Skip to main content

Don’t get tipsy. We can’t have you hiccoughing in the coffin.

The Avengers
4.2: The Murder Market

Tony Williamson’s first teleplay for the series picks up where Brian Clemens left off and then some, with murderous goings-on around marriage-making outfit Togetherness Inc (“Where there is always a happy ending”). Peter Graham Scott, in his first of four directing credits, sets out a winning stall where cartoonishness and stylisation are the order of the day. As is the essential absurdity of the English gentleman, with Steed’s impeccable credentials called on to illustrious effect not seen since The Charmers.


Mr Lovejoy: Now, do you have a preferred marriage partner?
Steed: Well, broadly speaking, female.

Emma informs Steed that the chances of coincidence in the likely suspects of 11 apparently organised murders being conveniently elsewhere at the time are 27 million to 1, so C3P0’s got nothing on her. Led to Togetherness Inc via a dodgy photographer, who has the jump on Blow-Up by a good two years (“Give it a bit of life, baby. Animate!”), there’s a slight whiff of déjà vu of Harold Innocent’s artist in The Medicine Man; in both cases, they’re in on the scheme, while the premise of providing an alibi to the most likely suspect was previously covered in Mandrake. Although, here, it is very much of a Strangers on a Train type.


Steed: The marriage bureau’s involved in this. It’s involved right up to its bridal bouquet.

The sets and style are even more accentuated than before, with the series suddenly a fully-formed part of the swinging ‘60s; when Steed sets off a model with his bowler and brolly, to the photographer’s delight, it’s pretty much a summation of the modern-retro vibe that was happening all over popular culture. Then there’s the very excessive interior of Togetherness Inc (“What a charming atmosphere!”), an excellent title shot of a shot fish tank, and the elaborate use of coffins and lying in state (always a go-to for the show).


Mrs Peel: Steed, who are you supposed to kill?
Steed: You, my dear.

Williamson does fall victim to a not-uncommon failing of our superspies, though, which is spreading themselves too thinly. The number of times someone they idly meet is linked to the villains, you’d have thought they’d get menials to do some of the basic footwork, since both Steed and Emma are rumbled on this occasion through not being in character with the villains. Emma spies the Canuck (Suzanne Lloyd as Barbara Wakefield) fleeing from JG Henshaw’s (Robert Milner) house, who later identifies her, after Steed has sent her to the bureau (resulting in his getting commissioned to top Emma, another trope the series uses not infrequently), while our photographer friend was one of the first people he interviewed, so its sheer luck that Steed didn’t get rumbled earlier.


The only major surprise is that John Woodvine turns out to not to be a bad guy (he’s in American Werewolf, rather than Armageddon Factor, mode), mainly thanks to his sinister red herring manner on first encounter. But, if the actual managing director is a twist, it isn’t matched by a grand performance.


Mrs Peel: What’s marriage got to do with it?
Steed: A marvellous institution, my dear. I’m seriously contemplating it. I offered myself on the market today. Every bid considered. Of course, I’m very choosy.

Patrick Cargill is marvellously oily as Mr Lovejoy (he’s the Number Two Six gives a nervous breakdown in Hammer Into Anvil), ushering in a wave of unfettered snobbery as he announces that their clients come “from all the best families” and “We do not accept the lower orders, you understand”. Steed is, of course, perfect placed for such prescriptiveness, passing the emotional and physical compatibility test (“We take the uncertainty out of life. Compatibility is the key, Mr Steed”) with flying colours (asked by Lovejoy “Guards? Which guards?” Steed replies “The guards”, while his reaction to the prospect of a taking job is positively Woosterish (“I tried working once. It didn’t work out. Too much like work”) and his objection to murder is purely on the grounds of the hardships of prison (“I’ve always preferred soft collars. Besides, the thought of getting up at 8 o’clock in the morning”).


Steed: So long as she’s got a good seat on a horse, plays a fair game of bridge, mixes a dry martini, can whip up a passable soufflé. You might say a good all-rounder.

There’s quite the ripple of ribaldry running through the proceedings too, with Steed eyeing up the talent, offering his selection of personal photos (“Playing polo. In the nude… Oh no, I was 18 months at the time”) and commenting on his first date during a wedding cake tasting (“I must say, I found her very tasty. I mean, er, compatible”).


Mr Lovejoy: Mature, cultivated, intelligent.
Mrs Peel: With stamina.
Mr Lovejoy: Quite so, yes.

Although, that’s nothing as to Emma’s stated appetites, reducing Lovejoy to unaccustomed embarrassment when she emphasises the importance of endurance in her husband to be. The characterisation of Emma is a bit up and down in this one, truth be told, reflecting its status as Rigg’s first completed episode. We get a mention of her husband (“Time you thought of marrying again”) and an amusing sequence of her lying in state (“You were certainly resting very peacefully”) before succumbing to the champagne Steed has left her (“Anything I can get you? Magazines, newspapers, a harp?”) and dancing around the reception room. Not something you could imagine of Mrs Gale. And yet…


Mrs Peel: She’ll have to be quite a girl. A mixture of Lucretia Borgia and Joan of Arc.
Steed: Sounds like every girl I ever knew.

When Emma comes across the body of Henshaw in a bath, she furiously rounds on Steed (“You knew!”), and we’re suddenly experiencing incensed Cathy Gale flashbacks. All very unfair too, since Steed has indeed done his best to save the man. Likewise, when he suggests that qualities necessary in finding a match for someone like himself (“Educated, charming cultured”) she counters him in a very Mrs Gale manner (“Ruthless, devious, scheming”) showing that, for all Rigg’s very different playing, there was still some way to go in characterisation.


That has to be balanced against comic business we just wouldn’t have seen a season earlier, however, from Emma getting a golf ball lodged in her tuba (it was Macnee’s suggestion she play it, as it was originally earmarked for Steed) to a lovely little piece of interplay between Cargill and Macnee, sitting in the wrong directions in opposite facing chairs, and a climactic fight that sees Steed overpowering an opponent by means of a faceful of cake. Blink and you’ll miss Penelope Keith as a blushing bride (she’d appear in the show twice more).


And, of course, the coda in which Emma is again driving Steed, this time in a hearse (“I agree with every word you’ve said” oblivious to his holding forth behind the glass divider). This still isn’t quite up to the best of Season Four, but it’s definitely heading in the right direction.








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.

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.

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…

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.

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

You're skipping Christmas! Isn't that against the law?

Christmas with the Kranks (2004)
Ex-coke dealer Tim Allen’s underwhelming box office career is, like Vince Vaughn’s, regularly in need of a boost from an indiscriminate public willing to see any old turkey posing as a prize Christmas comedy.  He made three Santa Clauses, and here is joined by Jamie Lee Curtis as a couple planning to forgo the usual neighbourhood festivities for a cruise.

We’ll bring it out on March 25 and we’ll call it… Christmas II!

Santa Claus: The Movie (1985)
(SPOILERS) Alexander Salkind (alongside son Ilya) inhabited not dissimilar territory to the more prolific Dino De Laurentis, in that his idea of manufacturing a huge blockbuster appeared to be throwing money at it while being stingy with, or failing to appreciate, talent where it counted. Failing to understand the essential ingredients for a quality movie, basically, something various Hollywood moguls of the ‘80s would inherit. Santa Claus: The Movie arrived in the wake of his previously colon-ed big hit, Superman: The Movie, the producer apparently operating under the delusion that flying effects and :The Movie in the title would induce audiences to part with their cash, as if they awarded Saint Nick a must-see superhero mantle. The only surprise was that his final cinematic effort, Christopher Columbus: The Discovery, wasn’t similarly sold, but maybe he’d learned his lesson by then. Or maybe not, given the behind-camera talent he failed to secure.

On a long enough timeline, the survival of everyone drops to zero.

Fight Club (1999)
(SPOILERS) Still David Fincher’s peak picture, mostly by dint of Fight Club being the only one you can point to and convincingly argue that that the source material is up there with his visual and technical versatility. If Seven is a satisfying little serial-killer-with-a-twist story vastly improved by his involvement (just imagine it directed by Joel Schumacher… or watch 8mm), Fight Club invites him to utilise every trick in the book to tell the story of not-Tyler Durden, whom we encounter at a very peculiar time in his life.

When primal forces of nature tell you to do something, the prudent thing is not to quibble over details.

Field of Dreams (1989)
(SPOILERS) There’s a near-Frank Darabont quality to Phil Alden Robinson producing such a beloved feature and then subsequently offering not all that much of note. But Darabont, at least, was in the same ballpark as The Shawshank Redemption with The Green MileSneakers is good fun, The Sum of All Our Fears was a decent-sized success, but nothing since has come close to his sophomore directorial effort in terms of quality. You might put that down to the source material, WP Kinsella’s 1982 novel Shoeless Joe, but the captivating magical-realist balance hit by Field of Dreams is a deceptively difficult one to strike, and the biggest compliment you can play Robinson is that he makes it look easy.

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…