Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Kill Oscar

The three-part “Kill Oscar” episode is considered the magnum opus of the bionic adventures of spies Steve Austin (Lee Majors) and Jaime Sommers (Lindsay Wagner).

Airing over eight nights on ABC in October and November of 1976, the shows’ most ambitious story aired first on THE BIONIC WOMAN with Part II on THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN and the conclusion back on BW. It not only proved popular with the series’ young fans, but it also introduced one of the franchise’s most enduring foes: the Fembots, which were later spoofed in AUSTIN POWERS: INTERNATIONAL MAN OF MYSTERY.

To get you up to speed, THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN premiered in 1974 and starred Majors (THE BIG VALLEY) as astronaut Austin, who was critically injured in a plane crash and rebuilt by Dr. Rudy Wells (Alan Oppenheimer in the pilot, but played regularly by Martin E. Brooks when “Kill Oscar” aired) using bionic parts. With super-strength in his right arm, left eye, and both legs, Steve became an agent for the Office of Scientific Intelligence under Oscar Goldman (Anderson).

Sommers was a professional tennis player and Austin’s childhood flame who was nearly killed in a skydiving accident and also given bionic parts—in her case, an arm, both legs, and an ear. The character was extremely popular with viewers, and even though Jaime died in her initial appearance, ABC had her revived and spun off into her own series, THE BIONIC WOMAN, in 1976. Both Majors and Wagner occasionally appeared on each other’s shows, including the “Kill Oscar” trilogy, which crossed over between them.

“Kill Oscar” guest-stars Academy Award-winner John Houseman (who played Wagner’s father in THE PAPER CHASE) as Franklin, a mad scientist hired by the Soviets to snatch a weather-control device being created by the U.S. government. His plan involves replacing key government personnel with robot duplicates, including Goldman (Anderson).

Writers Arthur Rowe, William T. Zacha, and Oliver Crawford make an attempt to connect Franklin’s misogyny to his choice to create robots in the form of beautiful women, but characterization was not the strong suit of either series at this point. After Jaime is critically injured fighting with fembot duplicates of Goldman’s secretary (Jennifer Darling) and Rudy Wells’ assistant (Corinne Michaels), Austin learns the location of Franklin’s base and heads there alone to rescue Oscar. Steve battles a pair of red-haired fembots and is tricked into rescuing an Oscar duplicate.

He and Rudy eventually see through the ruse and deactivate the Goldman double, just as Franklin uses the weather device to wreak havoc around the world. Steve and a recovered Jaime convince a Naval admiral (Sam Jaffe) to lend them an atomic submarine, which they use to storm Franklin’s Caribbean island stronghold.

“Kill Oscar” is silly, campy fun. It isn’t the first time human-looking robots were represented in the SMDM/BW universe, but it’s the grandest. Producers Kenneth Johnson and Lionel E. Siegel pack the three-parter with bionic battles, explosions, futuristic sets, stock footage of disasters, and goofy special effects that may not be convincing today, but there’s no doubting the gasps emitted from 1970s kids when the fembots’ human faces were ripped off to reveal the creepy mechanics behind them.

Wagner was a natural performer with an uncanny ability to find chemistry with nearly every actor she worked with. Her loose style meshed perfectly with the laconic Majors whether they were exchanging quips or leaping small buildings in a single bound. “Kill Oscar” was their last appearance together in the Seventies; THE BIONIC WOMAN was cancelled after its second season and picked up for a third by NBC, which was reluctant to publicize its competition.

Universal cranked episodes out like sausages, hiring directors better known for working quickly than with any style. Alan Crosland Jr. and Barry Crane managed to get all the planned shots in their six-day schedules, but an event as special as “Kill Oscar” could have used a stronger directorial hand.

1 comment:

Christopher Mills said...

I'm hoping to pick up my Season 2 set on Thursday. I'm chomping at the bit to see both this epic and "The Return of Bigfoot" again after all these years.

(I can't afford the Time-Life $6M Man set...)