Skip to main content

Looks as though vaudeville may have just decided to fight back.

The Avengers
6.7: Look – (Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One) But There Were These Two Fellers…

Well, it took a while, but The Avengers finally rediscovers the sparkle of the best Rigg era episodes thanks to a Dennis Spooner teleplay (his first credit since the first season), one that spreads itself just about as broadly as it’s possible for the show to go – Look – (Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One) But There Were These Two Fellers… was purportedly rejected for the Rigg run for just that reason – but which is also nigh on perfect in pace, structure and characterisation. And guest spots.


Mr Punch: You carelessly left your makeup at the scene of the crime.
Maxie Martin: Oh, no I didn’t…

Like Epic, also directed by James Hill, this being his final work for the show, Look – (Stop Me...) elicits polarising opinions, although I find it much more difficult to appreciate how this one could leave someone cold. There’s just too much to love here. As such, it was a crying shame Spooner wasn’t called upon to bring similar comedic gusto to his work on The New Avengers (his most notable Doctor Who contributions, on which he served as script editor, also exhibits the flair that comes from being a former stand-up comic and gag writer).


Tara: Cupid. Who’s he?
Steed: What’s it. In the event of war, where would the government go?
Tara: The Moon?
Steed: Underground.

There’s such surfeit of business here, it doesn’t matter too much that little circumspection is required to work out the prime suspect; there have been arguments at the Caritol Land and Development Corporation over the fulfilment of the contract for Project CUPID (Cabinet Underground Premises in Depth), providing a refuge for government in the event of war, and someone is bumping off members of the board. Since the most recognisable face is John Woodvine’s Seagrave, we naturally assume it’s him. And lo and behold. His motivation is something about selling out to a foreign power and sabotaging the project. 


Most disappointing is that it seems it was John Styles rather than Woodvine who performed the Punch and Judy, itself rather recalling the ringleader vent’s doll issuing orders in 4.14: How to Succeed… at Murder (the motivation of the variety acts for following said instructions is that Caritol has been buying up and knocking down theatres; Caritol also owns Vauda Villa, where they congregate).


Mr Punch: Are you sure?
Maxie Martin: Absolutely sure. There was no one about. It was like the first house on a Monday.
Jennings: (HONK)
Maxie Martin: A wet Monday.
Jennings: (HONK HONK)

Doing the dirty deeds are Merry Maxie Martin (Jimmy Jewel, who had his own variety act) and Jennings (magician Julian Chagrin; Bowler Hats and Kinky Boots notes that Thorson subsequently became his assistant for a time), dressed in full clown regalia and dancing “off stage” with music hall accompaniment. 


Victims include Sir Jeremy Broadfoot (Richard Young) in the teaser, shot for real after the first blast produces only a flag with "BANG!" on it, the Hon Thomas Randolph Cleghorn (Bill Shine) being hit over the head and falling into a lake while on a duck hunting expedition (Jennings impersonating a duck), and most creative of all, poor Lord Dessington (William Kendall) having the rug pulled from under him and plummeting out of window many stories up.


Dessington: I don’t suppose you were ever in the army.
Tara: No.
Dessington: Of course not. Middle East – lots of sand. I was in charge of camels. I don’t suppose you...
Tara: I was once in North Alaska.
Dessington: North Alaska? No camels in North Alaska.
Tara: Oh, I believe it’s one of the main features of the place.
Dessington: What is?
Tara: The absence of camels.

Dessington’s death is preceded by a particularly likeable little sequence as the socially awkward Lord attempts to find something in common with bodyguard Tara, but comes up short until they’re able to agree about music.


Tara: Can I come in?
Rugman: Come in?
Tara: Yes.
Rugman: It’s most unusual.
Tara: You are a public office.
Rugman: Yes, that’s the trouble.

Further delights come with the episode’s two principal comic attractions, the first being future Python John Cleese as Marcus Rugman, who records clowns’ copyrighted makeup on eggs (this element is based on fact, it seems) and is rather pained to have Tara intrude upon him (“You’ve read the notice? You must be very very careful”). Thorson found Cleese very funny, it seems, but this was, to be fair, a good twenty years before he gave up that particular goal in life. Being able to identify the clowns responsible, he meets an untimely demise.


Steed: Bradley Marler?
Marler: Well, if I’m not Bradley Marler, I’m having a great time with his wife. Great time with his wife. Ha-ha. That was a joke! I’m not even married. Great time…

Then there’s Bernard Cribbins (4.19: The Girl from Auntie) as Bradley Marler, with the better scene-stealing role as a gag writer who also has a history with the assassins. Cribbins is infectiously funny here, laughing away as he types with a room full of discarded, crumpled jokes; even when he’s been offed (stabbed) he has the wherewithal to call Steed and include a chuckle (“I don’t know what you’re going to make of this – hee – but they killed me”). He even has a contented expression on his face once expired.


Steed: There was a young lady from Gloucester. She met a young…

Our regulars are on fine form. There’s less of the playing them up as a couple that’s so squirm-inducing elsewhere (Tara leans coquettishly on Steed at one point, but the dinner date coda is played for laughs, even if dissolute.com feels the need to point out Tara’s “white satin fuck-me minidress and black choker” in its otherwise diligent plot summary), and each is given good material, at least until Tara is kidnapped. At one point they’re in a car examining a walking stick from the crime scene that becomes “One bunch of… bananas? It was a walking stick when I found it” and also turns into a sword, daffodils and a hat. Steed is stuck looking through papers at Bradley’s, occasionally overturning a blue joke, before finding the Vauda Villa address and arriving there himself as “Gentleman Jack. A smile a song and an umbrella”.


Maxie Martin: Young man, you're sitting on my washing.

Their subsequent dispatching of the villains, meanwhile, includes Tara searching a magician’s cabinet for Jennings, and Maxie embarking on a dazzling array of quick changes as Steed thumps him each time (ballerina, cowboy, boxer, pirate, Cyrano); something about this put me in mind of Michael Keaton facing Jack Nicholson's Joker in Batman, where he’d laugh in response to any degree of pummelling. 


Also of note; when Steed bashes a ventriloquist, he’s sure to hit his doll too. And the Vauda Villa entourage includes Talfryn Thomas (4.10: A Surfeit of H₂O)  as a particularly unsettling showman (“Let me have her, Mr Punch… It’s me, Fiery Frederick” before telling Tara she’ll be “the very first woman to be burnt in half”) while Steed runs into Merlin (Robert James of 1.1: Hot Snow, 1.2: Brought to Book, 3.5: Death a la Carte and 4.6: Too Many Christmas Trees), who tries to put him off by telling him “They’re all eccentric. All of them. All of them. Except for me of course” as ping pong balls pop out of his mouth.


Steed: Well, you can’t work on a case like this without learning something. Shall we go?

The aforementioned coda finds Steed practising the quick change, donning Mandarin, Wellington and Indian outfits before leaving with a dinner jacket bearing a neon "Eat at JOE’s" sign on the back. We also see how much he likes Tintin – Le Lotus Bleu. The highlight of Season Six, and bounding into the Top Ten of the series overall.





















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

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

You are, by your own admission, a vagabond.

Doctor Who Season 10 - Worst to Best
Season 10 has the cachet of an anniversary year, one in which two of its stories actively trade on the past and another utilises significant elements. As such, it’s the first indication of the series’ capacity for slavishly indulging the two-edged sword that is nostalgia, rather than simply bringing back ratings winners (the Daleks). It also finds the show at its cosiest, a vibe that had set in during the previous season, which often seemed to be taking things a little too comfortably. Season 10 is rather more cohesive, even as it signals the end of an era (with Jo’s departure). As a collection of stories, you perhaps wouldn’t call it a classic year, but as a whole, an example of the Pertwee UNIT era operating at its most confident, it more than qualifies.

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.

In a few moments, you will have an experience that will seem completely real. It will be the result of your subconscious fears transformed into your conscious awareness.

Brainstorm (1983)
(SPOILERS) Might Brainstorm have been the next big thing – a ground-breaking, game-changing cinematic spectacle that had as far reaching consequences as Star Wars (special effects) or Avatar (3D) – if only Douglas Trumbull had been allowed to persevere with his patented “Showscan” process (70mm film photographed and projected at 60 frames per second)? I suspect not; one only has to look at the not-so-far-removed experiment of Ang Lee with Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, and how that went down like a bag of cold sick, to doubt that any innovation will necessarily catch on (although Trumbull at least had a narrative hinge on which to turn his “more real than real” imagery, whereas Lee’s pretty much boiled down to “because it was there”). Brainstorm’s story is, though, like its title, possibly too cerebral, too much concerned with the consciousness and touting too little of the cloyingly affirmative that Bruce Rubin inevitably brings to his screenplays. That doesn’t mea…

I mean, I am just a dumb bunny, but, we are good at multiplying.

Zootropolis (2016)
(SPOILERS) The key to Zootropolis’ (or Zootopia as our American cousins refer to it; the European title change being nothing to do with U2, but down to a Danish zoo, it seems, which still doesn’t explain the German title, though) creative success isn’t so much the conceit of its much-vaunted allegory regarding prejudice and equality, or – conversely – the fun to be had riffing on animal stereotypes (simultaneously clever and obvious), or even the appealing central duo voiced by Ginnifier Goodwin (as first rabbit cop Judy Hopps) and Jason Bateman (fox hustler Nick Wilde). It’s coming armed with that rarity for an animation; a well-sustained plot that doesn’t devolve into overblown set pieces or rest on the easy laurels of musical numbers and montages.

So credit’s due to co-directors Byron Howard (Bolt, Tangled) and Rich Moore (of The Simpsons, Futurama, and latterly, the great until it kind of rests on its laurels Wreck-It-Ralph) and Jared Bush (presumably one of the th…

You can’t keep the whole world in the dark about what’s going on. Once they know that a five-mile hunk of rock is going to hit the world at 30,000 miles per hour, the people will want to know what the hell we intend to do about it.

Meteor (1979)
(SPOILERS) In which we find Sean Connery – or his agent, whom he got rid of subsequent to this and Cuba – showing how completely out of touch he was by the late 1970s. Hence hitching his cart to the moribund disaster movie genre just as movie entertainment was being rewritten and stolen from under him. He wasn’t alone, of course – pal Michael Caine would appear in both The Swarm and Beyond the Poseidon Adventure during this period – but Meteor’s lack of commercial appeal was only accentuated by how functional and charmless its star is in it. Some have cited Meteor as the worst movie of his career (Christopher Bray in his book on the actor), but its sin is not one of being outright terrible, rather of being terminally dull.

Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!

Ghostbusters (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Feig is a better director than Ivan Reitman, or at very least he’s savvy enough to gather technicians around him who make his films look good, but that hasn’t helped make his Ghostbusters remake (or reboot) a better movie than the original, and that’s even with the original not even being that great a movie in the first place.

Along which lines, I’d lay no claims to the 1984 movie being some kind of auteurist gem, but it does make some capital from the polarising forces of Aykroyd’s ultra-geekiness on the subject of spooks and Murray’s “I’m just here for the asides” irreverence. In contrast, Feig’s picture is all about treating the subject as he does any other genre, be it cop, or spy, or romcom. There’s no great affection, merely a reliably professional approach, one minded to ensure that a generous quota of gags (on-topic not required) can be pumped out via abundant improv sessions.

So there’s nothing terribly wrong with Ghostbusters, but aside from …

You keep a horse in the basement?

The ‘Burbs (1989)
(SPOILERS) The ‘Burbs is Joe Dante’s masterpiece. Or at least, his masterpiece that isn’t his bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you masterpiece Gremlins 2: The New Batch, or his high profile masterpiece Gremlins. Unlike those two, the latter of which bolted out of the gate and took audiences by surprise with it’s black wit subverting the expected Spielberg melange, and the first which was roundly shunned by viewers and critics for being absolutely nothing like the first and waving that fact gleefully under their noses, The ‘Burbs took a while to gain its foothold in the Dante pantheon. 

It came out at a time when there had been a good few movies (not least Dante’s) taking a poke at small town Americana, and it was a Tom Hanks movie when Hanks was still a broad strokes comedy guy (Big had just made him big, Turner and Hooch was a few months away; you know you’ve really made it when you co-star with a pooch). It’s true to say that some, as with say The Big Lebowski, “got it” on fi…

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.

Well, if we destroy Kansas the world may not hear about it for years.

Diamonds are Forever (1971)
In conception, Diamonds are Forever was a retreat to safer ground for the series following the “failure” of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. In the end, it proved to be a significant break in tone and humour from what had gone before. More playfulness was evident in the heightened characterisations and settings, but simultaneously more boundaries were pushed in terms of sex and violence. Las Vegas lends the film a tarnished, glitterball quality that would quite accurately predict the excess and decadence of the coming decade. And presiding over the proceedings was a greying Bond, somewhat gone to seed and looking noticeably older than the near-decade it was since his first appearance. Somehow, the result is as sparkling and vital as the diamonds of the title, but it is understandably a curate’s egg. In many respects it bears more resemblance to the camp affectations, eccentricities and quirks of the television series The Avengers than the more straightforward…