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Persuaders!, Set 1, The

A&E Video // Unrated // November 25, 2003
List Price: $79.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted December 3, 2003 | E-mail the Author
After releasing to DVD such perennially cultish programs as The Prisoner, Monty Python's Flying Circus, and Thunderbirds, A&E clearly is aiming a bit lower with The Persuaders! (1971), an amiable but not very good show in the I Spy mold. Like that 1965-68 series, stars Tony Curtis and Roger Moore are playboy/crime-fighter types, glamorously traversing the European continent. I Spy actually spent more time in Asia and Mexico than in Europe, and it wasn't the first show of its type to go on location (there was, for instance, the '50s series Foreign Intrigue), but its success led to quite a few shows actually being made abroad. Less remembered were such programs as The Man Who Never Was, Madigan, Court Martial, and several episodes of It Takes a Thief.

The show's premise is clumsy and ill-defined. In the first episode, "Overture," wealthy playboys Danny Wilde (Curtis) and Lord Brett Sinclair (Moore) are set up by a retired judge, Fulton (Laurence Naismith), and are essentially blackmailed into fighting crime on his behalf. Fulton wants to right wrongs from his days on the bench, when legal technicalities resulted in international criminals being set free.

"Overture" is supposed to contrast their roots --Brett the titled, sophisticated Brit born with a silver spoon in his mouth, Danny the self-made American tycoon who grew up in poverty. They spend most of the first episode disliking and trying to outwit one another, but are really two sides of the same coin, with both men basically frivolous jet-setters. Fulton suggests that by bringing criminals to justice Danny and Brett could make themselves useful to society, though Danny and Brett only briefly reflect on their heretofore wasted lives.

All this plays like the show's creators were putting the cart before the horse. They had Curtis and Moore, knew they wanted to shoot an I Spy type show, but didn't quite know how to get there. "Overture" has a let's-get-this-over-with air to it, and in so doing, the leading players are pretty much left as big blanks. Danny and Brett are so busy being glibly clever that their snappy banter quickly becomes tiresome. Surprisingly, the show only toys with contrasting their nationalities and in the end they don't really seem to have separate personalities, other than what is generated by the actors themselves. Indeed, these fast-talking wiseguys are defined more by their cars (Curtis drives a cherry red Ferrari Dino 246GT, Moore a butterscotch Aston Martin) and their wardrobe (Curtis, with his leather jackets and turtlenecks, Moore with his striped, double-breasted suits) than by anything in the scripts.

The two were undeniably heavyweight talents. The pre-Bond Moore was already familiar to American audiences as the star of Maverick (during its 1960-61 season) and especially the long-running The Saint (1962-69), while Curtis had been a film star for more than 15 years before this, his first TV series. Indeed, they were so well known, they are billed simply as Curtis + Moore. (Some writers have stated Moore and Curtis alternated billing each week, though every episode I looked at was "Curtis + Moore." The two work well together -- Curtis and Moore seem to be playing extensions of their real offscreen personalities, and are playful and suave in an early-'70s sort of way. They're not as natural or believable as Robert Culp and Bill Cosby were on I Spy, but Moore and Curtis seem to be enjoying themselves, and a little of that rubs off on viewers.

The program looks simultaneously expensive and cheap. The cast and crew shot exteriors all over Europe, but returned to the studio (Pinewood) for interiors. In contrast to shows like the original Danger Man, which carefully integrated 2nd unit location and 1st unit studio footage, The Persuaders! is comparatively sloppy. Studios sets never look like anything else, and spoil the flavor generated by the use of real, exotic locations.

"The Gold Napoleon," for instance, is set in Nice, where either Danny or a young woman (Straw Dogs's Susan George) seems to have been the target of an assassin's bullet. The show uses some great locales, but the studio sets are not convincing, and some of the process shots (Curtis on a motorcycle, George on an airport runway) are downright awful, even by 1971 standards. The episode has some real talent behind the camera -- Val Guest wrote the script which Roy Ward Baker directed -- but the show evolves into a pretty ordinary tale of gold smuggling. The best thing about this show is Curtis, who at 46, was still athletic enough to pull off an impressive stunt, shimmying up the side of a three-story building, and moving about its rafters recalling his role in Trapeze (1956). The episode, incidentally, along with the pilot, was incorporated into a faux feature, Mission: Monte Carlo (1974).

Somewhat better is "Greensleeves," which like most of the episodes this reviewer saw, awkwardly sets its story in motion. Once it gets underway, however, its teleplay (by Terence Feely) is both clever and fairly amusing. In this episode, Brett learns that a group of criminals (led by Andrew Kier) have taken over his estate. The villains hire a look-alike actor to impersonate Brett, who turns out to be Brett himself. Moore has fun playing a man impersonating himself, as does Curtis who pretends to be a Hungarian butler. Longtime character player George Woodbridge also turns up playing (what else?) an innkeeper in this fun show.

Video & Audio

A&E's DVDs tend to be on the pricey side; in this case $79.95 for just 13 episodes, spread out over four discs. That said, if you like the show, you won't be disappointed with the transfers, which are nearly flawless, an advantage to putting just three 52-minute shows per disc. The source material is in excellent shape (the ITC library in general seems to have been stored exceptionally well, judging by other ITC/A&E releases). The color is especially vivid and the picture is razor sharp. There is very minor negative dirt and such here and there, but overall the presentation is impressive. The sound is fine, although the audio track in one of the episodes I watched, "Greensleeves," seemed to be a frame or two out of synch. Dolby Digital Stereo is credited, but other than the great title theme (by John Barry, in a singularly Morricone mood) I didn't notice much separation.


The primary extra is an audio commentary for the first episode, "Overture," featuring Roger Moore, producer Robert S. Baker, and executive in charge of production Johnny Goodman. The trio also contributes a commentary track for "The Time and the Place," which Moore directed. The latter track is listed nowhere on the packaging, and I suspect it may have been improvised at the last minute. Moore remembers the show with obvious affection and enthusiasm. As far as I know, the only full commentaries he's done have been for this and The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970), which was made by many of the people soon associated with The Persuaders!

Also included is a still gallery, which looks like nothing more than a series of frame grabs; an interesting series of real photos showing Moore with the newly-restored Aston Martin used for filming (which Moore thoughtfully autographs inside its trunk); and standard bios/filmographies of Moore and Curtis. As usual for A&E, the animated menu screens are fun and in keeping with the spirit of the show, but not really an extra.

The remainder of The Persuaders! one-season run, A&E's Set Two, is reviewed here.

Stuart Galbraith IV is a Los Angeles and Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes Monsters Are Attacking Tokyo! The Incredible World of Japanese Fantasy Films. He is presently writing a new book on Japanese cinema for Taschen.

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