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

If you never do anything, you never become anyone.

An Education (2009)
Carey Mulligan deserves all the attention she received for her central performance, and the depiction of the ‘60s is commendably subdued. I worried there was going to be a full-blown music montage sequence at the climax that undid all the good work, but thankfully it was fairly low key. 

Alfred Molina and Olivia Williams are especially strong in the supporting roles, and it's fortunate for credibility’s sake that that Orlando Bloom had to drop out and Dominic Cooper replaced him.
***1/2

Can you close off your feelings so you don’t get crippled by the moral ambiguity of your violent actions?

Spider-Man Worst to Best

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…

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).

You're always sorry, Charles, and there's always a speech, but nobody cares anymore.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019)
(SPOILERS) To credit its Rotten Tomatoes score (22%), you’d think X-Men: Dark Phoenix was a travesty that besmirched the name of all good and decent (read: MCU proper) superhero movies, or even last week’s underwhelming creature feature (Godzilla: King of Monsters has somehow reached 40%, despite being a lesser beast in every respect). Is the movie’s fate a self-fulfilling prophecy, what with delayed release dates and extensively reported reshoots? Were critics castigating a fait accompli turkey without giving it a chance? That would be presupposing they’re all sheep, though, and in fairness, other supposed write-offs havecome back from such a brink in the past (World War Z). Whatever the feelings of the majority, Dark Phoenix is actually a mostly okay (twelfth) instalment in the X-franchise – it’s exactly what you’d expect from an X-Men movie at this point, one without any real mojo left and a variable cast struggling to pull its weight. The third act is a bi…

I should have mailed it to the Marx Brothers.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
When your hero(es) ride off into the sunset at the end of a film, it’s usually a pretty clear indication that a line is being drawn under their adventures. Sure, rumours surfaced during the ‘90s of various prospective screenplays for a fourth outing for the whip-cracking archeologist. But I’m dubious anyone really expected it to happen. There seemed to be a natural finality to Last Crusade that made the announcement of his 2007 return nostalgically welcome but otherwise unwarranted. That it turned out so tepid merely seemed like confirmation of what we already knew; Indy’s time was past.

Why would I turn into a filing cabinet?

Captain Marvel (2019)
(SPOILERS) All superhero movies are formulaic to a greater or lesser degree. Mostly greater. The key to an actually great one – or just a pretty good one – is making that a virtue, rather than something you’re conscious of limiting the whole exercise. The irony of the last two stand-alone MCU pictures is that, while attempting to bring somewhat down-the-line progressive cachet to the series, they’ve delivered rather pedestrian results. Of course, that didn’t dim Black Panther’s cultural cachet (and what do I know, swathes of people also profess to loving it), and Captain Marvel has hit half a billion in its first few days – it seems that, unless you’re poor unloved Ant-Man, an easy $1bn is the new $700m for the MCU – but neither’s protagonist really made that all-important iconic impact.

Everyone who had a talent for it lived happily ever after.

Empire 30:  Favourite Films of the Last 30 Years
Empire’s readers’ poll to celebrate its thirtieth birthday – a request for the ultimate thirty films of the last thirty years, one per year from 1989 – required a bit of thought, particularly since they weren’t just limiting it to your annual favourite (“These can be the films that impressed you the most, the ones that stuck with you, that brought you joy, or came to you at just the right time”). Also – since the question was asked on Twitter, although I don’t know how rigorous they’re being; does it apply to general release, or does it include first film festival showings? – they’re talking UK release dates, rather than US, calling for that extra modicum of mulling. To provide more variety, I opted to limit myself to just one film per director; otherwise, my thirty would have been top heavy with, at very least, Coen Brothers movies. So here’s they are, with runners-up and reasoning:

What, you're going to walk in there like it's the commie Disneyland or something?

Stranger Things 3 (2019)
(SPOILERS) It’s very clear by this point that Stranger Things isn’t going to serve up any surprises. It’s operating according to a strict formula, one requiring the opening of the portal to the Upside Down every season and an attendant demagorgon derivative threat to leak through, only to be stymied at the last moment by our valorous team. It’s an ‘80s sequel cycle through and through, and if you’re happy with it functioning exclusively on that level, complete with a sometimes overpowering (over)dose of nostalgia references, this latest season will likely strike you as just the ticket.

Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!

Ghostbusters (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Feig is a better director than Ivan Reitman, or at very least he’s savvy enough to gather technicians around him who make his films look good, but that hasn’t helped make his Ghostbusters remake (or reboot) a better movie than the original, and that’s even with the original not even being that great a movie in the first place.

Along which lines, I’d lay no claims to the 1984 movie being some kind of auteurist gem, but it does make some capital from the polarising forces of Aykroyd’s ultra-geekiness on the subject of spooks and Murray’s “I’m just here for the asides” irreverence. In contrast, Feig’s picture is all about treating the subject as he does any other genre, be it cop, or spy, or romcom. There’s no great affection, merely a reliably professional approach, one minded to ensure that a generous quota of gags (on-topic not required) can be pumped out via abundant improv sessions.

So there’s nothing terribly wrong with Ghostbusters, but aside from …