Skip to main content

Two hundred thousand pounds, for this outstanding example of British pulchritude and learning.

The Avengers
4.18: The Girl From Auntie

I’ve mentioned that a few of these episodes have changed in my appreciation since I last watched the series, and The Girl from Auntie constitutes a very pronounced uptick. Indeed, I don’t know how I failed to rate highly the estimable Liz Fraser filling in for Diana Rigg – mostly absent, on holiday –  for the proceedings (taking a not dissimilar amateur impostor-cum-sidekick role to Fenella Fielding in the earlier The Charmers). I could watch Fraser all day, and it’s only a shame this was her single appearance in the show.


Steed: Six bodies in an hour and twenty minutes. What do you call that?
Georgie Price-Jones: A good first act?

This is a very jokey, free-wheeling outing from The Man from U.N.C.L.E.-alluding title down, fizzing from scene to scene and eccentric encounter to eccentric encounter. Emma, kidnapped in the first scene, looks like she has emerged from a very ‘60s all-nighter, post-wasted (she’s in a “nude” Eve outfit, fresh from a fancy-dress party). Also seen is a bikini babe and a man with a pig head.


Steed has been away for a few days, loading his cab with various souvenir items that amuse Ray Martine’s recurrent driver (at various points the latter dons a diving mask and boxing gloves, and is repeatedly called upon to elicit various double takes at Steed’s backseat antics). He finds Liz’s Georgie Price-Jones (even the name is perfect) ensconced in Emma’s flat, paid to pose as Mrs Peel but oblivious to any salient facts about her (she readily concurs when it is suggested that Steed’s “A small fat man with a grey moustache”), before departing and very amusingly calling her from a callbox as an uber-posh Steed (“It’s ol’ lover boy himself, back from Karachi. Be with you in a couple of jiffs”).


But they quickly join forces and embark on the hunt for Emma, leading to a trail of knitting needle-perforated bodies as an old lady (Mary Merrall, later revealed, in a very Mission: Impossible pre-empting move, to be a man in a mask) attempts to seal off any loose ends. The victims include plentiful jokey and in-jokey names, the Bates and Marshall Advertising Agency (referencing story editor Richard Bates and episode’s writer Roger Marshall), Barrett, Barrett and Wimpole solicitors (after the play), and theatrical costumier the Four Jacques Brothers (John, Paul, George and Fred, who pile out of a cupboard, dead).


Aunt Hetty: I would like to do you in poodle wool, with a V-neck double rib bottom and brand-named sleeves. Would you mind?

As far as wacky characters blessed with memorable dialogue are concerned, there’s Aunt Hetty (the estimable Sylvia Coleridge, Amelia Ducat in The Seeds of Doom), who attends The Arkwright Knitting Circle, Arkwright being one Bernard Cribbins (his first of two fine turns on the show, although I think the second edges it), given to encouraging phrases such as “Knit along, and away we go!” and “Listen, the sheer, serene sound of clicking needles”. And less encouraging ones when Georgie joins the circle (“Oh dear, we are rusty, aren’t we?”)


Steed: The unobtainable obtained?
Gregorio Auntie: Yes, sounds an extravagant claim, doesn’t it? But we are a unique organisation. We actually can get you anything. Anything at all, and sometimes the price is very high.

The villain of the piece is more grounded, however, even if his schemes are not. Gregorio Auntie (the always-enjoyable Alfred Burke of The Mauritius Penny and series Public Eye), of Art Incorporated, has the Mona Lisa on his books (Steed, having broken in, and posing as Wayne Pennyfeather ffitch (with two small fs), proposes that Auntie is “less likely to shoot me standing in front of a Da Vinci”, although it eventually ends up smashed over Auntie’s head). He even plans to sell the Eiffel Tower to a Texas Millionaire (acquiring it is easy, “the main problem is smuggling it out of Paris”). He is, naturally, impressed by ffitch (“Increasing rarity, English gentlemen”).


Steed: By the way, where are you holding her?
Gregorio Auntie: I’m very happy to have made your acquaintance, Mr ffitch. Good night.

Of course, he’s the one who had Mrs Peel snatched, intent on selling her to Russian agent Ivanoff (David Bauer), whom Steed needs to get out of the way in order to open an auction on his prize. The auction is full of amusing lines, including a Russian (Maurice Browning) purchasing the Mona Lisa, catching himself on professing to its majesty (“Quite splendid, isn’t it?... A splendid example of filthy decadent western art. One million, six”) and Auntie promising to have it despatched forthwith (“I shall have it delivered to your hotel, sir… Oh, I beg your pardon, your submarine”).


Gregorio Auntie: Two hundred thousand pounds, for this outstanding example of British pulchritude and learning.

Mrs Peel, meanwhile, a bird in a gilded cage, has Steed taking the piss (“She looks a bit broody. Can’t you have her move about a bit? That’s better. I can see what I’m buying”). Macnee is on top form throughout, and on the receiving end of a broken vase, (from Hetty and Arkwright), which he then turns into a joke when a repeat is called for (Steed and the old lady have a sack over their heads, Georgie hits the right one but Steed pretends it got him too). He borrows a Goya from the National Gallery (“Only to true patrons”), and when the old lady calls round collecting for the dog’s home, replies “Now, what will it be? Bones or cash?” before offering the latter (“Nonsense, someone’s got to pay for the postman’s trousers”).


Steed: Charming lady. I wonder if she’s going our way?

But it’s Fraser who steals the show, from overpowering a granny as she reads instructions in a Self-Defence book to showing a twinge of jealousy over Emma. Asking what’s so special about her, Steed replies “Her vital statistics” before adding, as Georgie, who has no shortage of them, shuffles uncomfortably, “The IQ variety”. Then he gags her (“CHARMING”). The laugh-off is fun too, with Emma returning a smidgeon of jealousy as Georgie passes them in Steed’s Bentley, he and Mrs Peel in a bubble car.




























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

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Espionage isn’t a game, it’s a war.

The Avengers 3.3: The Nutshell
Philip Chambers first teleplay (of two) for the series, and Raymond Menmuir’s second (also of two) as director, The Nutshell is an effective little whodunit in which Steed (again) poses as a bad guy, and Cathy (again) appears to be at loggerheads with him. The difference here is how sustained the pretence is, though; we aren’t actually in on the details until the end, and the whole scenario is played decidedly straight.

Set mostly in a bunker (the Nutshell of the title), quarter of a mile underground and providing protection for the “all the best people” (civil servants bunk on level 43; Steed usually gets off at the 18th) in the event of a thermo-nuclear onslaught, the setting is something of a misdirection, since it is also a convenient place to store national security archives, known as Big Ben (Bilateral Infiltration Great Britain, Europe and North America). Big Ben has been stolen. Or rather, the microfilm with details of all known double agents on bot…

This is no time for puns! Even good ones.

Mr. Peabody and Sherman (2014)
Perhaps I've done DreamWorks Animation (SKG, Inc., etc.) a slight injustice. The studio has been content to run an assembly line of pop culture raiding, broad-brush properties and so-so sequels almost since its inception, but the cracks in their method have begun to show more overtly in recent years. They’ve been looking tired, and too many of their movies haven’t done the business they would have liked. Yet both their 2014 deliveries, How to Train Your Dragon 2 and Mr. Peabody & Sherman, take their standard approach but manage to add something more. Dragon 2 has a lot of heart, which one couldn’t really say about Peabody (it’s more sincere elements feel grafted on, and largely unnecessary). Peabody, however, is witty, inventive and pacey, abounding with sight gags and clever asides while offering a time travel plotline that doesn’t talk down to its family audience.

I haven’t seen the The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show, from which Mr. Peabody & Sh…

Ah yes, the legendary 007 wit, or at least half of it.

The World is Not Enough (1999)
(SPOILERS) The last Bond film of the 20th century unfortunately continues the downward trend of the Brosnan era, which had looked so promising after the reinvigorated approach to Goldeneye. The World is Not Enough’s screenplay posseses a number of strong elements (from the now ever present Robert Wade and Neal Purvis, and a sophomore Bruce Feirstein), some of which have been recycled in the Craig era, but they’ve been mashed together with ill-fitting standard Bond tropes that puncture any would-be substance (Bond’s last line before the new millennium is one Roger Moore would have relished). And while a structure that stop-starts doesn’t help the overall momentum any, nor does the listlessness of drama director Michael Apted, such that when the sporadic bursts of action do arrive there’s no disguising the joins between first and second unit, any prospect of thrills evidently unsalvageable in the edit.

Taking its cues from the curtailed media satire of Tomorr…

I know what I'm gonna do tomorrow, and the next day, and the next year, and the year after that.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
It’s a Wonderful Life is an unassailable classic, held up as an embodiment of true spirit of Christmas and a testament to all that is good and decent and indomitable in humanity. It deserves its status, even awash with unabashed sentimentality that, for once, actually seems fitting. But, with the reams of plaudits aimed at Frank Capra’s most enduring film, it is also worth playing devil’s advocate for a moment or two. One can construe a number of not nearly so life-affirming undercurrents lurking within it, both intentional and unintentional on the part of its director. And what better time to Grinch-up such a picture than when bathed in the warmth of a yuletide glow?

The film was famously not a financial success on initial release, as is the case with a number of now hallowed movies, its reputation burgeoning during television screenings throughout the 1970s. Nevertheless, It’s a Wonderful Life garnered a brace of Oscar nominations including Best Picture and…

Dude, you're embarrassing me in front of the wizards.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
(SPOILERS) The cliffhanger sequel, as a phenomenon, is a relatively recent thing. Sure, we kind of saw it with The Empire Strikes Back – one of those "old" movies Peter Parker is so fond of – a consequence of George Lucas deliberately borrowing from the Republic serials of old, but he had no guarantee of being able to complete his trilogy; it was really Back to the Future that began the trend, and promptly drew a line under it for another decade. In more recent years, really starting with The MatrixThe Lord of the Rings stands apart as, post-Weinstein's involvement, fashioned that way from the ground up – shooting the second and third instalments back-to-back has become a thing, both more cost effective and ensuring audiences don’t have to endure an interminable wait for their anticipation to be sated. The flipside of not taking this path is an Allegiant, where greed gets the better of a studio (split a novel into two movie parts assuming a…

Perhaps I am dead. Perhaps we’re both dead. And this is some kind of hell.

The Avengers 5.7: The Living Dead
The Living Dead occupies such archetypal Avengers territory that it feels like it must have been a more common plotline than it was; a small town is the cover for invasion/infiltration, with clandestine forces gathering underground. Its most obvious antecedent is The Town of No Return, and certain common elements would later resurface in Invasion of the Earthmen. This is a lot broader than Town, however, the studio-bound nature making it something of a cosy "haunted house" yarn, Scooby Doo style.

Dirty is exactly why you're here.

Sicario 2: Soldado aka Sicario: Day of the Soldado (2018)
(SPOILERS) I wasn't among the multitude greeting the first Sicario with rapturous applause. It felt like a classic case of average material significantly lifted by the diligence of its director (and cinematographer and composer), but ultimately not all that. Any illusions that this gritty, violent, tale of cynicism and corruption – all generally signifiers of "realism" – in waging the War on Drugs had a degree of credibility well and truly went out the window when we learned that Benicio del Toro's character Alejandro Gillick wasn't just an unstoppable kickass ninja hitman; he was a grieving ex-lawyer turned unstoppable kickass ninja hitman. Sicario 2: Soldadograzes on further difficult-to-digest conceits, so in that respect is consistent, and – ironically – in some respects fares better than its predecessor through being more thoroughly genre-soaked and so avoiding the false doctrine of "revealing" …

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

The Worm is the Spice! The Spice is the Worm!

Dune (1984)
(SPOILERS) Dune was (still is?) one of those movies that seemed to be a fixture in student houses of “a certain disposition”, frequently played and part of the furniture, but not really absorbed. Easier to stare at rather than fully engage with. Unless, I presume, you were already an aficionado of Frank Herbert’s gargantuan novels. I’ve seen it said of the Harry Potter movieverse that you really need to have read the books to get all you can from them, but the only one where I really felt that was the case was The Prisoner of Azkaban, which seemed to have some whacking great narrative holes in need of filling. David Lynch’s Dune, the source material of which I also haven’t read, most certainly suffers from such a malaise, the measures taken to impart the dense plot overwhelming the challenge of making an engaging motion picture. It’s just too stuffed, too conscious of the need to move onto the next sequence or barely-defined character, such that it ends up simultaneously sha…