Skip to main content

Look, if you’re going to open that, you’d better be quick. I’m going to be shot in half an hour.

The Avengers
3.24: Esprit de Corps

If the final Cathy Gale outing doesn’t make for the most indelible departing shot, this penultimate instalment is one to be proud of. Although, while Cathy has a decent role (as the next in line to the Stuart throne, no less), it’s Steed who wins the best plot line, paired with the wonderful Roy Kinnear and presented to a firing squad.


Kinnear would show up three more times, including in the series finale, a sign that they were fond of a certain kind of comic turn that underlined the show’s inimitability (see also John Laurie). Here he’s the wayward Private Jessop, member of a Highland Guards regiment led by Brigadier General Sir Ian Stuart-Bollinger (Duncan Macrae, the Doctor/Napoleon in The Prisoner’s Dance of the Dead). The Brigadier General, in soon-to-be-classic Avengers nutter style, is planning to put a Stuart on the British throne by way of an armed insurrection. Unfortunately, his son, whom he has calculated is the rightful heir, has no interest in the job, content with life as a bookmaker in Halifax (“We never should have sent him to Eton”).


In what looks dire convenience but is revealed ultimately to be Cathy cooking the records, it turns out that Mrs Gale is runner-up for the throne (which rather begs the question, what of the coup plans if she hadn’t showed up?) and will be crowned Queen Anne the Second. Naturally, she also knows everything there is to know about the history of World War I. She must be really boring at parties.


Her best scenes find her playing against John Thaw’s Captain Trench (Thaw, a mere slip of a 23-year-old, could easily have passed for 10 years older even then). This is an episode of memorable performances, but Thaw, oozing menace and barely suppressed rage (“ruthless, ambitious, and completely untrustworthy”), walks off with the honours.


There’s a fair crackle of energy in his scenes with Blackman, and it makes you wish, at this late stage, she’d had more opponents with such presence and physicality that you’d wonder if she’d best them; as it is, there’s a memorable scene where they spar in the gym, and Trench begins to actually strangle her. While she disengages him (“Now that’s what I call the true Highland spirit, lass” applauds the Brigadier General), it’s a moment filled with real tension. Of which, in the climactic fight, it looks as if the squaddie who goes for her nearly takes her out as he tumbles on the staircase.


Thaw’s effective in a different kind of way against Macnee, his pugilistic fervour bouncing off Steed’s unflappable gentility. He’s questioning Steed’s cover from the off, on to his making things up about wartime exploits (“Were you there, young man?” Steed dismisses airily), and takes particularly relish in rumbling him, upon which he is summarily tried and sentenced. Albeit, the Brigadier General is more disposed towards Steed’s arguments than Trench’s during the trial, and Steed casually throws in mockery of Trench’s accent (“Now hold on, it hasn’t been proved that I did raise the ala-rum”) before the incriminating spy camera is presented.


Steed: When the bugle sounds, duty calls and there I am.
Cathy: Oh well, if you feel that way, you might as well reenlist.
Steed: No, I’m waiting for a national emergency for that.

Macnee’s having a grand old time, making a labour of hanging out at the launderette but then switching from charm offensive to steely when he confronts proprietor Mrs Craig (Pearl Catlin), whose husband was shot in the first scene; the further twist, in which she reveals she knows all about her hubby’s demise (“He was a traitor”) is also effective.


Steed: Look, if you’re going to open that, you’d better be quick. I’m going to be shot in half an hour.

The best interaction is with Kinnear’s Private Jessop, however, from sympathetically rolling his eyes during Steed’s trial, to apologising over the sorry menu for the prisoner’s last meal (“What sort of officer’s mess is this?” Steed complains, observing that the poor-quality champagne will ruin the pheasant), to Steed’s continued attempts at bribery (Jessop offers to merely wing Steed rather than execute him; the latter replies, ‘That’s very thoughtful of you’). Noting Steed is considering an escape attempt, Jessop comments “If you’re thinking of going through that window, sir. I’m fifteen stone. It’s electrified”.


That there’s no last-minute rescue is also an effective twist, although writer Eric Paice, in his last and best teleplay for the series, wisely doesn’t labour how Steed survived (he bribed all of them to miss; Jessop received his best diamond tiepin for his pains). There’s a further neat development as the Brigadier-General apparently gives up Trench, professing to have been working to expose a plot; this is itself a ruse to ensure the whole regiment is armed, with the full backing of the War Office.


Cathy: Those lineage charts were fake, general.
Steed: Thank goodness for that.

It appears that Steed wasn’t aware of Cathy’s ploy with the lineage, which makes a change since it tends to be him not apprising her; this also yields a number of amusing quips on his part (“Could have applied to you for a royal pardon” he suggests, having gone through the ordeal of a firing squad). One of the best of the third season.








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

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…

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…

You look like an angry lizard!

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
(SPOILERS) I can quite see a Queen fan begrudging this latest musical biopic for failing to adhere to the facts of their illustrious career – but then, what biopic does steer a straight and true course? – making it ironic that they're the main fuel for Bohemian Rhapsody's box office success. Most other criticisms – and they're legitimate, on the whole – fall away in the face of a hugely charismatic star turn from Rami Malek as the band's frontman. He's the difference between a standard-issue, episodic, join-the-dots narrative and one that occasionally touches greatness, and most importantly, carries emotional heft.

I am so sick of Scotland!

Outlaw/King (2018)
(SPOILERS) Proof that it isn't enough just to want to make a historical epic, you have to have some level of vision for it as well. Say what you like about Mel's Braveheart – and it isn't a very good film – it's got sensibility in spades. He knew what he was setting out to achieve, and the audience duly responded. What does David Mackenzie want from Outlaw/King (it's shown with a forward slash on the titles, so I'm going with it)? Ostensibly, and unsurprisingly, to restore the stature of Robert the Bruce after it was rather tarnished by Braveheart, but he has singularly failed to do so. More than that, it isn’t an "idea", something you can recognise or get behind even if you don’t care about the guy. You’ll never forget Mel's Wallace, for better or worse, but the most singular aspect of Chris Pine's Bruce hasn’t been his rousing speeches or heroic valour. No, it's been his kingly winky.

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

It was one of the most desolate looking places in the world.

They Shall Not Grow Old (2018)
Peter Jackson's They Shall Not Grow Old, broadcast by the BBC on the centenary of Armistice Day, is "sold" on the attraction and curiosity value of restored, colourised and frame rate-enhanced footage. On that level, this World War I documentary, utilising a misquote from Laurence Binyon's poem for its title, is frequently an eye-opener, transforming the stuttering, blurry visuals that have hitherto informed subsequent generations' relationship with the War. However, that's only half the story; the other is the use of archive interviews with veterans to provide a narrative, exerting an effect often more impacting for what isn't said than for what is.

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.

Believe me, Mr Bond, I could shoot you from Stuttgart und still create ze proper effect.

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
(SPOILERS) Some of the reactions to Spectre would have you believe it undoes all the “good” work cementing Daniel Craig’s incarnation of Bond in Skyfall. If you didn’t see that picture as the second coming of the franchise (I didn’t) your response to the latest may not be so harsh, despite its less successful choices (Blofeld among them). And it isn’t as if one step, forward two steps back are anything new in perceptions of the series (or indeed hugely divisive views on what even constitutes a decent Bond movie). After the raves greeting Goldeneye, Pierce Brosnan suffered a decidedly tepid response to his second outing, Tomorrow Never Dies, albeit it was less eviscerated than Craig’s sophomore Quantum of Solace. Tomorrow’s reputation disguises many strong points, although it has to be admitted that a Moore-era style finale and a floundering attempt to package in a halcyon villain aren’t among them.

The Bond series’ flirtations with contemporary relevance have a…

It seemed as if I had missed something.

Room 237 (2012)
Stanley Kubrick’s meticulous, obsessive approach towards filmmaking was renowned, so perhaps it should be no surprise to find comparable traits reflected in a section of his worshippers. Legends about the director have taken root (some of them with a factual basis, others bunkum), while the air of secrecy that enshrouded his life and work has duly fostered a range of conspiracy theories. A few of these are aired in Rodney Ascher’s documentary, which indulges five variably coherent advocates of five variably tenuous theories relating to just what The Shining is really all about. Beyond Jack Nicholson turning the crazy up to 11, that is. Ascher has hit on a fascinating subject, one that exposes our capacity to interpret any given information wildly differently according to our disposition. But his execution, which both underlines and undermines the theses of these devotees, leaves something to be desired.

Part of the problem is simply one of production values. The audio tra…

You stole my car, and you killed my dog!

John Wick (2014)
(SPOILERS) For their directorial debut, ex-stunt guys Chad Stahelski and David Leitch plump for the old reliable “hit man comes out of retirement” plotline, courtesy of screenwriter Derek Kolstad, and throw caution to the wind. The result, John Wick, is one of last year’s geek and critical favourites, a fired up actioner that revels in its genre tropes and captures that elusive lightning in a bottle; a Keanu Reeves movie in which he is perfectly cast.

That said, some of the raves have probably gone slightly overboard. This is effective, silly, and enormous fun in its own hyper-violent way, but Stahelski and Leitch haven’t announced themselves stylistically so much as plastered the screen with ultra-violence and precision choreography. They have a bit of a way to go before they’re masters of their domain, and they most definitely need to stint on their seemingly insatiable appetite for a metalhead soundtrack. This kind of bludgeoning choice serves to undercut the action a…