Koch Vision // 1966 // 1500 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart // June 11th, 2009
"What are you, Mister -- Fifth Cavalry, U.S. Marines rolled into one?...Look, why don't you try and get a nice, easy job, like lion taming or walking on hot coals?"
Back in the '60s, it was getting so you couldn't turn on the TV without running into a Danger Man or a Saint or a Prisoner or an Avenger. The British Invasion wasn't just music. As James Bond captured America's attention, British adventure shows were popping up on American television. If you've heard of all the ones I've mentioned already, you've got to have guessed that there were a few that didn't make such a lasting impression.
Based on a John Creasey character, The Baron stars Steve Forrest (S.W.A.T.) as John Mannering, an antiques dealer known as "The Baron" who has a sideline in trouble. The Baron has a noble pedigree: it's from ITC, the British company behind The Saint and Danger Man; the script supervisor is Terry Nation, a prolific writer who contributed to Doctor Who, The Avengers, The Saint, and MacGyver, among others; and it features a well-to-do adventurer traveling Europe, a la The Saint (although Mannering seems to visit a lot of made-up countries). The Baron even gives Mannering a "BAR1" license plate on his sports car, a crown over his head in the intro (rather than a halo), and theme music by Edwin Astley. The first ITC hour in color, The Baron was calculated to please a global audience. Since the complete series is here, you kind of know how that turned out; the show ran only twelve episodes on ABC in the States.
Early episodes hew closely to The Saint's formula, but there's a change, starting with the ninth episode. Mannering's male assistant in the antique shop is replaced with Sue Lloyd (The Ipcress File) as Cordelia Winfield, a beauty with ties to British intelligence, most likely aiming for more of an Avengers vibe.
The Baron features 30 episodes, usually featuring some kind of antique or work of art as a MacGuffin, on eight discs:
* "Diplomatic Immunity"
The woman who stole a Fabergé sedan chair from John Mannering's antique shop is an embassy courier with diplomatic immunity -- but she's not immune from the Baron! Cordelia makes her first appearance.
* "Samurai West"
A chance meeting at Mannering's party leads to a startling revelation -- that the Japanese businessman who just sold Mannering a sword was once a prison camp commandant -- and a murder.
* "Red Horse, Red Rider"
Mannering travels to a fictional Eastern European-ish country that's in the midst of civil war to retrieve a statuette of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. That's the easy part; the hard part is getting out alive.
* "The Legions of Ammak"
Mannering and assistant David (Paul Ferris) have just witnessed the sale of a ceremonial necklace by the King of Ammak. Um, David isn't so sure, since he noticed that the King was wearing an Eaton tie, not the Harrow tie he usually wears. Peter Wyngarde, who plays the King, introduces the episode.
* "Portrait of Louisa"
"You're in some kind of trouble!" is Mannering's conclusion when Louisa sells him some heirloom miniatures he's had his eye on. When he later finds her dead at a discotheque, the police think it's suicide but the Baron is sure it's murder!
* "Epitaph for a Hero"
Mannering attends a war buddy's funeral and then finds out that the "world champion rat fink" is alive and wants the Baron to join him on a heist. Spymaster John Alexander Templeton-Green (Colin Gordon, The Prisoner) wants Mannering to go along with the caper. Cordelia returns.
* "Farewell to Yesterday"
Mannering flies to Rome in search of medallions stolen from the Vatican and finds an old flame under the thumb of her nightclub owner boss.
* "The Persuaders"
David is kidnapped in an elaborate scheme to force Mannering into selling a fake Renoir. Luckily, Templeton-Green owes the Baron a favor.
* "Something for a Rainy Day"
Mannering contends with an underhanded insurance executive (Lois Maxwell, Dr. No) and some dangerous criminals when he acts as a go-between for an ex-con who wants to return the Aztec treasure he stole and collect the reward money. It's a rough introduction to the Baron's life for new assistant Cordelia.
* "Enemy of the State"
As she and Mannering attend an exhibition in Eastern Europe, Cordelia is captured as a spy. For Mannering, the only course of action is simple: just kidnap a couple of the local security police for an exchange.
* "There's Someone Close Behind You"
Mannering is the lone living witness to a burglary attempt at a museum that resulted in a cop's death. The police suggest he take a holiday, but since he's no Mr. Hulot, Mannering has other ideas.
* "And Suddenly You're Dead"
Cordelia's friend is killed soon after taking a vial of deadly bacteria from a Swiss laboratory. Mannering and Cordelia become involved when she collects her friend's personal effects.
* "A Memory of Evil"
The murder of an old friend leads Mannering to a cache of Nazi art treasure and a dangerous climbing adventure.
* "Masquerade" (Part 1)
A kidnapped Mannering finds out that he's to be replaced with a double created by plastic surgery. He escapes, but naturally decides to go back in to find out more. Just as naturally, Cordelia decides to go investigating on her own, getting caught by the baddies. Bernard Lee (Dr. No) and Geoffrey Palmer (Tomorrow Never Dies) guest star.
* "The Killing" (Part 2)
Mannering's posing as his double, who was killed in his place, but one of the gang suspects he's the real thing, and the baron is about to meet an old friend of the faker.
* "Long Ago and Far Away"
Cordelia disappears in South America while on business for Mannering. He sets out into the jungle with a reluctant guide.
* "You Can't Win Them All"
Mannering discovers the theft of religious icons, but must force the ringleader's hand with some fast dealing at poker.
* "The Seven Eyes of Night"
An imposter posing as a wealthy French woman cons Mannering out of a fortune. To get it back, he and Cordelia are keeping a close watch on a secretary who's involved in the ring.
* "The Long, Long Day"
In Italy, Mannering and a witness against the Mafia are trapped in a village police station, with hit men waiting outside.
* "The Edge of Fear"
A French spy has bugged Mannering's phone, and the Foreign Office wants him to stay out of the matter. It has something to do with a stolen object so valuable that everyone's afraid to utter its name.
* "Time to Kill"
A frightened woman tries to sell Cordelia an emerald cameo with a reputation as a "death stone." When the woman and her father die soon afterward, leaving her with the stone, the cameo could be deadly for Cordelia.
* "So Dark the Night"
It was a dark and stormy night when Mannering's client died. The man's daughter is frightened, but it looks like she's just distraught -- until Mannering finds an intruder's glove at the scene.
* "The Maze"
"It's not a dream sequence but a puzzle," longtime Avengers scribe Brian Clemens says as he introduces this one he wrote under the pseudonym of Tony O'Grady. Mannering tries to recall the events of a missing day of his life, one that included gunfire.
* "Night of the Hunter"
Mannering's in the Mediterranean to deliver cash to an old friend, the wife of a deposed president. He's greeted by the news that, if caught, his sentence will be death. Mannering won't let a little thing like that stop him, though.
* "Storm Warning" (Part 1)
In Macao, Cordelia wanders onto a ship, looking for a missing crate -- just in time to see a stabbing and be taken prisoner. Mannering stows away to find her and discovers the crew's deadly mission. Dudley Sutton (Lovejoy) plays a radio operator with an eye for Cordelia.
* "The Island" (Part 2)
The authorities launch a rescue, but it could arrive too late to save Mannering and Cordelia, who are stranded on an island with the ship's murderous crew.
In Paris, Mannering saves a woman's life and is handed a train station locker key. He goes to the Gare du Nord to pick up a statuette -- and a tail. He then goes to a hairdresser for a conk on the head. Annette Andre, Sue Lloyd's flatmate, introduces her guest appearance.
* "The High Terrace"
When Mannering and Cordelia deliver some Medicis to a wealthy client, they find the door open, a strange man inside, and the client missing. This has something to do with a suicide that really wasn't and a religious cult.
* "The Man Outside"
In Scotland to look into the death of a colleague, Mannering notices a missing ring on the finger of a gang member.
A trap keeps Mannering from getting to an informer in time, leading to a race between the Baron and a rival (Edward Woodward, The Equalizer) for a valuable sword. A movie scene within the episode looks like a jab at The Avengers.
If you've seen other British adventure shows from the same era -- particularly The Saint -- you already have a good idea of what The Baron delivers: an escapist world where the hero always saves the day with charm, principle, reckless behavior, and a brawl in the last act, with a few twists thrown in to honor the character's mystery novel origins. Heck, I even noticed Forrest trying a couple of those raised eyebrows that Roger Moore was famous for.
You're probably also familiar with the flaws: it's mostly studio-bound, with foreign locales represented by generic abandoned buildings, stock footage, and sets; it's done by English actors for an English-speaking audience, so heavy fake accents are used to distinguish nationality; "longshot" clues improbably help Mannering solve crimes; and heroes get conked on the head or taken hostage a lot. It appears that Mannering keeps returning to the temple ruins in "Night of the Hunter" simply because it's a neat set (but I'll admit that it is a neat set).
In a commentary, Sue Lloyd and production supervisor Johnny Goodman note that The Baron was more serious than The Saint. That seems to come from Steve Forrest's performance, which has a rough-and-tumble B-movie attitude. In the early episodes, it just makes for more of a straight-up action show, in which Mannering comes in charging with gun and fist. When Sue Lloyd turns up as a regular, she grabs viewers' attention very quickly. Lloyd plays Cordelia with a knowing humor and mischievousness that's a fun contrast to the straightlaced Baron. She's no Emma Peel, though; while she can inflict damage, Cordelia's nervousness is evident in any fight. The teaming of Forrest and Lloyd seems awkward at first -- Lloyd mentions his initial nervousness in the commentary -- but works better as the series goes on.
My favorite episodes were "The Long, Long Day," a Brian Clemens story which skipped the tongue-in-cheek stuff to put Forrest's tough style to best advantage in a Western-type standoff, and three with good guest turns: "Something for a Rainy Day," with a sneaky Lois Maxwell, and the two-parter, "Storm Warning" and "The Island," with Dudley Sutton seeking respect amid a crew of villains.
The picture is decent for a show that's more than forty years old, and it looks like some care was taken with it. Still, there are a few problems: muddy day-for-night scenes, occasional flecks, and even bad UHF-style lines through the picture. The sound is good for the most part, but I found dialogue tracks that didn't quite match up on one episode and one commentary track.
The package includes some fond commentaries done for an earlier Australian DVD release of The Baron. They offer glimpses into the filming of The Baron and, since the principals also worked on other ITC series, provide an insider look at the production techniques, philosophies, and work atmosphere on ITC's shows. Veteran "ITC girl" Sue Lloyd is featured on all three commentaries. She's teamed with production supervisor Johnny Goodman to discuss "Diplomatic Immunity," director Cyril Frankel on "Something for a Rainy Day," and Goodman and director Roy Ward Baker on "The Man Outside." There are fond reminiscences of life in ITC's rep company, along with laments that television isn't as good as it was then. Among the topics touched on were McCarthy blacklist actors working in England and the budget for The Baron -- among Britain's highest at the time, believe it or not! Three episode introductions -- by Peter Wyngarde, Brian Clemens, and Annette Andre -- were way too brief. The best was Andre's, which had me looking for the spot where she ends up with splinters during an action scene. There's also a promo from the show's original run.
Be forewarned that watching a lot of these in a short time could lead to a fanboy crush on Sue Lloyd. She's beautiful, yes, but it's a goofy charm that makes her memorable. Lloyd gets maximum mileage out of small bits, like biting into a stale baguette while on a stakeout.
Speaking of crushes: Did Mannering and Cordelia have a romantic relationship, or was Cordelia carrying an unrequited torch for the Baron? I believe the typical romantic hints laced through The Baron were meant to indicate the former, but occasionally I was left with the latter impression, since Lloyd delivers them with more emphasis than Forrest does.
Why did The Baron fail in the States? It could be that American audiences quickly learned to consider the off-kilter performances of Roger Moore and Patrick Macnee as important to the adventure genre as foreign locales, romance, and fisticuffs, making the casting of a straightforward American in this genre a fatal mistake. The abrupt change in tone, while it made The Baron stronger, could also have hurt its prospects.
The Baron may be a minor entry in British TV history, having lasted only one season, but the DVD package treats it excellently, with commentaries adding background and context, not to mention fun anecdotes. If you're a hardcore fan of British adventure, '60s style -- the sort who considers stock footage, process shots, and dubious sets a good sign -- you'll want to add The Baron to your collection, especially with commentaries delving into the world of ITC. The Baron isn't essential viewing, but it's a solid ITC series that could grow on you.
If you think you're too young to get into this old-fashioned stuff, think again. In the middle of my marathon week of The Baron, I caught the season opener of Burn Notice, and it felt like one more ITC hour. Sure, the budget's larger, the pace is faster, there are more explosions, and there's Bruce Campbell, but the basic storyline could have worked for The Baron and many of his stories would fit into Michael Westen's caseload. Light escapist action shows haven't changed all that much over the years.
Not guilty, even taking the lack of Bruce Campbell into account.
Review content copyright © 2009 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Koch Vision
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 1500 Minutes
Release Year: 1966
MPAA Rating: Not Rated