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

You're not only wrong. You're wrong at the top of your voice.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
I’ve seen comments suggesting that John Sturges’ thriller hasn’t aged well, which I find rather mystifying. Sure, some of the characterisations border on the cardboard, but the director imbues the story with a taut, economical backbone. 

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

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…

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…

You must find the keys for me!

Doctor Who The Keys of Marinus
Most of the criticisms levelled at The Keys of Marinus over the past 50 years have been fair play, and yet it’s a story I return to as one of the more effortlessly watchable of the Hartnell era. Consequently, the one complaint I can’t really countenance is that it’s boring. While many a foray during this fledgling period drags its heels, even ones of undeniable quality in other areas, Marinus’ shifting soils and weekly adventures-in-miniature sustain interest, however inelegant the actual construction of those narratives may be. The quest premise also makes it a winner; it’s a format I have little resistance to, even when manifested, as here, in an often overtly budget-stricken manner.

Doctor Who has dabbled with the search structure elsewhere, most notably across The Key to Time season, and ultimately Marinus’ mission is even more of a MacGuffin than in that sextology, a means to string together what would otherwise be vignettes to little overall coherence…

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 …

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 noirish, 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.

You ever heard the saying, “Don’t rob the bank across from the diner that has the best donuts in three counties”?

2 Guns (2013)
(SPOILERS) Denzel Washington is such a reliable performer, that it can get a bit boring. You end up knowing every gesture or inflection in advance, whether he’s playing a good guy or a bad guy. And his films are generally at least half decent, so you end up seeing them. Even in Flight (or perhaps especially in Flight; just watch him chugging down that vodka) where he’s giving it his Oscar-nominatable best, he seems too familiar. I think it may be because he’s an actor who is more effective the less he does. In 2 Guns he’s not doing less, but sometimes it seems like it. That’s because the last person I’d ever expect blows him off the screen; Mark Wahlberg.

Oh man, they wronged you. Why they gotta be like that? You exude a cosmic darkness.

Mandy (2018)
(SPOILERS) Sometimes you're left scratching your head over a movie, wondering what it was about it that had others rapturously raving while you were left shrugging. I at least saw the cult appeal of Panos Cosmatos’ previous picture, Beyond the Black Rainbow, which inexorably drew the viewer in with a clinically psychedelic allure before going unceremoniously off the boil with a botched slasher third act. Mandy, though, has been pronounced one of the best of the year, with a great unhinged Nic Cage performance front and centre – I can half agree with the latter point – but it's further evidence of a talented filmmaker slave to a disconcertingly unfulfilling obsession with retro-fashioning early '80s horror iconography.