Monday, October 14, 2013

Jack Lord x 2 = 1st Episode of "Hawaii Five-O" + "Walk Like a Dragon"

One could argue that the first episode of the original Hawaii Five-O TV series was the "pilot" broadcast on CBS on September 20, 1968. While the pilot certainly established the show's premise--and introduced Wo Fat, its most famous villain--it was still a trial run. When the series was given the green light, James MacArthur had replaced Tim O'Kelly as Danny and Richard Denning had taken over from Lew Ayres as the governor.

Louise Troy and Kevin McCarthy.
"Full Fathom Five," shown the week after the pilot's premiere, doesn't feature a villain of Wo Fat's notoriety. However, it does offer Kevin McCarthy--who specialized in slimy characters--as Victor Reese, who teams with his wife (Louise Troy) to scam and then murder lonely women with money. Interestingly, the Five-O team might have never suspected Reese if an attorney hadn't pressured McGarrett to search for a missing heiress. In an effective ironic twist, the heiress turns out to be alive. However, while investigating her disappearance, Danny uncovers ten cases where single women with no close relatives had disappeared at the rate of one per month.

When McGarrett assigns a female detective (Patricia Smith), with no field experience, to go undercover as Reese's next target, Danny takes exception.

DANNY:  I don't like it.

McGARRETT:  Nobody asked you.

Jack Lord as Steve McGarrett.
As with most of the show's episodes, the focus is on the investigation. We don't get a glimpse of the personal lives of McGarrett, Danny, Kam Fong (Chin Ho), or Zulu (Kono). But we do get plenty of stunning Hawaiian scenery, a lively shootout at the climax, and the terrific opening credits (voted #4 all-time in 2010 by TV Guide readers--and it should have ranked higher). Surprisingly, though, McGarrett never utters his signature line: "Book'em, Danno!"

For the record, Jack Lord was a last minute replacement as Steve McGarrett. Creator Leonard Freeman originally wanted Richard Boone (allegedly, Gregory Peck was also in the discussion). Lord's no-nonsense attitude was perfect for the part, though, and he played McGarrett for 12 years, making Hawaii Five-O the longest running detective series prior to Law & Order (which is a hybrid anyway).

Stephen J. Cannell (The Rockford Files, The A-Team) tried to revive Five-O with a 1997 pilot starring Gary Busey and MacArthur, who returned as Danny (now governor of Hawaii!). It didn't sell, but, of course, the 2010 series revival became a hit for CBS.

Jack Lord as Linc.
In 1960, eight years before his signature Five-O role, Jack Lord starred in Walk Like a Dragon, an underrated "B" film written and directed by James Clavell (best known as the author of Shogun). Set in California after the Civil War, it features Lord as Linc Bartlett, a small town freight line owner on a trip to San Francisco. He buys a nineteen-year-old Chinese girl, being sold as a slave, to rescue her from a certain life as a prostitute. He gives the girl, Kim (Nobu McCarthy), her freedom--but she has nowhere to go and still considers Linc her owner. Linc ends up taking Kim and a young Chinese man named Cheng Lu (James Shigeta) to his home town of Jerico--where they all have to cope with the devastating impacts of racial prejudice.

James Shigeta as Cheng Yu.
As in Shogun, Clavell does a masterful job of showing what it's like to be thrust into a totally different culture. He eschews subtitles when the Chinese characters speak, giving the viewer a taste of what it's like to not understand potentially important conversations (incidentally, the Shogun miniseries avoid subtitles as well). In one telling scene, Cheng Lu's uncle speaks in broken English in front of Linc, only to speak it fluently to Cheng Yu in private. He explains to his nephew: "If you want to stay alive, you always have to follow certain rules."

Nobu McCarthy as Kim.
Each of the three main characters struggle with the sudden changes in their lives. Linc realizes he's fallen in love with Kim, but knows their life as a married couple would be a very difficult one. Cheng Lu doesn't want to play by the "rules" like his uncle; he wants to be treated with the same respect as men like Linc. And Kim finds herself caught in the middle, unsure whether to pursue a challenging future with the man she loves or a more traditional one with a man she respects.

Mel Torme--the gunfighter?
The cast is uniformly fine, with Lord giving one of his best performances as the conflicted Linc--although Shigeta steals the film. A major surprise is Mel Torme as Deacon, a Bible-quoting gunfighter dressed in black. It's a fascinating casting choice and, frankly, Mel handles the part well. He also sings the atypical title tune.


  1. Interesting and informative article on a show I really liked, bought the dvds for, currently finishing up S12. I find the new version unwatchable, esp. that 2by4 they cast as McGarrett. Jack Lord is the man!

  2. Thank you so much for this write-up on one of my all time fav. shows as well as letting me know about a Jack Lord movie I never even heard of. I will look for it on DVD? P.S. I had my suspicions that Richard Boone was in the running but he was working on his own "pilot" at the time and Lord seems ideal. Peck...too "big" for a TV's hard for me to think of such a major star in a series (though I realize many of them did explore television) and I'm glad he passed.

    1. April, I don't think WALK LIKE A DRAGON is available on DVD, but it can viewed on Amazon Instant Video.

  3. Have you ever seen Gary Cooper's "Man of the West?"" Lord gets his backside kicked---but good---by Coop in that one. As someone who grew up on Hawaii-5-0, with Jack Lord as the good guy, it was very strange seeing him as a no-good, whom Coop had to put in his place.

    My husband and kids like the remake TV show, but I prefer the original. (Then again, I have to admit, I've never seen a single episode of the remake.)

    Fantastic theme song!

  4. Jack Lord was a great baddie in MAN OF THE WEST, a fine Anthony Mann Western.

  5. Great post, Rick. I've always enjoyed the original Five-O precisely because it doesn't delve into the lives of its principals that much. I don't need to know what color Steve's walls are painted at home - as Shakespeare might say, the case's the thing!

    Can't explain away how Danny chances so dramatically from the pilot to the series, but it's obvious what happened to the Governor - Richard Denning defeated Lew Ayres in the election!

    1. I can quite easily see why Danny changes from the pilot to the series - have you ever seen such a poor actor as the one that played Danny in the pilot.