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

I added sixty on, and now you’re a genius.

The Avengers 4.3: The Master Minds
The Master Minds hitches its wagon to the not uncommon Avengers trope of dark deeds done under the veil of night. We previously encountered it in The Town of No Return, but Robert Banks Stewart (best known for Bergerac, but best known genre-wise for his two Tom Baker Doctor Who stories; likewise, he also penned only two teleplays for The Avengers) makes this episode more distinctive, with its mind control and spycraft, while Peter Graham Scott, in his third contribution to the show on the trot, pulls out all the stops, particularly with a highly creative climactic fight sequence that avoids the usual issue of overly-evident stunt doubles.

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

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…

Where is the voice that said altered carbon would free us from the cells of our flesh?

Altered Carbon Season One
(SPOILERS) Well, it looks good, even if the visuals are absurdly indebted to Blade Runner. Ultimately, though, Altered Carbon is a disappointment. The adaption of Richard Morgan’s novel comes armed with a string of well-packaged concepts and futuristic vernacular (sleeves, stacks, cross-sleeves, slagged stacks, Neo-Cs), but there’s a void at its core. It singularly fails use the dependable detective story framework to explore the philosophical ramifications of its universe – except in lip service – a future where death is impermanent, and even botches the essential goal of creating interesting lead characters (the peripheral ones, however, are at least more fortunate).

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

Like an antelope in the headlights.

Black Panther (2018)
(SPOILERS) Like last year’s Wonder Woman, the hype for what it represents has quickly become conflated with Black Panther’s perceived quality. Can 92% and 97% of critics respectively really not be wrong, per Rotten Tomatoes, or are they – Armond White aside – afraid that finding fault in either will make open them to charges of being politically regressive, insufficiently woke or all-round, ever-so-slightly objectionable? As with Wonder Woman, Black Panther’s very existence means something special, but little about the movie itself actually is. Not the acting, not the directing, and definitely not the over-emphatic, laboured screenplay. As such, the picture is a passable two-plus hours’ entertainment, but under-finessed enough that one could easily mistake it for an early entry in the Marvel cycle, rather than arriving when they’re hard-pressed to put a serious foot wrong.

Yeah, keep walking, you lanky prick!

Mute (2018)
(SPOILERS) Duncan Jones was never entirely convincing when talking up his reasons for Mute’s futuristic setting, and now it’s easy to see why. What’s more difficult to discern is his passion for the project in the first place. If the picture’s first hour is torpid in pace and singularly fails to muster interest, the second is more engaging, but that’s more down to the unappetising activities of Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux’s supporting surgeons than the quest undertaken by Alex Skarsgård’s lead. Which isn’t such a compliment, really.

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…

You think I contaminated myself, you think I did that?

Silkwood (1983)
Mike Nichol’s film about union activist Karen Silkwood, who died under suspicious circumstances in a car accident in 1974, remains a powerful piece of work; even more so in the wake of Fukushima. If we transpose the microcosm of employees of a nuclear plant, who would rather look the other way in favour of a pay cheque, to the macrocosm of a world dependent on an energy source that could spell our destruction (just don’t think about it and, if you do, be reassured by the pronouncements of “experts” on how safe it all is; and if that doesn’t persuade you be under no illusion that we need this power now, future generations be damned!) it is just as relevant.

You’re never the same man twice.

The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)
(SPOILERS) Roger Moore playing dual roles? It sounds like an unintentionally amusing prospect for audiences accustomed to the actor’s “Raise an eyebrow” method of acting. Consequently, this post-Saint pre-Bond role (in which he does offer some notable eyebrow acting) is more of a curiosity for the quality of Sir Rog’s performance than the out-there premise that can’t quite sustain the picture’s running time. It is telling that the same story was adapted for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents 15 years earlier, since the uncanny idea at its core feels like a much better fit for a trim 50 minute anthology series.

Basil Dearden directs, and co-adapted the screenplay from Anthony Armstrong’s novel The Strange Case of Mr Pelham. Dearden started out with Ealing, helming several Will Hay pictures and a segment of Dead of Night (one might imagine a shortened version of this tale ending up there, or in any of the portmanteau horrors that arrived in the year…