Jan 22, 2008

Island Intrigue!
DVD Review: Hawaii
Five-O Season 3

Hawaii Five-O not only stars the orig-inal Felix Leiter, Jack Lord, but makes frequent ventures away from the cop show form-ula into episodes of international in-trigue and espion-age. Season 3 contains more such episodes than any yet released on DVD by CBS/Para-mount. McGarrett’s recurring nemesis, Chinese agent Wo Fat (a reliable source of such plots), not only returns in the solid season premiere, "And Time To Die," but also makes an appearance in the two-parter "F.O.B. Honolulu," in which Hawaii becomes a "hotbed" of international agents.

In "And Time To Die," Wo Fat and McGarrett never actually meet. And unlike the Season 2 premiere, "40 Feet High and It Kills," Wo Fat doesn’t even realize he’s been beaten, let alone who’s beaten him. McGarrett knows who he’s dealing with, though, and respects his enemy’s deadly genius enough to tread more softly than usual. When an American agent escapes to Honolulu with a map of Red China’s nuclear missile silos in his head, Wo Fat’s assassins attempt to eliminate him. But the agent survives... barely. He’s taken to a hospital where it’s up to the islands’ best brain surgeon, Dr. Forbes (solid guest star Donald Moffat), to save his life. Wo Fat has a man on the inside, though, so he knows this and kidnaps the doctor’s daughter. If Forbes wants to see her alive again, he tells him, the agent must not survive the operation. It’s a good, dramatic spy plot, and it propels this taut hour of television along quickly.

Once again, McGarrett clashes strongly with the local Intelligence officer, Kavanaugh, who in turn doesn't offer 5-0 an inch of interagency cooperation. (Guess things haven’t changed much since then!) Kavanaugh is a different Intelligence boss than we met in Season 1, but he in turn reports to the unseen Jonathan Kaye in Washington who himself appears later in the season, establishing some sort of recurring spook hierarchy. The episode demonstrates well how the show succeeds at combining spy plots with proto-CSI police procedural. McGarrett uses good old fashioned (and sound) police work to solve the attempted murder of the agent, thus exposing the mole in Kavanaugh’s organization, something Kavanaugh himself didn’t seem to even believe in. Khigh Dhiegh once again imbues Wo Fat with a humanity rarely seen in TV villains of the time, as well as an absolute certainty that what he is doing is right.

The espion-age episodes of Hawaii Five-O tend to play a bit McGarrett-centric at the expense of the sup-porting cast, perhaps because Jack Lord is so obviously cut from the classic spy hero mold. "The Second Shot" is no exception, though it is once more a masterful blend of the police and spy genres, hitting all the marks one expects from either one. It’s a plot that one might just as easily find in a more traditional spy show like Danger Man or The Saint (and indeed very similar to one used decades later in the fourth season of MI-5), but it works just as well in this context. An assassin arrives from Europe posing as a journalist and hoping to interview (read: eliminate) an exiled Greek opposition leader. The audience is privy to his plan from the very beginning, and always remains a step ahead of McGarrett, who seems a bit slow in catching on this time. The assassin hires another assassin to shoot him just above the heart, creating a near-mortal wound convincing enough to earn the unwavering trust of the Greek exile. The procedural elements (which seem to me a bit more realistic than other cop shows of the era, but admittedly I’m not that familiar with the genre) once more lead McGarrett to the truth, but is he too late? In a cool beat more spy than cop, Lord gets to arm himself with a cool-looking sniper pistol (complete with scope) at the end.

Rather than presenting a Big Deal Threat like assassination, "The Guarnerius Caper" demonstrates how an exceedingly run-of-the-mill crime that normally wouldn’t even warrant the attention of the state police could lead to an international incident in the days of the Cold War. The crime is ordinary car theft, yet when McGarrett takes the call and sidekick Danno asks him where they’re going, he intones, "To prevent WWIII."

Why? The stolen car contained the priceless "Guarnerius" violin of a visiting Russian musician, Rostoff. If it’s not returned, it could not only mean the end of the cultural exchange program, but spark a serious international incident. Indeed, Rostoff’s KGB handler immediately starts looking for ways to exploit the theft as such, caring more about making the Americans look bad than recovering the instrument. At the behest of the Russian embassy, the Governor even orders McGarrett and his team not to surveil Rostoff and his handler, even though he knows they’re getting ransom demands. Never one to heed orders too well, McGarrett defies this one, putting his job on the line to follow the handler and catch the kidnappers. "The Guarnerius Caper" is a another good, taut police yarn with serious international stakes.

It’s slightly hampered, unfortunately, by the car thieves: two of the most annoying TV hippies from a whole era of annoying TV hippies! Products of their time (or CBS’ version of it, any-way), these guys go around spouting a constant stream of phrases like "Groovy!" and "Outta sight!" while robbing old ladies of their purses, riding piggy-back and generally causing trouble. Making matters worse, one of them looks like the skeezy, unwashed American version of Jason King, only with no style and a really bad hangover. It’s characters like this that made reruns of Hawaii Five-O seem so dated (moreso than other shows of its era) and unappealing when I was growing up. Happily, there aren’t quite as many of them throughout the series as I thought there were (and it is unfair to judge a show by its era), and they’re really not so irritating as to be a deterrent, but they are a presence, especially in this episode.

"F.O.B. Honolulu" is probably the best of all the espionage-themed episodes in Season 3, and it’s a two-parter. While it seems a bit padded at times (lots of planes landing, and longer briefings than usual or than necessary), it’s got enough action and intrigue to qualify for film release overseas! I don’t know if this practice was still going on with American shows by 1970, but "F.O.B. Honolulu" has all the ingredients of one of the more serious-minded Eurospy capers. We get chases, shootouts, double-crosses, a sexy bikini-clad femme fatale and even an exciting helicopter assault on a mountaintop base, with McGarett and Dano each leaning from choppers armed with machine guns! Plus, we get villainous mastermind Wo Fat once more, again played by Kigh Dheigh with as much rare humanity and compassion as diabolical sadism. (Admittedly an odd dichotomy, but he makes it work well.) We also get to meet the spy boss we’ve heard so much about in previous episodes, Jonathan Kaye from Washington, and a square-jawed hero cut directly from the Euro-spy mold in Jack Lord’s Steve McGarrett.

The plot concerns agents from China, Russia and the US, as well as various independent operators, all after a classical Macguffin (capable of destabilizing the world’s economy) that was smuggled into Honolulu. It’s basically The Maltese Falcon at its heart (a trio of shady characters double- and triple-crossing each other over the great whatzit). In contrast to "The Guarnerius Caper" (but very much in keeping with Seventies Bond movies), McGarrett actually teams up with the Soviet agent, who has an equal interest in the value of currency. They share a hearty, understanding laugh together, of the sort that Harry Palmer shares with Colonel Stok in Billion Dollar Brain, or Bond with Golgol in For Your Eyes Only. (It seems to have been a common means of communication for Cold War spies on opposing sides.)

While there isn’t much room for the rest of the team in these international intrigue-flavored episodes of Five-O, other episodes give some of the co-stars good opportunities to shine, and it’s a solid ensemble. Hawaii Five-O is also a surprisingly adult show, with some real downbeat endings, and some moments of pretty shocking violence. ("The Guarnerius Caper" contains a few examples of this, including a scene of blood oozing from the bullet wound McGarrett gives one of the hippies, which contrasts sharply with the bloodless shootings of slightly earlier shows like The Man From U.N.C.L.E. or even the contemporary Mission: Impossible.) As someone who doesn’t usually watch cop shows, I found myself really enjoying Hawaii Five-O: The Third Season, and got into it much more than either of the previous seasons. I think a lot of other spy fans will, too.

One caveat on this release: like Season 2, it contains the ominous disclaimer, "Some episodes may be edited from their original network versions." Judging purely by running times, though, that doesn’t appear to be the case with the episodes I’ve watched so far...


Paul Bishop said...

Great reveiw as usual -- this time of one of my favorite '70s shows. I don't think Jack Lord ever got the credit he deserved as an actor. He was made for the big screen.


MiliamaLovesJackLord! said...

You are so right! I love Jack Lord so much as an actor, and as a unique individual. He is one person I have no problem trying to be like. I have short hair, and I like to try to curve it like Jack does when it's wet! I also like to imitate his voice. Gives me chicken skin when he talks or smiles! There is only one McGarrett and one Five-O, and this is it. Be there! Aloha!

Tanner said...

Absolutely! This new guy's got NOTHING on Jack Lord. He was the one and only REAL McGarrett, and also the best Felix Leiter.