A&E // 1971 // 676 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Corupe (Retired) // June 16th, 2004
The Man from F.U.N.K.Y.
Three years after leaving U.N.C.L.E., Robert Vaughn starred in this explosive British spy/private eye hybrid series featuring colorful plots enhanced by smart writing. It's also something of a time capsule, with outrageously bad outfits and interior design eyesores that could have only occurred in the early 1970s. Still, if you can stop snickering at the ill-conceived pantsuits and bright pink rooms long enough, you'll find that The Protectors it's a well-written show that has thankfully been rescued from obscurity by A&E's enjoyable box set.
"The Protectors" is a high-priced private detective agency that specializes in helping clients who don't want to turn to the police. Led by the unflappable Harry Rule (Robert Vaughn, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), The Protectors' assignments across Europe often lead them into dangerous situations beyond their original mission, including clashes with local police departments and British Intelligence. Harry's associates are the Contessa Caroline di Contini (Nyree Dawn Porter, Forsythe Saga), a wealthy British noblewoman, and Frenchman Paul Buchet (Tony Anholt, Coronation Street, Space: 1999), a suave, technically adept field man.
More a team of "private spies" than "private eyes," The Protectors updated the gumshoe formula for the 1970s with a dose of political instability and international intrigue. Harry and his fellow detectives faced communist and terrorist groups, as well as common kidnappers and blackmailers. The Protectors may not be as charming as more popular shows like The Avengers, but all things considered, it's not a bad little action drama deserving of your attention.
Series producer Gerry Anderson is best known for his puppet-populated "Supermarionation" TV shows of the 1960s, including Thunderbirds and Fireball XL5. Under Sir Lew Grade's ITC company, which already had several successful British spy shows like The Saint and Danger Man under its belt, Anderson branched out to live action in the 1970s. After working on the short-lived sci-fi series UFO, Anderson tapped Robert Vaughn to star in The Protectors, a half-hour show which was much more in tune with ITC's proven hits. One of the things that set The Protectors apart from other British spy and crime shows of the time was its exotic settings. It wasn't uncommon for Harry to fly off to Italy, France, or Germany on a moment's notice.
This four disc set by A&E collects the 26 episodes that make up the second and final season of The Protectors. They are presented in their broadcast order.
This episode, in which Harry Rule tracks down a bounty hunter named Quin in Spain, is either the second half of a cliffhanger that finished off the first season or a brilliant piece of non-narrative filmmaking. Either way, I was absolutely confused by everything that happened. 4/10
This is more like it. Rule and the Contessa are called to deliver the ransom when the daughter of a Danish aristocrat is kidnapped. Lots of nice plot twists in this action-packed episode directed by John Hough (Watcher in the Woods). 7/10
* "Fighting Fund"
A revolutionary group auctions off their collection of stolen art treasures in order to purchase dynamite and fund their cause. When Paul and the Contessa accidentally stumble on the thieves' hideout, Harry comes to their rescue. It doesn't work as well as it should. 6/10
* "The Last Frontier"
The Protectors are hired to help a top Russian scientist defect to Britain to marry her childhood sweetheart. British Intelligence is more interested in her work, which leads to a three-way tug-of-war. A great episode bolstered by a nicely executed sting to get the scientist into the UK. 8/10
* "Baubles, Bangles and Beads"
In this average episode, a young woman and her father try to collect a huge ransom on a stolen jewelry shipment. The Protectors are called in to deliver the money, and hopefully catch the crooks, but there's a problem-the girl's father needs urgent medical attention. 7/10
Harry must sniff out an industrial spy who is threatening to topple a chemical company by scooping their best products. Gadgets galore and a suspenseful cat and mouse game make this one of the best episodes in the set. 10/10
* "Goodbye George"
The Contessa, alone this time in Italy, tracks down the son of a wealthy Brit who is making huge withdrawals from his account. Is he being blackmailed, or is there something much more sinister going on? "Goodbye George" is another winner with a great twist ending. 9/10
* "WAM Part One"
* "WAM Part Two"
The show seems to be hitting a stride now. Salzburg is the setting for The Protectors to tail a young girl who has fallen in with a criminal element. Harry thinks she is connected to a strange plot in which an entire mountain is hijacked. Disabled cable cars prevent the authorities from intervening, and the police are beginning to suspect Harry has played a part in this crime. This two-episode story is smart, well-paced, and full of funky flute interludes. 10/10
Another show, another set of wealthy parents who think their child is in trouble. In Spain, a young teen is arrested after a drug dealer plants some hash in his backpack. The Protectors investigate and manage to get him off, but they also must track down the dealer. 7/10
* "Dragon Chase"
A Russian author travels to Britain to get his anti-socialist book published. Harry is hired to protect him, but a pro-communist group who intend to burn the manuscript kidnaps both of them. When the Contessa and Paul intervene, it makes for a convoluted plot without much satisfying action. 7/10
Harry and the Contessa are called away to Venice, where an old friend has a new lead on an insurance scam. He is murdered just before they arrive, and the contents of a letter he left for The Protectors may prove deadly for them as well. Not a bad episode, but it runs out of steam by the end. 7/10
* "Border Line"
A famous actress hires The Protectors to see that her father gets a proper burial in his homeland of Hungary. When Harry realizes her father was a revolutionary and that the body must be smuggled past the Hungarian authorities, the job takes on a whole new aspect -- just not an exciting one. 6/10
* "Zeke's Blues"
Harry Rule's college friend Zeke is in town, playing piano at a local nightclub. Harry and the Contessa go down to meet him, but what they don't realize is that Zeke has gotten himself indebted to mobsters who will do anything to get a piece of information from Harry. 8/10
Lena is a journalist trying to expose a corrupt politician in Venice. When she finds herself in danger, Harry Rule sticks his neck out to protect her. This episode moves much too slowly and is not particularly interesting. 6/10
* "The Bridge"
Harry goes undercover to stop a revolutionary group from bombing a bridge that an important diplomat is crossing. Not a bad story, but far too similar to many other episodes without any exciting twist. 7/10
* "Sugar and Spice"
...is certainly nice, with this light-hearted episode. Harry, the Contessa and Paul must not only protect a 10-year old girl from a gang of would-be kidnappers, but they also have to carry out this assignment without the girl finding out she's in danger. Holed-up in a farmhouse, the group must outwit the villains while also tutoring the girl about Napoleon. 9/10
* "Burning Bush"
A Canadian heiress is indoctrinated into a Christian spiritualist cult, and her father thinks that the sect has their eyes on his fortune. Harry goes undercover as a drunk looking for religious redemption in an attempt to get her out in another top-notch episode. 9/10
* "The Tiger and the Goat"
The Contessa is the goat in question, luring her former lover, a British spy, into the open because British Intelligence believes he is the target of an enemy assassin. But there's more to this than the Contessa suspects, including her ex-boyfriend's recent resignation. There are some nice twists in this one, but aren't ex-spies supposed to be retired to "the Village"? 8/10
* "Route 27"
When Harry regains consciousness in a mound of Danish landfill, it can only mean one thing: the biggest heroin deal in European history has not gone down smoothly. Harry is the only one left alive who knows where the drugs are stashed, which makes the dealers very unhappy with him. More action and fistfights than usual in this particular episode keep it interesting. 7/10
When his son is brought to trial for murdering a policeman, a distraught father with a nagging persecution complex decides a few sticks of dynamite will solve all his problems. His wife contacts Harry, and they soon discover the father has placed a bomb in the judge's car. This is a tight little story that offers an interesting variation on the common plot used in the show. 8/10
"I chose it meself," claims assassin Shadbolt, when Harry expresses interest in his name. Shadbolt has been hired to murder Harry on a train ride back to London, but Harry escapes and his killer is forced to tail on foot in a suspenseful match of wits. 8/10
* "A Pocketful of Posies"
Eartha Kitt (Batman) guest stars a famous singer plagued by strange occurrences at her home, including a backwards moving clock and a hidden recording of children singing "A Pocketful of Posies." Harry Rule is called in to see if these incidents are imagined, or part of a more insidious plot. While enjoyable, this episode is quite different from all the others, focusing almost exclusively on Kitt. 9/10
The Protectors have their work cut out for them this episode. They are hired to crack a safe, photograph the contents of a locked briefcase inside, and return it to the owner without him knowing. "Wheels" is one of the best in the series, featuring tight, dynamic direction. 10/10
* "The Insider"
Harry is discussing the pilfering of a film print with the movie's director when the thief walks in the office and demands a ransom. They agree, but Harry is stymied when he tries to have the man tailed from the building-it seems that he never left! Another well-plotted episode. 9/10
Ending the series on a high note, this tense episode has Harry and his associates trying to locate a stolen shipment of platinum. The combination of car chases, impromptu chemistry lessons and Paul Buchet's trendy ascot makes this one of my favorite episodes. 10/10
It took me three or four episodes to get into The Protectors, but I ended up enjoying this series, which tempers its serious side with a sense of fun. This particular season is a bit uneven, and the box set tends to work in fits and spurts-several entertaining episodes are presented back to back, followed by a couple of rough patches. Despite this, The Protectors is generally a well-written and compelling British private eye/spy series that just happens to love dynamite explosions.
Initially, one of the problems I had with The Protectors was that many of the episodes adhere to a basic plot formula: Harry and his associates must rescue the son or daughter of a wealthy family, who was naïvely drawn into a political, spiritual, or criminal fringe group that has a TNT stockpile. Variations on this scenario occur in at least nine of the episodes, but in each case, the stories then go off in wildly divergent directions. With enough crosses, double-crosses, twist endings and inside agents, The Protectors is neither predictable nor boring. Of course, most of this is due to the experienced talent behind the camera. Most of the directors and writers who worked on The Protectors were already veterans of other British spy series like The Avengers and The Saint, and they know not only how to make this series work, but also how to keep it original and fresh.
Because each member of The Protectors contributes in their own way, the better episodes usually feature a team mission. These don't happen as often as I would have liked, with some shows featuring just Harry or the Contessa on solo assignments. Paul is greatly underused, which is a shame since he's an interesting character -- not only is he "the charmer," but he's usually the one operating sophisticated electronic devices and getting the actual legwork done. Also, his wardrobe tends to cause much less eyestrain than the Contessa's needlessly elaborate outfits.
The most impressive thing about The Protectors is that it manages to pack all of its intrigue and explosions into a brief 25 minutes. Not a frame of film is wasted, with each episode launching almost immediately into action. As a trade-off, the series often sacrifices characterization. Very little is made known about Harry, the Contessa, or Paul, which can be a little disorienting for a newcomer to the series. Strangely, the show occasionally throws out nuggets of personal information that it never bothers to resolve. For instance, several episodes seem to indicate that Harry and the Contessa are an item, but nothing is ever presented to confirm or deny their romance.
Nyree Dawn Porter's portrayal of the Contessa is often forced to pick up the acting slack from Robert Vaughn, who never comes off as especially believable as Harry Rule. Reportedly, Vaughn and the producers did not get along on set at all, a situation that was exasperated when Lew Grade expressed his hatred for an episode from the first season that he allowed Vaughn to direct. Vaughn did not like the show, and his lack of heart is sometimes apparent on screen. Everyone else does a commendable job though, especially the endless parade of long-haired revolutionaries and drug dealers -- essentially thankless roles that are always carried off with the right amount of menacing and cockiness.
Also contributing to the show is a great musical score. "In the Avenues and Alleyways," the closing credits theme by Tony Christie, was a minor hit on British charts, but it is John Cameron's incidental funk tracks that give the show a playful 1970s vibe. Part of the legendary KPM production house, Cameron's distinct brand of library music sets the mood with Isaac Hayes-inspired rhythm guitar and percussive bongo beats.
I was generally happy with A&E's presentation of The Protectors. Each episode of the show has that grainy 1970s look with slightly unnatural colors, but it's on par with A&E's other British TV sets. There is one weird quirk though -- in almost every episode, the scene immediately following the credits sequence is extremely fuzzy. Sound quality is not bad at all, with clear dialogue and a full-sounding score. The biggest disappointment on this set has to be the noticeable lack of extras. Cast bios and a "photo gallery" comprised of screen captures from the episodes are about all you'll find here.
Occupying a middle ground between campy and serious, The Protectors isn't the best or most popular of the British "cult" shows of the 1960s and '70s, but it still makes for an enjoyable DVD release. The fashion may be outdated, but the show itself has aged well. Too bad A&E obviously dropped the ball on offering extras, since a few interesting featurettes really could have made this set dy-no-mite.
For failing to provide supplementary evidence, A&E is instructed to carefully check under their hood the next time they start their car. Harry Rule and the rest of The Protectors are ordered to immediately go back to work keeping the streets safe from criminals considered armed and extremely groovy.
Review content copyright © 2004 Paul Corupe; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 676 Minutes
Release Year: 1971
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Cast Bios
* Photo Gallery