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

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…

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…

Everyone wants a happy ending and everyone wants closure but that's not the way life works out.

It Chapter Two (2019)
(SPOILERS) An exercise in stultifying repetitiveness, It Chapter Two does its very best to undo all the goodwill engendered by the previous instalment. It may simply be that adopting a linear approach to the novel’s interweaving timelines has scuppered the sequel’s chances of doing anything the first film hasn’t. Oh, except getting rid of Pennywise for good, which you’d be hard-pressed to discern as substantially different to the CGI-infused confrontation in the first part, Native American ritual aside.

Check it out. I wonder if BJ brought the Bear with him.

Death Proof (2007)
(SPOILERS) In a way, I’m slightly surprised Tarantino didn’t take the opportunity to disown Death Proof, to claim that, as part of Grindhouse, it was no more one of his ten-official-films-and-out than his Four Rooms segment. But that would be to spurn the exploitation genre affectation that has informed everything he’s put his name to since Kill Bill, to a greater or less extent, and also require him to admit that he was wrong, and you won’t find him doing that for anything bar My Best Friend’s Birthday.

That woman, deserves her revenge and… we deserve to die. But then again, so does she.

Kill Bill: Vol. 2  (2004)
(SPOILERS) I’m not sure I can really conclude whether one Kill Bill is better than the other, since I’m essentially with Quentin in his assertion that they’re one film, just cut into two for the purposes of a selling point. I do think Kill Bill: Vol. 2 has the movie’s one actually interesting character, though, and I’m not talking David Carradine’s title role.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

Do you read Sutter Cane?

In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
(SPOILERS) The concluding chapter of John Carpenter’s unofficial Apocalypse Trilogy (preceded by The Thing and Prince of Darkness) is also, sadly, his last great movie. Indeed, it stands apart in the qualitative wilderness that beset him during the ‘90s (not for want of output). Michael De Luca’s screenplay had been doing the rounds since the ‘80s, even turned down by Carpenter at one point, and it proves ideal fodder for the director, bringing out the best in him. Even cinematographer Gary K Kibbe seems inspired enough to rise to the occasion. It could do without the chugging rawk soundtrack, perhaps, but then, that was increasingly where Carpenter’s interests resided (as opposed to making decent movies).

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

When you grow up, if you still feel raw about it, I’ll be waiting.

Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)
(SPOILERS) It sometimes seems as if Quentin Tarantino – in terms of his actual movies, rather than nearly getting Uma killed in an auto stunt – is the last bastion of can-do-no-wrong on the Internet. Or at very least has the preponderance of its vocal weight behind him. Back when his first two movies proper were coming out, so before online was really a thing, I’d likely have agreed, but by about the time the Kill Bills arrived, I’d have admitted I was having serious pause about him being all he was cracked up to be. Because the Kill Bills aren’t very good, and they’ve rather characterised his hermetically sealed wallowing in obscure media trash and genre cul-de-sacs approach to his art ever since. Sometimes to entertaining effect, sometimes less so, but always ever more entrenching his furrow; as Neil Norman note in his Evening Standard review, “Tarantino has attempted (and largely succeeded) in making a movie whose only reality is that of celluloid”. Extend t…

Just because you are a character doesn't mean that you have character.

Pulp Fiction (1994)
(SPOILERS) From a UK perspective, Pulp Fiction’s success seemed like a fait accompli; Reservoir Dogs had gone beyond the mere cult item it was Stateside and impacted mainstream culture itself (hard to believe now that it was once banned on home video); it was a case of Tarantino filling a gap in the market no one knew was there until he drew attention to it (and which quickly became over-saturated with pale imitators subsequently). Where his debut was a grower, Pulp Fiction hit the ground running, an instant critical and commercial success (it won the Palme d’Or four months before its release), only made cooler by being robbed of the Best Picture Oscar by Forrest Gump. And unlike some famously-cited should-have-beens, Tarantino’s masterpiece really did deserve it.