Skip to main content

It seems we have two Arthur Peevers. One dead, one learning to swing a dainty foot.

The Avengers
4.19: Quick-Quick Slow Death

Coming straight after The Girl from Auntie, it’s impossible to ignore the similar “villains cover their tracks by whacking wacky eccentrics” structure, but since I’m a sucker for such Avengers tales, it scarcely matters. Robert Banks Stewarts writes, but particular laurels are due James Hill for his deft touch during the musical climax.


The episode’s main thrust concerns a dance school “for infiltrating foreign agents into the country”, in which the students are offed and replaced with trained operatives. This eventually explains the dual Arthur Peevers, the one found dead in the teaser, in a pram in full evening dress, and the one who shows up at the dance school Terpsichorean Training Techniques Inc (James Belchamber).


The dead man’s inked arm leads to the first in a mounting series of dead bodies, as Emma visits tattooist Fintry (Alan Gerrard, Bovem in The Dominators). Diana Rigg seems genuinely amused during her scenes with Gerrard, as he recounts with gusto the most popular designs (“I love whoever it is” and “a mother’s loving touch”) and how a certain inscription needs sufficiently sizeable clients or the results can be undesirable (“So it ended up ‘What is home without a moth’”). When Fintry is shot in the head, he still has the wherewithal to tattoo his Italian sausage with vital information about the murderer before expiring (“Killer has tattoo on right wrist”).


Steed: You’ve seen pictures of those Russian diplomats?
Huggins: Hmm.
Steed: Well, where do you think they get those terrible clothes from?

Steed, posing as a representative of Baggy Pants Limited, who do “top secret work – Diplomatic Corps only”, visits Litchen & Co and attempts to mine information on Peever from Huggins (Graham Armitage, Barney in The Macra Terror), who is stabbed in the changing room, much to his colleague’s alarm (“Why, without us, Ascot would look like a nudist convention!”) He then finds his way to Mulberrys Bank, where the manager (Ronald Govey, Relf in Ultraworld) is most upset about losing a client (Manager: Bad. Steed: Very bad. Manager:  Very, very bad”), and his next lead sends him – nowhere. Opening the door to Purbright & Co onto an empty space, he very nearly plummets to his doom.


Peidi: Such expressive feet. Look, ah they talk-a to me. You naughty little chatterboxes, you.

Diverting, undoubtedly, but Emma’s on the receiving end of the best encounters in this one, particularly as the Italian sausage isn’t the only dubious European in Quick-Quick Slow Death. At Peidi’s shoe repair, Peidi (David Kernan) feigns a continually slipping Italian accent as he obsesses over Mrs Peel’s feet (“So pale, so tender, so exquisitely elegant… Oh senora, they’re a poem, they sing and they soar”) and gets quite excited over what he might be able to make for her once he has cast them (“A pair of slippers for the boudoir? Wellington boots in the kinkiest black leather?”) Peidi doesn’t end up dead, but his assistant Bernard (Colin Ellis) does, drowned in plaster of Paris.


Steed: Now you, Mrs Peel, back to your pupils, and be quick-quick slow about it.

After this succession of curious characters, the main action at the dance school isn’t, initially, quite as scintillating, with Emma posing as an instructress and Steed brushing up on his technique. Eunice Gayson (Sylvia in the first two Bond films) scores as the head of the school, Lucille Banks, and has some particularly fine interaction with Macnee (she notes his good English name, and he replies “Came over with the Vikings. They were between raids and discovering America at the time”).


Lucille Banks: Are you attempting a reverse, double clip feet?
Steed: With you, Miss Banks, I reach for the rainbow.
Lucille Banks: You mad, impetuous man!

However, the grand finale at the gala dance contest, as Steed is targeted for elimination and Emma proves more than effective at turning the tables, is a delight. He shows off his acumen to Miss Banks as he and Emma warn each other of dangers (“You’re Number Nine”: “And you’re dancing with garlic sausage!”). Each time someone dances around the back of the dance floor, they mess up their adversaries’ plans. Emma changes Steed’s 9 to a 6, 9 being the identifying number of the intended target. Steed turns Ivor Bracewell’s (Maurice Kaufmann – the tattooed killer) 6 to 9. She dances with Ivor round the back so the spy coshes him, and Steed consequently coshes the spy, with Emma dispatching the drunken commander Chester Reed (Larry Cross): “Keep ‘em coming”.


Other amusing moments include the opening sequence, in which Steed, who has been shooting empty beer cans, hits a full one Emma has let fly (“That was my lunchtime refreshment”). John Woodnutt (Terror of the Zygons, The Keeper of Traken, Jeeves and Wooster) is on top form as Captain Noble; having survived an attempted choking to death, he can only croak at Steed (and, we are informed, phone Emma via whistling Morse Code at her). 


The laugh off is also particularly good, with the duo dancing into the darkness as Emma delivers a breathless sentence:

Mrs Peel: Steed.
Steed: Mrs Peel.
Mrs Peel: Did you know they’ve just arrested a band leader for being drunk in charge of a pram containing a man in full evening dress with a plaster cast on his dead, tattooed on his right wrist, clutching a dance diploma in one hand and a garlic sausage in the other?






















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

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Believe me, Mr Bond, I could shoot you from Stuttgart und still create ze proper effect.

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
(SPOILERS) Some of the reactions to Spectre would have you believe it undoes all the “good” work cementing Daniel Craig’s incarnation of Bond in Skyfall. If you didn’t see that picture as the second coming of the franchise (I didn’t) your response to the latest may not be so harsh, despite its less successful choices (Blofeld among them). And it isn’t as if one step, forward two steps back are anything new in perceptions of the series (or indeed hugely divisive views on what even constitutes a decent Bond movie). After the raves greeting Goldeneye, Pierce Brosnan suffered a decidedly tepid response to his second outing, Tomorrow Never Dies, albeit it was less eviscerated than Craig’s sophomore Quantum of Solace. Tomorrow’s reputation disguises many strong points, although it has to be admitted that a Moore-era style finale and a floundering attempt to package in a halcyon villain aren’t among them.

The Bond series’ flirtations with contemporary relevance have a…

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…

Remember, you're fighting for this woman's honour – which is probably more than she ever did.

Duck Soup (1933)
(SPOILERS) Not for nothing is Duck Soup acclaimed as one of the greatest comedies ever, and while you’d never hold it against Marx Brothers movies for having little in the way of coherent plotting in – indeed, it’s pretty much essential to their approach – the presence of actual thematic content this time helps sharpen the edges of both their slapstick and their satire.

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 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.

On account of you, I nearly heard the opera.

A Night at the Opera (1935)
(SPOILERS) The Marx Brothers head over to MGM, minus one Zeppo, and despite their variably citing A Night at the Opera as their best film, you can see – well, perhaps not instantly, but by about the half-hour mark – that something was undoubtedly lost along the way. It isn’t that there’s an absence of very funny material – there’s a strong contender for their best scene in the mix – but that there’s a lot else too. Added to which, the best of the very funny material can be found during the first half of the picture.

I still think it’s a terrible play, but it makes a wonderful rehearsal.

Room Service (1938)
(SPOILERS) The Marx Brothers step away from MGM for a solitary RKO outing, and a scarcely disguised adaption of a play to boot. Room Service lacks the requisite sense of anarchy and inventiveness of their better (earlier) pictures – even Groucho’s name, Gordon Miller, is disappointingly everyday – but it’s nevertheless an inoffensive time passer.

This better not be some 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea shit, man.

Underwater (2020)
(SPOILERS) There’s no shame in a quality B-movie, or in an Alien rip-off done well. But it’s nevertheless going to need that something extra to make it truly memorable in its own right. Underwater, despite being scuppered at the box office, is an entirely respectable entry in both those arenas from director William Eubank, but like the recent Life (which, in fairness, had an ending that very nearly elevated it to the truly memorable), it can’t quite go that extra mile, or summon that much needed sliver of inspiration to set it apart.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

Goodbye, Mr Chimps.

At the Circus (1939)
(SPOILERS) This is where the brothers sink into their stretch of middling MGM movies, now absent the presence of their major supporter Irving Thalberg; it’s probably for the best this wasn’t called A Day at the Circus, as it would instantly have drawn unflattering comparisons with the earlier MGM pair that gave them their biggest hits. Nevertheless, there’s enough decent material to keep At the Circus fairly sprightly (rather than “fairly ponderous”, as Pauline Kael put it).