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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

BRIT SPY—MAN IN A SUITCASE

BRIT SPY—MAN IN A SUITCASE

While the top-notch Brit-Spy series Callan and The Sandbaggers—both of which I’ve written about in previous columns—deservedly get most of the kudos from those aficionados of cult TV, my heart belongs to a Man In A Suitcase.

For thirty episodes airing between September 1967 and April 1968, John Mac McGill as portrayed by rough edged actor Richard Bradford, was a downbeat ex-spy turned reluctant private eye. Based in London, he roamed across Europe taking freelance investigations and espionage jobs for $500 a day plus expenses. Always traveling light—his eponymous suitcase containing his little more than his clothes and his gun—he constantly and purposely makes himself a torn in the side of the British authorities, the Soviets, and his old colleagues in American espionage. 

McGill is an ex-American intelligence agent. Falsely accused of treason, he has been callously frozen out of the intelligence community and turned into a scapegoat—an easy target of retribution for the sins of others. He is a man without a home, without a country. Harassed by deadly enemies, he desperately wants to restore his reputation, but there is a major stumbling block—any serious attempt to clear his name will result in a double agent colleague being tortured or killed in the Soviet Union. This situation becomes an interesting conundrum leading to stories with more of an original twist than the average action show produced by ITC.

A method actor, Richard Bradford played the chain smoking, hard drinking, constantly beaten up McGill with a tough, but laconic ease with Brando-esque inflections—especially in his tendency to mumble dialogue. When asked at a casting meeting how tall he was, Bradford replied, How tall do you have to be? With a chiseled jaw, cat-like body language, and broad shoulders, he was the perfect actor with the perfect manner to portray the character.

The opposite of Danger Man/Secret Agent John Drake, McGill is an antihero, but not without scruples. He is prone to violence both delivered and received—fisticuffs, guns blazing, and blood flowing were common place. But while less sympathetic than Danger Man, Man In A Suitcase combined brute action and subtle humor in a distinctive, watchable style.

Created by Richard Harris and Dennis Spooner (The Avengers), the show was filmed in and around Pinewood Studios. It also did plenty of location shooting in London, which not only represented itself, but stood in for many other corners of Europe. However faked European backgrounds were, they were cleverly filmed and believable, never a distraction. McGill once landed in the village of Port Merion, Wales, where The Prisoner was film, which was filling in at the time for a corner of Italy.

In another nod to The Prisoner, one of McGill’s many lady friends tips her fingers to him in a mock salute and says, be seeing you, as he leaves her apartment. This, of course, was the gesture and catchphrase made famous in The Prisoner. To top things of, the theme and incidental music for Man in a Suitcase was composed and conducted by Rob Grainer, who also created the music for The Prisoner.

 
There was a Man In A Suitcase tie-in novel published in 1967.  The Sleeping Cupid was a surprisingly good original story written by E.G. Whitney, a pseudonym for thriller writer Ben Healey. Though British, he does a credible job with McGill’s American vernacular and attitude, with few linguistic tells. The book was published only in the U.K. strangely enough by Daily Mirror Newspapers. As this is arguably the only paperback novel released under this imprint, it may have been a test run for a line of books destined for newsagents only (as opposed to bookstores). This item is rare, but with a bit of patience, it can be found for a reasonable price. It is definetly worth the effort.

What is even more rare and far from reasonably priced is a 1.43 scale die-cast Code 3 Man In A Suitcase blue Triumph Spitfire MK2. This is a replica of the car McGill drove in the episode Variations, with detail down to the same number. It has a Man In A Suitcase display box with graphic artwork from the series and Richard Bradford's autograph printed on two sides. If this item ever pops up on e-Bay or elsewhere expect to pay $200 to $500.

  
The complete series of Man In A Suitcase can be obtained in DVD in several formats.  All episode in one set can be purchase in a U.K. region 2 (non-US) set, or the episodes have been split into two sets for the US DVD market. The resolution is excellent as the discs have been transferred directly from the original prints. There are also many extras, including trailers, foreign titles, bumpers, behind-the-scene stills, a Richard Bradford interview, and a full-color booklet. Unfortunately, forty years later Bradford is a pale imitation of his athletic character. Excellent viewing...

NEXT UP: THE BARON

2 comments:

  1. I have fond memories of this one.

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  2. There was a trend in British spy/private eye shows of the 60s to have American heroes - DANGER MAN in its earlier incarnation, THE BARON etc. Richard Bradford was tremendous as the central character, edgy and tormented (not a cliched, lantern-jawed good guy) and SUITCASE was a quality series. Shame it only went 1 season.

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