Skip to main content

A distillation designed to eliminate the George Washington syndrome.

The Avengers
6.14: False Witness

Season Six has found something approaching form over the past four or five episodes. You wouldn’t mistake them for peak-Avengers fare, but they’ve hit a certain groove, especially since Mother has joined as regular. False Witness is a story played mostly straight, and succeeds on those terms, yet its (absurd) premise – a drug that compels the victim to respond to “yes” as “no” and “no” as “yes” and any variations of the same – could easily have been played entirely for laughs. Notably too, it’s another Jeremy Burnham teleplay, who earlier took to the series like a duck to water with You’ll Catch Your Death.


Edgefield: Seems your little bird is reluctant to sing.

The teaser of agent Penman (Peter Jesson) apparently being duped by colleague Melville (Barry Warren, 4.6: Too Many Christmas Trees) into thinking no one is returning has he searches the flat of Lord Edgefield (William Job, 4.12: Man-Eater of Surrey Green) is an effective and intriguing one, since Edgefield’s chauffeur Brayshaw (John Atkinson) shows up and starts taking pot-shots at him (the parking garage looks very like the one from the opening of The Prisoner). This leads to one dead Penman, but not before he’s warned Tara that Melville is a traitor, and given her the microfilm he denies was taken to back this up.


Melville: What did you do that for?
Steed: For services not rendered.

Meville’s traitorousness is perhaps played as a card for too long, since weknow he isn’t one, but some of the apparent daftness is undoubtedly delivered on in terms of prospective plot holes, such as not being able to communicate your true meaning in anyway (writing, for example). Added to which, not only keeping Melville on the job but having him act as lookout again when Steed goes to the flat is asking for trouble. Charles Crichton does a nifty job with the related action sequences, though, with Steed trapped in the flat when Edgefield and Brayshaw return, only to sidle round and clock the chauffeur before pegging it with the contents of the safe. Subsequently, he takes Melville out to the woods and clocks himone. Very handy punches thrown in this episode, and I’m guessing the, er, punchy timing of these scenes can be put down to Crichton.


Steed: (regarding a bottle of champagne) Plucky, but from the wrong side of the hill.

Edgefield appears to be a master blackmailer, but evidence against him, and those testifying against him, is rather falling apart. Notably Plummer (Michael Lees), who denies he has anything to say against Edgefield when the official interview begins with the lord present. It’s curious that there’s no further interrogation of why he “decided” to renege on his statement, however; Tara visits his flat and manages to let the dog Suzy lap up some drugged milk, which provides something of a steer regarding its effects. She barks repeatedly when no one’s there; we’re told of the “lie drug” that “It neutralises the facility that distinguishes the true from the false” and in her case, she doesn’t appear to need asking to respond with a porky.


Steed: Melville, did you and I work together today?
Melville: No.
Mother: It seems we’ve found our problem.
Steed: But not sorted it.

Indeed, the yes/no thing is never entirely ironed out by Burnham. Melville takes a lie detector test, evidently on the milk (what do they do if their target doesn’t do dairy?) and Steed says to him “I asked if you if there was any sign of him. You said no”. Melville replies “I said yes”. If he’s unable to distinguish true from false – in action, this is more about verbalisation than distinguishing, though – so saying the opposite of what he wanted to say (admitting he said no), he’d say yes, but he ought to believe that he said yes (which is why he tells Steed he warned him when they are in the woods), in which case he’d have said “no” when asked.


Sir Joseph: Lord Edgefield is the most incorrupt, irreproachable to a man in the country. A paragon of virtue!

The judge in the case, Sir Joseph Tarlton (Tony Steedman, 3.20: The Little Wonders, Socrates in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure) also succumbs to milk poisoning, courtesy of Dreemykreem Dairies. As in a few other stories, the villains are hiring their services out to clients (5.1: The Fear Merchants), such that Edgefield would rather like to invest in the firm and is told their fees are “Very expensive”.


Sykes: Butter wouldn’t melt in your mouth, Miss King. Or would it? Sloman.
Sloman: Yes.
Sykes: Put her in the butter machine.

The Tara plotline in this one is curious. She manages to find the lair of the villains, gets discovered by them – by leader Sykes (John Bennett, 2.1: Mission to Montreal) and assistant Sloman (Dan Meaden) – takes a milky dip with Sloman, escapes, fails to inform Sir Joseph, then Steed due to drinking a good half a pint of the stuff, gives chase when Lane (Rio Fanning, 5.19: Dead Man’s Treasure) delivers a couple of bottles to Steed, does an impressive fall/roll on the road when she fails (courtesy of her stunt double), and thentakes it upon herself to return to the dairy and try smashing all the bottles, before getting captured and – hilariously – put into a human-sized butter machine (after last episode’s hourglass). One has to admire her boundless energy throughout, but nothing about her behaviour is remotely thought out (although, she does at least try to write down what isn’t going on, thus helping Steed to work out that “The milk is harmless” is the reverse of the truth).


Sykes: There you are, you see, damsel seems to revel in her distress.

Indeed, Thorson’s timing in response to questions is very amusing, particularly so when she’s in the butter machine and Steed shows up. By this point, the latter has cleverly drugged the villains’ wine so they aren’t able to communicate very well, although it’s another example of the plot relying on you to think that everything about what they’re doing rests on the true/false capacity (and since this clearly doesn’t extend to them seeing Steed as suddenly a friend instead of an enemy, it surely has its limits).


The bus setting for Mother’s HQ is probably the classic, so much so it was repeated in the 1998 movie, and its effectiveness is only added to by being evidently shot entirely on location. Very amusing too is Steed’s portable bus stop and would-be passengers being denied entry. 


Steed: That’s for itinerate cats.

As for the coda, Steed’s trying to make use of all that butter Tara was encased in (one of the series’ most cartoonish visual gags): he appears to have been lying to her about how ravishing she looks, but he’s just been winding her up, as the glass of milk on the table isn’t for him. False Witness is a daft episode that largely entertains despite, rather than because of it being played straight.










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

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

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.

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.

The guy practically lives in a Clue board.

Knives Out (2019)
(SPOILERS) “If Agatha Christie were writing today, she’d have a character who’s an Internet troll.” There’s a slew of ifs and buts in that assertion, but it tells you a lot about where Rian Johnson is coming from with Knives Out. As in, Christie might – I mean, who can really say? – but it’s fair to suggest she wouldn’t be angling her material the way Johnson does, who for all his pronouncement that “This isn’t a message movie” is very clearly making one. He probably warrants a hesitant pass on that statement, though, to the extent that Knives Out’s commentary doesn’t ultimately overpower the whodunnit side of the plot. On the other hand, when Daniel Craig’s eccentrically accented sleuth Benoit Blanc is asked “You’re not much of a detective, are you?” the only fair response is vigorous agreement.

You're skipping Christmas! Isn't that against the law?

Christmas with the Kranks (2004)
Ex-coke dealer Tim Allen’s underwhelming box office career is, like Vince Vaughn’s, regularly in need of a boost from an indiscriminate public willing to see any old turkey posing as a prize Christmas comedy.  He made three Santa Clauses, and here is joined by Jamie Lee Curtis as a couple planning to forgo the usual neighbourhood festivities for a cruise.

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…

It's their place, Mac. They have a right to make of it what they can. Besides, you can't eat scenery!

Local Hero (1983)
(SPOILERS) With the space of thirty-five years, Bill Forsyth’s gentle eco-parable feels more seductive than ever. Whimsical is a word often applied to Local Hero, but one shouldn’t mistake that description for its being soft in the head, excessively sentimental or nostalgic. Tonally, in terms of painting a Scottish idyll where the locals are no slouches in the face of more cultured foreigners, the film hearkens to both Powell and Pressburger (I Know Where I’m Going!) and Ealing (Whisky Galore!), but it is very much its own beast.

I’m the famous comedian, Arnold Braunschweiger.

Last Action Hero (1993)
(SPOILERS) Make no mistake, Last Action Hero is a mess. But even as a mess, it might be more interesting than any other movie Arnie made during that decade, perhaps even in his entire career. Hellzapoppin’ (after the 1941 picture, itself based on a Broadway revue) has virtually become an adjective to describe films that comment upon their own artifice, break the fourth wall, and generally disrespect the convention of suspending disbelief in the fictions we see parading across the screen. It was fairly audacious, some would say foolish, of Arnie to attempt something of that nature at this point in his career, which was at its peak, rather than playing it safe. That he stumbled profoundly, emphatically so since he went up against the behemoth that is Jurassic Park (slotted in after the fact to open first), should not blind one to the considerable merits of his ultimate, and final, really, attempt to experiment with the limits of his screen persona.

Of course, one m…

You're a dead tissue that won't decompose.

Collateral Beauty (2016)
(SPOILERS) Will Smith’s most recent attempt to take a wrecking ball to his superstardom, Collateral Beauty is one of those high concept emotional journeys that only look like a bad idea all along when they flop (see Regarding Henry). Except that, with a plot as gnarly as this, it’s difficult to see quite how it would ever not have rubbed audiences up the wrong way. A different director might have helped, someone less thuddingly literal than David Frankel. When this kind of misguided picture gets the resounding drubbing it has, I tend to seek out positives. Sometimes, that can be quite easy – A Winter’s Tale, for example, for all its writ-large flaws – but it’s a fool’s errand with Collateral Beauty.

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.