“The Spy Who Loved S+H+E.”
This brisk TV pilot was apparently screened on CBS in early 1980, as a showcase for a possible series depicting the adventures of Lavinia Kean (Sharpe), the female secret agent of the title, as she jets around the globe fighting bad guys while immaculately dressed. Think of it as an early ancestor of Covert Affairs, perhaps, though there are aspects, such as the gadgetry, which have more in common with Roger Moore-era 007. That’s probably not surprising, since the writer here, Richard Maibaum, did a lot of Bond films, from Dr. No until License to Kill. The villain’s scheme is certainly a bunch of Cubby Broccoli: a plan to introduce a biological slime which eats oil into the world’s supplies, and hold UNESCO to an annual ransom, in perpetuity. In this case, it’s actually two villains, Baron Cesare Magnasco (Sharif) and Owen Hooper (Lansing) who faced off in a gold medal boxing match at the Tokyo Olympics, before deciding global terrorism is a better path to fame and fortune than punching each other in the face.
The series never materialized, and its status as a pilot explains why elements – such as Lavinia’s Italian boyfriend – just dangle without resolution. It also features questionable science, with the heroine somehow pulling out of thin air, that freezing the slime with CO2 is the way to deactivate it. Mind you, with Anita Ekberg playing the bad guys’ top boffin, you know you’re looking at style over substance all round. Still, Sharpe has the air of a young Goldie Hawn and there are moments where things work, and you get the frothy entertainment at which this aims. For example, after Lavinia sprays a heavy with “knockout gas”, she is unable to drag the body away to hide it. Fortunately, there’s a trolley nearby, so she uses that… Until she gets to a doorway it won’t fit through…. When she just gives up, and throws a blanket over everything. Also a bit different from Bond is the dynamic between hero(ine) and villain, with Lavinia and Cesare having a sexual attraction that you never saw between Bond and Blofeld. It’s probably for the best, that.
Sharpe doesn’t have a great physical presence, so the fisticuffs require a fair bit as far as suspension of disbelief goes, and Michael Kamen’s soundtrack clings firmly to a touching belief that disco isn’t dead. However, the production values are good, with a lot of shooting on location in Italy. Combine that with a decent cast, and the eighties could have done an awful lot worse than this becoming a full series.
Dir: Robert Michael Lewis
Star: Cornelia Sharpe, Omar Sharif, Robert Lansing, Anita Ekberg