Friday, December 14, 2012

LEWIS COLLINS: The Lost British Action Hero

Forces of Geek’s Big Mike Leeder takes a look back at the highlights of the lost British action hero; a man who could have and should have had a career to rival that of Jason Statham. A true professional who seemed to live the image on and off screen

I mean how many action stars try to join the SAS (Special Air Service) in their time off of work?

This is a man who made his name as a TV tough guy in classic the British TV series The Professionals and was just as hard off-screen as his macho image on-screen.

This is a man who was tipped by many to replace Roger Moore as James Bond in the mid 80’s only for the producers to say they felt he was "too aggressive".  He then went on to headline the super-patriotic Who Dares Wins before going onto top line a series of ‘macaroni combat’ movies.

FOG! takes a look back at the action highlights of his career.

The Lost British Action Hero

Born in 1946, Lewis Collins career path included time both as a ladies hairdresser and as a musician, playing drums and guitar in various bands before deciding to become an actor.

After training at the London Academy of Music & Dramatic Art, Collins toured across the country and overseas with various stage plays and notched up roles in Z-Cars, The New Avengers and Confessions of a Driving Instructor before being hired for the role he’s most identified with, Bodie in the classic TV show The Professionals.

Created by Brian Clemens who had previously been one of the power players behind The Avengers, The Professionals was produced by Avengers Mk 1 Productions and London Weekend Television, airing from 1977 through 1982, with 57 episodes.  The series starred Martin Shaw, Lewis Collins and Gordon Jackson as agents of CI5. The show was produced as a follow up to The Sweeney and as a UK take on Starsky & Hutch. 

‘Anarchy, acts of terror, crimes against the public. To combat it I’ve got special men, experts from the army, the police, from every service, these are the professionals!’

The Professionals team was lead by Gordon Jackson as Cowley, with his two best agents being Doyle (Martin Shaw) an ex-detective, and Bodie (Lewis Collins), an ex-paratrooper, mercenary & SAS sergeant. The show ruled Saturday and Sunday night viewing in the early 80’s, offering plenty of action, adventure, sex appeal for the ladies with Bodie and Doyle.  For the guys there were plenty of shapely co-stars, some great chemistry and banter between the leads and at times plenty of controversy over dialogue (not as salty as The Sweeney, but it has its moments).  Certain episodes, such as the notorious Klansmen episode (still unseen on terrestrial TV to this day), caused a lot of headaches for the producers.

American trailer for the show

While Martin Shaw had the bubble perm, and Gordon Jackson the serious suit, Lewis Collins rocked some classic 80’s wardrobe wearing Sergio Tachini tracksuits, kicking bad guys asses, wisecracking and chasing the birds (yes we were still able to call women birds back in the 80’s..It was the law!)

The show won a legion of fans across the UK and Europe, and it’s still enjoyable to see it today.  Even if certain elements and ideas seem dated, there are some cracking episodes that still hold up so well. 

And if you ever thought the relationship between Bodie and Doyle sometimes seemed to veer a little into the sometimes homo-erotic territory, then check out The Comic Strip Presents: The Bullshitters which takes the premise of The Professionals into very different territory with Bonehead & Foyle. The series was just coming to its end when Collins made the leap onto the big screen with a very topical action movie for the time.

The Bullshitters, TV tough guy training by Bonehead based upon a certain Lewis Collins character

The series was rarely seen after it finished for various reasons, including Martin Shaw’s public criticism of the show, the show finally began to get repeat screening on satellite TV and the full series is now available on DVD from Contender Entertainment. There’s often been talk of reviving the series on the small screen.

There was a miserable early 90’s version entitled The New Professionals, which we’d all like to forget, and often talk of a big screen adaptation.   With the success of the big screen revivial of The Sweeney, here’s hoping that CI5 gets the treatment it deserves. Recently director Neil Marshall of The Descent and Centurion fame has been linked to a possible big screen reboot of the show. 

I’d love to see Marshall’s take on the series and would love to see Collins make an appearance in the film.

The original and rarely seen title sequence

For the most up to date news on The Professionals, and it's stars log onto the highly informative and now official website, HERE.

Who Dares Wins
Also known as The Final Option in certain countries, the 1982 movie was inspired by the 1980 Iranian embassy siege in London which had seen the Special Air Service (S.A.S) being unleashed to rescue the hostages being held within the embassy. Producer Euan Lloyd was captivated by the idea and a project based upon certain elements of the siege was developed by Lloyd with George Markstein, James Follett and Reginald Rose with Ian Sharp as director.

Collins plays Captain Skellen of the SAS, recruited to infiltrate a militant group planning a terrorist campaign.

The terrorist group is lead by activist Frankie (Judy Davis) and Skellen infiltrates the group and begins a relationship with Frankie.  The group, aware of Skellen’s identity and playing him at the same time, infiltrates the American ambassador’s residence and take hostages.  Demanding that a nuclear weapon be fired at a submarine base in Scotland, Skellen is able to secretly communicate with the negotiators and join forces with the SAS troops when they storm the building.

The film is a jingoistic Boy's Own adventure and still holds up pretty well after nearly thirty years, Collins is in fine form as Skellen, while Judy Davis brings some depth to her character and Richard Widmark, Edward Woodward and Day of the Triffids hero John Duttine round out the cast. The original music for the film was written by Roy Budd who also created the score for Get Carter.

The movie still entertains and there are some great moments, including of course, the great final assault on the embassy with SAS operatives swinging through windows, abseiling from helicopters and Collins leading his boys into action.

The action scenes work well and feature some great ideas, but the film could have benefited from a bit more action especially during the finale. The film did well and a sequel was originally announced that would see Skellen leading his SAS team into battle during the Falklands conflict, but never went into production. The film was recently given a worthy DVD/Blu-Ray release as a special edition complete with commentary and other various special features.

Lewis Collins is James Bond?
Collins was a strong contender for the role of Ian Fleming’s most famous creation since Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and 1982 saw Collins auditioning for the role for which everyone assumed he was perfect. But his audition was deemed ‘too aggressive.’ 

Remember this was in the midst of the Roger Moore at its cheesiest level of Bond movies, and one can only imagine what Collins could have done with the darker take on Bond as Pierce Brosnan, Timothy Dalton and Daniel Craig have been given.

‘Macaroni Combat’
The Professionals and Who Dares Wins had garnered Collins a solid following across Europe and other parts of the world, and Italian cult director Antonio Margheriti felt that Collins had the looks and the charisma to headline what would become a trilogy of action movies often referred to affectionately as 'macaroni combat' films shot primarily in the Philippines.

Code Name: Wild Geese
Collins plays Captain Robin Wesley, a crack mercenary team leader who is assigned to take down Opium factories in the Devils triangle for a DEA agent (Ernest Borgnine).

Wesley’s team includes helicopter pilot China (Lee Van Cleef), and the sadistic Charlton (Klaus Kinski) who works for Wesley’s boss. They set out on their mission but uncover a terrible truth that leads back to Hong Kong, as they find themselves double crossed and left for dead.

The film features some impressive action sequences combining live action with some impressive model work including the finale involving flame thrower equipped helicopters and an insane car chase through a Hong Kong road tunnel.

It’s very much as the title reveals, a take on the original Wild Geese with the mercenaries double crossed by the people who hired them, but Margheriti delivers on the promise.  Collins, despite his character's less than macho name, comes across well.  Van Cleef offers solid support, while Kinski is his normal wild-eyed scenery-chewing self.

Commando Leopard
The second movie has a more epic feel, set in an un-named Latin American country controlled by dictatorship.

Collins plays freedom fighter Enrique Carasco who has returned home to fight for a less oppressive society.  Joining him on his mission are Smithy (John Steiner), a British mercenary and Maria, a former medical student turned ferocious female freedom fighter.

The film begins with them staging an attack on a hydro electric dam which when blown destroys a military convoy, but forces the corrupt dictatorship to unleash its forces under the command of Colonel Silvera (Klaus Kinski). 

Silvera thinks nothing of wiping out a village or two to find the rebels. Guerrilla war escalates until there’s a final showdown between Carasco and the government forces with the country’s freedom at stake.

Once again Collins and Margheriti deliver a solid slice of action entertainment, which at times feels like a cross between Rambo and The Sicilian, as Collins' character tries to fight for his country’s independence and battle the evil Klaus Kinski.

The film's action sequences are certainly impressive for the film's budget.  Some of the more fantastic model work, which still holds up to this day, inclides an attack on an airport as a landing jet is taken out by rockets resulting in and all hell breaking loose.

Collins comes across well, while Kinski is Kinski, but from all accounts there were some shall we say ‘creative differences’ between the two men on set.  A look at the "making of" sees Kinski repeatedly losing his temper with members of the cast and crew.

The Commander
The third and final slice of gun & grenade action for Collins is The Commander, which tells of Lee Van Cleef hiring a mercenary team lead by Major Colby (Collins) to attack a drug lord’s compound and retrieve vital information.

The third film covers very similar ground to the previous films, even reusing certain action and effects sequences but with the use of new footage and inserts shot at the same locations to try and make the footage look fresh.

It’s enjoyable but nowhere near as much fun as the first two films Margheriti directed with Collins.  Lee Van Cleef is in fine form while Donald Pleasence pops up for a few moments.

If you’ve never seen Code Name Wild Geese or Commando Leopard, then The Commander might impress a little more than it did for me, as I found myself spotting too many reused elements and sequences.

Commando Wild Geese as Der Commander was also known

The three Antonio Margheriti/Lewis Collins collaborations are available on DVD from various distributors and I would definitely recommend buying the first two, while perhaps renting the third.

Margheriti passed away in 2002 from a heart attack aged 72, but is homaged by Eli Roth’s character Donny Donowitz using "Margheriti" as an alias in 2009’s Inglorious Basterds.

Collins' subsequent work includes Jack the Ripper with Michael Caine, appearances in Robin of Sherwood, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Cluedo The Series, Tarzan, as well as episodes of The Grimleys, with his final TV appearance being in The Bill in 2002.

And yes, Collins did attempt to join the SAS and passed selection, but was rejected due to his fame.

Based in Los Angeles with his family for several years, it was recently confirmed that Lewis Collins is set to return to the big screen in the movie 1066.

1 comment :

  1. This is a great piece on Lewis Collins. I'm still a huge fan. I have all of the Professionals episodes on DVD, as well as Who Dares Wins and Jack the Ripper - and I've seen all of the three Macaroni combat movies too! Personally, I'd love to see Lewis working again. It's tragic that his career didn't end up taking him exactly where it should have gone and where he deserved to be. All the best, Chris