ARMCHAIR THEATER "A Magnum for Schneider" 1967
Armchair Theater was a UK series that ran for 457 episodes between 1956 and 1974. Each episode was a stand alone story with different actors. The list of actors involved in the series include, Billie Whitelaw, Susannah York, Donald Pleasence, Donald Houston, Ian Bannen, Bernard Lee, Sam Wannamaker, Lynn Redgrave, Anthony Quayle, Maggie Smith, Stanley Baker and Ian Holm.
This particular episode is from 1967 and stars Edward Woodward. It is the first appearance of "licenced to kill" secret agent, David Callan. The popularity of this particular episode soon had "Callan" going into production as a regular series. It became a popular fixture on UK television running between 1967 and 1972. There was even a feature film version made in 1974.
Callan (Woodward) is an ex-agent of an anonymous government agency known as "The Section." This unit of the Secret Service is a nastier version of MI-5. They remove threats to the UK in various ways: assassination, blackmail, or just plain curb stomping. The section is run by a Colonel Hunter who is played by Ronald Radd.
Woodward is called back out of forced retirement to deal with a special assignment. Woodward is not happy with his lot in life: it seems the only thing he is any good at is dealing out violence. Woodward is to "take out" a man known to be doing a spot of gunrunning out of Asia. The man, Joseph Furst, runs a small import export trade in the same building where Woodward happens to be doing menial work for another government department.
Woodward had been the top operator at the section, but he had become too curious about his victims, etc. Woodward agrees to take the assignment and is soon back in the swing of things. He arranges a meeting with Furst and the two are soon pals. Woodward uses the friendship to case the man's office and apartment. He wants to know what it is that the man has done.
What Woodward does not know, is that his boss, Radd, assigned another operative, Peter Bowles to keep an eye on him. The "observer" is to step up and complete the mission if Woodward falters. Woodward smells a rat in play here, and leaves info to be found detailing his assignment if he is killed or arrested.
Of course it turns out that Woodward is right about his boss being a swine. Radd intends to have Woodward arrested by the police after the target is eliminated. Radd figures that Woodward has reached the end of his usefulness as an assassin. Woodward however outsmarts Radd, he completes the assignment with a new curve. Woodward sets up the "observer" Bowles, to take the fall with the Police.
This is a pretty nifty bit of cat and mouse, and makes for excellent cold war era entertainment. It is much more gritty and nastier than for example, the Bond films etc. (and I love the Bond films). Woodward is perfectly cast as the world weary agent who knows no other life. The episode director, Bill Bain, gives the black and white production a real film noir like feel. Bain would win an Emmy Award for his work on, UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS.