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

They'll think I've lost control again and put it all down to evolution.

Time Bandits (1981) (SPOILERS) Terry Gilliam had co-directed previously, and his solo debut had visual flourish on its side, but it was with Time Bandits that Gilliam the auteur was born. The first part of his Trilogy of Imagination, it remains a dazzling work – as well as being one of his most successful – rich in theme and overflowing with ideas while resolutely aimed at a wide (family, if you like) audience. Indeed, most impressive about Time Bandits is that there’s no evidence of self-censoring here, of attempting to make it fit a certain formula, format or palatable template.

I never strangled a chicken in my life!

Rope (1948) (SPOILERS) Rope doesn’t initially appear to have been one of the most venerated of Hitchcocks, but it has gone through something of a rehabilitation over the years, certainly since it came back into circulation during the 80s. I’ve always rated it highly; yes, the seams of it being, essentially, a formal experiment on the director’s part, are evident, but it’s also an expert piece of writing that uses our immediate knowledge of the crime to create tension throughout; what we/the killers know is juxtaposed with the polite dinner party they’ve thrown in order to wallow in their superiority.

Oh, you got me right in the pantaloons, partner.

The Party (1968) (SPOILERS) Blake Edwards’ semi-improvisational reunion with Peter Sellers is now probably best known for – I was going to use an elephant-in-the-room gag, but at least one person already went there – Sellers’ “brown face”. And it isn’t a decision one can really defend, even by citing The Party ’s influence on Bollywood. Satyajit Ray had also reportedly been considering working with Sellers… and then he saw the film. One can only assume he’d missed similar performances in The Millionairess and The Road to Hong Kong ; in the latter case, entirely understandable, if not advisable. Nevertheless, for all the flagrant stereotyping, Sellers’ bungling Hrundi V Bakshi is a very likeable character, and indeed, it’s the piece’s good-natured, soft centre – his fledgling romance with Claudine Longet’s Michele – that sees The Party through in spite of its patchy, hit-and-miss quality.

Never lose any sleep over accusations. Unless they can be proved, of course.

Strangers on a Train (1951) (SPOILERS) Watching a run of lesser Hitchcock films is apt to mislead one into thinking he was merely a highly competent, supremely professional stylist. It takes a picture where, to use a not inappropriate gourmand analogy, his juices were really flowing to remind oneself just how peerless he was when inspired. Strangers on a Train is one of his very, very best works, one he may have a few issues with but really deserves nary a word said against it, even in “compromised” form.

You must have hopes, wishes, dreams.

Brazil (1985) (SPOILERS) Terry Gilliam didn’t consider Brazil the embodiment of a totalitarian nightmare it is often labelled as. His 1984½ (one of the film’s Fellini-riffing working titles) was “ the Nineteen Eighty-Four for 1984 ”, in contrast to Michael Anderson’s Nineteen Eighty-Four from 1948. This despite Gilliam famously boasting never to have read the Orwell’s novel: “ The thing that intrigues me about certain books is that you know them even though you’ve never read them. I guess the images are archetypal ”. Or as Pauline Kael observed, Brazil is to Nineteen Eighty-Four as “ if you’d just heard about it over the years and it had seeped into your visual imagination ”. Gilliam’s suffocating system isn’t unflinchingly cruel and malevolently intolerant of individuality; it is, in his vision of a nightmare “future”, one of evils spawned by the mechanisms of an out-of-control behemoth: a self-perpetuating bureaucracy. And yet, that is not really, despite how indulgently and glee

Miss Livingstone, I presume.

Stage Fright (1950) (SPOILERS) This one has traditionally taken a bit of a bruising, for committing a cardinal crime – lying to the audience. More specifically, lying via a flashback, through which it is implicitly assumed the truth is always relayed. As Richard Schickel commented, though, the egregiousness of the action depends largely on whether you see it as a flaw or a brilliant act of daring: an innovation. I don’t think it’s quite that – not in Stage Fright ’s case anyway; the plot is too ordinary – but I do think it’s a picture that rewards revisiting knowing the twist, since there’s much else to enjoy it for besides.

I'm an old ruin, but she certainly brings my pulse up a beat or two.

The Paradine Case (1947) (SPOILERS) Hitchcock wasn’t very positive about The Paradine Case , his second collaboration with Gregory Peck, but I think he’s a little harsh on a picture that, if it doesn’t quite come together dramatically, nevertheless maintains interest on the basis of its skewed take on the courtroom drama. Peck’s defence counsel falls for his client, Alida Valli’s accused (of murder), while wife Ann Todd wilts dependably and masochistically on the side-lines.

A herbal enema should fix you up.

Never Say Never Again (1983) (SPOILERS) There are plenty of sub-par Bond s in the official (Eon) franchise, several of them even weaker than this opportunistic remake of Thunderball , but they do still feel like Bond movies. Never Say Never Again , despite – or possibly because he’s part of it – featuring the much-vaunted, title-referencing return of the Sean Connery to the lead role, only ever feels like a cheap imitation. And yet, reputedly, it cost more than the same year’s Rog outing Octopussy .

You’re easily the best policeman in Moscow.

Gorky Park (1983) (SPOILERS) Michael Apted and workmanlike go hand in hand when it comes to thriller fare (his Bond outing barely registered a pulse). This adaptation of Martin Cruz Smith’s 1981 novel – by Dennis Potter, no less – is duly serviceable but resolutely unremarkable. William Hurt’s militsiya officer Renko investigates three faceless bodies found in the titular park. It was that grisly element that gave Gorky Park a certain cachet when I first saw it as an impressionable youngster. Which was actually not unfair, as it’s by far its most memorable aspect.

I don’t like fighting at all. I try not to do too much of it.

Cuba (1979) (SPOILERS) Cuba -based movies don’t have a great track record at the box office, unless Bad Boys II counts. I guess The Godfather Part II does qualify. Steven Soderbergh , who could later speak to box office bombs revolving around Castro’s revolution, called Richard Lester’s Cuba fascinating but flawed. Which is generous of him.