Skip to main content

I have never tasted a more magnificent pheasant. It was a masterpiece, doctor.

The Avengers
3.5: Death a La Carte

An episode with a seemingly frivolous premise (murder in the kitchen), is furnished with surprisingly robust plotting despite itself. That said, writer John Lucarotti, in his pre-penultimate teleplay for the series, more than delivers on the humorous potential (and title). Which makes this very much Steed’s show, posing as chef Sebastian Stonemarten and enjoying himself immensely.


Dr Spender: (observing the Emir having a drink) You shouldn’t, you know.
Emir Abdulla Akaba: So you have been telling me for years.
Dr Spender: And so has your religion.

Part of the fun here, even though it isn’t dwelt upon, is that as a cook Steed can clearly compete with the best of them. He’s called in, under cover of a classically voluminous chef’s hat, to cater for the needs of Emir Abdulla Akaba (Henry Lincoln, of Doctor Who Yeti and Holy Blood Holy Grail fame, donning blackface), an ailing Arab in London for his annual health check who does so like to indulge the very best of gastronomic delights. Cathy is on board as his social director for the visit, but the Emir’s longevity is put down to the persistence of Mellor (Robert James, Lesterson listen in The Power of the Daleks); Dr Spender (Paul Dawkins) suggests he would have died years ago without him.


Steed: A vintage Burgundy, the company of a beautiful woman, and a boeuf bourguignon – my recipe for a perfect evening.

Steed’s co-kitcheners are Lucien (Gordon Rollings) and Umberto (David Nettheim, Fedorin in The Enemy of the World), each expressing different specialities of cuisine. Presided over by the pompous, prissy Arbuthnot (Ken Parry), they’re instructed to keep all food preparations clearly distinct.  All is not well, of course, or the Avengers wouldn’t be there, and someone is out to put an end to the “ill-tempered, vain, selfish old devil” (Cathy’s words; Steed replies that his personality isn’t important, to which Cathy retorts “Ah, but his oil wells are”).


The murder plot involves drugged mushrooms, secreted into the penthouse suite by Mellor and prepared by Lucien, although they don’t get the chance to carry out their plan, firstly because Steed destroys Umberto’s cannelloni (“You great big steaming nit!” exclaims Umberto, dropping all pretence at Italian origins) and then because the Emir expires from natural causes (a coronary).


The true cause of death isn’t revealed until the final scene, though, and there’s even a nice little touch at the end of Act 2 when Spender’s reaction to the Emir’s exit suggests he too may be involved. If there’s a criticism, it’s that we know it’s Mellor up to no good too soon, and his motivations are never clearly outlined (“I’m afraid your revolting friends won’t be too pleased when they find you’ve made a mess of it” says Steed, but who they are and why exactly they’re intent on offing him goes unrevealed, unless I missed it). As matters come to a head, Steed engages in a brutal fight with the Emir’s lackey Ali (stuntman Valentino Musetti), which appears to conclude with the latter getting a face full of chip fat. Very unpleasant.


Along the way, there are numerous lovely little moments; the look Steed gives Cathy when Arbuthnot is complaining that Stonemarten should be off preparing the pheasant; Steed’s description of how he will prepare said bird, “As you would say, ‘stupendissimo’. Transports one out of this world”; Steed bringing the Emir a plate of poached eggs after the cannelloni goes tits-up; Umberto serving the pair a fish-and-chips supper in the closing scene (“We’re frying tonight”).


A witty, zesty little episode then, and a great showcase for Steed’s all-conquering urbanity. Death a la Carte is also blessed with a full-bodied, flavoursome cast.











Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

It’ll be like living in the top drawer of a glass box.

Someone’s Watching Me! (1978) (SPOILERS) The first of a pair of TV movies John Carpenter directed in the 1970s, but Someone’s Watching Me! is more affiliated, in genre terms, to his breakout hit ( Halloween ) and reasonably successful writing job ( The Eyes of Laura Mars ) of the same year than the also-small-screen Elvis . Carpenter wrote a slew of gun-for-hire scripts during this period – some of which went on to see the twilight of day during the 1990s – so directing Someone’s Watching Me! was not a given. It’s well-enough made and has its moments of suspense, but you sorely miss a signature Carpenter theme – it was by Harry Sukman, his penultimate work, the final being Salem’s Lot – and it really does feel very TV movie-ish.

As in the hokey kids’ show guy?

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (2019) (SPOILERS) I don’t think Mr Rogers could have been any creepier had Kevin Spacey played him. It isn’t just the baggage Tom Hanks brings, and whether or not he’s the adrenochrome lord to the stars and/or in Guantanamo and/or dead and/or going to make a perfectly dreadful Colonel Tom Parker and an equally awful Geppetto; it’s that his performance is so constipated and mannered an imitation of Mr Rogers’ genuineness that this “biopic” takes on a fundamentally sinister turn. His every scene with a youngster isn’t so much exuding benevolent empathy as suggestive of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ’s Child Catcher let loose in a TV studio (and again, this bodes well for Geppetto). Extend that to A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood ’s conceit, that Mr Rogers’ life is one of a sociopathic shrink milking angst from his victims/patients in order to get some kind of satiating high – a bit like a rejuvenating drug, on that score – and you have a deeply unsettli

Who’s got the Figgy Port?

Loki (2021) (SPOILERS) Can something be of redeemable value and shot through with woke (the answer is: Mad Max: Fury Road )? 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 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.

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.

By whom will this be rectified? Your ridiculously ineffectual assassins?

The X-Files 3.2: Paperclip Paperclip recovers ground after The Blessing Way stumbled slightly in its detour, and does so with some of the series’ most compelling dramatics so far. As well as more of Albert performing prayer rituals for the sick (perhaps we could spend some time with the poor guy over breakfast, or going to the movies? No, all he’s allowed is stock Native American mysticism).

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.

That’s what it’s all about. Interrupting someone’s life.

Following (1998) (SPOILERS) The Nolanverse begins here. And for someone now delivering the highest-powered movie juggernauts globally – that are not superhero or James Cameron movies – and ones intrinsically linked with the “art” of predictive programming, it’s interesting to note familiar themes of identity and limited perception of reality in this low-key, low-budget and low-running time (we won’t see much of the latter again) debut. And, naturally, non-linear storytelling. Oh, and that cool, impersonal – some might say clinical – approach to character, subject and story is also present and correct.

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.

When I barked, I was enormous.

Dean Spanley (2008) (SPOILERS) There is such a profusion of average, respectable – but immaculately made – British period drama held up for instant adulation, it’s hardly surprising that, when something truly worthy of acclaim comes along, it should be singularly ignored. To be fair, Dean Spanley was well liked by critics upon its release, but its subsequent impact has proved disappointingly slight. Based on Lord Dunsany’s 1939 novella, My Talks with Dean Spanley , our narrator relates how the titular Dean’s imbibification of a moderate quantity of Imperial Tokay (“ too syrupy ”, is the conclusion reached by both members of the Fisk family regarding this Hungarian wine) precludes his recollection of a past life as a dog.  Inevitably, reviews pounced on the chance to reference Dean Spanley as a literal shaggy dog story, so I shall get that out of the way now. While the phrase is more than fitting, it serves to underrepresent how affecting the picture is when it has c