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

He’s so persistent! He always gets his man.

Speed (1994) (SPOILERS) It must have been a couple of decades since I last viewed Speed all the way through, so it’s pleasing to confirm that it holds up. Sure, Jan de Bont’s debut as a director can’t compete with the work of John McTiernan, for whom he acted as cinematographer and who recommended de Bont when he passed on the picture, but he nevertheless does a more than competent work. Which makes his later turkeys all the more tragic. And Keanu and Sandra Bullock display the kind of effortless chemistry you can’t put a price tag on. And then there’s Dennis Hopper, having a great old sober-but-still-looning time.

How would Horatio Alger have handled this situation?

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) (SPOILERS) Gilliam’s last great movie – The Zero Theorem (2013) is definitely underrated, but I don’t think it’s that underrated – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas could easily have been too much. At times it is, but in such instances, intentionally so. The combination of a visual stylist and Hunter S Thompson’s embellished, propulsive turn of phrase turns out, for the most part, to be a cosmically aligned affair, embracing the anarchic abandon of Raoul Duke and Doctor Gonzo’s Las Vegas debauch while contriving to pull back at crucial junctures in order to engender a perspective on all this hedonism. Would Alex Cox, who exited stage left, making way for the Python, have produced something interesting? I suspect, ironically, he would have diluted Thompson in favour of whatever commentary preoccupied him at the time (indeed, Johnny Depp said as much: “ Cox had this great material to work with and he took it and he added his own stuff to it ”). Plus

But everything is wonderful. We are in Paris.

Cold War (2018) (SPOILERS) Pawel Pawlikowski’s elliptical tale – you can’t discuss Cold War without saying “elliptical” at least once – of frustrated love charts a course that almost seems to be a caricature of a certain brand of self-congratulatorily tragic European cinema. It was, it seems “ loosely inspired ” by his parents (I suspect I see where the looseness comes in), but there’s a sense of calculation to the progression of this love story against an inescapable political backdrop that rather diminishes it.

To survive a war, you gotta become war.

Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) (SPOILERS?) I’d like to say it’s mystifying that a film so bereft of merit as Rambo: First Blood Part II could have finished up the second biggest hit of 1985. It wouldn’t be as bad if it was, at minimum, a solid action movie, rather than an interminable bore. But the movie struck a chord somewhere, somehow. As much as the most successful picture of that year, Back to the Future , could be seen to suggest moviegoers do actually have really good taste, Rambo rather sends a message about how extensively regressive themes were embedding themselves in Reaganite, conservative ‘80s cinema (to be fair, this is something one can also read into Back to the Future ), be those ones of ill-conceived nostalgia or simple-minded jingoism, notional superiority and might. The difference between Stallone and Arnie movies starts right here; self-awareness. Audiences may have watched R ambo in the same way they would a Schwarzenegger picture, but I’m

You were a few blocks away? What’d you see it with, a telescope?

The Eyes of Laura Mars (1978) (SPOILERS) John Carpenter’s first serial-killer screenplay to get made, The Eyes of Laura Mars came out nearly three months before Halloween. You know, the movie that made the director’s name. And then some. He wasn’t best pleased with the results of The Eyes of Laura Mars, which ended up co-credited to David Zelag Goodman ( Straw Dogs , Logan’s Run ) as part of an attempt by producer Jon Peters to manufacture a star vehicle for then-belle Barbra Streisand: “ The original script was very good, I thought. But it got shat upon ”. Which isn’t sour grapes on Carpenter’s part. The finished movie bears ready evidence of such tampering, not least in the reveal of the killer (different in Carpenter’s conception). Its best features are the so-uncleanly-you-can-taste-it 70s New York milieu and the guest cast, but even as an early example of the sub-genre, it’s burdened by all the failings inherit with this kind of fare.

No matter how innocent you are, or how hard you try, they’ll find you guilty.

The Wrong Man (1956) (SPOILERS) I hate to say it, but old Truffaut called it right on this one. More often than not showing obeisance to the might of Hitchcock during his career-spanning interview, the French critic turned director was surprisingly blunt when it came to The Wrong Man . He told Hitch “ your style, which has found its perfection in the fiction area, happens to be in total conflict with the aesthetics of the documentary and that contradiction is apparent throughout the picture ”. There’s also another, connected issue with this, one Hitch acknowledged: too much fidelity to the true story upon which the film is based.

The game is rigged, and it does not reward people who play by the rules.

Hustlers (2019) (SPOILERS) Sold as a female Goodfellas – to the extent that the producers had Scorsese in mind – this strippers-and-crime tale is actually a big, glossy puff piece, closer to Todd Phillips as fashioned by Lorene Scarfia. There are some attractive performances in Hustlers, notably from Constance Wu, but for all its “progressive” women work male objectification to their advantage posturing, it’s incredibly traditional and conservative deep down.

You don’t know anything about this man, and he knows everything about you.

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) (SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s two-decades-later remake of his British original. It’s undoubtedly the better-known version, but as I noted in my review of the 1934 film, it is very far from the “ far superior ” production Truffaut tried to sell the director on during their interviews. Hitchcock would only be drawn – in typically quotable style – that “ the first version is the work of a talented amateur and the second was made by a professional ”. For which, read a young, creatively fired director versus one clinically going through the motions, occasionally inspired by a shot or sequence but mostly lacking the will or drive that made the first The Man Who Knew Too Much such a pleasure from beginning to end.

I don't like the way Teddy Roosevelt is looking at me.

North by Northwest (1959) (SPOILERS) North by Northwest gets a lot of attention as a progenitor of the Bond formula, but that’s giving it far too little credit. Really, it’s the first modern blockbuster, paving the way for hundreds of slipshod, loosely plotted action movies built around set pieces rather than expertly devised narratives. That it delivers, and delivers so effortlessly, is a testament to Hitchcock, to writer Ernest Lehmann, and to a cast who make the entire implausible exercise such a delight.

What do they do, sing madrigals?

The Singing Detective (2003) Icon’s remake of the 1986 BBC serial, from a screenplay by Dennis Potter himself. The Singing Detective fares less well than Icon’s later adaptation of Edge of Darkness , even though it’s probably more faithful to Potter’s original. Perhaps the fault lies in the compression of six episodes into a feature running a quarter of that time, but the noir fantasy and childhood flashbacks fail to engage, and if the hospital reality scans better, it too suffers eventually.