Background

On ‘80’s Movies Rewind, Steve Alsberg reports: ‘The film was made because Colgate-Stone (the Producer) who was a capitol equipment leasor (fleets of planes, ships, etc.) had made a large amount of money on a deal in Denmark, and the Danish government required him to spend a portion of his gains in Denmark.

He knew James Clarke, the Writer/Director, socially, and Stone asked if he (Clark) had a script that could be adapted to use Denmark as a location, Clark said he did, and the rest is history.

Myself and my partner did the set construction for the picture including 6 weeks in Copenhagen.’

80’s Movies Rewind

Synopsis by Sandra Brennan

A bungling gumshoe tries hard to affect a hard-boiled demeanor, despite the fact that his latest assignment is to protect the bratty young heiress to a fortune in this lively spoof of detective movies.

Henry Brilliant, Private Eye, is no stranger to the ways of the wealthy as he too comes from a blue-blooded family, but he tries to ignore that to become the classic Chandleresque detective as he heads for Europe to follow the girl on her tour and keep her from being kidnapped by her stepmother, who is really after her husband's secret formula for controlling the weather.

NY Times

Michael Gothard plays Strett, one of the evil stepmother Maxine De La Hunt’s motley crew of henchmen, and evidently the best of the bunch as he survives longer than any of the others, as well as outliving his employer.

Former girlfriend N.B. recalls: ‘For the film "Yellow Pages" we went to Copenhagen in September 1984. That's where Michael was filming for several weeks. I was accompanying him, and met the people on the set, i.e. Chris Lemmon and Lea Thompson. Lemmon flew in only shortly. Copenhagen was the only place he went to for this film. The parts in the USA were made without him.’

The film is generally considered poor, but is reasonably diverting. However, Michael has little to do; he helps kidnap Marigold on behalf of her stepmother, looks menacing, and later chases Henry and Marigold on a roller-coaster in the Tivoli Gardens, where his character – as so often – dies a gruesome death.

Reviews

Sian Thatcher on 80’s Movies Rewind

This film had potential and a talented cast. It’s a shame the script is so poor and they couldn’t just choose a genre and stick with it.

80’s Movies Rewind

~~

TV guide

An unsubtle spoof of detective films, GOING UNDERCOVER features Chris Lemmon as Henry Brilliant, a handsome blueblood who turns his back on high society and struggles mightily to make a living as a hard-boiled private eye.

Wealthy Maxine De La Hunt (Jean Simmons) offers him a tidy sum to guard her high-spirited stepdaughter, Marigold (Lea Thompson), from possible kidnapping on a European tour.

Marigold continually gives Brilliant the slip and makes his life a living hell. Eventually, she is indeed kidnapped, the plot gets twisty, and the formula becomes escape, pursuit, evasion.

Aimed at the Brat Packer audience, GOING UNDERCOVER clumsily grafts elements of a college sex comedy onto the private eye genre. The result is bound to bore audiences of all ages.

Establishing the proper combination of thrills and laughter for a light-hearted suspense film is tricky. GOING UNDERCOVER fails to achieve the difficult balance that distinguished FOUL PLAY or CHARADE, for example, and emerges as neither suspenseful nor amusing. Only veteran Jean Simmons, as the stepmother, lends any finesse to these second-rate spy shenanigans.

TV Guide

~~

Joanna Berry in the Radio Times

This uneven comedy was made in 1984, but for some odd reason (because it was a clunker, perhaps?) remained unseen for four years. Back to the Future star Lea Thompson is the spoilt brat on a trip to Europe who is kept under surveillance by Chris Lemmon, a private eye so unskilled that she gets kidnapped right under his nose. Incredibly silly stuff …

Full review

~~

rsoonsa on IMDB

Completed in 1984 but not released until four years after, this English production offers little of value. Apparently designed to be a pastiche of the hard boiled detective category of cinema, the work features Chris Lemmon as Henry Brilliant, ineffective private investigator who finds difficulty in obtaining employment other than locating lost pets.

His luck appears to improve when wealthy Maxine de la Hunt (Jean Simmons) allegedly selects him directly from his advertisement in telephone yellow pages and offers Henry $2000 per week plus expenses to serve as bodyguard for her stepdaughter Marigold (Lea Thompson) during a European travel junket for co-eds ...

Dangerous adventures lack meaning to a viewer when a production fails to provide a sense of purpose, as in this instance. A motif of scientific espionage involving Marigold's father appears but its connection to the remainder of the storyline is put to bed by heavy cutting.

Originally titled YELLOW PAGES, released with that name in the United Kingdom and upon the Continent, this weak effort is known as GOING UNDERCOVER in the United States, where it ostensibly has acquired a minor cult following, although one wonders why, as there is minimal wit or imagination to be found in it.

Simmons, billed first, is as polished as ever, but Lemmon and Thompson are given the greatest amount of screen time with Lemmon rather charismatic when he is able to avoid the mugging that tarnished his father Jack's performances.

Direction is largely pedestrian with no apparent point of view. The majority of the film's drawbacks follow from the director's own script that bounces about in a generally fatuous manner amid themes of comedy, suspense, satire, et alia.

Full review on IMDB

~~

The Mysterious Traveler

A bumbling Los Angeles Private Investigator is hired to be the bodyguard of the bratty yet attractive daughter of a famous scientist as she takes a cultural tour of Europe. Soon he finds himself entangled in a Soviet plot to control the weather.

A simply hideous "comedy" spy thriller that is wretched on every possible level save one. When 80s films went bad, they went bad in gruelling ways and this film is as good...bad example as any.

Over-lit, cheap-looking, badly edited, sub-literate script and just boring, the film also poorly acted by a resigned cast incapable of doing anything with the material and a lead whose talent is extremely suspect.

It is truly depressing to see Simmons, Gothard and [Adam] West trapped in this thing. West must have had his name taken off the credits since his appearance was a complete surprise.

The only ... and I do mean ONLY bright spot is Lea Thompson as the bratty scientist's daughter. Though why coming out of RED DAWN and in the middle of the BACK TO THE FUTURE trilogy, she agreed to appear in this horror, I cannot say but whenever she is on the screen, the dreary proceedings perk up considerably. Sexy, radiant and surprisingly well dressed … it is obvious that she is a star and going places. Meanwhile it is equally obvious that Chris Lemmon - Jack's son - is not.

Further reviews on Amazon

Watch Going Undercover/Yellow Pages on Youtube.

IMDB entry
This quotation is kindly offered by Michael Gothard's former girlfriend N.B., from a letter he wrote to her on 23 March 1988.

Michael Gothard had worked with Michael Caine on "The Last Valley" in 1971; when Gothard wrote this letter, he had recently been reunited with Caine, to work on David Wickes' film, "Jack the Ripper."

"My reunion with M. Caine, after more years than both of us care to remember, went affably and smoothly, although the nervous director went an intense shade of pale when he tried to introduce us, and neither of us proffered our hands, and I said "we're old enemies."

You could have heard the proverbial pin crash to the floor for a couple of seconds in that studio, until Caine, ever the diplomat, said "we're always enemies in films."

Return of director to normal life, realising that he had not made the worst career move of his life in casting me. In fact, Caine and me had made our salutations a few minutes before."

Caine and Gothard in "The Last Valley" Caine and Gothard in "Jack the Ripper")

In "The Last Valley", Gothard had played Hansen, a mercenary, who rebels against his leader The Captain, played by Caine. In "Jack the Ripper", Gothard was to play political agitator George Lusk, who is a thorn in the side of Caine's Chief Inspector Abberline, and is also one of the suspects for the Ripper murders.
In this epic science fantasy drama, Michael Gothard was eventually cast as European Space Agency Director, Dr. Bukovsky.

Bukovsky appears in the first half of the film, directing investigations into three transparent caskets containing naked aliens, found on the burned-out remains of the joint US/European Shuttle, Churchill.

In trying to rescue a security guard who is having the lifeforce sucked out of him by a newly-awakened female alien, Bukovsky is also attacked, by “the most overwhelmingly feminine presence” he has ever experienced.

He is later involved in the astronaut Carlsen’s debrief, but - having been drained of some of his lifeforce, and distressed by the loss of control - he never really recovers.

Having announced the arrival of the alien spaceship in earth orbit, he suggests that - like the vampires of legend - these space vampires are bringing their earth with them,
Bukovsky isn’t seen again.

He is later said to have died “like the rest”, though in the absence of evidence, it is tempting to think that he might have just gone for a quiet smoke and a lie down!

The film divides opinion, with reviews ranging from the “so bad it’s good” variety to “flawed genius”, with Jungian and Freudian readings, and suggestions that this was a parable about AIDS.

The film won the 1985 Caixa de Catalunya for Best Special Effects (John Dykstra), and was nominated for the 1986 Saturn Awards for Best Horror Film, and Best Special Effects.


Casting

Michael’s friend Sean McCormick tells of how, when he last saw Michael, “he had just lost the lead role in the Toby Hooper film 'Space Vampires' [released as 'Life Force' on June 21, 1985] to American actor Steve Railsback, and it crushed him. I think it was one of the straws on the camel's back that started his six or seven year darkness.”

Former girlfriend, N.B remembers, “I think there was talk about Michael getting another part in that film Lifeforce. I am pretty sure he talked about the crooked ways in which people (actors) got shuffled about and got made redundant or put to minor roles than was originally foreseen. He was angry, but didn't want to do anything about it. He hated going to places where you could socialise with directors and producers. He wasn't that kind of a person who wanted to ingratiate himself in order to get a job.”

Per an uncredited contributor to IMDB, Anthony Hopkins and Terence Stamp were the original choices to play Colonel Caine. Michael Gothard screen-tested for the role, but after meeting Peter Firth, director Tobe Hooper decided to give Firth the role, and gave Michael the role of Dr. Bukovsky instead.

A.S., the daughter of one of Michael’s close friends, confirms that both roles were supposed to have been on the cards for Michael.

"I don't remember if Michael talked to me about it, or to my father while I was around, but I remember that Michael was supposed to get the role of either the Commander of the mission [a role that went to Steve Railsback] or Colonel Caine [eventually played by Peter Firth], but was shuffled into the less important role of Dr Bukovsky.

He didn't blame the other actors at all, but ‘the business’: the producers, and the fact that actors had to play the political game - 'prostitute themselves', as he put it - to get on. He hated that actors had to go to parties, and stitch other actors up. Michael would NOT play the game. He felt actors should be cast on their merits, but that now they had become pawns, and talent didn't count for much.

I'm only surprised he didn't pull out, but perhaps his contract made that impossible, otherwise he would have no hesitation in telling a producer where to go. I’m sure the disappointment over that film helped push him further away from acting."

~~

Michael had worked with Peter Firth before, on "Arthur of the Britons", where Firth guest-starred as Corin in "The Pupil."

Personal statement

In correspondence with Belsizepark, Mathilda May, who played the alien vampire girl, (and was supposedly embarrassed by the film), says of Michael Gothard: "I remember him as a lovely person; a gentleman ..."

Watch on Youtube

IMDB entry
“Scarecrow and Mrs. King, which ran on CBS from 1983 to 1987 may well be the only bona fide hit spy show of the entire decade, making it a fairly important entry in the canon of spy TV. It’s taken a long time to appear on DVD, sought after by nostalgic fans and by curious viewers like me, who missed it in its day …it’s a lot of fun!”

full article at Double O section

Filming

The series often used unusual locations. Episode seven of series 2, “Our Man in Tegernsee”, is set in Munich, and in Tegernsee, a small ski and spa resort town near Munich, on the Germany/Austria border. Tegernsee is one of several small towns on the shore of Lake Tegernsee, amid the Bavarian Alps.

According to Michael’s former girlfriend, N.B., who accompanied him, this episode must have been filmed in late spring or early summer 1984, as it was quite soon after they first met.

Michael’s role

Michael Gothard once again plays a villain: a neo-Nazi from Paraguay, Karl Portillo.

Having found some old counterfeiting plates, Portillo intends to go through with an old Nazi plot to undermine the US currency, by flooding the market with fake US dollars. His neo-Nazi friends in Paraguay are hoping to come to power as a result of his activities.

But Mueller, who originally led him to the plates, has been spending some of the counterfeit money before the time is right, and drawn the attention of the German authorities, as well as that of American agent, Scarecrow, whose partner, Mrs King, was passed some of the counterfeit notes.

Another of Portillo’s associates, US agent, Harry Hollinger, kills Mueller for his incompetence, but says he needs Portillo’s help to get rid of Scarecrow.

They lure Scarecrow to an isolated sawmill, intending to kill him. But Scarecrow has brought back-up in the form of local police Lt. Volkenauer, and Portillo is out-gunned, and gives himself up.

He tries to persuade Volkenhauer that they are both on the same side, because they are both German, but Volkenhauer says he has enjoyed foiling Portillo’s plot, and arresting him.

Lt. Volkenauer was played by Stuart Wilson, who had recently appeared with Michael in “Ivanhoe”, in which he played the Norman lord Maurice de Bracy, and Michael played Athelstane.

Trivia from IMDB

In Germany, this episode has not been aired on TV due to its plot around the Nazis and their WW2 treasure. It only has been made available with the German 2011 DVD edition of season 2, still with German subtitles only instead of the usual German audio synchronization.

Series background

“A housewife, Mrs. King, is handed a package by a secret agent, Lee Stetson, who is being pursued by bad guys. Mrs. King gets a job working for Mr. Stetson's agency, doing secretarial work, as needed, but ends up working with him on his cases. She is not really accepted by agent Francine Desmond, because she has no training and has a self-deprecating, ditsy style, which adds to the humor in the show. She is accepted by the other agents.”

full article at TV.com

Watch on Youtube

NB. Michael appears in parts 2 and 4.

part 1
part 2
part 3
part 4
part 5

IMDB entry
This production was filmed in 1984, though it was not released until 1988.

Per. Michael's former girlfriend N.B., they went to Copenhagen in September 1984.

"That's where Michael was filming for several weeks. I was accompanying him, and met the people on the set, i.e. Chris Lemmon and Lea Thompson. Lemmon flew in only shortly. Copenhagen was the only place he went to for this film. The parts in the USA were made without him."
Former girlfriend N.B. mentioned that during the time she was with him, 1984 - 87, Michael had jammed with fellow musicians, including Clive Bell.

In answer to my questions about these times, Clive had this to say:

"For about a year or so, Mike, myself, and a few others, used to meet for jam sessions, where we attempted to play jazz; it was very amateurish. We never played outside the
house.

Mike used to play the sax, and sometimes the flute, while I played the piano.

Later, Mike found other more experienced or professional musicians, and for a while even studied jazz with the bass player Peter Ind. But after our first brief moments we never played music together again, although we were friends, and remained so until his death."
The following piece was added to ‘Wikipedia talk’ on 17 November 2011 at 13:53 by someone calling themselves The Runewriter - evidently a Swedish person, sex unknown.

A lot of what they say about Michael is accurate, and not widely known, so The Runewriter had clearly met him, and got to know him. Michael’s former girlfriend N.B. thinks the person might be a Swedish woman called Kerstin, who was living at Michael’s house in Shirlock Road in 1984.

However, some of what The Runewriter says cannot be confirmed.

“In the spring of 1984, Michael Gothard came to Stockholm to stage a minor role in a film called ‘Starman’, where he was originally cast for the title role. However, due to some intrigues, he was replaced by Jeff Bridges.

In the film you can see that the mechanical dolls, supposed to show the Starman taking the shape of a human being, are based on Michael Gothard’s traits. He would have been perfect to embody this alienated personality trying to survive by adapting to the life on earth.

Instead he was to stage a researcher in wheelchair. Anyway the film a year later was promoted with Michael Gothard’s name in capital letters, as if he still was playing one of the leading characters.1

So he had a lot of hours off in Stockholm and went to a performance of ‘King Lear’ staged by Ingmar Bergman at the Dramatic Theatre.2

Michael Gothard was an intellectual man who knew his Shakespeare by heart, and probably he was the only one in the film team who bothered to attend a theatre performance in Swedish. I happened to sit behind him and got the whole story about ‘Starman’, and it really astonished me.

I visited Michael Gothard in London, and learned to know him as a warm, intelligent and humorous character that made original remarks and comments about things going on.

I will never forget what he said about the centre of Stockholm, that used to be a place with old houses – among them palaces from the 17th and 18th centuries. When Michel saw the brutal city renewal from the 70s he would go: "I didn't think Sweden was in the war!" I had to inform him that the stupid Swedes had destroyed their city.

Talking about war, Michael told me he had suffered through the Blitz as many other Londoners, but during those – also to grown-ups scaringly dark years – he was parted from his parents.

Michael Gothard, although working for the commercial film industry, was a culturally critical person, he was a member of the peace movement, he was against nuclear power and politically leftist.

A film he recommended to me from those times was ‘My Dinner with Andre’, not interesting for its camerawork, but for its way of explaining the social situations of actors.

He told me that he in the beginning of his career had been offered a job at RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company), and I asked why he hadn't tried this, and I must say I never really understood his answer; it was something about not repeating yourself.
But I thought film actors had to repeat the scenes all the time ...

Before Michael Gothard chose to work with his language as an actor, he had also volunteered as journalist at local papers.3

He was a witty and funny letter writer.

Michael Gothard was a multi-talented person, he played the saxophone, he was also sketching what I remember as abstract pictures, and he closely followed his times, describing himself as a news addict.

Coming from a country famous for its suicides, I also want to add, that of course the cause of death throws its shadow on a person’s life, but it doesn't mean that the life itself was a very dark one. At least Michael and I had a lot of fun together, and I wish our friendship had lasted longer.

What also bothers me are some stories about the less serious parts of the film industry Michael told me. He said actors could sometimes get killed and their death then masked as a suicide or an accident, so they wouldn't have to pay the actor.

Anyway, if he took his life it wasn't an action against us that loved him, it was due to very sad and tragic circumstances. Depression is a disease with as big a risk of death as some severe forms of cancer, and it has to be treated by specialists, sometimes even in hospital. What a tragedy that there was no one there to take him by the hand and lead him to the hospital.”

~~

1 While the mechanical bodies could be said to look like Michael, there is no sign of him in the film. Either his role was cut completely, or there has been a misunderstanding or misremembering by The Runewriter. I can find no trace of Michael Gothard’s name on the Swedish poster for “Starman.”

However, Michael was said to have been in the frame for two other roles in “Lifeforce”: those of the hero, Col. Tom Carlsen (eventually played by Steve Railsback) and Col. Colin Caine (eventually played by Peter Firth) before he was eventually cast as Dr. Bukovsky.

As they posted this many years later, it seems possible that The Runewriter's memory is a little unreliable, and that he or she has got these two films mixed up.

Neither of the two productions were filmed in Sweden, so presumably Michael had gone there during a break in, or at the end of, the filming of his scenes in "Lifeforce."

2 The Ingmar Bergman production of King Lear mentioned by The Runewriter was first performed on 9 March 1984.

3 Childhood friend Baz encountered Michael working as a trainee reporter for the Kensington Post in 1961.
I managed to contact one of Michael's former tenants, Malcolm, who had this to say:

"Yes, I am that person who lived at Michael’s house in Hampstead. He was a landlord at that time and took people into his house on a rental basis. I was in the house for about a year. Michael didn’t interfere with his tenants except when the rent was required. He wasn’t overly concerned if you couldn’t pay the months rent, provided it was paid the next month.

I found him to be an intelligent man.

He had the top floor, and I remember he had a stunning looking girlfriend. I sometimes spoke to his girlfriend, [M.T.] but was in awe of her beauty and I recall her as a very nice person.

I seem to recall seeing into his flat on one occasion, and I think it featured a large bed under some skylights, with spectacular views of the British weather.

Michael had a female friend who lived up the road and who was into collecting magic mushrooms on Hampstead Heath.

I remember the house had a back garden that was accessed by the ground floor flat at the back. The house had 3 flats on the lower floor. Lots of the tenants were actors/actresses. The garden flat was occupied by a starlet on one of the soap operas, and the other room by a musician.

I had to leave, after Michael and I had a fight. One Sunday, I heard screaming from a woman in the house opposite the back garden in Shirlock Road. It sounded like she was being beaten by somebody.

I was leaving the house to see if she needed help, when I bumped into Michael who advised not getting involved. However, I ignored this advice and went round the corner, to find the police had already arrived.

I was returning to Shirlock Road when Michael approached me and was very upset I had ignored his advice. He pushed me, and I hit him and nearly knocked him out.

The next thing I knew, the police had arrested me for assault and asked Michael whether he wanted to proffer charges.

Although he had a swollen and cut lip, he declined, and I was freed.

He was a big man and somewhat intimidating; the reason I won the fight was that I was earning my living as a building labourer, and was extremely strong and tough – sadly no longer the case!

That evening, M.T. came to see me, and advised that I should leave the house.

The next morning, I packed.

This is a bizarre incident, and to this day I don’t know why Michael was so upset at me trying to help what sounded like a woman in distress."

~~

Michael had already amicably split up with M.T. by this point; she still lived in the same house, but N.B. was Michael's girlfriend at the time of this incident.

N.B. says: "I can recall this incident with Michael and Malcolm, as it happened when I was with him. I think this story about some people having fights in his neighbourhood was not new. I remember that there were incidents of a similar kind. And I think he had interfered once himself, and it hadn't been a very good idea.

That's probably why he was suggesting that this young guy should better not get involved. Maybe he was just concerned about the consequences for someone in his house and he probably was also a bit angry that the man in question didn't take his advice. It is typical for Michael that he didn't want to sue him afterwards.

I think he wasn't too upset, but thought of the young man as being a bit rash. But as you know, he always had a lot of patience with youngsters."
The last episode of "Arthur of the Britons" was first broadcast 28 November 1973.

Kai best regards

Former girlfriend N.B. said, 'I remember that he talked about the fans he used to have after the TV series of "Arthur of the Britons" and that his picture was very sought after for a certain period of time.'

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