Skip to main content

Mind how you go, Mr Steed. You are already a dead man.

The Avengers
2.6: Mr. Teddy Bear

Inevitably, the odder the early “straight” episodes are, the more they feel like classic Avengers. Mr. Teddy Bear boasts a choice premise, requiring that Mrs Gale engages the titular assassin to kill Steed, and then approaches the ensuing plot from a pleasingly skew-whiff angle. Which means, yes, there’s a talking teddy bear.


Sean Connery doesn’t show up dressed as a giant one, though. The real star is Martin Woodhouse’s incredibly witty script, showing how relatively run-of-the-mill much of The Avengers has been up to this point. This was his first of seven contributions to the show (the last being the also very good A Sense of History for Season Four). It was also director Richmond Harding’s first of seven Avengers assignments.


Steed: I am intrigued. It’s not often a man falls dead in front of the television cameras. The viewers got good value last night.

The on-air murder that kicks things off recalls the more meta, Hitchcockian one in Mission to Montreal, as Colonel Wayne-Gilley (Kenneth Keeling), traveller, raconteur and double agent, dies mid-interview courtesy of an elaborate timer mechanism releasing cyanide in his substituted medication. One Ten sets Steed on the case, and at one point instructs him to withdraw as he has become too personally involved (Steed beckons a straight fight, which it seems is a no-no), but fortunately this is much too flippant to be caught in laboured introspection.


Steed: They dropped his body by helicopter right onto the exhibition square at the opening night of the last trade festival at Zagreb. Made a very nasty splash.

The first couple of scenes of witty banter between Cathy and Steed move so fast, they may require several viewings to take everything in. Steed, cheerfully offhand about his planned demise, tutors Mrs Gale in the etiquette of employing a hit man (“I thought it was just like calling a cab” she responds flippantly), advises on the consequences of non-payment, and instructs her to stick to the plan (“So forget about concealing six-shooters in your stocking socks, baby-blue-eyes”).


At times the breezy interaction between Macnee and Blackman almost suggests improvisation; Steed playing chopsticks, their martial arts practice where he moves as if to kiss her, and the general play around Dalmatian pooch Freckles (“Malting aren’t you?”), whom Steed digresses to during a conversation with Henry Fallow (Michael Robbins of On the Buses and Richard Mace in The Visitation fame).


Cathy: You, of course, would have done a great deal better.
Steed: Probably.

My favourite moment comes as Cathy, returning from an audience with Mr Teddy Bear’s “representative” (a teddy bear, whose mouth moves in time with the absent assassin’s speech), hears the results of the fingerprint tests on the cigarette case she swiped (a bit indiscreet, really; she’s lucky he didn’t seem to twig, or at least care). Steed, who has already lightly bemoaned her lack of results, bursts into uproarious laughter as he explains, “The prints appear to be those of an adult chimpanzee”.


The interlude with Robbin’s Henry is something of a red herring; we think he must be an employee of Mr Teddy Bear, and he certainly behaves as if he is, but it turns out he too has employed the killer’s services in offing Steed (for reasons unspecified; Mr Teddy Bear leaves him dead and ghoulishly dressed in a clown’s mask for his pains).


Mr Teddy Bear: Mind how you go, Mr Steed. You are already a dead man.

Mr Teddy Bear (Bernard Goldman) remains sight unseen until the closing stages and, like many later Avengers villains, he does so enjoy his traps and games (he’s very relaxed about them too, no doubt a symptom of his belief in his own infallibility, since his special locked room appears to function with varying degrees of impregnability). Steed accuses him of vanity (talking dolls and TV cameras), considering the only way to get him is by tempting him out into the open. Which may well be the case, since Teddy Bear could surely have avoided the final confrontation if he so wished.


Mr Teddy Bear: Good night, Mr Steed. Sleep well.

Earlier, Mr Teddy Bear wants to meet Steed as he’s the first man he’s ever been hired to kill twice over, and his method (via poisoned telephone receiver) proves simple and effective, but for the antidote Steed luckily has lying around the house. “Why aren’t you dead?” exclaims Cathy when he shows up at her flat, leading to more amusing exchanges; “What are you going to do, count to a hundred and start again?” now he has survived, and Steed’s parting shot, “Oh, by the way, do you leave a bathroom window open deliberately?” Steed’s casual survival is just the sort of thing the series does with a flourish, even though his ad-break collapse is played for high drama.


Mr Teddy Bear: You must forgive my sense of humour. It sometimes runs away with me.

Goldman’s Teddy Bear is one of The Avengers’ typically erudite, self-amused and highly courteous killers, and his slightly portly aspect makes his choice of surrogate quite fitting; he very much doesn’t have the look or poise of a highly skilled assassin, but that’s part of the offbeat appeal. It’s a nice touch that Mr Teddy Bear lures Cathy to his room through a fake recording of Steed’s voice and that Steed then uses Teddy Bear’s own theatrical tactics to announce his survival, complete with a Jack-in-the-Box in the place of the promised diamonds (“I am the demon king, Mr Teddy Bear”). 


Mr Teddy Bear’s planned retirement seems rather unnecessary; one wonders if that too was a ruse, as he was clearly planning to kill Cathy with the poison pill he succumbs to. He was certainly making a lot of cash (£200,000 from this job, admittedly twice his standard rate, and almost £4m in today’s money) so presumably does what he does at least partly for the pleasure of it (as delightfully nefarious villains often do).


Steed: If I hadn’t come along, you’d have drunk it all down like a good girl, wouldn’t you?

Steed’s playful mockery of Cathy’s “Touching faith in his word as a gentleman” is counterpointed by his own failure; Mr Teddy Bear “committed suicide in my custody by means of poison” evidencing that, when it came down to it, Steed  couldn’t do a great deal better than his partner in fighting crime  (who, it’s always good to see, gives as good as she gets, or at least responds with amusement rather than indignation most of the time).


As for the key Mr Teddy Bear leaves Steed, we never do find what it’s for, but it evidently didn’t lead somewhere deadly. A classic episode, and one of the highlights of the second season.







Comments

Popular posts from this blog

We live in a twilight world.

Tenet (2020)
(SPOILERS) I’ve endured a fair few confusingly-executed action sequences in movies – more than enough, actually – but I don’t think I’ve previously had the odd experience of being on the edge of my seat during one while simultaneously failing to understand its objectives and how those objectives are being attempted. Which happened a few times during Tenet. If I stroll over to the Wiki page and read the plot synopsis, it is fairly explicable (fairly) but as a first dive into this Christopher Nolan film, I frequently found it, if not impenetrable, then most definitely opaque.

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.

You can’t climb a ladder, no. But you can skip like a goat into a bar.

Juno and the Paycock (1930)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s second sound feature. Such was the lustre of this technological advance that a wordy play was picked. By Sean O’Casey, upon whom Hitchcock based the prophet of doom at the end of The Birds. Juno and the Paycock, set in 1922 during the Irish Civil War, begins as a broad comedy of domestic manners, but by the end has descended into full-blown Greek (or Catholic) tragedy. As such, it’s an uneven but still watchable affair, even if Hitch does nothing to disguise its stage origins.

Anything can happen in Little Storping. Anything at all.

The Avengers 2.22: Murdersville
Brian Clemens' witty take on village life gone bad is one of the highlights of the fifth season. Inspired by Bad Day at Black Rock, one wonders how much Murdersville's premise of unsettling impulses lurking beneath an idyllic surface were set to influence both Straw Dogs and The Wicker Mana few years later (one could also suggest it premeditates the brand of backwoods horrors soon to be found in American cinema from the likes of Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper).

James Bond. You appear with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season.

Moonraker (1979)
Depending upon your disposition, and quite possibly age, Moonraker is either the Bond film that finally jumped the shark or the one that is most gloriously redolent of Roger Moore’s knowing take on the character. Many Bond aficionados will no doubt utter its name with thinly disguised contempt, just as they will extol with gravity how Timothy Dalton represented a masterful return to the core values of the series. If you regard For Your Eyes Only as a refreshing return to basics after the excesses of the previous two entries, and particularly the space opera grandstanding of this one, it’s probably fair to say you don’t much like Roger Moore’s take on Bond.

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991)
(SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

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…

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

My dear, sweet brother Numsie!

The Golden Child (1986)
Post-Beverly Hills Cop, Eddie Murphy could have filmed himself washing the dishes and it would have been a huge hit. Which might not have been a bad idea, since he chose to make this misconceived stinker.

I mean, I am just a dumb bunny, but, we are good at multiplying.

Zootropolis (2016)
(SPOILERS) The key to Zootropolis’ creative success isn’t so much the conceit of its much-vaunted allegory regarding prejudice and equality, or – conversely – the fun to be had riffing on animal stereotypes (simultaneously clever and obvious), or even the appealing central duo voiced by Ginnifier Goodwin (as first rabbit cop Judy Hopps) and Jason Bateman (fox hustler Nick Wilde). Rather, it’s coming armed with that rarity for an animation; a well-sustained plot that doesn’t devolve into overblown set pieces or rest on the easy laurels of musical numbers and montages.