Skip to main content

And A Happier New Year.

The Avengers
3.18: Dressed to Kill

Before The Avengers unwrapped its Christmas episode (Season Four’s Too Many Christmas Trees), it saw in the New Year. Both are inventive, but Dressed to Kill has the edge, a fancy dress whodunnit set on a train (well, mostly a station; Badger’s Mount, no less), in which Steed and Cathy Gale attempt to root out a typically far-fetched plot to instigate the apocalypse.


Steed’s “very good” Christmas party is interrupted when business calls; Britain’s early warning radar stations picked up a missile which then faded away (“The third World War broke out… Another few seconds and you and I would be mutating now”). The beyond tenuous strands of plot contrivance enable Steed to be in on the situation in advance, such that he has already purchased a plot of land adjoining the sole unaffected radar station, at Smallwood on the Cornish coast (he later recounts the whys of this; it was realised land was being bought up strategically close to early warning radar stations). 


It turns out this is also where each of the guests on the train (barring two, Cathy and the perpetrator) have purchased a plot of land, albeit the deeds are not to be signed until the following day, and, if they can be prevented from turning up, the land will become available to whomsoever claims it first.


Mrs Gale: Committing the world to atomic war? You call that a mission?
Preston: There will be destruction, yes. But there will also be the defeated and the victors. I intend to be among the latter.

And the purpose of this dastardly scheme? Steed notes it is the ideal spot for a transmitter or jamming device, and the motive is suggested as the nerve-wracking effect of such incidents and the doubt resulting from causing false alarms. It turns out to be the rather more prosaic starting of World War III. Written by Avengers supremo Brian Clemens (and directed by Bill Bain), who rejigged it four years later as The Superlative Seven, the deficiencies in nefarious logic take a back seat to the fun of what is both a hugely entertaing whydunnit (the staging of the party) and whodunnit (knocking the attendees off).


The scheme soon goes awry when the guests figure out there are too many of them for the portions of land (to many plots for the plot), which is when the instruction is given to pile up the bodies (although, John Junkin’s Sheriff has already been bumped off – “It certainly wasn’t cupid” observes Steed of the arrow in his back –  and both Anthea Wyndham’s highwaywoman (AKA Dorothy Wilson) and Richard Leech’s policeman are fortunate enough only to get boshed on the head). Leech featured in two other Avengers episodes and one New Avengers, and also played the garrulous Gather Hade in The Sun Makers.Leon Eagles (Jabel in The Face of Evil) is suitably unscrupulous as henchman Newman (posing as the conductor, then just bashing and topping guests).


Steed (dressed as a cowboy) and Cathy are locked up for an interval (his handcuff course takes time to produce results), on account of both choosing Steed’s plot No.4 (Cathy picked a plot with no stream, owing to comments Steed had made earlier about fishing; “You might have known I’d be poaching” he admonishes lightly). Prior to this, Cathy, following the introductory scene, is absent until after the halfway mark; she disguises herself as a monk, out of sight, and then takes the place of the highwaywoman when the latter is laid out. If one were being rigorous regarding the plotting, one would question how Cathy got away with posing as someone who looks nothing whatsoever like her (it’s that old wearing a mask trick) but, as we have seen, that’s something of a fool’s errand with this script.


Of the attendees, Leonard Rossiter’s vulgarian Robin Hood (William J Cavendish) creates the biggest splash, boorishly making lewd remarks about the ladies (“I wouldn’t mind being helped up by her” he says of Dorothy Wilson), drinking a lot, being the first to get hit on the head when he attempts to leave, and accusing Steed of being a “ruddy lounge lizard” after the latter professes to be gentleman of leisure (he rides, shoots a little, and casts a creditable dry fly). Rossiter was a decade from becoming universally known for Rising Damp, but this was arguably the year he began to break out in film and television, with a recurring role in Z Cars, an appearance in This Sporting Life, and perhaps most memorably Mr Shadrak in Billy Liar.


Steed: She’s fascinated by me. It’s my winning smile.
Mrs Gale: You took a smile course?
Steed: It’s a natural attribute.

It’s a close thing between Rossiter and Anneke Wills’ Manic Pixie Sloan Ranger (Pussy Cat/Jane Wentworth), though. Wills, three years before her signature role as swinging ‘60s Polly in Doctor Who, is at her most alluring, and also swinging, here; “Don’t you think it’s just fabby?” she says of the train party, before attaching herself ornamentally to Steed. “You’ll make me purr” she advises when he touches her tail (when Cavendish does likewise she dismissively tells him to stop as it will come off).


Her flirtatiousness with Steed (who certainly appears to be disarmed; Wills called Macnee “a very witty, sweet man”) leads to a series of amusing responses from Cathy. When Steed attempts to persuade Jane that she will be in greater danger the longer he remains locked up, she replies “I would have though it was completely the opposite” to which Cathy knowingly smiles. “So much for the homme fatale” she then quips, when Pussy Cat leaves Steed locked up.


Steed: A little party I had last night. I had a few friends in for a few drinks.

Steed indulges some flirting of his own with Cathy earlier, looking suggestively at her when informing her of his little bungalow on the coast. He clearly makes a habit of heavy Christmases, although in the instances of this and Too Many Christmas Trees he isn’t to blame for the state of his house and his addled brains respectively. Also of note, Cathy spent a quiet Christmas (“In Marrakesh?” responds Steed in mock surprise), Post-party, Steed has a teddy bear x2 (unclear if either is from the Mr. Teddy Bear), a saddle, and a trombone containing a French loaf, while his tiger skin rug sports an eye patch. Also, the man he “believes” invited him to the party (he knows it was a fake request) made a fortune out of fertiliser.


Newman: A Merry Christmas to you.
Preston: And A Happier New Year.

The reveal that Napoleon/Preston (Alexander Davion) is behind it all at least isn’t obvious, although none of the assembled are screamingly likely culprit; it would only have really been a shocker if Pussy Cat or Robin Hood had been responsible. The showdown, with Steed engaging in High Noonpistols with Preston on the platform and Cathy shooting Newman (having already knocked out Frank Maher’s barman during her expected bout of judo chopping) is more than satisfying. 


Dressed to Kill is close to ideal Avengers; eccentric but also intriguing (sometimes, later in the show’s run, the former was considered more than enough, to its detriment), with a strong cast and an inimitable setting. The episode was first broadcast 28 December 1963, and appropriately concludes with Steed and Cathy toasting the new year with a bottle of 1945 bubbly. Both this and Too Many Christmas Trees are fine examples or the way to approach holiday season instalments; the setting is the icing on the cake rather than its underpinning (Steven Moffat, with his penchant for plastic Santa spectaculars would do well to take notice. That is, if all hope for him were not long since lost).


















Comments

Popular posts from this blog

You're not only wrong. You're wrong at the top of your voice.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
I’ve seen comments suggesting that John Sturges’ thriller hasn’t aged well, which I find rather mystifying. Sure, some of the characterisations border on the cardboard, but the director imbues the story with a taut, economical backbone. 

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…

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

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…

You must find the keys for me!

Doctor Who The Keys of Marinus
Most of the criticisms levelled at The Keys of Marinus over the past 50 years have been fair play, and yet it’s a story I return to as one of the more effortlessly watchable of the Hartnell era. Consequently, the one complaint I can’t really countenance is that it’s boring. While many a foray during this fledgling period drags its heels, even ones of undeniable quality in other areas, Marinus’ shifting soils and weekly adventures-in-miniature sustain interest, however inelegant the actual construction of those narratives may be. The quest premise also makes it a winner; it’s a format I have little resistance to, even when manifested, as here, in an often overtly budget-stricken manner.

Doctor Who has dabbled with the search structure elsewhere, most notably across The Key to Time season, and ultimately Marinus’ mission is even more of a MacGuffin than in that sextology, a means to string together what would otherwise be vignettes to little overall coherence…

So you made contact with the French operative?

Atomic Blonde (2017)
(SPOILERS) Well, I can certainly see why Focus Features opted to change the title from The Coldest City (the name of the graphic novel from which this is adapted). The Coldest City evokes a noirish, dour, subdued tone, a movie of slow-burn intrigue in the vein of John Le Carré. Atomic Blonde, to paraphrase its introductory text, is not that movie. As such, there’s something of a mismatch here, of the kind of Cold War tale it has its roots in and the furious, pop-soaked action spectacle director David Leitch is intent on turning it into. In the main, his choices succeed, but the result isn’t quite the clean getaway of his earlier (co-directed) John Wick.

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

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.

It always seems a bit abstract, doesn’t it? Other people dying.

Game of Thrones Season Six
(SPOILERS) The most distracting thing about Season Six of Game of Thrones (and I’ve begun writing this at the end of the seventh episode, The Broken Man) is how breakneck its pace is, and how worryingly – only relatively, mind – upbeat it’s become. Suddenly, characters are meeting and joining forces, not necessarily mired in pits of despair but actually moving towards positive, attainable goals, even if those goals are ultimately doomed (depending on the party concerned). It feels, in a sense, that liberated from George R R Martin’s text, producers are going full-throttle, and you half-wonder if they’re using up too much plot and revelation too quickly, and will run out before the next two seasons are up. Then, I’m naturally wary of these things, well remembering how Babylon 5 suffered from packing all its goods into Season Four and was then given an ultimately wasted final season reprieve.

I’ve started this paragraph at the end of the eighth episode, No One (t…

To defeat the darkness out there, you must defeat the darkness inside yourself.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)
Easily the best of the Narnia films, which is maybe damning it with faint praise. 

Michael Apted does a competent job directing (certainly compared to his Bond film - maybe he talked to his second unit this time), Dante Spinotti's cinematography is stunning and the CGI mostly well-integrated with the action. 

Performance-wise, Will Poulter is a stand-out as a tremendously obnoxious little toff, so charismatic you're almost rooting for him. Simon Pegg replaces Eddie Izzard as the voice of Reepicheep and delivers a touching performance.
***