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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

'Delphi Bureau: The Merchant of Death Assignment' DVD: Spytacular '70s TV Movie of the Week

Delphi Bureau
The recent Warner Archive DVD release of the 1972 Made-for-TV Movie "The Delphi Bureau: The Merchant of Death Assignment" is the third of three pilot films from this era and genre that is among those that Archive has released and that Unreal TV has covered.

The first post is on "Probe," which is the pilot for the reviewed uber-awesome spyfi (thanks again Archive for coining that phrase) series "SEARCH." The second is the reviewed "Search for the Gods," starring a dreamy Kurt Russell in the period following his run as college student Dexter Riley in a series of terrific live-action Disney films.

Like "Probe," the non-barefoot network executives surprisingly concluded that the fun and exciting "Delphi" warranted a series. It ran from 1972-73 on ABC. One can only hope that history additionally repeats itself in having Archive release a complete series set of "Delphi."

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of an early scene from "Delphi" offers a taste of the action and intrigue that it serves.

The premise of "Delphi" is that agent Glenn Garth Gregory, played by Laurence "Mr. Lucie Arnaz" Luckinbill, uses his photographic memory and enhanced observational abilities to investigate nefarious doings under the guise of being a researcher. Bringing the bad guys to justice requires a more fists-on approach.

Part of the intrigue regarding the lore of "Delphi" is that professional D.C. hostess Sybill Van Loween, played by Celeste Holm, is the handler of Gregory and his only contact regarding the titular Bureau. He (and the audience) does not even know the location of any Bureau headquarters that exists.

Having the Bureau reportable only to the President of the United States further contributes to the sense of high-level dealing in the pilot and subsequent series.

The assignment, which Gregory does choose to accept, in "Merchant" is determining the location and fate of fighter jets that are stolen from a military base. A large farm that a former arms dealer, a.k.a. merchant of death, owns and operates quickly becomes a focus of inquiry.

After using his beautiful mind to obtain the necessary background knowledge, Gregory travels to the farm under the pretense of evaluating the methods that it uses. Following up on the leads that Gregory discovers there requires snooping that ultimately leads to one of the sloppiest and most hilarious frame-ups in the entire history of television.

Other unintentional humor relates to Gregory playing right into the hands of his enemies on arriving in the small community in which the farm is located. This relates to sending in a researcher to do the job of a  super-spy.

Other fun relates to the stunt casting that extends beyond the participation of Luckinbill and Holm. Bob Crane of the classic '60s sitcom "Hogan's Heroes" plays Charlie Taggart, who is a colleague of Gregory and has responsibility regarding the missing planes. Lucille Benson of the '80s sitcom "Bosom Buddies" has a more minor role as the owner of a boarding house.

Further, former Bond girl Joanna Pettet plays probable femme fatale April Thompson. Uncertainty regarding the role of Thompson in any criminal goings-on help keep "Merchant" interesting.

The very strong overall early '70s feel of "Merchant" is terrific, and the fast-pace and numerous twists in the last 30 minutes of the film validate the decision that it is series worthy.

The final debriefing is that "Merchant" does its homework regarding the necessary elements for 90-minutes of escapist fun. The attractive and charming man-child, damsel-in-distress or not, Bond-style super-villain, and threat to national or international peace are all there.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Merchant" is welcome to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.