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

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

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…

I'm reliable, I'm a very good listener, and I'm extremely funny.

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)
(SPOILERS) When I wrote my 23 to see in 2019, I speculated that James Cameron might be purposefully giving his hand-me-downs to lesser talents because he hubristically didn’t want anyone making a movie that was within a spit of the proficiency we’ve come to expect from him. Certainly, Robert Rodriguez and Tim Miller are leagues beneath Kathryn Bigelow, Jimbo’s former spouse and director of his Strange Days screenplay. Miller’s no slouch when it comes to action – which is what these movies are all about, let’s face it – but neither is he a craftsman, so all those reviews attesting that Terminator: Dark Fate is the best in the franchise since Terminator 2: Judgment Day may be right, but there’s a considerable gulf between the first sequel (which I’m not that big a fan of) and this retcon sequel to that sequel.

This is very cruel, Oskar. You're giving them hope. You shouldn't do that.

Schindler’s List (1993)
(SPOILERS) Such is the status of Schindler’s List, it all but defies criticism; it’s the worthiest of all the many worthy Best Picture Oscar winners, a film noble of purpose and sensitive in the treatment and depiction of the Holocaust as the backdrop to one man’s redemption. There is much to admire in Steven Spielberg’s film. But it is still a Steven Spielberg film. From a director whose driving impulse is the manufacture of popcorn entertainments, not intellectual introspection. Which means it’s a film that, for all its commendable features, is made to manipulate its audience in the manner of any of his “lesser” genre offerings. One’s mileage doubtless varies on this, but for me there are times during this, his crowning achievement, where the berg gets in the way of telling the most respectful version of this story by simple dint of being the berg. But then, to a great or lesser extent, this is true of almost all, if not all, his prestige pictures.

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…

This dog is my Patty Hearst.

Seven Psychopaths (2012)
Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges is one of my favourite films of the past decade, hilarious and profound in equal measure. His follow-up may lack Bruges’ emotional through line, and thus its resonance, but in its own way Seven Psychopaths is just as perfectly formed.

We’re Americans. We read your emails.

Domino (2019)
(SPOILERS) Brian De Palma essentially appears to have disowned his unhappy latest motion picture experience (“I never experienced such a horrible movie set”). He opined that he came in on a script that wasn’t of his own devising (by Petter Skavlan of Kon-Tiki) and did his failing best to apply his unique vision to it. And you can see that vision, occasionally, but more than that you can see unaccustomed cheapness and lacklustre material that likely wouldn’t play no matter how much cash was thrown at it.

There’s nothing stock about a stock car.

Days of Thunder (1990)
(SPOILERS) The summer of 1990 was beset with box office underperformers. Sure-thing sequels – Another 48Hrs, Robocop 2, Gremlins 2: The New Batch, The Exorcist III, even Back to the Future Part III – either belly flopped or failed to hit the hoped for highs, while franchise hopefuls – Dick Tracy, Arachnophobia – most certainly did not ascend to the stratospheric levels of the previous year’s Batman. Even the big hitters, Total Recall and Die Hard 2: Die Harder, were somewhat offset by costing a fortune in the first place. Price-tag-wise, Days of Thunder, a thematic sequel to the phenomenon that was Top Gun, was in their category. Business-wise, it was definitely in the former. Tom Cruise didn’t quite suffer his first misfire since Legend – he’d made charmed choices ever since playing Maverick – but it was a close-run thing.

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

You ever heard the saying, “Don’t rob the bank across from the diner that has the best donuts in three counties”?

2 Guns (2013)
(SPOILERS) Denzel Washington is such a reliable performer, that it can get a bit boring. You end up knowing every gesture or inflection in advance, whether he’s playing a good guy or a bad guy. And his films are generally at least half decent, so you end up seeing them. Even in Flight (or perhaps especially in Flight; just watch him chugging down that vodka) where he’s giving it his Oscar-nominatable best, he seems too familiar. I think it may be because he’s an actor who is more effective the less he does. In 2 Guns he’s not doing less, but sometimes it seems like it. That’s because the last person I’d ever expect blows him off the screen; Mark Wahlberg.