Skip to main content

You didn’t come here just to sell ladies’ nighties, Mrs Peel.

The Avengers
4.5: Death at Bargain Prices

Great title, and the best episode of the season so far. Brian Clemens fashions a fine, larger-than-life teleplay brought effectively to the screen by Ealing man Charles Crichton, mustering strong support from returnees Andre “Quatermass” Morell (Death of a Batman) and TP McKenna (Trojan Horse).


Mrs Peel: I think it’s the plans for a nuclear bomb.
Steed: How can you tell, Madame Curie?
Mrs Peel: Thermodynamics, Mr Magoo.

I say larger-than-life. Its loopy in the extreme. Having reach the final third without revealing just what the diabolical masterminds are up to, we discover Horatio “King” Kane has been building a nuclear bomb – the first clue to this doesn’t appear until Professor Popple’s supply of honeyed bumble bees is mentioned, Popple being a nuclear physicist – and that “We’ve found our bomb. We’re standing in it”.


King Kane: The bomb, this store, will explode with the first customer who buys a washing machine.

Kane’s suitably barking plan is to hold the country to ransom, having set off a bomb that will take out a significant part of London: “My biggest takeover bid yet… Tomorrow I’m going to take over the entire country”. It’s entirely half-baked, but somehow in context of the setting it somehow seems completely fitting.


There’s no good reason that Wentworth (McKenna) should be holding court outside a tent surrounded by palm fronds, except that he was formerly a mercenary in the Congo – the set dressing leading to nothing, other than to emphasis the off-key approach generally.


A scene where Steed comes across Kane as the fading, querulous old man in the attic, waxing lyrical about the manufacturing of yesteryear (“Now it’s out of date before its left the assembly line. Rush, tear, grab and grub. That’s life today”) appears to be a massive misdirection (although that’s not uncommon in the series), except that it kind of isn’t, since he’s still talking about modern methods as a reason for payback in the final scene (the reading is that Cain is simply unstable, as he wouldn’t give away his motivation like that otherwise). Although, this exchange does also lead to an extremely well landed punch from Wentworth, giving Steed a shiner (“My pride was hurt” he confesses to Emma. Later, released from the confines of a carpet, she comments that she is uninjured: “Only my pride”).


Jarvis: Told you I’d keep my eyes PEELED, didn’t I?

The most fun comes from hanging out at the store, though. Steed still wanders about even after Wentworth has socked him one, while Emma dresses as a space girl, has to navigate the sexism of the staff and hangs out with store detective Jarvis (a scene stealing John Cater; it’s a great shame he’s killed off at the end of the second act): “You didn’t come here just to sell ladies’ nighties, Mrs Peel”.


Steed: I asked the chief predator where to find you and he said, “Our Mrs Peel is in Ladies’ Underwear”. I rattled up the stairs three at a time.
Mrs Peel: Merry quips department on the fifth floor, sir.

The best moments are all Steed, including the above, all-time-classic merry quip. Macnee’s rapport with Rigg is wonderful throughout, from their being mistaken for an expectant couple in the nursey section (“This must be a very happy time for both of you”) to Emma’s simple superiority in all things scientific (she susses it’s a bomb, thanks to her knowledge of thermodynamics – perhaps a bit too Mrs Gale, that), to Steed arriving at her flat post-black eye and finding the grape a grateful tonic (“Ah! The corpuscles are beginning to function normally”).


Steed: Cheese. Stilton.
Julie: Yes, sir.
Steed: Stilton. Pot-fed. Its feet, firmly manacled.
Julie: Firmly manacled? You want a very ripe one, sir?
Steed: Leaping about.
Julie: I’ll see if I can catch one for you.

He also has a fine, rascally scene with Diane Clare’s food girl, in which he places an order and then adds “More than enough for two, if we leave out that half onion” (“Is that a proposition?” asks Julie. “More of a sly suggestion” he replies).


Steed: Come for my teddy bear. Can’t sleep without one.

And the pre-bomb fight is one of the series’ best staged, as Steed deflects the advance of thugs with a ping pong ball gun, poses as a mannequin, uses a cricket bat to deflect a knife (“Straight drive to mid-on. It’s all in the grip, you know”) and the goes to it on a villain with the same.


Emma, meanwhile, having been “dismissed for philandering with the customers”, casually clicks her fingers in response to a heavy’s advance, instructing “Give me the gun”; the choreography is particularly strong in this scene, and it always helps when you aren’t too distracted by the stunt doubles (in The Avengers that’s a rarity, with Blu-ray even more so).


A highly enjoyable episode then, complete with a now de rigueur daffy coda as Steed and Emma ride off on newly-gifted bicycles (“After all, we did save them from the biggest closing down sale of all time”).











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

Popular posts from this blog

You were this amazing occidental samurai.

Ricochet (1991) (SPOILERS) You have to wonder at Denzel Washington’s agent at this point in the actor’s career. He’d recently won his first Oscar for Glory , yet followed it with less-than-glorious heart-transplant ghost comedy Heart Condition (Bob Hoskins’ racist cop receives Washington’s dead lawyer’s ticker; a recipe for hijinks!) Not long after, he dipped his tentative toe in the action arena with this Joel Silver production; Denzel has made his share of action fare since, of course, most of it serviceable if unremarkable, but none of it comes near to delivering the schlocky excesses of Ricochet , a movie at once ingenious and risible in its plot permutations, performances and production profligacy.

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

People still talk about Pandapocalypse 2002.

Turning Red (2022) (SPOILERS) Those wags at Pixar, eh? Yes, the most – actually, the only – impressive thing about Turning Red is the four-tiered wordplay of its title. Thirteen-year-old Mei (Rosalie Chiang) finds herself turning into a large red panda at emotive moments. She is also, simultaneously, riding the crimson wave for the first time. Further, as a teenager, she characteristically suffers from acute embarrassment (mostly due to the actions of her domineering mother Ming Lee, voiced by Sandra Oh). And finally, of course, Turning Red can be seen diligently spreading communist doctrine left, right and centre. To any political sensibility tuning in to Disney+, basically (so ones with either considerable or zero resistance to woke). Take a guess which of these isn’t getting press in reference to the movie? And by a process of elimination is probably what it it’s really about (you know in the same way most Pixars, as far back as Toy Story and Monsters, Inc . can be given an insi

I can’t be the worst. What about that hotdog one?

Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022) (SPOILERS) It would have been a merciful release, had the title card “ The End ”, flashing on screen a little before the ninety-minute mark, not been a false dawn. True, I would still have been unable to swab the bloody dildoes fight from my mind, but at least Everything Everywhere All at Once would have been short. Indeed, by the actual end I was put in mind of a line spoken by co-star James Wong in one of his most indelible roles: “ Now this really pisses me off to no end ”. Or to put it another way, Everything Everywhere All at Once rubbed me up the wrong which way quite a lot of most of the time.

We’ve got the best ball and chain in the world. Your ass.

Wedlock (1991) (SPOILERS) The futuristic prison movie seemed possessed of a particular cachet around this time, quite possibly sparked by the grisly possibilities of hi-tech disincentives to escape. On that front, HBO TV movie Wedlock more than delivers its FX money shot. Elsewhere, it’s less sure of itself, rather fumbling when it exchanges prison tropes for fugitives-on-the-run ones.

Well, something’s broke on your daddy’s spaceship.

Apollo 13 (1995) (SPOILERS) The NASA propaganda movie to end all NASA propaganda movies. Their original conception of the perilous Apollo 13 mission deserves due credit in itself; what better way to bolster waning interest in slightly naff perambulations around a TV studio than to manufacture a crisis event, one emphasising the absurd fragility of the alleged non-terrestrial excursions and the indomitable force that is “science” in achieving them? Apollo 13 the lunar mission was tailor made for Apollo 13 the movie version – make believe the make-believe – and who could have been better to lead this fantasy ride than Guantanamo Hanks at his all-American popularity peak?

He's not in my pyjamas, is he?

Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969) (SPOILERS) By rights, Paul Mazursky’s swinging, post-flower-power-gen partner-swap movie ought to have aged terribly. So much of the era’s scene-specific fare has, particularly so when attempting to reflect its reverberations with any degree of serious intent. Perhaps it’s because Mazursky and co-writer Larry Tucker (also of The Monkees , Alex in Wonderland and I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! ) maintain a wry distance from their characters’ endeavours, much more on the wavelength of Elliott Gould’s Ted than Robert Culp’s Bob; we know any pretensions towards uninhibited expression can’t end well, but we also know Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice have to learn the hard way.

We could be mauled to death by an interstellar monster!

Star Trek Beyond (2016) (SPOILERS) The odd/even Star Trek failure/success rule seemed to have been cancelled out with the first reboot movie, and then trodden into ground with Into Darkness (which, yes, I quite enjoyed, for all its scandalous deficiencies). Star Trek Beyond gets us back onto more familiar ground, as it’s very identifiably a “lesser” Trek , irrespective of the big bucks and directorial nous thrown at it. This is a Star Trek movie that can happily stand shoulder to shoulder with The Search for Spock and Insurrection , content in the knowledge they make it look good.

I think World War II was my favourite war.

Small Soldiers (1998) An off-peak Joe Dante movie is still one chock-a-block full of satirical nuggets and comic inspiration, far beyond the facility of most filmmakers. Small Soldiers finds him back after a six-year big screen absence, taking delirious swipes at the veneration of the military, war movies, the toy industry, conglomerates and privatised defence forces. Dante’s take is so gleefully skewed, he even has big business win! The only problem with the picture (aside from an indistinct lead, surprising from a director with a strong track record for casting juveniles) is that this is all very familiar. Dante acknowledged Small Soldiers was basically a riff on Gremlins , and it is. Something innocuous and playful turns mad, bad and dangerous. On one level it has something in common with Gremlins 2: The New Batch , in that the asides carry the picture. But Gremlins 2 was all about the asides, happy to wander off in any direction that suited it oblivious to whet

He’ll regret it to his dying day, if ever he lives that long.

The Quiet Man (1952) (SPOILERS) The John Wayne & John Ford film for those who don’t like John Wayne & John Ford films? The Quiet Man takes its cues from Ford’s earlier How Green Was My Valley in terms of, well less Anglophile and Hibernophile and Cambrophile nostalgia respectively for past times, climes and heritage, as Wayne’s pugilist returns to his family seat and stirs up a hot bed of emotions, not least with Maureen O’Hara’s red-headed hothead. The result is a very likeable movie, for all its inculcated Oirishness and studied eccentricity.