Dangerous Assignment

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Dangerous Assignment was an NBC Radio drama starring Brian Donlevy broadcast in the US 1949–1953, a syndicated television series distributed in the US 1951–52 (also starring Brian Donlevy), and an Australian radio series broadcast in 1954-56 as remakes of the original American radio scripts.

Series premise[edit]

"The Commissioner" sent US special agent Steve Mitchell to exotic locales all over the world, where he would encounter adventure and international intrigue in pursuit of some secret. Each show would always open with a brief teaser scene from the episode to follow. After the intro, Steve Mitchell would be summoned to the office of 'The Commissioner', the regional head of an unnamed US State Department agency created to address international unrest as it affected U.S. interests. "The Commissioner" would give background information, explain the current situation and tell Steve his assignment. Steve's cover identity, in almost all his adventures, was that of a suave debonair foreign correspondent for an unnamed print publication — his assignments invariably involved deceit, trickery, and violence, all tied together into a successful resolution by the end of the episode.[1]

Radio series[edit]

Dangerous Assignment
Running time30 minutes
Country of originUnited States
TV adaptationsDangerous Assignment
StarringBrian Donlevy
Herb Butterfield
Created byBrian Donlevy
Original releaseJuly 9, 1949 (1949-07-09) – July 8, 1953 (1953-07-08)
No. of seriesFour years with a weekly broadcast
No. of episodes167+
Audio formatMonaural

Dangerous Assignment started out as a replacement radio series broadcast in the US on the NBC radio network in the summer of 1949; it became a syndicated series in early 1950. Reportedly, star Brian Donlevy himself was the one who brought the show to NBC.[1]

In the American radio shows, Donlevy was both the protagonist within the action and the narrator, giving the show "a suspenseful immediacy."[2][3] The only other regular actor on the radio shows was Herb Butterfield, who played "The Commissioner." Many stage and screen actors appeared as guest-stars including, among many others, William Conrad, Raymond Burr, Paul Frees, Jim Davis, Dan O'Herlihy, Richard Boone, and Eddie Cantor.

The Australian series was begun as a result of the popularity of the American series—scripts from shows already broadcast in the US were re-done with Australian actors in 1954. The Australian producers re-created and broadcast thirty-nine episodes from 1954 on.

Summer 1949 series[edit]

The radio show started out as a seven-week summer replacement series broadcast on NBC Saturdays 8:30–9 PM EST. It premiered July 9, 1949; the last episode was on August 20, 1949. A character portraying the Commissioner's secretary, 'Ruthie', was played by Betty Moran — it is hinted that there was some romantic history between Ruthie and Steve Mitchell.[4]


The seven episodes[4] were each twenty-five minutes long:

  • Thropp Foundation Stolen Relief Supplies, set in Messina, Sicily, was broadcast July 9, 1949.
  • Investigate Malayan Star Line Sabotage, set in Saigon, French Indochina, was broadcast July 16, 1949.
  • On Safari for Nigerian Manganese, set in Nigeria, West Africa, was broadcast July 23, 1949.
  • --Title Unknown--, set in Mexico City, Mexico, was broadcast July 30, 1949.
  • Investigate Millionaire Murder Conspiracy, set in Paris, France, was broadcast August 6, 1949.
  • Smash Illegal Alien Smuggling Ring, set in Masimbra, Portugal, was broadcast August 13, 1949.
  • Recover File No. 307, set in Zurich, Switzerland, was broadcast August 20, 1949.

1950–1953 American series[edit]

The Summer 1949 series was very well-received, but NBC had no room for a new series in its Fall 1949 schedule.[1] The radio show finally did return to the airwaves on February 6, 1950, in the 10:30 PM Monday timeslot formerly occupied by The Dave Garroway Show (originating from Chicago and syndicated nationwide), which was moved an hour later to 11:30 PM. The show moved over the next three years to Wednesday nights, then Saturday nights, then Tuesday nights, and then finally ended its run during its last few months in 1953 back on Wednesday nights.[2] Some of the sponsors included the Ford Motor Company, Wheaties cereal, Anacin painkiller, Chesterfield cigarettes, and the RCA Victor record label, but the show, for the most part, was sustained solely by the NBC network for over half of its entire run with promos for other NBC shows. The series ran every week from its premiere date until the last show was broadcast in the US on July 8, 1953.

The second year of the radio series and the year of the television series were concurrent.


There are at least 160 episodes in the 1950–53 American radio series.[4] Episode titles became fairly standardized, starting with a verb, and describing the assignment: Find Szabo and The Briefcase, Keep Chromite Mine Operating, Intercept Dr. Korvel Before Opposition, etc.

1954 Australian series[edit]

As the American radio series ended its last year, negotiation and production began for an Australian radio version. Produced by Grace Gibson Transcriptions, this version of Dangerous Assignment re-did 52 episodes of the full American run, with Lloyd Burrell playing Steve Mitchell — this radio series was broadcast in Australia in 1954 to 1956 and the following years.[5]

Television series[edit]

Dangerous Assignment
Suzanne Dalbert-Brian Donlevy in Dangerous Assignment (The Key Story).jpg
Brian Donlevy & Suzanne Dalbert in the TV series Dangerous Assignment, episode "The Key Story"
Created byBrian Donlevy
Developed byBrian Donlevy
Directed byBill Karn
StarringBrian Donlevy
Herb Butterfield
Theme music composerBasil George ("Buzz") Adlam
Von Dexter
Country of originUnited States
No. of seasons1
No. of episodes39
Executive producerHarold E. Knox
CinematographyLester H. White, A.S.C.
EditorsMaurice Wright
Edward Schroeder
Running time30 minutes
Production companyDonlevy Development Inc.
Original networkNBC
Picture formatBlack and white
Original releaseInvalid date range

A syndicated television series named Dangerous Assignment was broadcast in the US in syndication (but mostly on the NBC television network) in the 1951–52 television season.[6] Donlevy formed a production company to convert the radio show to a television show — but, no TV network would invest in the series, so, instead, he produced thirty-nine episodes with his own cash and sold them to individual stations nationwide in First-Run Syndication (though NBC did aid in the distribution)[1] — price per episode ranged from $75 to $2000, depending on the population and demographics in the buyer's region.[7]


Production credits:

  • Assistant Director: William McGarry
  • Production Supervisor: Frank Parmenter
  • Assistant Director: William McGarry
  • Production Designer: George Van Marter
  • Set Decoration: George Milo
  • Film Editor: Edward Schroeder, A.C.E.
  • Wardrobe: Charles Keehne
  • Sound: Earl Snyder
  • Makeup: David Newell
  • Casting: Harvey Clermont
  • Production Assistant: Edward Denault
  • Special Effects: Harry Redmond Jr.


All episodes starred Brian Donlevy as Steve Mitchell and Herb Butterfield as "The Commissioner." Robert Ryf wrote most of the scripts. Among the more famous guest stars were Hugh Beaumont, Paul Frees, Elena Verdugo, Harry Guardino, Lyle Talbot, John Dehner, Michael Ansara, Jim Davis, and Strother Martin, many of them appearing as different characters in different episodes.

# Episode Name Original air date
1"The Alien Smuggler Story"
"Alien Smuggling Ring"
Fall, 1951 (Fall, 1951)
Steve travels to Portugal to help a friend, a gangster-turned-informer, investigate a scam that supposedly smuggles political refugees into the United States.
2"The Submarine Story"Fall, 1951 (Fall, 1951)
Steve tries to discover the identity of the leader of some gunrunners.
3"The Displaced Persons Story"Fall, 1951 (Fall, 1951)
Refugees on a ship bound for a new home are terrorized by an unknown saboteur.
4"The Memory Chain"Fall, 1951 (Fall, 1951)
Steve Mitchell is assigned to smash a spy ring that works only by word of mouth.
5"The Manager Story"Fall, 1951 (Fall, 1951)
Steve, in Stockholm to investigate a college professor who is running secrets from the United States, meets a European scientist desperate for the safe return of his kidnapped son.
6"The Key Story"Fall, 1951 (Fall, 1951)
In the Swiss Alps, Steve is sent to find a document that proves the leader of a country friendly with the United States didn't commit suicide, but was murdered.
7"The Bhandara Story"Fall, 1951 (Fall, 1951)
In Bombay, India, Steve tries to clear an imprisoned American citizen charged with sabotage.
8"The Salami Story"Fall, 1951 (Fall, 1951)
Steve accompanies the head of an American plastics company to a conference in France.
9"The Pat and Mike Story"Fall, 1951 (Fall, 1951)
Steve travels to an African jungle to stop a man causing trouble between local shamans.
10"The Lagoon Story"Fall, 1951 (Fall, 1951)
In Africa, Steve tries to locate two missing agents sent there to find a powerful germ culture.
11"The Italian Movie Story"Fall, 1951 (Fall, 1951)
In Rome, Steve tries to recover a roll of film stolen from a movie company.
12"The Blood-Stained Feather Story"
"Order of the Sacred Dove"
Fall, 1951 (Fall, 1951)
In Cairo, Steve tries to dismantle the Order of the Sacred Dove, a dangerous secret society of assassins.
13"The Burma Temple Story"Fall, 1951 (Fall, 1951)
Steve travels to Burma to find out the truth behind the death of a newspaper correspondent who had been posing as a political refugee.
14"The Havana Microfilm Story"Fall, 1951 (Fall, 1951)
Steve negotiates the dangerous back alleys of Havana in search of a spy in possession of stolen documents on microfilm.
15"South America -- The Sunflower Seed Story"December, 1951 (December, 1951)
In South America, Steve tries to clear an American citizen accused of the murder of a man heading a major political party.
16"The Caboose Story"December, 1951 (December, 1951)
Steve must find out if an old girlfriend, now a dangerous spy, is behind many recent acts of sabotage in Japan.
17"The Missing Diplomat Story"December, 1951 (December, 1951)
In Barcelona, Spain, Steve must retrieve records of top-secret conversations from a European diplomat who has disappeared, along with his daughter.
18"The Briefcase Story"December, 1951 (December, 1951)
Steve must discover who is trying to sabotage a meeting in Paris between representatives from the United States and three Eastern European countries.
19"The Civil War Map Story"Winter, 1952 (Winter, 1952)
Steve goes to Richmond, Virginia, to find out why a foreign agent has stolen a 90-year-old Civil War map.
20"The Piece of String Story"Winter, 1952 (Winter, 1952)
In Panama, Steve must find out who has been stealing dynamite.
21"The Iron Banner Story"Winter, 1952 (Winter, 1952)
In Greece, Steve, investigating how a man dead for six years could have recently been murdered, discovers a cast-iron swastika with details on Hitler's secret bank accounts.
22"The Dead General's Story"Winter, 1952 (Winter, 1952)
In the Balkans, Steve poses as a journalist to locate a murdered general's secret documents before enemy agents can get them.
23"The Parachute Story"Winter, 1952 (Winter, 1952)
Steve parachutes into Eastern Europe to search for a confession that will clear the U.S. in an international scandal.
24"The Paris Sewer Story"Winter, 1952 (Winter, 1952)
The sewers of Paris lead Steve to the underground quarters of a spy ring.
25"The Atomic Mine Story"Winter, 1952 (Winter, 1952)
Steve uses a Geiger counter to find a bomb-carrying killer aboard a speeding train.
26"The Bodyguard Story"Winter, 1952 (Winter, 1952)
In Paris, a bowl of cold stew gives Steve a clue to a political assassin's identity.
27"The Art Treasure Story"Winter, 1952 (Winter, 1952)
In Mexico, Steve is in search of Habsburg art treasures hidden by Nazis.
28"The Blue Chip Story"Winter, 1952 (Winter, 1952)
Steve, posing as a criminal, infiltrates a counterfeiting ring in a Macao casino.
29"The Red Queen Story"Winter, 1952 (Winter, 1952)
In Singapore, Steve searches for $1 million cache of rubber stolen from the United States.
30"The Knitting Needle Story"Winter, 1952 (Winter, 1952)
On an airflight to Rome, Steve protects a journalist who is about to write articles about a criminal organization that controls voters and elections in Italy.
31"The Assassin Ring Story"
"Kill The King"
Winter, 1952 (Winter, 1952)
Steve travels to the Middle East to prove that the United States has nothing to do with the assassination of the king.
32"The Decoy Story"Winter, 1952 (Winter, 1952)
While Steve is occupied smuggling a wounded U.S. attache out of Eastern Europe, an international opportunist masquerades as Steve Mitchell.
33"Death in the Morgue Story"Winter, 1952 (Winter, 1952)
A morgue in Morocco is Steve's headquarters as he probes sabotage at an American air base.
34"The Stolen Letter"Spring, 1952 (Spring, 1952)
Steve is sent to South America to expose a plot against the U.S.
35"The Venetian Story"Spring, 1952 (Spring, 1952)
Steve travels to Venice to find and buy back a vital part of the agency's code machines.
36"Berlin -- The Black Hood Story"Spring, 1952 (Spring, 1952)
Steve travels to Berlin, Germany, to recover confidential papers stolen from a diplomatic courier.
37"The Archeaological Story"
"Desert Patrol"
Spring, 1952 (Spring, 1952)
Steve travels to Trans-Jordan in the Middle East to find and protect a missing goddess.
38"The Perfect Alibi Story"Spring, 1952 (Spring, 1952)
A political informer's murder in Rome leads to the discovery that an unknown opportunist is impersonating Steve.
39"The Mine Story"Spring, 1952 (Spring, 1952)
Steve is smuggled into a slave labor camp In Eastern Europe to get vital information.

Critical reception[edit]

The American radio show, perhaps due to the fact that it immediately preceded the blockbuster radio series The Man Called X, was extremely popular: "The program was clearly well received, was building a loyal audience for the full-hour block of foreign adventure drama it presented",[4] although some radio fans found the American radio series "not quite overcoming the absolute predictability of the stories."[2]

Radio fan response to the American television show was tepid: Seven years before "Mr. Lucky" and the "James Bond" character, Donlevy donned a dinner jacket for the TV series and attempted to look suave in his exploits, including the opening sequence during which he assumed a nonchalant pose as a dagger whizzed dangerously past his head. Other than that, the series was a bit tedious, since Donlevy was not able to portray the confident nuances of the character type that was pioneered by Cary Grant and Sean Connery later, who played a dangerous situation with savoir faire (i.e., grace under pressure); one-dimensional situations and character attributes that might have gotten by on radio were a bit hard to swallow when you saw them acted out on television; and of course, as the old saying goes, perhaps "the pictures are better" on radio.[1]

American television critics were not that much more enthusiastic: "...a television version of a pedestrian radio spy series."[8]


  1. ^ a b c d e Dangerous Assignment TV Show Classic TV Themes
  2. ^ a b c Dunning, John (1998) "On the Air: Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio" Oxford University Press US, ISBN 0-19-507678-8, page 190
  3. ^ Field, Stanley (1958) "Television and Radio Writing" Houghton Mifflin, page 186
  4. ^ a b c d "Dangerous Assignment". The Digital Deli Too. Retrieved 15 July 2015.
  5. ^ Dangerous Assignment Ian Grieve. Australian Old Time Radio.
  6. ^ Brooks, Tim and March, Earl (2007) "The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows: 1946–Present", Random House, ISBN 0-345-45542-8, pp. 238
  7. ^ "Syndicated Fight between NBC, CBS" Billboard Magazine, February 23, 1952 (available online at Online Billboard magazine archive at Google Books
  8. ^ Erickson, Hal (2001) "Syndicated Television: The First Forty Years 1947-1987" McFarland Classics, ISBN 0-7864-1198-8, page 25

External links[edit]