As the first episode of Callan, The Good Ones Are All Dead emphasises a few key details for those who didn’t see A Magnum for Schneider or else need reminding – it was broadcast five months before.
Callan has another similar meeting with Hunter that tells us what the Section is and how Callan came to be an outsider from it.
Hunter “What’s the Section for, Callan?”
Callan “Eliminating people, framing, extortion, death… all the jobs that are too dirty for her Majesty’s other security services to touch.”
Yet it’s also nice that this isn’t a reset and we pick up events after A Magnum for Schneider. In its final scene, we heard Hunter asking Callan to be put into a red “marked for death” file, and he now uses this threat to blackmail Callan. The Section needs to identify a suspected high-ranking Nazi so the Israeli intelligence service can smuggle him out of the country and put him on trial.
It’s pretty plain that Greek businessman Stavros is really Obersturmbannführer Strauss of the SS, yet Callan wants to be certain. Despite little mystery to the story, there remains plenty to interest us in the episode as it reprises elements from the Armchair Theatre introduction. We meet Toby Meres and Lonely again, and again watch Callan breaking into a safe for information before he’s willing to go through with his mission.
This version of Toby Meres, now played by Anthony Valentine, works far better for me than the previous one. Partly this is because he and Callan meet earlier in the episode and also because we see Toby with characters other than Callan or Hunter. It enables more of Meres’ personality to come through and the relationship between him and Callan is quickly established, with Callan opening the door to Toby and immediately mocking his public school accent. Meres is cool and calm throughout and we are left to imagine his annoyance at the conclusion when he’s left waiting for a man that is never going to come.
We see Callan’s flat and it is no more substantial than before, though I think he has gained a table. There is a slight focus on Callan’s poverty through his appearance, with Stavros/Strauss saying, “Try and, er, smarten yourself up a little,” as he hires him. Edward Woodward’s glance down at himself is marvellous as Callan obviously felt he had made an effort for the interview. When Meres’ visits Callan’s flat, their difference in status is made clear with Meres in a smart suit while Callan is wearing a somewhat slovenly cardigan.
Last time the characters visited a pub but this time a cafe hosts meetings – I’d call this sort of cheap, greasy spoon-type place a ‘caff’. Toby meets an Israeli secret service agent there and they chat over cups of tea, then Callan and Lonely meet there later. I didn’t initially realise this was the same cafe as they sit at a different table and the fourth wall has rotated left by 90 degrees, but the same signage can be seen in the background in both scenes. I thought this was a good way of quickly enabling the episode to have some variety in its shots, else both scenes would probably have had identical angles.
Callan and Lonely can’t mind being seen together so much on this occasion as they both stay long enough to have a meal at the same table. It isn’t easy to identify exactly what they are each having, but Callan does wave his knife in Lonely’s face, then informs him: “You’ve got a bean, right there on your nose.” It’s small so I’m presuming it’s a baked bean, rather than, say, red kidney or cannellini. With this being a caff, I’d guess that they could be having a fry up.
Strauss is dead
Part of my great enjoyment with The Good Ones Are All Dead is the final confrontation between Callan and Strauss. I look forward to this conclusion because I find Strauss such an interesting character. Throughout, he is a pleasant, kind man. The comment about Callan’s clothes is amusing but the tone isn’t condescending and Stavros/Strauss offers to advance him some money. Even when Strauss’s former house slave, Berg, begins telling a story about Strauss breaking his ribs over a smashed plate, Berg opens it by telling Callan that Strauss wasn’t “a cruel man for pleasure; he was a cruel man for duty, for efficiency.” He is loving towards his girlfriend and perhaps it is this overall disposition that makes it difficult for her to go through with turning him in – she found it hard to even imagine him capable of such things until she started to dream that she was Jewish. None of it equates with the idea of an uncaring mass murderer who has a box of his Nazi keepsakes.
Like many senior Nazis, Strauss escaped justice at the end of the war and successfully built a new life for himself. Strauss has clearly never stopped running. The bag of gold teeth is the most repulsive thing in his trunk, but it’s also his insurance policy if he should ever need to make a swift getaway. The cyanide capsules are significant too. It’s not just one or two that he keeps to hand in his desk drawer – every single one of his suit jackets has a capsule behind the lapel, ensuring he could never get caught out.
Strauss also intrigues me because he is a weak, pitiful figure by the end, begging for his life with anything he can. He does not try to excuse what he did – there are no “I was following orders” comments – but instead Strauss emphasises that he has changed. He knows that what he did was terrible, but he’s terrified at the prospect of facing the Israeli’s justice.
We are not supposed to sympathise with Nazis and yet Callan, our hero, does. When Strauss is questioning what good it will achieve by handing him over to the Israelis, Callan answers, “It’s what they want […] It doesn’t matter what I think. They’ve earned the right to think so.” Ultimately, that does not seem to be enough for Callan though and he is willing to spare Strauss the ordeal of a trial by letting him kill himself. In this way, Callan is seeing Strauss for who he is now, rather than who he was – which is telling, possibly, for an ex-con. I do continue to find this story a surprisingly interesting choice for a programme made only 22 years after the Second World War.
I think this must be one of a handful of assignments that Callan does not complete successfully. His mission was to keep an eye on Strauss and help bring him in alive. Having failed, he gets no reward from the Section.
This episode’s drop comes much later than A Magnum for Schneider‘s. It is well into the final act before Callan tells Strauss, “You poor bastard – she turned you in!”