Skip to main content

Reach out to the stillness of eternity.

The Avengers
3.14: The Secrets Broker

Wine seems to go down quite well in The Avengers (2.11 Death of a Great Dane, in which Cathy gets a bit blotto), and if The Secrets Broker isn’t quite of that vintage, it does involve a winning ruse (spiritualist séances as a cover for the passing of secrets) and several first rate performances, from Patricia English, Avice Landone and the inimitable, irrepressible Jack May.


Steed: I’m, uh, going to a wine tasting party.
Cathy: Do you really think you’ve got the palate?

May is Waller, the ringleader, but the group’s steeliest and most imperious member is Landone’s Mrs Wilson, effortlessly single-minded and callous whereas May, posing as the manager of a wine shop, is given to sucking a cigar and engaging in broad banter with Steed. “Wine and spirits” was probably the dubious connection that inspired writer Ludovic Peters (his only contribution to the show), and it works reasonably well, if entirely randomly, a sign of the eccentric arrangements that will become the norm.


Mrs Wilson: You think us fakes, yet we know so much about you.

The actual business being investigated is rather by-the-by, and not terribly intriguing, with a fairly involved plot in which two brothers, Frederick (John Stone) and Allan Paignton (Ronald Allen) are pressured into murder and theft (via instructions given at the séance; analysing quite why the séance is necessary will probably get you nowhere, even if adds to the heightened milieu).  The wine shop produces a wine list that includes part of plans for a breach mechanism for an anti-tank gun; again, the intricacies of this are elusive (Steed surmises the full plans aren’t held so the instigators can’t double cross each other).


Cathy: (presented with a bottle of apricot brandy) What makes you think I have depraved tastes?
Steed: I can’t imagine, my dear.

Cathy goes undercover, as usual, at the research station where a colleague of Steed worked (Frederick’s victim). Marion (English) is working there, engaged in an affair with Allan, while her husband (John Ringham) remains oblivious; the villains’ aim is to steel plans, blackmailing Marion to cut the alarm system.


Waller: He seems like a gentleman of some means. I think, he might brighten up the proceedings a bit.

Steed’s interaction with Waller is a delight, as the former casually orders bottles of plonk and they discuss Rieslings and hocks. Steed arrives in the cellar for the showdown and, asked what the devil he’s doing there, advises he came for the wine list (“Oh, very droll” responds Waller). While fighting Steed warns “Mind the burgundy, Mr Waller” and is told “It’s a bad year, Mr Steed”. May comes across like a Peter Cook who can act, while given to the kind of hearty dialogue chewing that would make Iain Cuthbertson proud.


The rest of the cast is also memorable, with English (previously in Mission to Montreal), offering a believably beset turn as a woman caught in an unenviable predicament and a loveless marriage. The scenario of spying through stagecraft rather recalls The 39 Steps (the Hitchcock version).


Waller: Mrs Wilson and her daughter, Julia. Help yourself to anything you fancy, Mr Steed.
Steed: (eyeing up Julia) That’s very generous of you.

Steed is on particularly suggestive form, be it making innuendos about Cathy’s character or getting all Sid James over Mrs Wilson’s daughter. It must be all that vino (“Partaking of a few wines, in the company of Frederick Paignton” he informs Cathy: “What, again?” she responds wearily), particularly given the coda in which he and Cathy imbibe some of Waller’s cellar that got away. 






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

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

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.

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.

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…

They literally call themselves “Decepticons”. That doesn’t set off any red flags?

Bumblebee  (2018)
(SPOILERS) Bumblebee is by some distance the best Transformers movie, simply by dint of having a smattering of heart (one might argue the first Shia LaBeouf one also does, and it’s certainly significantly better than the others, but it’s still a soulless Michael Bay “machine”). Laika VP and director Travis Knight brings personality to a series that has traditionally consisted of shamelessly selling product, by way of a nostalgia piece that nods to the likes of Herbie (the original), The Iron Giant and even Robocop.

This is one act in a vast cosmic drama. That’s all.

Audrey Rose (1977)
(SPOILERS) Robert Wise was no stranger to high-minded horror fare when he came to Audrey Rose. He was no stranger to adding a distinctly classy flavour to any genre he tackled, in fact, particularly in the tricky terrain of the musical (West Side Story, The Sound of Music) and science fiction (The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Andromeda Strain). He hadn’t had much luck since the latter, however, with neither Two People nor The Hindenburg garnering good notices or box office. In addition to which, Audrey Rose saw him returning to a genre that had been fundamentally impacted by The Exorcist four years before. One might have expected the realist principals he observed with The Andromeda Strain to be applied to this tale of reincarnation, and to an extent they are, certainly in terms of the performances of the adults, but Wise can never quite get past a hacky screenplay that wants to impart all the educational content of a serious study of continued existence in tandem w…

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.

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…

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.

They seem to be attracted to your increasing nudeness.

Pokémon Detective Pikachu (2019)
(SPOILERS) I was put in mind of Shazam! watching Pokémon Detective Pikachu, another 2019 tentpole that somewhat underperformed based on expectations. Not particularly due to any plot resemblance, but because both movies fall apart under the weight of an overblown and underwhelming finale. In the case of Shazam! that may be more damaging to its prospective sequels (if they keep the team of super-adult kids), whereas Detective Pikachu will simply have to struggle with a whole heap of unnecessary expositional baggage attempting to imbue the proceedings with emotional resonance.

It’s like an angry white man’s basement in here.

Bad Boys for Life (2020)
(SPOILERS) The reviews for Bad Boys for Life have, perhaps surprisingly, skewed positive, given that it seemed exactly the kind of beleaguered sequel to get slaughtered by critics. Particularly so since, while it’s a pleasure to see Will Smith and Martin Lawrence back together as Mike and Marcus, the attempts to validate this third outing as a more mature, reflective take on their buddy cops is somewhat overstated. Indeed, those moments of reflection or taking stock arguably tend to make the movie as a whole that much glibber, swiftly succeeded as they are by lashings of gleeful ultra-violence or humorous shtick. Under Michael Bay, who didn’t know the definition of a lull, these pictures scorned any opportunity to pause long enough to assess the damage, and were healthier, so to speak, for that. Without him, Bad Boys for Life’s beats often skew closer to standard 90s action fare.