Skip to main content

High octane stuff, eh?

The Avengers
5.19: Dead Man’s Treasure

One of my very favourite episodes, such that I even like aspects others find profoundly irritating. What makes it such a hit? It might partly be a fondness for the comedy race/rally genre (Monte Carlo or Bust leads that small but distinguished pack) or possibly it’s the supremely jaunty Laurie Johnson incidental score that accompanies the jaunty jalopies. The summery scenery adds something too (Bowler Hats and Kinky Boots notes it had more location filming that any other British film series episode produced during the '60s); the concoction as a whole is irresistible.


Pretty much everything comes together in Dead Man's Treasure, courtesy of Sidney Hayers (his last of eight episodes) and writer Michael Winder (his only Avengers credit, he also contributed to Ace of Wands and Space: 1999, and furnished the screenplay for The Beast Must Die). Possibly a little too smoothly in the teaser, as mortally-wounded Bobby Danvers (Rio Fanning, Harker in Horror of Fang Rock, Captain Deral in Children of Auron) finds time to stop off at a country mansion, secrete a vital dispatch box in a treasure chest that happens to be the prize in an imminent rally and address an invite to Steed, take off before the villains catch him, and not even die until he reaches Steed's gaff and breathes some final words ("Red treasure chest"). Lucky, eh? Well, maybe not for him. 


AlexMrs Peel jumped you?
CarlYeah, you didn't see her. She's well and truly emancipated, that one.

The bad guys are familiar presences to the show, Edwin Richfield (1.6: Girl on a Trapeze, 2.9: The Removal Men, 3.17: The White Elephant, 4.6: Too Many Christmas Trees) as Alex, approximating a vaguely Eastern European accent, and Neil McCarthy (1.2: Brought to BookThe Mind of EvilThe Power of Kroll) as Carl, going au naturel, which suggests he may be some sort of traitorous dog. Much of the pleasure comes from seeing them cross and be double-crossed on their way to the prospective prize. This includes their throwing out some startlingly-handy caltrops (did they know they'd need them when they left that morning, or do they always come prepared?) The best hoisted-by-their-own-petards moment comes after Emma's race partner Mike (Norman Bowler) craftily changes the signpost to Swingingdale; when they arrive, Alex and Carl change the signpost back, heading off in the wrong direction with Steed showing up soon after to follow the sign, now pointing the right way. 


MikeThe final clue, Mrs Peel. You will tell me the final clue!

Splitting up Steed and Emma pays dividends too. Bowler's very good as the charming "Major Mike Coulbourne", giving off the air of a proto-Gambit. Until, that is, he's revealed as an opportunistic third party vying for the dispatch box, and a particularly ruthless one at that. It’s an unlikely and too-convenient coincidence that finds him happen upon two of the opposition trailing Steed and Emma and decide there had to be something in it for him as a result.


The climactic sequence, in which Emma is rigged up to a car simulator – courtesy of Arthur Lowe’s Sir George, evidently enjoying a little stimulus during his runabouts; he earlier bought the farm when Carl changed the controls – and in danger of death by electrocution if she veers off the virtual track, is memorable and commendably tense.


PennyI'm absolutely panting at the leash.

Steed is paired with Penny (Valerie Van Ost, Carry On…veteran and future victim of The Satanic Rites of Dracula), one of the series' occasional frightfully posh totties who enjoy a flirtation with Steed. She starts as she means to go on, late and irrepressibly upbeat ("Here, terribly sorry I'm late, darlings, I had such trouble with my clutch control"), launching into an anecdote about how Steed reminds her of her dear late fiancé David ("Poor dear fell into a buzz saw. He was terribly fond of carpentry"). 


PennyYes, I've always been fascinated by men of action. Men with get up and go.
SteedSounds like most of them got up and went.
PennyYes, I have had rather a run of bad luck.

A succession of such reminiscences follow (Paul, who enjoyed surveying mountains by air in a helicopter and came down again very rapidly; cross-channel swimmer Harold, who came a cropper attempting to swim both ways underwater but had no sense of direction; Albert, always blowing things up but absent-mindedly forgetting to get off the bridge he was detonating; bobsleighing Henry, who should really have worn a crash helmet) culminating in her gushing to Steed "I don't want to lose you too": "You’re right, let's just stay good friends" he responds gallantly. 


Scatter-brained as Penny is, including hitting Steed on the head while aiming for Carl and proving a disaster at bringing Emma's simulator to a standstill, she does admittedly sock Carl one with a horseshoe first time, and also succeeds in sabotaging their car for the good of the race ("I sugared their petrol… Cars are sort of horses"). And I love the way she makes off with the prize money ("Oh look. Oh super!") Perhaps surprisingly the Carry On… actress isn’t the subject of the following exchange:

Sir GeorgeMr Steed. Can't recall where it as we met.
SteedMay I also introduce Mrs Emma Peel.
Mrs PeelHow do you do.
Sir GeorgeHow do you do, my dear.
Steed: (referring to the car) What a beauty.
Sir GeorgeOh, I agree.
SteedMarvellous chassis.
Sir GeorgeWell, I wouldn’t be quite so bold as to say that. But er…
SteedHer suspension’s pretty complex, too.
Sir George: (realising) Eh? Oh, oh that.

  
Fnar. Lowe is pitch perfect, of course, even if he's ushered off stage rather too quickly. Ivor Dean (2.9: The Removal Men) is also amusing as long-suffering butler Bates, taking on Sir George's umpiring responsibilities before getting clobbered by Mike ("Have you ever woken up, sir, and realised it just wasn’t going to be one of your days?") 


Very silly coda, in which Steed’s electric razor exhibits an "exceptionally powerful motor" and Emma discovers what reverse does. Dead Man's Treasure gets a relatively rare full marks: effortless, frivolous and funny, it shows off the colour series at its very best.




















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.

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.

So the devil's child will rise from the world of politics.

The Omen (1976) (SPOILERS) The coming of the Antichrist is an evergreen; his incarnation, or the reveal thereof, is always just round the corner, and he can always be definitively identified in any given age through a spot of judiciously subjective interpretation of The Book of Revelation , or Nostradamus. Probably nothing did more for the subject in the current era, in terms of making it part of popular culture, than The Omen . That’s irrespective of the movie’s quality, of course. Which, it has to be admitted, is not on the same level as earlier demonic forebears Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist .

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.

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

These are not soda cans you asked me to get for you.

The Devil’s Own (1997) (SPOILERS) Naturally, a Hollywood movie taking the Troubles as a backdrop is sure to encounter difficulties. It’s the push-pull of wanting to make a big meaningful statement about something weighty, sobering and significant in the real world and bottling it when it comes to the messy intricacies of the same. So inevitably, the results invariably tend to the facile and trite. I’m entirely sure The Devil’s Own would have floundered even if Harrison Ford hadn’t come on board and demanded rewrites, but as it is, the finished movie packs a lot of talent to largely redundant end.

I think I’m Pablo Picasso!

Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021) (SPOILERS) I get the impression that, whatever it is stalwart Venom fans want from a Venom movie, this iteration isn’t it. The highlight here for me is absolutely the wacky, love-hate, buddy-movie antics of Tom Hardy and his symbiote alter. That was the best part of the original, before it locked into plot “progression” and teetered towards a climax where one CGI monster with gnarly teeth had at another CGI monster with gnarly teeth. And so it is for Venom: Let There Be Carnage . But cutting quicker to the chase.