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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

TV Episode: T.H.E. CAT - Ep.1: "To Kill a Priest"



Season: 1 (of 1)
Episode Number: 1 (of 26)
Original Airdate: September 16, 1966 
Original Venue: NBC

Written & Created by: Harry Julian Fink
Produced & Directed by: Boris Sagal


The coolest 1960s TV series you've probably never seen, and perhaps have never even heard of, begins this, its pilot episode, panning down the Gothic frontage of a city church to reveal... a heavily-armed squad of police--



 Father Francis Langland (Jason Evers) is under maximum police protection... in addition to a personal detail of three pug-ugly volunteer bodyguards. As "The Fisherman's Priest", he has spoken out against a protection racket that has extorted thousands of dollars from San Francisco's struggling population of  local fishermen, rallying them to refuse to pay tribute to their would-be criminal masters. In retribution, he's had acid thrown in his face, costing him an eye, and has been marked for death.



"Where's the ring? Don't tell me you forgot it!"
Enter a specialist (Robert Loggia), briefed and endorsed by Police Captain McAllister (the great R.G. Armstrong, his character missing his left hand, for reasons unknown), as they walk into the heavily-guarded cathedral. This mystery-man wagers, as a test, that he can single-handedly break through Father Langland's defenses and get to him, close enough to kill him... and if he can, so can The Syndicate. Father Langland and his guardian angels scoff at this seemingly superfluous helper, only to be proven quite, quite wrong...







Cue some supremely-cool Lalo Schifrin "stealth operation" music, as this unidentified fellow performs a one-man MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE gambit, evading the police and powering through Langland's trio of roughnecks, unfolding over the course of just a couple of minutes...

 
 
 
"Sorry, we weren't paying attention... do it again."


   Needless to say, both the priest and the goons are impressed...
 But who is this dark stranger with the formidable skill-set?


My best guess is that it's some future orange juice spokesman...

His name is Cat... Thomas Hewitt Edward Cat... and here comes one of the coolest opening credits sequences in all of 1960s television, full of expressionistic art and a formidable, hard-boiled Lalo Schifrin theme tune, complete with flute and a killer horn section, promising even more pulpy noir excitement:


The agile Mr. Cat was formerly a circus aerialist and an expert cat burglar, and is skilled with both a gun and a knife (his weapon of choice), but now he uses his talents to help crime victims and the police, as an independent contractor...  though more along the lines of a professional 'fixer' than as a standard-issue private detective. This is a more dangerous guy than Mannix. He's a character very much in the mold of James Bond (Connery/Craig), Daredevil, The Dark Knight and (two decades later) The Equalizer.

"I, Pepe of Casa del Gato, welcome you  --but enough with formalities! Tonight, all the saucers of milk are on the house!"

After the opening, we meet Cat's best friend, Pepe Cordoza (Robert Carricart), proprietor of the swanky Casa del Gato nightclub (reminiscent of "Mother's Place" on Peter Gunn), where Mr. Cat spends most of his off hours. Tonight, the club is hosting chanteuse Maria Carentis (Norma Bengell), who sings Antonio Carlos Jobim's bossa nova classic, "The Girl from Ipanema" (and later, "Agua de Beber"). Cat watches with interest. Their eyes meet...

"I dedicate this next song to the dapper gentleman standing in the back..."
"I give 'em cat scratch feverrrr...."
"Pussycat, pussycat, I love you... yesss... I... doooooo..."
      "Rowrrrrr...."                                                                                                "Purrrrrrr..."

"Call off your goons, Smith... that boil isn't gonna lance itself."
Looks like this tomcat won't be spending tonight alone on his back alley fence... except that Capt. McAllister suddenly pops in (D'oh!!) to let him know that The Syndicate is done fooling around with Father Langland, and has announced to both the police and the newspapers its intent to liquidate "The Fisherman's Priest" at dawn, a mere three hours and thirty-nine minutes from now. McAllister knows that multi-millionaire business tycoon, William Smith (Sorrell Booke), is the head of their organization, though apparently without enough concrete evidence to arrest him --he tells Cat that the last informant they tried to use to get the goods on Smith ended up being burned alive--  and tasks Cat to stop him. Armed with only a retractable throwing knife mechanism (his "Cat Claw"), concealed up his left sleeve, and Smith's address (the city's old, run-down, former Hall of Justice building), Cat goes to meet Smith. The crime boss is revealed to be an erudite, reptilian villain, encased in the body of a balding accountant, sort of a Blofeld-in-training, with a trio of scary henchmen. Through sheer chutzbah, Cat manages to impress upon Smith that if the priest dies, so will Smith, by Cat's hand... and our hero uses his cunning to escape from the place alive. In revenge, Smith has Maria Carentis kidnapped by dwarfs disguised in Chinese street festival costumes. 


  
Nightmares like these inspire Sid & Marty Krofft to do their very best work.
Angie Dickinson concurs.
And now, an important message from Underwood Deviled Ham...



 With time running out, can Thomas Hewitt Edward Cat save both Father Langland and Maria, and put an end to Smith's extortion ring?


Why not find out for yourself?




Premiering in NBC's Friday 9:30 pm slot during the first majority-color season (Fall 1966) of American network television, this was an amazing pilot episode for an amazing series. While done in a somewhat larger-than-life style, it doesn't resort to the intentional campiness that several other series of the time did, in the wake of the mammoth success of Adam West's Batman, such as T.H.E. Cat's lead-in, the dreaded "goofy" third season of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. About the closest Cat normally got to camp was Pepe's rubbery nose and large gypsy earring, and that the nightclub shares our hero's feline moniker.

The pilot's plot is fast-moving and exciting, exotic yet grounded, with lots of great, moody shots and camera angles, and with no padding in its swift 25-minute running time. Robert Loggia makes a formidable hero, both shrewd and physically dangerous. ABC's The Green Hornet (from Batman's producers) --which also ran on Friday nights during the 1966-67 season-- has some similarities (plus the advantage of co-star Bruce Lee), but T.H.E. Cat is a darker and tougher program --pretty much the kind of show The Green Hornet, fun as it is, wished it could be. Interestingly, several of the supporting players in the pilot are depicted with disfigurements: McAllister's missing hand, Langland's eyepatch/acid scarring, and extensive facial scars for both Smith's second-in-command (George Keymas) and Langland's top bodyguard (Roy Jenson). With few exceptions (such as the pilot's opening scene), most episodes take place entirely at night. Loggia's Cat strikes with a fast, rather brutal fighting style, that seems quite modern... unlike the standard karate chops or roundhouse saloon-style punches usually seen in '60s action shows.

Unfortunately, T.H.E. Cat was killed in the ratings (as was rival ABC's one-season The Milton Berle Show) by the then-new CBS Friday Night Movies, where many big, popular Hollywood films were making their color television debuts, back in the days before streaming, cable television, VCRs, and video rentals.




Robert Loggia as T.H.E. Cat
Native New Yorker Robert Loggia (b. 1930) began his career on stage (after studying at The Actor's Studio), graduating to television and film in the mid-1950s, and hasn't stopped working since, specializing in high-level crooks, gruff detectives and, in later years, curmudgeonly father figures. His earliest screen roles were a small part in Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956), followed by The Garment Jungle (1957), the heroic rocket scientist in the unusual sci-fi obscurity, The Lost Missile (1958); and The Cop Hater (1958), in which he was the first to play writer Ed McBain's character, Det. Steve Carella, later portrayed by Robert Lansing in the 87th Precinct TV series, Burt Reynolds in Fuzz (1972), and by Randy Quaid and Dale Midkiff in the 1990s TV adaptations. Segueing into TV, after four appearances on the prestigious live anthology, (Westinghouse) Studio One, he was cast as the lead in Disney's ten-episode Elfego Baca story on Walt Disney's World of Color, and he became a frequent guest star on such popular TV series as The Naked City, Alfred Hitchcock Presents (twice), One Step Beyond, The Untouchables, Rawhide (Season Five's "Incident of the Comanchero"), The Defenders (twice, including the Boris Sagal-directed Season One episode, "Perjury", co-starring a young Robert Duvall), Route 66, Ben Casey (twice), The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (twice, as a troubled Korean War vet, who murders an old flame in Season Two's "You'll Be the Death of Me", and as a hit man hired by Henry Jones in Season Three's "The World's Oldest Motive"), Gunsmoke, Combat! (as a French Underground leader, "Etienne", in Season Three's "The Tree of Moray"), Run for Your Life (twice), The Wild, Wild West (twice, as criminal circus proprietor "Warren Trevor", in Season One's "The Night of the Sudden Death", and as scheming Col. Arsenio 'Arsenic' Barbossa', who seeks President Juarez's untimely demise in Season Three's "The Night of the Assassin") and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (Season Two's "Graveyard of Fear", where Loggia needs the crew of the Seaview's help to retrieve a special formula to keep his two-century-old wife young and beautiful).

Post-T.H.E. Cat, Loggia was seen on TV even more frequently, guesting on Tarzan, The Big Valley, The Name of the Game, High Chaparral, some time on soap operas The Secret Storm and Search for Tomorrow in the early 1970s, and virtually every police/detective series of that decade: Mannix, Columbo, Kojak, Cannon, S.W.A.T., Harry O, McMillan & Wife, Police Woman, Starsky & Hutch, Hawaii Five-0, The Rockford Files, Charlie's Angels, Quincy, Vega$ and Magnum P.I. In the 1980s, he became a popular supporting player in major features, including  Blake Edwards' comedy, S.O.B.(1981); as Norman Bates' caring doctor in Psycho II (1982); Richard Gere's father in An Officer and a Gentleman (1982); Al Pacino's drug kingpin boss, Frank Lopez, in Scarface (1983); a foul-mouthed detective in Jagged Edge (1985); son of mafia don William Hickey, in John Huston's mobster comedy Prizzi's Honor (1985); the toy company CEO who dances on a giant keyboard with Tom Hanks in Big (1988), Sylvester Stallone's evil father-in-law in the arm-wrestling epic, Over the Top (1987), a mafia chieftain inflicted with vampirism in Innocent Blood (1992), Gen. William Grey in Independence Day (1996), Smilla's Sense of Snow (1997), David Lynch's  Lost Highway (1997), etc. On TV, he got another "one-season wonder" series, Mancuso FBI (1989-90, for which he was nominated for an Emmy), as well as regular roles on the similarly-short-lived Emerald Point N.A.S.(1983-84), and Wild Palms (1993). More widely-seen was a four-episode stint as veteran mob boss "Feech La Manna" on The Sopranos' fifth season.



R.G. Armstrong as Capt. McAllister
R.G. Armstrong (1917-2012) A top-flight, instantly-recognizable character actor, specializing in patriarchs, businessmen and lawmen (both upstanding and corrupt types), Armstrong began his movie career in, of all things, the first color nudist film (!), The Garden of Eden (1954... gamers have heard the song from this film in Fallout 3). After his role as the fearsome cattle baron, "Hunter Boyd", in Henry Hathaway's From Hell to Texas (1958), he was often cast in westerns on both the big and small screens, including multiple guest shots on Gunsmoke, Rawhide (including the macabre Season Two story, "Incident of the 100 Amulets"), Have Gun - Will Travel, Wanted: Dead or Alive, Maverick, Bonanza, Wagon Train, The Virginian, Laramie, Bronco, Sugarfoot, Lawman and many others. He was just as at home in more contemporary dramatic settings, such as in The Twilight Zone, as the contractor trying to get Gladys Cooper to leave her condemned apartment in "Nothing in the Dark"; three excellent episodes of The Fugitive, including Season Two's "Corner of Hell", where circumstances are flipped, and Richard Kimble has to save nemesis Lt. Gerard from execution; several installments of Perry Mason, The FBI, Alfred Hitchcock Presents/The Hitchcock Hour, The Invaders, etc.

Starting with his guest part as the sheriff of South Fork in "The Sharpshooter", the episode of Zane Grey Theatre that served as the pilot for The Rifleman (as well as the latter series' fourth episode, "The Marshal"), R.G. Armstrong became part of director Sam Peckinpah's stock company of western types, appearing in an episode of Peckinpah's series The Westerner (Episode 2: "School Days"), in Ride the High Country (1962, very memorable as Mariette Hartley's stern, bible-quoting father), Major Dundee (1965), The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970) and Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973). Other film roles included work in Ten Who Dared (1960) for Walt Disney, Howard Hawks' El Dorado (1966), The Great White Hope (1970), the AIP biker flick Angels Die Hard (1970), The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid (1972), White Lightning (1973), White Line Fever (1975), the Fred Williamson blaxploitation/western opus Boss Nigger (1975), Arnold Schwarzeneggar's breakout film Stay Hungry (1976), Heaven Can Wait (1978), the popular Chuck Norris actioner Lone Wolf McQuade (1983), and under extensive prosthetic makeup as the infamous comic strip crook, "Pruneface", in Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy (1990). Fans of 1970s/1980s horror films should also be familiar with R.G. Armstrong, from his roles in Race With the Devil (1975), The Car (1977), The Pack (1977), Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell (1978), Evilspeak (1981), The Beast Within (1982), Children of the Corn (1984), Predator (1987) and as "Lewis Vendredi", the original owner of the cursed antique shop that was the catalyst for the events in Friday the 13th: The Series.


As an interesting little side note, longtime friend James Coburn once credited him (when interviewed on NBC's late-night talk show, Later... With Bob Costas) with alleviating Coburn's severe, early-onset arthritis, via deep-tissue massage, breaking up calcium deposits that had debilitated him to the point where he hadn't been able to work for several years. Armstrong, himself, remained active in films and on TV through the end of the 1990s, until retiring from acting, due to failing eyesight in his twilight years.




Robert Carricart as Pepe Cardoza
Robert Carricart (1917-1993) originally hailed from Bordeaux, France. After some success on Broadway in the late 1940s, he went on to work heavily in American television, usually cast in ethnic parts, often mob thugs, bandits or foreign generals. He portrayed gangster Lucky Luciano three times on The Untouchables, as well as a shot as Lepke (played in other episodes by Joseph Ruskin and Gene Roth);
 and an arson-murderer in the Season One Peter Gunn episode, "The Torch". Carricart was very nearly trail cook, "Wishbone", on the long-running western series, Rawhide... but after filming the pilot, Carricart was replaced with Paul Brinegar, and his scenes scrapped and re-filmed with Brinegar in the role.

Carricart guested on several series' episodes directed by T.H.E. Cat producer Boris Sagal (Peter Gunn, Mr. Lucky, The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters, the feature film Dime With a Halo) which undoubtedly led to his role as Cat's best friend --his only time as part of the regular main cast of a series. He also appeared with his real-life son, Robert Carricart, Jr., in one of  the handful of "a day at the office" episodes of the color Dragnet, Season 3's "B.O.D. DR-27", in which Joe Friday and Bill Gannon work the desk and deal with various people's issues, while the threat of a potential tidal wave looms. Just some of the many other series of which he's appeared: Man With a Camera, Wanted: Dead or Alive, Yancy Derringer, Johnny Staccato (twice), Checkmate, The Detectives, Adventures in Paradise, M Squad, Have Gun - Will Travel (four times), 87th Precinct, Thriller (the early-series crime episode, "The Big Blackout"), Perry Mason, One Step Beyond (twice), Bonanza (twice), The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (and its spin-off, The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.), Branded, Combat! (twice), The Andy Griffith Show, Honey West, I Spy, Mission: Impossible, Get Smart, The Big Valley, The High Chaparral (twice), The Name of the Game, Chico and the Man, Kojak, The Streets of San Francisco, Columbo, Steve Allen's unusual "historical talk show" Meeting of Minds for PBS,  Project UFO, Manimal and the early Fox series, Werewolf. Carricart was also in See How They Run (1964), regarded as the very first "made-for-TV" movie, after Don Seigel's The Killers (1964) was deemed too violent for television at the time (and was released theatrically, instead).

He had some smaller supporting roles in theatrical features, among them the low-budget Korean War air force drama Jet Attack (1958); the Sophia Loren romantic melodrama, The Black Orchid (1958); the low-profile crime capers Blueprint for Robbery and Run Across the River (both 1961); the Elvis vehicles Follow That Dream (1962) and Fun in Alcapulco (1963); the Rat Pack musical Robin and the Seven Hoods (1964); a few westerns (Blood on the Arrow (1964), two of producer A.C. Lyles' low-budgeters Black Spurs (1965, also with an uncredited Roy Jenson) and Apache Uprising (both 1965), the large-scale Villa Rides (1968), Land Raiders (1969)); the comedies What Did You Do in the War, Daddy? (1966), The Pink Jungle and The Wicked Dreams of Paula Schultz (both 1968); Richard Fleischer's Godfather knock-off The Don Is Dead (1973) and a small, late-career role in Robert Redford's The Milagro Beanfield War (1988).




Norma Bengell as Maria Carentis
Norma Bengell (1935-2013, sometimes billed as Norma Benguell), a Brazilian film star who had also been working in Italian features (such as Mafioso (1962)), makes her lone appearance in a full-fledged Hollywood production here. She's best known to American audiences as the shapeliest member of the leather-suited crew of astronauts in Mario Bava's sci-fi film, Planet of the Vampires (1965), which was a U.S./Italian co-production with American-International Pictures. It's a pretty safe bet that the role in Bava's film led to this guest shot on American TV, directly afterward. She plays her ingenue part well on T.H.E. Cat, so it's a bit of a mystery as to why she didn't do any other TV series guest star roles, though perhaps the movie offers from her native Brazil were better. She starred in a couple of spaghetti westerns, opposite Joseph Cotten in Sergio Corbucci's The Hellbenders (1967), and the somewhat-lower-profile western reinterpretation of the Phaedra tale from Greek mythology, I Do Not Forgive... I Kill! (1968, a.k.a. Fedra West). She then focused almost entirely on Brazilian productions, along with the occasional European film set in Brazil, such as the French films OSS 117 Takes a Vacation (1970) and The Suns of Easter Island (1972), and director Julien Temple's feature collaboration with Mick Jagger, Running Out of Luck (1987). Her last role, a few years before her death in 2013, was as a regular character in the last couple of seasons of a half-hour sitcom for Brazilian TV, Toma La, Da Ca (2005-2009).




Jason Evers as Father Langland
Jason Evers (1922-2005, sometimes billed as Herb Evers) was mainly a television actor, who started out in uncredited roles on early-1950s programs such as Philco Playhouse, and The Phil Silvers Show (a.k.a. "Sgt. Bilko"/"You'll Never Get Rich"). Eventually, Evers became a very prolific and familiar guest star on a host of TV series in the 1960s and 1970s. including playing "Rael", leader of the super-fast Scalosian race, in the Star Trek third season episode, "Wink of an Eye" and antagonist, "H.R. Buchanan", in the Happy Days post-shark-jumping Season Six three-parter, "Westward Ho!". Other guest appearances were on The Rebel, 77 Sunset Strip, The Defenders (in the title role of Season Two's "The Bigamist"), Perry Mason (three times), Gunsmoke (three times), Branded, The FBI (twice), Combat!, The Virginian, The Green Hornet, Tarzan (in the second season two-parter, "The Blue Stone of Heaven"), The Invaders, Bonanza (twice), Run for Your Life, Judd for the Defense, The Wild Wild West (twice), It Takes a Thief, The Mod Squad, Mission: Impossible (four times, including as enemy spy "Walter Townsend", in one of the series' very best episodes, Season Three's "The Mind of Sefan Miklos"), Mannix (five times), Ironside, Hawaii Five-0 (three times), Cannon (four times), Barnaby Jones (twice), Marcus Welby, M.D. (twice), The Streets of San Francisco (twice), The Rockford Files (twice), Quincy, Charlie's Angels, Emergency, CHiPs, The Bionic Woman, Knight Rider (twice), Vega$, Fantasy Island, Hart to Hart, The Dukes of Hazzard, and many more.

His big shot at regular TV series stardom was hamstrung by the ratings failures of his obscure western series, Wrangler (1960, an early shot-on-tape program, cancelled after just six episodes), and a few years later as Professor Joseph Howe in the well-regarded, short-lived college-set drama, Channing (1963-64). In addition, he had a recurring role as the missing son of Walter Brennen, and the object of his ongoing search, in The Guns of Will Sonnett (1967-69). Evers appeared in a few theatrical features as well, perhaps his best-known role, to cult movie fans, was as brain surgeon, "Dr. Bill Cortner", trying to sew his decapitated girlfriend's living head onto a suitable body in The Brain That Wouldn't Die (1962). Evers can also be seen as the doomed "Capt. Coleman", in John Wayne's Vietnam film, The Green Berets (1968); as one of the trio of astronauts on Venus with Rod Steiger, in "The Long Rain" segment of the film adaptation of Ray Bradbury's anthology, The Illustrated Man (1969); in a smaller role as "E-2", one of a duo of government men (along with actor Albert Salmi) interrogating Cornelius and Zira, in the latter half of Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1973); and in a couple of "animal attack" films, Claws (1977) and Barracuda (1978), both made to cash-in on the enormous success of Jaws.




Sorrell Booke as William Smith
Sorrell Booke (1930-1994) is best known, by far, for playing the comic nemesis sheriff, "Boss Hogg", on The Dukes of Hazzard, a decade after his guest appearance here, but kept himself busy in supporting guest shots in films, TV series (Car 54 Where Are You?, The Naked City (nine appearances), Route 66, The Patty Duke Show, The Defenders, Dr. Kildare, 12 O'Clock High, The FBI, Mission Impossible, The Wild Wild West, Ironside, Hawaii-Five-0, Kung Fu, Columbo, MASH, The Bob Newhart Show, The Love Boat, Archie Bunker's boss in a few episodes of All in the Family, etc) and commercials in the 1960s and 1970s, gradually drifting from serious drama to eventually specializing in goofy comedy as the 1970s progressed. Belying his oft-buffoonish persona, off-screen, Booke had earned degrees at both Yale and Columbia, worked in counter-intelligence during the Korean War, and had fluency in five languages, including Japanese.

His feature film work included lending support in Fail-Safe (1964), Black Like Me (1964), A Fine Madness (1966), Up the Down Staircase (1967), Bye Bye Braverman (1968), What's Up, Doc? (1972), Slaughterhouse Five (1972), The Iceman Cometh (1973), as one of the adults victimized by killer kids in The Devil Times Five (1974), Bank Shot (1974), Freaky Friday (1977) and The Other Side of Midnight (1977, the Fox film for which the studio originally had higher hopes than Star Wars). The last few years of his career were mainly spent providing TV cartoon voices for Pound Puppies, Tom & Jerry Kids, Captain Planet, as well as for Don Bluth's theatrical cartoon feature, Rock-a-Doodle (1991).



Roy Jenson as Mighty Joe Slavic
Roy Jenson (1927-2007), born in Calgary and raised in the U.S., started out playing college football for UCLA, and went pro as a Canadian football player in the early 1950s. Switching careers, Jenson began to get work as a film extra and stuntman, performing in small and/or uncredited parts (and sometimes was Robert Mitchum's stunt double) in a plethora of features from the mid-1950s through the next ten years, gradually working his way into larger character roles. More often than not, like his role here in T.H.E. Cat, he was cast as a tough guy, guard or henchman. Among these are appearances on
 87th Precinct ("The Main Event", with Robert Carricart), Dobie Gillis, Bonanza (six times), The Fugitive (three times), Gunsmoke (seven times), I Spy (three times), The Wild, Wild West (as "Vance Markham", a secret agent confronted and killed by Victor Buono's nefarious "Count Manzeppi" and crew (including a young Richard Pryor), in the pre-credits opening moments of Season Two's "The Night of the Eccentrics"), Tarzan (Season Two's "King of the Dwsari", with guest star Robert Loggia), Mission: Impossible (Season Two's "The Killing", where the IMF team creates a haunting to rattle Jenson's boss, the superstitious head of an organization of hit men), 12 O'Clock High, The Andy Griffith Show, Cimarron Strip (twice), Daniel Boone (five times), Mannix (three times), in the TV-movie pilot to Kung Fu (as saloon bully "Cully", the very first man in the series to get clobbered by David Carradine's "Caine"), with Sorrell Booke in The Dukes of Hazzard Christmas episode (Season Three's "The Great Santa Claus Chase"), etc

His larger roles occurred in the mid-1960s and into the 1970s, where he could be seen as "Cloud William" in the Star Trek second season episode "The Omega Glory" and as The Riddler's main henchman, "Whitey", who impersonates the caped crusader in Commissioner Gordon's office in the Season One two-parter, "When the Rat's Away, the Mice Will Play" and "A Riddle a Day Keeps the Riddler Away". He would pop up again, once more, on T.H.E. Cat, as another character, in the episode, "To Bell T.H.E. Cat".

In feature films, he performed stunts in River of No Return (1954), The Great Escape (1963), McClintock! (1963), among many others, and on the acting end of things, worked often with both Clint Eastwood (Paint Your Wagon (1969), Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974), The Gauntlet (1977), Any Which Way but Loose (1978), Any Which Way You Can (1980), Honkytonk Man (1982))  and John Milius (Dillinger (1973), The Wind and the Lion (1975), Red Dawn (1984)) as well as in Stage to Thunder Rock (1964), Harper (1966), Waterhole #3 (1967), Will Penny (1967), The Ambushers (1967), Five Card Stud (1968), Halls of Anger (1969), Big Jake (1971), The Getaway (1972), The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972), The Outfit (1973), Soylent Green (1973), The Way We Were (1973), Chinatown (1974, as Roman Polanski's fellow thug, "Mulvihill"), Breakout (1975), Breakheart Pass (1976), The Car (1977, with R.G. Armstrong), Telefon (1977), Tom Horn (1980), Bustin' Loose (1981), etc.



George Keymas as Scarface
George Keymas (1925-2008), with his rough, cratered complexion, was another prolific character actor, primarily on television, who was relegated mainly to ethnic tough guy, guard and henchman roles, and played a lot of indians, as well, during the glut of westerns in the 1950s and 1960s. Just a sampling of his TV series credits would include Hopalong Cassidy, The Lineup, Cheyenne, Circus Boy, The Adventures of Jim Bowie (twice), Walt Disney's Zorro (twice) and Texas John Slaughter, Colt .45, The Whirlybirds, Tombstone Territory, Trackdown, Playhouse 90 (twice), Yancy Derringer, The Loretta Young Show (three times), The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin (nine times), 26 Men (three times), M Squad (as one of the heavily-armed trio of ex-cons, in the exciting Season Three episode, "Pitched Battle at Bluebell Acres"), Zane Grey Theater, Bronco (twice) Laramie (four times), Tales of Wells Fargo (four times), Peter Gunn, Bonanza (three times), Shotgun Slade, Maverick (twice), Death Valley Days (five times), Have Gun - Will Travel (twice), Hawaiian Eye, The Untouchables (twice), Combat! (twice, including the superior James Coburn episode, "Masquerade"), Wagon Train (six times), Rawhide (twice), Gunsmoke (nine times), Burke's Law, Honey West, Irwin Allen's Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and The Time Tunnel, The Wild, Wild West (three times, including Season Three's "Night of the Falcon", where Keymas plays one of the international bidders for title villain Robert Duvall's super-weapon), The FBI (twice), Mannix, Ironside (twice), Rod Serling's Night Gallery (Season Two's "Green Fingers" segment), The Six Million Dollar Man, etc.

Two of his more memorable small roles were as the maitre d', who serves Robert Morley and Kenneth Haigh at an unusual private eatery, in the Season Five episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, "Specialty of the House", and (under prosthetic make-up) as the televised dictator of the misshapen society seen in the famous "Eye of the Beholder" episode of The Twilight Zone's second season. 

His feature filmography includes a lot of unbilled parts, a few in major productions (The Robe (1953), Salome (1953), King of the Khyber Rifles (1953), The Raid (1954), Lonely Are the Brave (1962)), and small supporting roles in a few B-level exotic adventure films (Siren of Baghdad (1953), Flame of Calcutta (1953), Drums of Tahiti (1954)), the Hugo Haas melodrama Bait (1954) and, overwhelmingly, lower-tier westerns: Border Rangers (1950), Stranger on Horseback (1955), Kentucky Rifle (1955), Santa Fe Passage (1955), Apache Ambush (1955), The Vanishing American (1955), The Maverick Queen (1956), Fury at Gunsight Pass (1956), The White Squaw (1956), Thunder Over Arizona (1957), Utah Blaine (1957), The Storm Rider (1957), Apache Warrior (1957), Gunfire at Indian Gap (1957), Cole Younger, Gunfighter (1958), Gunsmoke in Tucson (1958), Arizona Raiders (1965), etc. Like Sorrell Booke, Keymas also had a supporting part in The Other Side of Midnight (1977), his final screen role.





Wilhelm von Homburg as Tony
Wilhelm von Homburg (1940-2004), as "Tony", another of Father Langland's brutish bodyguards, has a very small part, with only a short line or two of dialogue, but you know him better than you think you do. A little over two decades after this tiny role, he was cast as "James", one of Hans Gruber's (Alan Rickman) henchmen, who brings out the rocket launcher to thwart the police tank in Die Hard (1988), and as Vigo the Carpathian, the evil ghost trapped in the museum painting, who wants to possess the body of Sijourney Weaver's baby, in Ghostbusters II (1989). A German wrestler, and (later) a heavyweight boxer, von Homburg got a smattering of film and TV work in the late 1960s, as a result of his boxing success... beginning with a part as a pugilist, "Otto", in the Gunsmoke Season Nine episode, "The Promoter", the script for which was inspired by von Homburg's own experience as a boxer.

Other early roles from around the time of the T.H.E. Cat pilot were as a GGI ("Good Guys, Inc.") agent in the dire Marty Allen & Steve Rossi spy spoof, The Last of the Secret Agents? (1966); three appearances on The Wild, Wild West: Season Two's "Night of the Tottering Tontine" (as another boxer, "Gunther Pearse", one of the participants in this "Ten Little Indians"-inspired murder-mystery episode), Season Three's "Night of the Iron Fist" (with Ford Rainey and Bo Hopkins as a family of greedy, would-be bounty hunters) and Season Four's "Night of the Big Blackmail" (as "Herr Hess", one of Harvey Korman's Teutonic henchmen); briefly, as the injured alien that Roy Thinnes has brought to a country doctor for examination, in the opening minutes of the second season episode of The Invaders, "Labyrinth"; small parts in the World War II actioners The Hell With Heroes and The Devil's Brigade (both 1968) and as "Gregor", one of villain Nigel Greene's henchmen (along with a very young Chuck Norris, in his film debut), in the fourth and final of Dean Martin's "Matt Helm" spy spoofs, The Wrecking Crew (1969).

After this, he returned to Germany, and was largely absent from film work, apart from a role as one of the two German pimps, who beat up main character Bruno S., in Werner Herzog's Stroszek (1977), until re-emerging in Hollywood films in the late 1980s and 1990s. A few of his latter-day film roles, post-Die Hard, were in the Gene Hackman thriller The Package (1991), Eye of the Storm (1991), Diggstown (1992, the title locale gets its name from his wheelchair-bound former fighter) and the supernatural horror films Midnight Cabaret (1990) and John Carpenter's In the Mouth of Madness (1994).




Angelo Rossitto as the circus performer
Angelo Rossitto (1908-1991) has an uncredited bit part in this episode, as a circus midget who has a brief exchange with Cat. One of the more prolific Little People working in Hollywood (rivaled only by Billy Barty and Billy Curtis), he's best known for his roles in the cult horror/melodrama Freaks (1932), and as the top, brainy half of "Master Blaster" in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985). From the late-1920s through the late 1980s, if a production needed a tiny circus performer, a fantasy imp, a villain's diminutive henchman, a dwarf newsboy (or street musician) or someone to fill a shorter-stature creature costume, Rossitto was usually their man (though, amazingly, he's apparently not anywhere in The Wizard of Oz). He made brief appearances in Cecil B. DeMille's Sign of the Cross (1934), Samson and Delilah (1949) and The Greatest Show on Earth (1952). He was teamed with Bela Lugosi in three horror quickies, Spooks Run Wild (1941), The Corpse Vanishes (1942) and Scared to Death (1947), all for minor "Poverty Row" studios. He also pops up, with Gale Sondergaard, in one of Basil Rathbone's top Sherlock Holmes films of the 1940s, The Spider Woman (1944), and was in costume as one of several diminutive deep-sea humanoids in MGM's part-silent/part-talkie sci-fi adventure oddity, The Mysterious Island (1929); as part of the Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957); as both Witchy Poo's arachnoid flunky, "Seymour", and as "Clang", half of the mute, bumbling good-guy team of constables, Cling & Clang, on Sid & Marty Krofft's kiddie nightmare, H.R. Pufnstuf (1969), as well as similar duties on their subsequent hat-centric series, Lidsville (1971). A step up was a recurring role as a shoeshine/informant on Baretta (1975-77).



T.H.E. Cat's creator (and sometimes scripter), Harry Julian Fink (1923-2001), wrote for several episodic TV series in the late 1950s into the 1960s (Zane Grey Theater, The Rifleman, The Eleventh Hour, The Rebel, The Richard Boone Show, Ben Casey, the religious anthology/drama Insight), most notably a good number for Have Gun Will Travel, and subsequently created the short-lived (and well-regarded) western series, Tate (1960). He entered the feature film world a few years later with story and screenplay credit for fellow TV western scribe Sam Peckinpah's Major Dundee (1965), and went on to co-write the screenplay adaptation for Alistair MacLean's Ice Station Zebra (1968), as well as (with his writing partner and spouse, Rita Fink) the John Wayne westerns Big Jake (1971) and Cahill, U.S. Marshal (1973)... but his most famous creation, by far, is "Dirty Harry Callahan", having written (again, with wife Rita) the original treatment, "Dead Right", in the late 1960s, for what would largely become the iconic 1971 film.



Series producer (and frequent director), Boris Sagal (1923-1981), worked extensively in television, primarily on crime and suspense dramas (making him a perfect fit for T.H.E. Cat), including Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer (starring Darren McGavin), Peter Gunn, Mr. Lucky, Johnny Staccato, The Twilight Zone (the classic episodes, "The Silence" and "The Arrival"), Cain's Hundred, Alfred Hitchcock Presents (including the bizarre story, "Maria", where a drunken Norman Lloyd buys a tiny woman, disguised as a chimp, from a carnival sideshow), The Man From U.N.C.L.E. two-parter, "The Prince of Darkness Affair" (later released as the ersatz feature film, The Helicopter Spies (1968)); Ironside, Columbo and part of the pilot film for Rod Serling's Night Gallery (the first tale, "The Cemetary", where Roddy McDowell is terrified by a painting showing the corpse of his dead uncle rising from the grave). Some other series he directed episodes for were several installments of Dr. Kildare, Mr. Novak, The Defenders, The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters (two of which were originally filmed in color for this black and white series, and later edited-together (with some new bridging material) and released as the theatrical feature, Guns of Diablo (1964)) and Judd for the Defense; Combat!, etc. He had a short period where he tried his hand at directing features, such as Dime with a Halo (1963), Twilight of Honor (1963), the Elvis musical Girl Happy (1965), the Ann-Margret vehicle Made in Paris (1966), and a couple of budget-conscious WWII actioners, The Thousand Plane Raid (1969) and Mosquito Squadron (1969), both of which recycled much action footage from fellow TV veteran Walter Grauman's 633 Squadron (1964).

His most famous and enduring feature film is the second screen adaptation of Richard Mathesan's sci-fi/horror classic, I Am Legend, starring Charlton Heston as The Omega Man (1971). After this, he went back to concentrate mainly on television, focusing on TV-movies and especially high-profile miniseries, directing several installments of Rich Man, Poor Man (1976), Arthur Hailey's The Moneychangers (1976, with a guest appearance by Robert Loggia), The Awakening Land (1978) and Masada (1981). He also teamed Roger Moore and Patrick MacNee as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson (with John Huston as Prof. Moriarity) in the TV-movie, Sherlock Holmes in New York (1976). Tragically, it was while working on the early stages of the miniseries World War III (1982), that Sagal lost his life when, distracted, he accidentally took a wrong turn while exiting a helicopter, walking into the spinning blades of its rotary propeller. His daughter, Katy Sagal, later rose to fame, via the popular TV series Married with Children (as Peg Bundy) and as "Gemma", the twisted biker matriarch on Sons of Anarchy.



Argentinian Lalo Schifrin's (b. 1932) music, both the main theme and the undersore throughout the pilot, is a crucial part of what makes T.H.E. Cat work so well. Classically-trained, and an accomplished jazz pianist, Dizzy Gillespie took note during a visit to Buenos Aires, and brought him to the U.S. in the late 1950s to act as his pianist and arranger. Starting in 1964, Schifrin's signature sound became the hip, jazzy soundtrack of American movies and TV in the mid-1960s through the early 1970s, immortalized with his Mission: Impossible theme (and, to a lesser extent, Mannix), but also notable in The Cincinnati Kid (1965), Murderers' Row (1966), Cool Hand Luke (1967), The President's Analyst (1967), The Fox (1967), Coogan's Bluff (1967), Bullitt (1968), Kelly's Heroes (1970), Dirty Harry (1971), Magnum Force (1973) and Enter the Dragon (1973).

Most of his iconic scores were from this period, but he continued on, prolifically, through the 1970s, '80s and '90s (and a favorite choice of directors Don Seigel and Brett Ratner), giving us soundtracks to films such as , Harry in Your Pocket (1973), Charley Varrick (1973), Man on a Swing (1974), The Four Musketeers (1974), Sky Riders (1976), St. Ives (1976), Voyage of the Damned (1976), The Eagle Has Landed (1976), Day of the Animals (1977), Rollercoaster (1977), Telefon (1977), The Amityville Horror (1979), Escape to Athena (1979), Billy Wilder's swansong Buddy Buddy (1981), a very catchy theme for Caveman (1981), A Stranger Is Watching (1982), Sudden Impact (1983), Sam Peckinpah's last film The Osterman Weekend (1983), The Sting II (1983), The Mean Season (1985), Black Moon Rising (1986), The Fourth Protocol (1987), The Dead Pool (1988), F/X II (1991), The Beverly Hillbillies (1993), the Rush Hour trilogy (1998-2007), Money Talks (1997), Tango (1998), Bringing Down the House (2003), After the Sunset (2004) and his own son's low-budget bigfoot thriller, Abominable (2006). For television, Schifrin also provided themes for the Robert Goulet WWII espionage series Blue Light (1966), Petrocelli (1974-76), Planet of the Apes (1974), the first season of Starsky & Hutch (1975) and the soundtrack for the aforementioned early telefilm, See How They Run (1964).





Even with the faded color and several-generations-down softness of the image in these screen captures and embedded YouTube video, "To Kill a Priest" still displays a striking "film noir" atmosphere, due in no small measure to the camera work of Director of Photography, Richard H. Kline (b. 1926). Starting out at Columbia studios in the 1940s, as an (uncredited) assistant cameraman, Kline earned his noir credentials on Return of the Vampire (1943), William Cameron Menzies' Address Unknown (1944), Orson Welles' The Lady From Shanghai (1947), To the Ends of the Earth (1948), The Harder They Fall (1956), Nightfall (1957) and Blake Edwards' excellent suspense thriller, Experiment in Terror (1962). Some other notable features he helped film during this period as camera operator (minus screen credit) include Ray Harryhausen's classic creature feature, It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955); the epic Around the World in Eighty Days (1956); Pal Joey (1957); John Ford's The Last Hurrah (1958); assisting the great James Wong Howe on The Old Man and the Sea (1958), Bell, Book and Candle (1958) and The Last Angry Man (1959); Richard Brooks' Elmer Gantry (1960); A Raisin in the Sun (1961); John Frankenheimer's Birdman of Alcatraz (1962); and on both  Blake Edwards' The Days of Wine and Roses (1962) and The Pink Panther (1964). When Kline moved from camera operator to full-fledged D.P., he began in television, shooting several episodes of Mr. Novak, as well as a bit of work on Honey West (three episodes), 12 O'Clock High and The Monkees.

Shortly after the T.H.E. Cat pilot (his only work on the series), Kline shot another one for Warner Brothers, Chamber of Horrors (1966). It was intended as a weekly TV series, inspired by Warners' earlier hit 3-D horror movie, House of Wax (1953), though with the heroes running the wax museum, rather than a sinister Vincent Price. The studio ultimately decided to release it theatrically instead --perhaps due to the gruesome subject matter-- with some William Castle-style gimmicks (the "Fear Flasher" and the "Horror Horn") added to the mix. From there, Kline graduated to mostly A-level film work, as D.P. on Camelot (1967), Hang 'em High (1968), The Boston Strangler (1968), The Andromeda Strain (1971), Kotch (1971), The Mechanic (1972), Soylent Green (1973), Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973), The Terminal Man (1974), Mr. Majestyk (1974), King Kong (1976), The Fury (1978), Who'll Stop the Rain (1978), Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), Body Heat (1981), All of Me (1984), Howard the Duck (1986), Double Impact (1991), etc.





Unfortunately, outside of the bootlegged video world, T.H.E. Cat has been rarely seen since its 1966-67 run on NBC. Unlike some other one-season wonders (Honey West, Gidget, The Green Hornet, The Time Tunnel, UFO), the show was never really given a real shot at syndication or cable-TV play in North America, apart from a lone Canadian station in the mid-1980s... and even there, the prints made available were a hodgepodge of lackluster material, half of the episodes in badly-faded color, half in black-and-white. These same prints are what currently circulate in the bootleg world. The 35mm master elements are believed to reside in Universal's vaults. Unless a big-budget feature film is made from the property (which apparently almost happened, a few years ago, with Antonio Banderas in Loggia's role), or unless a TV network (such as MeTV or Cozi TV in the U.S.) commissions a set of remastered prints for airplay, the prospects of seeing a legitimate release of T.H.E. Cat, in decent form, are pretty bleak indeed...  which is a true shame. It's a great show, which I think would play well for modern audiences, if given the chance.

I would urge anyone reading this blog entry to politely contact NBC/Universal, as well as relevant venues like Weigel Broadcasting (home of MeTV, Decades, and Heroes & Legends), Cozi TV (a subsidiary of Universal) and Starz/Encore with inquiries and support for restoring and resurrecting the 26 half-hour episodes T.H.E. Cat, in their original, vivid color, so that new generations can discover this neglected gem of a series.

You can expect to see more episodes of T.H.E. Cat covered on this blog in the future.

4 comments:

  1. Great, detailed first post for the new blog, Peter! The smeary You Tube copy of this pilot is the only episode I've seen of T.H.E. CAT, but I was highly impressed both with Loggia and the qualities of the show overall, despite the poor video quality. Thanks for spotlighting this very worthy, and underseen, gem.

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  2. Thanks, Jeff, for the kind comments; I'm glad you found the piece enjoyable and informative.

    I've been a little obsessed with this show --originally aired and then cancelled a couple of years prior to my birth-- ever since I caught a "LATER... WITH BOB COSTAS" interview with Loggia on NBC in the late-'80s/early-'90s. Costas (and his staff) were uncommonly good at bringing up lower-profile credits and things to ask their interviewees about, and so it was with Loggia and T.H.E. CAT. Sadly, I've forgotten what the specific questions and answers were, but I clearly recall they ran the clip of Cat's tightrope-walk and busting in on Father Langland from this pilot, and I was intrigued.

    I didn't get the chance to actually watch an entire episode until someone uploaded the pilot to YouTube (in three parts), several years ago... and then I availed myself of further episodes through, um, "unspeakable means", heh-heh. Amazingly, it not only met expectations, but exceeded them! Too bad they didn't try to remaster and re-run T.H.E. CAT as part of the publicized "Brilliant But Cancelled" series that ran on the extinct TRIO cable network (when Universal took it over)... which is where we got John Cassavettes' one-season JOHNNY STACCATO from (and a subsequent DVD release, years later). Oh, what might have been!

    I want to mix things up, as far as what I cover on the blog at any given point, but I plan to eventually do T.H.E. CAT's full season, in order, though it will take some time. I actually can't wait to talk about Episode 4 - "The Brotherhood", which I consider the single best episode in the series, but you'll be happy to know that there really are no flat-out "bad" episodes of T.H.E. CAT, just varying degrees of good ones.

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  3. Talk about a conglomeration of coolness putting this show together.

    My older brother (then in his early teens) made a grappling hook out of some bent nails and tried to climb walls a la T.H.E. Cat, but not as successfully.

    Robert Loggia's '80s series "Mancuso, FBI" was a spinoff of the miniseries "Favorite Son," known for its then-notorious bondage scene (with the woman who would marry Paul Hogan, if I recall).
    Boris Sagal had a couple of other daughters aside from Katey: the twins Jean and Liz, who were in the short-lived sitcom "Double Trouble." The TV-movie he directed, "Sherlock Holmes in New York," might not please the hardcore Holmes scholars but with Roger Moore as Holmes, Patrick Macnee as Watson, Charlotte Rampling as Irene Adler, and John Huston as Moriarty, it was a hell of a lot of fun!

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