As weird old trends go, circa 1982, there was a big one on US TV: it was “We wish had a TV programme like Raiders of the Lost Ark“. So just before everything went techno with Street Hawk, Knight Rider, Airwolf et al, everything went 1930s. Odd, huh? As a result of this trend, as well as Tales of the Gold Monkey, US networks tried to cash in on Raiders with Bring ‘Em Back Alive.
Loosely based on the legendary wild animal collector Frank Buck, Bring ‘Em Back Alive saw big game hunter Frank Buck fighting dastardly Eastern spies in pre-war Malaya from out of the Raffles Hotel bar in Singapore, while dressed impeccably – or in a pith helmet and shorts – depending on the situation.
The show featured rising star Bruce Boxleitner, who went on to Scarecrow and Mrs King and Babylon 5 fame, and Cindy Morgan, who played Gloria, the US consul. Despite their almost romantic relationship, Gloria gets Buck to go on all his spying missions, where he typically comes across a damsel in distress who needs saving – in the first episode, that would be Gloria:
Hey trivia fans: Morgan and Boxleitner both appeared together in Tron the previous year:
And were reunited this year for the Tron: Legacy viral event:
As well as Boxleitner and Morgan, the show starred Clyde Kusatsu as Ali, Buck’s friend and No. 1 Boy (huh?); Ron O’Neal as HH, His Royal Highness, the Sultan of Johore, who was Buck’s competitor in the world of adventure; Sean McClory as Myles Delaney, manager of the Raffles Hotel; and John Zee as GB Von Turgo, smuggler and kingpin of the Singapore underworld. That’s all in the titles, so you know who’s who.
The plots were varied, but typically saw our Buck out and about in the East, moustache groomed nicely, braving wild animals and dastardly foreigners to preserve US interests overseas. I say “the East” but it was mostly shot on the back-lot of Columbia Picture Television’s Burbank Studios, with the Raffles Hotel built on the studio’s ‘New York Street’. Scenes that required an actual jungle as background were filmed in Hawaii and the Los Angeles Arboretum. Overall, it was as much like Singapore as Casablanca was like Casablanca, however.
With ‘Frank Buck’ based on a real person, the producers did go to some length to recreate certain aspects of Buck’s life. Buck’s compound was recreated from original photographs of his Katong headquarters and featured pictures of his parents hanging on the wall, as well as the flag of his home state, Texas.
It was diverting and fun stuff – not too taxing, but with a certain charm, although it didn’t quite manage to capture the charm of Raiders, so only lasted 18 episodes. But it lives on in memories if not DVD box sets unfortunately.
Here’s the weird old title sequence. You don’t get a whole load of salutes to camera and character descriptions in the titles, these days, do you?