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PROBE (1972)

1/07/2011. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy PROBE (1972) in the USA - or Buy PROBE (1972) in the UK

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region 1 DVD: pub: Warner Bros Archive Collection. 95 minute film with no extras. Price: varies from about $15.00-$20.00 (US)). stars: Hugh O'Brian, Burgess Meredith, Elke Sommer, Angel Tompkins, Lilia Skala and Sir John Gielgud.

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In many respects, I have had a vested interest in seeing the release of the pilot episode, ‘PROBE’, from Warner Brothers as part of the only chat group I belong to petitioned Warner Brothers to getting it released. That happened six weeks ago but off Warner Brothers direct, it can only be sold in the States. I had to wait a bit longer for it to be circulated to American Amazon and then to see it rapidly sell out. Fortunately, some of the subsidiary companies still have copies and I finally got my copy. Ensure you own a multi-regional DVD player if you want to watch this film outside of the USA. When you compare the sales of ‘PROBE’ to others from Warner’s Archive Collection limited release, this looks healthy and is getting us revved up for them to consider releasing the twenty-two episode season of ‘Search’. If you’re fans of other pilots or shows Warner’s haven’t released yet and belong to any groups supporting such programmes, a multi-petition does get results.

So what makes ‘PROBE’ and ‘Search’ itself Science Fiction? I mean, today we’re familiar with using miniaturised spy-tech and use it ourselves. One only has to look at mobile phone camera lens and see that they are as small as the miniature TV scanners the PROBE agents carry on their person. They can’t do as much. Well, not yet and without a battery – energy is pumped in after all, although that might not be far off these days. These TV scanners can see across the wide spectrum from infra-red to sniper scope and other sensors monitor medical telemetry and such. Through this and an implanted earjack and tooth bleeper, the PROBE agent keeps in contact with the team back at their headquarters and be supplied information and such as he goes about his task. You’ve seen the likes of this being used in ‘The X-Files’ – which paid a homage to this series - and ‘Alias’. However, ‘PROBE’ and ‘Search’ was originally done in 1972 where such things would have seemed far-fetched. Indeed, I lent a mate a copy of the pilot I’d taped off TV back in the 80s and showed him in the 90s, who thought no camera could be so small. Reality is catching up with fiction but ‘PROBE’ got there first.

Back in the 70s, there were all kinds of detective programmes coming out, so having a high-tech one shouldn’t have been much of a surprise. ‘PROBE’ was written and produced by TV veteran Leslie Stevens (who co-produced ‘The Outer Limits’) and directed by Russ Mayberry, who would also direct the 90 minute versions of ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’ a couple years later and other pilots. It also has one of most memorable uplifting TV theme music tracks by Dominic Frontiere (who amongst his other credits, includes the music to ‘The Invaders’) with its full version here. Mentioning all these people is point out its rare pedigree. PROBE, by the way, is an acronym standing for Programmed Retrieval Operations. The ‘BE’ is top secret but I’ve always bet on ‘By Electronics’ myself.

Hugh Lockwood (actor Hugh O’Brian) is PROBE One, working for the World Securities Corporation who track down anything missing for a price. After the successful rescue of a diplomat, Lockwood is coerced out of some r’n’r, to go on the hunt for the Entourage Collection jewels lost at the end of World War Two, assisted by jewel expert Harold Streeter (actor John Gielgud) on a trip to Austria following its only clue to an old lady, Frida Ullman (actress Lilia Skala) and her adult daughter, Heidi (actress Elke Sommer). When they are attacked and her mother goes missing, they follow the clues back to the USA and a hotel hiding Nazi treasure. There’s far more that in this ninety-five minute story but that would be considered spoiler.

What sets this story apart is the witty banter that Lockwood hears from the people listening and watching from PROBE Control, led by VCR Cameron (actor Burgess Meredith) and the sardonic medical officer Gloria Harding (actress Angel Tompkins) that nearly forty years later still gets you hooked to what is going on.

Many of us in the SF community have films we will watch time and again to uplift us from time to time. ‘PROBE’ is one of mine. Have a look for yourself and see if I’m right. End run.

GF Willmetts

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