Skip to main content

Ruination to all men!

The Avengers
24: How to Succeed…. At Murder

On the one hand, this episode has a distinctly reactionary whiff about it, pricking the bubble of the feminist movement, with Steed putting a female assassin over his knee and tickling her into submission. On the other, it has Steed putting a female assassin over his knee and tickling her into submission. How to Succeed… At Murder (a title play on How to Succeed at Business Without Really Trying, perhaps) is often very funny, even if you’re more than a little aware of the “wacky” formula that has been steadily honed over the course of the fourth season.


There can be little doubt about the tone from the teaser onwards, in which a secretary (Zeph Gladstone) blows up her boss (David Garth) from the safety of her desk with a Looney Tunes-style detonator before nonchalantly resuming her duties. You could imagine Spike Milligan doing something similar in Q.


There have been eleven murders (“Quite an epidemic. All of them prominent businessmen”), and inevitably, Steed poses as a businessman to lure a secretary intent on wresting him from power. Just as inevitably, Emma signs up with the hit squad, having traced a suspicious perfume to a keep fit class attended by the perpetrators. This leads to eccentric highlight of the episode.


JJ Hooter: My proboscis, Mrs Peel is probably the most sensitive in Europe. I shall be glad to assist you.

Her means of getting there are inquiring after the pungent scent, by way of consulting JJ Hooter, perfumier extraordinary (Christopher Benjamin, Litefoot, of course), who sports a nose cosy and an extravagant line in impressing upon her his abilities:

JJ Hooter: While wearing it, no obnoxious effluvia assaults my nostrils. It is highly necessary. You see, I smell a great deal.
Mrs Peel: You do? I mean, you do.
JJ Hooter: My nose is in great demand… I have smelled all over the world… (removing his nose protection) There you see the splendid beast, naked before you. But wait until you see him in action, Mrs Peel. Wait until you see him flare.


Hooter’s prognosis is that the perfume is one of his own design – Leap into my Fervid Arms! – eliciting a “Pardon?” from Mrs Peel.


Mrs Peel: I got cramp in my gluteals and my dorsals were definitely dormant.

There’s more leaping when Emma joins the keep fit class, where she and the girls are instructed by Henry (Artro Morris), the apparently servile companion of Henrietta, his wife. Until she is revealed as first a vents doll (at the halfway mark), and then as Henry himself, ventriliquising her. The reasons for the scheme are initially standard issue:

Mrs Peel: Because you have been subjugated for too long?
Henrietta: That is the function of this organisation, Mrs Peel. To take woman out of the secretary’s chair and put her behind the executive desk. To bring men to heel and put women at the pinnacle of power.
Mrs Peel: Twentieth century Amazons.
Henrietta: Exactly.


But Henry is finally revealed as suffering a more acute malady, fully invested as he is in his dual relationship. He asserts that “men did that to her” (the real Henrietta killed herself, having gone bankrupt as a result of being persuaded to start her own ballerina business), so more generally condemning capitalism than men per se (an irony of his scheme is that Henry is effectively training women to operate in the same ruthless manner as men).


Henrietta: Kill him, Henry kill him!
Henry: Yes dear.
Henrietta: Kill him! Kill him!

The finale largely finds Emma dealing with the deadly dames (“It’s okay Steed, I can manage”) while he delivers the sermon (“We do have our uses, ma’am”) and performs the unveiling; it’s the man who shows the women their leader is one of his kind, and gets to gloat over how silly they’ve been (“You’ve been taking orders from a man. All this time, you’ve been fooled by a very brilliant ventriloquist”). He also kills the rather pathetic Henry, which one can only figure was inspired more for the comic consequences (shot through the dummy, both Henry and Henrietta die together) than his especially deserving it. It might also be noted that the puppet bears a marked resemblance to Clare Balding.


Sara: What you need, Mr Steed, is a secretary. A thoroughly efficient secretary.

As mentioned, the episode also features the tickling incident, which plays out with Steed inviting both his secretary Sara (Angela Browne) and Liz (Gladstone) into his flat. Earlier, he has been studiedly sexist (“Where do I sit?” asks Sara. “Here would be delightfully informal” replies Steed, indicating his knee) and delivered some incomprehensible dictation (which sounds like “Dear Sir, further to us at the fourth instant, re mine set an oblique stroke 99942 at the first instant, I beg to inform you–”).


On admittance, he naturally offers them drinks before firing fizz at Liz (“Terrible weather, and nothing between you and the weather but leather. Ah well, nice warm brandy, soon warm you up. Soda?”) and putting Sara over his knee. Later, he fires off another quick response on entering the keep fit class and being confronted by members armed with a pistol, dagger, Schmeisser and mace: “Well, if I’d known, I’d have brought my ray gun”.


Other memorable incidents include Steed being beaten up by a woman with a shoe, Emma painting his abstract portrait (“Do I look like that?”) and the appearance of Jerome Willis (The Green Death) as initially unsympathetic accountant Rudge. The idea that it’s a complex filing system that will make the women indispensable when the men have been killed is perhaps a little on the mundane side, but that has to be balanced against the hearty rallying cry of “Ruination to all men!” 


The laugh-off is amusing if predictable, as Steed and Mrs Peel exchange voice throwing (“Steed, I saw your lips moving”).




















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…

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…

I don't like bugs. You can't hear them, you can't see them and you can't feel them, then suddenly you're dead.

Blake's 7 2.7: Killer

Robert Holmes’ first of four scripts for the series, and like last season’s Mission to Destiny there are some fairly atypical elements and attitudes to the main crew (although the A/B storylines present a familiar approach and each is fairly equal in importance for a change). It was filmed second, which makes it the most out of place episode in the run (and explains why the crew are wearing outfits – they must have put them in the wash – from a good few episodes past and why Blake’s hair has grown since last week).
The most obvious thing to note from Holmes’ approach is that he makes Blake a Doctor-substitute. Suddenly he’s full of smart suggestions and shrewd guesses about the threat that’s wiping out the base, basically leaving a top-level virologist looking clueless and indebted to his genius insights. If you can get past this (and it did have me groaning) there’s much enjoyment to be had from the episode, not least from the two main guest actors.

When two separate events occur simultaneously pertaining to the same object of inquiry we must always pay strict attention.

Twin Peaks 1.5: The One-Armed Man
With the waves left in Albert’s wake subsiding (Gordon Cole, like Albert, is first encountered on the phone, and Coop apologises to Truman over the trouble the insulting forensics expert has caused; ”Harry, the last thing I want you to worry about while I’m here is some city slicker I brought into your town relieving himself upstream”), the series steps down a register for the first time. This is a less essential episode than those previously, concentrating on establishing on-going character and plot interactions at the expense of the strange and unusual. As such, it sets the tone for the rest of this short first season.

The first of 10 episodes penned by Robert Engels (who would co-script Fire Walk with Me with Lynch, and then reunite with him for On the Air), this also sees the first “star” director on the show in the form of Tim Hunter. Hunter is a director (like Michael Lehman) who hit the ground running but whose subsequent career has rather disapp…

An initiative test. How simply marvellous!

You Must Be Joking! (1965)
A time before a Michael Winner film was a de facto cinematic blot on the landscape is now scarcely conceivable. His output, post- (or thereabouts) Death Wish (“a pleasant romp”) is so roundly derided that it’s easy to forget that the once-and-only dining columnist and raconteur was once a bright (well…) young thing of the ‘60s, riding the wave of excitement (most likely highly cynically) and innovation in British cinema. His best-known efforts from this period are a series of movies with Oliver Reed – including the one with the elephant – and tend to represent the director in his pleasant romp period, before he attacked genres with all the precision and artistic integrity of a blunt penknife. You Must Be Joking! comes from that era, its director’s ninth feature, straddling the gap between Ealing and the Swinging ‘60s; coarser, cruder comedies would soon become the order of the day, the mild ribaldry of Carry On pitching into bawdy flesh-fests. You Must Be Joki…

Luck isn’t a superpower... And it isn't cinematic!

Deadpool 2 (2018)
(SPOILERS) Perhaps it’s because I was lukewarm on the original, but Deadpool 2 mercifully disproves the typical consequence of the "more is more" approach to making a sequel. By rights, it should plummet into the pitfall of ever more excess to diminishing returns, yet for the most part it doesn't.  Maybe that’s in part due to it still being a relatively modest undertaking, budget-wise, and also a result of being very self-aware – like duh, you might say, that’s its raison d'être – of its own positioning and expectation as a sequel; it resolutely fails to teeter over the precipice of burn out or insufferable smugness. It helps that it's frequently very funny – for the most part not in the exhaustingly repetitive fashion of its predecessor – but I think the key ingredient is that it finds sufficient room in its mirthful melee for plot and character, in order to proffer tone and contrast.

Ain't nobody likes the Middle East, buddy. There's nothing here to like.

Body of Lies (2008)
(SPOILERS) Sir Ridders stubs out his cigar in the CIA-assisted War on Terror, with predictably gormless results. Body of Lies' one saving grace is that it wasn't a hit, although that more reflects its membership of a burgeoning club where no degree of Hollywood propaganda on the "just fight" (with just a smidgeon enough doubt cast to make it seem balanced at a sideways glance) was persuading the public that they wanted the official fiction further fictionalised.

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.

Well, who’s going to monitor the monitors of the monitors?

Enemy of the State (1998)
Enemy of the State is something of an anomaly; a quality conspiracy thriller borne not from any distinct political sensibility on the part of its makers but simple commercial instincts. Of course, the genre has proved highly successful over the years so it's easy to see why big name producers like Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson would have chased that particular gravy boat. Yet they did so for some time without success; by the time the movie was made, Simpson had passed away and Bruckheimer was flying solo. It might be the only major film in the latter's career that, despite the prerequisite gloss and stylish packaging, has something to say. More significant still, 15 years too late, the film's warnings are finally receiving recognition in the light of the Edward Snowden revelations.

In a piece for The Guardian earlier this year, John Patterson levelled the charge that Enemy was one of a number of Hollywood movies that have “been softening us up f…

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.