Skip to main content

This is my only chance to assemble a disreputable past, and I'm going to take it.

Jeeves and Wooster
3.1: Bertie Sets Sail 
(aka Safety in New York)

Full disclosure: I don’t much care for the series' excursions to New York, however canonical some of them may be. The studiously ropey accents, the same low-angle buildings doubling for the Big Apple and repetitive elevator conversations grow wearisome quite quickly, veering from the sense of time and place the series gets so right generally and causing too much distraction. 


BertieI told them I was going to Manhattan and they came up with the goods.
JeevesNo mention was made of a carnival or fancy-dress occasion, sir?

Bertie Sets Sail is quite faithful in outline to its source material, a 1916 (so only a year into Wooster's life) short story, albeit with a shipboard prelude in which we establish Jeeves' disdain for Bertie’s new hat ("I shall be the Beau Brummel of Broadway") and the addition of one Tuppy Glossop, replete with doomed plans to be the sole British importer of the Spritz Polecat (alas, he only has the money to buy the one car).

BertieThere, it doesn't look at all bad, does it?
JeevesA violin case would complete the effect very creditably, sir.


As ever, Robert Daws' Tuppy is a performance of explosive irritation and ignorance. He's first seen here throwing a roll at Bertie, which proceeds to splatter the ship's captain with soup on landing. What follows is the upper-class equivalent of Del-Boy Trotter's cultural delicacy:

TuppyWho's the chap in fancy-dress?
BertieHe's the captain. Nice fellow. Speaks very good French.
TuppyLook, I'm terribly sorry, senor. Quelle fromage and all that. That'll hold him. They love it when you speak the lingo.


Naturally, Tuppy is making a romantic fool of himself, besotted with Pauline Stoker, despite being engaged to Angela, and naturally, he makes a completed hash of things (in order to talk shop to her father, he brushes up on his cars with The Boy's Book of the Automobile); when he places his order ("Let’s start with four"), Pauline helpful adds "Four Dozen, daddy":

TuppyI couldn't just order one car. I'd look such a fool.
BertieYou'll look an even bigger fool when you tell Stoker that you don't want 47 of them after all thank you very much.


The result is the inveigling of Bertie into a plan to steal back Tuppy's cheque, hinging on a burglar alarm Tuppy forgets to turn off, leading to the hapless Wooster being shot at by the police. Later, dining out with Tuppy, he resorts to hiding under a table when the Stokers arrive, which naturally goes wrong ("Well, I was just looking for a spoon"). As approximations of the Wodehouse formula go, this is perfectly serviceable; it's just a shame that neither Don Fellows (Stoker) nor Kim Huffman (Pauline) are a patch on Manning Redwood and Sharon Holm respectively in the previous season.


Also on the debit side in terms of casting is John Fitzgerald Jay as poet Rockmetteller "Rocky" Todd; there's more of him in Episode Two, but suffice to say the combination of a slightly wet character and an over-enunciated New York accent (I believe Kay is Canadian) makes the character positively irksome. No wonder Bertie can't wait to get away from his retreat. 


A retreat he's forced on due to the behaviour of Wilmot "Motty" Lord Pershore (Ronan Vibert, unlike Jay annoying in all the right ways), who has been foisted on Bertie by his mother, Lady Malvern (Moyra Fraser), while she tours US prisons for her book America from Within (that prisons are crucial to the climax is a fortuitous circumstance indeed). We first see Motty sucking on his cane, announced as a "strict vegetarian, teetotaller and devoted to reading" (Wodehouse's view that abstinence can only be deleterious is nothing if not consistent); the second trait elicits a disbelieving "Good lord!" From Tuppy.


BertieHas he had some sort of dashed fit or something? Jeeves, someone's been feeding him meat.
JeevesSir?
BertieHe's a vegetarian, you know. Probably been digging into a steak or something. Best fetch a doctor.

It turns out, however, that no sooner has Lady Malvern embarked on her tour than Motty's embarked on his own, of New York nightlife; discovered by Jeeves and Wooster with a stinking hangover, he announces "I drank too much. Much, much too much. Lots and lots too much. And what's more, I’m going to do it again. I'm going to do it every night" on account of "This is my only chance to assemble a disreputable past, and I'm going to take it".


The episode follows the short story to the extent that crucial events occur off screen, with Bertie returning (from Rocky's) to discover Motty has been incarcerated, but diverges in showing Lady Malvern come across her son in prison. Jeeves' ludicrously implausible explanation for his presence – even by the gentleman's gentleman's standards – stands as is, that he chose to go there to research her book:

Lady MalvernI find that very hard to believe.
JeevesBut surely, your ladyship, it is more reasonable to suppose that a person of his lordship's character would go to prison of his own volition… rather than by committing some breach of the law which would necessitate his arrest


Unsurprisingly, given it's straight from the source, this is the most effective passage of the story, and culminates in Bertie unsurprisingly sacrificing his hat, only to learn it has already gone:

BertieNow Jeeves, that Al Capone hat of mine. Get rid of it, burn it or something.
JeevesI've already taken the liberty of disposing of it, sir.


Also of note in the line-up is New York sojourn regular Ricco Ross as liftman Coneybear (who takes delivery of Bertie's hat); as an American actor living in the UK during the '80s he eked out a number of notable roles (Frost in Aliens, the Ringmaster rapping rubbish in Doctor Who story The Greatest Show in the Galaxy) and not so notable ones (Slipstream). The character is well-intentioned, attempting to offer the perspective of a contemporary African American amid privileged New York society, but for that reason also seems rather on-the-nose, over compensating for the series' exclusive whiteness by imbuing him with knowing moral superiority; plain good sense is identified as a fact of his race and so the effort taken by Clive Exton comes across as slightly patronising.



Sources: 
Jeeves and the Unbidden Guest (Carry On, Jeeves, Chapter 3)


Recurring characters:

Tuppy Glossop (1.1, 1.2, 1.4, 1.5, 2.6, 3.1)
Rockmetteller “Rocky” Todd (3.1)
J Washburn Stoker (2.4, 2.5, 3.1)
Pauline Stoker (2.4, 2.5, 3.1)
Liftman Coneybear (3.1)










Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Prepare the Heathen’s Stand! By order of purification!

Apostle (2018)
(SPOILERS) Another week, another undercooked Netflix flick from an undeniably talented director. What’s up with their quality control? Do they have any? Are they so set on attracting an embarrassment of creatives, they give them carte blanche, to hell with whether the results are any good or not? Apostle's an ungainly folk-horror mashup of The Wicker Man (most obviously, but without the remotest trace of that screenplay's finesse) and any cult-centric Brit horror movie you’d care to think of (including Ben Wheatley's, himself an exponent of similar influences-on-sleeve filmmaking with Kill List), taking in tropes from Hammer, torture porn, and pagan lore but revealing nothing much that's different or original beyond them.

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…

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.

You can’t just outsource your entire life.

Tully (2018)
(SPOILERS) A major twist is revealed in the last fifteen minutes of Tully, one I'll happily admit not to have seen coming, but it says something about the movie that it failed to affect my misgivings over the picture up to that point either way. About the worst thing you can say about a twist is that it leaves you shrugging.

Outstanding. Now, let’s bite off all the heads and pile them up in the corner.

Venom (2018)
(SPOILERS) A 29% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes can't be wrong, can it? To go by the number of one-star reviews Sony’s attempt to kick-start their own shred of the Marvel-verse has received, you’d think it was the new Battlefield Earth, or Highlander II: The Quickening. Fortunately, it's far from that level of ignominy. And while it’s also a considerable distance from showing the polish and assuredness of the official Disney movies, it nevertheless manages to establish its own crudely winning sense of identity.

Well, you did take advantage of a drunken sailor.

Tomb Raider (2018)
(SPOILERS) There's evidently an appetite out there for a decent Tomb Raider movie, given that the lousy 2001 incarnation was successful enough to spawn a (lousy) sequel, and that this lousier reboot, scarcely conceivably, may have attracted enough bums on seats to do likewise. If we're going to distinguish between order of demerits, we could characterise the Angelina Jolie movies as both pretty bad; Tomb Raider, in contrast, is unforgivably tedious.

If you want to have a staring contest with me, you will lose.

Phantom Thread (2017)
(SPOILERS) Perhaps surprisingly not the lowest grossing of last year's Best Picture Oscar nominees (that was Call Me by Your Name) but certainly the one with the least buzz as a genuine contender, subjected as Phantom Thread was to a range of views from masterpiece (the critics) to drudge (a fair selection of general viewers). The mixed reaction wasn’t so very far from Paul Thomas Anderson's earlier The Master, and one suspects the nomination was more to do with the golden glow of Daniel Day-Lewis in his first role in half a decade (and last ever, if he's to be believed) than mass Academy rapture with the picture. Which is ironic, as the relatively unknown Vicky Krieps steals the film from under him.

The whole thing should just be your fucking nose!

A Star is Born (2018)
(SPOILERS) A shoe-in for Best Picture Oscar? Perhaps not, since it will have to beat at very least Roma and First Man to claim the prize, but this latest version of A Star is Born still comes laden with more acclaim than the previous three versions put together (and that's with a Best Picture nod for the 1937 original). While the film doesn't quite reach the consistent heights suggested by the majority of critics, who have evacuated their adjectival bowels lavishing it with superlatives, it's undoubtedly a remarkably well-made, stunningly acted piece, and perhaps even more notably, only rarely feels like its succumbing to just how familiar this tale of rise to, and parallel fall from, stardom has become.

Yes, cake is my weakness.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)
(SPOILERS) Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is good fun, and sometimes, that’s enough. It doesn’t break any new ground, and the establishing act is considerably better than the rather rote plotting and character development that follows, but Jake Kasdan’s semi-sequel more than justifies the decision to return to the stomping ground of the tepid 1995 original, a movie sold on its pixels, and is comfortably able to coast on the selling point of hormonal teenagers embodying grown adults.

This is by some distance Kasdan’s biggest movie, and he benefits considerably from Gyula Pados’s cinematography. Kasdan isn’t, I’d suggest, a natural with action set pieces, and the best sequences are clearly prevized ones he’d have little control over (a helicopter chase, most notably). I’m guessing Pados was brought aboard because of his work on Predators and the Maze Runners (although not the lusher first movie), and he lends the picture a suitably verdant veneer. Wh…

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 …