Skip to main content

Now, you know about black magic, don’t you?

The Avengers
2.16: Warlock

A genuinely supernatural episode, one of the series’ big no-nos, for some fans, your appreciation for Warlock will likely rest entirely on whether you accept its premise. I regard it as one of the highlights of the second season, although the common verdict appears to be that it’s something of a disappointment.


Peter Hammond was one of the series’ best directors, and he pulls out the stylistic stops to make the most of Doreen Montgomery’s teleplay. Montgomery had a long career as writer for the big screen from the late ‘30s to the late ‘50s; this was her only contribution to the show, in an episode originally designed as the introduction for Cathy Gale’s character. There are liberally evident signs of this, most obviously Steed visiting her at the Natural History Museum, where she is studying skulls.


Steed: I know the face forget the name. Ah yes, poor Yorick. I knew him, you know, a fellow of infinite jest.
Cathy: More than can be said for you.

The Steed-Cathy repartee is firmly in place right off the bat, as is her status as a font of all knowledge (“Now, you know about black magic, don’t you?” –  including witchcraft, superstition and blood rites). Steed has discovered An Occult Grimoire at the home of this friend Peter Neville (Alban Blakelock, giving a fine transfixed performance, accompanied by simply-but-strikingly superimposed sparkly objects). Neville was, this being The Avengers, due to attend a Missile Committee meeting (always with the missiles!), but is bedbound, diagnosed with severe shock.


It’s up to Cathy to infiltrate the cause of his malaise, a black magic circle presided over by Peter Arne’s Cosmo Gallion. Arne, who gives a highly memorable, charismatic performance, was originally intended to appear in the Doctor Who story Frontios, but was murdered shortly before filming began. Cosmo’s services are for hire, in this case by Markel (John Hollis, Lobot in The Empire Strikes Back, and Sondeergard – who rocks – in The Mutants, as well as appearing in later Avengers The Cybernauts, The Superlative Seven and Legacy of Death).


While the episode hedges its bets with regard to the reality of magic (“It’s not a question of will, but of faith”), there’s little doubt what’s depicted is at very least psychically effected. Neville is sent into a spin, Cathy is drawn to the coven (even though she professes not to have been under the influence, she does appear to have arisen at the appointed, incantatory time). Cathy informs Steed that psychology plays a big part (but not all?) in warlocks exerting a hold over their victims, stating that one could exert influence at a distance, and “quite probably” make someone do what they ordered.


Montgomery’s teleplay picks up on the essentials of Crowleyian magic ((“Do ast thou wilt is the whole of the law”), but it’s softened slightly through Cosmo’s credentials as “an authority on paranormal psychology”. He’s an expert in “the study of trance states, hypnosis, telepathy, that sort of thing”. The magic community is obviously a small one, since Cosmo has read Cathy’s monograph on voodoo, and despite warning her with regard to the legality of joining black magic groups, he welcomes her into his own magic circle. Naturally, he’s taken with her, offering to cast her horoscope (she was born at midnight on 5/10/30, a half decade younger than Blackman herself)


Cosmo: Mr Markel, you’re really a very stupid man. Like all of your kind, you only believe what you can see and what you can touch.

Markel, who is after a formula for a new propellant (another propellant!), isn’t really interested in Cosmo’s methods, though, only his results, which leads to the latter unreservedly dismissing his idiocy (“Your methods are certainly effective, Markel. He’s dead” Cosmo notes after Markel aggressively attempts to discern why Neville’s brief case is absent the all-important papers). And, when Markel demands his money back, threatening Cosmo, the chrome-domed thug is soon on the receiving end of a heart attack administered by means a voodoo doll.


Cosmo is also intent on bringing Cathy to his magical beck-and-call (“Will with me, Cathy Gale”), considering her perfect for the Ritual of Asmodeus (the demon of lust, responsible for twisting people’s sexual desires, so one guesses the episode wouldn’t have gone out if Cosmo had brought the ritual to a successful head). As it is, there’s much writhing, chanting, and vigorously ecstatic gyration from a frenzied Julia (Pat Spender). So it’s a bit disappointing that events resolve themselves so perfunctorily (the name of the game for the show at this point). Cathy and Steed are surrounded, but Cosmo conveniently drops dead; his exertions required complete faith, so when he failed it destroyed him.


Steed is rigorously facile, throughout, chatting up a barmaid by telling her fortune (“Here’s to palmistry”) and running foul of Cathy (“You seem to think this is something to joke about. I saw too much of this sort of thing when I was in Africa, Steed” to which he responds levelly “I am only interested in who killed Neville”). His debonair attendanceof Cosmo’s “very elementary” lecture, posing as a physicist, doesn’t manage to convince us that he’s a devotee, which doesn’t escape Cosmo’s notice either (“Well, for a start, his aura is wrong for a man of science”). It’s probably appropriate then that, for the third episode in a row, Cathy is centre stage. Steed is unmasked (or unhooded), tied up, and when he escapes Cathy has already brought matters to a head.


Warlock features the penultimate appearance of One Ten (in the Studio Canal DVD release order, which I’m following), sharing pints in the pub with Steed, both in matching bowlers (“Myrtle, is this the bottom of the barrel?”), an additional incongruity with subject matter that starts with hexes and ends in a full-blooded occult ceremony. The close-out finds Steed and Cathy joking about finding something relaxing to do where someone else does all the work for a change. Such as boxing; Warlock’s certainly far from straightforward pugilism, a confident and sprightly change of tone and subject matter for the show.








Comments

Popular posts from this blog

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 fear I’ve snapped his Gregory.

Twin Peaks 3.14: We are like the Dreamer.
(SPOILERS) In an episode as consistently dazzling as this, piling incident upon incident and joining the dots to the extent it does, you almost begin to wonder if Lynch is making too much sense. There’s a notable upping of the pace in We are like the Dreamer, such that Chad’s apprehension is almost incidental, and if the convergence at Jack Rabbit’s Tower didn’t bring the FBI in with it, their alignment with Dougie Coop can be only just around the corner.

You’re never the same man twice.

The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)
(SPOILERS) Roger Moore playing dual roles? It sounds like an unintentionally amusing prospect for audiences accustomed to the actor’s “Raise an eyebrow” method of acting. Consequently, this post-Saint pre-Bond role (in which he does offer some notable eyebrow acting) is more of a curiosity for the quality of Sir Rog’s performance than the out-there premise that can’t quite sustain the picture’s running time. It is telling that the same story was adapted for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents 15 years earlier, since the uncanny idea at its core feels like a much better fit for a trim 50 minute anthology series.

Basil Dearden directs, and co-adapted the screenplay from Anthony Armstrong’s novel The Strange Case of Mr Pelham. Dearden started out with Ealing, helming several Will Hay pictures and a segment of Dead of Night (one might imagine a shortened version of this tale ending up there, or in any of the portmanteau horrors that arrived in the year…

Now you're here, you must certainly stay.

The Avengers 4.1:The Town of No Return
The Avengers as most of us know it (but not in colour) arrives fully-fledged in The Town of No Return: glossier, more eccentric, more heightened, camper, more knowing and more playful. It marks the beginning of slumming it film directors coming on board (Roy Ward Baker) and sees Brian Clemens marking out the future template. And the Steed and Mrs Peel relationship is fully established from the off (albeit, this both was and wasn’t the first episode filmed). If the Steed and Cathy Gale chemistry relied on him being impertinently suggestive, Steed and Emma is very much a mutual thing.

And you people, you’re all astronauts... on some kind of star trek.

Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
(SPOILERS) Star Trek: First Contact (also known as plain First Contact, back when “Star Trek” in the title wasn’t necessarily a selling point to the great unwashed. Or should that be great washed?) is probably about as good as a ST:TNG movie could be, in as much as it actively rejects much of what made the TV series what it is: starchy, placid, smug, platitudinous exchanges about how evolved humanity has become in the 25th century. Yeah, there’s a fair bit of that here too, but it mainly recognises that what made the series good, when it was good, was dense, time travel plotting and Borg. Mostly Borg. Until Borg became, like any golden egg, overcooked. Oh, and there’s that other hallowed element of the seven seasons, the goddam holodeck, but the less said about that the better. Well, maybe a paragraph. First Contact is a solid movie, though, overcoming its inherent limitations to make it, by some distance, the best of the four big screen outings with Pic…

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 nourish, 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.

Don’t get tipsy. We can’t have you hiccoughing in the coffin.

The Avengers 4.2: The Murder Market
Tony Williamson’s first teleplay for the series picks up where Brian Clemens left off and then some, with murderous goings-on around marriage-making outfit Togetherness Inc (“Where there is always a happy ending”). Peter Graham Scott, in his first of four directing credits, sets out a winning stall where cartoonishness and stylisation are the order of the day. As is the essential absurdity of the English gentleman, with Steed’s impeccable credentials called on to illustrious effect not seen since The Charmers.

Cool. FaceTime without a phone.

Sense8 Season One
(SPOILERS) The Wachowskis do like their big ideas, but all too often their boldness and penchant for hyper-realism drowns out all subtlety. Their aspirations may rarely exceed their technical acumen, but regularly eclipse their narrative skills. And with J Michael Straczynski on board, whose Babylon 5 was marked out by ahead-of-its-time arc plotting but frequently abysmal dialogue, it’s no wonder Sense8 is as frequently clumsy in the telling as it is arresting in terms of spectacle.

I frequently had the feeling that Sense8 was playing into their less self-aware critical faculties, the ones that produced The Matrix Reloaded rave rather than the beautifully modulated Cloud Atlas. Sense8 looks more like the latter on paper: interconnecting lives and storylines meshing to imbue a greater meaning. The truth is, however, their series possesses the slenderest of central plotlines. It’s there for the siblings to hang a collection of cool ideas, set pieces, themes and fascina…

How dare you shush a shushing!

Home (2015)
(SPOILERS) Every so often, DreamWorks Animation offer a surprise, or they at least attempt to buck their usual formulaic approach. Mr. Peabody & Sherman surprised with how sharp and witty it was, fuelled by a plot that didn’t yield to dumbing down, and Rise of the Guardians, for all that its failings, at least tried something different. When such impulses lead to commercial disappointment, it only encourages the studio to play things ever safer, be that with more Madagascars or Croods. Somewhere in Home is the germ of a decent Douglas Adams knock-off, but it would rather settle on cheap morals, trite messages about friendship and acceptance and a succession of fluffy dance anthems: an exercise in thoroughly varnished vacuity.

Those dance anthems come (mostly) courtesy of songstress Rhianna, who also voices teenager Tip, and I’m sure Jeffrey Katzenberg fully appreciated what a box office boon it would be to have her on board. The effect is cumulatively nauseating though, l…

He’s a good kid, and a devil behind the wheel.

Baby Driver (2017)
(SPOILERS) Pure cinema. There are plenty of directors who engage in superficial flash and fizz (Danny Boyle or JJ Abrams, for example) but relatively few who actually come to the medium from a root, core level, visually. I’m slightly loathe to compare Edgar Wright with the illustrious likes of Sergio Leone and Brian De Palma, partly because they’re playing in largely different genre sandpits, partly because I don’t think Wright has yet made something that compares to their best work, but he operates from a similar sensibility: fashioning a movie foremost through image, supported by the soundtrack, and then, trailing a distant third, comes dialogue. Baby Driver is his most complete approximation of that impulse to date.