Skip to main content

Kill the earthworm, Steed, and ultimately you kill everything. Soil, birds, animals, man.

The Avengers
4.13: Silent Dust

Revisiting Season Four, several episodes have fallen slightly in my estimation, but Silent Dust (along with Dial a Deadly Number) is one that has gone up. The plot isn’t all that, continuing the horticultural (and pesticide) theme of Man-Eater of Surrey Green, but it has a great supporting cast, and in Avengers terms that’s often the difference between a hit and a dud.


Juggins: And what if they don’t pay up?
Omrod: Oh, they will. After we destroy Dorset.

The prologue shows birds dropping dead (so decisively, they look taxidermied, although much more convincingly than the plastic bat on a wire that menaces Emma later), meaning Steed and Mrs Peel are called on to investigate rural crimes in rural climes, she posing as a representative for the British Trust for Ornithology and catching the eye of local rich landed fellow Omrod (William Franklyn, Quatermass 2, Cul-De-Sac, GBH). Who, of course, is up to no good, planning to hold the country to ransom with his three accomplices. They want £40m, or they will release a failed-and-deadly-to-all-plant-life organochlorine fertiliser.


A very definite environmental theme can be found in this one, much as in the earlier The Grandeur That Was Rome (the very visible hunt protesting also signposts current themes in Roger Marshall’s teleplay). Steed is informed “Kill the earthworm, Steed, and ultimately you kill everything. Soil, birds, animals, man”. If Sir Manfred Fellows (Charles Lloyd Pack, father of Roger and grandfather of Emily Lloyd) had changed worms for bees, he’d be remarkably topical. Sir Manfred, of Fellows Fertilisers, meanwhile, reliably informs Steed regarding marketing that “If it smells like peaches, people won’t believe it does any fertilising. We had a winner last year. Smelled like old socks”.


There's a subplot concerning Claire Prendergast (Isobel Black), the daughter of the man who developed Silent Dust, that fails to go anywhere very interesting (aside from Mrs Peel posing to have her bust sculpted. No, not that bust). Omrod brought the scientist to the village (Manderley, but there are no du Maurier references).


Omrod’s cohorts, who will get £10m a piece, are thuggish Juggins (Jack Watson, Edge of Darkness), Miss Snow (Joanna Wake), whose family has lived in the area for centuries and whose land recently turned sour (Omrod has only been there 14 years, so is considered a newbie) and Croft (Norman Bird, Mr Braithwaite in Worzel Gummidge, amongst many others), who is out of sorts over not receiving royalties for the roses he bred.


Juggins: I just slit a sow’s throat. You could hear the squeal three mile away.

All these characters are memorable, with Juggins a “bloodthirsty brute” keen on slaughtering bullocks and knocking back scrumpy by the flagon. He also has a hankering to breed cows (“You’ll be able to cross an Aberdeen Angus with a cottage loaf” Omrod tells him of his prospective fortune). When he hears Steed is looking for land to buy, he’s forthright with his threats (“I’ll give him some free, for nothing… Ay, six foot of it for nothing”). 


Juggins particularly relishes the hunt (“Tally ho. Tally bloody ho”), announcing “I’ve got a brand-new cleaver that needs christening”, so it’s particularly fitting the he should be dispatched in embarrassing fashion by Steed, on horseback, with a hunt sab “Down with violence” placard smashed over his head.


Croft is less notable (“His roses bloom but he got the blight”), although one must assume that, during the hunt climax, he gets as far as he does attempting to do for Steed with a sickle because Steed has already taken a bit of wear and tear previously.


Steed: Raging drunk.
Miss Snow: I beg your pardon?
Steed: If it’s a man, raging drunk. If it’s a horse, raging colic.
Miss Snow: You think so?
Steed: All the classic symptoms.


Wake, who has something of the Joan Greenwood about her delivery, is one of the episode’s great delights, her indulgent interaction with Steed (putting on the extra-posh gentry pose) proving laugh-out-loud funny. Steed furnishes her with advice on her horse’s symptoms (“Fire the vet. Don’t let the horse lie down. Keep him walking”), leading to the following exchange:

Miss Snow: Tell me, do you know a lot about horses, Mr Steed?
Steed: Do a bit of steeplechasing.
Miss Snow: Oh? I’d have thought you were a little too tall in the saddle.
Steed: Oh, I don’t know. Comes in handy. Pop the old feet down. Help the animal over the sticks.


Besides Snow’s amused response, there’s Emma’s reaction to “too tall in saddle” and as is her initial one to Steed going to talk to Snow (“I’ll see what I can pick up here”: “Mmm, I’m sure you will… Pick up something”). Later, when it’s decided Steed must be rid of, Miss Snow comments “Such a pity, he’s just the sort of risk I fancy”. 


There’s further innuendo when Emma and Steed are sussing out the suspects: “Miss Snow? She’s got a good seat” observes Mrs Peel. “She’s got a good seat” concurs Steed. Miss Snow later beckons Steed aside on the pretext of further horse problems: “Can’t keep him away from the trough. Just seems to want to keep on drinking all the time”. “Oh dear. Once had an auntie like that” he replies. Appropriately, its Emma who takes her down during the hunt.


Omrod: Ever done any hunting, Mrs Peel?
Mrs Peel: A little.
Omrod: Fascinating. Pit your wits against a master of craftiness and deception. Point and counterpoint, finally cornering him. And killing. It’s a wonderful day spent. Well, what about it?
Mrs Peel: I’ll let you know.

Franklyn also makes the most of enjoying his villainy, be it putting the moves on Mrs Peel or engaging in an exchange with Steed, now up and about after being shot by gamekeeper Mellors (Conrad Phillips, also seen as a doctor in The Prisoner episode The General). Neither shakes hands when Steed arrives unannounced. “Sorry, oil” comments Ormrod, who has been seeing to his shot gun. “Sorry, buckshot” replies the slinged Steed.


Steed: He mistook me for a partridge. Seriously ruffled my, eh, wing feathers.
Omrod: Oh, I must speak to him. Tell him to be a little more–
Steed: Accurate?
Omrod: Careful.


The incident with Steed and Mellors takes place after the former has been earlier warned off (“I have orders to shoot poachers”. “That’ll keep them down” Steed ripostes cheerfully). He’s then winged by Mellors (there’s no visible blood, however) and steps in an animal trap, hiding from the gamekeeper, before later stumbling in on Emma in one of the farm buildings.


The scene in which she extracts the bullet finds Steed hallucinating himself as a sheriff, along with Wild West wanted posters for Omrod and Mellors. Emma’s a quack doctor, sporting a moustache, mutton chops and an over-sized bottle of Red Eye, extracting an enormous bullet (“I prefer you clean shaven” he comments, when he comes around). Perhaps the dream sequences in Too Many Christmas Trees went down so well they thought they’d have some more of that.


Quince: Oh, you shouldn’t have done that. You gave me quite a turn.
Mrs Peel: Why were you watching me?
Quince: Watching you? You’re mistaken. I was watching for the birds.
Mrs Peel: Oh? Any particularly one.
Quince: The black-capped pectral.
Mrs Peel: The black-capped pectral hasn’t been sighted in England for a hundred years.

Also worthy of mention is the great Aubrey Morris (The Wicker Man, The Prisoner’s Dance of the Dead, The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Deadwood) as birdwatcher Quince, who is concerned about the missing martlets and ends up strangled by Juggins and buried under a pile of apples (“Cut off in mid-warble?”). 


Steed: As you know, in this estuary there used to be all sorts of lovely martlets. ‘The temple-haunting martlet.’
Mrs Peel: Macbeth, Act 1, Scene 2, Banquo.

Steed and Mrs Peel as should be evident, are on fine form. There’s an amusing opening scene in a punt, with Steed chilling a rosé in the river (“Ah, I like a wine that fights back”) and advising Emma why they should be concerned over the absence of feathered friends (“Think of the poor bird watchers. Their gumboots and disappointed faces”).  


Mrs Peel obliges with much of the action work, as per usual, although it has to be said common sense deserts her on several occasions, most notably when Omrod confronts her with a gun; she overcomes him, then leaves it to flee from Juggins.


The coda is one of the most heightened yet, with the duo in a balloon, Emma concerned over whether he knows how to control one of these things; Steed giving a puzzle look in response to “And what happens when we run out of ballast?





















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.

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.

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.

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989)
(SPOILERS) There’s Jaws, there’s Star Wars, and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy, to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “mainly boring”.

Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the system when Burton did it (even…

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…

This popularity of yours. Is there a trick to it?

The Two Popes (2019)
(SPOILERS) Ricky Gervais’ Golden Globes joke, in which he dropped The Two Popes onto a list of the year’s films about paedophiles, rather preceded the picture’s Oscar prospects (three nominations), but also rather encapsulated the conversation currently synonymous with the forever tainted Roman Catholic church; it’s the first thing anyone thinks of. And let’s face it, Jonathan Pryce’s unamused response to the gag could have been similarly reserved for the fate of his respected but neglected film. More people will have heard Ricky’s joke than will surely ever see the movie. Which, aside from a couple of solid lead performances, probably isn’t such an omission.

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.

I'm reliable, I'm a very good listener, and I'm extremely funny.

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)
(SPOILERS) When I wrote my 23 to see in 2019, I speculated that James Cameron might be purposefully giving his hand-me-downs to lesser talents because he hubristically didn’t want anyone making a movie that was within a spit of the proficiency we’ve come to expect from him. Certainly, Robert Rodriguez and Tim Miller are leagues beneath Kathryn Bigelow, Jimbo’s former spouse and director of his Strange Days screenplay. Miller’s no slouch when it comes to action – which is what these movies are all about, let’s face it – but neither is he a craftsman, so all those reviews attesting that Terminator: Dark Fate is the best in the franchise since Terminator 2: Judgment Day may be right, but there’s a considerable gulf between the first sequel (which I’m not that big a fan of) and this retcon sequel to that sequel.

The more you drive, the less intelligent you are.

Look, the last time I was told the Germans had gone, it didn't end well.

1917 (2019)
(SPOILERS) When I first heard the premise of Sam Mendes’ Oscar-bait World War I movie – co-produced by Amblin Partners, as Spielberg just loves his sentimental war carnage – my first response was that it sounded highly contrived, and that I’d like to know how, precisely, the story Mendes’ granddad told him would bear any relation to the events he’d be depicting. And just why he felt it would be appropriate to honour his relative’s memory via a one-shot gimmick. None of that has gone away on seeing the film. It’s a technical marvel, and Roger Deakins’ cinematography is, as you’d expect, superlative, but that mastery rather underlines that 1917 is all technique, that when it’s over and you get a chance to draw your breath, the experience feels a little hollow, a little cynical and highly calculated, and leaves you wondering what, if anything, Mendes was really trying to achieve, beyond an edge-of-the-seat (near enough) first-person actioner.