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…

Garage freak? Jesus. What kind of a crazy fucking story is this?

All the President’s Men (1976)
It’s fairly routine to find that films lavished with awards ceremony attention really aren’t all that. So many factors go into lining them up, including studio politics, publicity and fashion, that the true gems are often left out in the cold. On some occasions all the attention is thoroughly deserved, however. All the President’s Men lost out to Rocky for Best Picture Oscar; an uplifting crowd-pleaser beat an unrepentantly low key, densely plotted and talky political thriller. But Alan J. Pakula’s film had already won the major victory; it turned a literate, uncompromising account of a resolutely unsexy and over-exposed news story into a huge hit. And even more, it commanded the respect of its potentially fiercest (and if roused most venomous) critics; journalists themselves. All the President’s Men is a masterpiece and with every passing year it looks more and more like a paean to a bygone age, one where the freedom of the press was assumed rather than a…

You’re the Compliance Officer. It’s your call.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)
(SPOILERS) The mealy-mouthed title speaks volumes about the uncertainty with which Tom Clancy’s best-known character has been rebooted. Paramount has a franchise that has made a lot of money, based on a deeply conservative, bookish CIA analyst (well, he starts out that way). How do you reconfigure him for a 21st century world (even though he already has been, back in 2003) where everything he stands for is pretty much a dirty word? The answer, it seems, is to go for an all-purpose sub-James Bond plan to bring American to its knees, with Ryan as a fresh (-ish) recruit (you know, like Casino Royale!) and surprising handiness in a fight. Yes, Jack is still a smart guy (and also now, a bit, -alec), adept at, well, analysing, but to survive in the modern franchise sewer he needs to be more than that. He needs to kick arse. And wear a hoodie. This confusion, inability to coax a series into being what it’s supposed to be, might explain the sour response to its …

Oh look, there’s Colonel Mortimer, riding down the street on a dinosaur!

One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing (1975)
(SPOILERS) There’s no getting round the dinosaur skeleton in the room here: yellow face. From the illustrious writer-director team who brought us Mary Poppins, no less. Disney’s cheerfully racist family movie belongs to a bygone era, but appreciating its merits doesn’t necessarily requires one to subscribe to the Bernard Manning school of ethnic sensitivity.

I’m not going to defend the choice, but, if you can get past that, and that may well be a big if, particularly Bernard Bresslaw’s Fan Choy (if anything’s an unwelcome reminder of the Carry Ons lesser qualities, it’s Bresslaw and Joan Sims) there’s much to enjoy. For starters, there’s two-time Best Supporting Actor Oscar winner Ustinov (as mastermind Hnup Wan), funny in whatever he does (and the only Poirot worth his salt), eternally berating his insubordinate subordinate Clive Revill (as Quon).

This is a movie where, even though its crude cultural stereotyping is writ large, the dialogue frequen…

It's not an exact science, this business.

The Mummy (2017)
(SPOILERS) A pinch of salt is usually needed when reports of a blockbuster’s rep as great or disastrous start singing from the same song sheet, as more often than not, they’re somewhere in between. A week ago, Wonder Woman was being hailed as some kind of miracle (or wonder), when really, it’s just another decent-but-formulaic superhero movie. This week, there have been post-mortems up the wazoo over The Mummy’s less-than-remarkable opening gross (which have a predictably US-centric flavour; it’s still the biggest global figure for a Tom Cruise movie). Is The Mummy as terrible as has been made out? No, of course not. It isn’t particularly good, but that doesn’t make it significantly worse than any dozen or so mediocre blockbusters you’d care to pick that have been lavished with far less opprobrium.

The thinking behind the savaging is understandable, though. There’s so much hubris on display here, it’s ridiculous, from Universal assuming they can fashion a Dark Universe …

You keep a horse in the basement?

The ‘Burbs (1989)
(SPOILERS) The ‘Burbs is Joe Dante’s masterpiece. Or at least, his masterpiece that isn’t his bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you masterpiece Gremlins 2: The New Batch, or his high profile masterpiece Gremlins. Unlike those two, the latter of which bolted out of the gate and took audiences by surprise with it’s black wit subverting the expected Spielberg melange, and the first which was roundly shunned by viewers and critics for being absolutely nothing like the first and waving that fact gleefully under their noses, The ‘Burbs took a while to gain its foothold in the Dante pantheon. 

It came out at a time when there had been a good few movies (not least Dante’s) taking a poke at small town Americana, and it was a Tom Hanks movie when Hanks was still a broad strokes comedy guy (Big had just made him big, Turner and Hooch was a few months away; you know you’ve really made it when you co-star with a pooch). It’s true to say that some, as with say The Big Lebowski, “got it” on fi…

The head is missing... and... he's the wrong age.

Twin Peaks 3.7: There’s a body all right.
First things first: my suggestion that everyone’s favourite diminutive hitman, Ike “The Spike” Stadtler, had been hired by the Mitchum brothers was clearly erroneous in the extreme, although the logistics of how evil Coop had the contingency plan in place to off Lorraine and Dougie-Coop remains a little unclear right now. As is how he was banged up with the apparent foresight to have on hand ready blackmail tools to ensure the warden would get him out (and why did he wait so long about it, if he could do it off the bat?)


Launching right in with no preamble seems appropriate for his episode, since its chock-a-block with exposition and (linear) progression, almost an icy blast of what settles for reality in Twin Peaks after most of what has gone before this season, the odd arm-tree aside. Which might please James Dyer, who in the latest Empire “The Debate”, took the antagonistic stance to the show coming back and dismissed it as “gibbering nonsen…

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

I have a problem with my liver.

Twin Peaks 3.6 Don’t die
The season resumes form with the sixth episode, and incongruity abounds – as much as anything in Twin Peaks is any more or less incongruous than anything else – from the most endearing to the most alarming. The latter of which is up there with the very nastiest nastiness witnessed in a David Lynch joint in the form of butcher for hire Ike “The Spike” Stadtler (Christophe Zajac-Denek), the most alarming killer dwarf since Donald Sutherland led himself on a wild goose chase around Venice in Don’t Look Now.


Lynch’s use of music in Don’t die is both eclectic and exemplary. He concludes with Sharon von Etten crooning Tarifa over the credits, but it’s Ike going on a bloody frenzy to the innocuous and innocent sound of BluntedBeatz’ “I AM” Oldschool HipHop Beat that really sets the episode on edge. This is Lynch at his most visceral, immediate and palpably perturbing. You hear it before you see it, the screams of the first victim in Lorraine’s office, before the pint-…

I will beat you like a Cherokee drum.

Fast & Furious 8 aka The Fate of the Furious (2017)
(SPOILERS) Fun. Brio. That’s what any director needs to bring a sense of to the ever more absurd Fast & Furious franchise at minimum. Action chops are definitely up there, but paramount is an active affinity with how plain silly the series is. And it’s a quality F Gary Gray doesn’t really have, or if he does, he’s never shown it, previously or here. Even his action leaves something to be desired (his The Italian Job remake is far superior in that regard). Which isn’t to suggest there isn’t fun to be had from Fast & Furious 8/The Fate of the Furious, but it’s much more sporadic and performance-based than the previous outing, lacking the unbridled gusto James Wan brought to Furious 7.

But maybe I’m wrong about this. While I’ve seen every instalment in the franchise (only the once, mind) I haven’t followed it avidly in order (1, 4, 5, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, I think, only the first and last two at the cinema), although, it isn’t as if t…