The Spook Who Sat by the Door

For a political reason expounded at the opening, the CIA is constrained to find new operatives in an unlikely theater of operations. In the event, one candidate is selected and trained. The political objective is won, the operative leaves the agency to form his own guerrilla force selected and trained out of street gangs by the very method he has learned in the CIA.

Dixon repeats the training sequence with the operative as teacher, setting off remote-control bombs and adjudicating bouts of karate. His skill is expended on reassuring pictures of the corridors of power, there being no production budget to speak of, and generally masking the gestures of the film so that its fine asymptotic curves never quite reach the known and familiar. Nowadays it’s an open book, because this really happened more or less as described in Afghanistan, so that the prescience of the work easily outweighs its three decades of obscurity, and you have The Osama Bin Laden Story writ large and long before life imitated art.


The Real Easy Red Dog
The Rockford Files

A remarkably depraved story is told from a purely professional standpoint, that of Rockford who stumbles on the case of an heiress’s supposed murder he’s dealt as a blind, that of the police who accept her suicide at face value, and that of the law firm engaged in a child-selling racket.

The M.O. is the one devised for Hollis Mulwray, the victim spent time in a mental institution as a paranoid and is never seen. Her sister appears briefly to send Rockford on his business, and the part is deftly cast with Sherry Jackson to create a swift impression like Bruce Kirby as the head of the law firm.

Stefanie Powers completes the picture as a red-dogging private eye.


The Great Taxicab Stampede

Murray Gutman (Alan Manson) is a cabbie for a small firm founded after the war, but “things change, new people take over,” and now he fears for his family should he tell what he knows.

The new proprietor, Keith Hampton (George Hamilton), is a suave sophisticate who brings in drivers from overseas, gives them phony documentation, and now lives in a high-rise apartment on the proceeds from the heroin they distribute around New York. One of them, David Kessler (James Ingersoll), wants out, he came from Israel and fell into the rackets. Hampton kills him in Central Park, then manages to blame McCloud (tailing Hampton with Sgt. Broadhurst) when a shootout takes place.

Hampton laughs his way past all allegations (he doesn’t even own a gun), and McCloud is pilloried on the Action 4 News.

Kessler’s sister, Nidavah Ritzach (Jane Seymour), flies in from Israel to see justice done. She flatly tells McCloud she means to kill him, police and press being convinced no other gun than a .45 or a Magnum could have drilled her brother.

In the park by broad daylight, McCloud is fired on by two hit men as he searches for and finds Hampton’s large-caliber bullet (Nidavah has followed him there, too, but thinks he’s to be eliminated as “no longer useful” to his bosses in the drug trade).

McCloud traces another cabbie to his home and finds him dead. Action 4 swings into action, Chief Clifford takes his badge and gun.

Nidavah gets hired as a cabbie, but can’t find a convenient spot to kill Hampton (she wants “everyone who’s responsible”). McCloud doesn’t even know Hampton runs the cab company, and when he learns this from her he understands the whole setup, and so does she.

The tragedy of all this finds its continuance in Det. Simms, whose wife is in the hospital, six months at five hundred dollars a day, he’s desperate, he goes on Hampton’s pad, detailing police movements. He’s finally ordered to kill McCloud, but at the confrontation resolves to redeem himself.

Redemption comes at the Arches, where Det. Simms arrests everybody in the middle of a final shipment before Hampton moves along in the hierarchy. There is a shootout, Det. Simms is hit, Hampton escapes in his gray Mercedes coupe. McCloud driving a cab pursues, along with Nidavah, whom he calls “Nida.”

The finale takes place on the rainwet streets of Manhattan. Murray calls the cabbies, McCloud directs them, they all converge (jostling or abandoning passengers) on Times Square (down 53rd and through the tunnel). These night exteriors are Dixon’s best work, unless it’s the fine summery shoot on, around and under Bow Bridge in Central Park, with a POV as McCloud hides under it in water over his knees, methodically emptying spent shells from his .45 six-shooter, one at a time.

“Who says ya can’t get a cab in this city when ya want one,” says Marshal McCloud, after Hampton’s coupe is surrounded.

It will be seen that this is closely related to “Bonnie and McCloud” that same season, and a marvelous reflection of the theme.

Nowhere, I think, is it more clear that McCloud is the Western hero come to life in a dangerous, lawless city, like Wyatt Earp in My Darling Clementine. Anyway, he has a fine way to get a cab, one quick whistle and “hey!”


Visitors in Paradise
Quincy, M.E.

A case of slant-drilling coming up dry and then a quick sale of the lots as gushers in the wee town of Paradise.

The driller’s wife is dead, her ex-husband in prison for the murder.

Quincy and Danny are there for the fishing, three days and all the intimidation you can stomach.

Dixon has all the technical points in view, but reserves himself for an artful shot craning down with a slight pan from a hook-and-crane in the background at a construction site in apposition.


The Battle of Canoga Park
The Rockford Files

Rocky talks the detective into hiring a cleaning lady, who rearranges the trailer and brings about a murder for which he’s framed by the adherents of a San Fernando Valley paramilitary unit.

Dixon handles this with the utmost dexterity precisely as if it were one of those phone messages with their flabbergasting consequences heard before the credits. He adopts a more remote perspective with each inflation of the incomparable joke material, and many of the latter scenes are filmed as long shots or compressed from a distance by the lens.

The series’ breakaway style gives the cleaning lady a son, the pair are mirrored by the paramilitary head and her son, with their cohorts on the fringe of lunacy (“bananas,” our hero calls them) calling the water shortage a plot to sell water to the A-rabs. A Bible-bibbing gun-toting bunch, one of whom runs a motorcycle dealership.


The Mayor’s Committee of Deer Lick Falls
The Rockford Files

Four businessmen from Michigan come to Los Angeles to buy fire trucks and hire Jim Rockford to kill a girl, the niece of one of them, who in a fit of pique has threatened to expose a tax dodge of theirs.

Mark Twain has a word to say about these types: “cheats, hypocrites, shirkers of plain duty; and prosperous, respected, honored, courted in Deer Lick Falls, and reverently referred to by the Deer Lick Falls press.” Lt. Becker sums them up tersely: “They all have a black belt in respectability.” WWII vets, scoutmasters, wheat farmers, 33rd-degree Masons.

The girl is on the little theater circuit in L.A., and these princes of darkness put an ad in the trade paper, try to run her over, with the whole thing ending in a rifle aimed at the private investigator from the upper level of a shopping mall.

Dixon plays this for a stark lack of equivocation. “He wants me dead,” realizes the girl on the dark street after the murder attempt.

The script has a second attempt snafu’d when the assailant takes a wrong turn onto a freeway to Santa Monica, and other such touches create a suitable ambience for some subtle portrayals of Middle American villains by Edward Binns, Charles Aidman, Richard O’Brien and Jerry Hardin.


Just a Coupla Guys
The Rockford Files

The new head of the Newark family is Tony Martine, he has a pressing problem, a relative was convicted of three murders, laughed at the judge and killed himself, now he can’t be buried in hallowed ground. The coffin is moved “from mortuary to mortuary” while Martine waits for the former boss, Joseph Lombard, to persuade Cardinal Finnerty.

Lombard is retired to his mansion in Short Hills, and a born-again Christian with a pressing problem, someone is leaving dead cats and chickens on his front lawn. His daughter hired Rockford once when she was at UCLA, she calls him now to take the case.

The title characters are two young no-goods out to make themselves useful to Lombard, in the belief that they’ll be rewarded with promotion into the mob. A kid on a bike throws a dead chicken over the gate, the two bring him to Lombard. The great man recites 2 Peter 2:12, hands out pamphlets and the like (Sports and the Scriptures) and sends them all on their way, “a total blow-off!”

The kid is Martine’s son, dealing with his father’s annoyance. Martine is tired of waiting, orders Lombard’s house sprayed with bullets for encouragement. Lombard calls a meet, two limos park in an empty warehouse late at night, its Cardinal Finnerty, they’ve served together side-by-side for six years on the Interfaith Council, he can do nothing, “as a former Catholic you should know that.” The daughter has been kidnapped.

Newark is a place where, if it ain’t nailed down, it’s history. Rockford’s watch and rental car are stolen at the airport, he spends all day at the police station, has no luggage, later he’s mugged and beaten in a men’s room. Organized crime is something he doesn’t deal with professionally, his advice to Lombard is to call the FBI about Martine.

The two would-be torpedoes find the coffin in a meat locker at a clam house owned by Martine. Rockford’s advice is to call the police. His point of view is taken all along by David Chase in his arrangement of this masterpiece, which is dealt out incrementally like an investigation for maximum comic effect.