Callan – The Good Ones Are All Dead

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Written by James Mitchell
Directed by Toby Robertson

The Good Ones Are All Dead was the first episode of series one and whilst it follows on directly from A Magnum for Schneider it was obviously also designed to work as an introduction to Callan’s world.

Therefore the first few minutes cover the same ground as the opening of A Magnum for Schneider (and in some parts very similar dialogue) to explain the basics.  Callan used to work for Hunter, but not any more and although Hunter has one more job for Callan – he isn’t interested.  “You sacked me, remember. You said I was too soft. Well I’m still soft, Hunter. I still worry about the people I killed.  I’m done with you mate, I’m finished”.

Hunter is implacable – either Callan does this job or Hunter will destroy him and for once it’s not a wet job (secret service slang for murder).  Instead Callan has to monitor Reinhold Strauss (Powys Thomas).  According to Hunter, Strauss is a Nazi war criminal with three thousand deaths that can be laid at his door.  His current identity is that of a businessman named Nicolas Stavros.

The Israelis are coming to collect Strauss so they can put him on trial – Hunter wants to make sure this happens, a dead Strauss would be no use to anybody.  Callan isn’t convinced that Stavros is Strauss and mentions this to his Israeli contact Avram (Tom Kempinski).  “He doesn’t look like a killer to me. He’s podgy, he’s soft, he’s got a girl.  It’s twenty three years ago”.  Avram counters that “men change, their crimes do not”.

Callan does discover irrefutable proof that Stavros is Strauss – rather foolishly he kept a trunk of Nazi memorabilia – his dress uniform, party card, revolver and a bag containing thousands of gold fillings.  Why does he still have these artifacts?  Is it to gloat over his past crimes or as a reminder of the terrible deeds he committed?

When confronted by Callan, Strauss begs for mercy.  “For twenty-three years I have not harmed a living soul. Right now, Strauss is dead. I am Nicolas Stavros, Callan; and Stavros would not hurt an animal, let alone a human being”.  Strauss then asks Callan “What use is a monster in a cage?”.  Callan allows Stavros to commit suicide with a cyanide capsule, an act that will undoubtedly infuriate both the Israelis and Hunter.

Can a man like Stauss ever be redeemed?  That’s one of the key questions of the episode and Callan seems to ask the same question of himself.  He doesn’t necessarily want to be drawn back into Hunter’s world – although it’s a job that he does supremely well (but at what personal cost?).  There’s a very revealing scene where Lonely asks Callan what it feels like to use a gun.  “What’s it like? It’s like eating your lunch. If you’ve got the stomach for it, it’s easy. Trouble is, you get to like it”.

The relationship between Hunter and Callan is finely balanced, as Hunter confides to Meres, “Callan and I seem to have arrived at a very good working arrangement, what you might call a balance of terror”.

If Powys Thomas is a slight weak link as Strauss, then the regulars (Woodward, Radd, Valentine, Hunter) more than make up for him.  The clip below of the first five minutes is an electrifying tussle between Callan and Hunter that makes me wish that Ronald Radd had stayed with the series for longer.

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