Thursday, March 05, 2015

Gemini Man: RIP Harve Bennett

Harve Bennett saved STAR TREK.

STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE was a big moneymaker for Paramount on its 1979 release, but it was not highly regarded by critics, general audiences, or the studio. So when Paramount decided to make another STAR TREK film, it cut the budget by almost 75 percent and hired television producer Bennett to keep costs under control.

STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN, released in 1982, turned out to be one of the finest science fiction films ever made and a decent box office hit. Perhaps more importantly, it convinced Paramount that making STAR TREK movies was a viable franchise. If not for Bennett, who went on to produce STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK, STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME, and STAR TREK V: THE FINAL FRONTIER, there would have been no STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION and all the spinoffs and films that series inspired.

Bennett's background was in television, where he produced THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN, THE BIONIC WOMAN, SALVAGE I, THE MOD SQUAD, and THE INVISIBLE MAN. He won an Emmy for producing A WOMAN CALLED GOLDA, for which Leonard Nimoy was nominated as Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or a Special. Bennett also produced the outstanding RICH MAN, POOR MAN, which was nominated for 22 (!) Emmys, winning five.

And then there was GEMINI MAN.

After the David McCallum-starring THE INVISIBLE MAN flopped in 1975, NBC took another shot at H.G. Wells. Both THE INVISIBLE MAN and GEMINI MAN were about invisible secret agents working for a scientific thinktank, and Bennett and Steven Bochco (NYPD BLUE) produced them. THE INVISIBLE MAN lasted twelve one-hour episodes, but NBC cancelled GEMINI MAN after only five (eleven were filmed).

ALIAS SMITH AND JONES cowboy Ben Murphy starred as Sam Casey, a macho American agent first seen using a helicopter to fish for sharks. Macho. While diving to retrieve a Soviet satellite, Casey is caught in an explosion which renders him invisible. Luckily, his fellow INTERSECT agent, Abby Lawrence (Katherine Crawford), invents a super wristwatch that makes him visible again.

Obviously, an invisible secret agent gives INTERSECT boss Driscoll (Richard Dysart, later to work with Bochco on L.A. LAW) a major boner, so he convinces Casey to use his power to complete spy missions. By pressing a button on his watch, Casey can render himself invisible, but only for as much as fifteen minutes every 24 hours or else he’ll die. His clothes also disappear, and I wouldn’t spend much time pondering the science behind any of this.

Later syndicated as CODE NAME: MINUS ONE, the pilot, written by OUTER LIMITS creator Leslie Stevens, gives Casey a personal mission for his first as an invisible man: to find out who sabotaged his dive and caused the underwater explosion. Except for the 15-minute gimmick, GEMINI MAN is exactly the same show as THE INVISIBLE MAN, though Murphy’s laidback charisma is more appealing than McCallum’s more cerebral approach. Universal, which produced THE INVISIBLE MAN in 1933, was more than capable of creating believable visual effects.

Harve Bennett died Wednesday, less than one week after Leonard Nimoy passed away. Bennett was 84 years old.

One last tidbit. Bennett narrated the opening of THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN: "Steve Austin. Astronaut. A man barely alive."

1 comment:

Bill O said...

Katherine Crawford is Roy Huggins' dauughter, given a ludicrously hopeful movie star's name.