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

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989)
(SPOILERS) There’s Jaws, there’s Star Wars, and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy, to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “mainly boring”.

Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the system when Burton did it (even…

I'm reliable, I'm a very good listener, and I'm extremely funny.

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)
(SPOILERS) When I wrote my 23 to see in 2019, I speculated that James Cameron might be purposefully giving his hand-me-downs to lesser talents because he hubristically didn’t want anyone making a movie that was within a spit of the proficiency we’ve come to expect from him. Certainly, Robert Rodriguez and Tim Miller are leagues beneath Kathryn Bigelow, Jimbo’s former spouse and director of his Strange Days screenplay. Miller’s no slouch when it comes to action – which is what these movies are all about, let’s face it – but neither is he a craftsman, so all those reviews attesting that Terminator: Dark Fate is the best in the franchise since Terminator 2: Judgment Day may be right, but there’s a considerable gulf between the first sequel (which I’m not that big a fan of) and this retcon sequel to that sequel.

So you want me to be half-monk, half-hitman.

Casino Royale (2006)
(SPOILERS) Despite the doubts and trepidation from devotees (too blonde, uncouth etc.) that greeted Daniel Craig’s casting as Bond, and the highly cynical and low-inspiration route taken by Eon in looking to Jason Bourne's example to reboot a series that had reached a nadir with Die Another Day, Casino Royale ends up getting an enormous amount right. If anything, its failure is that it doesn’t push far enough, so successful is it in disarming itself of the overblown set pieces and perfunctory plotting that characterise the series (even at its best), elements that would resurge with unabated gusto in subsequent Craig excursions.

For the majority of its first two hours, Casino Royale is top-flight entertainment, with returning director Martin Campbell managing to exceed his excellent work reformatting Bond for the ‘90s. That the weakest sequence (still good, mind) prior to the finale is a traditional “big” (but not too big) action set piece involving an attempt to…

You guys sure like watermelon.

The Irishman aka I Heard You Paint Houses (2019)
(SPOILERS) Perhaps, if Martin Scorsese hadn’t been so opposed to the idea of Marvel movies constituting cinema, The Irishman would have been a better film. It’s a decent film, assuredly. A respectable film, definitely. But it’s very far from being classic. And a significant part of that is down to the usually assured director fumbling the execution. Or rather, the realisation. I don’t know what kind of crazy pills the ranks of revered critics have been taking so as to recite as one the mantra that you quickly get used to the de-aging effects so intrinsic to its telling – as Empire magazine put it, “you soon… fuggadaboutit” – but you don’t. There was no point during The Irishman that I was other than entirely, regrettably conscious that a 75-year-old man was playing the title character. Except when he was playing a 75-year-old man.

The more you drive, the less intelligent you are.

Repo Man (1984)
In fairness, I should probably check out more Alex Cox’s later works. Before I consign him to the status of one who never made good on the potential of his early success. But the bits and pieces I’ve seen don’t hold much sway. I pretty much gave up on him after Walker. It seemed as if the accessibility of Repo Man was a happy accident, and he was subsequently content to drift further and further down his own post-modern punk rabbit hole, as if affronted by the “THE MOST ASTONISHING FEATURE FILM DEBUT SINCE STEVEN SPIELBERG’S DUEL” accolade splashed over the movie’s posters (I know, I have a copy; see below).

This popularity of yours. Is there a trick to it?

The Two Popes (2019)
(SPOILERS) Ricky Gervais’ Golden Globes joke, in which he dropped The Two Popes onto a list of the year’s films about paedophiles, rather preceded the picture’s Oscar prospects (three nominations), but also rather encapsulated the conversation currently synonymous with the forever tainted Roman Catholic church; it’s the first thing anyone thinks of. And let’s face it, Jonathan Pryce’s unamused response to the gag could have been similarly reserved for the fate of his respected but neglected film. More people will have heard Ricky’s joke than will surely ever see the movie. Which, aside from a couple of solid lead performances, probably isn’t such an omission.

Look, the last time I was told the Germans had gone, it didn't end well.

1917 (2019)
(SPOILERS) When I first heard the premise of Sam Mendes’ Oscar-bait World War I movie – co-produced by Amblin Partners, as Spielberg just loves his sentimental war carnage – my first response was that it sounded highly contrived, and that I’d like to know how, precisely, the story Mendes’ granddad told him would bear any relation to the events he’d be depicting. And just why he felt it would be appropriate to honour his relative’s memory via a one-shot gimmick. None of that has gone away on seeing the film. It’s a technical marvel, and Roger Deakins’ cinematography is, as you’d expect, superlative, but that mastery rather underlines that 1917 is all technique, that when it’s over and you get a chance to draw your breath, the experience feels a little hollow, a little cynical and highly calculated, and leaves you wondering what, if anything, Mendes was really trying to achieve, beyond an edge-of-the-seat (near enough) first-person actioner.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.