Skip to main content

Gloat all you like, but just remember, I’m the star of this picture.

The Avengers
5.11: Epic

Epic has something of a Marmite reputation, and even as someone who rather likes it, I can quite see its flaws. A budget-conscious Brian Clemens was inspired to utilise readily-available Elstree sets, props and costumes, the results both pushing the show’s ever burgeoning self-reflexive agenda and providing a much more effective (and amusing) "Avengers girl ensnared by villains attempting to do for her" plot than The House That Jack BuiltDon't Look Behind You and the subsequent The Joker. Where it falters is in being little more than a succession of skits and outfit changes for Peter Wyngarde. While that's very nearly enough, it needs that something extra to reach true greatness. Or epic-ness.


ZZ von SchnerkA beautiful performance. You were right. Absolutely right, my dove. He makes an excellent corpse. Excellent.

With only five guest stars (including 3.23: The Outside-In Man's Anthony Dawes as the actor dressed as Steed in the teaser – "He's absolutely gorgeous. Just look at those nostrils"), Clemens' teleplay puts the emphasis on performance, although James Hill, in his first of four for the season, again illustrates why he was one of the most consistently inventive and reliable directors on the show. 


ZZ von Schnerk (Kenneth J Warren, 1.6: Girl on a Trapeze, 2.15: Intercrime, 3.20: The Little Wonders) is a Von Stroheim-esque out-of-favour auteur delusional that his snuff movie – with Mrs Peel as both star and victim – will grant him immortality as a filmmaker; while there's no indication of how his magnum opus "The Death of Emma Peel" is going to fit together – obviously, as he is quite mad – there's something of a Peeping Tom-by-way-of-Sunset Boulevard about the episode, as deaths on camera are punctuated by past-it stars of yesteryear slumming it for their director (von Stroheim was of course, in Sunset Boulevard, but acting, long since unable to command a directing gig) thanks to a clause in their contract.


ZZ von Schnerk: The destruction of Mrs Emma Peel, conceived by ZZ von Schnerk. Written by ZZ von Schnerk. Directed by ZZ von Schnerk. A ZZ von Schnerk production!

They're Damita Syn (Isa Miranda), who starred for Schnerk in The Bad Bad Lady, and Stewart Kirby (Wyngarde, 4.21: A Touch of Brimstone, of course). The former put me slightly in mind of Madeline Kahn in Mel Brooks' '70s movies, while Wyngarde embodies the louche old luvvie to a tee. The thing is, though, once we've been set up (Emma is lured into a trap, gassed in a taxi – Wyngarde is the driver, having earlier filmed her while posing as a clergyman – and awakes on set), the encounters with the duo, while Schnerk is surreptitiously filming her, rely on the quality of the "set pieces", which are variable and/or repetitive. There's a great opening number of the wedding of Mrs Emma Peel, as Kirby embodies a nightmare vicar, one part chinlessly ineffectual, the other vicious, pushing her down a hill in giddy slow motion. She rights herself only to see a hearse and "RIP Emma Peel" – the accompanying gravestones all bear her name.


Policeman:He's very good, I'll give him that. Specialises in corpses, does he?
Mrs PeelHe can't do anything else.

There's then a succession of altercations with Kirby: as Alexander to Emma’s "wicked little sister" (Syn's mother coshes an initially bemused Emma on the head after she makes short work of Alex), a bandit who "dies" bloodily to her gunshot in a western saloon, a WWI German brandishing a machine gun who causes her to hightail it, an American Indian with a tomahawk, and a gangster with a tommy gun. The latter kills David Lodge's policeman extra, whose presence is equivalent to that of Kenneth Colley and Ronald Lacey in the earlier and later house trap episodes, particularly so since he meets a nasty end. 


Lodge is a likeable presence (he previously played policemen in The Naked Truth and After the Fox, as well as Jelly Knight in Two Way Stretch), and as in those, we initially wonder if he's part of the plan, although it turns out not to be so ("Very well. I will write him into the script, and then write him out"). The policeman is needed, as there's never a danger of a true weird-out or surrealism in Epic, a point where you aren't quite clear what is going on; during the plod scenes, until Lodge reveals who he is, there's a welcome swing towards obscurity.


ZZ von SchnerkYou are not feeling the part, Mrs Peel.
Mrs PeelI have a feeling I will be feeling it.

The Wyngarde costuming & overacting business is pretty much exhausted by this point, as his confederate soldier proves, so it's as well that the scenery shifts for the grand climax, a Poe-esque affair complete with advancing pendulum (Emma is tied down, naturally) and Kirby and Syn – well, more Universal horror than Poe – planning to "experiment on living tissue".


Curiously, Emma doesn't appear to be taking it very seriously ("Gloat all you like, but just remember, I'm the star of this picture"), almost as if she expects to be rescued. Which she promptly is, by Steed, who aside from sussing who Kirby was (he recognises his voice from a Hamlet performance) has, like those other Cathy/Emma-centric episodes, been relegated to an offscreen role (as the pan to a "Meanwhile Back at the Ranch..." sign on set, before the cut to Emma's apartment, suggests). He's given some nice moments, though, such as posing as his stand-in's corpse and having Emma break a "fake" chair over his head.


SteedAnd luckily, I got here in the nick of time.
Mrs PeelOtherwise, did you enjoy the picture?
SteedOh, not bad. At least it had a happy ending.

I also rather liked that Steed removes Kirby's wig and glasses before plugging him. At one point, Emma, having been told "I will make you famous, Mrs Peel. I will make you a star… posthumously"is surrounded by an animated logo and elicits an MGM lion "Rowrrr". As inspired as these moments are, one rather wishes there were more of them, instead of Wyngarde’s frantic mugging.


SteedUnbridled passions… Why don’t we just spend the evening at home?
Mrs PeelWhy not? Let’s get back to my apartment.

The coda is easily the best of the season do far, reeling off a list of movies to see on a night out (I was Napoleon's Nanny), including a nod to Fellini (Lasagne 6 ½ ), a critique of the same ("I walked out three-eighths of the way through"), and reference to an old Kirby movie (Nights of Abandon), before opting to stay in. Except that they aren't in Emma’s flat; she kicks – breaks – the fourth – second – wall, as they're actually on the set where she awoke earlier. Which is obviously actually her standard set at Elstree (they missed a trick not having his place next door); this sleight also occurred with the street set outside her house earlier, only at night. Another neat touch is the break with Steed doing the summoning at the outset ("Sorry Steed, I'm needed – elsewhere"), culminating in him glancing at the camera. There's a lot of fun to be had with Epic then, but it isn't quite von Schnerk's, or Clemens', masterpiece. 



























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

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Nanobots aren’t just for Christmas.

No Time to Die (2021) (SPOILERS) You know a Bond movie is in trouble when it resorts to wholesale appropriation of lines and even the theme song from another in order to “boost” its emotional heft. That No Time to Die – which previewed its own title song a year and a half before its release to resoundingly underwhelmed response, Grammys aside – goes there is a damning indictment of its ability to eke out such audience investment in Daniel Craig’s final outing as James (less so as 007). As with Spectre , the first half of No Time to Die is, on the whole, more than decent Bond fare, before it once again gets bogged down in the quest for substance and depth from a character who, regardless of how dapper his gear is, resolutely resists such outfitting.

Maybe the dingo ate your baby.

Seinfeld 2.9: The Stranded The Premise George and Elaine are stranded at a party in Long Island, with a disgruntled hostess.

Big things have small beginnings.

Prometheus (2012) Post- Gladiator , Ridley Scott opted for an “All work and no pondering” approach to film making. The result has been the completion of as many movies since the turn of the Millennium as he directed in the previous twenty years. Now well into his seventies, he has experienced the most sustained period of success of his career.  For me, it’s also been easily the least-interesting period. All of them entirely competently made, but all displaying the machine-tooled approach that was previously more associated with his brother.

I’m giving you a choice. Either put on these glasses or start eating that trash can.

They Live * (1988) (SPOILERS) Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of They Live – I was a big fan of most things Carpenter at the time of its release – but the manner in which its reputation as a prophecy of (or insight into) “the way things are” has grown is a touch out of proportion with the picture’s relatively modest merits. Indeed, its feting rests almost entirely on the admittedly bravura sequence in which WWF-star-turned-movie-actor Roddy Piper, under the influence of a pair of sunglasses, first witnesses the pervasive influence of aliens among us who are sucking mankind dry. That, and the ludicrously genius sequence in which Roddy, full of transformative fervour, attempts to convince Keith David to don said sunglasses, for his own good. They Live should definitely be viewed by all, for their own good, but it’s only fair to point out that it doesn’t have the consistency of John Carpenter at his very, very best. Nada : I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick a

Ladies and gentlemen, this could be a cultural misunderstanding.

Mars Attacks! (1996) (SPOILERS) Ak. Akk-akk! Tim Burton’s gleefully ghoulish sci-fi was his first real taste of failure. Sure, there was Ed Wood , but that was cheap, critics loved it, and it won Oscars. Mars Attacks! was BIG, though, expected to do boffo business, and like more than a few other idiosyncratic spectaculars of the 1990s ( Last Action Hero , Hudson Hawk ) it bombed BIG. The effect on Burton was noticeable. He retreated into bankable propositions (the creative and critical nadir perhaps being Planet of the Apes , although I’d rate it much higher than the likes of Alice in Wonderland and Dumbo ) and put the brakes on his undisciplined goth energy. Something was lost. Mars Attacks! is far from entirely successful, but it finds the director let loose with his own playset and sensibility intact, apparently given the licence to do what he will.

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.

Isn’t sugar better than vinegar?

Femme Fatale (2002) (SPOILERS) Some have attempted to rescue Femme Fatale from the dumpster of critical rejection and audience indifference with the claim that it’s De Palma’s last great movie. It isn’t that by a long shot, but it might rank as the last truly unfettered display of his obsessions and sensibilities, complete with a ludicrous twist – so ludicrous, it’s either a stroke of genius or mile-long pile up.

It's something trying to get out.

The Owl Service (1969-70) I may have caught a glimpse of Channel 4’s repeat of  The Owl Service  in 1987, but not enough to stick in the mind. My formative experience was Alan Garner’s novel, which was read several years earlier during English lessons. Garner’s tapestry of magical-mythical storytelling had an impact, with its possession theme and blending of legend with the here and now. Garner depicts a Britain where past and present are mutable, and where there is no safety net of objective reality; life becomes a strange waking dream. His fantasy landscapes are both attractive and disturbing; the uncanny reaching out from the corners of the attic.  But I have to admit that the themes of class and discrimination went virtually unnoticed in the wake of such high weirdness. The other Garner books I read saw young protagonists transported to fantasy realms. The resonance of  The Owl Service  came from the fragmenting of the rural normal. When the author notes that he neve

Beer is for breakfast around here. Drink or begone.

Cocktail (1988) (SPOILERS) When Tarantino claims the 1980s (and 1950s) as the worst movie decade, I’m inclined to invite him to shut his butt down. But should he then flourish Cocktail as Exhibit A, I’d be forced to admit he has a point. Cocktail is a horrifying, malignant piece of dreck, a testament to the efficacy of persuasive star power on a blithely rapt and undiscerning audience. Not only is it morally vacuous, it’s dramatically inert. And it relies on Tom’s toothy charms to a degree that would have any sensitive soul rushed to the A&E suffering from toxic shock (Tom’s most recently displayed toothy charms will likely have even his staunchest devotees less than sure of themselves, however, as he metamorphoses into your favourite grandma). And it was a huge box office hit.

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991) (SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.