And now back to 1972 and we resume Jason King in a somewhat overfamiliar scenario. We took a break in February on a very nice high point, but this is one of Tony Williamson’s weaker ideas. King and his associate from West German Intelligence, played by Jennifer Hilary, are investigating a health clinic, where supermodels feed on occasional prunes, which is actually a cover for bad guys running their espionage scheme right under everybody’s noses. The villains, including John Le Mesurier, get to wonder whether our hero is really here to lose some weight or if he knows something. Lots of hypnosis, too. If you watch pretty much any adventure TV from about 1965-75, you’re going to run into this story, although this one does have a couple more cute girls in bikinis than most, I suppose.
Joan Sims’ character of Mrs. Bloomsbury-Barton, as I’ve mentioned before, is an awful, awful person. Simultaneously cheap and desperate to climb the social ladder, everybody sees through her, even the well-meaning owner of an employment agency. This time, she’s managed to get a few important people together for a small luncheon so that she’ll appear grand, and she needs a butler and an additional chambermaid for one day to pose as longtime servants.
Of course, there’s a terrible mix-up and Worzel and Aunt Sally arrive to fill the positions. Comedy legend John Le Mesurier shows up too late for the posting. The mayhem has already begun. Now you’d think that Mrs. Bloomsbury-Barton is going to get what’s coming to her, but she doesn’t. What she gets is a thousand times worse. Between Worzel locking people in the coal cellar and cleaning out soup bowls with live animals and Aunt Sally taking a break from eating all the food to just offer snacks to people by the handful, I actually felt sorry for the poor terrible woman. But not for long.
Our son’s sides nearly split. He hasn’t laughed this hard in at least a day.
Last year, when we watched the terrific Avengers episode “A Touch of Brimstone”, I noted that Patrick Macnee had a terrific swordfight with Jeremy Young, and that I didn’t think that Young used a stunt double. Well, the villains in tonight’s Adam Adamant Lives! were played by John Le Mesurier and Jeremy Young, and I’m absolutely certain Young didn’t have a double. Young and Gerald Harper have an absolutely magnificent swordfight here, and under the unflattering eye of the BBC’s “taped-live” format, there wasn’t a chance for doubles to be used.
(It’s very unflattering this week, in fact. Shortly before the fight, an actress, Ilona Rodgers, has to dash off the set for a quick costume change and one of the cameras is unfortunately positioned to catch her running away.)
Anyway, “Brimstone” had also been written by Brian Clemens, and it was made about six months before this was. I wonder whether, when Clemens pitched this story to the team at the BBC, he said something like “And I think there could be a part for an expert fencer, just in case Jeremy Young’s free to play him…”
Actually, now that I look closely at things, you remember that Three Musketeers series that I mentioned last month, the one with BRIAN BLESSED as Porthos and Jeremy Brett as D’Artagnan? Jeremy Young played Athos. So yeah, the guy definitely knew how to use a sword. You can’t be a Musketeer without one!
(Note: I can play them, but I’m not presently able to get screencaps from Region 4 DVDs, so many of these entries will just have a photo of the set to illustrate it. Click the link to purchase it from Amazon UK.)
Photo credit: https://excusesandhalftruths.com
I have to admit that every once in a while, I pick a complete flop with our son. He didn’t like Disney’s The Moon-Spinners at all. I thought it was a perfectly fine adventure film for kids, especially American kids in that early sixties sweet spot right before the Beatles exploded into pop culture.
I’ve often felt that Hayley Mills was absolutely in the right place at the right time. She had a legion of young girl fans and she was perfectly cast, often by Disney, as the engaging lead in fun movies like The Parent Trap and In Search of the Castaways, and of course she usually had dreamy boys with English accents around. You know how many of those girls who showed up to scream at the Beatles when they arrived in New York were Hayley Mills devotees? All of them.
But I guess that fifty-four years later, there’s not quite as much in a movie like this to thrill a six year-old boy. It sounded promising enough. There’s danger, intrigue, stolen jewels, and Eli Wallach and Paul Stassino as dangerous criminals. Plus there’s a terrific set of stunts when Hayley gets locked in a windmill by the baddies and everybody climbs out down the sails and blades. Honestly though, the part he liked the best was when Wallach got chased out of some ruins by feral cats.
For slightly older viewers, the story concerns Mills’ character, Nicky, and her aunt, played by Joan Greenwood, visiting a small village in Crete at the same time that a young man arrives in the hopes of finding some emeralds, stolen while under his care in London some months previously. So the young people get to have an adventure while an impressive cast of character actors, including Sheila Hancock, John Le Mesurier, Andre Morell, and George Pastell, provide support.
The lack of any of Disney’s trademark comic slapstick was perhaps one small failure in our son’s eyes, but this is a much more straightforward adventure movie than their seventies output, without a lot of levity. There is one deliciously funny moment where Mills breathlessly recounts her escapades to a millionaire played by Pola Negri, who definitely needs a drink before the recap is finished, but that’s more for the grown-ups in the crowd. I think somebody our son’s age would probably read that scene as played straight, because yes, that’s an accurate recap of the story so far. And viewers his age probably wouldn’t see the small hints to the audience in the way adult characters play certain scenes. We instantly knew that John Le Mesurier’s character wasn’t being completely honest in his explanations, but the reality of what he’s actually up to still eluded our son. And Sheila Hancock brings surprising tension to a scene in which her character gets drunk and talks too much, but all of these adult conversations just seemed like noise to him because it’s more subtle than the Hulk knocking over buildings.
So perhaps six was a little young or perhaps the movie is just a dated piece that’s going to appeal more to older viewers anyway, especially the older viewers who enjoy seeing all these great actors. Maybe we should have waited a couple of years, but I’m certainly glad of the experience and enjoyed the movie very much.
Happily, this episode of The Avengers was much more our son’s speed than some of the others that we have watched recently. It’s a light and fun story by Brian Clemens in which there are three suspects for some defense secrets going missing. There’s an admiral who gambles too much, a brigadier who drinks too much, and a group captain who likes the ladies too much, and all three are having staffing problems in their homes. Steed takes four undercover roles, two of them with remarkable facial hair, and signs on for a course in butling, and Mrs. Peel initiates Operation: Fascination to bewitch the group captain. I think it’s one of the lesser adventures from season four, but it was simple and silly enough for our son to really enjoy it.
In the cast, I was interested to see that Thorley Walters and Howard Marion-Crawford share an amusing career similarity: perhaps their best known roles were as the assistant partner to a well-known fictional detective. Walters played Dr. Watson in at least three different Sherlock Holmes films, and Marion-Crawford was Dr. Petrie, the confidante of Nayland Smith, in the five Christopher Lee Fu Manchu movies. John Le Mesurier is also here, as a butler who, we know from the pre-credits teaser, done it!
During his amazing career, Vincent Price probably made nine or ten pictures where he was by some measure the best thing about the whole production. One example: 1965’s City Under the Sea, which was released in America with the confusing title War-Gods of the Deep. This led to a silly moment early on, when a bargain basement Gill Man is chased away from a remote house on a cliffside and our son said “I think that must be a War-God!”
Like nine or ten other pictures in Price’s catalog, this one takes a little inspiration from a poem by Edgar Allen Poe. Our heroes, played by Tab Hunter and the redoubtable David Tomlinson, who is accompanied by a chicken in a picnic basket for comic relief, stumble across a first edition collection of Poe in the strange underwater city, so that Price can recite a passage from the poem over footage of the miniature of the city, next to a volcano as the pressure inevitably builds.
The movie has small parts for familiar faces like Derek Newark, John Le Mesurier, and Tony Selby, who isn’t credited, and the only female character is played by Susan Hart. It has some impressive sets, an underwater chase/fight that goes on forever and features old-fashioned diving suits so angular and clunky that they reminded our son of Minecraft, and, of course, a great big volcanic eruption. I thought the movie was the most boring thing we’ve watched in ages, and the villain’s henchmen were just about the most pathetic and sorry bunch of dopey bad guys in any universe, but it’s worth watching if you’re six, or if you want to marvel at Price’s ability to rise over everything, or if the movie comes on a double-feature DVD with something else and so you have a copy anyway.