The Solid Gold Kidnapping was the third TV Movie broadcast in 1973 by the ABC network prior to launching The Six Million Dollar Man as a weekly series. As with the previous Suspense Movie, Wine, Women and War, it was decided to produce an original storyline rather than to directly adapt novelist Martin Caidin's work, (while it has been noted that the story features some superficial similarities to Caidin's third novel, High Crystal, that book wasn't published until the following year).
While The Solid Gold Kidnapping is frequently characterized as a "pilot," this is an imprecise term for the third movie overall and the second of two Suspense Movies. Kidnapping's claim to "pilot" status is primarily its prior and distinct nature. This would be the last bionic TV Movie made until Return of the Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman some 14 years later.
US Ambassador Scott is being held in a remote ancient Mayan temple in the Yucatán Peninsula, apparently by Mexican revolutionaries, and is freed by Steve Austin after a brief struggle. The kidnappers are in fact led by Julian Peck (John Vernon), an employee of a criminal organization called The Company. Peck is fascinated when he realizes Scott was freed by a single man who is capable of knocking down a stone wall with his own hands and witnesses Austin hanging one-handed from the getaway helicopter.
Later, leading US international negotiator William Henry Cameron is taken from a Paris hospital by the same organization that seized Ambassador Scott. Steve Austin, on vacation in Aspen, is called back to duty by Oscar Goldman. This time the ransom demand is a massive $1 billion in gold. When one of the members of the kidnap gang, Roger Ventriss, is murdered during the capture by an embittered colleague (Julian Peck) this leads to the only potential lead. Scientist Dr. Erica Bergner has developed a new method of transferring brain cells - and therefore memory - from one human to another. She offers to be the recipient of cells from the dead Ventriss in the hope that this will lead to her identifying where Cameron has been taken.
Whilst the US government prepares to ship the gold ransom from Fort Knox, Steve and Dr. Bergner travel to Lucerne, Switzerland in response to images that Dr. Bergner has seen following the cell implant. There Steve survives an attempt on his life, and Dr. Bergner's implant leads them to meet the Contessa de Rojas at a Casino.
Steve and Erica fake a spat so that he can be "picked up" and taken to the Contessa's villa. The Contessa had been the link between the kidnap gang and Cameron and following further attempts on his life Steve forces her to betray Peck who is captured. Back at Dr. Bergner's lab the rat test subject begins to suffer and fail, and Rudy Wells pleads with Oscar to let him warn Dr. Bergner that she may be next. Oscar insists she is their only chance to rescue Cameron.
Aboard the ship, The Chairman plays chess with Cameron, who comes to suspect that he will never be released. Meanwhile OSI Agent Mel Bristol bird-dogs the gold, but the Company makes a switch - they have Cameron and the gold. Later, Dr. Bergner begins to suffer side effects to the brain cell transplant but she is eventually able to lead Steve and Oscar to a freighter. Here Steve locates Cameron and is able to free him. He also captures the Chairman of the Company.
The Solid Gold Kidnapping, like its predecessor, was adapted as a novel, this time by Evan Richards. It would be followed by several other episode adaptations throughout the run of the series. See The Solid Gold Kidnapping (novel).
The Solid Gold Kidnapping orignally aired as a 90-minute made-for-TV movie. When the show was released into syndication, this movie was padded out with additional scenes taken from later episodes and split into two one-hour parts. This makes the episodes somewhat long and drawn-out; not to mention that the added scenes cause continuity errors. The recycling of footage is much more noticeable and choppy on this occasion than with the re-edits of the pilot movie and Wine, Women and War.
- Gil Mellé's score for The Solid Gold Kidnapping was completely removed, replaced with music by series composer Oliver Nelson, who is credited for music in the episodic re-edits. Since this was immediately prior to Nelson's arrival with Season One, later sources, including IMDb, mistakenly identified The Solid Gold Kidnapping as Nelson's first work for the franchise (since corrected).
- Oliver Nelson's credit for music in the episodic versions is not 100% accurate: at the end of Part I, as Oscar speaks his last line and "To Be Continued" appears, a music sting is used from J. J. Johnson's score for "Killer Wind."
- In addition to the music, several sound effects were removed. When Steve is reading the Contessa's passport, a "computer" sound was originally used for Steve's eye. This sound recurs when Steve is dropping the anchor of the Hawaiian Legislator. Dr. Bergner's implanted memories had a sound associated with them like ringing bells. Both sounds were removed for the reedit.
- The syndicated episodes of this movie do not use the opening credits in their original form. The opening credits from the series is used instead. The "supers" however, are reused, perhaps since they were white and therefore matched the series' look. The exception is Alan Oppenheimer's credit: for both Suspense Movies he was credited in the opening, and that yellow-orange card is inserted into the series' opener for the corresponding two-parters.
- The episodic closing credits show the series still frame as a backdrop, and Part I uses the standard Six Million Dollar Man theme music, while Part II ends with the "Six Million Dollar Man" song sung by Dusty Springfield. Part I, however, retains a credit for the song, even though it is not heard in the first episode. Since the syndicated version of Wine, Women and War omits the Springfield song, Part II of the re-edited Solid Gold Kidnapping is the only episode to use the Springfield song. (The original tail credits depicted Steve running on a black backdrop, an element used for the telefilm intro's title build, a frame of which can be seen on the tail of the episode Wine, Women and War (Part I).)
- The original opening begins in Mexico, with Steve rescuing Ambassador Scott. The re-edit begins on "The Company's" ship headquarters, then a brief scene in Mexico shows Ambassador Scott held by Peck and Ventriss, cutting away before Steve's debut to insert an extended sequence of footage from other episodes with voiceovers attempting to depict Steve being tested, Oscar sending him to Mexico, and Steve travelling there, all created for the re-edit.
- The scene aboard "The Company's" ship where Peck reports the loss of Scott to Austin is used to create two scenes, making obvious reuse of several shots.
- In the original telefilm, Steve's romantic Aspen vacation is cut short by a phone call; Steve hangs up and says "I've just had a terrible skiing accident." In Part I of the syndicated version, this brief scene in the cabin is expanded by a preceding montage of shots of the resort, with voiceovers by Lee Majors and a voice actress attempting to establish a narrative while the camera weaves about on skis.
- For Part II, the credit "supers" from the telefilm are reused as with Part I. This means the second part's title does not read "Part II," in contrast to all other multipart episodes of the series. Since the credits were superimposed over the Mexican ruins from the beginning, this has the effect of bringing up the earlier locale when that story is long over.
- Footage taken from later episodes includes: The Seven Million Dollar Man and Clark Templeton O'Flaherty.
- The added footage that shows what looks like an infinite hallway of computer banks at "OSI Headquarters", is taken from the 1970 Universal Studios film Colossus: The Forbin Project, starring Wine, Women and War's Eric Braeden.
Ambassador Scott: They send one man?
Steve: Well, things are a little tight, sir. You know, with inflation and budget cuts.
Cameron: How was I?
Oscar: Brilliant, Bill. (Bill laughs) Your performance rivalled Camille.
Cameron: Anything I can bring back for ya?
Oscar: How about a pair of autographed chopsticks?
Peck: Beautiful operation, Roger, really smooth. And only one casualty.
Roger: Casualty, who?
Peck: You. (fires two shots at point blank range)
Oscar: Hello Steve, good of you to come.
Steve: Well how could I refuse you, Oscar? It's the first time you ever said 'please'. (removing bandages from his head) Why, like this, I feel like a fugitive from an Egyptian tomb.
Oscar: Steve, officially, you're one of the thousands of men looking for William Cameron.
Oscar: Unofficially? You're my billion-to-one shot.
Mel Bristol: I didn't even know you were on the team.
Steve: (to Dr. Bergner) I try not to confuse emotion with progress, Doctor. (turns to Oscar) It's dangerous and unproven.
Rudy: That's exactly what they said about you, Steve.
Peck: Roger's death is a tragic loss, not only to the company, but to me personaly. We were very close.
Erica: It's gonna take a while to assimilate my new memory, after all, it took me - it took him a lifetime to compile it.
Steve: But we haven't got a lifetime, doctor, all we've got is 32 hours and 45 minutes.
Steve Austin: You can tear a human being apart like an automobile, and completely rebuild him. New heart, new kidneys, new arms, legs, eyes. No matter how many spare parts a man gets, he’s still himself - because of his mind. He still reacts the same, he feels the same, he thinks the same. Now somebody comes along and wants to replace that part too. When you’re all finished what do you have? A bunch of parts with nothing to hold them together. But what does it prove? Except you can do it.
Dr. Bergner: What do you want to prove, Colonel?
Steve Austin: That I’m more than the sum of my parts.
Oscar: (on payphone at London airport) Steve, this is the age of diplomacy. Will you try using some?
Steve: Just send a check.
Oscar: It's like going on a scavenger hunt without any clues.
Mel: Who's going with me?
Oscar: No one.
Mel: No one? You mean it's just me and a billion in gold?
Oscar: We're taking a chance sending you. If they find out that we're tracking this gold, they may never even show up.
Mel: Chief, have you cleared this with the brass?
Oscar: They're behind me a thousand per cent.
Mel: What if somebody steals it?
Oscar: I guess you'll just have to put in some overtime to pay 'em back
2nd Taxi Driver: Well, you have seen all of Lucerne. Three times.
Steve: Yeah, it's beautifull.
2nd Taxi Driver: Oh yes, yes, it's very beautiful, but perhaps you want like me to take you somewhere particular, no?
Steve: No, we'd just like to drive around some more. 2nd Taxi Driver: Monsieur, eh. s'il vous plais, I am getting car sick, you know, I don't know...
Contessa: I've known several Americans. They too could only concentrate on one thing at a time. So little imagination.
Steve: Well, it's hard to believe where you're concerned.
Steve: (looking up at the Contessa's villa) Well, that's impressive.
Contessa: I've always found it's what's inside that counts.
Steve: (to Dr. Bergner) Even if you're succesful, it's not much fun being an experiment.
Oscar: (on phone) Anything out of the ordinary, Mel?
Mel: (on other line) It's the looks I've been getting. I feel like Clark Kent, every time I turn around, I'm in a mensroom, changing clothes.
Oscar: Congratulations, Bristol. You've managed to turn gold... into lead.
- There is a slight similarity between Steve Austin's first mission in this movie, and the one he embarks upon in the Martin Caidin novel, High Crystal. The setting is similar in both — Austin is sent in to investigate a pyramid in Mexico. But the similarity ends there. High Crystal was not actually published until the next year.
- Publicity photos for the episode show Austin holding a large piece of carved stone from the pyramid, as if to throw it. No such scene occurs in the final film.
- "The Company" is similar in form to SPECTRE, the organization that James Bond battled in the 1960s. If the intent was to introduce a SPECTRE-like organization as a regular nemesis for Austin and the OSI, it was abandoned after this film. Much later, a similar organization called Fortress was introduced in Return of the Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman.
- The credits of the original telefilm use the song specially composed for "Wine, Women and War" entitled "Six Million Dollar Man", and performed by Dusty Springfield. This was the song's penultimate use, as Oliver Nelson's theme would replace it completely when the weekly series began. It would resurface for its final use as the tail theme for the syndicated version of The Solid Gold Kidnapping (Part II)
- While all titles from the previous telefilm were gold, as are the intro and tail credits here, the "supers" with the guest cast and telefilm's title are white here, debuting the look of titles for the series. This allowed their later re-use for the episodic versions.
- A unique closing credits sequence is used for this film, showing Steve running in front of a black backdrop (this footage was first used in the opening credits of Wine, Women and War). Although the intent was probably to show him running (the fact he is wearing civilian clothes suggests he isn't training), the fact he's on a treadmill is given away by the fact Lee Majors glances down occasionally to check his footing.
- The telefilm offers a rare (possibly unique) look at Austin's NASA jacket, which he is wearing when he arrives at the hospital and is briefed by Oscar. The back of the Jacket is covered with patches from various NASA missions, including one on his left breast side from Apollo 11. The main Apollo logo that covers much of the back is the same logo that the real-life NASA used for its Apollo series.
- This film marks the first time that Oscar is shown talking on the telephone to "Mr. Secretary", who isn't positively identified as the Secretary of State until sometime later (in a Bionic Woman episode, in fact).
- Austin reveals a little bit about his past, suggesting he might have some experience as a gambler, when he is able to figure out that the number sequence 17, 34, 6 corresponds to the adjacent numbers on a roulette wheel. "It's part of my checkered past" he says, dismissively. He also showed his casino skills in Wine, Women and War. His recurring interest in football (see "One of Our Running Backs Is Missing") is reflected when he jokingly calls out "hike!" upon first hearing the numbers.
- While Steve is reading in the dark with his bionic eye, a "computer" sound is heard. This was removed for the syndicated version.
- Dr. Bergner's implanted memories are accompanied by the sound of bells, also removed for syndication.
- As with the previous telefilm, Austin's bionic eye is presented differently than it is in the series, with Austin's night vision depicted as a green-filtered view, with a close up showing illuminated green pupils.
- The fictional London Airport is an unusual place. Not only is it apparently located adjacent to a seaport, but for some reason one of its phone booths is located in the middle of a parking lot, blocking a parking stall and rendering two more extremely difficult to pull out of. (These oddities may be seen when Oscar gives Mel the job of babysitting the gold shipment, which occurs in the final minutes Part 1 and the start of Part 2 of the re-edited version of the film). In fact, there seems to be telephone booths in very unusual places in this movie: a similar parking space-blocking booth can be seen at the docks, and another is located inside a warehouse.
- Also, while signage during the above-mentioned phone booth scene and dialogue suggest the use of a fictional "London Airport" an establishing shot uses the real-life name Heathrow Airport. (Incidentally, if the sign shown is a real one, it's in need of repair as one of the letters appears ready to fall off!)
- Austin uses the nightvision of his bionic eye to examine the Contessa's bedroom, including her passport. The only problem is the room actually has more than enough light for someone to see and read without the need for the bionic eye. The syndicated version attempt to gloss this by timing the shots darker.
- When Erica has her dream about Cameron's kidnapping, she sees things that Roger (whose memories she is reliving) could not possibly have seen, such as the guard's point of view as he's shot and Cameron going to answer the door.