Season 1 - originally broadcast
February 2, 1966
French: "Le lion des mers" (The Lion of the Seas)
Writer: Robert Culp
Director: Robert Culp
They stumble onto a terrorized Japanese village as they follow the trail of stolen diamonds and radioactive isotopes, and the Oxford-educated Zulu who seeks revenge on white men by selling industrial diamonds to the Red Chinese.
Godfrey Cambridge (Cetshyayo), Miko Mayama (Mei), Mako (Baby Face), Dale Ishimoto (Captain Shimatsu), Ed Parker (Udo), Joseph Kim (General), Rozelle Gayle (Zulu Guard), Morgan Roberts (Zulu Guard), Don Blackman (Zulu Guard), George Matsui (Mate), Mariko Taki (Reiko), Lois Kinchi (old lady), Yuki Tani (Girl #1), Mori Moto (Girl #2)
FROM THE NOTEBOOKS - Rating
Synopsis: Find the isotope
Highlights/Comments: Music outstanding. Story somewhat opaque. Ambidextrous writing-directing-acting feat by Robert Culp. Fearing that they might be affected by radiation, Scotty says "We might be dead, and not even know it." Scotty's complaint "I get beat up as much as you do, and I never wind up with a beautiful girl."
BACKGROUND ON COURT OF THE LION
When one realizes what a flood of problems “Court of the Lion” encountered while filming, not to mention the fact that Robert Culp, making his directorial debut, had none of the background experience to cope with the unexpected, it was a wonder that this episode came to the screen at all.
However, it not only appeared … but was a visually pleasing and intriguing episode which was a great success.
The inspiration was a book which Robert Culp had come across many years earlier, when searching for a property for a theatrical screenplay he might do.
“Courts of the Lion” related the fictionalised life of Zulu king Shakazulu who reigned in the mid 19th century. The concept behind the TV script was that he might have had a grand-nephew, and that this charismatic figure had the mind of an Einstein, but was no longer a great man, having lost his mission in life and become a Goldfinger-like evil genius.
Premise of the story is that he has stolen a fortune in industrial diamonds from south Africa, and intends to sell them to red China. The idea of holding a village captive is based on Kurasawa's “Seventh Samurai,” and portrays how the people have become virtual slaves, giving up all they have to this man who has overcome them.
Robert Culp completed the script in March 1965, the last of four episodes written during a period beginning in November 1964. This was to be I Spy's James Bond episode - scaled down to television proportions, and being able to direct it was, according to its author, “as important as life itself.”
He says, he thought of the wildest and most far-fetched (but logical) plot he could imagine, and set it in Japan since the company would be shooting there, and he felt, a Japanese fishing village would lend its own color to the story, even though he had never seen one.
Work on the show began with filming in Japan, and was one of the most complex location shoots, as it involved considerable dialogue, with Culp attempting his first day of film directing.
Things went smoothly enough, except for the need of a pearl diver, and Nancy Culp, along on the trip with the children, neatly donned the diving gear and played the part.
When they returned to the U.S., he scouted around southern California to find locations which would match those where they had filmed in Japan, and selected Paradise Cove.
However, when time came to do the dramatic sequences in December 1965 (being the last of the second set of shows filmed), the heavens opened up and washed over southern California with a deluge of Biblical proportions.
The seaside scenes - which amounted to much of the film - could not be shot outdoors, and makeshift beach environments had to be created in studio. Even the sequences at sea had to be managed indoors! But problems didn't stop there. The logistics of trying to complete a film during such a storm were manifold, and it is no wonder that, at the end of the week, there was still a day and a half of shooting left.
And not to be carried into the following week - because the team were off on Monday for their first tightly scheduled trip to Mexico.
The weather and consequent alterations in the shooting schedule caused repercussions well beyond what might have been expected. To play the Zen master, Robert Culp had selected an actor whom he admired for his performance in the 1932 film “Shanghai Express.” The man was located and performed the silent part during the stormy days of shooting.
He still had a scene - with a very important role - in the unfinished part of the script. However, when the crew returned from Mexico, the actor had tragically suffered a stroke, and his critical part could only be manifested by some `sleight-of-hand' editing of the scenes shot during the storm.
It may be noted that the opening sequence was originally to have featured the agent who is killed, on water skies. While this was scaled down to swimming for budgetary reasons, it may have lost some of its James Bond-type action value, but flows in more elegantly with the evocative cliff and beach setting.
Godfrey Cambridge's Cetshyayo was not quite that which the director had anticipated, but most I Spy fans have found his performance appropriately dignified and menacing, a complete change of pace for the late standup comic.
Another performance of note was that of the hit man, played by Robert Culp's karate guru, Ed Parker whom Culp knew would manage to give the appearance of hitting him hard without injuring him.
Robert Culp did not oversee editing of “Court of the Lion,” as the entire series would have been held up, had he taken time from acting to handle this chore. Producer David Friedkin took over for him, and everyone was agreed, he pulled the diverse footage together in harmony with the original script.