Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked TV: Soldiers of Fortune

This is another TV series from my childhood that I haven't seen in fifty years and don't really remember that much about, except that I loved it and watched it every chance I got. (In those days, of course, if you had to be somewhere else when one of your favorite shows was on, you were out of luck, or if there was something else that you just had to see, too bad. You had to choose.) But thanks to the miracle of the Internet, at least I can fill in some of the details of my hazy memory.

John Russell, who often played bad guys in movies but was the heroic Marshal Dan Troop in the fine TV Western LAWMAN (based on the Harry Whittington novel TROUBLE RIDES TALL, by the way), is also a hero in SOLDIERS OF FORTUNE, playing the stalwart adventurer Tim Kelly. His sidekick and occasional comedy relief was Toubo Smith, played by Chick Chandler. Their dangerous assignments took them all over the world, but they were usually in some exotic locale like Africa or South America. It seems like I remember numerous episodes set in the deserts of North Africa. Of course there were plenty of death traps set by loathsome bad guys, a few sultry, beautiful women, gun battles, rope bridges, maybe even some quicksand. And of course I ate it all up with a spoon, permanently warping my brain, as you can probably tell if you've read much of my fiction, the biggest influences on which seem to have been pulps, comic books, and Fifties TV shoot-em-ups. Glorious influences one and all, I might add.

If you read the comments and reviews on IMDB concerning SOLDIERS OF FORTUNE, you'll see that there's a wide range of opinions. A lot of middle-aged guys like me seem to remember it very fondly, with comments about how good the writing and the location photography were. However, others think it was an absolutely terrible series with bad writing and shoddy production values. I don't know. Fifty-year-old memories are tricky things. But unless and until I get a chance to watch some of the episodes again, I prefer to remember it through the eyes of eight-year-old me, sitting there in front of a black-and-white TV wondering how Tim and Toubo are going to get out of that snake-filled pit where the evil sultan has imprisoned them. And then when they do escape . . . watch out for that quicksand, guys!


Bill Crider said...

Walter Satterthwait and I have talked about this one a few times. We both remember it fondly.

Jerry House said...

Thanks for the memories, James. I watched this as a kid and will have to see if it holds up as a geezer.

Ed Gorman said...

James I hadn't thought of this series for fifty years. Or maybe even a little more. The only element I remember is Chick Chandler. He always struck me as kind of a sad little guy maybe because he was frequently a sidekick to much bigger and more purposeful men. But since this came in the same era as Ramar of The Jungle it had to look--then and now-like a masterpiece. :)

pattinase (abbott) said...

I don't remember this one at all but my parents probably made me go to bed before it came on. Or it was opposite something else I watched. Or with only one TV something someone else wanted.

Anonymous said...

I don't remember this one that well but I was a big fan of LAWMAN - John Russell and Peter Brown. Great stuff.

Jeff M.

wayne d. dundee said...

Gads! This one sure takes me back ... I remember it fondly as well ... Although I can't really recall anything specific, episode-wise, I just remember liking it ... But then, heck, I also liked Ramar of the Jungle. Hey, ain't that a classic, too, Ed?

Fred Blosser said...


I remember SoF vaguely. I think the series had already been on the air for a while when I read the Classics Illustrated comic version of Richard Harding Davis' SOLDIERS OF FORTUNE, and tried to reconcile TV show and comic book with the same name. My nine-year-old brain finally realized there was no connection between the two.

Richard Moore said...

I never saw this program growing up but recently obtained DVDs of many episodes. I picked them up because I am enjoying John Russell's "Lawman" on the Westerns Channel (several of which were written by Richard Matheson).

Lately I watch these old shows without checking the cast or writers on IMDB. It's more fun to be surprised. My first SoF episode was titled "Cut Charlie In."

Our two heroes have landed in Singapore but are flat busted. As they talk about how hungry they are, a scrawny, gawky looking guy named Charlie Applegood jumps out of a basket on the dock and says he knows where they can get a steak dinner. For a moment I thought the actor playing Charlie was Bob Denver as he had that loose-limbed appearance and a variety of goofy looks. It wasn't Denver but he did look familiar.

So our heroes follow Charlie to a mission that feeds the down and out. The mission is run by Frances Bavier. It takes a second to adjust to Aunt Bee running a mission on the docks of Singapore.

The boys eat and while walking back to their boat, Russell sees someone following them. He hangs back and grabs the guy. By golly,its Robert Armstrong, 22 years since his run-in with King Kong. Now he's playing a Chinese guy and walking like his feet are bound.

He wants to hire the boys to rescue his son off a boat in the harbor where he is being held prisoner. And he's willing to pay them well for it. So they accept the gig, go to the boat and the son turns out to be a very combative and very large Asian young man who proceeds to whip our heroes butts. Although he has no English dialog, I eventually recognize Claude Akins as the son.

Turns out father and son are smugglers. The boys are rescued by little Charlie, the guy with a million angles. They grab some loot on the way out to pay for their troubles.

Later back at the mission, they learn that Charlie has pulled a fast one and left with all the loot.

So who was the actor doing a nice turn as a kinetic oddball? Aaron Spelling.

The other two or three I've watched are not as interesting as this one but I am ever hopeful. If you can find Aunt Bee in Singapore, anything might be around the corner.

Yvette said...

I don't remember this series at all. Where was I? Lost in the mists of time, probably.

I was a huge fan (still am) of John Russell. So why is the title of this series so unfamiliar? At any rate, I'll pretend I saw it. I love that photo of Russell on your post.

Todd Mason said...

One that got completely by me...wonder if it had much of a life in repeats. (I did think of the 1990s SOLDIER OF FORTUNE series when I saw the header...)

Cap'n Bob said...

I know I watched it but I can't recall a single episode. I'd like to revist the show again.