A made-for-TV movie that would be turned into the TV show Search, Probe is an interesting high-tech spy flick that tries to be a mystery/action/SF adventure and nearly succeeds in pulling it off, but not quite. Created by Leslie Stevens, the man behind the original Outer Limits, the story had a lot of potential. And while the futuristic technology that's a cornerstone of the film is commonplace today, the real reason the film doesn't work better is that the lead isn't a convincing spy.
Hugh Lockwood (Hugh O'Brian) is an agent for P.R.O.B.E., and international retrieval agency. If something or someone is lost or stolen, P.R.O.B.E. will retrieve it for you, for a price. They are very, very good at what they do because of some high tech gadgets that they've invented. Each Probe agent comes equipped with a 'scanner,' a device the size of a stack of three quarters that is a miniature movie camera/microphone and can read a person's medical data (heartbeat, blood pressure, amount of adrenaline in their system etc.) and wirelessly send the info back to Probe HQ, as well as an implant behind his ear so that he can hear his boss and a signal button implanted in a tooth so that he can send simple messaged back to HQ non-verbally.
Probe headquarters looks like a smaller version of NASA's Command Control. There are rows of computers and desks with multiple displays where technicians monitor an agent's every move. At the helm is V.C. Cameron (Burgess Meredith), a by-the-book leader who tells Hugh what to do every step of the way.
This first adventure has Hugh being sent to
I remember sitting enthralled in front of the TV watching this when it first aired. Maybe it's the fact that I'm no longer 9 years old, or maybe the film just hasn't aged well, but watching it again I was able to see all the flaws that I didn't notice way back when.
Yes, the technology is laughable today. My smart phone can do nearly everything that the Probe devices do, and a whole lot more. That doesn't hurt the movie though; it firmly places it in a simpler time and brings the viewer back with it. The way they used the technology was nice too, and it was fun to see the various ways they employed the 'scanner'.
The main gripe I have with the show is that Lockwood wasn't a great spy. He basically did everything that his boss told him to (with the exception of running head on into a bunch of rebels with machine guns at the very beginning (his logic being that they'd never expect him to do that) and getting it on with Heideline while Cameron was telling the agent to go to bed and leave the sexpot alone.... Yeah, like that's gonna happen.) Cameron is constantly giving instructions, even when they're laughable. At one point Heideline tells Hugh that her grandmother is missing. Cameron instructs his agent to "tell her you'll look for her grandmother..." and then Lockwood apes the instructions. "I'll look for your grandmother in the village." I mean does he really need his hand held to that extent?
The information that Probe control gives (or doesn't give) to Lockwood is sometimes comical too. When he's trying to find the Countesses estate Lockwood pulls off the road to buy a map. What?!? He's got a multimillion dollar organization behind him with a prototype internet and he can't find a house?? (In the film's credit, the do eventually have Probe Control tell him how to get where he's going.) Then there's the time that Lockwood is in a dark basement and his handler informs him that there are two men who are going to jump him hiding in the shadows. With such a warning, he should make quick work of the thugs. Except he doesn't. They clean his clock and lock him up.
When I go into a spy flick, I'm hoping for someone who's a bit more independent and uses the cool spy gadgets to get out of a jam, not totally relying on them. I want an agent who plays by his own rules, and doesn't blindly do whatever the Penguin tells him to.
The original mono soundtrack is fine. Background noise isn't a problem and the voices stand out well. It's nothing to write home about, but it sounds good for a nearly 40 year old film.
The full frame image is good but not great. The colors aren't as sharp and bright as they could be, but they're not significantly faded either. The level of detail is adequate and digital compression artifacts aren't a problem.
While this is a decent made-for-TV movie, and it did spawn a series (that only lasted a single season) I just couldn't get past the fact that Lockwood wasn't cut from the same cloth as James Bond, Napoleon Solo, Jason Bourne or even Harry Tasker (from True Lies). He didn't have the macho self-confidence that the other agents possess. That's my only real gripe. It's not a bad movie at all and there are some decent parts. It would make a good rental.