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.


Popular posts from this blog

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…

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…

I added sixty on, and now you’re a genius.

The Avengers 4.3: The Master Minds
The Master Minds hitches its wagon to the not uncommon Avengers trope of dark deeds done under the veil of night. We previously encountered it in The Town of No Return, but Robert Banks Stewart (best known for Bergerac, but best known genre-wise for his two Tom Baker Doctor Who stories; likewise, he also penned only two teleplays for The Avengers) makes this episode more distinctive, with its mind control and spycraft, while Peter Graham Scott, in his third contribution to the show on the trot, pulls out all the stops, particularly with a highly creative climactic fight sequence that avoids the usual issue of overly-evident stunt doubles.

We are disintegrating. Our bodies as fast as our minds. Can’t you feel it?

Annihilation (2018)
(SPOILERS) It seems I’m forever destined to miss what others find so remarkable about Alex Garland’s work (I was also the one who didn’t love Ex Machina). Annihilation left me mostly cold while most appear to have done little else but rave about it. Tarkovsky’s Stalker has been invoked, but they’re chalk and cheese, one meditative and elusive, the other transparent and over-didactic. I will say this for the writer-director-auteur, though: he’s finally made a movie where the third act is superior to the preceding portion, even if this time it’s qualitatively inverted. And, he still can’t escape his Apocalypse Now obsession.

In my country, if you don't matter to the men in power, you do not matter.

Red Sparrow (2018)
(SPOILERS) The biggest talking point in the wake of Red Sparrow’s release isn’t the movie itself, it’s whether or not J-Law is a bona fide box office draw. The answer is fairly mundane: about as much as any other big name star outside of a franchise vehicle is. Which isn’t very much. Peg her alongside Dwayne Johnson, Vin Diesel, Tom Cruise and on the lower end of the scale, the eternally-struggling-for-an-audience-when-not-Thor Chris Hemsworth. The movie itself, then? While it replicates the stride and demeanour of a traditional Cold War spy yarn with assuredness (as in, it’s a conscious throwback), Red Sparrow falls short in the conviction stakes.

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

You yell "Shark", we’ve got a panic on our hands on the Fourth of July.

Jaws (1975)
(SPOILERS) I decided to revisit Jaws principally because I was intent on tackling the mostly maligned sequels, and it didn’t seem right to omit the genuine article. And also, because it’s never a chore to watch one of Spielberg’s very best movies, made before he began second-guessing himself and imposing peer review conditions on form and content. The way I see it, there’s the ‘berg before E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and the ‘berg after E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, and I’d opt for the former over the latter any day.

Where is the voice that said altered carbon would free us from the cells of our flesh?

Altered Carbon Season One
(SPOILERS) Well, it looks good, even if the visuals are absurdly indebted to Blade Runner. Ultimately, though, Altered Carbon is a disappointment. The adaption of Richard Morgan’s novel comes armed with a string of well-packaged concepts and futuristic vernacular (sleeves, stacks, cross-sleeves, slagged stacks, Neo-Cs), but there’s a void at its core. It singularly fails use the dependable detective story framework to explore the philosophical ramifications of its universe – except in lip service – a future where death is impermanent, and even botches the essential goal of creating interesting lead characters (the peripheral ones, however, are at least more fortunate).

Vodka martini, plenty of ice... if you can spare it.

Die Another Day (2002)
(SPOILERS) Is Die Another Day the worst Bond movie? It certainly puts in a sterling bid for that unenvied garland. It is a peculiar fish, though, spectacularly failing in its attempts to celebrate 40 years of the franchise and its status as the 20th official Bond outing. Wisely, these elements, while liberally included, aren’t damagingly foregrounded; they’re just there. If only the same were true of the picture’s more woefully ill-advised innovations; I’m all for the series experimenting stylistically, but Lee Tamahori’s decision to mess about with the frame rate and indulging in speed ramps are ugly and ill-fitting. Add to that some of the worst CGI ever witnessed in a $100m-plus budgeted motion picture, in a series that hitherto prided itself on keeping things as real as possible (at least the models were real models), and it’s no wonder there was a four-year lay-off and rethink in its wake.

The strangest thing about this outing, though, is that whenever I revi…

I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my "back pain", Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, part to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me back up again, and morphine... Well, because it's awesome.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Along with Pain & Gain and The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street might be viewed as the completion of a loose 2013 trilogy on the subject of success and excess; the American Dream gone awry. It’s the superior picture to its fellows, by turns enthralling, absurd, outrageous and hilarious. This is the fieriest, most deliriously vibrant picture from the director since the millennium turned. Nevertheless, stood in the company of Goodfellas, the Martin Scorsese film from which The Wolf of Wall Street consciously takes many of its cues, it is found wanting.

I was vaguely familiar with the title, not because I knew much about Jordan Belfort but because the script had been in development for such a long time (Ridley Scott was attached at one time). So part of the pleasure of the film is discovering how widely the story diverges from the Wall Street template. “The Wolf of Wall Street” suggests one who towers over the city like a behemoth, rather than a guy …