Skip to main content

What is that young woman doing tied to the railway line? She’ll break my engine!

The Avengers
4.8: The Gravediggers

Do you dig The Gravediggers? Yeah, it’s all right. Actually, it’s more than all right. While the series has been up to its eyeballs in eccentricity prior to this, this episode furnishes us with the particularly eccentric eccentric living in his own private fantasy world, and as part and parcel of this, stylistic conceits entirely take precedence over any notions pertaining to logic or naturalism. It’s an episode that revels in its absurdity.


It’s also Mac Hulke’s penultimate contribution to the show (his last came four years later), and one wonders how much of the wackiness was added by Brian Clemens, since its fairly atypical of Hulke. The Gravediggers begins in fairly traditional manner too, albeit an antenna rising from a grave announcing its leanings. The plot, and the masterminds, are revealed tout suite; a jamming signal will leave the country open to missile attacks without warning. Dr Palmer (Aubrey Richards) helpfully tells Steed and Mrs Peel that no one could achieve this. Why, it was the life’s work of Dr Marlow (Lloyd Lamble), who died four weeks prior. What’s more, any potential device would have to have emanated from the village of Pringby…. Where Marlow was laid to rest.


So there’s no real mystery. It’s the unfolding that’s the thing. It’s even established that Marlow is misguided rather than bad (he just wants to continue his research, and has been misled by the rotters).


Steed: Whilst you’re waggling your thermometer, I’ll tackle Sir Horace Winslip.

Emma goes undercover as a nurse (she’s making good use of that uniform this season) at the Sir Horace Winslip Hospital (for Ailing Railwaymen) while Steed decides to speak to the generous donor himself, played in full fettle by Ronald Fraser (The Happiness Patrol) on enormously endearing form. On arriving, Steed (representing The Footplateman’s Friendly Society) is welcomed aboard Sir Horace’ carriage, a stationary affair rapidly assuming the illusion of locomotion thanks to dedicated butler Fred (Charles Lamb), who rushes about shaking the carriage, presenting (literally) rolling countryside and an approaching tunnel as the affable Horace offers the Avenger sustenance, explaining “If I attempt to eat a meal without the gentle rocking and the scenery flashing by, I get the most dreadful indigestion”.


Like many an Avengers’ oddball, Sir Horace yearns for halcyon days. His particular penchant, as a rich railway man, is to see trains returned to their rightfully eminent place, since they “made civilization possible, you know…” And for the motor car, his desire is to have “the evil vehicle banished from the Queen’s highway”.


Sir Horace: What is that young woman doing tied to the railway line? She’ll break my engine!

Sir Horace’s particular quirk also leads to Steed rescuing Mrs Peel from certain doom in one of the series’ most inspired action climaxes, as she is tied to the tracks of a miniature railway with a fast approaching train. Silent movie music pipes up as Steed first casually waits at the (miniature) station before engaging in fisticuffs across not-so-fast-moving train carriages.


One-time director Quentin Lawrence handles the action with aplomb. True, Steed’s stunt double is never less than undisguised, but that’s a given in the series. The rescue of Emma, Steed changing the points in the nick of time, is especially well-executed, and earlier sequences includes a fine single shot of undertakers racing aboard a hearse as it speeds off into the distance, and a tidy fight scene on Steed’s initial visit to the hospital (“What a remarkable recovery” he notes as a man in a plaster cast reveals a gun and full mobility).


Steed: Mrs Peel, have you ever heard of an undertaker booking funerals months in advance?

Another inspired piece of lunacy finds a fully prepped operation going ahead… on a (unseen) jamming device, with Dr Johnson requesting “Forceps, scalpel, blowtorch”. Mrs Peel later taking the place of Miss Thirwell (Caroline Blakiston, Mon Mothma in Return of the Jedi) in the operating theatre is a bit daft, since it’s immediately evident to all present that she’s an impostor, but I guess that’s at least a credit to recognising what a daft idea it is.


Also featuring are Wanda Ventham (Image of the Fendahl, The Faceless Ones, and Sherlock’s mum) and Steven Berkoff (the man in the plaster cast). The coda scene is a fun one, with Steed driving the train backwards as he tells Emma he always felt he was cut out to be an engine driver, but the family objected (“No sense of security, always on the move”).














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

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

So you made contact with the French operative?

Atomic Blonde (2017)
(SPOILERS) Well, I can certainly see why Focus Features opted to change the title from The Coldest City (the name of the graphic novel from which this is adapted). The Coldest City evokes a nourish, dour, subdued tone, a movie of slow-burn intrigue in the vein of John Le Carré. Atomic Blonde, to paraphrase its introductory text, is not that movie. As such, there’s something of a mismatch here, of the kind of Cold War tale it has its roots in and the furious, pop-soaked action spectacle director David Leitch is intent on turning it into. In the main, his choices succeed, but the result isn’t quite the clean getaway of his earlier (co-directed) John Wick.

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.

I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my "back pain", Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, part to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me back up again, and morphine... Well, because it's awesome.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Along with Pain & Gain and The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street might be viewed as the completion of a loose 2013 trilogy on the subject of success and excess; the American Dream gone awry. It’s the superior picture to its fellows, by turns enthralling, absurd, outrageous and hilarious. This is the fieriest, most deliriously vibrant picture from the director since the millennium turned. Nevertheless, stood in the company of Goodfellas, the Martin Scorsese film from which The Wolf of Wall Street consciously takes many of its cues, it is found wanting.

I was vaguely familiar with the title, not because I knew much about Jordan Belfort but because the script had been in development for such a long time (Ridley Scott was attached at one time). So part of the pleasure of the film is discovering how widely the story diverges from the Wall Street template. “The Wolf of Wall Street” suggests one who towers over the city like a behemoth, rather than a guy …

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.

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.

Dude. You’re my hero and shit.

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (2019)
(SPOILERS) I was going to say I’d really like to see what Vince Gilligan has up his sleeve besidesBreaking Bad spinoffs. But then I saw that he had a short-lived series on CBS a few years back (Battle Creek). I guess things Breaking Bad-related ensure an easy greenlight, particularly from Netflix, for whom the original show was bread and butter in its take up as a streaming platform. There’s something slightly dispiriting about El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, though. Not that Gilligan felt the need to return to Jesse Pinkman – although the legitimacy of that motive is debatable – but the desire to re-enter and re-inhabit the period of the show itself, as if he’s unable to move on from a near-universally feted achievement and has to continually exhume it and pick it apart.

Well, it seems our Mr Steed is not such an efficient watchdog after all.

The Avengers 2.7: The Decapod
A title suggesting some variety of monstrous aquatic threat for Steed and Julie Stevens’ Venus Smith. Alas, the reality is much more mundane. The Decapod refers to a Mongo-esque masked wrestler, one who doesn’t even announce “I will destroy you!” at the top of his lungs. Still, there’s always Philip “Solon” Madoc looking very shifty to pass the time.

Madoc is Stepan, a Republic of the Balkans embassy official and the brother-in-law of President Yakob Borb (Paul Stassino). There’s no love lost between him and his ladies’ man bro, and dark deeds are taking place with the embassy confines, but who is responsible proves elusive. Steed is called in, or rather calls Venus in as a replacement, when Borb’s private secretary is murdered by Mongo. Steed isn’t buying that she slipped and broke her neck in the shower; “I shouldn’t like a similar accident to happen to you” he informs the President.

The trail leads to wrestling bouts at the public baths, where the Butcher…

Genuine eccentrics are a dying breed.

The Avengers 3.11: Build a Better Mousetrap
This really oughtn’t to work, seeing as it finds The Avengers flirting with youth culture, well outside its comfort zone, and more precisely with a carefree biker gang who just want to have a good time and dance to funky music in a barn all night long. Not like the squares. Not like John Steed… who promptly brings them on side and sends them off on a treasure hunt! Add a into the mix couple of dotty old dears in a windmill– maybe witches – up to who knows what, and you have very much the shape of the eccentric settings and scenarios to come.

Cynthia (Athene Seyler) and Ermyntrude (Nora Nicholson) are introduced as a butter-wouldn’t sisters who, concerned over the young bikers riding nearby, threaten that “We’ll put a spell on you”. But this amounts to misdirection in an episode that is remarkably effective in wrong-footing the audience (abetted to by Harold Goodwin’s landlord Harris: “Witches, that’s what they are. Witches”). We might have caus…

You can’t keep the whole world in the dark about what’s going on. Once they know that a five-mile hunk of rock is going to hit the world at 30,000 miles per hour, the people will want to know what the hell we intend to do about it.

Meteor (1979)
(SPOILERS) In which we find Sean Connery – or his agent, whom he got rid of subsequent to this and Cuba – showing how completely out of touch he was by the late 1970s. Hence hitching his cart to the moribund disaster movie genre just as movie entertainment was being rewritten and stolen from under him. He wasn’t alone, of course – pal Michael Caine would appear in both The Swarm and Beyond the Poseidon Adventure during this period – but Meteor’s lack of commercial appeal was only accentuated by how functional and charmless its star is in it. Some have cited Meteor as the worst movie of his career (Christopher Bray in his book on the actor), but its sin is not one of being outright terrible, rather of being terminally dull.

Do you know what the hardest substance in the world is?

Flawless (2007)

The present day framing of this nifty little heist flick knocks a star off it, since it's truly lousy. Natalie Dormer is a horrendously annoying reporter interviewing a rather ropily aged Demi Moore, neither of them helped by atrocious dialogue. Back in the '60s Moore fares much better as a much passed-over aging manager in a diamond business who is tempted by Caine's cleaner into cleaning the place out. 

Caine's on good form; nothing he hasn't done a hundred times, but full of energy, and the plotting makes it as much fun to work out how he done it as it is to watch the actors. Joss Ackland is surprisingly cast against type as an evil South African while Lambert Wilson has fun as the man investigating who stole what.
***