Spyforce: The Encounter (1972)

Luke Erskine (jack Thompson) takes aim

Country: Australia
Director: David Baker
Starring: Jack Thompson, Redmond Phillips, Katy Wild, Reg Gillam, Richard Newellen, Harry Harris, Maggie Oehlbeck, Jamie Hoskins
Writer: Ron McLean
Director of Photography: Ross King
Editor: Brian Kavanagh
Music: Brian Rangott, Geoff Harvey
Roger Mirams

The Encounter is another episode (the twenty-ninth) in the Australian television series, Spyforce, starring Jack Thompson and Peter Sumner. However Sumner is conspicuously absent from this episode, but in his place Redmond Phillips, as Colonel Cato gets more screen time than usual, which is great to see. He provides ‘brain’ in contrast to Thompson’s ‘brawn’.

Luke Erskine confronts Captain Delaporte

The story begins in Suva, Fiji, and Luke Erskine (Jack Thompson) has been assigned to bring to justice and American soldier, Captain Vincent Delaporte (Reg Gillam) who has gone missing. Erskine tracks Delaporte to a hotel where he is meeting with his wife, who he hasn’t seen in years and she is looking for a divorce.

Erskine approaches the couple and asks them to accompany him. They leave the hotel together. While waiting for the car to brought around to the front of the hotel, Delaporte elbows Erskine in the stomach and makes a break for it. Erskine chases him on foot until they come to a beach. Delaporte keeps running. Erskine calls for him to stop, and then drawing his pistol, fires a warning shot into the air. However Delaporte continues to run, so Erskine drops to one knee, takes careful aim and fires. He hits Delaporte in the shoulder, who immediately collapses into the surf. Erskine takes him into custody, and soon he and both Mr. and Mrs. Delaporte are being flown back to Sydney in an amphibious aircraft.

Delaporte brought to justice

Back at Spy Force HQ, it is revealed that the ‘hunt’ for Delaporte wasn’t an Australian operation, but a favour for American General Thomas T. Thomas. It appears that Captain Delaporte, who had been fighting the Japanese in the Philippines, ordered the massacre of a small civilian village, which had been hording food supplies. Delaporte was the only survivor of the incident, and quickly left the country and went into hiding. The Filipino Government now want Delaporte brought to justice and stand trial by Court Martial. If found guilty, he will be hanged.

Colonel Cato (Redmond Phillips), the head of the Spy Force unit, however finds the whole business rather suspicious, especially when he finds out that assisting General Thomas in the investigation (and hunt) for Delaporte is US Colonel Carter (Harry Harris), whose son was one of the men who died under Delaporte’s command. Cato suspects that the American’s maybe using Delaporte as a convenient scapecoat, and decides to put his own plan into operation to get to the truth.

Redmond Phillips as Colonel Cato

Spyforce by today’s standards is pretty slight television, and the technical quality (like cinematography, lighting and sound) are pretty crude in parts. But the show is lively and there’s enough action to keep older viewers (or those with fair attention spans) amused. Of course, the real selling point for the show is Jack Thompson. Thompson is an engaging and charismatic actor, and he would go onto bigger and better things after Spyforce.

A line from this episode hints to where Thompson’s career would take him, that being a high profile sex symbol in the Australian at least – racy films like Peterson and Scobie Malone would cement his reputation. In The Encounter, when Erskine invites Mrs. Delaporte back to his home for a meal, he suggests:

“I’ve got the biggest piece of meat you’ve ever seen up there!”

She replies, “I’ll bet!”

Today, that line probably only elicits a cringe induced giggle, but you’ve got to remember ‘time and place’ – that being Australia in the early seventies (although the show is set in the 1940s). I am not even sure if the R-Certificate had been approved for the cinemas by this stage. If it had, only just. Up until that time, Australia had been one of the most heavily censored nations on earth (possibly only behind South Africa and Spain under Franco).

But as the decade moved on, and censorship eased up, Australia embraced smut, as evidenced by the popularity of the Alvin Purple films (and later television series), and Fantasm. But that’s a topic for another day. Spy Force is a straight forward spy show with none of that ‘naughtiness’ on display.

Thompson, in time would shake off the ‘sex-symbol’ image, and after standout performances in The Club and Breaker Morrant, (and many others) would become a successful character actor in international productions (complete with dodgy American accent). He can be seen in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, The Good German, Broken Arrow, Flesh + Blood and Star Wars II; Attack of the Clones.

In many ways, Spyforce in it’s depiction of Australia at war during the 1940s, provided a template, in both its drama and action, for the incredibly popular Australian soap opera, The Sullivans, which ran from 1976 to 1983. On the surface, it may seem like an unlikely influence, but by the time that Terry (the youngest son), hit the jungle of New Guinea, the series was very definitely in Spyforce territory.

Both series provide a fascinating time capsule of days long gone.

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