Monthly Archives: August 2018

The Avengers 7.8 – Noon Doomsday (further thoughts)

Something about last night’s episode of The Avengers didn’t sit well with me, and I finally figured out why. In the episode, Steed is unbelievably patronizing to Tara, telling her that she needs to be locked away because the criminals are too dangerous. We saw a hint of this in “All Done With Mirrors,” but that really read more like “Tara’s a junior agent and not ready to lead an assignment,” despite the expected chauvinism displayed by the male characters of the period.

But in “Noon Doomsday,” Steed flat out says that Tara is actually a danger to him. He won’t be able to win a battle against Kafka because he’ll be unfocused and worried about her. That’s hogwash, and deeply poor characterization on the part of the writer, Terry Nation. If Steed’s not treating his partner as an equal when the chips are down, there’s a problem. Insanely, Nation actually returned to this exact same trope about five years later in part four of the Doctor Who story “Planet of the Daleks”, in which Bernard Horsfall’s character chews out his girlfriend, played by Jane How, for somehow placing the male lead in the same tough position. He can’t be a he-man while he’s worried about his pretty young co-star, so the pretty young co-stars should stay out of man’s work.

In “Noon Doomsday,” there’s a reason for it, at least. Because this is a parody of High Noon, Tara is shoehorned into the Grace Kelly role, and Gary Cooper’s marshal was correct – in the film – to tell his young bride this was too dangerous and she’d get them both killed. Bending this scenario to make it fit the structure of High Noon also explains why three of the agents who are recuperating in this remote facility refuse to assist Steed. They represent the cowards in New Mexico who wouldn’t help their marshal against the killers who were riding into town. We can really only excuse either of these huge rips in the fabric of the program’s internal logic – or plain common sense – because this wouldn’t be a parody of High Noon if the three killers were going to come riding into town against a hero who has four people standing up beside him.

So it works within the confines of the hour. It still doesn’t make the chauvinism that Steed displays any less palatable, and if this is where Nation got the idea that resurfaced in “Planet of the Daleks,” then it certainly was a huge mistake.

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The Avengers 7.8 – Noon Doomsday

I have this weird coincidence virus that runs through my life and the character actors that pop in and out of the shows that we watch. Of course I remembered that Anthony Ainley has a small role in Terry Nation’s “Noon Doomsday” – I think that this last run of The Avengers is unique in featuring two Masters as well as the Rani from Doctor Who – but I’d completely forgotten that Peter Halliday is also in it.

See, to give the most recent example, back on Sunday night, when I was fumbling for the name of an attractive actress who should have filled the role of a Mary Astor character in “Legacy of Death”, I came up with Valerie Leon just by glancing at the Hammer films on my shelf. An hour later, Marie and I sat down to watch an episode of Up Pompeii together, which we do every other week or so, and there was Valerie! She was wearing rather less than she did in her teeny part in “George / XR40?,” and I don’t think anybody complained.

And Halliday? Well, there was a funny bit of business on Twitter yesterday, when the actor Frazer Hines, who played Jamie in Doctor Who in the late sixties, identified the jacket that he wore in “The War Games” as being the very same jacket that Peter Halliday had worn a couple of months previously in “The Invasion.” I shared the cute anecdote with my family over dinner, knowing that neither of them cared even a hundredth as much as I do, and the very next British program we watch has Halliday in it.

I love this virus. I hope it never goes away. This cold I’ve had all week can scram, but I love my character actor coincidence virus.

Anyway, as for the actual content of “Noon Doomsday,” it’s pretty good! T.P. McKenna’s also in it, and Tara gets to do all kinds of fighting and investigating while Steed and a bunch of other wounded agents are convalescing in a remote top-security nursing home called Department S, which is cute. A new ITC adventure series by that name had only just gone into production about two months before they made this. We’ll be watching Department S a couple of years from now, so stick around with us for that.

And if our son enjoys Department S half as much as he enjoyed this episode, it’ll be a winner. He just about exploded with tension as Tara rushes to climb up out of a dangerous situation before the fellow she clobbered comes to his senses, and he loved the cat-and-mouse finale, with Tara battling three criminals. I thought it was a fun one, but he liked it even more than I did. “That was great,” he said in summary.

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MacGyver 4.5 – Collision Course

In 1990, Watergate conspirator G. Gordon Liddy brought his lecture tour to the University of Georgia. Naturally, I attended, and an acquaintance of mine decided to use the Q&A opportunity to pester Mr. Liddy as to whether Nixon really knew what he was up to. And I mean pester. How Liddy kept his cool under that barrage of obnoxiousness, I’ve no idea.

Since I was even more of an immature schmuck at age 18 than I am now, and since I was being egged on, I joined my buddy at the mic, but not to ask whether Nixon knew. I just decided to tease our distinguished guest about his Hollywood career playing villains in shows like MacGyver. Well, Liddy swatted me like a forgettable fly and I’ve sniggered about what a little jerk I was ever since. Compounding my assholery, the terrible truth is that I’d never actually seen any of Liddy’s roles before. But now that I have, I can safely say that as an actor, Liddy made a good Plumber. (Thank you, thank you, ladies and germs, thank you.)

Of actual note this time, for those of you trying to piece together MacGyver’s unusual past of bomb disposal, military service, longtime girlfriends, and star of the ITC action show that shoulda been with Jack and Mike, he apparently spent most of the late seventies as a professional race car driver in Europe. He is haunted by the experience and never talks about it. Plus, among all the very best friends forever that nobody ever heard of before the plot required them to pop in (a problem endemic to television adventure heroes), MacGyver has one called Jeff who is played by Patrick Wayne in a blisteringly obnoxious ’80s haircut. As is the way of these things, we apparently never see or hear of this best friend again after this story, but at least Jeff doesn’t die as these best friends so often do in stories like this.

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The Avengers 7.7 – Legacy of Death

Earlier today, we showed our son The Maltese Falcon and watched in sympathy as he squirmed and struggled to make sense of it. Tonight, we showed him Terry Nation’s “Legacy of Death” and he got it. It took him a minute, but when two of the delightfully absurd number of villains introduce themselves as Sydney Street and Humbert Green, he shouted “Wait a minute! Like Greenstreet!” I was pleased as it all fell into place.

So back in late 1967, during John Bryce’s aborted turn producing a few episodes of The Avengers, he’d reached out to Terry Nation to contribute “Invasion of the Earthmen”. Nation was a hot property then; he’d written so many great episodes of The Saint that, decades later, Roger Moore was still singing Nation’s praises on the commentary tracks he did for the DVDs. So Brian Clemens and Albert Fennell, once they got back in charge, put Nation on the payroll as the script editor for the batch they were making. Nation wrote five additional episodes while wearing this hat. “Legacy of Death” was the second of these five, and they all suggest that while Nation was perfectly content to edit stories in the Avengers template about baffling murders committed by diabolical masterminds, he wasn’t interested in actually writing any of them himself. (“Noon Doomsday,” the next episode [in the order these were first shown in the UK], was the first of Nation’s five 1968 scripts to be filmed, and we’ll look at it Thursday night.)

I find “Legacy of Death” only mildly frustrating for what Nation didn’t do. The story is completely delightful despite my one reservation. Steed accepts a bizarre bequest of a curious dagger, only to have an endless stream of desperate, gun-toting fortune hunters start pestering him for it. And there lies the story’s only flaw. There isn’t a femme fatale among them. Now, Stratford Johns and Ronald Lacey are absolutely hilarious in their broad caricatures of Greenstreet and Lorre, and anybody who doesn’t lose a lung laughing when the Baron von Orlak and Winkler introduce themselves must have a problem with their funny bone. But the episode would be even better if some gorgeous woman kickstarted the adventure in the Mary Astor part. It wasn’t like England wasn’t swimming in beautiful actresses in 1968. They had Valerie Leon on set a couple of episodes previously behind a surgical mask – that’s right, the nincompoops hid Valerie Leon behind a mask – and somebody should have asked her to come back to knock on Steed’s door instead of bringing in Tutte Lemkow as Old Gorky.

Oh, and speaking of the episode where you could barely see Valerie Leon, that one – “Poor George / XR40” – featured Stratford Johns’ co-star from Softly Softly, Frank Windsor, as one of the villains. I wonder whether the press people in the UK thought to point this out, that both of the stars of the country’s top cop show were appearing in The Avengers in the same month. Anyway, joining Johns and Ronald Lacey, there’s the usual gang of great and recognizable faces, including Richard Hurndall, John Hollis, and the awesome Ferdy Mayne as the Baron von Orlak.

The end result, well, it would be even better with a treacherous woman somewhere in it, but it remains my favorite episode of this series because it’s so ridiculously fun and over the top. Not the best episode by any means, but my favorite by miles. I can’t watch the disheveled and bedraggled Stratford Johns sweating buckets as he recites his giant paragraphs of dialogue without guffawing, and I completely lose it every time that “inferior sort of assassin” tries to leap at Steed and Tara and faceplants on the cement instead. Most comedies just don’t have this kind of staying power and repeat value, but “Legacy of Death” is absolute, unadulterated fun from start to finish.

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The Maltese Falcon (1941)

So: The Maltese Falcon. Terrific novel, even better movie. John Huston’s first film, not to mention Sydney Greenstreet’s, and a picture that made stars of all its major players. Humphrey Bogart is amazing, Peter Lorre is oily and creepy, and Mary Astor’s inability to make eye contact with anybody to whom she is lying is one of the great cinema “tells.” With all love and respect to Dashiel Hammett, there are many detective novels that I enjoy more than this, but none of them – nothing by Sayers, Chandler, Doyle, anybody – has ever had a screen adaptation this perfect.

The point might surely be raised that seven’s a bit young to understand, let alone appreciate, The Maltese Falcon. And I knew that going in, and wasn’t either surprised or disappointed to see our son genuinely struggle with this story. It’s a complex one, not helped by every character in the picture other than the cops and a couple of cab drivers telling one lie after another. So I’ll give the kid a few years before I force The Big Sleep on him. Anyway, he struggled, and became restless, and got so sick of Sydney Greenstreet that he started pointing his finger guns at the screen and “shooting” him.

Kind of rough for a kid to recognize that a character is a villain awful enough to want to shoot without being able to explain why. But I’m sure part of it was that Greenstreet’s character, Kasper Gutman, just does not stop talking. Seven year-olds prefer men of action. Well, The Maltese Falcon wasn’t made for seven year-olds. Marie and I have loved it for years and years and seen it dozens of times. It’s one of a handful of “drop everything” movies if I hear it’s playing on a big screen somewhere nearby. But then again, she and I were each a little older when we first discovered it.

So it isn’t really geared toward seven year-olds and we showed it to him this morning knowing that he wouldn’t enjoy it all that much, and I’m illustrating it with a photo of the back of Elisha Cook’s head. Some of you good readers know perfectly well why we exposed our son to this confusing movie for adults, and are probably asking “you’re showing him High Noon next, right?” (The answer’s no; that would make him completely miserable!) The rest of you, check back later. All will be revealed.

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Agent Carter 2.6 – Life of the Party

Dottie’s finally back in this one. Since Whitney gave Peggy a pretty grievous injury last time, our heroes decide they have no choice but to break Dottie out and use her to get a sample of Whitney’s zero matter. Lucky for them Dottie’s being held in a facility in Los Angeles.

Nothing goes as planned for anybody in this episode. Kind of the through-line for this season is a conglomerate of the wealthiest and most powerful people being evil using patriotism as a cover for their greed and corruption. I’ve had a feeling that some of this lot would be meeting grisly ends at the hands of Whitney before the series finishes. I wasn’t wrong, but I was pretty certain that, of the three robber barons with speaking parts, one in particular would be the last to go. I was mistaken. He and half the council go down screaming as Whitney disintegrates and absorbs them. One reason I love this show is because nobody’s safe, not even a villain you thought would get his just desserts in episode ten.

What else? Thompson loses even more of his backbone, Daniel’s fiancée calls off their engagement, Peggy tears her stitches just opening a door, and Dottie loses her bid for freedom, waking up in a box all chained up and with a heck of a shiner, with Whitney Frost smiling down at her. Our son summed it up this way: “The two scariest women in this show… together!”

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The Avengers 7.6 – All Done With Mirrors

“All Done With Mirrors” is one of the most celebrated stories from The Avengers‘ last run, since it’s mostly a solo outing for Linda Thorson as Tara. She’s ostensibly teamed with another ministry agent played by Dinsdale Landen, but she leaves him to waste time at a research establishment that’s got one of those regular Avengers problems of secrets leaking to “the other side” while she has the proper adventure. She has a terrific fight with an absolutely huge guy, gets thrown off a cliff, and kicks one of the villains down all 365 steps – a whole year’s worth – of a lighthouse. She allows Landen’s character to save her from one of the enemy agents, played by Edwin Richfield, which was generous of her. Otherwise, she’s got this one sewn up by herself. Other familiar faces this time: Peter Copley and Joanna Jones.

I’ve always thought this was a good, solid story with a fun and goofy Avengers twist with the pseudo-science of how the villains are stealing secrets. Looking at it now, the episode does feel like it’s done a little more “straight” than I remembered it. Other than the fantastic machine, the presentation is otherwise played like a contemporary adventure show. Our son enjoyed it even more than I did, though. He really liked the fights, and the tumble down all 365 stairs was one of the greatest things ever. Tara somehow manages to count the thumps, ending at 365, and when the thug stands up at the bottom of the stairwell and promptly collapses, she asks “Leap year?” to herself. He was still chuckling about that during the closing credits.

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MacGyver 4.3 – The Outsiders

Remember all those little girls who were falling down wells in the eighties? Well, that happens here. Then a boy from the local Amish community gets trapped down there with her. Ruth de Sosa, who would later play Young Indiana Jones’s mother, got some practice in the art of acting worried about her baseball-loving boy here. For posterity, our son thought this one was incredibly exciting and he was, despite his protest that he knew it’d all be fine, really worried about the kids.

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