Mr. Big: A comedy of continuity gaffes and laughs

Do you see what I see: Something is wrong with this image. Read the blog to find out what it is.

Do you see what I see: Something is wrong with this image. Read the blog to find out what it is.

Being that it’s the 53rd birthday for Get Smart, as the pilot episode “Mr. Big” aired Sept. 18, 1965, it’s time for a look at that episode. This is a bit different from what I’ve previously written on the pilot. Instead of an overview, it’s a glimpse of a few things we probably overlooked.

TV in the past didn’t offer the “extras” viewers are used to seeing today. Outtakes and behind the scenes footage wasn’t at everyone’s fingertips. Shows also weren’t produced with the notion that there would be repeat viewing and over-analysis. An airing of a TV episode was a one-shot deal – unless the show was blessed with syndication.

Of the bloopers included in the Get Smart Time Life DVD set (which have wormed their way to YouTube), most of them were from the later seasons. Don Adams had squirreled them away and his son in law, actor Jim Beaver, would later provide them for the DVDs.

As for the pilot episode, the only outtake floating around is footage of Don Adams being told by his agent, Mace Neufeld, that he was a father. His wife Dorothy had given birth to their daughter Stacey during the filming of the episode. The scene being filmed was from A Secret Agent’s Dilemma, or a Clear Case of Mind Over Mata Hari. The program aired Sept. 6, 1965 and was used as a preview of NBC’s fall lineup.

 

Detective work, a discerning eye and repeat viewing, however, has revealed what was changed as well as biffed in the Get Smart pilot. Now, this isn’t a criticism – it’s like finding Easter eggs. Here are a few (but not all) of the inconsistencies, goofs and changes in Mr. Big:

99’s hair

Agent 99's hair enters into this episode two times before it should.

Agent 99’s hair enters into this episode two times before it should.

This was one continuity error I noticed, probably from the first time I saw this episode. Would you believe the second time? It is glaring, but I always ignored it. One of the most iconic scenes in the pilot (and the series) is when Max and 99 are together in the novelty shop. The Inthermo is activated, Fang saves Max’s life and a Kaos agent gets zapped. 99’s reaction is to take off her chauffeur’s hat and shake out her hair. Max reacts to that by going for a kiss. Fang interrupts.

Obviously the idea was that 99’s hair was supposed to stay tucked up in the hat and Max was supposed to be too distracted to notice she was a female. The scene is both hilarious and absurd and is played with complete earnestness. It’s a fantastic parody of all those smoldering moments of classic film where the guy eyes the girl.

Unfortunately, there’s a booboo. We see 99’s bob sticking out of her hat twice before this scene. The first time, and the most noticeable, is when Max and 99 go out to the parking lot to talk to Zelinka. You can see 99’s hair as the camera shoots from above. The second time her hair appears is after they pull up to the novelty shop and get out of the limo. Most viewers probably didn’t notice this because they were watching Max struggle to get the door to the limo closed. It’s worth a mention 99 was written into the script as a blonde – even though brunette Barbara Feldon had always been eyed for the role of 99.

Wrong scenery

New York City looks a bit like southern California in this scene. This only lasts seconds. Blink and you'll miss it.

New York City looks a bit like southern California in this scene. This only lasts seconds. Blink and you’ll miss it.

This episode is first set in Washington, D.C. and then in New York City. We get some nice stock footage of the U.S. Capitol Building and later the Statue of Liberty. However, we also get the wrong vegetation for the East Coast. As Max and 99 are driving to the city, en route to the novelty shop, palm trees and mountains can be seen in the background.

The old boom mic appearance

More discerning viewers can catch a cameo appearance made by a boom mic. It shows up in the windshield of the limo when Max and 99 are listening to the Kaos radio broadcast. Again, this is not something that would have stuck out because our attention would have gone to 86 and 99.

Misplaced bullet holes

A case of now you them, now you don't. The bullet holes in the door on the left disappear AFTER Max shoots at the Kaos agent.

A case of now you see them, now you don’t. The bullet holes in the door on the left disappear AFTER Max shoots at the Kaos agent.

Like the boom mic, this is something you have to look for. During the melee on the garbage scow, Max gets his hands on a rifle and tries to take out Mr. Big and the Kaos frogmen. He fires away but ends up shooting into the wall and a door before the gun jams up. In the scene before the gunfire, we see a Kaos agent that needs obvious patching to his wet suit and a door full of bullet holes. In the next scene, after everyone dodges bullets and the smoke clears, the door is no longer damaged.

Cut Smart

The bottom of the Get Smart lunch box shows a scene that was intended for Mr. Big, but didn't make the cut. Max fights Kaos with cigarettes rather than the Inflato coat.

The bottom of the Get Smart lunch box shows a scene that was intended for Mr. Big, but didn’t make the cut. Max fights Kaos with cigarettes rather than the Inflato coat.

One scene that got cut/reworked was actually documented – but not in the way you would think. We have collectibles to thank for evidence of this.

On the bottom of the Get Smart lunchbox is a scene that looks like it came from the pilot. In it, we see a chauffeur-suited 99 tied up with Max and Professor Dante. There’s even a glimpse of Fang’s nose. Max is fending off two Kaos frogmen with a blast of smoke from a cigarette. Also, there is a Get Smart trading card that shows Max, 99 and Dante laughing hysterically in the same scene.

These two images came from a scene that was rewritten. In it, Max, 99 and Dante were

This Get Smart trading card shows a scene from Mr. Big that we didn't get to see. Here we see Max and 99 dealing with the effects of laughing gas. It may be worth noting that the person on the left is supposed to be Professor Dante, although he doesn't exactly look like actor Vito Scotti in this shot.

This Get Smart trading card shows a scene from Mr. Big that we didn’t get to see. Here we see Max and 99 dealing with the effects of laughing gas. It may be worth noting that the person on the left is supposed to be Professor Dante, although he doesn’t exactly look like actor Vito Scotti in this shot.

tied up below deck together. Max and Dante start talking but a Kaos agent interrupts and begins intimidating them. Max requests a final cigarette – one of his cigarettes. As the Kaos agent lights the cigarette, a stream of smoke explodes in his face. He starts to laugh and 99 points out that it’s laughing gas. Eventually the rest of the group is overcome with laughing gas. Max manages to summon Fang who rescues them by chewing apart the ropes. This was re-shot with Max’s weapon of choice being the Inflato coat. Only Max, 99 and Fang (who was tied rather than roaming freely) were below deck together – Dante was somewhere else. Ironically, at the beginning of the episode, Max doesn’t want to use the Inflato coat.

This sounded like a funny scene and I wonder why it got changed. The most logical reason is that it probably took too long and they needed to tighten things up.

Now, a theory for those of us that like to overthink things is that it might have conflicted with the characterization of Smart – he wasn’t supposed to be wise to the joke. The surreal idiocy the viewer sees in Mr. Big is Maxwell Smart’s unwavering reality. Mel Brooks pointed this out in Joey Green’s book, The Get Smart Handbook. “I would say the best thing about Maxwell Smart is that he was always wrong and always intense. He never played the joke. He never shared with the audience that he was aware that what he was doing was funny,” said Brooks.

Mr. Big: The old black and white pilot trick

Agent 86 and the Chief attempt to discuss classified information under the Cone of Silence in “Mr. Big.”

Episode One
Mr. Big (original air date: 9-18-65)
Cast: Mr. Big – Michael Dunn (special guest star), Dante – Vito Scotti, Zelinka – Janine Gray, Garth – Kelton Garwood, Mother – Karen Norris, Fang – Red
Director: Howard Morris
Writers: Mel Brooks and Buck Henry
Producer: Jay Sandrich
Filming Location: Paramount Studios, Hollywood

Synopsis: Meet counter-espionage organization Control and its top agent Maxwell Smart –who has been specially trained never to disclose the fact that he’s a spy –except maybe when his shoe phone rings in symphony hall. Agent 86 must: find Agent 99, rescue Professor Dante and get his mitts on Dante’s Inthermo before Mr. Big uses it to blow up the Statue of Liberty.

Max and 99 try to steal a kiss after nearly being vaporized by the inthermo.

My Thoughts: I guess if I have to blame something for my Get Smart addiction, it would be the black and white pilot. I never get tired of this episode. Over on www.ilovegetsmart.com I have it listed as my number four favorite episode. In comparison to how the series progressed, Max, 99 and the Chief are a bit “raw,” yet this really is a tight little episode.

I first saw this episode in January of 1991 when Nick at Nite began airing Get Smart. Unlike the rest of my Chicagoland pals who watched the show in reruns during the ’80s on Channel 32, I had never seen it before. I lived in the Mid-Atlantic prior to the ’90s and there was no Get Smart to be found on Baltimore TV.

Being an ’80s kid, there was one thing that made me raise an eyebrow the first time I saw the pilot — the voice. I wondered, why does this guy sound like Inspector Gadget? He’s even got an inflatable coat, a dog and a brainy female sidekick like Inspector Gadget did! My 12 year old mind was impressed.

The scene in this episode I love the most is Max and 99’s near kiss. After Fang saves Max from being vaporized, 99 takes off her hat and shakes out her hair. This prompts Max to utter, “Why you’re a girl!” The two then go for a kiss, which Fang interrupts.

Logically the whole concept of this scene is absurd -especially for the fact that Mr. Smart clearly needed a stronger pair of Bino-Specs with regard to 99. Comically it takes the opportunity to mock spy movie heroes that make out with Bond girls they’ve just met.

Watch for: Mr.Big’s little cigarettes, 99’s bad driving, the humorous fight scene on the garbage scow and Max discovering that 99 is indeed a girl

Max clocks in before his assignment.

Footnotes:
• This is the only black and white episode of the series.
• The opening is slightly different. Max drives a Ferrari 250 GT Cabriolet and tosses a hat into the back seat. This is the only time this car is used. In the rest of the episode 99 attempts to drive a limo and Max attempts to close the vehicle’s door.
• During filming of the pilot Don Adams learned that his wife Dorothy gave birth to their daughter Stacey Noel.
• Michael Dunn had quite a bit of experience playing the archenemy of secret agents – he had a reoccurring role as evil Miguelito Loveless on The Wild Wild West.
• “Zelinka” is an in-joke – Executive Producer Leonard Stern’s co-writer on The Honeymooners was Sydney Zelinka.
• Howard Morris worked with Mel Brooks on Your Show of Shows and he played Ernest T. Bass on the Andy Griffith Show.
• Dante’s Inthermo is a reference to Dante’s Inferno.
• Vito Scotti was probably in every old TV show known to man.
• Karen Norris had a role in the movie Fitzwilly which starred Barbara Feldon.

Glick meter: 100%

Oh Max meter: Probably the only episode 99 refers to Agent 86 as Maxwell. They haven’t quite hit their stride.

Control Agents: Hodgkins, Agent 34 (in locker), Fang. Also mentioned: Agent 57 who is in Hong Kong

Kaos Agents: Mr. Big, Zelinka, Garth, un-named Kaos agent at the airport and random Kaos Frogmen

Gadgets: Cone of Silence, Shoe Phone, Mirrored Cuff Links, Bino-Specs, Locker Key, a Beretta and the Inflato-Coat

Episode Locations: Washington, D.C., New York City, Cravehaven Laboratory, South Street Novelty

Agents 86 and 99 report that they've wrapped up their mission - only to get a wrong number.