Skip to main content

The simple fact is, your killer is in your midst. Your killer is one of you.

The Avengers
5.12: The Superlative Seven

I’ve always rather liked this one, basic as it is in premise. If the title consciously evokes The Magnificent Seven, to flippant effect, the content is Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, but played out with titans of their respective crafts – including John Steed, naturally – encountering diminishing returns. It also boasts a cast of soon-to-be-famous types (Charlotte Rampling, Brian Blessed, Donald Sutherland), and the return of one John Hollis (2.16: Warlock, 4.7: The Cybernauts). Kanwitch ROCKS!


JesselYou are convinced?
KanwitchPartially convinced.
JesselI can create super beings. It really works. 
KanwitchIf your protégée beats all six of them, then you shall have all the financing you want. If.

The Superlative Seven saw Brian Clemens redressing Dressed to Kill, with its costume party setting, but if it inevitably suffers from comparison to that episode, it avoids feeling like an unwarranted retread the way others have (The Correct Way to Kill). Still, we know from the start roughly what’s going on in this one; it's the specifics of the perpetrator(s) that are obscure, and it's especially gratifying that this turns out to be a scam on the part of Jessel (Sutherland) to sell his super soldiers to Kanwitch (who, as noted, rocks). 


The assassins obviously have some skillz, as seen in the opening when Kanwitch's champion (Terry Plummer) is dispatched, so I guess Jessel would have delivered something, if Kanwitch had taken the bait ("With your country's financial assistance, I can make an army of assassins"). Or maybe he would just have taken the money and run. I'm not sure you’d have figured Sutherland was destined for greatness from this, but it's always interesting to see him pre-Hawkeye Pierce.


KanwitchThe simple fact is, your killer is in your midst. Your killer is one of you.

Everyone – barring Emma, who drops by later – is bundled into a plane that turns out to be on automatic pilot, all having been given a different host’s name (Steed is under the illusion his invitation is from Sir George Robinson – "He's always going up the Amazon and getting lost"). It’s an "acid test"; these experts in their own manner, with records of courage and fortitude, are to fight one of Jessel's unbeatable opponents, an expert in all forms of combat; their chances of survival will depend on their own individual alertness and ingenuity against a killer among them.

Their ranks consist of: 


Jason Wade (James Maxwell, 3.23: The Outside-In Man) as two-faced Janus, assumed to be a big game hunter (there seem to be a few of those in The Avengers) but actually admits he's the offender off the bat ("I track things down, Mr Steed. And then, I dispatch them as quickly as possible"). He appears to be the fourth man down (they all end up in upright coffins), but it turns out he's faking it. And when he does buy the farm (Macnee's stunt double puts up his best fighting moves yet, before lobbing a spear into Wade's chest), he's soon resurrected, on account of his twin taking his place (the costumes are mostly obvious reflections of the wearer here, barring Steed's 19thcentury general and Dayton's executioner).


Max Hardy (Hugh Manning, 4.16: The Thirteenth Hole) dressed as a WWI German officer, runs a fencing school, and is the third slain (stabbed in a sword fight).


(Camp) Freddie Richards (Leon Greene) "claims to be the world’s strongest man" (you wouldn't know it to look at him) and is dressed as a fancy-dress strong man; he succumbs first (a broken back).


Joe Smith (Gary Hope, 1.25: Change of Bait, 3.12: November Five) is a matador dressed as a matador ("the best of all British bullfighters" – how many can there be?) He's done in second, warding off an oncoming cart before, in particularly idiotic fashion, getting lanced with a pitchfork.


Mark Dayton (Blessed) comes on dressed as executioner (complete, initially, with concealing hood) and is expert in unarmed combat. Dayton's the fourth to pop his clogs (if you don't include Wade, and on that basis is the final innocent party to go down). Booming Brian is particularly good at making Dayton’s suspicion of Steed aggressively persecuting.


HannahI'm Wilde.
SteedAre you? Every minute of the day?

Mrs Hannah Wilde (Rampling) is clad as a cowgirl and is an expert shot, having represented Britain. She doesn't get killed, because killing a girl would be unsporting. But she does hit Steed on the head, very unsportingly:

Mrs PeelWhere is Steed?
HannahBack at the house. I'm afraid I clobbered him.
Mrs PeelNaughty. He won't like that.


Obviously, they don't do the sensible thing of everyone sticking together, or the masterplan would collapse in upon itself, but the twist of the double is effective, and the reliable Sidney Hayers makes the most of the studio setting such that it adds rather than detracts from the claustrophobic atmosphere.


Dayton:What about you? What sets you out from the crowd?
Steed: (straightening Richards’ bent poker) Oh, maybe the way I hold my umbrella.

Like Epic, this gives Rigg a break to focus on Steed, and he's agreeably unflappable at the outset ("Just getting myself a drink, to ease the tension"), finishing off one over-confident Wade ("What shall it be for you, then? The bullet, the garrotte, the knife perhaps?") before succumbing to Wilde's gun butt. He also demolishes Jessel with a candlestick after Hannah has shot the gun from his hand, making Steed more into brute force and getting his hands dirty than we've seen for quite a while.


The opening features a shamelessly interior piece of woodland where Steed is (plastic) duck shooting (with his name on it), before Emma quacks and tells him "You're needed"; we're back there for the coda, as Emma blasts teddies, from the sky, one of which contains a bottle of champers, naturally. So she's obliged to bring down a couple of glasses to accompany it.



















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

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

We live in a twilight world.

Tenet (2020)
(SPOILERS) I’ve endured a fair few confusingly-executed action sequences in movies – more than enough, actually – but I don’t think I’ve previously had the odd experience of being on the edge of my seat during one while simultaneously failing to understand its objectives and how those objectives are being attempted. Which happened a few times during Tenet. If I stroll over to the Wiki page and read the plot synopsis, it is fairly explicable (fairly) but as a first dive into this Christopher Nolan film, I frequently found it, if not impenetrable, then most definitely opaque.

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 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.

Anything can happen in Little Storping. Anything at all.

The Avengers 2.22: Murdersville
Brian Clemens' witty take on village life gone bad is one of the highlights of the fifth season. Inspired by Bad Day at Black Rock, one wonders how much Murdersville's premise of unsettling impulses lurking beneath an idyllic surface were set to influence both Straw Dogs and The Wicker Mana few years later (one could also suggest it premeditates the brand of backwoods horrors soon to be found in American cinema from the likes of Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper).

The protocol actually says that most Tersies will say this has to be a dream.

Jupiter Ascending (2015)
(SPOILERS) The Wachowski siblings’ wildly patchy career continues apace. They bespoiled a great thing with The Matrix sequels (I liked the first, not the second), misfired with Speed Racer (bubble-gum visuals aside, hijinks and comedy ain’t their forte) and recently delivered the Marmite Sense8 for Netflix (I was somewhere in between on it). Their only slam-dunk since The Matrix put them on the movie map is Cloud Atlas, and even that’s a case of rising above its limitations (mostly prosthetic-based). Jupiter Ascending, their latest cinema outing and first stab at space opera, elevates their lesser works by default, however. It manages to be tone deaf in all the areas that count, and sadly fetches up at the bottom of their filmography pile.

This is a case where the roundly damning verdicts have sadly been largely on the ball. What’s most baffling about the picture is that, after a reasonably engaging set-up, it determinedly bores the pants off you. I haven’t enco…

Seems silly, doesn't it? A wedding. Given everything that's going on.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I (2010)
(SPOILERS) What’s good in the first part of the dubiously split (of course it was done for the art) final instalment in the Harry Potter saga is very good, let down somewhat by decisions to include material that would otherwise have been rightly excised and the sometimes-meandering travelogue. Even there, aspects of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I can be quite rewarding, taking on the tone of an apocalyptic ‘70s aftermath movie or episode of Survivors (the original version), as our teenage heroes (some now twentysomethings) sleep rough, squabble, and try to salvage a plan. The main problem is that the frequently strong material requires a robust structure to get the best from it.

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…

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.

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…

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989)
(SPOILERS) There’s Jaws, there’s Star Wars, and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy, to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “mainly boring”.

Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the system when Burton did it (even…