Monthly Archives: June 2019

The New Avengers 1.11 – Dirtier By the Dozen

When interviewed in his later years, Patrick Macnee reflected that perhaps The New Avengers would have been more successful with less of him in it. He considered that he might have taken the role of Mother and left all the action stuff to his younger co-stars. Brian Clemens’ “Dirtier By the Dozen” shows what that might have looked like. Steed is only in the margins of this one; it’s Gambit and Purdey who tackle a British army regiment that’s been discreetly flying around the world acting as mercenaries. This is one of a handful of episodes I’d never seen before.

I quite liked it, and our son certainly did. It was filmed in a very wet autumn in 1976 and has lots of explosions at one point as the regiment uses a mortar cannon to kill one of their enemies, fleeing across a minefield. Not bad at all, but it needed more Steed in it, which suggests that Macnee might not have been correct.

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Into the Labyrinth 2.1 – The Calling / 2.2 – Treason

The blog was feeling a little ITC-heavy, but while adults can certainly see the difference between those filmed series and HTV’s cramped videotape show from the early eighties, our son is every bit as thrilled and excited by Into the Labyrinth as anything else we watch. This time out, the immortal wizard Rothgo recalls his three young friends for more trips in time because the witch Balor has created a counter to his powerful magical Macguffin. Episode one ends with the Nidus conveniently split into five segments so they can pick up one apiece in episodes two through six.

As we discussed previously, the first series of Into the Labyrinth was shown in the United States on Nickelodeon’s The Third Eye anthology. Series two and three were never purchased by the US. Did it air in Canada, I wonder? Well, kids missed out, because this is full of fights and fisticuffs and magical powers and villains turning into bats. While the grownups cringed at what must surely be the fakest fake bat in the long and storied history of fake bats, our favorite eight year-old critic had no problem at all with it.

Episode one is twenty-five minutes of hit-the-ground-running mayhem set in Asgard. Episode two was a bit long-winded for him – in 1606, Rothgo is incarnated as Guy Fawkes, and his long, long, long secret discussion with the king did not make a lick of sense to him and went on forever – but it had some special effects and surprises eventually. Actually, the nicest surprise was the first installment opening with some location work around some stone circle or other. Unfortunately everything else is in that redressed cave set, but for a couple of minutes, it looked pleasingly different.

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Gorgo (1961)

Back in March, we went to Atlanta for the Silver Scream Spook Show’s presentation of Paramount’s 1931 Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, but neither the kid nor I actually enjoyed the movie all that much, so it passed without comment here. I figured that 1961’s Gorgo would go over better, and it did. It’s actually a much more entertaining film than I remembered, too.

Obviously, Gorgo is a Godzilla cash-in, which I saw once when I was in middle school on whatever UHF channel that was showing Sunday morning monster movies. I remember liking it a lot at the time, but eventually I started figuring that it was a cash-in, and therefore just an also-ran, and who needs a pale imitation when, honestly, most of those Godzilla movies aren’t all that good to start with. Refamilarizing myself with the movie by looking it up online, I was pleased to see that actor Martin Benson, one of those fellows who had a long and enviable career of being “oh yeah, that guy” in dozens and dozens of things you’ve seen, is in this, and that one of the lead characters is named Sam Slade.

Anyway, if you live within driving distance of Atlanta and you’ve never seen a Silver Scream Spook Show performance, you’re really missing out. Professor Morte and his gang of ghouls and weirdos put on a goofy comedy set before the show, with props, surprises, things going haywire, missed cues, Martians, and, this time out, magic. The Professor gives these classic sci-fi and monster movies a good introduction, and then our kid was in popcorn heaven.

Wonderfully, Gorgo turns out to have aged far, far better than I thought it would. True, the stock footage of battleships and jet fighters is obvious, and the movie suffers from not really using England’s deep bench of strong and identifiable character actors the way it should. Failing to find even a single woman to deliver a single line of dialogue is woefully unfortunate. But there’s lovely location work, greedy protagonists, very good special effects for the time, and some incredibly impressive footage of panicking crowds rushing to evacuate as London is menaced by a 200-foot tall indestructible monster.

The print was pretty poor, but this is a movie that was made with a really keen eye for detail and pleasantly surprised me with many of its story and visual choices, and I’d much rather watch it again than most of Toho’s output. And that’s with the cast it has; imagine how much more rewatchable this would have been with people like Peter Sallis or Ralph Bates or Barbara Shelley or Ingrid Pitt in it.

But the kid was even more pleased than me. This had the right amount of destruction and buildings-being-knocked-down shenanigans and was never really scary. In the lobby afterward, Professor Morte suggested that a little baby powder on a cardboard building makes for a great cloud of dust when an eight year-old boy becomes a monster in the stories he can create in the driveway or the garage. That got him thinking, and really the only thing that derailed his thoughts was when we bought a T-shirt from the merch table and the lovely ghoul assistant gave him a free whoopie cushion with our purchase.

Photo credit: Cool Ass Cinema

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The Champions 1.27 – Nutcracker

This is Sharron’s “I’m about tired of being sidelined” face. She uses it once or twice in this one.

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The New Avengers 1.10 – Gnaws

The first thing I was planning to say tonight was that, in the same way that it pleased me to introduce our son to Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) with him having absolutely no idea that one of the characters was a ghost, it pleased me hugely to show my family the most infamous episode of the Avengers franchise, wherein our heroes hunt a giant rat in the sewers. They may have been the only people to have seen this episode to have no idea what writer Dennis Spooner was going to throw at them.

The second thing I was planning to say tonight was that, in much the same way that Spooner bent the Avengers format farther than it had ever gone before with his masterpiece “Look – (stop me if you’ve heard this one) But There Were These Two Fellers…”, Spooner again took the format in a wild new direction with this story. Even with a familiar guest star like Jeremy Young at work here, this does not look or feel like The Avengers. There’s very little humor, and Steed doesn’t even don his bowler. This is a monster movie with three familiar characters in it.

And the third thing that I was planning to say tonight was that this is the episode where Purdey goes down in the sewers wearing the most hilariously unsuitable outfit for sewer-stalking that you’ve ever seen. Find yourself a woman who hunts giant rats in a Laura Ashley skirt, lads. She’ll never stop surprising you.

But then our son actually saw the story, or most of it anyway, and whatever I had to say stopped mattering so much. There’s a reason why everybody who saw this one as a kid remembers it. From the cold eyes of teenagerhood, this was “proof” that seventies Avengers was nowhere near as cool as sixties Avengers. From the colder eyes of adulthood, this was blah blah critical dissertation blah blah boring.

To a kid, this is the most terrifying hour of television ever made. Our son was scared out of his mind. Maybe when you’re an adult waiting for the rat, it’s just forty-five minutes of yeah, yeah, get on with it. When you don’t know what the heck the monster is – they tried to give the kids in the audience a billion clues, really, they did – then the director’s choices of reaction shots and screaming men about to get eaten are gobstompingly effective. At one point toward the end, Steed makes the decision between Purdey and a shotgun-wielding man he’s never seen before. Steed immediately sentences the man to death by throwing rat bait at him. By this point, our kid had already tried hiding in Mom’s lap, and behind the sofa, and leaving the room entirely. Knowing that guy’s fate was sealed was just about the living end for our son.

“That was NOT Godzilla-monster-scary, because that is a GOOD scary,” he told us. “That was a BAD-monster-scary. I will not watch ‘Gnaws’ again, not even for ten million dollars.” I assured him that none of the other sixteen episodes yet to come are anything even remotely as frightening as this. Marie sagely noted that even after he’s forgotten every other episode of this show, he will remember this one.

A few minutes later, safely tucked in for a good night’s sleep, a truck on the highway behind us let out a belching engine noise and our son rocketed out of bed and turned on every light in his room.

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Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) 1.13 – When the Spirit Moves You

Holy anna, was that ever hilarious! Our son fell off the sofa laughing; kids are big with affectations, sure, but we were all laughing up a storm as things in this adventure by Tony Williamson spiral out of control. A con man, played by Anton Rodgers, accidentally ends up with a far bigger fish than he’d anticipated: one of London’s biggest mobsters. With only a short time to cough up the bearer bonds that he promised his actual target, the con man pulls Jeff into the mess, not realizing he’s getting a ghost as well. The con man can see Marty when he gets drunk enough!

I really love stories which feature the stakes getting hilariously higher and higher as one thing goes wrong after another. During one such spectacular mess, when things couldn’t possibly get any worse, Ivor Dean’s recurring character of Inspector Large shows up. It’s the most perfectly timed entrance ever and it had us howling. It’s easily one of the best episodes of the series so far.

It’s also the last episode of the series for the time being… to keep things fresh, we’re sending this wonderful show back to the shelf for a rest, but Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) will be back in August, so stay tuned!

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RIP Billy Drago, 1945-2019

It amuses me to be coy and not reveal what’s coming up on the blog, but with news of actor Billy Drago’s death, I’ll go ahead and spoil that we’ll begin watching The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. next month. Among dozens of roles as evildoers in film and TV, notably in Charmed and Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables, Drago deserves to be remembered as the recurring villain John Bly in Brisco. I think that John Bly is among television’s all-time greatest bad guys, and I’ve been really looking forward to seeing him get under Brisco’s skin again. Our condolences to his family and friends.

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The Champions 1.26 – Full Circle

I was thinking that tonight’s episode of The Champions, written by Donald James, might have been too complicated for our son, but he breezed right along with it and quietly said “This is really exciting!” as Craig executes a prison break. At its core, the story is a mystery: who is paying a man who broke into an embassy in London to photograph plans, and what did he do with the film. The ambassador believes the British government is behind the theft and has imprisoned their own agent, so while Craig and Richard are planning to break him out, the ambassador engages an underworld fixer and his gun-toting moll, played by Gabrielle Drake, to bring the convict to him.

The most surprising moment of the story comes when Richard loses a fight. Even superhumans have an occasional off day, but in Richard’s defense, there were three of them, they were huge, they caught him by surprise, and he did kayo two of the thugs before losing consciousness.

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