Filmed mostly in England and the French Riviera during the early 1970s, The Persuaders follows the adventures of Danny Wilde (Tony Curtis) and Lord Brett Sinclair (Roger Moore), millionaire playboys who divide their time between enjoying the good life and fighting crime. Nearly every episode has the same storyline: Danny and Brett meet a beautiful girl in distress, offer their help, and solve all her problems by means of a clean fistfight with the bad guys.
While Danny and Brett are independent, they are not completely outside the law. As explained in the pilot episode, “Overture,” retired Judge Fulton (Laurence Naismith) has recruited them to bring in those criminals beyond the reach of the judicial system. When Fulton asks them to find a Mafia don who has faked his own death, Danny and Brett are reluctant, but the Judge reminds them of how empty their lives are, in spite of their expensive cars and clothes. Following this speech—which grants the playboys some modicum of “morality”—the Judge disappears for most of the rest of the series, appearing only occasionally to remind the audience that Danny and Brett’s amusing brawls have the blessing of institutional authority.
This authority extends to the pair’s vigorous heterosexuality (underlined by their interactions with numerous gorgeous girls), even as the series appears enthusiastically homoerotic. Not only are the friends often portrayed in swimsuits on sunny French beaches, they also tend to be physically close together. Danny walks alongside Brett, holding his friend’s arm and leaning in towards him, as if they are two lovers enjoying a summer stroll. In another episode, they are shown lying down together on a sofa in a hotel room.
In the context of the series, Danny and Brett’s closeness is a function of their shared class status (they meet while racing their expensive sport cars on the small roads of the South of France). Still, they come from different backgrounds: Brett was born into an aristocratic family and attended expensive private schools, while Danny grew up in Brooklyn, his father a self-made oil magnate. Unfortunately, the show ignores such potential differences, such that most every character looks like a member of the European jet set. These figures become so interchangeable that many episodes hinge on impersonation and mistaken identity. For example, in “Greensleeves,” silver magnates hire an actor to impersonate Brett in order to convince the leader of an African nation to do business with them, and in “Take Seven,” an heiress is confronted by a man who claims to be her long-lost brother.
If problems with identities are common in The Persuaders, the case of Brett deserves special mention. He strongly resembles two well-known characters from Roger Moore’s career, before and after Brett—Simon Templar in tv’s The Saint and James Bond. While Brett embodies Simon Templar’s sense of justice and foreshadows Bond’s wit, the simply plotted Persuaders lacks The Saint‘s intrigue and the Bond films’ action. Its entertainment value stems from the top-notch cast and crew. Moore and Curtis’ chemistry is enhanced by writer Terry Nation and director Roy Ward Baker (both distinguished for their work on the classic Dr Who series), fellow director Val Guest (a veteran from Hammer Studios and director of two Quatermass films), and acclaimed composer John Barry (best known for scoring several Bond films).
These talents come together in “Angie… Angie.” This sharp episode begins as Danny cannot accept the fact that one of his childhood friends has become a Mafia hitman. Brief black and white flashbacks of kids running on the streets of Brooklyn evoke their shared past. When, at last, Brett tells Danny, “You can’t go back to the way things were, because they were never that way in the first place,” it’s suddenly clear that such self-forming memories are unreliable, even if rendered in nostalgic black and white.
This episode is not the only one to provoke thought. From the global energy crisis to political turmoil and corporate scandals, The Persuaders often took up issues that continue to be relevant today. Thanks to Columbia’s DVD set, the first season is available once more.