IT TAKES A THIEF EPISODE 2.13 – GUESS WHO’S COMING TO RIO (CLASSIC TV EPISODE)
Robert Wagner with Luiz Bonfá and Bola Sete (1969)
I would do this anyways but it sure is a bonus when people actually read these posts and it’s even better when people engage with me. When recently I profiled a book on bossa nova, one of my favourite readers, Betty, mentioned to me this episode of Robert Wagner‘s old series, It Takes a Thief. She said that on this particular episode, Wagner’s Alexander Mundy travels to Rio de Janeiro where he digs the sounds of two bossa nova legends in a night club. Not only was their music played but these two legends actually appear on screen. I have to admit, I was skeptical. But, all due respect to Miss Betty.
Sure enough, the thirteenth episode of the second season of It Takes a Thief was called “Guess Who’s Coming to Rio” and it aired on Tuesday night, January 7, 1969 from 8:30 to 9:30 on ABC. Airing opposite The Red Skelton Hour, The Liberace Show and Diahann Carroll’s Julia, it must have killed in its time slot. In this episode, Al is on vacation and he foolishly chooses Rio de Janeiro, apparently a hotbed of international intrigue. A Russian lass who has witnessed things that will get her killed is hoping to defect. The local security chief is fed up with his job and plans to go with her. Little does he know that his second-in-command is trying to kill him and take over his job. Two local hoodlums are also conniving – they have been paid to kill the Russian girl and soon join forces with the chief’s assistant. The SIA’s operative in Rio seems derelict in his duty as it’s up to Al Mundy to figure out how to get the girl out of town alive.
And Betty was bang-on right; at one point, Mundy says he is going to hear “two of my good friends”, Luiz Bonfá and Bola Sete, play in a club and there they are. They play three numbers and I’ll admit I can’t identify the first that’s being played when Mundy greets Luiz. I don’t think I’ve heard it before. Al goes in to use the phone and when he comes back out I’m pretty sure I hear them run down “Corcovado”, perhaps the most beautiful song ever written. Much later, Bola Sete steps out front and smiles while guest star Teri Garr dances appealingly. Scouring the internet for info on this episode, all I could find were two entries that list Bola Sete’s compositions and “It Takes a Thief Cues” appears, leading me to believe that is the title of this number and Bola was simply riffing and he knocked this tune out for the episode.
I was happy to notice that the cast is loaded with familiar faces, many who were players in Elvis World, in fact. Suave and handsome Alejandro Rey plays the second-in-command to the security chief. He appeared as a foil for King in 1963’s Fun in Acapulco but he may be best known for his stint on the thorn in Sally Fields’ side, The Flying Nun. The Argentinian died of lung cancer in ’87. Syrian Michael Ansara, the security chief, played Prince Dragna opposite Elvis in Harum Scarum (1965). The prolific actor played characters of many races through a 50-year career in Hollywood. Ansara was married to Barbara Eden for many years and made it to 91, dying from complications from Alzheimer’s in 2013. Teri Garr (billed here as “Terry”) plays an American party girl. A dancer in her youth, Garr can be seen – if you really look hard – dancing in nine Elvis movies. She’s perhaps most easily spotted in Roustabout (1964). She was also in Pajama Party (1964) and Head (1968). Big John Russell is the SIA’s point man in Rio. I spoke a bit about cowboy actor Russell in my review of the film noir Undertow (1949). He rounded out his long career in Clint’s Pale Rider (1985).
Sharp-eyed fans of classic films may detect a similarity between this episode and John Huston’s classic The Maltese Falcon (1941). Two characters here are obviously reminiscent of Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre’s work in that film as Casper Gutman and Joel Cairo respectively. Unknown Aram Katcher (Lorre-like) was actually born in the former Constantinople but had a less-than-minor career in Hollywood. The Greenstreet type is Bruno VeSota, a Lithuanian out of Chicago. Another lifelong B movie actor, Bruno somehow got the chance to direct, helming such forgotten fare as The Brain Eaters (1958).
The closing credits of this episode list “Luiz Bonfá and the Bola Sete Trio” and I’ve scoured the internet and there is nothing out there to read about the appearance of these two legends on Wagner’s show. It’s a treat for us fans of bossa nova to find this nugget. We all need to thank my reader, Betty, for bringing this to light; this article is now likely the only info on the net about this episode. There is a terrible print of this episode on YouTube. Buddy presents it in “letterbox”, I guess, but the bottom half of the screen is cut off! Beggars can’t be choosers; of course, I could buy the DVDs. Click here to watch; it may be available in your country. But, y’know what happened? I searched YouTube for this episode, found it, watched it and took some frame grabs for this article. Less than two days later, the video has been blocked in my country by NBC Universal. It’s amazing that I saw it while I could. I commented on the vid at YouTube which may have sent up a red flare. YouTube is free, remember; if something on there catches your eye, watch it before it’s gone! But thanks again to Betty who shared with me (and in the comments below) the link to the video on Daily Motion. It’s a much better print. Check it out here.