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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Dangerous Assignment -- "Renew Sheik Haroun's Uranium Deal

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"Yeah, danger is my assignment--I get sent to a lot of places I can't even pronounce. They all spell the same thing, though--trouble!"

Dangerous Assignment (1949-1953) aired "Renew Sheik Haroud's Uranium Deal" on March 27, 1950 as the 14th of its estimated 167 episodes. Since this is the first episode we have offered of Dangerous Assignment, a brief bit of background is in order. The show debuted on the NBC network in July of 1949 as a summer replacement and ceased in August after 7 episodes. It was popular enough with listeners and was picked up in February of 1950 to begin its almost 4-year run. It starred popular Hollywood actor Brian Donlevy (1910-1972, photo at right) as secret agent Steve Mitchell, who was sent as an undercover foreign correspondent by an unnamed U. S. State Department agency on delicate assignments abroad where U. S. interests were involved. His only "agency" contact was "the commissioner," who would read him in on the background of the situation and then send him off to various hotspots around the globe to rectify the situation. He was rather like an early James Bond character, but much more low-key and without all the gadgets, though the situations were very much in line with some of the problems a Bond character might face.

Dangerous Assignment proved popular enough (and through the savvy management of Donlevy himself) that it was given a television show that ran from late 1951 until May of 1952 and comprised 39 episodes (tv promo poster top left). Donlevy himself led quite an interesting life with several SF genre connections, about which more in a moment. For his role as Sergeant Markoff in 1939's Beau Geste he was nominated for a Best Supporting Acting Oscar, but lost. His career spanned the decades of the 1930s-1960s in both motion pictures (over 80 films), and television, where he played both good and bad characters in numerous popular shows. As to Donlevy's pre-radio and film careers, in 1916 he answered the Wisconsin Army National Guard's call to join the Pancho Villa Expedition, and though he was only 14 and lied about his age, he was accepted and served as a bugler. And during World War I he ended up in France with Company C, 127th Infantry Regiment, which was a part of the 32nd Infantry Division.

As to Donlevy's SF connections, there are two worthy of interest. He played the lead role of Professor Bernard Quatermass in the 1955 British film The Quatermass Xperiment (retitled as The Creeping Unknown in the U. S.), then reprised his role as Professor Quatermass in the 1957 British sequel Quatermass 2 (retitled as Enemy from Space in the U. S.). As to his second genre connection of note, it has to do with iconic early horror actor Bela Lugosi (1882-1956). It would seem that our Bela was either a ladies man or had trouble keeping them, for he was married five times. The total elapsed time of his marriage to four of his wives was a mere 8 years. The marriage to his fourth wife, however, was to be for 20 years to Lillian Arch. Lillian Arch (1911-1981) was 19 when they married, Bela was 51. They remained married from 1933-1953, at which time they divorced. A partial reason given for the divorce was Bela's jealousy of Lillian's close friendship with none other than Brian Donlevy, with whom Lillian worked on both the radio and television programs as a full-time assistant. Bela's jealousy, warranted or not, ten years after Bela's death in 1956, Brian would marry Lillian, the fourth ex-Mrs. Bela Lugosi. They would remain married until Donlevy's death in 1972.

"Renew Sheik Haroud's Uranium Deal," as the title implies, deals with a possible international crisis surrounding uranium, even back then a most valuable commodity sought by many nations. Set in Egypt where a huge amount has been located, and with a previous mining arrangment made with Sheik Haroud, the owner of the land where it resides, the time has come to renegotiate the rights to mine and develop it with the several countries who were signatories to the original agreement. But there's trouble abrewing when the Sheik refuses to see any visitors and speaks only through a "trusted" advisor. If the international deal is not renegotiated, only one country (and one tribe) will have access to the uranium and its wealth. The balance of power will have shifted in a dangerous direction. So Steve Mitchell, undercover correspondent, is sent to find out what has gone wrong and talk to the Sheik, for they are old friends. But when an audience with his old friend is denied, things get curioser and curioser, taking Steve to a local bar where a dancing girl and a local comedian impressionist lead him down a dangerous rabbit hole, a dark place of murder and deceit at the highest levels. So enjoy now Brian Donlevy as undercover agent Steve Mitchell as his dangerous assignment is to "Renew Sheik Haroud's Uranium Deal."

Play Time: 29:15

{March of 1950 found the neighborhood's little rascals heading for the nearest newsstand for a second helping of their favorite pulp magazines (once a month seemed rarely to be enough). Having previously made the trip to grab their usual SF & F magazines, and after listening to this episode of Dangerous Assignment with its undercover spy thwarting a criminal plot halfway across the globe, they now sought more spy adventures. Unfortunately, there were precious few (if any) spy magazines in 1950 (much less with any with a March cover date), so they settled for the next best thing--detective stories where hardened, devious criminal types and their deadly plans are tracked down and brought to justice. Famous Detective (1938-57) was a first-time purchase but promised hard-boiled, nuts-and-bolts action. Its overall schedule was irregular at best, sometimes a quarterly, at others a bi-monthly, with some years producing anywhere from only 3-5 issues. 1950 saw 5 issues. Dime Detective (1931-53) was a popular mainstay and a repeat purchase, with its infinitely more reliable schedule and fast moving stories. It was a monthly until 1951, then faded off with a bi-monthly schedule for its last two years. Seeing a copy of the new Weird Tales (1923-54 in its initial incarnation) still available, one of the gang snatched it up with relish, not bowing to the current detective infatuation of his friends. WT was monthly until 1940, then for the second half (14 years) of its first life became a bi-monthly until its demise.}

[Left: Famous Detective, March 1950 - Center: Dime Detective, March 1950 - Right: Weird Tales, March 1950]

                       

To view the entire list of weekly Old Time Radio episodes at Tangent Online, click here.