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

Who’s got the Figgy Port?

Loki (2021) (SPOILERS) Can something be of redeemable value and shot through with woke (the answer is: Mad Max: Fury Road )? The two attributes certainly sound essentially irreconcilable, and Loki ’s tendencies – obviously, with new improved super-progressive Kevin Feige touting Disney’s uber-agenda – undeniably get in the way of what might have been a top-tier MCU entry from realising its full potential. But there are nevertheless solid bursts of highly engaging storytelling in the mix here, for all its less cherishable motivations. It also boasts an effortlessly commanding lead performance from Tom Hiddleston; that alone puts Loki head and shoulders above the other limited series thus far.

Here’s Bloody Justice for you.

Laughter in Paradise (1951) (SPOILERS) The beginning of a comedic run for director-producer Mario Zampa that spanned much of the 1950s, invariably aided by writers Michael Pertwee and Jack Davies (the latter went on to pen a spate of Norman Wisdom pictures including The Early Bird , and also comedy rally classic Monte Carlo or Bust! ) As usual with these Pertwee jaunts, Laughter in Paradise boasts a sparky premise – renowned practical joker bequeaths a fortune to four relatives, on condition they complete selected tasks that tickle him – and more than enough resultant situational humour.

You nicknamed my daughter after the Loch Ness Monster?

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 (2012) The final finale of the Twilight saga, in which pig-boy Jacob tells Bella that, “No, it's not like that at all!” after she accuses him of being a paedo. But then she comes around to his viewpoint, doubtless displaying the kind of denial many parents did who let their kids spend time with Jimmy Savile or Gary Glitter during the ‘70s. It's lucky little Renesmee will be an adult by the age of seven, right? Right... Jacob even jokes that he should start calling Edward, “Dad”. And all the while they smile and smile.

As in the hokey kids’ show guy?

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (2019) (SPOILERS) I don’t think Mr Rogers could have been any creepier had Kevin Spacey played him. It isn’t just the baggage Tom Hanks brings, and whether or not he’s the adrenochrome lord to the stars and/or in Guantanamo and/or dead and/or going to make a perfectly dreadful Colonel Tom Parker and an equally awful Geppetto; it’s that his performance is so constipated and mannered an imitation of Mr Rogers’ genuineness that this “biopic” takes on a fundamentally sinister turn. His every scene with a youngster isn’t so much exuding benevolent empathy as suggestive of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ’s Child Catcher let loose in a TV studio (and again, this bodes well for Geppetto). Extend that to A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood ’s conceit, that Mr Rogers’ life is one of a sociopathic shrink milking angst from his victims/patients in order to get some kind of satiating high – a bit like a rejuvenating drug, on that score – and you have a deeply unsettli

It’ll be like living in the top drawer of a glass box.

Someone’s Watching Me! (1978) (SPOILERS) The first of a pair of TV movies John Carpenter directed in the 1970s, but Someone’s Watching Me! is more affiliated, in genre terms, to his breakout hit ( Halloween ) and reasonably successful writing job ( The Eyes of Laura Mars ) of the same year than the also-small-screen Elvis . Carpenter wrote a slew of gun-for-hire scripts during this period – some of which went on to see the twilight of day during the 1990s – so directing Someone’s Watching Me! was not a given. It’s well-enough made and has its moments of suspense, but you sorely miss a signature Carpenter theme – it was by Harry Sukman, his penultimate work, the final being Salem’s Lot – and it really does feel very TV movie-ish.

What's a movie star need a rocket for anyway?

The Rocketeer (1991) (SPOILERS) The Rocketeer has a fantastic poster. One of the best of the last thirty years (and while that may seem like faint praise, what with poster design being a dying art – I’m looking at you Marvel, or Amazon and the recent The Tomorrow War – it isn’t meant to be). The movie itself, however, tends towards stodge. Unremarkable pictures with a wide/cult fanbase, conditioned by childhood nostalgia, are ten-a-penny – Willow for example – and in this case, there was also a reasonably warm critical reception. But such an embrace can’t alter that Joe Johnston makes an inveterately bland, tepid movie director. His “feel” for period here got him The First Avenger: Captain America gig, a bland, tepid movie tending towards stodge. So at least he’s consistent.

I'm offering you a half-share in the universe.

Doctor Who Season 8 – Worst to Best I’m not sure I’d watched Season Eight chronologically before. While I have no hesitation in placing it as the second-best Pertwee season, based on its stories, I’m not sure it pays the same dividends watched as a unit. Simply, there’s too much Master, even as Roger Delgado never gets boring to watch and the stories themselves offer sufficient variety. His presence, turning up like clockwork, is inevitably repetitive. There were no particular revelatory reassessments resulting from this visit, then, except that, taken together – and as The Directing Route extra on the Blu-ray set highlights – it’s often much more visually inventive than what would follow. And that Michael Ferguson should probably have been on permanent attachment throughout this era.

Somewhere out there is a lady who I think will never be a nun.

The Sound of Music (1965) (SPOILERS) One of the most successful movies ever made – and the most successful musical – The Sound of Music has earned probably quite enough unfiltered adulation over the years to drown out the dissenting voices, those that denounce it as an inveterately saccharine, hollow confection warranting no truck. It’s certainly true that there are impossibly nice and wholesome elements here, from Julie Andrews’ career-dooming stereotype governess to the seven sonorous children more than willing to dress up in old curtains and join her gallivanting troupe. Whether the consequence is something insidious in its infectious spirit is debatable, but I’ll admit that it manages to ensnare me. I don’t think I’d seen the movie in its entirety since I was a kid, and maybe that formativeness is a key brainwashing facet of its appeal, but it retains its essential lustre just the same.

I’m just glad Will Smith isn’t alive to see this.

The Tomorrow War (2021) (SPOILERS). Not so much tomorrow as yesterday. There’s a strong sense of déjà vu watching The Tomorrow War , so doggedly derivative is it of every time-travel/alien war/apocalyptic sci-fi movie of the past forty years. Not helping it stand out from the pack are doughy lead Chris Pratt, damned to look forever on the beefy side no matter how ripped he is and lacking the chops or gravitas for straight roles, and debut live-action director Chris McKay, who manages to deliver the goods in a serviceably anonymous fashion.

Damn prairie dog burrow!

Tremors (1990) (SPOILERS) I suspect the reason the horror comedy – or the sci-fi comedy, come to that – doesn’t tend to be the slam-dunk goldmine many assume it must be, is because it takes a certain sensibility to do it right. Everyone isn’t a Joe Dante or Sam Raimi, or a John Landis, John Carpenter, Edgar Wright, Christopher Landon or even a Peter Jackson or Tim Burton, and the genre is littered with financial failures, some of them very good failures (and a good number of them from the names mentioned). Tremors was one, only proving a hit on video (hence six sequels at last count). It also failed to make Ron Underwood a directing legend.