The Six Million Dollar Man
Starring: Lee Majors, Barbara Anderson, Martin Balsam, Darren McGavin
DIR: Richard Irving
Blurb (imdb): After an astronaut/test pilot is catastrophically mutilated in a test plane crash, he is rebuilt and equipped with nuclear powered bionic limbs and implants.
My Blurb: This was a 90 minute pilot TV movie designed to introduce Austin and his bionic adventures, but failed to spark a series. But it did do well enough that two more TV movies were made before Steve made the leap to a series.
Scene 01: We open on a computer text crawl defining the word “cy’borg”.
Scene 02: Immediately we switch scenes to a test plane being pulled out onto the tarmac by a pickup truck, where it is being delivered to a large bomber plane [I’m sorry, but I’m simply not going to look up all of these planes to identify what is what as far as their designations. Fortunately I need not do so… you all just know that there‘s a WIKI for that].
Some Air Force personnel and civilians on the tarmac are growing antsy about something. It turns out that Steve Austin is running late for the test flight he’s supposed to be performing and the Air Force suits are getting pissy about it.
Scene 03: Steve shows up minutes before he should be in the cockpit of the test flyer. He’s strolling leisurely across the tarmac.
Steve takes a moment to greet the ground crew, while the General overseeing this test flight is unappreciative of the arrogant stroll of Austin.
[I’m far more disturbed by the red jumpsuit being paired with brown dress shoes, but this is the ‘70s, so I’m afraid that tacky-wear is going to be an ongoing eye assault.]
Scene 04: When Steve walks toward his trailer, he gives a half-assed salute to the General and is called back to be reprimanded for not showing up much earlier for this important flight mission. He’s asked if he knows what time it is, and Steve nonchalantly looks up into the morning sky and announces it’s about five minutes before seven.
He goes off to his trailer to put on his flight suit, while the General stares a hole in his back.
Commentary: Obvs, we’re all supposed to find our hero “too cool for stuffy suits”, but actually he comes across as an ass. A stereotypically, arrogant, borderline insubordinate jet-jockey ass.
Scene 05: One of the civilians with the General rushes up to Steve and greets him. This’ll be Dr. Rudy Wells and he jokes with Steve about antagonizing the wrong people which Austin states is the story of his life. Next Steve is asked about where he’d gone to and Austin relates that he needed to take a walk. He tells Rudy that being out in the desolation of the desert is like being on the moon’s surface again. It relaxes him.
Scene 06: While Steve is getting suited up, the test plane is clamped into place on the underwing of our gigundo plane.
Scene 07: Meanwhile in Washington, D.C. we follow a gentleman we’ll get to know as Oliver Spencer, with briefcase and cane in hand as he heads into work. Oliver works for the Feds.
We also keep an eye out on two security guards escorting another briefcase. This second case is handcuffed to one guard’s wrist.
Scene 08: Back in the desert, Steve leaves the trailer suited up in his flight gear. He’s helped into the cockpit of the test flyer and his equipment is hooked up. He’s sealed in.
Commentary: I want to give credit to the producers and whoever was responsible for the scenes on the airfield with the planes, because they are very impressive and give the illusion that this really is taking place under Air Force supervision.
Scene 09: Back in D.C., Spencer is making his way up to his floor. He seems to have something on his mind.
At the same time the carrier jet takes off with its test plane cargo attached to the wing and a helicopter escort.
Commentary: It’s a bunch of back and forthing, so we’ll just consolidate here and come back when either Oliver or Steve are doing something worth noting.
Scene 10: Spencer makes his way to a meeting room, where some of the people we actually saw on the elevator getting off on a different floor are already seated. Once he reaches the head of the table, he and a boardwoman unlock the case from the guard’s wrist. Within the briefcase is … obvs… sensitive data which is distributed among those gathered at the conference table. Our briefcase security guard remains in the room, and the second guard is inside the doors of this secured meeting room.
Scene 11: Over the desert, the B-52 carrying Steve’s test vehicle is tracked by both ground and fighter jets as it makes its way toward its flight altitude for release of the test vehicle. Cameras, etc. are turned on and a ten second warning is issued to release.
The vehicle drops away from the jet, glinting beautifully in the sunlight. Everyone watches as the test vehicle begins its independent test flight, curving away from its mother craft.
Commentary: The inserted footage of these military planes in flight are stock, so yes - you’ll note the change in film quality. It isn’t really bad… but you can tell by the graininess that it wasn’t shot live. In addition, if you’re a plane enthusiast, you’ll be able to tell that the jets don’t always match up from footage to footage [Though I’ve never understood why… if stock footage exists, then why use different stock footage of different planes in an attempt to represent the same aircraft?? That just seems silly.], as noted on the WIKIA page for this episode.
Scene 12: At the conference room, Oliver is summoned after everyone has had a chance to review the top secret reports. He goes on to tell the assembled that due to problems with the last three security operations that came too close to causing uncontrolled confrontations with other powers, he believes that they require a one-man force who will be able to do things beyond what a single agent can do currently.
Oliver lays out the budget outlay and is asked about how they’ll gain a volunteer for such a project. He tells them that accidents happen all the time, and they’ll use “scrap” from such an accident.
Commentary: The subject is talked around, but since Oliver drops the $6 million dollar price tag, it’s a little silly stiffly speaking around “bionics” or “cybernetics” without just saying the words. What this scene really does for the audience though, is sum up Oliver Spencer as a cold, callous sort of government official which will put him at odds with Steve before they’ve even met. It’s not a bad scene, but it also doesn’t come across as entirely necessary either since we already know going in what they’re talking about.
Scene 13: Austin continues with his test flight. Aboard the plane, the craft begins oscillating through the air and is flying erratically. Steve begins to come in for a landing of the craft, while trying to minimize the rocking motion of the plane.
As he sets down, the craft hits the runway and rolls end over end out of control. We watch the horrific accident on a monitor screen before everything fades to black.
Commentary: One of the things that I like about this stock footage shot, is that we don’t get any music over the accident. It just plays out naturally. Also, if you’ve watched the opening sequence during the series, you’ll note that Steve exclaiming about a blowout, or breaking up isn’t a part of the scene. Though the plane is rocking back and forth uncomfortably, in this telemovie, the crash comes without warning once it touches down without the dramatic voiceovers.
Another thing to mention is that this is in fact stock footage of a real crash involving test pilot, Bruce Peterson. The man was critically injured and lost use of an eye which torpedoed his flight career, but he survived. Although the crash is dramatic, in respect for his not liking to be reminded of it every week in the series credit sequence, I’ve chosen not to screen-cap it here.
Scene 14: We fade in on a monitor in an operating room. Steve Austin has been critically injured and had emergency surgery, headed by Dr. Rudy Wells who is monitoring his vitals -- for some reason, not having had Steve moved to a recovery room. Overseeing from the observation room above sits an impatient Spencer, which may explain why Steve has had to wait it out in the operating theater. He’s joined by the hospital chief of surgery who asks Rudy on Steve’s condition on behalf of Spencer.
Rudy reports that Austin has suffered an arm amputation, the loss of his right eye and due to severe crushing injuries, both legs had to be removed. He also reports spinal damage. Oliver tells Rudy to keep Austin alive on support.
Commentary: It’s really weird to go from Darren McGavin as Kolchak to Darren as Spencer because Oliver is the kind of callous asshat that you just want to kick… preferably in his bad leg, while also kicking out his cane from him. McGavin does what he can with the part, and acts it well enough, but it’s hard to not dislike him, despite most of what he says being factually true and most likely necessary.
I can see why Spencer is replaced by the much warmer and caring character of Oscar Goldman later… especially when the series rolls around, though I do regret that Spencer won’t pop up again after this movie. It’d have been interesting to see a conversation between Oliver and Oscar at some point.
Scene 15: Sometime later, Rudy has dropped into the cafeteria for some of that horrible vending machine coffee. Spencer is sitting at a table, which Rudy refuses to acknowledge.
It takes Oliver to break the ice by pointing out he was waiting there specifically because he was told that Rudy takes his breaks there. He offers that he understands what Wells is feeling as he is aware that Austin is a friend. But he turns talk to business… giving Rudy Wells the resources to attempt the world’s first bionic replacement on a human being using Steve Austin as the test subject.
Wells is taken aback by the offer, but is slow to accept. He’s worried that everything is theoretical and he knows that if Steve’s limb replacements aren’t successful, he’ll have rather died on the operating table. An orderly interrupts their conversation, but a hard glare at him by Oliver and he slips back out without whatever snack he’d come for.
Wells next wonders what would happen to Steve, if the replacement is successful. Oliver Spencer certainly doesn’t need to answer this question, but does so anyway, offering that there are certain jobs where conventional hardware would be impractical and normal agents would be ineffective. Steve Austin will get a second life as a specialized secret agent for such tasks.
Rudy tells Oliver that he’s left him with a lot to consider, but as Spencer is leaving he “mentions” that Steve is already set to be transferred to a secured hospital in Colorado and that rooms are already prepared for he and his staff at the facility. He tells him they’ll be leaving within the hour.
Wells is left to consider what he’s been backhandedly ordered to do and what he believes his friend would want in his situation.
Commentary: Again, I like that this scene is also without musical accompaniment. It’s really nice, perhaps because it’s become so rare, when a scene isn’t filled with musical cues but is allowed to just play out in natural sound and allow us to take it as we will. In this scene, I also like that Darren almost shows a bit of Oliver’s humanity -- despite the fact that you’re not allowed to forget that at the end of the day, he’ll be as ruthless as he feels necessary to get things done. But he’s at least completely honest about this.
Scene 16: We skip over to the mountains of Colorado and into the specialized hospital where we follow Nurse Manners to assist Dr. Wells in prepping Steve for his ground breaking surgery. As Jean prepares a sedative in case Steve reacts badly and then dismisses Jean so that nobody else is with them when Rudy has to explain to Steve what happened to him, and what they want to do next to him.
As Rudy tells Steve that he’s going to share everything, our attention is placed on the heart rhythm monitor… we see Steve’s heart rate suddenly jump as he’s told the shocking news of his accident.
Scene 17: Sometime later, Steve is lying in a state of depression at his state. With effort he pulls his good arm free and knocks over his IVs. He next yanks his air tubes from his nose in an attempt to kill his body.
Nurse Manners however, heard the racket and is in the room almost immediately. Steve pleads for her to not interfere, but despite her anguish at what he’s going through, she places him back into a state of unconsciousness.
Scene 18: Sometime later, Steve has grown strong enough to be taken off life support. Manners comes in and adjusts the shades so the sun isn’t directly in his eye, though he didn’t seem to mind it. He tries to engage her in conversation, but she pretends to be too involved in his charts to respond, unsure of what to say to him.
Steve offers that she must be curious as to why he hasn’t spoken a word to her since she stopped him from unplugging himself and finds out that was four months ago. He jokes that he didn’t have anything to say. They share a small smile. She’s pleased when Steve accepts that thanks to her and Rudy’s intervention, he’s going to stay alive and needs to begin dealing with the extent of what has happened to his body.
Scene 19: Meantime, Rudy’s team is busy building Steve’s bionic parts.
Scene 20: Rudy next shows these parts to Steve. He’s fascinated by the eye replacement when he finds it isn’t a glass one, but the robotic arm disgusts and disturbs him. Rudy ignores his outburst at pushing it away and forces Steve to look and listen to how it will work when it’s attached.
He keeps repeating that this is Steve’s arm. It’ll be indistinguishable to his other arm once its completed. He explains what is going to happen next with the surgery and that when he’s learned how to use the new arm, he’ll be able to hold a woman in his arms and she won’t be able to tell any difference with her human senses. He explains that the same is true of his legs and his eye.
Scene 21: As we get a montage of the finished bionic parts in the lab, Rudy’s voiceover tells us that everything he told Steve was designed to convince him that he could live as normally as he had before the accident. What he didn’t share with him, was the ways that he’d be different - including the physical abilities he’d gain and have to learn to control.
He didn’t dwell on the fact that if successful, Steve Austin would be like no other human being on the planet… a cyborg.
Scene 22: As Steve undergoes surgery, our crotchety friend Oliver Spencer waits in the hallway. In the operating room, Rudy steps away, apparently completed as the support staff take care of getting Austin ready for transfer back to his room.
Spencer waylays Wells as he comes out. Rudy tells him that things went alright, but his tone of voice says differently. Wells isn’t so much concerned about the physical aspect of the replacements, but Steve’s emotional wellbeing. This is something that falls outside of Rudy’s purview and Oliver tells him so in the most callous manner he can.
Commentary: Ugh. Oliver Spencer is the worst sort of government bureaucrat and it’s easy to foresee that Austin would have a very difficult time working under him. He seems like a very poor choice to actually be Steve’s handler in future and you’d think SOMEBODY would’ve cottoned onto the fact [on the other hand, apparently somebody does after this movie, since Oliver vanishes].