The tiny nation of San Pablo has requested substantial financial aid from the United States of America, claiming that its substantial gold reserves will provide more than adequate security for the loan. American economist Arthur Winfield has spent some time investigating the state of the San Pablo economy, but his apparent suicide sets alarm bells ringing in Washington. Hence Drake’s arrival ….
The pre-credits sequence is short but very sweet. A car draws up by a cliff edge. The boot is sprung to reveal … a dead body! A man extracts the body and flings it over the edge of the cliff (let’s ignore the fact that it’s obviously a stuffed dummy who takes the dive). The man turns round and we see … it’s Patrick Wymark! Then a policeman turns up (let’s ignore the fact that given it’s a very deserted spot, the chances of anyone else suddenly arriving are quite remote). The policeman is shot dead by … John Le Mesurier! If all that hasn’t piqued your interest, then this probably isn’t the series for you.
San Pablo is an archetypical banana republic (or more accurately, a banana and pineapple republic). The Commissioner of Police. Ortiz, is completely corrupt. We, the audience, already know this as he’s played by Patrick Wymark. Wymark is one of a number of British actors forced to adopt “Arriba, arriba! Ándale, ándale!” accents during the episode. But he’s good enough to get away with it (just).
Plenty of false evidence is produced to prove that Winfield had been leading a hectic social life of drinking and gambling, which provides a compelling reason for his suicide (strengthened by a signed suicide note). Indeed, it seems that Drake has been pretty much convinced – although if so, the arrival of Raquel Vargas (Dorothy White) gives him pause for thought.
This is the point of the story where the ever mounting plot oddities can’t be ignored. I can just about accept that Ortiz likes to do his own dirty work (although surely he could have bribed one of his underlings to dispose of Winfield’s body). But an extra level of suspension of disbelief is required when you learn that Alvarado (John Le Mesurier) is the Minister of Finance. He likes to tag along for body disposal jaunts with a handy rifle? Hmm, okay.
Then we discover that Raquel and Winfield had secretly married, but not in San Pablo as her parents wouldn’t have approved (this is negated at the end of the episode after Raquel tells Drake that her parents have decided they didn’t mind after all). Given that Winfield doesn’t seem to have been in the country for long, theirs was obviously a whirlwind romance. Maybe I’m nitpicking, but this part of the story doesn’t feel right to me.
Dorothy White looked naggingly familiar – one quick trip to IMDb later and I think it’s her final screen credit (as Mrs Firman in Grange Hill) which I particularly remember her for.
Although the story is a little clumsy (surprising, since Oscar Brodney had quite a career, scripting films like The Glenn Miller Story) I did like the moment where Ortiz confronts Raquel. He tells her that she needs to spend a short time in the cells, say a year or so. Although the episode is painted with fairly broad brushstrokes, this short scene is very chilling (and well played by Wymark).
Having appeared in the pre-credits sequence, Le Mesurier doesn’t reappear until the last few minutes. Alvarado and Ortiz take Drake down to the vaults where he rapidly learns that some (if not all) of their gold supplies are nothing more than worthless lead.
This is obviously what Winfield learnt and the reason why he was killed (and since it’s been obvious right from the start, any tension or mystery has long since dissipated). Plus it’s another plot problem. Given that the US isn’t going to lend San Pablo any money without making the necessary checks, killing Winfield only means that someone else – Drake – would be sent in his place. And if they had disposed of Drake, would they go on killing each new replacement? That might add up to a lot of bodies ….
It’s a fairly low mark for the storyline then, but the guest cast (apart from those already named there’s the always reliable Warren Mitchell as a twitchy whistleblower and Fenella Fielding as a vampy hostess) help to paper over the obvious story cracks.