Television

Fighting the Battles of 'Jericho', the Show That Came Tumbling Down

Michael Barrett

Jericho wore the influence of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. on its sleeve, but that didn't protect it.


Jericho

Distributor: Warner Archive
Cast: Don Francks, John Leyton, Marino Masé
Network: CBS
US release date: 2015-06-16
Amazon

Jericho combined two hot genres of mid-'60s TV -- the spy show and the WWII adventure -- without being very satisfying as either. Premiering on CBS in the fall of 1966, the series didn't finish the season. But nothing vanishes forever in the new digital world order, and now this forgotten show is available on demand from the Warner Archive.

The premise seems to be based on a real-life operation in WWII known by the code name Jedburgh. According to Wikipedia, three-man Jedburgh teams were parachuted into German-occupied countries to act as liaisons with local Resistance groups and offer what help they could. The teams usually consisted of a member of America's OSS (the forerunner to the CIA), a member of the British Special Operations Executive, and a member of the Free French Bureau or, if landing in Dutch or Belgian territory, an appropriate national. One member was always the radio operator who could summon airdrops of supplies.

This series is a little more muscular. At the beginning of each episode, the stentorian narrator (who sounds so much like Hank Sims of Quinn Martin Productions that I'd bet a dollar on it) spells out the three main characters. The American in charge is US Army Captain Franklin Sheppard (Don Francks), "civil engineer, Carnegie Tech, expert in explosives and demolition". The plots have quite a few explosions, although he gets great use out of his fists and feet as well. A typically handsome, square-jawed, beefy leading man with a sandy voice, Francks was known to the producers from a guest stint on The Man from U.N.C.L.E.. This Canadian actor had starred in Canadian shows such as R.C.M.P., and might be known to younger viewers as a regular on La Femme Nikita and Hemlock Grove. He's also a busy voice actor in cartoons.

The British member of the troop is Lt. Nicholas Gage (John Leyton) of the Royal Navy, described as a "star circus performer, aerialist, acrobat", although he only shows off such skills once or twice. The compact blond moptop bears what's probably no accidental resemblance to David McCallum of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.. This British heartthrob had been a pop singer before he turned to acting in a string of war movies -- The Great Escape, Guns at Batasi, and Von Ryan's Express -- that typed him for this series.

The tallest member is Lt. Jean-Gaston Andre (Marino Masé), whose specialty is "weapons, ancient and modern". The ancient part actually comes in handy at one point. Very ooh-la-la, this broad-shouldered suavity resembles a French version of Mission Impossible 's Willy Armitage. But don't be fooled -- Masé was actually an Italian actor who appeared in some high-profile art films of the era, including Les Carabiniers, The Leopard and Fists in the Pocket, although his later career is full of action films. He plays French as convincingly as the Canadian Francks plays American, so we're left with the curious fact that none of the three regulars on this American show were bonafide Yanks!

With snazzy transitions (a red saw-pattern sliding into place) and throbbing music, the show wears the influence of its The Man from U.N.C.L.E. production team on its sleeve. Even though Mission Impossible began at the same time, this already feels like "Mission Impossible Goes to War", as each episode finds the team successfully completing an assignment that involves dressing in various disguises and faking out the local German commanders. Our heroes must speak all relevant languages fluently, or at least English with fluent accents.

Amid stock newsreel footage, the narrator tells us the time and place at the start of each episode, ranging from 1942 to 1944. The adventures aren't presented in chronological order, which doesn't matter because, although they're set in various countries, it's always the same MGM "European" backlot, complete with the same harbor set that provides a weekly sense of déjà vu. (We also see the same windmill a few times.) No matter where or when, we're pretty sure they won the war. The plots are often far-fetched and childish in equal degrees, so that the series feels like a noisy live-action cartoon with plenty of gun battles and stuff blowing up real good, as well as many characters dying bloodlessly to distract us from the plot holes.

For example, the first episode is "Dutch and Go", set in Holland, where the Germans are testing a new radar system. The Allies have sent all the way to Waukegan, Illinois, to smuggle a portly, comic-relief civilian (Tom Bosley) from an engineering plant, because nobody closer or in uniform knows enough about radar. To approach the picturesque windmill where the German crew is set up, they employ the old trick of the slowly moving hollow haystack, which the lone guard and his dog never notice; hey, it worked in Bugs Bunny cartoons. (Sheppard also has a fountain pen that's doubles as a bomb. If the Allies had that level of technology, the Manhattan Project would hardly have been necessary. Wisely, this bomb-pen is never mentioned again; perhaps it was their only prototype.)

Director Barry Shear is expected to keep things moving, mostly in master shots, with brief pauses for characters to repeat the plot points as carefully as possible; this describes the style of all episodes. Shear, an excellent and prolific TV director, is best known for such cult features as Wild in the Streets and Across 110th Street.

Former radio writer Sheldon Stark had better luck contributing to other series of the period, including the more popular spy shows we've mentioned, the more popular war shows, such as Combat and The Rat Patrol, and, ironically, Batman, the ABC time-slot rival that, together with Daniel Boone on NBC, ate Jericho 's lunch and caused its cancellation after 16 episodes. Indeed, several of this show's writers and directors were working for that enemy. The Jericho squad should have had them shot as quislings, but it probably wouldn't have helped.

Or take the third episode, "Upbeat and Underground", in which the team tackles the pivotal strategic task of preventing an all-Wagner concert by the Paris Symphony on Bastille Day. Their solution: to smuggle the conductor (Nehemiah Persoff, essaying one of his thousand accents) and the entire orchestra (supposedly 101 people, though we see about 20) through the sewers and across to England -- with their families! How about the rest of France as well? The conductor even slips in a joke about it, asking why they don't take the German guards, too.

Frankly, the average episode of Hogan's Heroes feels more credible, but the show's tone is too serious overall for it to mock its own material. This one's helmed by future blockbuster action director Richard Donner, although its hard to guess his prospects based on his work here.

It's also the only episode credited to writers Richard Levinson and William Link, who are also the creators. This is their first (and least) series as creators, and it's far from their criminal specialty that would yield Mannix, Columbo and Murder She Wrote. They get a story credit, while their script credit is shared with The Man from U.N.C.L.E. bigwig Dean Hargrove, strongly implying that he revised their work.

We may surmise that executive producer Norman Felton, who was making The Man from U.N.C.L.E. for his Arena Productions at this time, commissioned Levinson and Link (who'd contributed to that series) to develop the characters and situations for this hybrid, or else they approached him with an idea that got revised without them. Levinson and Link had nothing further to do with the show; in the future, they'd usually produce what they created.

Their creator credit says "in association with Merwin A. Bloch", whatever that signifies. Bloch's IMDB self-written bio credits himself with "developing many of the story ideas". Internet research tells us that Bloch had a prominent career as a Hollywood ad man who created many famous trailers from the '60s to the '90s. His awarding-winning Woody Allen trailers netted him bit parts in a couple of Allen's films, and the Film Society at Lincoln Center presented a retrospective of Bloch's work. He produced a single feature, The Telephone Book (1971), a sexploitation obscurity that recently emerged from the void and onto Blu-ray.

It would make sense for Levinson and Link to have written the pilot; tell-tale details lead us to conclude that this third episode was indeed initially intended to serve as the pilot. First, this is the only episode personally produced by David Victor; on all others, he's the supervising producer for Arena Productions, while Stanley Niss is the producer. The associate producers of this episode are Irving Pearlberg and Robert F. O'Neill, while all others (until a midseason change) are O'Neill and Don Tait. This is also the only episode shot by Fred Koenekamp of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.; the others are shot by Lester Shorr.

Most intriguingly, it's the only episode scored by Lalo Schifrin, whose Mission Impossible was debuting that same fall. While Jericho has a rousing theme by Jerry Goldsmith, those episodes not scored by him use Morton Stevens or Richard Shores (and once Gerald Fried), all sounding as close as possible to Schifrin's Mission Impossible vibe. The soundtrack CD released by Film Score Monthly confirms this; amid its several episode scores is an alternate, unused opening theme by Schifrin, which was replaced by Goldsmith's theme. Thus, Schifrin was on the project for this pilot, even though it was broadcast as episode three.

This episode also introduces a British contact called Mallory (Ben Wright), disguised as a priest, which might have been intended as a recurring role. He then disappears from the series, only to be reemerged played by John Orchard in a couple of later episodes.

As the series continued, some scripts did display greater sense. Jackson Gillis, a Perry Mason writer, contributes "Have Traitor, Will Travel", directed by Alex March, in which events conspire to delay the group from allowing a traitorous French officer (Lee Bergere) to be captured with false information for the Germans. The way simple developments keep getting in the plan's way, with everyone having to disguise their motives, is credible and frustrating in a manner bordering on comic irony. More almost-comic frustrations mark Gillis' "Long Journey Across a Short Street", directed by Richard C. Sarafian, in which a closed dress shop suddenly becomes as busy as Grand Central Station while Jericho tries to dig a tunnel.

Similar frustrations mark Norman Borisoff's suspenseful script for "Panic in the Piazza", directed by Sherman Marks, about devising a fake bomb that's actually a real bomb as a "Trojan horse" for the Germans to take into their underground bunker. The basic idea is similar, to but greatly improves upon the second episode, written by novelist Max Ehrlich and directed by Sarafian, about smuggling explosive bread loaves into a submarine, despite boasting the silliest title of the series: "A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread--and Pow!"

Alvin Boretz' script for "The Big Brass Contraband" takes us to Lake Geneva, where Lt. Andre's father, Monsieur Andre (Émile Genest), runs a hotel, thus allowing us to visit a guest relative. This is the episode with ancient weapons, thanks to a medieval stash in the hotel. It makes you wish they always used crossbows and spears against machine guns -- but still, wouldn't the good guys have picked up a few of the machine guns after they were lying around?

Again the director is Sarafian, best known for the cult hit Vanishing Point (and Robert Altman's brother-in-law, incidentally). Although all the show's directors are TV veterans, Sarafian has the best handle on mixing the simple presentation with a few visual flourishes, which is perhaps why he did more episodes than anyone else. This episode has a shot with some expressionist shadows on the wall to imply torture.

Sy Salkowitz, known for many Ironside episodes, wrote a two-part adventure, "One for the Mountain/Two for the Road", directed by Shear with several nice visual strategies, including a blunt fist to the camera and a subtle low-angle track beside the Germans. It's notable for having one of the most intelligent and analytical German commanders (Peter Mark Richman), who's often one step ahead of the Jericho team and offers serious trouble for them. They're also partly stymied by tensions with the Italian Resistance, thanks to the Resistance's suspicious and emotional leader (Vic Damone).

The spunky, pretty local gal in that one -- there's always a spunky, pretty local gal -- is played by Antoinette Bower. Her character might have a thing for Sheppard, but one trope this series thankfully avoids is having a team member fall romantically for that week's local gal, which would have been her death warrant. Maybe the show was cancelled before they could get to that episode. Susanne Cramer, Gia Scala, Jacqueline Beer (a Miss France who became Mrs. Thor Heyerdahl), Marianna Hill, Danielle De Metz, Mala Powers, Patricia Huston, and future Hollywood astrologist Joyce Jillson are among the many local gals, always loyal to the Allies, because of course pretty girls would be.

Besides the local gal, the other constant in every episode is the local German commander, usually a stereotypically oily, scowling, barking martinet who looks good in uniform. A curious exception is played by John Dehner (with Whit Bissell as his nervous aide) in "Wall to Wall Kaput", an almost-comic episode in which the far-fetched plot's resemblance to Hogan's Heroes (on which Dehner also played German officers) is almost natural. Dehner's effete character, more interested in saving his career than in capturing spies, is clearly intended to be read as homosexual by his obsession with interior decor and his gossip about beefy Ukrainian prisoners. It's one of two episodes written by Irve Tunick (and both directed by Sarafian), who created an ambitious, forgotten early '60s show called The Witness, in which famous criminals were interviewed by a committee.

Tunick's other episode, "Eric the Redhead", seems to have been fashioned exclusively for the purpose of featuring guest star Jay North (Dennis the Menace ) as an upstart Norwegian teen who helps their local pastor (James Doohan of Star Trek ) escape to England, even though he doesn't want to -- another pivotal point in the war! This outing is a child-star festival that also features Kym Karath, the youngest Von Trapp in The Sound of Music. Tunick co-scripted this trivial adventure with Jerome Ross, who the same year wrote "Operation Rogosh", one of the best mind-twisters on Mission Impossible and who'd earlier written "The Man with the Power" for The Outer Limits, amid other illustrious TV work. This episode, however, makes it clear that some days, you just grind 'em out.

Hans Gudegast, a Rat Patrol regular who later changed his name to Eric Braeden and found fame on The Young and the Restless, plays two different German officers in the show's roll call. Others who click their heels and bark orders with a sneer include Karl Held (who played Perry Mason's assistant for half a season), Albert Paulsen, Martin Kosleck, John Van Dreelen, Curt Lowens (a real-life Jewish rescuer of Dutch children decorated by Eisenhower), Wilhelm von Homburg (a flamboyant German boxer), Gunnar Hellstrom, Jan Merlin, Barry Atwater, Frank Marth, Fred Beir, John Crawford, John Drew Barrymore (Drew's dad), Paul Comi, Lawrence Dane, Laurie Main, and Parley Baer.

The only episode without a German officer is the London-set "Four O'Clock Bomb to London", which features an interesting role for the always-dapper Michael Rennie, burned into our cultural psyche as Klaatu in The Day the Earth Stood Still and here still dealing in clock-watching apocalypse. This outing's local gal also has an interesting twist; she's played by Barbara Anderson, about to become a star on Ironside. Written by Stanford Sherman (of many Batman episodes), this is directed by Allen Baron, whose Hollywood calling card was his remarkable low-budget indie film Blast of Silence, now available as part of the Criterion Collection.

Unfortunately, IMDB currently has several of the series' episode titles switched, so this Rennie episode is falsely listed under the title "The Loot of All Evil". That's actually the title of the final episode, while the one IMDB lists as "Four O'Clock Bomb to London" is actually the one called "Both Ends Against the Riddle". That's really a Gillis script, directed by Murray Golden, using the interesting device of a conflicted German officer (William Smithers) who despises Hitler, loves a Frenchwoman (Phyllis Hill), and gets implausibly manipulated into working with Jericho; its shaky logic goes kaput by the end. (Trust your friendly source who's just finished watching the whole series, and accept no substitutes who might be secretly working for the other side.)

Changes are often made to a show after the first 13 episodes, the half-season mark at which producers either cancel or retool a project that's not pulling its weight in the ratings. This series only had three additional episodes after the first 13, and we can detect very slight changes. These final three alter the credits for associate producers to Richard P. McDonagh and Robert F. O'Neill, and two of these three are shot by Harold E. Wellman, who has notable experience in special effects. The only thing a viewer might have noticed is that the onscreen violence becomes more brutal and apparently painful, with blood now sometimes visible.

Don Tait may no longer have been an associate producer but he wasn't off the show. His script for Episode 14, "Jackal of Diamonds", goes further than before with a cross-purposed plot that gets in its own way. In the middle of trying to incapacitate a field marshal (Milton Selzer), the mission suddenly changes to protect him and, if necessary, eliminate the Jericho agent. Gage has a good fight in a train compartment with a man he's to replace because they slightly resemble each other; that man is played by Christopher Cary, a regular on the next season's war series Garrison's Gorillas.

This script indulges in nicely frustrating twists, no matter how far-fetched the overall story, and it signals the more brutal direction via with both that train fight (actual blood!) and showing Sheppard being tortured. He also makes serious mistakes that expose the mission, which is another interesting choice. Director Alexander Singer had made a splash with the daring-for-its-time romantic drama A Cold Wind in August. (This is the episode that IMDB currently believes is called "Both Ends Against the Riddle".)

Producer Stanley Niss scripted "A Switch in Time", which features a very Mission Impossible notion about secretly switching one heavy safe for another in a sequence of protracted implausibility. After the half-season point, we feel safe in guessing that the influence was more direct. The underwhelming final episode, by Tony Barrett and Palmer Thompson, is "The Loot of All Evil", about finding a counterfeiter. It's most notable for actor Billy Barty appearing as someone from Gage's circus past. Both are directed by Baron, who handles the both amped-up body count and the violence. Andre gets bloodied and bruised in one scene, but it's all washed off nicely by the end.

Other guests include John Qualen, John Wengraf, Lawrence Montaigne, Barry Cahill, Albert Salmi, Rafael Campos, Arthur Batanides, Patric Knowles, Ivan Triesault, Tige Andrews, Lew Gallo, Eduardo Ciannelli, Titos Vandis, Alan Caillou, Mark Lenard, Malachi Throne, Virginia Christine, Ian Wolfe, Walter Koenig, Robert Cornthwaite, Lennie Weinrib, Arthur Malet and Johnny Seven. The majority of these are busy character actors who fall into the familiar "I know that face" category.

As resurrected on this four-disc DVD set, the episodes are in good shape, the color infinitely better than that of the atrocious clips circulating on YouTube. Despite what appears to be a good remastering from original elements, we must ask if someone was asleep at the wheel during the day-for-night sequences, because they're often not correctly printed -- or is this how the show was broadcast? There are no extras.

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