Thursday, December 20, 2018

Robert Lansing as The Man Who Never Was

Robert Lansing as Murphy.
With an enemy agent hot on his trail, spy Peter Murphy (Robert Lansing) ducks into a late-night Berlin bar. As he ponders his next move, he hears a loud drunkard and turns around to see a man who could be his twin. Murphy goes up to the building's roof and watches the man with his face leave the bar--only to be shot dead in Murphy's place.

When an exhausted Murphy makes his exit, he is mistaken for the dead man. Murphy's superior, Colonel Forbes (Murray Hamilton), soon learns about the switch and immediately recognizes the potential to turn it into an advantage. The dead man was Mark Wainwright, a millionaire playboy with access to resources and people which could be a boon for the intelligence agency. For his part, Murphy is reluctant to assume Wainwright's identity, realizing the challenges of pulling off the ultimate deception. The situation is greatly complicated by the fact that Wainwright was married.

Dana Wynter as Eva.
It doesn't take Eva Wainwright (Dana Wynter) long to figure out that Murphy isn't her husband. But, in a delightful twist, she has her own reasons for going along with the deception. Can Peter and Eva pull it off? Can Peter trust Eva as he tries to live another man's life while doubling as a spy?

This was the premise of The Man Who Never Was, a 1966-67 espionage TV series created by John Newland (One Step Beyond). Its network, ABC, hoped to cash in on the spy craze that was still going strong on television (The Man from U.N.C.L.E., I Spy) and in movies (the Bond films, Our Man Flint). However, unlike most of those TV shows and films, The Man Who Never Was opted for more realistic adventures. Peter Murphy never relies on gadgets and tries to avoid violence if he can (though that's not always the case).

Although the series is unavailable on DVD, you can view a handful of episodes on YouTube, though the video quality is subpar. Fortunately, four of the first five half-hour episodes were edited into a theatrical movie called Danger Has Two Faces and it's available from 20th Century Fox Cinema Archives. 

Murray Hamilton as Peter's boss.
The film's first half (consisting of the initial two episodes) is excellent, with Peter and Eva feeling each other out and then trying to pull off the incredible masquerade. The second episode ends with Eva providing an alibi for Peter, who has just killed an enemy agent in self-defense. It's the act that seals their unwritten agreement.

The second half of Danger Has Two Faces consists of two unrelated episodes. One involves plotting the escape of a priest who wants to defect and the other deals with uncovering the person responsible for the deaths of two U.S. agents. Both episodes are well done if a little conventional. It helps that the show was shot in Europe and boasts fabulous scenery. However, there's not enough of the relationship between Peter and Eva, which worked so well in the first two episodes.

Lansing and Wynter facing danger.
Lansing, who had been replaced as the lead on Twelve O'Clock High after the 1965 season, is perfectly cast as a spy with a unique identity crisis. And you couldn't ask for a better female protagonist than the elegant Dana Wynter, whose calmness is the perfect complement to Lansing's intensity.

The Man Who Never Was was cancelled after 20 episodes. I suspect the half-hour format was part of the problem. It just wasn't long enough to develop the plots. Plus, its time slot rival on CBS was Green Acres, which finished the 1966-67 season as the sixth most watched television series. Still, I'd love to see The Man Who Never Was released on DVD and, with Coronet Blue finally getting a DVD release in 2017, there's still hope.

And here's a scene from Danger Has Two Faces, courtesy of the Cafe's YouTube channel:


  1. I've long been intrigued by this series, not least because it has a wonderfully evocative title. I agree with your thoughts that by 1967, the half-hour format was more harm than help - look at the hour-long version of "Danger Man" (or "Secret Agent," if you prefer) for example. Why did that work while this one didn't? I don't know if even the best secret agent can find the answer to that.

  2. I love Dana Wynter. She could have become a much bigger star, no? What happened?

  3. Trying again ...

    The Man Who Never Was (TV) was the idea of John Newland (One Step Beyond); the original notion was a full hour filmed in color on location in Europe.
    Newland's original choice as star was Donald Harron, a Canadian actor who'd been doing lots of USTV.
    Problem was, somebody in the States didn't like Donald Harron.
    At the same time, a pilot with Robert Lansing, a Western called April Savage, ran int pre=production problems and got shelved.
    ABC's solution: plug Lansing into Man Who ... - problem solved.
    Sort of: there was only one open half-hour on ABC that fall; Newland, wanting a sale, cut his series back, reshot the pilot, and there you are.

    You know the rest.

    Donald Harron did eventually get his TV stardom, after a fashion: he went back to Canada, reinvented himself as a comedian, and ultimately became the grizzled rural newscaster on Hee-Haw.

    True story.
    Hope this gets through; I've been offline nearly three weeks, and frankly it's very frustrating.

  4. Murray Hamilton was a good character actor. He was the first actor to play Blanches dad BIG DADDY on THE GOLDEN GIRLS. (David Wayne was the second.) He did an episode of MAMAS FAMILY when it was on NBC as Mamas late husbands brother. He was in the movies JAWS, THE GRADUATE, ANATOMY OF A MURDER, and NO TIME FOR SERGEANTS. He also did an episode of ALICE where he and EILEEN HECKART played the parents of Alices late husband Donald.

  5. Something about Dana Wynter reminds me of Barbara Rush. It is probably the elegance that both women had.

  6. I recommend watching the episode of 'Twelve O'Clock High' and watch Lansing and Wynter in one of their finest performances. The first season episode is titled, 'Interlude' and it follows Lansing's character (Gen. Frank Savage) as he is ordered to take leave. In the process, he meets Wynter's character (Ann Macrae), a Scot woman who has her own challenges. The story is probably one of the most poignant ever written for television. Add in the some of the best music from Dominic Frontiere and you have a terrific watch. You can find it on YouTube.

    Prior to watching this episode, I had never heard of Dana. Her stunning beauty and performance really clobbered me. Good to see that Robert and she remained friends.