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

Damn prairie dog burrow!

Tremors (1990) (SPOILERS) I suspect the reason the horror comedy – or the sci-fi comedy, come to that – doesn’t tend to be the slam-dunk goldmine many assume it must be, is because it takes a certain sensibility to do it right. Everyone isn’t a Joe Dante or Sam Raimi, or a John Landis, John Carpenter, Edgar Wright, Christopher Landon or even a Peter Jackson or Tim Burton, and the genre is littered with financial failures, some of them very good failures (and a good number of them from the names mentioned). Tremors was one, only proving a hit on video (hence six sequels at last count). It also failed to make Ron Underwood a directing legend.

Here’s Bloody Justice for you.

Laughter in Paradise (1951) (SPOILERS) The beginning of a comedic run for director-producer Mario Zampa that spanned much of the 1950s, invariably aided by writers Michael Pertwee and Jack Davies (the latter went on to pen a spate of Norman Wisdom pictures including The Early Bird , and also comedy rally classic Monte Carlo or Bust! ) As usual with these Pertwee jaunts, Laughter in Paradise boasts a sparky premise – renowned practical joker bequeaths a fortune to four relatives, on condition they complete selected tasks that tickle him – and more than enough resultant situational humour.

Who’s got the Figgy Port?

Loki (2021) (SPOILERS) Can something be of redeemable value and shot through with woke? The two attributes certainly sound essentially irreconcilable, and Loki ’s tendencies – obviously, with new improved super-progressive Kevin Feige touting Disney’s uber-agenda – undeniably get in the way of what might have been a top-tier MCU entry from realising its full potential. But there are nevertheless solid bursts of highly engaging storytelling in the mix here, for all its less cherishable motivations. It also boasts an effortlessly commanding lead performance from Tom Hiddleston; that alone puts Loki head and shoulders above the other limited series thus far.

I’m just glad Will Smith isn’t alive to see this.

The Tomorrow War (2021) (SPOILERS). Not so much tomorrow as yesterday. There’s a strong sense of déjà vu watching The Tomorrow War , so doggedly derivative is it of every time-travel/alien war/apocalyptic sci-fi movie of the past forty years. Not helping it stand out from the pack are doughy lead Chris Pratt, damned to look forever on the beefy side no matter how ripped he is and lacking the chops or gravitas for straight roles, and debut live-action director Chris McKay, who manages to deliver the goods in a serviceably anonymous fashion.

I'm offering you a half-share in the universe.

Doctor Who Season 8 – Worst to Best I’m not sure I’d watched Season Eight chronologically before. While I have no hesitation in placing it as the second-best Pertwee season, based on its stories, I’m not sure it pays the same dividends watched as a unit. Simply, there’s too much Master, even as Roger Delgado never gets boring to watch and the stories themselves offer sufficient variety. His presence, turning up like clockwork, is inevitably repetitive. There were no particular revelatory reassessments resulting from this visit, then, except that, taken together – and as The Directing Route extra on the Blu-ray set highlights – it’s often much more visually inventive than what would follow. And that Michael Ferguson should probably have been on permanent attachment throughout this era.

Why don't we go on a picnic, up the hill?

Invaders from Mars (1986) (SPOILERS) One can wax thematical over the number of remakes of ’50s movies in the ’80s – and ’50s SF movies in particular – and of how they represent ever-present Cold War and nuclear threats, and steadily increasing social and familial paranoias and disintegrating values. Really, though, it’s mostly down to the nostalgia of filmmakers for whom such pictures were formative influences (and studios hoping to make an easy buck on a library property). Tobe Hooper’s version of nostalgia, however, is not so readily discernible as a John Carpenter or a David Cronenberg (not that Cronenberg could foment such vibes, any more than a trip to the dental hygienist). Because his directorial qualities are not so readily discernible. Tobe Hooper movies tend to be a bit shit. Which makes it unsurprising that Invaders from Mars is a bit shit.

I hate natural causes!

Body Bags (1993) (SPOILERS) I’m not surprised Showtime didn’t pick this up for an anthology series. Perhaps, if John Carpenter had made Coming Home in a Body Bag (the popular Nam movie series referenced in the same year’s True Romance ), we’d have something to talk about. Tho’ probably not, if Carpenter had retained his by this point firmly glued to his side DP Gary Kibbe, ensuring the proceedings are as flat, lifeless and unatmospheric as possible. Carpenter directed two of the segments here, Tobe Hooper the other one. It may sound absurd, given the quality of Hooper’s career, but by this point, even he was calling the shots better than Carpenter.

What's a movie star need a rocket for anyway?

The Rocketeer (1991) (SPOILERS) The Rocketeer has a fantastic poster. One of the best of the last thirty years (and while that may seem like faint praise, what with poster design being a dying art – I’m looking at you Marvel, or Amazon and the recent The Tomorrow War – it isn’t meant to be). The movie itself, however, tends towards stodge. Unremarkable pictures with a wide/cult fanbase, conditioned by childhood nostalgia, are ten-a-penny – Willow for example – and in this case, there was also a reasonably warm critical reception. But such an embrace can’t alter that Joe Johnston makes an inveterately bland, tepid movie director. His “feel” for period here got him The First Avenger: Captain America gig, a bland, tepid movie tending towards stodge. So at least he’s consistent.

You nicknamed my daughter after the Loch Ness Monster?

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 (2012) The final finale of the Twilight saga, in which pig-boy Jacob tells Bella that, “No, it's not like that at all!” after she accuses him of being a paedo. But then she comes around to his viewpoint, doubtless displaying the kind of denial many parents did who let their kids spend time with Jimmy Savile or Gary Glitter during the ‘70s. It's lucky little Renesmee will be an adult by the age of seven, right? Right... Jacob even jokes that he should start calling Edward, “Dad”. And all the while they smile and smile.

Call me crazy, but I don’t see America coming out in droves to see you puke.

The Hard Way (1991) (SPOILERS) It would probably be fair to suggest that Michael J Fox’s comic talents never quite earned the respect they deserved. Sure, he was the lead in two incredibly popular TV shows, but aside from one phenomenally successful movie franchise, he never quite made himself a home on the big screen. Part of that might have been down to attempts in the late ’80s to carve himself out a niche in more serious roles – Light of Day , Bright Lights, Big City , Casualties of War – roles none of his fanbase had any interest in seeing him essaying. Which makes the part of Nick Lang, in which Fox is at his comic best, rather perfect. After all, as his character, movie star Nick Lang, opines, after smashing in his TV with his People’s Choice Award – the kind of award reserved for those who fail to garner serious critical adoration – “ I’m the only one who wants me to grow up! ”