Skip to main content

Slice him where you like, a hellhound is always a hellhound.

Jeeves and Wooster
2.1: Jeeves Saves the Cow Creamer
(aka The Silver Jug)
                                    
Season Two of Jeeves and Wooster continues the high standard of the previous year’s last two episodes, appropriately since it takes after its literary precedent; Season One ended with a two-part adaptation of Right Ho, Jeeves, which PG Wodehouse followed four years later with The Code of the Woosters. Published in 1938, it was the third full-length outing for Bertie and his genius gentleman’s gentleman, and the first time Plum visited Totleigh Towers, home of imperious nerve specialist Sir Watykn Bassett. If I say “Spode”, and add “Eulalie”, its classic status in the canon will no doubt come flooding back to you.


Sir Watkyn has already graced our screens, of course, in the very first episode, adapting Bertram Wilberforce’s recollection from this very The Code of the Woosters of his policeman’s hat-stealing incident, and for the most part, like the season finale before it, Clive Exton recognises a good thing when he sees it and is remarkably faithful to the novel. There are omissions, in particular the subplot concerning Anatole the cook, and Bertie delivers the cow creamer into Sir Watkyn’s eager hands via a piece of superbly timed, cat-tripping slapstick (no need to utilise cold lobsters and sliced cucumbers to delay Uncle Tom from its purchase), but it’s very much a case of pruning rather than serious truncation.


Bertie Wooster: I expect it’s absolutely rotten.
Shopkeeper: It’s a beautiful cow creamer!

Simon Langton (Smiley’s People, the BBC Pride and Prejudice) does a terrific job keeping the episode rattling along (variable Totleigh weather and all). Events are ignited by Bertie’s reluctant obeyance to the wishes of his Aunt Dahlia (Vivian Pickles). He makes his way to Bond Street in order to “sneer at a cow creamer”, so warming the seller up for Uncle Tom, who will offer a lesser price. Bertie has a sore head, having attended Gussie’s bachelor party (picking up from the events of Brinkley Manor), albeit given the subsequent altercations, he might have thought twice about toasting him as “a good egg, and a persuasive man with a newt”. Particularly amusing is Jeeves suggestion that his master assert the creamer to be of modern Dutch manufacture (“The Dutch, sir, while an admiral people in many ways and renowned for their domestic hygiene, are not considered to be of the first rank in matters of argentine craftsmanship”).


Sir Watkyn recognises Bertie at the shop, sort of, believing he sent Bertie down for bag snatching, giving him a shilling and instructing him “Don’t spend it on drink” before setting the police after him when he believes Wooster has attempted to purloin the creamer; in a truly venerable moment, the pursuing bobby is unlucky enough to enter the Drones Club where, to the universal cry of “Bluebottle!”, he is assaulted with dozens of bread rolls.


Bertie Wooster: Gussie made an ass of himself again.

While the episode is blessed with the return of Richard Garnett as Gussie, unfortunately Pickles is a much less effective Aunt Agatha, lacking the superior warmth towards her nephew Brenda Bruce brought to the previous season; it would be Pickles’ sole appearance in the role (with two more one-off Agathas to follow). The new Barmy, Martin Clunes (replacing Adam Blackwood) is a splendid fit though, Clunes exerting a cheerfully baffled air at every turn (he even entertains the Spode’s unseemly notions). Rather than threats of a withholding Anatole’s cooking, it’s the prospect of the nuptials between Gussie and Madeline falling through that inspire Bertie to visit Totleigh; Gussie has been haplessly arousing her suspicions of infidelity (finding a speck in Stiffy’s eye), and Bertie is desperate to have them tie the knot post haste (“You can’t be married too soon to a chap like Gussie”). Madeline is also new, and Diana Blackburn looks closer to the part than Francesca Folan, but she’s still not quite insipid enough; Elizabeth Heery in the last two seasons is easily the best.


Bertie isn’t the only one on a cow creamer-fuelled mission. The forceful Stephanie “Stiffy” Byng (Charlotte Attenborough, who played her in this and the last season) attempts to coerce Bertie into snatching it in order that Bertie’s old pal and purveyor of muscular Christianity Reverend HP “Stinker” Pinker (Simon Treeves) may garner the approval of Sir Watkyn to wed Stiffy (he’s Stiffy’s ward and disapproves of marriage to a “penniless curate”). It’s a rotten plan, one that ends with Stinker bashing Spode on the head with a cricket bat. Stiffy spends more time harassing and insulting the hapless and dim Constable Eustace Oates (Campbell Morrison, also recast in the next two seasons). When her dog Bartholomew isn’t, that is. Bartholomew doesn’t like bicycles, and Stiffy has no truck with Oates’ protest that he can’t walk (“Do you good get some of the fat off you”).


Stiffy Byng: You don’t mean you won’t do it.
Bertie Wooster: I do mean I won’t do it.

Bertie’s unwavering refusal to submit to Stiffy’s wishes is at least refreshing (“And then I go off and do my stretch in Dartmoor”), parting with “A pig maybe, but a shrewd, level-headed pig who wasn’t born yesterday and has seen a thing or two”. This firmness fails to keep him out of trouble, however, since Aunt Dahlia has also rocked up with designs on the creamer, while the dreaded Spode is convinced he’s up to no good.


John Turner makes for a magnificent Roderick Spode, blustering leader of the Black Shorts (also called the Saviours of Britain), an entirely transparent and glorious dig at Oswald Mosely (who, in his time, was a conservative MP, an independent, labour, founded the New Party, and then the British Union of Fascists). Spode assumes mantle of amateur dictator, wistful for a Britain past, complete with nonsensical statements even Nigel Farrage might blanche at. He demands “the right, nay the responsibility, of every freeborn Englishman to grow his own potatoes”, an immediate ban on foreign root vegetables into the United Kingdom, and the compulsive scientific measurement of all adult male knees (“The British knee is firm, muscular, on the march”). His vegetable fixation includes plans for allocating produce according to county: turnips and broad beans in Wiltshire, potatoes in Scotland and the lowlands (“It has all been scientifically worked out, I assure you”).


This eventually results is one of Bertie’s rare articulate rebukes, as he gives it to the moustache-wearing bully with both barrels: “The trouble with you, Spode, is that just because you’ve succeed in inducing a handful of halfwits to disfigure the London scene by going about in black shorts you think you’re someone. You hear them shouting, ‘Heil Spode!’ and you imagine it is the voice of the people. That is where you make your bloomer. What the voice of the people is saying is, ‘Look at that frightful ass Spode swanking about in footer bags. Did you ever in your puff see such a perisher?


It takes some time for Bertie to get to that point, however. In the novel, Sir Watkyn is looking to getting hitched to Spode’s aunt, absent here, although Spode’s interest in little Madeline is present and correct, which means he takes a particular dislike to Gussie. When he isn’t threatening Bertie, calling him a “miserable worm” and instructing him that if he discovers he has stolen the creamer he will “beat you to a jelly” (“It might be an improvement” responds Dahlia), he is bursting in on him looking for Gussie (“Wooster!” he exclaims, to which Laurie reacts with another masterful slice of slapstick, cigarettes flying everywhere).


Spode: Tell him I’m going to break his neck.
Bertie Wooster: Oh, why?
Spode: Because he’s a butterfly who toys with women’s hearts and throws them aside like soiled gloves.
Bertie Wooster: Do butterflies do that?

Bertie has been reading The Ghost of Moreton Manor, so he’s naturally quite concerned when he hears emanations from the wardrobe (“Do you bring a message from the other side?”) It’s just Gussie though, indulging in craven scooting (“I thought these dictators were meant to be thorough” notes Bertie of Spode’s slackness). It should be noted that much of the cow creamer business has been altered; it isn’t stashed in Gussie’s suitcase, and instead Jeeves craftily attaches it as a hood ornament to the Rolls, dropping it off to Dahlia on departure; as such, after it is stolen, Bertie remains oblivious to its whereabouts until the final scene.


The most memorable part of a highly memorable episode is the saga of Eulalie, which requires Jeeves to “get the goods on Spode” through a visit to the Junior Ganymede. We learn of Rule 11, whereby full information on masters, past and present, is required by the gentleman’s gentlemen members, making for entertaining reading on wet afternoons (“… came home from Pongo Twistelton’s and mistook the lampshade for a burglar” is a particular favourite). We even get to see Jeeves announce of his master, “Really quite promising. I always suspected I could make something of him”.


Bertie Wooster: Spode qua menace, if qua is the word I’m after, is a thing of the past.

Jeeves’ simple instruction (he cannot divulge its pertinence, at least, not in this episode; Spode’s particular secret is, of course, that he designs and sells women’s underwear) that Bertie “Inform him you know all about Eulalie” inevitably goes terribly wrong when Wooster, with Spode in hot pursuit of Gussie, throws a “You fat slob!” the amateur dictator’s way but has a difficult time recalling the crucial word (“Spode, I know your secret. I know all about… Ephymol… Eureka... Euclid... Eucalyptus... Euripides... Eucharist... Eunuch… Euphonium… (Jeeves hands Bertie a piece of paper with the correct word) Eulalie!”) So it’s very fortunate that Jeeves is on hand, resulting in Spode instantly volte facing (“Say goodnight nicely to Mr Fink-Nottle” instructs Bertie sternly). This is classic farce, ranking as both one of the best Woodhouse novels and one of the best adaptations.



Sources
The Code of the Woosters


Recurring characters:

Aunt Dahlia (1.2, 1.4, 1.5, 2.1)
Sir Watkyn Bassett (1.1, 2.1)
Sir Roderick Spode (2.1)
Madeline Basset (1.4, 1.5, 2.1)
Gussie Fink-Nottle (1.4, 1.5, 2.1)
Rev H P “Stinker” Pinker (2.1)
Stephanie “Stiffy” Byng (2.1)
Constable Oates (2.1)
“Barmy” Fotheringay-Phipps (1.1, 1,2, 1.4, 1.5, 2.1)









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.

In a few moments, you will have an experience that will seem completely real. It will be the result of your subconscious fears transformed into your conscious awareness.

Brainstorm (1983)
(SPOILERS) Might Brainstorm have been the next big thing – a ground-breaking, game-changing cinematic spectacle that had as far reaching consequences as Star Wars (special effects) or Avatar (3D) – if only Douglas Trumbull had been allowed to persevere with his patented “Showscan” process (70mm film photographed and projected at 60 frames per second)? I suspect not; one only has to look at the not-so-far-removed experiment of Ang Lee with Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, and how that went down like a bag of cold sick, to doubt that any innovation will necessarily catch on (although Trumbull at least had a narrative hinge on which to turn his “more real than real” imagery, whereas Lee’s pretty much boiled down to “because it was there”). Brainstorm’s story is, though, like its title, possibly too cerebral, too much concerned with the consciousness and touting too little of the cloyingly affirmative that Bruce Rubin inevitably brings to his screenplays. That doesn’t mea…

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.

You can’t keep the whole world in the dark about what’s going on. Once they know that a five-mile hunk of rock is going to hit the world at 30,000 miles per hour, the people will want to know what the hell we intend to do about it.

Meteor (1979)
(SPOILERS) In which we find Sean Connery – or his agent, whom he got rid of subsequent to this and Cuba – showing how completely out of touch he was by the late 1970s. Hence hitching his cart to the moribund disaster movie genre just as movie entertainment was being rewritten and stolen from under him. He wasn’t alone, of course – pal Michael Caine would appear in both The Swarm and Beyond the Poseidon Adventure during this period – but Meteor’s lack of commercial appeal was only accentuated by how functional and charmless its star is in it. Some have cited Meteor as the worst movie of his career (Christopher Bray in his book on the actor), but its sin is not one of being outright terrible, rather of being terminally dull.

I mean, I am just a dumb bunny, but, we are good at multiplying.

Zootropolis (2016)
(SPOILERS) The key to Zootropolis’ (or Zootopia as our American cousins refer to it; the European title change being nothing to do with U2, but down to a Danish zoo, it seems, which still doesn’t explain the German title, though) creative success isn’t so much the conceit of its much-vaunted allegory regarding prejudice and equality, or – conversely – the fun to be had riffing on animal stereotypes (simultaneously clever and obvious), or even the appealing central duo voiced by Ginnifier Goodwin (as first rabbit cop Judy Hopps) and Jason Bateman (fox hustler Nick Wilde). It’s coming armed with that rarity for an animation; a well-sustained plot that doesn’t devolve into overblown set pieces or rest on the easy laurels of musical numbers and montages.

So credit’s due to co-directors Byron Howard (Bolt, Tangled) and Rich Moore (of The Simpsons, Futurama, and latterly, the great until it kind of rests on its laurels Wreck-It-Ralph) and Jared Bush (presumably one of the th…

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.

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…

Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!

Ghostbusters (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Feig is a better director than Ivan Reitman, or at very least he’s savvy enough to gather technicians around him who make his films look good, but that hasn’t helped make his Ghostbusters remake (or reboot) a better movie than the original, and that’s even with the original not even being that great a movie in the first place.

Along which lines, I’d lay no claims to the 1984 movie being some kind of auteurist gem, but it does make some capital from the polarising forces of Aykroyd’s ultra-geekiness on the subject of spooks and Murray’s “I’m just here for the asides” irreverence. In contrast, Feig’s picture is all about treating the subject as he does any other genre, be it cop, or spy, or romcom. There’s no great affection, merely a reliably professional approach, one minded to ensure that a generous quota of gags (on-topic not required) can be pumped out via abundant improv sessions.

So there’s nothing terribly wrong with Ghostbusters, but aside from …

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

I can't lie to you about your chances, but... you have my sympathies.

"Predalien" The Alien-Predator-verse ranked
Fox got in there with the shared universe thing long before the current trend. Fortunately for us, once they had their taste of it, they concluded it wasn’t for them. But still, the Predator and Alien franchises are now forever interconnected, and it better justifies a ranking if you have more than six entries on it. So please, enjoy this rundown of the “Predalien”-verse. SPOILERS ensue…
11. Alien vs. Predator: Requiem (2007)
An almost wilfully wrongheaded desecration of both series’ legacies that attempts to make up for AVP’s relative prurience by being as transgressive as possible. Chestbursters explode from small children! Predaliens impregnate pregnant mothers! Maternity wards of babies are munched (off-screen admittedly)! It’s as bad taste as possible, and that’s without the aesthetic disconnect of the Predalien itself, the stupidest idea the series has seen (and that includes the newborn), one that was approved/encouraged by ra…