A two for the Price of one guest appearance…
Pretending to be one of the family, the Bionic Woman joins the Carstairs family’s scavenger hunt to find a millionaire’s fortune and a top secret formula.
ABC’s Bionic Woman Promo – Black Magic, ez2me2009 and photos © BCUniversal Television Distribution
When looking for a more random review choice in Vincent Price’s filmography my eyes were drawn to his many varied guest star appearances. Price appeared in many retro favourites including The Man from UNCLE (1964-68), The Love Boat (1977-87), The Muppet Show (1976-81) and Columbo (1971-2003) (with a youngish Martin Sheen).
With these just for starters, Price now clearly is an actor who has more degrees of separation than Kevin Bacon. I also discovered Price in a more surprising guest star role in an American science fiction and action TV Series. So flashbacking back to the late 1970s, I’m reviewing him as two different spookyish characters (and three if you include when one of these characters pretends to be someone else).
This is in that spin off to Major’s Six Million Dollar Man (1974-8), The Bionic Woman (1976-78). This a review of an episode of the original series, and the less referred to the remake with Zoe Slater in Eastenders (1985-) the better. The Bionic Woman is Jaime Sommers (Lindsay Wagner), an old girlfriend of Steve Austin aka the Bionic Man. The Bionic Man series was based on a book, and the bionic woman, it seems an invention to please your dad.
Jaime was originally a professional tennis player, then a skydiving accident leaves her seriously injured. Those injured parts were surgically replaced by her later mentors, Oscar Goldman (Richard Anderson) and Dr Rudy Wells (Martin E Brooks) with bionic parts and prosthetics. All this guff, mansplained verbally and visually in the opening credits with jazzy pre80s funky font.
After this life-saving surgery, Jaime has a bionic ear (and can hear anything and everything, both near and far) and a super strong right arm (not sure why just the right) and legs. This meaning not only can she jump from impressive heights and run at superspeeds (cue supersuperspeeded up footage) but she also has superstrength (can move polystyrene blocks at will).
All these attributes are nattily displayed in this particular episode and prove more than useful when uncovering plots and fighting the bad guys. Jaime occasionally helps out the governmental powers that be as a wee thank you for saving her life. The rest of the time she teaches. This series aired for three seasons and some crossover episodes with the Bionic Man and a few later reunion movies.
The episode to be reviewed – S2 Ep 7 Black Magic – feels like a belated Halloween episode. But not scary in any way even though Vincent Price is in a leading guest star role. It centres around the legacy of the soon to be deceased Cyrus Carstairs (Vincent Price with (even more) distinguished old makeup applied).
He’s a vicious old dude and says he’s leaving all his million-plus fortune to his smartest relative or employee. He’s also leaving them a secret formula for an alloy that he’d hoped to sell to the government for more than the 20 million he was offered. Both these goodies are hidden in a safe somewhere in his mansion. The formula has been put on the black market by one of his relatives…
The elderly Cyrus recounts all this (back plot) to scheming younger brother Manfred (Vincent Price without makeup) and Cyrus’ butler Barlow (Abe Vigoda). There’s not a lot of love between those brothers, as the younger is not even a wee bit upset as the older brother dies. Cyrus is also full of contempt for his butler. It’s up to the Bionic Woman to find the formula before a member of the family does and they unscrupulously sell it… and she’s got around 50 minutes to do it.
Jaime (and us) get a natty wee slide show featuring those crooked Carstairs family members and a mansplanation of their dirty deeds from Oscar. Even the family lawyer has a past. All the infamous Carstairs family embarked on a life of crime… Jaime posing as the only seemingly good un, long lost niece Tracy who left to join the circus eighteen years previously. Tracy asking Jaime to discover the culprit.
Jaime in her cunning disguise is dressed up in 1970s stereotypical gypsy wear in manic colours clashing with everything and anything inside and outside the house, jangly jewellery and headscarf. Jaime also looks like she was shot with a makeup gun or a trowel used to pile it on.
As “Tracy” arrives on the island by speedboat and is warned that the island is rumoured to be inhabited by a creature. This creature – on seeing it – looks more like a hobo, as it’s seen haunting the manor house and its grounds. Of course, the bionic one hears him before she sees him, and runs after him super speedily in slow-mo.
She ends up at the spooky old Gothic styled Carstairs mansion. After an urn falls and just misses hitting her – thanks to the bionic ear – she enters the chilling looking house… In the hallway, there’s a spooky portrait of a mischievous Cyrus playing chess. Which you are naturally drawn to if like me you’ve watched far too many movies with creepy paintings which usually give away the plot.
Jaime keeps in touch (and recounts the plot) with Oscar by two-way radio. She meets Manfred who naturally accepts her as family, even though he thinks she doesn’t look like any of his family. We meet the Carstairs family as they arrive on the island to unite in grief hear the will reading..
There’s serial black widow and divorcee, Claudette (Julie Newmar). The glam Claudette dresses like a vampy Cruella De Ville type and the later inspiration for Barbara Carrera’s 1980s wardrobe for Dallas (1978-91) and Never Say Never Again (1983).
Claudette arrives with the hapless looking family lawyer Warfield (William Windom). Her frumpy, stout and significantly smaller sister Tess (Hermione Baddeley) arrives … who is as British as they come.. and is stalked by the creature… but chases him off with some gunshots.
The clan meet up for the will reading, where a video is played with Cyrus telling his family that the most clever member of the family will inherit everything. He tells them that the loot and the formula are somewhere in the house. He also adds a cryptic rhyme just to give the last laugh (with most of it turning out to be a major red herring).
The family agree (but disagree) to start a thorough search in the morning. However they all start the hunt straight away – and you didn’t need a bionic ear to hear the noise of everyone sneaking out their rooms – as that mysterious monster drags them away one by one…
This was an unconventional, silly but fun episode of this series. With two Vincent Price roles, it was a delight to watch their initial scenes together, and this episode was worth it to see the brother exchanged “pleasantries”. Price camping and bitching up the brothers fun dialogue.
Price also delights in adding a few in-jokes about his double casting. This is heard in his deadpan approach and that distinctive voice. An example of this is when Manfred watches his lookalike brother in the video during the will reading Price states…
Doesn’t he look wonderful? All things considered a most handsome man.
Price camping up the brothers with some fun dialogue in those initial scenes. He shows that he even had a fun rapport with himself in this double role which he plays to bitchy heights.
Manfred Carstairs: How are you feeling Cyrus? Are you in pain?
Cyrus Carstairs: Yes. And it’s grown more acute since you’ve entered the room
It’s certainly not an episode to be taken seriously and it’s a gentle introduction to the Bionic woman and her super “talents”. However, I did feel it was let down by the storyline – the identity of the chief bad guy one which even a bungling Hercule Poirot wannabe would guess – and a bit of a crappy conclusion to the episode.
The portrayal of these characters and the dialogue was reminiscent more of those Hanna Barbara cartoons. But the cast acted accordingly with their on-screen presence. Each of these actors camping up their roles, this plot continuing the theme of crazy storylines in this particular series. The second series had opened with a Bionic Man cross over where the pair are on a Bigfoot hunt.
In a more “serious” episode, Wagner won an Emmy award for the Deadly Ringer episode in an episode where Jaime has an evil lookalike. The powers that be must have loved this Price role as Cyrus Carstairs. Price was seen in a similar cameo role as another dying man who organised a Scavenger Hunt. This similar role was just a few years later in the film Scavenger Hunt (1979). Price starring in an all-star cast including Ruth Gordon, Richard Benjamin and Scatman Crothers.
However, I’d urge you to hunt this episode down for Wagner’s guest star ensemble alone.. as Pow! Wow! etc Price stars in an eerie episode with those fellow co-stars from Batman tv series of all kinds. (I kid you not). Which is the most cartoonish of plots right down to the literal unmasking of the bad guy – Scooby Doo style – you can even entangle the bionic woman into a plot as to where’s a will there’s a way…
Weeper Rating: 😦/10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂 🙂🙂🙂🙂🙂/10
Hulk Rating: /10
The Vincent Price Blogathon 2020
Vincent Price in Catchfire, Columbo and The Love Boat. Lindsay Wagner in The Two Worlds of Jennie Logan, and The Fall Guy. Richard Anderson in Dynasty, The Fall Guy and The Love Boat. Julie Newmar starred in Hart to Hart, Star Trek and The Twilight Zone. Hermione Baddeley starred in Magnum PI and Fantasy Island. William Windom appeared in Murder She Wrote and Knight Rider.