Monday, February 16, 2015

#34: Thief of Budapest

Season: 1

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
MacGyver is in Budapest to pick up a watch that has contains the names of KGB agents in London. The watch is stolen by a young Gypsy girl, and MacGyver traces the watch from one point to the next.  Eventually he finds it, and then he and the girl's family escape Hungary with the KGB hot on their tail.  

Memorable Quote:
MACGYVER!!!!  ~Kossov

The opening gambit - my God, what a sublime 6 minutes of television.  Great locale, amazing Edelman music, and an insane stunt with the horse getting lifted into a helicopter.  I always wondered as a kid why Khan seemingly let himself be hooked by MacGyver's crook (no pun intended), but that's just a minor observation and not to take away from a fantastic opening.

By the way, my opening gambit rankings thus far go like this:
1. Stealing the horse
2. Rescuing the geologist (this is very close to #1)
3. Retrieving documents in the junkyard
4. Rescuing prisoner and defusing bomb on the mountain
5. Escape from East Berlin in the coffin turned jet ski
6. Rescuing the lady general on the beach

Still one more opening gambit to come.  Where will it rank?  Stay tuned!

Not a huge fan of the Reena character - just seems over the top and unnecessary. 

Best MacGyverism:
Originally I was going to go with the sugar/salt/weed killer bomb, but upon rewatching I prefer the clever trick of attaching the barbed wire to the moving bulldozer to create a barrier.   

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • 00:55 mark - a shake
  • 7:33 - famous shot of MacGyver eating the ice cream cone in front of the traffic light. But why does he throw away the cone?!
  • We get our first look at Jana, played by Kora Cypress (formerly Kelly McClain).  The Phoenix Foundation podcast recently interviewed her (starts at the 52:50 mark).  I like how she tosses the pocketknife up in the air to taunt MacGyver after stealing it for the second time. 
  • 10:18 - "Yo, Grotz."  ~MacGyver
  • The lead agent is KGB Major Nikolai Kossov whose character reappears in Lost Love (but played by a different actor).  And not a great job by him and the Hungarian inspector to wait 3 hours for Grodsky's contact (MacGyver) to appear, and then to not pay him any attention and lose track of him right away.  
  • 13:18 - "And if I am cold, you could freeze to death."  ~Kossov
  • 13:48 - "Hi, I'm in the market for a Swiss Army knife."  ~MacGyver
  • How does Jana know what time the supply truck gets to the labor camp?
  • Three iconic images from the prison escape (which is my favorite part of the episode not including the opening gambit) that appear in the opening song, all within 20 seconds of each other:
    • 24:19 - dragging the barbed wire with foot
    • 24:29 - unscrewing the steering wheel
    • 24:36 - starting the bulldozer
  • 26:19 - "Yana's brother sold the watch to another gypsy, a 'fenf' named Reena."  I can't tell what MacGyver says there - it sounds like "fenf."
  • Regarding the infamous use of car chase footage from "The Italian Job," a popular film from 16 years prior, it's understandable why some may get their undies in a bunch about it, but it doesn't bother me all that much.  At the same time, it would have been better to alter the story so that they didn't have to blatantly steal 8 minutes of footage from a movie.  If that had happened today, the internet would explode.   
  • 43:06 - another pronunciation question: what does Kossov say at the end of this phrase, "No, they're in Austria.  We can't afford the 'major ince.'"

    Final Analysis:
    Another epic, classic, globe-trotting, big budget, first season adventure.  Like The Golden Triangle, it was hard for me to decide where to rank this one.  I enjoy it, and it has a lot of sentimental value from when I was a kid, but it also has some flaws (including 8 minutes of footage from a movie) and is not quite top-30 material for me.  It's the opening gambit that really pushes it up to the ranking that it holds.  And it really is too bad that the bloated Season 1 budget couldn't have continued ad infinitum because they sure are fun episodes. So now we've had 5 season 1 episodes in a row.  I think it's time to go in a new direction....right?


    1. I figured this one was coming next. This was my favorite opening gambit and the six minutes from the gambit lends currency to the rest of the hour for me. The Randy Edelman music was intense and fit the mood perfectly, the villains were ominous (Khan in particular scared the bejeezus out of me as a boy swinging that scimitar on the dirt mound), the production was out of this world and nothing like anything I've seen on TV before or since and particularly for a six-minute stand-alone action sequence, and the stunt was one of the best I've ever seen, winning an award for Stunt of the Year back in 1985 that I believe included TV and film. The jousting scene was fun but I agree it was the weakest moment of the gambit since Khan didn't have any fight in him. Curiously, whenever I show this stunt to people the reaction is mixed. Half of them think the stunt is mind-blowingly awesome while others are petrified that the horse was treated inhumanely. I once read an article from either the owner or the trainer of that horse and they didn't seem overly distraught about the horse being subjected to the stunt, although it does seem like it would be a pretty traumatic thing for a horse to endure and I'm surprised PETA wasn't protesting at the time (maybe they were).

      Another interesting tidbit about this episode is that Paramount dropped the ball and placed a cable-edited version the DVD set. There are more than two minutes of scenes from the original that were cut from the USA version and remained cut on the DVD. This speaks to Paramount's indifferent treatment to the series then and now more than anything else. released full episodes of MacGyver online about eight years ago and I was able to watch the unedited version of "Thief of Budapest" and see the cut scenes. Nothing unforgettable, but still disappointing that I don't have the full episode on DVD. Anyway, there was much like about the episode and I thought the story had definite momentum in the first half. The child actress who played Jana (Kelly McClain) had a terrible dubbed voice but was otherwise a pretty decent actress. Her pickpocket scene with MacGyver when he first arrived in Budapest was great and the way she got herself and her gypsy family immersed in the international spy game was nicely done. The prison escape was definitely fun but the "light bulb sandwich" gimmick was weak and I'm pretty sure there's a missing ingredient in his explosive cocktail as I don't think salt, sugar, and weed killer mixed together would produce a bomb. Obviously that was a necessary element in explosive MacGyverisms, but in no case was it more obvious that they were leaving something out than in that episode. And I actually liked Rena and the whole scene in her bar. She had clever lines and some genuine chemistry with MacGyver.

      1. I thought about the horse too and am surprised that the stunt was allowed to happen. It'd be interesting to know the back story there. And I did notice that the DVD cut was only 44 minutes - too bad that CBS is now a pay site because I'd be curious to watch the additional 2 minutes. When you mention Paramount's indifferent treatment of the series, what all are you referring to? I do wish there was more on the DVD in the way of special features.

      2. I believe there were seven cuts from the online version that didn't make it onto the DVD, although a few of them were very brief. The longest two deleted scenes was right at the beginning of the main episode which featured some stock aerial footage of Budapest set to ethnically compatible Randy Edelman music. He also had an encounter with the guy outside of Rena's bar before he went inside that lasted at least 30 seconds.

        As for Paramount's indifferent treatment, the studios used to put out all kinds of promotional toys and other memorabilia for other 80s action shows of "MacGyver's" era that had a younger-skewing audience. Paramount put out just a barebones selection of MacGyver memorabilia back in the day to promote the series that you were unlikely to find at your local drug store along with all the "Fall Guy" and "A-Team" stuff that filled the shelves. Like ABC, they never seemed to realize the potential of the "MacGyver" franchise and dropped the ball on something that was always on the cusp of breaking out into a major cultural phenomenon but fell a little bit short of its potential at the time because everybody surrounding the show was more interested in promoting other stuff. As for the DVDs, Paramount opted for the most barebones possible treatment, churning out new sets every three months and producing all seven seasons in less than two years, and Paramount was way behind the curve getting "MacGyver" to DVD in the first place despite the demand. It took "MacGyver" winning an online contest for series people most want to see on DVD for Paramount to be reminded for the umptieth time that the show they long shrugged off had a fan base willing to shower the company will ill-deserved money for the product they owned rights to. And the sets sold very well. That's the upside to barebones DVD sets without any extras....the sets can be made available for under $30 and sell much better than sets with tons of extras that sell for over $50. Still, at least one season deserved some extras on the DVD set for the sake of the fans but Paramount appeared to not even consider it.

    2. As for lifting the car chase scene of "The Italian Job" to occupy roughly a quarter of the episode, this wasn't necessarily disqualifying for me but it has knocked this episode down a few rungs on my list over the years. As an eight-year-old I didn't know this footage was lifted from a movie and was quite impressed by it. It's still a fun stretch of footage that I enjoy watching and rewatching, and between MacGyver's credit card in the stoplight gear gimmick and the duck-taped police radios floating above the city, there was a MacGyver twist to the proceeding that is worthy of acclaim. The ending was weak though, both the ease with which MacGyver busted through the Hungarian border gates (their border guards surrendered more easily than Khan!!!) and the ease with which MacGyver arranged for this gypsy family to instantaneously emigrate to America. With all that said, this was a solid episode with better overall acting than the first two episodes and a well-crafted story. But I had this episode ranked about 10-12 positions higher a few years back before I decided than I can't rate an episode that poaches 10 minutes worth of footage from a 1960s movies higher than ambitious and similarly well-crafted episodes like "On a Wing and a Prayer" and "The Ten Percent Solution". I ended ranking this one #76.

      My opening gambit rankings thus far....

      #1. horse retrieval
      #2. rescuing the pilot in Mongolia
      #3. rescuing the geologist
      #4. turning coffin into jet ski
      #5. junk yard
      #6. beach house lady general

      1. I liked the car chase also as a kid, especially the part where the three cars pull into the parking lot and back into the open spots to blend in.

      2. I think my favorite scene from the car chase was how the bad guys' car stopped on a dime only inches away from the edge of the rooftop. That was some pretty bold stunt work. I like the parking lot bit you mention too.

    3. I was gonna make ya'll wait until my review for this episode, but I decided I'll give you this now... =)

      Regarding the horse rescue - when I was a kid, I had a subscription to Horse & Rider magazine (I <3 horses *g*). Later, after I was a MacGyver fan, I was flipping through old issues and came across a reference to MacGyver, so I read the article. It was about this gambit. They had a saddle/harness specially designed for this stunt. They were very specific not to come up with anything that would damage/hurt the horse. It was a unique design, because the horse also had to be able to gallop wearing the saddle/harness and it had to fit snuggly around the horse so it wouldn't fall from the helicopter.

      It's a practical effect - no CGI or silly green-screens for this (unless they added some stuff in post). They legit lifted that horse and stunt-rider off the ground with a freakin' helicopter. It's one of the coolest stunts I've seen on TV, and, like ya'll, this is probably my favorite of the opening gambits.

      I probably still have the article somewhere, but I'll be damned if I know exactly where. It could be in a box at my parents' house or stuff in a scrapbook somewhere around my apartment or something. But I know I pulled it out of the magazine and kept it.

      1. Thanks for sharing, that's interesting. I still wonder what effect being raised that high off the ground would have on the psychology of the animal, but unfortunately we can't ask them.

      2. Stunt animals are usually treated really well (sometimes better than the actors), so I'd assume they knew the horse wouldn't be overly traumatized by the action. And the Horse Whisperer wasn't around to 'translate' for us then either. =)

    4. I think the article you're referencing is the one I came across. I didn't remember the specifics but thanks for clarifying. It was an incredible stunt and I'm glad to hear they protected the horse as well as they did during the filming. I suspect it's still available online although my brief Google search didn't yet yield it. I know I found it online back in 1997 in college.

      1. Oops...meant as a response to Highlander's post.

      2. Yeah - I've tried to locate it via google and haven't had any luck the last couple times I tried.

        The article is def'ly from '85 or '86 though. There was a photo w/ it of the horse hanging from the helicopter and possibly of the horse running across the beach. The part I remember best is the guy who made the saddle/harness being really excited about coming up with a design to do all of the things they wanted to do with it. =)

    5. I was really looking forward to rewatch this episode as the one set in my little home country, so I apologise for this being probably my only write-up to use the character limit up (which, as I finally found out through much experimentation, is actually 4096 minus the number of line breaks), and that after taking a couple thousand off. I really didn’t want to chop it up!
      I din’t used to know how special the opening gambit was; having seen service dogs lifted into the air by choppers before, I didn’t realise the difficulty of it.
      No-one had a Hungarian name but Borza is a village in a part of Romania that used to belong to Hungary before the 1920 treaty. The portrayal of the gypsies was much like the MacGyverisms, almost following reality. Indeed a lot of them have no papers and addresses and they are the biggest ethnic group in Hungary but officials would never put it the way Messic did with the dogs and fleas – on the contrary. Authorities tend to be overly cautious towards them to stay politically correct, and even then, their percentage is ten times higher in prisons than in the general population. Another difference is that their children are rarely seen in public, or if they are, family is always around and it would have been them grabbing iron bars the moment MacGyver tried to catch Jana. But most often they roam in groups of at least 4-5 men in their twenties, and the safest it is to act like you didn’t notice them. This is why I can’t even tell whether Jana’s “why do they hate us?” question or MacGyver’s answer was more wrong.
      Another unfortunate moment was when MacGyver made that weirdly out-of-place, unnecessary and completely off derogatory remark of the nation’s internationally favoured soup, lovely to see it cut from the short version! A pity to hear him being as rude as Zoe was about the English breakfast!
      Seeing the episode now with original language, I hear that even the supposedly Hungarian Messic pronounce Budapest wrong! The “u” should be like in put, not “oo”, “yu” or “yoo” (think of Buddha), and the “s” is like in sugar (or imagine the “h” after it). Having first seen the series in Hungarian, I never knew about the kids dubbed over.
      I liked the plot twists around the watch and the very neatly executed Borza escape!
      The pub’s atmosphere was spot-on. We don’t have pubs that look like those here in the UK – we have restaurants that are more, and pubs that are less posh than UK pubs.
      I think MacGyver meant to say “a fence called Reena”. I’m surprised he told her all about the watch and that the names on it weren’t encrypted or concealed. I remembered the hairpin-magnifier but not that it didn’t work! I did try it with a bottle of water instead and had much better results!
      I was very impressed with the car chase then just as disappointed to learn that it was from another movie, though the editing looks quite good, maybe except for the different gloves at the chicken grab. They even got away with the flags as they are the same with the colours reversed, just all the cars differed from those of the Eastern Bloc. The stopping on the rooftop is awesome, is it a reverse played backwards?
      “FORGALOMFEN EL HATALOM”?? „Forgalom” is traffic but we have no word like “fen”. „Fenn” means “up”, perhaps they meant the upkeep (maintenance) of traffic...? „El” is “away” and „hatalom” is “power” but not the electrical kind but what people or organisations have (authority). So the accurate translation is: TRAFFICFEN AWAY AUTHORITY. And how about the controls in the box labelled up in English and the Austrian border minutes from Budapest...!
      At the end of the episode I think Kossov says, “we can’t afford a major incident”.
      All in all, I didn’t like this episode as much as I thought I would, mainly for the foreign implant car chase, and especially for MacGyver thinking that he is more knowledgeable about gypsy-Hungarian relationships and Hungarian cuisine than he is so I didn’t keep the whole episode. Jana is definitely my favourite child from the series together with Tommy Giordano, they’re both very likeable and expressive!

      1. Great stuff, thanks for the insights Rita!

      2. Thanks for the insights about the gypsy culture in Hungary, Rita. It's definitely not something I'm personally familiar with. I'm just now reading your commentaries and am grateful for the perspective of another fan who grew up with the show in their formative years as most of us regular commenters on here did.

    6. Now, that was a nice dosis of Season 1. I really like this episode, love the end when MacGyver hugs and kiss the girl. He looks so paternal there, that instant really appeals to me, not sure why.

      So, here MacGyver is eating chocolate ice cream. TV magic will change it to strawberry later.

    7. Khan is played by veteran heavy Sid Haig, often a biker villain in 70s/80s TV, and more recently known for starring in the 2003 Rob Zombie film House of 1000 Corpses.

    8. Lee Katzin directed 1971's "Le Mans" with Steve McQueen. Katzin also directed the opening gambit. The main story is directed by John Patterson, but curiously Mac's gesture at the end is like McQueen's to his racing nemesis at the end of "Le Mans," except Steve uses two fingers. I think it basically means "up yours."

    9. The music from the horse scene sounds a lot like the balloon over egypt scene from the Chipmunks Adventure.

    10. As I've mentioned before, this one is not my favourite. There are a few bits I enjoy, but it all seems a tad messy. The Italian Job footage at the end is pointlessly boring, and I find the small girl annoying. I love the opening gambit, though. Wish they'd used them throughout the series.

    11. Like this episode, love the opening gambit and the horse being lifted up, wasn't expecting that. Noticed a van/camera crew round the 05:17 mark. We must have the shortened version of the episode though as some of what Mark is talking about we dodn't see.