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CALLAN - The Early Years (partly)
, 25 Feb. 2010
This review is from: Callan - The Monochrome Years [DVD]   (DVD)
CALLAN was one of those series that stuck around in the consciousness long after first viewing, revolving around the gripping central role of a reluctant, but very capable, cold war government assassin played, rather brilliantly by Edward Woodward. This set of episodes date from the late 1960s, before the coming of colour television and have long been unavailable, despite their reputation of being some of the best the show ever produced.
It's a gritty, dramatic and sombre series, with some strong scripts and sterling (and now classic) performances from Edward Woodward, Russell Hunter (as `Lonely', Callan's unfortunate malodorous and much put upon "only friend") and Anthony Valentine (as Toby Meres, the suave psychopath) forming its backbone. "Hunter", the code name for Callan's boss, is played by a number of actors as various versions come and go, and early performances from a number of quality character actors can be enjoyed across these episodes.
As with a lot of archive television of this era, the production uses a combination of location film and (very 1960s) studio work meaning that the ambitions of the series sometimes exceeds its capabilities. Occasionally, this means that the occasional line is fluffed or mark missed, but on the whole the shows are among the higher end of the standard of videotaped programmes made in those times.
Some of the material has unfortunately dated quite considerably, and thankfully, attitudes have changed towards both women and intellectuals, two of the groups who seem to suffer most in some of the storylines, and the "Cold War" now seems so very long ago.
It's all rather surprisingly violent too, but not in a graphic way, it's just that the actions of violent people are seen to have horrific consequences which some more modern dramas tend to shy away from.
Only two of the six episodes made for the first series still exist and only nine of the fifteen from the second, so alongside the Armchair Theatre "pilot" ("A MAGNUM FOR SCHNEIDER") you get twelve episodes in all, thankfully covering most of the "significant" story developments. The other episodes included are: "THE GOOD ONES ARE ALL DEAD" (1-1) and "YOU SHOULD HAVE GOT HERE SOONER" (1-6) from series one, and "RED KNIGHT, WHITE KNIGHT" (2-1); "THE MOST PROMISING GIRL OF HER YEAR" (2-2); "LITTLE BITS AND PIECES OF LOVE" (2-4); "LET'S KILL EVERYBODY" (2-5); "HEIR APPARENT" (2-6); "DEATH OF A FRIEND" (2-9); "THE WORST SOLDIER I EVER SAW" (2-13) (Reconstructed); "NICE PEOPLE DIE AT HOME" (2-14) and "DEATH OF A HUNTER" (2-15).
Due to the age of the original material the picture quality is variable, (the reconstructed episode is rebuilt from an early edit and the series 1 stuff looks a bit battered to be honest) but the strength of the stories and some genuinely shocking twists mean that these episodes are still very watchable and generally quite gripping. More restoration work would have been nice, of course, but maybe this was as good as they could get, and, sadly there are no extras.
CALLAN would go on to feature in a further two colour series in the early 1970s, a feature film remake of the pilot episode, and a reunion episode in 1981 ("WET JOB"), but these fascinating glimpses of his early years give a very good insight into what a great programme this was.
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