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 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…

Just make love to that wall, pervert!

Seinfeld 2.10: The Statue
The Premise
Jerry employs a cleaner, the boyfriend of an author whose book Elaine is editing. He leaves the apartment spotless, but Jerry is convinced he has made off with a statue.

Never mind. You may be losing a carriage, but he’ll be gaining a bomb.

The Avengers 5.13: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Station
Continuing a strong mid-season run, Brian Clemens rejigs one of the dissenting (and departing) Roger Marshall's scripts (hence "Brian Sheriff") and follows in the steps of the previous season's The Girl from Auntie by adding a topical-twist title (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum came out a year earlier). If this is one of those stories where you know from the first who's doing what to whom, the actual mechanism for the doing is a strong and engaging one, and it's pepped considerably by a supporting cast including one John Laurie (2.11: Death of a Great Dane, 3.2: Brief for Murder).

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

I freely chose my response to this absurd world. If given the opportunity, I would have been more vigorous.

The Falcon and the Snowman (1985)
(SPOILERS) I suspect, if I hadn’t been ignorant of the story of Christopher Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee selling secrets to the Soviets during the ‘70s, I’d have found The Falcon and the Snowman less engaging than I did. Which is to say that John Schlesinger’s film has all the right ingredients to be riveting, including a particularly camera-hogging performance from Sean Penn (as Lee), but it’s curiously lacking in narrative drive. Only fitfully does it channel the motives of its protagonists and their ensuing paranoia. As such, the movie makes a decent primer on the case, but I ended up wondering if it might not be ideal fodder for retelling as a miniseries.

That living fossil ate my best friend!

The Meg (2018)
(SPOILERS) There’s a good chance that, unless you go in armed with ludicrously high expectations for the degree to which it's going to take the piss out of its premise, you'll have a good time with The Meg. This is unabashedly B-moviemaking, and if a finger of fault can be pointed, it's that director Jon Turteltaub, besides being a strictly functional filmmaker, does nothing to give it any personality beyond employing the services of the Stat. Obviously, though, the mere presence of the gravelly-larynxed one goes a long way to plugging the holes in any leaky vessel.

You keep a horse in the basement?

The ‘Burbs (1989)
(SPOILERS) The ‘Burbs is Joe Dante’s masterpiece. Or at least, his masterpiece that isn’t his bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you masterpiece Gremlins 2: The New Batch, or his high profile masterpiece Gremlins. Unlike those two, the latter of which bolted out of the gate and took audiences by surprise with it’s black wit subverting the expected Spielberg melange, and the first which was roundly shunned by viewers and critics for being absolutely nothing like the first and waving that fact gleefully under their noses, The ‘Burbs took a while to gain its foothold in the Dante pantheon. 

It came out at a time when there had been a good few movies (not least Dante’s) taking a poke at small town Americana, and it was a Tom Hanks movie when Hanks was still a broad strokes comedy guy (Big had just made him big, Turner and Hooch was a few months away; you know you’ve really made it when you co-star with a pooch). It’s true to say that some, as with say The Big Lebowski, “got it” on fi…

You just threw a donut in the hot zone!

Den of Thieves (2018)
(SPOILERS) I'd heard this was a shameless Heat rip-off, and the presence of Gerard Butler seemed to confirm it would be passable-at-best B-heist hokum, so maybe it was just middling expectations, even having heard how enthused certain pockets of the Internet were, but Den of Thieves is a surprisingly very satisfying entry in the genre. I can't even fault it for attempting to Keyser Soze the whole shebang at the last moment – add a head in a box and you have three 1995 classics in one movie – even if that particular conceit doesn’t quite come together.

Dude, you're embarrassing me in front of the wizards.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
(SPOILERS) The cliffhanger sequel, as a phenomenon, is a relatively recent thing. Sure, we kind of saw it with The Empire Strikes Back – one of those "old" movies Peter Parker is so fond of – a consequence of George Lucas deliberately borrowing from the Republic serials of old, but he had no guarantee of being able to complete his trilogy; it was really Back to the Future that began the trend, and promptly drew a line under it for another decade. In more recent years, really starting with The MatrixThe Lord of the Rings stands apart as, post-Weinstein's involvement, fashioned that way from the ground up – shooting the second and third instalments back-to-back has become a thing, both more cost effective and ensuring audiences don’t have to endure an interminable wait for their anticipation to be sated. The flipside of not taking this path is an Allegiant, where greed gets the better of a studio (split a novel into two movie parts assuming a…

Everyone creates the thing they dread.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
(SPOILERS) Avengers: Age of Ultron’s problem isn’t one of lack. It benefits from a solid central plot. It features a host of standout scenes and set pieces. It hands (most of) its characters strong defining moments. It doesn’t even suffer now the “wow” factor of seeing the team together for the first time has subsided. Its problem is that it’s too encumbered. Maybe its asking to much of a director to effectively martial the many different elements required by an ensemble superhero movie such as this, yet Joss Whedon’s predecessor feels positively lean in comparison.

Part of this is simply down to the demands of the vaster Marvel franchise machine. Seeds are laid for Captain America: Civil War, Infinity Wars I & II, Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok. It feels like several spinning plates too many. Such activity occasionally became over-intrusive on previous occasions (Iron Man II), but there are points in Age of Ultron where it becomes distractingly so. …