TV Terror Guide: Escape (1971)
Air Date: April 6, 1971 (ABC)
Production Companies: Paramount Television
Running Time: 73 min.
Available on: YouTube
Written by: Paul Playdon
Directed by: John Llewellyn Moxey
Cast: Christopher George, William Windom, Marlyn Mason, Avery Schreiber, John Vernon, Gloria Grahame, William Schallert
Although I cannot verify it in my research, I’d bet good money that Escape (1971) was the pilot for a television series. The concept is both a good and a bad one. The good is that a weekly series about the James Bond of escape artists could be fun. The bad is that for Cameron Steele (how about that name!) to escape, he’s always got to be captured first. And if the bad guys know who he is, why would they continue to confine him rather than just kill him? Due to repetitive plot points, I don’t think it would have been a long-lived series.
That doesn’t mean that this particular adventure isn’t kind of fun. Before the credits even roll, the bad guys capture Steele and say, “I hear this guy can get out of anything.” They then toss him into the river with a cement block attached to his ankle, and immediately split. Accompanied by a snazzy-jazzy Lalo Schifrin score, Steele does indeed rise from his watery grave and the psychedelic Bond-like opening credits fill the screen with colorful images behind silhouettes of a man in action… and a few ladies.
Steele’s sidekick is Nicholas Slye (seriously, who creates these names?), played by 70s TV frequenter, Avery Schrebier. Steele (“Cam” to Slye) owns a club called the Crystal Ball, a “home for the unexplained.” An entire room is an elevator which takes him and the woman he’s just rescued, Susan Walding (Marlyn Mason), to his headquarters where the first order of business is mixing them a couple of martinis. Walding is obviously smitten, and I’m not sure that I’m not… except Christopher George does nothing for me..
The story, written by Paul Playdon, who came from Mission: Impossible and would later write for The Magician and Kolchak: the Night Stalker, is a decent mystery involving murder, betrayal, and surprise. It’s not a horror film, although they try to make the entrance to the villain’s lair, which is even more fun than the one to Steele’s HQ, very scary. It’s a carnival spook house attraction at a place called, “Happyland.” With the thinnest of sci-fi elements thrown in, it all deals with synthesized life, something between a virus and an amoeba.
The movie speeds along at a brisk pace made even faster by its 73-minute running time. There’s no real danger or threat. Again, you know whatever trap he faces, Steele is going to escape. The final escape is suspenseful, though, as he leads Susan up an elevator shaft and the car starts moving. Will he grab her hand in time before she plummets to her death. What do you think? That would have been a real surprise to see the leading lady die at the end, but then who would plant the kiss on Steele’s lips as the movie concludes?