Skip to main content

We’re behind all the best windows.

The Avengers
6.12: Super Secret Cypher Snatch

More idyllic location filming in this one, most notably in the form of Mother’s temporary base in a field, as second-unit man John Hough graduates to main man and provides a wealth of striking visuals. Not enough, unfortunately, to make a silk purse from Tony Williamson’s rather uninspired teleplay (Williamson’s prior contributions to the show included the high of 4.6: Too Many Christmas Trees and the low of 5.23: The Positive-Negative Man).


Hough would go on to direct three more episodes (and a New Avengers) as well as having an interesting big-screen career (such pictures as Twins of Evil, The Legend of Hell House, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, and providing darker Disney thrills in the form of Escape to Witch Mountain and The Watcher in the Woods… Also, erm, Biggles). There’s a decent teaser with an old lady on a bike revealed as a male spy trying (and failing) to catch a helicopter. Included upon his person are top secret codes, “only available at Cypher HQ”.


Steed: It’s not every assassin who has the foresight to carry his own ladder.

Said codes are being extracted by operatives of Classy Glass Cleaning with the aid of a hypnotic gas; they arrive daily to immobilise the staff (literally) and copy the codes they need, leaving instructions regarding the time the employees have missed (“It’s been a perfectly normal day”), albeit not fool-proof ones (being told it has rained when there’s no sign of this).


Lather: At Classy Glass, the world is our window.

Initially, it appears that the head of Classy Glass, Lather (Nicholas Smith, 5.2: Escape in Time) may be that old standard, the dupe, used while his underlings get up to no good (“There are no short cuts to the top of the ladder. Here, we really care about our windows”), but he actually is the chief villain, his underling Maskin (Simon Oates, 5.21: You Have Just Been Murdered) leading operations, accompanied by Vickers (Donald Gee, The Space Pirates, The Monster of Peladon) and a troop of heavies in white overalls and bowler hats; Hough excels in his compositions, from gas mask and pistol combos to classy ladder set ups, while the stylised use of bowler hats adds a certain pre-Clockwork Orange frisson.


Steed and Tara aren’t initially on the case, as MI-12 have sent in their man Jarret (Clifford Earl, also Escape in Time); when he goes missing, it’s time for Steed and Tara (“MI-12 losing one of their men. Having the audacity to ask us to find him”) to sort things out, the latter going undercover as a secretary. At first glance, Cypher HQ Director Webster (Allan Cuthbertson, 1.24: The Deadly Air, 4.5: Death at Bargain Prices, 5.17: Death’s Door) looks a bit suspect, given how he fails to react to the death of Jarret, but that turns out to be a misdirection of the gas at work.


Notable among the supporting cast are Myra (Angela Scoular, with her dippy spectacles, always my favourite of Blofeld’s “harem” in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, latterly of several Adventures of a… sex “comedies”), there for Steed to flirt with, and MI-12 investigator Ferret (Ivor Dean, 2.9: The Removal Men, 5.19: Dead Man’s Treasure).


Lather: Boarded? You’ve boarded up your windows?

Steed’s visit to Classy Glass is most amusing, asking for the full deluxe treatment for a single window; the rest are boarded up (“Men have cracked under less”). As is the escalation of affairs, as we finally see the full operation in action, accompanied by the marvellously soothing hypnotic instruction (“It is a perfectly ordinary day”) that sounds like something from The Ipcress File. All commendably achieved by Hough, who throws in a decent car chase with Steed too. Also some amusing incidentals among the villains (“Sandwich sir? Ham and chutney”: “Oh, no thanks”).


Steed: Who’s paying?
Tara: Me.
Steed: I obey.

The coda is predictably hypnosis based, as Steed “sends himself to sleep” while trying to hypnotise Tara, who instructs him to take her to her favourite restaurant. An episode with a strong premise and memorable visuals from Hough – it probably sounds more essential than it is – but ultimately coming down on the routine side.














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

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

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.

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.

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.

Isn’t sugar better than vinegar?

Femme Fatale (2002) (SPOILERS) Some have attempted to rescue Femme Fatale from the dumpster of critical rejection and audience indifference with the claim that it’s De Palma’s last great movie. It isn’t that by a long shot, but it might rank as the last truly unfettered display of his obsessions and sensibilities, complete with a ludicrous twist – so ludicrous, it’s either a stroke of genius or mile-long pile up.

Beer is for breakfast around here. Drink or begone.

Cocktail (1988) (SPOILERS) When Tarantino claims the 1980s (and 1950s) as the worst movie decade, I’m inclined to invite him to shut his butt down. But should he then flourish Cocktail as Exhibit A, I’d be forced to admit he has a point. Cocktail is a horrifying, malignant piece of dreck, a testament to the efficacy of persuasive star power on a blithely rapt and undiscerning audience. Not only is it morally vacuous, it’s dramatically inert. And it relies on Tom’s toothy charms to a degree that would have any sensitive soul rushed to the A&E suffering from toxic shock (Tom’s most recently displayed toothy charms will likely have even his staunchest devotees less than sure of themselves, however, as he metamorphoses into your favourite grandma). And it was a huge box office hit.

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.

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.

James Bond. You appear with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season.

Moonraker (1979) Depending upon your disposition, and quite possibly age, Moonraker is either the Bond film that finally jumped the shark or the one that is most gloriously redolent of Roger Moore’s knowing take on the character. Many Bond aficionados will no doubt utter its name with thinly disguised contempt, just as they will extol with gravity how Timothy Dalton represented a masterful return to the core values of the series. If you regard For Your Eyes Only as a refreshing return to basics after the excesses of the previous two entries, and particularly the space opera grandstanding of this one, it’s probably fair to say you don’t much like Roger Moore’s take on Bond.

It's something trying to get out.

The Owl Service (1969-70) I may have caught a glimpse of Channel 4’s repeat of  The Owl Service  in 1987, but not enough to stick in the mind. My formative experience was Alan Garner’s novel, which was read several years earlier during English lessons. Garner’s tapestry of magical-mythical storytelling had an impact, with its possession theme and blending of legend with the here and now. Garner depicts a Britain where past and present are mutable, and where there is no safety net of objective reality; life becomes a strange waking dream. His fantasy landscapes are both attractive and disturbing; the uncanny reaching out from the corners of the attic.  But I have to admit that the themes of class and discrimination went virtually unnoticed in the wake of such high weirdness. The other Garner books I read saw young protagonists transported to fantasy realms. The resonance of  The Owl Service  came from the fragmenting of the rural normal. When the author notes that he neve

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.