Fresh from a seven-year stint as TV's The Saint, future 007 Roger Moore paired up with the one and only Tony Curtis for an offbeat 1971 action series, The Persuaders! As the exclamation point in the title should make clear, The Persuaders! was a jaunty, lighthearted romp, featuring Moore and Curtis as wealthy playboys turned international men of mystery—think The Odd Couple meets James Bond.
A hit overseas, The Persuaders! unfortunately failed to catch on with American audiences—being aired against Mission: Impossible certainly didn't help—and the series lasted only one season (which, as it turns out, was a good thing for Moore, who went directly from this to Live and Let Die and a place in Bond history). The Persuaders! has maintained a small but loyal cult following over the years, and now A&E has made the series available on DVD with this box set, containing the first 13 episodes of the series.
Facts of the Case
British Lord Brett Sinclair (Moore) and American industrialist Danny Wilde (Curtis) are decadent millionaires who spend their days and nights chasing "birds" and driving fast cars. They are brought together by Judge Fulton, who seeks to employ the pair to investigate crimes that the government can't solve. The conniving Fulton nabs Sinclair and Wilde on trumped-up charges and makes them an offer they can't refuse: join up or go to jail. As much for the thrills as the threat of imprisonment, the two accept, and soon become Britain's grooviest playboy adventurers!
Not unlike Robert Culp and Bill Cosby in I Spy, Moore and Curtis make a classic odd couple: cultured, debonair Lord Sinclair is a privileged "old money" aristocrat; self-made, Brooklyn-born millionaire Danny Wilde is a scrappy, sharp-tongued hedonist. In between trading barbs and fighting over women, Sinclair and Wilde solve murders, battle foreign spies, and head off assassination attempts.
It's a shame that The Persuaders! didn't last longer, because the chemistry between Roger Moore and Tony Curtis is really worth tuning in for. Although the series is also marked by solid writing and direction, the easy rapport between the two lead actors is what enabled it to hit the ground running, right from the very first episode. Both were given a great deal of latitude, as Moore reveals in a commentary, to improvise on-set and injected bits of their personality and style into the characters. As a result, the comedy is often spot-on and delivered in a way that is not at all corny or contrived. Even unabashed goofiness (usually coming from Curtis) is worked in seamlessly, as if it were meant to be there all along.
As is typical of short-run shows that earn a cult following, The Persuaders! boasts top-notch writing and direction. The episodes' storylines are surprisingly thorough and engaging, especially for a series that was made during a time when camp appeal was everything. With plenty of action, in the form of go-go-boot-wearing babes and fisticuffs, the viewer never has time to wonder how the Judge is always able to finagle two millionaires into doing his bidding so easily. Considering the low budget available in the first season, there is a respectable smattering of on-location shots, enough sets so you don't have to play any "spot the set" drinking games, and fast cars for the ogling.
The Persuaders! is further marked by a unique John Barry theme song that is immediately captivating and damnably hard to get out of your head once you hear it. This strong element was used with a rather ground-breaking credit sequence that told the story of the two main characters specifically so the show's writers wouldn't have to explain their history in expository dialogue, and also to clue new viewers in no matter when they joined the series. This was one of the first times that a credit sequence was used to tell a story, and it is still not done much in TV today. Also trend-setting was the show's cold openings, starting the action without first running credits, and going a credit crawl only after the opening act was finished.
This box set, featuring the first 13 of the entire 25 episode run, is handsome and should please fans of the series to display it in their library. Two excellent commentaries, featuring Roger Moore, Johnny Goodman, and producer Robert S. Baker, are included in the set—one for the pilot episode, "Overture," and the second for the Moore-directed episode, "The Time and The Place." Amusing anecdotes, illuminating information on casting and direction, good-natured ribbing, and peeks into similarities with The Saint are just a few of the areas discussed. Aside from that, there are bios for the two leads and some photos that make up the rest of the extras. The attention was mostly given to the transfer, which is also very good. Aside from some predictable wear and minor grain in some scenes, especially on the pilot episode, the colors are bright and clear. With no more than four episodes to a single disc, there are few compression problems that would detract. The soundtrack is a fairly lively Dolby Digital stereo, which faithfully and cleanly reproduces the groovy soundtrack and Moore's trademark deep, aristocratic voice. Helpfully, each disc is in its own keep case with a unique episode list and synopsis on the back of each one.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There is very little here to dislike, but the lack of any substantive extras, other than the two entertaining commentaries, is disappointing. The easiest would have been to recycle some "stock" featurette material from the time the show was produced, or include something more adventurous like a retrospective with cast and crew, or even a feature on the spy/thriller genre and where The Persuaders! fits in. Perhaps these are being saved for the second box set.
The Persuaders! is a must-have for all fans of the show, and lovers of 60s and 70s spy/thriller action shows should definitely give it a look. If you like The Saint or The Avengers and you dig the feisty-Yank/proper-Brit dynamic, get the popcorn ready and clear your calendar for the weekend.
The Persuaders! Set 1 is found guilty of being groovy with intent to thrill, baby!
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentaries on "Overture" and "The Time and the Place" by Roger Moore, Producer Robert S. Baker, and Executive in Charge of Production Johnny Goodman
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