Skip to main content

It’s the power that excites me, sir.

The Avengers
2.11: Death of a Great Dane

Death of a Great Dane’s opening suggests a much broader episode than proves to be the case, the kind of eccentric set up one would expect of later period Avengers; Gregory (Leslie French) attends a rain-lashed funeral, reminiscing that he was with the deceased for four years, at which point it is revealed this is a pet cemetery. If the remainder is straighter, the teleplay by Roger Marshall and Jeremy Scott is nevertheless replete with witty plotting and dialogue, superbly delivered by a fine cast.


Mrs Gale: Did he always travel on a full stomach?

After the discovery of an “indigestible breakfast” in the stomach of a car crash victim (£50,000 in uncut diamonds), Steed and Mrs Gale embark on the trail of funds of the bed-ridden (since his heart attack) Mr Litoff, who managed to build up up one of the world’s largest financial empires over the course of 25 years. It seems his personal assets have been converted to cash and illegally transferred offshore during the previous six months. Mr Litoff was known for his philanthropy, but “turned off the tap” at the time he was laid low. Cathy finds this development unlikely; it isn’t so surprising, then, that we eventually learn Litoff’s no longer in the land of the living, and it’s hisbody lying in the pet cemetery.


The plot is engineered by a typically eccentrically formulated trio, led by a particularly young and dashing Frederick Jaeger as Getz (quite unlike his Doctor Who appearances a decade or so later, in Planet of Evil and The Invisible Enemy), Litoff’s unsung assistant. His co-conspirators are Gregory, the servile butler, and Sir James (John Laurie on typically magnificent form; not for nothing would he appear three more times in the series), a crucial key to the deception as Litoff’s personal physician.


Along the way, we take in some colourful locations and scenarios. For no particular good reason, but very Avengers, diamond smuggler Miller was a keen magician, leading Steed to interview his wife (Clare Kelly) at the Big Laugh joke shop (“I hope he’s better at it than you are”, Cathy critiques of Steed’s sleights of hand; Steed then meets with her customary disapproval when he jokes he may see how he goes with the widow).


Sir James: Our dreams have betrayed us.

We are also invited to a wine tasting, a particularly exuberant showcase for Laurie, who has great chemistry with Macnee. Sir James dreams of founding a clinic in Asia, where he can be honest with his patients (“Madam, your heart flutters because you’re a gross and greedy overeater” would be a sample line), and feigns indulgence of Steed’s suspicions of Getz.


Mostly, though, the scene is about Sir James’ amazement at Steed’s perceptive palate (“You’re wonderful!”), although Cathy, despite being well-versed in pretty much anything and everything, doesn’t know you aren’t supposed to drink the wine at a wine tasting (Steed instructs her to imbibe milk before hand, though, “Keeps your palate perceptive and stops you getting sloshed” so which is it?) and goes home tipsy for an altercation with a lackey (at the event, she smiles in superior fashion when an old duffer complains “I don’t know why they allow women down here”).


Gregory: It’s the power that excites me, sir. I want to be rude, and ill-mannered, and order people about! And then I look forward to an association with a considerable number of good-looking women.

If Sir James’ motivation is clinics of his own (rather than wealth), Gregory’s is “rebellion against subservience”. As winning and larger-than-life as Laurie can’t help but be, French’s character is the most engaging, observing due etiquette and diplomacy but nursing adverse ambitions beneath his mild exterior. French plays Gregory as an appealing worm intent on turning, even when we learn of his motives (neither he nor Sir James were in on the murders of Mitchell and his wife); we’re almost sorry when Steed shows no clemency (“You will be wanting me?”), and Gregory opines “Sad about all my beautiful women”.


As with Sir James, the best Gregory scenes match him with Steed, comparisons between the two made visually through similar hats and umbrellas, and general geniality. They both like dogs too (“I bet you haven’t seen a decent tree in years” Steed greets the “surviving” hound), of course. As it seems did Miller, who could not bring himself to have Bell Hound put down to complete the deception (about which, alas for her, Mrs Miller knew). Gregory isn’t greedy, happy with a smaller cut of the fortune than Getz (“I’m quite content with eleven million pounds, sir”)


Jaeger makes for a particularly strong opponent, perhaps not furnished with as many memorable exchanges as his other co-stars, but enough to deliver a worthy villain of the piece. He also indulges much temple rubbing. For him, motivation is simply “dissatisfaction with a role of faceless service”.


Death’s plot is constantly moving, making every scene count, especially noticeable when in a season with its fair share of sluggish episodes. Sir James reveals himself at the end of Act Two, leading to Steed’s imprisonment (in luxury) until Cathy arrives in the following act. In common with her luck of late, she’s almost immediately identified as Steed’s accomplice, and both end up locked in Litoff’s bedroom (at which point her leather ensemble makes an appearance).


Her sending the message that Litoff’s body has been exhumed triggers a standard hasty resolution, but that’s not a drawback on this occasion; Death of a Great Dane follows The Mauritius Penny as another first class episode, one of the best of the season.









Popular posts from this blog

You were this amazing occidental samurai.

Ricochet (1991) (SPOILERS) You have to wonder at Denzel Washington’s agent at this point in the actor’s career. He’d recently won his first Oscar for Glory , yet followed it with less-than-glorious heart-transplant ghost comedy Heart Condition (Bob Hoskins’ racist cop receives Washington’s dead lawyer’s ticker; a recipe for hijinks!) Not long after, he dipped his tentative toe in the action arena with this Joel Silver production; Denzel has made his share of action fare since, of course, most of it serviceable if unremarkable, but none of it comes near to delivering the schlocky excesses of Ricochet , a movie at once ingenious and risible in its plot permutations, performances and production profligacy.

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

Well, something’s broke on your daddy’s spaceship.

Apollo 13 (1995) (SPOILERS) The NASA propaganda movie to end all NASA propaganda movies. Their original conception of the perilous Apollo 13 mission deserves due credit in itself; what better way to bolster waning interest in slightly naff perambulations around a TV studio than to manufacture a crisis event, one emphasising the absurd fragility of the alleged non-terrestrial excursions and the indomitable force that is “science” in achieving them? Apollo 13 the lunar mission was tailor made for Apollo 13 the movie version – make believe the make-believe – and who could have been better to lead this fantasy ride than Guantanamo Hanks at his all-American popularity peak?

We’ve got the best ball and chain in the world. Your ass.

Wedlock (1991) (SPOILERS) The futuristic prison movie seemed possessed of a particular cachet around this time, quite possibly sparked by the grisly possibilities of hi-tech disincentives to escape. On that front, HBO TV movie Wedlock more than delivers its FX money shot. Elsewhere, it’s less sure of itself, rather fumbling when it exchanges prison tropes for fugitives-on-the-run ones.

I can’t be the worst. What about that hotdog one?

Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022) (SPOILERS) It would have been a merciful release, had the title card “ The End ”, flashing on screen a little before the ninety-minute mark, not been a false dawn. True, I would still have been unable to swab the bloody dildoes fight from my mind, but at least Everything Everywhere All at Once would have been short. Indeed, by the actual end I was put in mind of a line spoken by co-star James Wong in one of his most indelible roles: “ Now this really pisses me off to no end ”. Or to put it another way, Everything Everywhere All at Once rubbed me up the wrong which way quite a lot of most of the time.

Drank the red. Good for you.

Morbius (2022) (SPOILERS) Generic isn’t necessarily a slur. Not if, by implication, it’s suggestive of the kind of movie made twenty years ago, when the alternative is the kind of super-woke content Disney currently prioritises. Unfortunately, after a reasonable first hour, Morbius descends so resignedly into such unmoderated formula that you’re left with a too-clear image of Sony’s Spider-Verse when it lacks a larger-than-life performer (Tom Hardy, for example) at the centre of any given vehicle.

So, you’re telling me that NASA is going to kill the President of the United States with an earthquake?

Conspiracy Theory (1997) (SPOILERS) Mel Gibson’s official rehabilitation occurred with the announcement of 2016’s Oscar nominations, when Hacksaw Ridge garnered six nods, including Mel as director. Obviously, many refuse to be persuaded that there’s any legitimate atonement for the things someone says. They probably weren’t even convinced by Mel’s appearance in Daddy’s Home 2 , an act of abject obeisance if ever there was one. In other circles, though, Gibbo, or Mad Mel, is venerated as a saviour unsullied by the depraved Hollywood machine, one of the brave few who would not allow them to take his freedom. Or at least, his values. Of course, that’s frequently based on alleged comments he made, ones it’s highly likely he didn’t. But doesn’t that rather appeal to the premise of his 23-year-old star vehicle Conspiracy Theory , in which “ A good conspiracy theory is an unproveable one ”?

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.

He’ll regret it to his dying day, if ever he lives that long.

The Quiet Man (1952) (SPOILERS) The John Wayne & John Ford film for those who don’t like John Wayne & John Ford films? The Quiet Man takes its cues from Ford’s earlier How Green Was My Valley in terms of, well less Anglophile and Hibernophile and Cambrophile nostalgia respectively for past times, climes and heritage, as Wayne’s pugilist returns to his family seat and stirs up a hot bed of emotions, not least with Maureen O’Hara’s red-headed hothead. The result is a very likeable movie, for all its inculcated Oirishness and studied eccentricity.

He doesn’t want to lead you. He just wants you to follow.

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (2022) (SPOILERS) The general failing of the prequel concept is a fairly self-evident one; it’s spurred by the desire to cash in, rather than to tell a story. This is why so few prequels, in any form, are worth the viewer/reader/listener’s time, in and of themselves. At best, they tend to be something of a well-rehearsed fait accompli. In the movie medium, even when there is material that withstands closer inspection (the Star Wars prequels; The Hobbit , if you like), the execution ends up botched. With Fantastic Beasts , there was never a whiff of such lofty purpose, and each subsequent sequel to the first prequel has succeeded only in drawing attention to its prosaic function: keeping franchise flag flying, even at half-mast. Hence Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore , belatedly arriving after twice the envisaged gap between instalments and course-correcting none of the problems present in The Crimes of Grindelwald .