Released By: Film Chest
Release Date: May 29, 2012
Number of Discs: 3
Approximate Running Time: 600 Minutes
Special Features: Making Of Documentary, Photo Gallery, Postcard
Suggested Price: $24.98
The Source: He stands for justice, he has no fear. He’s the agent to call when trouble is near. Lancelot Link was a unique early 70’s Saturday morning children’s series featuring an all ape cast spoofing the secret agent genre that was popular at the time. While only seventeen episodes were produced and it received only sporadic syndication, Link was loved and remembered by anyone lucky enough to have seen it.
The Fanboy Factor: There are several indisputable truths that are well known to children. These facts need never be questioned because they are obviously irrefutable. One of these simple verities is that everything is better with monkeys!
One of the earliest memories I have of watching Saturday morning television concerned a show about chimpanzee secret agents who dressed, acted, and talked like humans and were usually chasing each other around for one reason or another. This show wasn’t on long and I had a very difficult time only a few years after the fact trying to convince anyone that it had ever actually existed. None of my peers seemed to remember the program and adults just assumed I had seen a commercial or snippet of something and then blown it out of proportion. I was an adult before I finally run across a Lancelot Link thermos in a collectibles store and realized I had not imagined this show!
As the 60’s were coming to a close, secret agent movies and television programs were still very popular and had been for most of the decade. Writers Stan Burns and Mike Marner, who were both highly respected in the television industry and had just finished working on the greatest secret agent spoof ever, Get Smart, pitched the idea of doing a spy parody with a cast made up entirely of chimpanzees to producer Allan Sandler. The project was originally conceived as a short subject to be shown theatrically and called The Man from APE. After Columbia Pictures jumped on the ten minute film shot in 35MM, the trio decided the concept would be perfect for a Saturday morning television series and quickly sold it to the ABC network.
The Lancelot Link Secret Power Hour, as the series was retitled, was one of the most expensive programs ever produced for television, especially Saturday morning television, when it debuted as part of ABC’s fall 1970 lineup. Each show consisted of two ten minute Link stories, short comedy bits called Chimpees, and a musical number performed by Lancelot Link and the Evolution Revolution. This roughly thirty minutes of monkey material was padded out with Warner Brothers cartoons to fill a sixty minute timeslot.
Each story concerned the adventures of super spy Lancelot Link who was the top agent at APE, the Agency to Prevent Evil. Lance was aided by Mata Hairi (get it? hairy!), a female agent who was also his girlfriend. They received their missions from Commander Darwin, a chimp bearing a more than passing resemblance to Leo G. Carroll’s Mr. Waverley on The Man from UNCLE, who always referred to his latest debriefing as his “theory”. Every week APE would run afoul of some combination of the villainous characters from CHUMP, the Criminal Headquarters for the Underworld’s Master Plan. CHUMP was lead by Baron Von Butcher who was voiced by actor Bernie Kopell and sounded like an exaggerated version of his Siegfried character from Get Smart. Other CHUMPs included the Baron’s chauffer Creto, the rubber lipped Doctor Strangemind, Charlie Chan like Wang Fu, and the English matriarch The Duchess.
Baron Von Butcher and Creto take the CHUMPcycle for a spin.
The shows were well made and the budget was put to good use. Three quarter human sized sets and props, including a large wardrobe, were created for the chimps plus motorcycles, dune buggies, and even a Rolls Royce! A large number of chimps were used for the series and, as producer Allan Sandler notes in the documentary, they never had any trouble getting a scene done for the show because there was always at least one chimp who wanted to do whatever the action called for. Sometimes the chimps enjoyed their jobs a little too much, like when one of them stole a prop motorcycle and took it for a joy ride in between takes.
The year may have been 1970 but the music was still swinging 60's with Lancelot Link and The Evolution Revolution!
The finished product was memorable, not only for the all monkey cast, but also for the impressive props, fast past action sequences, and some of the funniest and most bizarre dialog ever heard on television. This latter trait was due to having to match the script to the mouth movements of the chimps, much of which was done ad lib during shooting to make the studio voiceover dubbing more effective. As a result, characters often break into song or all manner of unrelated dialog at the end of their lines just so the voices would synch to the chimp’s lip movements. Yes, these things really could be done before computer graphics!
Lancelot Link in 1970 (left) and 2011 (right).
While Lancelot Link proved to be popular on Saturday morning television, ABC just couldn’t wrap their minds around a children’s program that cost in excess of a million dollars. The show was canceled after one season of seventeen episodes was produced but it was repackaged as a half hour show without the cartoons, even though it retained the Secret Power Hour title card, for broadcast in a later time slot the following year. After this, the series was only seen in very limited syndication until the late 80’s when several cable networks picked it up for airing.
The Product: In 2006, Image Entertainment released a two disc DVD set of Lancelot Link that contained twelve of the seventeen episodes. These were derived from washed out and, in some cases, damaged 16mm prints that were probably from the syndication run. Film Chest has not only released the entire series for the first time but they have also gone back to the original broadcast materials for excellent picture and sound quality that will make the previous edition quickly forgotten. The major extra on this three disc set is a making of documentary hosted by producer Allan Sandler. Incorporated in its entirety is the 1998 documentary I Created Lancelot Link. While it was crudely filmed on home video equipment with an open mic, Created does feature extensive and invaluable interview footage with Stan Burns and Mike Marner who have both since passed away. Musical director Bob Emenegger is interviewed on camera about his involvement with the background music for the series as well as the Evolution Revolution. Even the chimp that played Link is located in retirement at a wildlife sanctuary and he and Sandler are briefly reunited.
The Bottom Line: Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp is fun for the whole family. It may be a product of its time but it is still unique enough to seem fresh today some 40+ years later. After languishing undeservedly in obscurity, Film Chest has finally released the only set of this series that fans will ever need. The shows are great quality and the documentary covers every aspect of the production. Highly recommended since everything really is better with monkeys!