Skip to main content

You’ll note, gentlemen, the correct way of doing everything, even in defeat.

The Avengers
5.9: The Correct Way to Kill

You wouldn't get away with this kind of thing today. An undisguised remake of third season episode The Charmers, right down to its choicer dialogue, looking at them side by side is neither revealing as a shot-for-shot exercise (Gus van Sant's Psycho) nor the changes resulting from a switch to colour and upping the budget (The Man Who Knew Too Much, although there were additional substantial changes there, of course). Instead, both versions have their positives and negatives, but for me, this new one never quite manages to improve sufficiently on source material that was never quite there in the first place.


GroskiWhat's the matter with him? Is he dumb or something?
PercyNo, he's British. Naturally, he wouldn't dream of discussing business with you until he's been formally introduced.

What changes there are, are often cosmetic. The charm school for killers, "A breeding ground for young gentlemen" is essentially the same, but the Academy of Charm for Aspiring Gentlemen is now the more era-overt S.N.O.B. (Sociability, Nobility, Omnipotence, Breeding Inc). The dental surgery of the original has been substituted for a chiropodist, but its significance to the plot is otherwise as tenuous as ever. The gentleman's outfitter has become more focussed on umbrellas (where before crates of bowlers concealed bodies, now it's brollies).


SteedHow I envy you, working cheek by jowl with Ivan.
Mrs PeelI can assure you, my cheek's going to be nowhere near his jowl.

In most respects, I'd argue the original is superior. The teaming of Russian agents with British ones to find out who is killing the Russians is repeated, but Philip Madoc (2.7: The Decapod, 2:25: Six Hands Across the Table, 3.10: Death of a Batman), although unceremoniously bumped off and dumped in a crate, makes more of an impression as Ivan than John Barcroft did when teamed with Mrs Gale.


SteedHello Comrade, where's Nutski?
Mrs PeelI've handed in my notice.
SteedOh?
Mrs PeelThe other side was cheating. Nutski had no intention of seriously honouring the truce.
SteedWell, I'm not surprised. I never thought he would.

In contrast, while his Brodsky will never be my favourite Avengers comedy character, Warren Mitchell made a much better Russian boss (Keller) than Michael Gough (4.7: The Cybernauts) as Nutski, who simply cannot pull off the comedy (the "He laughed all the way down" reminiscence is repeated line-for-line, and very funny in the original; here, it resembles nothing so much as a flaccid regurgitation of an old Python sketch, with no one putting anything into it; Steed's "I haven’t killed anyone all week" is recycled too). 


Gough's also unconvincing with his accent (Madoc clearly loves doing his) and doesn't seem to be putting much into the dramatic side either. In both, they're the mastermind behind the charm school, selling secrets to the highest bidder, but Nutski's ambition is somewhat higher than Keller's. He plans to use his "highly trained force, and they get better every day" to introduce a third world power, the State of Nutskiville. If Gough's performance were more engaging, his megalomania might have been too.


SteedMay I call you Olga?
OlgaComrade Veloski. Informality breeds undiscipline.
SteedYou are absolutely right. Will you have a drink?
OlgaHard liquor softens the brain.

Anna Quayle has fun deadpanning as "Olga from the Volga", a bone-crushing, permanently unamused presence, and her genuine Russian agent makes much more sense than Fenella Fielding's actor playing a spy. That needs to be countered against Fielding having a better rapport with Macnee, and her character being more engaging. Still, at least Olga is sufficiently distinctive that she diverges from the path of a straight retread ("It is as I expected. Opulent, luxurious, expensive and thoroughly decadent").


PonsonbyMr Watson! We are waggling, Mr Watson. We are waggling when we should be thrusting. We’ve had to talk to you about waggling before. Up, man. Up!

Ponsonby (Terence Alexander, 4.1: The Town of No Return) is no match for his corresponding charm school head Mr Edgar (Brian Oulton) either. The latter's veneration of Steed is very amusing, and Alexander just can't equal that. He does however, offer some nice touches such as his dismissive acknowledgement of Olga ("And you too, madam") after effusively greeting Steed with "Allow me to welcome you to SNOB", and his informal "And as you know, Mr Steed, a young gentleman is naked without his umbrella". Best of all is his approval of Steed's raising his hands when surrounded: "You’ll note, gentlemen, the correct way of doing everything, even in defeat".


SteedEmbarrassing. If he had been naughty, they might have had the good manners to pop him off in his own country…. It's just not cricket.

There's an emphasis in the early stages on Steed's own presumption of gentility, and the correct way of doing things in relation to bumping off Russian spies on British soil, if done by the Russians themselves  ("Awkward phase or not, I don't approve of it"), although it doesn't really go anywhere, and there's no concluding moral about those who use manners and etiquette for villainous ends (although that's probably for the best, being as it's The Avengers and not needing to lead by the nose).


GroskiYou British, you'll be the death of me.
PercyYes, exactly.
AlgyIndubitably.

The opening murders are staged with some aplomb by Charles Crichton (his only contribution to this season). Besides Groski (John G Heller, 4.12: Man-Eater of Surrey Green), Percy (Peter Barkworth, 1.22: Kill the King and 3.16: The Medicine Men) and Algy (Graham Armitage, Barney in The Macra Terror, 4.19: Quick-Quick Slow Death) enjoy several amusing assassinations, including via revolving doors and lifts, and are an effective presence, genteel but sinister for it.


PercyIt will do no good to struggle, Miss Veloski.
AlgyWe’ve secured you with old school ties.
PercyAnd the bonds of the old school tie are nigh on impossible to break.

As such, in theory, they should be the perfect mirror to Steed, using all that etiquette for evil ends, but the inversion ends up feeling rather incidental. Even more so given the disapproval of decadent western values as voiced by Olga; the activities of SNOB ought to be reconfirmation for her (whatever Nutski's involvement – after all, he has been corrupted) but instead she comes on board with Steed ("I should like you to know that, despite your peculiar methods, I have come to admire you. A little") and in the final fencing fight (also carried over from the original, just with more striking décor and staging), it’s Emma who’s allowed to emphasise, unchallenged, British superiority:

OlgaWell thrown, comrade. You must have Slavic blood.
Mrs PeelNo, British through and through.
SteedBut you won’t hold that against her.


On the quirky character front, we have J Nathan Winters (Edwin Apps) as the purveyor of quality goods for the gentleman, announcing proudly that "Each and every one of these umbrellas has been rained on from a great height", but again, the obsequiousness towards Steed's class worked better in The Charmers; somehow, admiring his choice of umbrella doesn't quite do it. I liked Steed's parting "Hope it keeps wet for you. Bye". Hubert Merryweather (Timothy Bateson, Binro the Heretic in The Ribos Operation) the chiropodist is quite likable for all his being (partly) on board with activities of SNOB ("Your feet are now in my hands").


SteedThe evening was heavily instructive. But lacking…
Mrs PeelA certain, bourgeois, capitalist, decadent touch?

The opening "We're Needed" finds the words appear on a section of newspaper (it would have been more inspired if the whole front page had been a mock-up), and the coda sees Steed appearing in a Russian hat (very cosy), reporting on an evening with Olga, who we learn is an accomplished bricklayer and can recite every party manifesto since 1922. These ending sequences have been quite variable, but this one, more germane to the story, is one of the more successful of the season so far. Not a remake that in any way justifies its existence, but mostly unobjectionable.

















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

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

You're not only wrong. You're wrong at the top of your voice.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
I’ve seen comments suggesting that John Sturges’ thriller hasn’t aged well, which I find rather mystifying. Sure, some of the characterisations border on the cardboard, but the director imbues the story with a taut, economical backbone. 

You can’t climb a ladder, no. But you can skip like a goat into a bar.

Juno and the Paycock (1930)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s second sound feature. Such was the lustre of this technological advance that a wordy play was picked. By Sean O’Casey, upon whom Hitchcock based the prophet of doom at the end of The Birds. Juno and the Paycock, set in 1922 during the Irish Civil War, begins as a broad comedy of domestic manners, but by the end has descended into full-blown Greek (or Catholic) tragedy. As such, it’s an uneven but still watchable affair, even if Hitch does nothing to disguise its stage origins.

To defeat the darkness out there, you must defeat the darkness inside yourself.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)
Easily the best of the Narnia films, which is maybe damning it with faint praise. 

Michael Apted does a competent job directing (certainly compared to his Bond film - maybe he talked to his second unit this time), Dante Spinotti's cinematography is stunning and the CGI mostly well-integrated with the action. 

Performance-wise, Will Poulter is a stand-out as a tremendously obnoxious little toff, so charismatic you're almost rooting for him. Simon Pegg replaces Eddie Izzard as the voice of Reepicheep and delivers a touching performance.
***

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.

So long, sky trash!

Star Wars The Saga Ranked
This is an update of my 2018 ranking, with the addition of highly-acclaimed The Rise of Skywalker along with revisits to the two preceding parts of the trilogy. If you want to be generous and call it that, since the term it makes it sound a whole lot more coherent than it plays.

When I barked, I was enormous.

Dean Spanley (2008)
(SPOILERS) There is such a profusion of average, respectable – but immaculately made – British period drama held up for instant adulation, it’s hardly surprising that, when something truly worthy of acclaim comes along, it should be singularly ignored. To be fair, Dean Spanleywas well liked by critics upon its release, but its subsequent impact has proved disappointingly slight. Based on Lord Dunsany’s 1939 novella, My Talks with Dean Spanley, our narrator relates how the titular Dean’s imbibification of a moderate quantity of Imperial Tokay (“too syrupy”, is the conclusion reached by both members of the Fisk family regarding this Hungarian wine) precludes his recollection of a past life as a dog. 

Inevitably, reviews pounced on the chance to reference Dean Spanley as a literal shaggy dog story, so I shall get that out of the way now. While the phrase is more than fitting, it serves to underrepresent how affecting the picture is when it has cause to be, as does any re…

Man, that’s one big bitch cockroach.

Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)
Everyone loves Bruce Campbell. He’s eminently lovable; self-depracating, a natural wit, enthusiastic about his “art” and interactive with his fans. It’s easy to be seduced into cutting anything he shows up in some slack, just by virtue of his mighty Bruce-ness. I know, I’ve done it. Unfortunately, not everything he does has the crazy, slapstick energy of his most famous role. Most of it doesn’t. Don Cascarelli’s Elvis versus Mummy movie has a considerable cult following, based as much on the cult of Don as the cult of Bruce, but its charms are erratic ones. As usual, however, Campbell is the breezy highlight.

The blames rests with Cascarelli, since he adapted Joe R. Lansdale’s short story. The premise is a great high concept mash-up; Elvis Presley, a nursing home resident in declining health, must fight off an ancient Egyptian mummy. Is he really Elvis, or Elvis impersonator Sebastian Haff? Or both, as the King claims to have switched places with the real Haff so as t…

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.

That Freud stuff’s a bunch of hooey.

Spellbound (1945)
Spellbound is something of a stumbling follow-up to Rebecca, producer David O Selznick’s previous collaboration with Hitchcock. Selznick was a devotee of psychoanalysis, and the idea of basing a film on the subject was already in the mind of the director. To that end, the producer’s own therapist, May Romm, was brought in as a technical advisor (resulting in Hitchcock’s famous response when she pointed out an inaccuracy, “My dear, it’s only a movie”).