Skip to main content

Whatever’s in that package, it’s absolutely vital that I get hold of it. If I don’t, well, governments will fall, chaos will ensue.

The Avengers
2.5: Propellant 23

With a title that invokes Robert Anton Wilson’s most celebrated of occult numbers, one might have expected dark dabblings to ensue. But Propellant 23is a remarkably low-key affair, its action revolving around a Marseilles airport and Steed and Cathy’s quest for a flask of Chinese rocket fuel.


The plot is propelled by who will get their hands on said item first, since the man (Meyer, played by Frederick Schiller) carrying the flask dies of a (suspected) heart attack on arriving at the airport. As a result, the various parties engage in some fairly clumsy detective work trying to track it down, arousing the suspicions of airport security chief Roland (Ralph Nossek), if not his less guarded subordinates and staff. Before long Steed is persona non grata, having attempted a break-in, and it’s up to Mrs Gale to do the nosing around. And she too instantly manages to tip Roland off that she’s snooping.


Steed: Whatever’s in that package, it’s absolutely vital that I get hold of it. If I don’t, well, governments will fall, chaos will ensue.
Cathy: How can you possibly say that if you don’t know what’s in it?

It turns out their competing factions, an Englishman, smooth and chatting up an air hostess for facts, and a German (stereotypically) curt, to the point and unrefined in manner, are on the same team. Young Geoffrey Palmer plays the former, Paul Manning, who knows of Steed, though it isn’t clear how (“Where was it? Lords? Henley?” wonders Steed airily) and next to Nossek is the stand out guest actor here. John Dearth (“clever” Lupton in the last Jon Pertwee Doctor Who, Planet of the Spiders) is Siebel, the German, who gets clobbered pretty sharply by Cathy when he pulls a modelling knife on her. Cathy concisely summaries the opposition ("An Englishman, a German? How did the French get left out?")


Also appearing are Nicholas Courtney as the pilot, Captain Legros (Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart, known to a new generation, alas, as the Cyber-Brigadier), Justine Lord as Jeanette, the stewardess Palmer’s pursuing (her most memorable turn is the titular role in The Prisoner episode The Girl Who Was Death) and who meets an unfortunate end stuffed under a bed. 


The flask has been light-fingered by airport drunk Tissot (Trader Faulkner), leading to a not untypically rushed wrap-up as all-parties converge on him and his accomplice-in-alcohol baker friend (“Here’s to bread, aye?”; John Gill, sinister Mr Oak in Fury from the Deep). Neither takes a swig of the strong stuff before it’s recovered but Tissot finishes up with a bullet in the back (non-fatal, it seems).


Cathy: Do you always arrange to take your calls in a lingerie department?
Steed: If humanly possible.

The banter between Steed and Cathy is on good form in this return directorial effort from Jonathan Alwyn (Death Dispatch), and the only Avengers script from Jon Manchip White. Mrs Gale is reluctant to help Steed as she’s considering a medical expedition to Borneo to aid children suffering malnutrition; amusingly, Steed is entirely disinterested by her altruistic tendencies (“Oh, I see”). Further to their tête-à-tête in a lingerie store, Cathy reveals a gun in her garter during the climax; “I thought you didn’t like the black?” Steed observes slyly of another item of risqué Honor Blackman flesh flashing.


Steed’s spy-speak phone call yields some fun snippets of code talk, as we discover the specimen tin of fruit juice he’s tasked with obtaining refers to a Chinese rocket, with the fruit juice being the fuel.  Less cunning is the running gag concerning hair loss at the expense of one of the airport security staff, John Crocker’s “Curly” Leclerc (so not the LeClerc from ‘Allo ‘Allo); Barry Wilsher’s Pierre presents him a bottle of “hair restorer” he found in Meyer’s brief case, which that leaves him completely bald. What a jape!


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

This is very cruel, Oskar. You're giving them hope. You shouldn't do that.

Schindler’s List (1993)
(SPOILERS) Such is the status of Schindler’s List, it all but defies criticism; it’s the worthiest of all the many worthy Best Picture Oscar winners, a film noble of purpose and sensitive in the treatment and depiction of the Holocaust as the backdrop to one man’s redemption. There is much to admire in Steven Spielberg’s film. But it is still a Steven Spielberg film. From a director whose driving impulse is the manufacture of popcorn entertainments, not intellectual introspection. Which means it’s a film that, for all its commendable features, is made to manipulate its audience in the manner of any of his “lesser” genre offerings. One’s mileage doubtless varies on this, but for me there are times during this, his crowning achievement, where the berg gets in the way of telling the most respectful version of this story by simple dint of being the berg. But then, to a great or lesser extent, this is true of almost all, if not all, his prestige pictures.

I'm reliable, I'm a very good listener, and I'm extremely funny.

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)
(SPOILERS) When I wrote my 23 to see in 2019, I speculated that James Cameron might be purposefully giving his hand-me-downs to lesser talents because he hubristically didn’t want anyone making a movie that was within a spit of the proficiency we’ve come to expect from him. Certainly, Robert Rodriguez and Tim Miller are leagues beneath Kathryn Bigelow, Jimbo’s former spouse and director of his Strange Days screenplay. Miller’s no slouch when it comes to action – which is what these movies are all about, let’s face it – but neither is he a craftsman, so all those reviews attesting that Terminator: Dark Fate is the best in the franchise since Terminator 2: Judgment Day may be right, but there’s a considerable gulf between the first sequel (which I’m not that big a fan of) and this retcon sequel to that sequel.

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

And my father was a real ugly man.

Marty (1955)
(SPOILERS) It might be the very unexceptional good-naturedness of Marty that explains its Best Picture Oscar success. Ernest Borgnine’s Best Actor win is perhaps more immediately understandable, a badge of recognition for versatility, having previously attracted attention for playing iron-wrought bastards. But Marty also took the Palme d’Or, and it’s curious that its artistically-inclined jury fell so heavily for its charms (it was the first American picture to win the award; Lost Weekend won the Grand Prix when that was still the top award).

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

You ever heard the saying, “Don’t rob the bank across from the diner that has the best donuts in three counties”?

2 Guns (2013)
(SPOILERS) Denzel Washington is such a reliable performer, that it can get a bit boring. You end up knowing every gesture or inflection in advance, whether he’s playing a good guy or a bad guy. And his films are generally at least half decent, so you end up seeing them. Even in Flight (or perhaps especially in Flight; just watch him chugging down that vodka) where he’s giving it his Oscar-nominatable best, he seems too familiar. I think it may be because he’s an actor who is more effective the less he does. In 2 Guns he’s not doing less, but sometimes it seems like it. That’s because the last person I’d ever expect blows him off the screen; Mark Wahlberg.

The world is one big hospice with fresh air.

Doctor Sleep (2019)
(SPOILERS) Doctor Sleep is a much better movie than it probably ought to be. Which is to say, it’s an adaption of a 2013 novel that, by most accounts, was a bit of a dud. That novel was a sequel to The Shining, one of Stephen King’s most beloved works, made into a film that diverged heavily, and in King’s view detrimentally, from the source material. Accordingly, Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep also operates as a follow up to the legendary Kubrick film. In which regard, it doesn’t even come close. And yet, judged as its own thing, which can at times be difficult due to the overt referencing, it’s an affecting and often effective tale of personal redemption and facing the – in this case literal – ghosts of one’s past.

There’s nothing stock about a stock car.

Days of Thunder (1990)
(SPOILERS) The summer of 1990 was beset with box office underperformers. Sure-thing sequels – Another 48Hrs, Robocop 2, Gremlins 2: The New Batch, The Exorcist III, even Back to the Future Part III – either belly flopped or failed to hit the hoped for highs, while franchise hopefuls – Dick Tracy, Arachnophobia – most certainly did not ascend to the stratospheric levels of the previous year’s Batman. Even the big hitters, Total Recall and Die Hard 2: Die Harder, were somewhat offset by costing a fortune in the first place. Price-tag-wise, Days of Thunder, a thematic sequel to the phenomenon that was Top Gun, was in their category. Business-wise, it was definitely in the former. Tom Cruise didn’t quite suffer his first misfire since Legend – he’d made charmed choices ever since playing Maverick – but it was a close-run thing.