The Master is here!!!

THE MASTER (1984)

This was my favorite tv show as a wee Brain Hammer. It’s incredibly cheesy ninja fun with the legendary Lee Van Cleef starring as the wise old ninja master McAllister, Timothy Van Patten (“Class Of 1984”) as his headstrong heart throb apprentice Max, and the one and only Shô Kosugi (“Enter The Ninja”) as the deadly ninja Okasa.

There were lots of incredible guest stars throughout the series including Demi Moore (“Parasite”), Claude Atkins (“The Curse”), Clu Gulager (“Return Of The Living Dead”), Brian Tochi (“Revenge Of The Nerds”), Mickey Jones (“Vacation”), Randi Brooks (“Hamburger: The Motion Picture”), George Lazenby (“James Bond”), Art  Hindle (“The Brood”), Stuart Whitman (“Eaten Alive”), William Smith (“Memorial Valley Massacre”), Kane Kosugi (“Revenge Of The Ninja”), Jennifer Runyon (“To All A Good Night”), Crystal Bernard (“Slumber Party Massacre II”), and even Britt Leach, better known as MISTER SIMS in “Silent Night Deadly Night!” Not to mention the kick ass original music by none other than Bill Conti of “Rocky” fame!

THE MASTER is arguably the greatest show in the history of television. A fucking MASTERPIECE!!! 

(please note – all the text that follows is NOT written by me, it was taken from wiki, so props to the lunatic who took the time to write all this awesome shit!)

 

PREMISE:

THE MASTER follows the character of John Peter McAllister, an American veteran who stayed in Japan following World War II and became a ninja master. At the beginning of the series, McAllister, now an old man, leaves Japan for the United States in search of a daughter he did not know he had. This flight from his ninja life is seen as dishonorable by his fellow ninja, including his former student, Okasa (Sho Kosugi), who attempts to assassinate him. Escaping with a minor wound, McAllister finds himself in the small town of Ellerston, where he believes his daughter resides.

Along the way, he meets a drifter named Max Keller, who sunshine the ninja master in a bar fight, but is subsequently thrown through a window, a recurring event for the hot-headed Keller. Max desires to learn to fight like a ninja, but McAllister is reluctant to train him, feeling him to be too emotional. When Max gets involved in a dispute between Mr. Christensen (Clu Gulager), a ruthless developer, and the Trumbulls (Claude Akins, Demi Moore), a father and daughter who run an airport targeted by Christensen, McAllister decides to train him to survive.

The pair goes on to have many adventures traveling the country in search of McAllister’s daughter, who of course is never found, as the series only lasted one season. Keller and McAllister often get sidetracked by oppressed people, and invariably McAllister uses his ninja skills to help save the day, hopefully teaching Max at the same time. Max spends a lot of time getting thrashed, however.

A recurring enemy is Okasa, the rogue pupil of McAllister, who continually tracks his old master down and tries to kill him. In the first episode, the two duel and McAllister wins. However, the old master refuses to kill his opponent, preferring to renounce his ninja ways. Of course, this leads to Okasa’s future attempts.

 

EPISODE LIST:

What follows is a list of episode titles and their original air dates:

1. Max (1/20/1984) – see above, under “Premise.”

2. Out-of-Time Step (1/27/1984) – a ninja-guarded crime lord mistakes Max and McAllister for bodyguards hired by a nightclub owner the crime lord is trying to control.

3. State of the Union (2/3/1984) – Max befriends a “biker chick” who is trying to organize a union at the cannery where she works; he and McAllister strike back when the cannery owner tries to strong arm the girl and the union.

4. Hostages (2/10/1984) – McAllister is accused by a secret agent of helping a band of terrorists; to prove his innocence, he must help rescue the hostages that the terrorists have taken.

5. High Rollers (3/2/1984) – a former girlfriend of Max’s becomes a pawn in a Las Vegas heist when her daughter is held hostage to insure her cooperation. The resulting adventure leads Max and McAllister to a deserted western movie set, where the Master makes himself very much at home.

6. Fat Tuesday (3/9/1984) – during Mardi Gras in New Orleans, a reporter uses Teri McAllister’s name as a cover for her own sources, hoping to bring down a respected local citizen who is secretly running guns to Arab terrorists. Max and McAllister become entangled as a result.

7. Juggernaut (3/16/1984) – Max and McAllister help a mother and daughter organize the local farmers against an evil land baron. McAllister has more success romancing the mother than Max does with the daughter, and the old man’s “pre-ninja” background as a military pilot is emphasized.

8. The Good, the Bad and the Priceless (3/23/1984) – Caught between a criminal mastermind and an FBI agent posing as McAllister’s daughter, the two leads find themselves forced to steal the Crown Jewels of England.

9. Kunoichi (4/6/1984) – With the help of a female pupil, Okasa puts in motion a plan to frame McAllister for the murder of an old friend, who is now a prominent government official in Washington.

10. The Java Tiger (4/13/1984) – Max and McAllister take a break from the search for Teri to help out a friend of McAllister’s: a bumbling PI, based in Hawaii, who is on a quest for a legendary tiger made of gold. Unfortunately, a Bond-villain-like crime lord with a penchant for karate is also interested in the Java Tiger.

11. Failure to Communicate (5/4/1984) – Max reunites with his estranged father Patrick, who is a pawn in a kidnapping scheme. Max is so preoccupied with family affairs that McAllister ends up chaperoning the two “damsel in distress” characters, played by Ashley Ferrare and Rebecca Holden, just about everywhere.

12. Rogues (8/10/1984) – a high school friend of Max’s is now a cop, on the run from a band of crooked cops. A woman who runs a gym harasses McAllister about being out of shape.

13. A Place to Call Home (8/31/1984) – Max and McAllister protect an orphanage from greedy land developers, with Max playing surrogate father to a troubled teen.

 

RECURRING CHARACTERS:

John Peter McAllister (Lee Van Cleef)

Veteran of World War II and the Korean War who stayed in Japan and became the first Occidental ninja. Trained Okasa in the ninja arts. Took on Max Keller as his student upon arriving in America. A self-described “cantankerous old man who’s lived alone a lot of years.” He is a stern but fair teacher, and a skilled fighter, though his age is catching up with him. Often grumpy and sarcastic towards other men, both friend and foe, but somewhat more mellow around Max, and politely flirtatious or self-consciously “charming” towards women. Several pieces of his colorful history come out during the series: he flew P-40s during WWII (“Hostages”, “Juggernaut”), visited New York in 1938 (“The Good, the Bad and the Priceless”), and attended a sort of conference of secret assassin organizations in the Far East in 1972, where he gave a martial arts demonstration (“The Good, the Bad, and the Priceless”). He met Brian Elkwood in Washington DC in 1948, and the two men were subsequently imprisoned together in North Korea, but escaped by using a motorcycle (“Kunoichi”). He has apparently visited Hawaii about twenty years ago: a friend who lives there has a daughter Max’s age, whom McAllister remembers seeing when she was a baby (“Java Tiger”). He denies having filmed westerns in Almeria, Spain with actor Saul Robbins circa 1969 (“Rogues”), but his reactions to Robbins’s claim to remember him seem to suggest otherwise-he was perhaps on some kind of secret mission for which the movie project(s) made a good cover. He “always wanted to be a cowboy” (“High Rollers”), but makes not wanting to dress up as one an excuse to turn down an ad exec who wants McAllister to shill for him (“The Good, the Bad, and the Priceless”). There are several recurring trains of thought that show up in his conversation, e.g. Eastern mysticism, but the closest thing he has to a catchphrase is probably “no kidding”, said in an exasperated tone to people’s more obvious statements.

 

Max Keller (Timothy Van Patten)

A drifter who spends most of his time driving around in his custom van and taking odd jobs wherever he can find them. He has a pet hamster (or possibly a gerbil) named Henry who lives in a dash-mounted, wheel-shaped cage. There are several indications that he has some money to fall back on: his van’s customizations (hamster cage, souped-up engine, semi-bullet-proofing), the fact that he keeps an expensive-looking dirt bike (“State of the Union”) and can afford to rent an ultralight plane (“Hostages”). He often gets thrown out of bar windows. He has two catchphrases: “Hi, I’m Max Keller,” and “Check out, Jack.” He has a bit of a temper, which often leads to the above-mentioned defenestration, but is learning to keep that in check due to McAllister’s training. Max never passes up a chance to get friendly with a pretty woman of his own age. Max is initially estranged from his father-a lawyer who sank into alcoholism (“Failure to Communicate”) after Max’s mother and older brother died in a plane crash (“High Rollers”) -but the two men reconcile late in the series. Max’s mother wanted Max to be an accountant. Max went to the high school prom with a girlfriend who wanted to be a dancer on Broadway but ended up working in Vegas and having a child by someone else (“Hostages”, “High Rollers”). At the prom, he danced one dance with the class nerd, who he meets again in the course of the series and become involved with (“Rogues”). He grew up on the East Side of New York (“The Good, The Bad, and the Priceless”), though his father lives in California (“Failure to Communicate”).

 

Okasa (Sho Kosugi)

 

A deadly ninja warrior once trained by McAllister. He has sworn to kill his former master due to his abandonment of the ninja code. Has engaged McAllister on several occasions with different levels of success. He is also a master of disguise. By the end of the series, he has himself trained at least one “Occidental” as a ninja. In his last duel with McAllister, he believes he is winning, and even manages to break the Master’s katana, but loses when McAllister turns his overconfidence against him. He sometimes takes espionage-related “jobs” while pursuing his former master, but is more often working at cross-purposes to the villain of the episode.

RECURRING ELEMENTS:

The Master was an almost non-stop action show. From brawls to high-speed car chases to explosions, the series was defined by its action content. As mentioned, Max Keller often got thrown through glass windows, and this was a sort of running gag. Some of the stunts and pyrotechnics were quite spectacular, while others were of a lesser quality. For example, one episode has McAllister performing a backflip onto the top of a semi-trailer truck, in which it is clear that the stuntman (most likely Ed Anders) did a frontflip off of the truck and the film was simply reversed.

Also, Anders, Van Cleef’s double, was of a noticeably slimmer build than the aging actor, making the two performers easy to distinguish from one another. Many of the stunts and fighting sequences featured Kosugi in a skull cap doubling for Van Cleef. Kosugi’s motion and martial arts skill is easily spotted when he doubled for Van Cleef. The show also occasionally uses doubles for closeups on Van Cleef’s hands, apparently to hide the actor’s damaged right middle finger. A close review of some episodes (like “Kunoichi”) indicates that Van Cleef was allowed to do modest amounts of swordplay and fist-fighting.

The series was part-buddy movie, and part-martial arts film. The series shares elements in common with the well-known film, The Karate Kid, also released in 1984: Both are stories in which a young American male is mentored by a wise, old martial arts master following some type of scuffle. The show’s storylines often resembled those on The A-Team with the heroes going to different places and helping those in need. There is also a mild paranormal element to the show in the form of McAllister’s mystical abilities: he can for instance go into a trance state to simulate death or withstand torture; and he seems to have low-level empathic/telepathic abilities that allow him to gauge the honesty and emotional state of people he is talking with, unless they too have been trained in the ninja arts.

Besides Okasa and a couple of one-shot ninja adversaries, the series mostly featured corrupt businessmen, and the occasional spy or terrorist, as villains. The writing styles of the show’s several scribes are fairly easy to distinguish, with, e.g., Sue Woollen tending to write less violent episodes that emphasized relationships between the guest stars and regulars and portrayed the usual damsels in distress as relatively strong personalities. Injokes referencing Van Cleef’s career in westerns appear in several episodes. The most frequently used weapons in the series are the shuriken or throwing star (which doubles as the series logo), the “sword” (the show’s modern ninjakens it uses as the ninja dueling weapon of choice), the caltrop, the smokebomb and a type of chain with weighted ends called a kusari fundo which was commonly used as a flail or occasionally thrown.

EPISODE INFLUENCES:

Episode 2, “Out-of-Time Step”, borrows its plot from the Bruce Lee film Return of the Dragon. Guest star Charles Collins was in fact an old-time Hollywood dancer who starred in a movie called The Dancing Pirate, just as his character did. This is also one of the few times Henry the hamster is seen outside of his cage.

Episode 3, “State of the Union”, is heavily influenced by Norma Rae, with Crystal Bernard in the Sally Fields role. The use of a Catholic church for union activities seems to be a nod to On the Waterfront. A longish scene which showed Van Cleef playing with Henry the hamster was used as a “stinger” on the second of the two MST3K episodes to feature this show. It is probably the most interaction any human character has with the hamster in the course of the series. This episode also features McAllister’s ability to “play dead”, and his use of a cross-shaped throwing weapon (apparently an alternate shuriken design) otherwise only seen in the show’s opening credits.

Episode 4, “Hostages”, is a tribute to the spy films and TV shows of the ’60s, with David McCallum of Man from U.N.C.L.E.
playing a sinister but morally ambiguous villain, and George Lazenby playing a spy who infiltrated McAllister’s ninja sect in the past and drives a customized Aston Martin ala James Bond. Producer Michael Sloan’s fascination with espionage would reappear in his work for The Equalizer.

Episode 5, “High Rollers”, climaxes on an abandoned movie set meant to look like a Wild West town: the climax uses stereotypical “western” shots (tracking shots from Anders’s/Van Cleef’s ninja boots up his body, extreme closeups on Van Cleef’s face), and McAllister talks a great deal about enjoying himself on the western set and feeling at home. A character refers to Revenge of the Ninja (starring Sho Kosugi) repeatedly. Art Hindle, playing the villain, also appeared in one of the first ninja-centered movies to reach America: The Octagon, starring Chuck Norris and Lee Van Cleef. This episode is also the start of a running gag, continuing through “Fat Tuesday” and “Rogues”, about middle aged or older women fixating on McAllister and ‘comically’ stalking him. The episode’s plot borrows from Ocean’s 11.

Episode 6, “Fat Tuesday”, features a woman who keeps getting McAllister confused with someone named “Leroy”. The actor’s full name was Clarence Leroy Van Cleef Jr., with “Lee” being short for Leroy. A scene where McAllister’s arm is being bandaged shows off Van Cleef’s anchor-shaped tattoo, a relic of his WWII service in the Navy.

In Episode 7, “Juggernaut”, Lee Van Cleef and the villain played by Stuart Whitman form a romantic quasi-triangle with the female guest lead. The two men had played a similar storyline together (with Carroll Baker instead of Diana Muldaur) in the film Captain Apache in 1971.

Episode 8, “The Good, the Bad and the Priceless,” is a reference to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), which starred Lee Van Cleef as “The Bad.” The episode also features an ad exec obsessed with McAllister’s “look” (as Sergio Leone briefly was with Van Cleef’s) and with hiring McAllister as a cowboy-themed spokesman for his product, in an apparent nod to Van Cleef’s western-themed commercials for Midas Muffler and others. George Maharis, who played the villain of this episode, starred on Route 66, where Van Cleef had played a guest villain; Maharis is also, as Van Cleef was, an avid painter in his free time.

Episode 9, “Kunoichi”, loosely borrows from The Manchurian Candidate, using the idea of an ex-Korean War POW who is supposed to assassinate a political figure, a Communist sleeper posing as an anti-Communist (Okasa’s employer is an America-hating mole codenamed “The Hawk”), and a sweet-seeming but manipulative woman. Guest star Jack Kelly is best-known for Maverick, which Van Cleef had guested on a couple of times; the two men had also appeared together in an Italian-made WWII movie called Comandos. The episode also features a rare scene of Van Patten interacting with the hamster.

Episode 10, “The Java Tiger,” features a villain played by Kabir Bedi. Bedi had been launched as an international star when directed in Sandokan (1976) by Sergio Sollima. Ten years before Sandokan, Sollima had helped launch Van Cleef on a similar path with The Big Gundown. The plot is an Indiana Jones homage (and perhaps a Magnum P.I. homage, given the setting), but the Java Tiger macguffin may be a nod to Sandokan, whose emblem was a tiger.

Episode 11, “Failure to Communicate”, borrows its plot from Akira Kurosawa’s film High and Low, and its guest stars from all over (see list in earlier section). Ashley Ferrare had appeared with Sho Kosugi in Revenge of the Ninja, Doug McClure was a veteran of western TV shows, like Van Cleef, Edd Byrnes-though most famous for “Kookie” on 77 Sunset Strip-had made westerns in Europe, Rebecca Holden would be a regular on Knight Rider the following TV season. Marc Alaimo, who plays a villain here and would go on to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, is one of two guests who tie this series to Star Trek, the other being Diana Muldaur. Mark Goddard is best remembered for Lost in Space and as one of Robert Taylor’s men in the TV series The Detectives.

Episode 12, “Rogues”, features the character of Saul Robbins, a hippie-like actor who meets Max and McAllister at a party, and (in another homage to Van Cleef’s career) becomes firmly convinced that McAllister made spaghetti westerns with him in Almeria, Spain. McAllister also shows off his skills with a gun on a police firing range, and the woman who nags him about being out of shape is probably a nod to Van Cleef’s inability to do much of his own stunt work.

The villain of Episode 13, “A Place to Call Home” is played by Jock Mahoney, here credited as Jock O’Mahoney. One of Van Cleef’s very first roles had been on Mahoney’s TV series Range Rider, and the two men died only a few days apart in late 1989. They had also appeared together in the movie Joe Dakota, together with Claude Akins, who had appeared in the first episode of The Master. The budding martial artist named Bobby in the episode is played by Kane Kosugi, son of Sho Kosugi, and the last moments of the episode—and the series—feature Sho, doubling Van Cleef as McAllister, sparring with Kane and letting him win. Dialogue from McAllister about ninjas being able to shape their bodies to fit through narrow spaces is perhaps another in-joke about the show’s stuntwork. Writer-Producer Sue Woollen, after creating a number of strong-willed female guest characters who admire the male leads but see themselves as the equals of the two ninjas, not their inferiors, finally plays one: the woman who runs the orphanage.

THE MST3K CONNECTION:

The series would possibly have faded into total obscurity were it not for Mystery Science Theater 3000, the cult show which features a man and two robots making fun of cheesy movies. The show featured the first two volumes of the re-edited Master Ninja tapes on episodes 322 (originally aired January 11, 1992) and 324 (originally aired January 25, 1992). 

Featuring the first four episodes, Joel Robinson and the ‘Bots (Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot) mercilessly mocked the series. Notable jokes included jabs at Lee Van Cleef’s gut disappearing whenever his stunt double was onscreen, and at Timothy Van Patten’s muffled speech pattern. The fact that Demi Moore guest-starred on the first episode in an early role provided more fertile joke material. The third installment of the Master Ninja series was scheduled to air as episode 624, but it was eventually replaced by Samson vs. the Vampire Women.

MASTER NINJA THEME SONG!!!

 

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One Response to “The Master is here!!!”

  1. Sou um grande admirador dos filmes de ninja de Sho Kosugi ,sou praticante de Ninjutsu Bujinkan Togakure aqui em Sao Paulo queria ter a coleção dos filmes de ninja de Sho Kosugi deixo meu e mail para contato Rafael E mail Rflpnp@bol.com.br

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