the other ITV series of its time, MAN IN A SUITCASE: SET 2 is solid entertainment that's heavy on 60s atmosphere and nostalgia. 

Buy it at
Read our review of  Set 1

No comments: