Softly Softly: Task Force – The Bounty Hunter

S03E07 (17th November 1971). Written by Robert Barr, directed by Gilchrist Calder

The series has been on a bit of a roll recently. I wonder if this good run will continue? (Spies Robert Barr’s name in the opening credits). Oh dear ….

That’s possibly a little unfair, as although Barr’s scripts haven’t always been the strongest, The Bounty Hunter isn’t that bad, even though the first twenty minutes moves at a glacial pace.

The episode opens with the arrival of a man called James Langley (David Sinclair). He wanders around the town, taking in the sights, but it becomes clear that he’s searching for something (Langley’s taking his time about it though). The film work during these scenes are nice enough, but it just feels like padding (or maybe the series had a certain film allocation for the episode and was determined to use it – whether it benefited the story or not).

We learn that Langley is looking for William Ross (Prentis Hancock). Ross is an associate of Jimmy Price (Hugh Murray), who’s currently serving time for bank robbery. Langley speaks to Price’s father (played by Jimmy Gardner), his wife Betty (Bonnie Hurren) and a friend – Lawrence Morgan (David Hargreaves). All claim not to know where Ross can be found, but eventually (about twenty minutes in) Langley and his fellow strong-arm colleague, Harry Dalton (Mark Moss), manage to run him to ground.

By this point you’re probably wishing that Langley had met Ross within the first five minutes or so, it certainly would have saved all this faffing about. Positives from the first half of the episode? Jimmy Gardner provides a nice turn as Price Snr and there’s a few brief, but entertaining, scenes between Barlow and Watt.

But it’s only when Langley meets Ross and can begin to explain today’s plot that the story really gets going. Price Jnr, Ross and Morgan pulled a bank job several years ago – Ross is doing time for it, but the money (never recovered) is still somewhere on the outside. Langley and Dalton want half of it ….

Villains robbing villains is a nice twist on the more traditional type of plot and David Sinclair exudes considerable menace as Langley (he’s not an actor that I’ve ever really noticed before, but I’ll keep an eye out for his performances in the future). More familiar faces from this era of television for me were David Hargreaves and Prentis Hancock.

Ross (Hancock) – modelling a nice moustache – is the unfortunate one who gets beaten up several times by Langley and Dalton. Although it’s very noticeable that it always happens off-screen (Ross simply reappears with a dash of blood about his mouth or a bruise on his cheek). Was the series that squeamish about pre-watershed violence?

The Task Force are less essential to the story than usual. True, they round up all the baddies at the end and retrieve the money, but the guest actors are the ones who get the most to do. Barlow and Watt share a nice (if brief) pub scene early on though and there’s some comic mileage to be mined from the bun-eating Sergeant Evans.

Slow to get going then, but it turns out to be worth it in the end. The Bounty Hunter was the first of twelve SS:TF stories directed by Gilchrist Calder who would later also work on Barlow at Large and the Barlow/Watt spin offs Jack the Ripper and Second Verdict.

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