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

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…

If a rat were to walk in here right now as I'm talking, would you treat it to a saucer of your delicious milk?

Inglourious Basterds (2009)
(SPOILERS) His staunchest fans would doubtless claim Tarantino has never taken a wrong step, but for me, his post-Pulp Fiction output had been either not quite as satisfying (Jackie Brown), empty spectacle (the Kill Bills) or wretched (Death Proof). It wasn’t until Inglourious Basterds that he recovered his mojo, revelling in an alternate World War II where Adolf didn’t just lose but also got machine gunned to death in a movie theatre showing a warmly received Goebbels-produced propaganda film. It may not be his masterpiece – as Aldo Raines refers to the swastika engraved on “Jew hunter” Hans Landa’s forehead, and as Tarantino actually saw the potential of his script – but it’s brimming with ideas and energy.

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…

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.

Hey, everybody. The bellboy's here.

Four Rooms (1995)
(SPOILERS) I had an idea that I’d only seen part of Four Rooms previously, and having now definitively watched the entire thing, I can see where that notion sprang from. It’s a picture that actively encourages you to think it never existed. Much of it isn’t even actively terrible – although, at the same time, it couldn’t be labelled remotely good– but it’s so utterly lethargic, so lacking in the energy, enthusiasm and inventiveness that characterises these filmmakers at their best – and yes, I’m including Rodriguez, although it’s a very limited corner for him – that it’s very easy to banish the entire misbegotten enterprise from your mind.

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.

I am forever driven on this quest.

Ad Astra (2019)
(SPOILERS) Would Apocalypse Now have finished up as a classic if Captain Willard had been ordered on a mission to exterminate his mad dad with extreme prejudice, rather than a mysterious and off-reservation colonel? Ad Astra features many stunning elements. It’s an undeniably classy piece of filmmaking from James Gray, who establishes his tone from the get-go and keeps it consistent, even through various showy set pieces. But the decision to give its lead character an existential crisis entirely revolving around his absent father is its reductive, fatal flaw, ultimately deflating much of the air from Gray’s space balloon.

Our very strength incites challenge. Challenge incites conflict. And conflict... breeds catastrophe.

The MCU Ranked Worst to Best

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.

The adversary oft comes in the shape of a he-goat.

The Witch (2015)
(SPOILERS) I’m not the biggest of horror buffs, so Stephen King commenting that The Witchscared the hell out of me” might have given me pause for what was in store. Fortunately, he’s the same author extraordinaire who referred to Crimson Peak as “just fucking terrifying” (it isn’t). That, and that general reactions to Robert Eggers’ film have fluctuated across the scale, from the King-type response on one end of the spectrum to accounts of unrelieved boredom on the other. The latter response may also contextualise the former, depending on just what King is referring to, because what’s scary about The Witch isn’t, for the most part, scary in the classically understood horror sense. It’s scary in the way The Wicker Man is scary, existentially gnawing away at one through judicious martialling of atmosphere, setting and theme.


Indeed, this is far more impressive a work than Ben Wheatley’s Kill List, which had hitherto been compared to The Wicker Man, succeeding admirably …