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

Nanobots aren’t just for Christmas.

No Time to Die (2021) (SPOILERS) You know a Bond movie is in trouble when it resorts to wholesale appropriation of lines and even the theme song from another in order to “boost” its emotional heft. That No Time to Die – which previewed its own title song a year and a half before its release to resoundingly underwhelmed response, Grammys aside – goes there is a damning indictment of its ability to eke out such audience investment in Daniel Craig’s final outing as James (less so as 007). As with Spectre , the first half of No Time to Die is, on the whole, more than decent Bond fare, before it once again gets bogged down in the quest for substance and depth from a character who, regardless of how dapper his gear is, resolutely resists such outfitting.

Maybe the dingo ate your baby.

Seinfeld 2.9: The Stranded The Premise George and Elaine are stranded at a party in Long Island, with a disgruntled hostess.

Big things have small beginnings.

Prometheus (2012) Post- Gladiator , Ridley Scott opted for an “All work and no pondering” approach to film making. The result has been the completion of as many movies since the turn of the Millennium as he directed in the previous twenty years. Now well into his seventies, he has experienced the most sustained period of success of his career.  For me, it’s also been easily the least-interesting period. All of them entirely competently made, but all displaying the machine-tooled approach that was previously more associated with his brother.

I’m giving you a choice. Either put on these glasses or start eating that trash can.

They Live * (1988) (SPOILERS) Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of They Live – I was a big fan of most things Carpenter at the time of its release – but the manner in which its reputation as a prophecy of (or insight into) “the way things are” has grown is a touch out of proportion with the picture’s relatively modest merits. Indeed, its feting rests almost entirely on the admittedly bravura sequence in which WWF-star-turned-movie-actor Roddy Piper, under the influence of a pair of sunglasses, first witnesses the pervasive influence of aliens among us who are sucking mankind dry. That, and the ludicrously genius sequence in which Roddy, full of transformative fervour, attempts to convince Keith David to don said sunglasses, for his own good. They Live should definitely be viewed by all, for their own good, but it’s only fair to point out that it doesn’t have the consistency of John Carpenter at his very, very best. Nada : I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick a

Ladies and gentlemen, this could be a cultural misunderstanding.

Mars Attacks! (1996) (SPOILERS) Ak. Akk-akk! Tim Burton’s gleefully ghoulish sci-fi was his first real taste of failure. Sure, there was Ed Wood , but that was cheap, critics loved it, and it won Oscars. Mars Attacks! was BIG, though, expected to do boffo business, and like more than a few other idiosyncratic spectaculars of the 1990s ( Last Action Hero , Hudson Hawk ) it bombed BIG. The effect on Burton was noticeable. He retreated into bankable propositions (the creative and critical nadir perhaps being Planet of the Apes , although I’d rate it much higher than the likes of Alice in Wonderland and Dumbo ) and put the brakes on his undisciplined goth energy. Something was lost. Mars Attacks! is far from entirely successful, but it finds the director let loose with his own playset and sensibility intact, apparently given the licence to do what he will.

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.

It's something trying to get out.

The Owl Service (1969-70) I may have caught a glimpse of Channel 4’s repeat of  The Owl Service  in 1987, but not enough to stick in the mind. My formative experience was Alan Garner’s novel, which was read several years earlier during English lessons. Garner’s tapestry of magical-mythical storytelling had an impact, with its possession theme and blending of legend with the here and now. Garner depicts a Britain where past and present are mutable, and where there is no safety net of objective reality; life becomes a strange waking dream. His fantasy landscapes are both attractive and disturbing; the uncanny reaching out from the corners of the attic.  But I have to admit that the themes of class and discrimination went virtually unnoticed in the wake of such high weirdness. The other Garner books I read saw young protagonists transported to fantasy realms. The resonance of  The Owl Service  came from the fragmenting of the rural normal. When the author notes that he neve

Isn’t sugar better than vinegar?

Femme Fatale (2002) (SPOILERS) Some have attempted to rescue Femme Fatale from the dumpster of critical rejection and audience indifference with the claim that it’s De Palma’s last great movie. It isn’t that by a long shot, but it might rank as the last truly unfettered display of his obsessions and sensibilities, complete with a ludicrous twist – so ludicrous, it’s either a stroke of genius or mile-long pile up.

Beer is for breakfast around here. Drink or begone.

Cocktail (1988) (SPOILERS) When Tarantino claims the 1980s (and 1950s) as the worst movie decade, I’m inclined to invite him to shut his butt down. But should he then flourish Cocktail as Exhibit A, I’d be forced to admit he has a point. Cocktail is a horrifying, malignant piece of dreck, a testament to the efficacy of persuasive star power on a blithely rapt and undiscerning audience. Not only is it morally vacuous, it’s dramatically inert. And it relies on Tom’s toothy charms to a degree that would have any sensitive soul rushed to the A&E suffering from toxic shock (Tom’s most recently displayed toothy charms will likely have even his staunchest devotees less than sure of themselves, however, as he metamorphoses into your favourite grandma). And it was a huge box office hit.

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991) (SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.