Friday, March 30, 2012

Oh Canada: THE PHOENIX TEAM (1980)

Choosing what we review here at Video Junkie is a very complicated process. Sometimes we review something because it is awesome and sometimes we review something because it is so bad that is awesome.  Either way, we’re trying to get the word out on what we deem required viewing.  Other times we just decide to feature something because it has the dreaded film seal of notoriety – no reviews on the IMDb!  In this day and age of superfast “I want it now” information, how can there still be stuff that was readily available on VHS with no reviews? That is why I’m taking a look at THE PHOENIX TEAM (1980), a Canadian spy flick that puts the zzzzzz in espionage.    

THE PHOENIX TEAM opens with a Government official being killed during a pheasant hunt in Essex, England, with the assassin mentioning something to his victim about Section D.  Cut to Ontario, Canada and David Brook (Don Francks), former Canadian Intelligence field operative turned desk jockey, is on his way to work when he sees his boss Mr. Mason kidnapped off the street by his own people. Wait a sec, Canada has a counterintelligence division?  Anyway, curious Brook inquires with his mysterious superior The General (Mavor Moore), who converses only via video screen, and is told Mason was a double agent for the Soviets. For some reason this doesn’t sit right with Brook and he begins to investigate.  Aiding him in his quest is old flame Valerie Koester (Elizabeth Shepherd), a MI6 agent who has flown over from London on her own to investigate Section D.  She also drops a bomb on Brook by saying, “Mason killed my father.”  Duhn-duhn-duhhhhhhhhnnnnnn!  So our not-too-super spooks decide the best course of action is to kidnap Mason back (he is being held in a public hospital!) and figure out what in the hell Section D really is.  

If that synopsis sounds rather episodic, it makes sense as the Trans World Entertainment VHS release of THE PHOENIX TEAM is actually just a two-part episode from what was a Canadian TV series (the opening credits even read “Old Time’s Sake Part One”) for the CBC (Canadian Broadcast Corporation).  Entering with hopes of finding the Canadian THE AVENGERS or MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, I instead got a show that was as slow as Canadian maple syrup.  I think I figured out what the “D” in Section D stands for – dull! Seriously, nothing exciting happens during this telefilm’s 90 minute running time.  The opening shotgun blast is the only gunfire in the film and a chase a few minutes later encompasses the action content.  It is a shame as the scenario is ripe for some nerve wringing.  For example, the idea of posing as doctors to sneak a patient past security and out of the hospital is a time honored suspense creator. Instead writer/creator John C.W. Saxton – who wrote ILSA, SHE WOLF OF THE SS (1975) before this and would later write CLASS OF 1984 (1982) and HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME (1982) – has the thrilling idea of Brook and Koester hiding in a room with their patient and talking.  Hell, Koester even takes a nap.  How does a guy with those exploitation credits fail to exploit the spy genre properly?  To add insult to injury, the script also has so much bureaucratic babble (“I want to file an M-15 request” or “I have access to a gray card”) that it almost sounds like a spoof at times.  I did get a chuckle out of a line when the true nature of Section D is revealed (SPOILER: it is a hit team) and the villain says, “Who would suspect it out of Canada?”

It is a shame the proceedings are so boring as THE PHOENIX TEAM has a lot going for it. Director John Trent gets the most out of some wintery locations in Ontario and he has a capable cast.  Most notable is Francks in the lead.  With his Peter Graves sound-a-like voice, Francks was immediately recognizable to me, but I couldn’t figure out from where. Then it hit me – he was the sheriff in the superior Canadian slasher MY BLOODY VALENTINE (1981).  He is very good in the lead and actually won an ACTRA (Association of Canadian Television and Radio Artists) award for his work on this show.   The series was short-lived, lasting only 9 episodes, with the majority of them airing in the fall of 1980 before it disappeared into the foggy memories of our friends up north.  Thankfully, it has now been reviewed and we offer these press clippings (courtesy of the generous John Charles) about the show should any curious Canadian come to the internet looking for info to resurrect their memories of THE PHOENIX TEAM spy series long gone.  And that makes us officially the internet’s biggest THE PHOENIX TEAM resource!  You're welcome, world!

Articles and reviews for 
THE PHOENIX TEAM (click to enlarge):

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