Skip to main content

Welcome, to Nightmare Alley.

The Avengers
17: Death’s Door

By this point, it goes without saying that, with Sidney Hayers calling the shots, Death's Door is very stylish, which is an enormous boon to the dream sequences, taking a conscious leaf out of Spellbound's book for how to do these things; if Too Many Christmas Trees previously plundered the manipulated mental state in not wholly dissimilar fashion, Philip Levene ensures this one keeps ticking along, with a proper howdunnit for Steed and Emma to solve.


Sir AndrewI can't go in. If I do, I'll be killed.

The British delegates at a vital European peace conference (more than that, a United Europe was Sir Andrew's idea!) are getting cold feet, refusing to enter the all-important Conference Room. First is Sir Andrew (Clifford Boyd), beset by premonitory dreams, minor details of the day that come true – such as Steed needing to be careful on Spout Hill, a man with a missing button, and a lion – and which suggest, if they are correct, the death foretold will be also. The lion (made of marble) is revealed after Sir Andrew has been hit by a car, having taken off in terror at the prospect of his demise. 


Next, it's the turn of his replacement, Lord Melford (Allan Cuthbertson, 1.24: The Deadly Air, 4.5: Death at Bargain Prices) to get cold feet, seeing visions of a crashing chandelier spelling curtains when he enters the room. 


Hayers conjures some particularly memorable imagery, using varying frame rates and the blank expanse of the studio/warehouse set to create a stark impression; mobs of faceless reporters congregate around Melford, there’s an intrusive moustachioed man greeting him at the door, and press attaché Stapley (William Lucas, Range in Frontios) revealing a cut to his cheek. Announcements of "He's dead. Melford’s dead" further add to the barrage. And the ticking off of events - lift out of order, truck crate, cyclist swerving, machine guns, pneumatic drills – in real life add to the unsettling effect. 


SteedThe incidents were rigged to fit your dream.
MelfordAnd what about the dream itself? How could you rig a dream?Unless you know a way of getting into a man's mind?

With any elaborate ruse such as this, the more precision-engineered it has to be, the less ultimately believable it usually is. So, if the reveal isn't especially likely – there’s a warehouse full of props ("Welcome, to Nightmare Alley") inflicted upon Melford in a susceptible, drug-induced state – it just about gets a pass (although, both Steed and Emma finding their way to it thanks to goons going around with key chains giving the address is pretty unforgivable). One might suggest Stapley really should have been more careful than to place himself in a dream, since the realisation they are faked can lead to only one possible conclusion, but I guess one can put that down to villainous hubris. 


SteedThey manifest a dream out of reality, then still using reality, they started to make the dream come true. To scare you, to stop you ever going through that conference room door.

As with the previous episode, a series more generally identified for its frivolously breezy/whacky qualities by this point marks itself out with an excellent suspense sequence halfway through an episode, as Steed tracks down Albert Becker (Marne Maitlan), an official observer from the Eastern bloc – the moustachioed man from Melford’s dream – and promptly becomes the subject of his target practice. It's an extended piece, played out almost in real time, as Becker closes in on the Avenger hiding behind fencing, Steed using practical, MacGyver ingenuity to devise a means for Becker's demise.


Mrs PeelYou know my wavelength?
SteedI do indeed.

Also appearing are Dr Evans (Paul Dawkins, 1.17: Death on the Slipway, 3.5: Death a La Carte), Peter Thomas (4.18: Small Game for Big HuntersThe Savages). Alas, ABC decreed no more "We're neededs" or two-line intros from this point, the spoilsports (something about ad breaks), and that the more overt wackiness on the rise be toned down, but we still have the codas, this time with Emma predicting a night out at the theatre ("You must have second sight. I did get a couple of tickets"), but only because she swiped Steed's tickets ("Shall we go? I’d hate to miss the curtain").






















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.

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

You guys sure like watermelon.

The Irishman aka I Heard You Paint Houses (2019)
(SPOILERS) Perhaps, if Martin Scorsese hadn’t been so opposed to the idea of Marvel movies constituting cinema, The Irishman would have been a better film. It’s a decent film, assuredly. A respectable film, definitely. But it’s very far from being classic. And a significant part of that is down to the usually assured director fumbling the execution. Or rather, the realisation. I don’t know what kind of crazy pills the ranks of revered critics have been taking so as to recite as one the mantra that you quickly get used to the de-aging effects so intrinsic to its telling – as Empire magazine put it, “you soon… fuggadaboutit” – but you don’t. There was no point during The Irishman that I was other than entirely, regrettably conscious that a 75-year-old man was playing the title character. Except when he was playing a 75-year-old man.

So you want me to be half-monk, half-hitman.

Casino Royale (2006)
(SPOILERS) Despite the doubts and trepidation from devotees (too blonde, uncouth etc.) that greeted Daniel Craig’s casting as Bond, and the highly cynical and low-inspiration route taken by Eon in looking to Jason Bourne's example to reboot a series that had reached a nadir with Die Another Day, Casino Royale ends up getting an enormous amount right. If anything, its failure is that it doesn’t push far enough, so successful is it in disarming itself of the overblown set pieces and perfunctory plotting that characterise the series (even at its best), elements that would resurge with unabated gusto in subsequent Craig excursions.

For the majority of its first two hours, Casino Royale is top-flight entertainment, with returning director Martin Campbell managing to exceed his excellent work reformatting Bond for the ‘90s. That the weakest sequence (still good, mind) prior to the finale is a traditional “big” (but not too big) action set piece involving an attempt to…

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…

This popularity of yours. Is there a trick to it?

The Two Popes (2019)
(SPOILERS) Ricky Gervais’ Golden Globes joke, in which he dropped The Two Popes onto a list of the year’s films about paedophiles, rather preceded the picture’s Oscar prospects (three nominations), but also rather encapsulated the conversation currently synonymous with the forever tainted Roman Catholic church; it’s the first thing anyone thinks of. And let’s face it, Jonathan Pryce’s unamused response to the gag could have been similarly reserved for the fate of his respected but neglected film. More people will have heard Ricky’s joke than will surely ever see the movie. Which, aside from a couple of solid lead performances, probably isn’t such an omission.

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.

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.

The more you drive, the less intelligent you are.

Look, the last time I was told the Germans had gone, it didn't end well.

1917 (2019)
(SPOILERS) When I first heard the premise of Sam Mendes’ Oscar-bait World War I movie – co-produced by Amblin Partners, as Spielberg just loves his sentimental war carnage – my first response was that it sounded highly contrived, and that I’d like to know how, precisely, the story Mendes’ granddad told him would bear any relation to the events he’d be depicting. And just why he felt it would be appropriate to honour his relative’s memory via a one-shot gimmick. None of that has gone away on seeing the film. It’s a technical marvel, and Roger Deakins’ cinematography is, as you’d expect, superlative, but that mastery rather underlines that 1917 is all technique, that when it’s over and you get a chance to draw your breath, the experience feels a little hollow, a little cynical and highly calculated, and leaves you wondering what, if anything, Mendes was really trying to achieve, beyond an edge-of-the-seat (near enough) first-person actioner.