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Posts Tagged ‘thriller’

Roger Marshall’s Death of a Batman has a title likely to confuse and mislead the kids of today, not that many of them are likely to want to watch it in the first place: the name refers to the nickname given to a soldier assigned to be the valet of an officer (the etymology gets a bit involved here and isn’t really worth going into).

The episode opens with an old boy of obviously quite limited means conking out, with his family gathered around him; the camera crosses the room to reveal a photo of a young Steed in army uniform: it turns out the recently-deceased was Steed’s batman at the end of the Second World War (less than twenty years before the episode was made, so this isn’t quite as incongruous as it might sound).

Naturally, Steed goes to the funeral, and is flattered to be remembered in the dead man’s will – he gets back ten quid he lent the man in 1945, which he had quite forgotten about. The chap who the deceased looked after in the previous war (Andre Morell) also gets a small bequest. Gob-smacking for everyone, however, is the fact that a man who was on a wage of twenty pounds a week (this was pre-decimal and pre-inflation, of course) has somehow managed to leave an estate worth somewhere in the region of £180,000. Has someone been up to something they shouldn’t?

The answer turns out to have something to do with insider trading and the stock market, but much more than that I find it quite difficult to go into detail about: I only watched it the other day, but the details of the plot are so impenetrable that it seems my brain found it impossible to retain most of them. This in itself probably says something about the episode.

This is a shame, as on paper the episode does not look unpromising: Morell is capable performer, and playing the dead batman’s son is David Burke, probably best remembered for a very decent turn as Dr Watson in the first couple of series of the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes adaptations. Adding weight to my theory that there were only about seventeen actors working in the whole of TV in 1963 is the fact that Morell’s business partner is played by Philip Madoc, notching up his third appearance as a suspicious type in an Avengers episode in little more than a season. I suppose the episode is made a little more distinctive by the fact the villains rationalise their various crimes as being done in the name of supporting the British electronics industry (hmm, tell me another one) and there’s a scene where Honor Blackman has to contend with a set door that just won’t do as it’s told which is memorable for all the wrong reasons, but on the whole, until I watch this again (maybe in another 25 years) I am inclined to peg it as a dud.

Something much more fun comes along in the form of Eric Paice’s November Five (originally shown on November 2nd 1963, ha ha), although apparently this is an episode more likely than most to confuzzle non-British viewers, rooted as it is in the arcane details of our parliamentary system. It opens with the result of a by-election being announced, but the winner has possibly the shortest career as an MP in history as a second and a half later he is shot by a sniper (this sequence is not very well mounted, viewed from a modern perspective).

The official story is that this was an accident, but the dead man had been campaigning on the promise of exposing a major scandal – so was he just silenced? This is what Steed is wondering. He already knows what the scandal in question was – an atom bomb has been stolen – and this has been covered up by all the main parties. Can he track down the killers, and will they lead him to the missing A-bomb? Naturally, this involves Mrs Gale running for parliament in the by-election taking place to find another MP to replace the dead man. Cathy is not keen, even as Steed tries his hardest to persuade her: ‘I’ll pay your deposit! I’ll even kiss some babies for you!’

The clue to where the bomb eventually turns up is in the title of the episode, but this is fun, pacy stuff, if rather far-fetched (highlights include a fight on an indoor dry ski slope, and that’s before we even get to a gun battle inside the studio recreation of the palace of Westminster). It doesn’t really have any serious points to make about politics in general or the British system in particular, but it rattles along cheerfully and gets the balance between credibility and fantasy just about spot on. A strong episode.

Steed and Mrs Gale enter Parliament. Her intentions at least are honest.

Which leads us to The Gilded Cage, written by Roger Marshall. This was the first Cathy Gale episode I ever saw, when it was repeated in 1992 as part of the TV Heaven thread. (I am slightly sickened by the realisation that the episode was 29 years old at the time, which was 28 years ago. Tempus very much fugit, obviously.) Back then I was only passingly acquainted with even the filmed episodes – the only ones I was properly familiar with were those of The New Avengers, which had recently been repeated – and the lack of slickness and fantasy elements were a genuine disappointment, I must confess. Watching it again now, though, it seems to me to be a very impressive outing for the series.

Mrs Gale has apparently got a job at a secure storage facility for gold bullion, which she shows Steed around. Badinage between the two quickly makes it clear that she is planning to knock the place over and pinch the gold – what can be going on? Needless to say, it is part of a plan to entrap a senior (in every sense of the word) criminal named J. P. Spagge, a Moriarty-like figure who facilitates criminal activity for a slice of the takings. Adding further credence to my seventeen actor theory, Spagge is played by Patrick Magee, last seen only eight episodes earlier as the last villain of season two.

However, the plan seems to go horribly wrong when the police turn up and arrest Cathy for the murder of Spagge, her (missing) purse having been found by his body. The next thing she knows, she’s waking up on death row, having been convicted of the killing and sentenced to hang in only a few days… (Lest you be wondering, the last hangings in Britain took place the following year, though the last execution of a woman was in 1955. Critical insight and social history, and all for free. No need to thank me.)

A very lively and involving episode, this one, with some great characters: apart from Spagge himself, there’s his butler, who’s essentially a psychopathic snob much given to rhapsodising over Steed’s taste in clothes, and the leader of the gold robbers, a sculptor played by Edric Connor (apparently a noted calypsoist when not acting). Some good set pieces, too, although it’s shame that Connor’s character doesn’t get a more memorable send-off and there’s some very wobbly scenery during the final fight scene.

Watching The Gilded Cage now, one is inevitably struck by the irony of Honor Blackman overseeing the robbery of a gold bullion repository, especially one using knock-out gas to incapacitate the guards. I think we are still so early in season three that the striking resemblance to the plot of Blackman’s most famous big-screen appearance must be a coincidence – but it’s an amusing one nevertheless. Either way, the episode stands up extremely well on its own terms, one of the best to date.

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James Mitchell’s Man with Two Shadows is an episode with a number of elements suggesting he hasn’t quite got the hang of The Avengers house style yet: the hook scene mostly concerns the actor Daniel Moynihan taking his trousers off and putting them back on again. This happens more often than you would have thought possible, given it’s such a short scene. The episode is largely set in a British holiday camp (another element which, to the modern viewer at least, hardly screams glamorous escapism) and the hook sees Moynihan (playing a character named Gordon) in his chalet. He takes his trousers off. He opens his wardrobe – only to find another Gordon in there with a gun, waiting for him! The second Gordon shoots the original and then sets about taking the dead man’s place. Fake Gordon takes his own trousers off. After a moment’s thought, Fake Gordon then puts Original Gordon’s trousers on. Cue the title card. Let’s just say it could all be a bit slicker.

Steed is dragged into proceedings by a meeting with a former double agent named Borowski (Terence Lodge), who has been caught by the Other Side and subjected to odd procedures which have left him with an interesting range of multiple personalities – quite how and why are not gone into, as they are not pertinent to the plot – they’re just there to make Borowski a more interesting character and add some character to what would otherwise be quite a dry pipe-laying scene. Borowski raves on about plans to replace key individuals in the British establishment with identical doubles, suggesting that a scientist and a top spy are amongst the targets.

Clues lead Steed to the holiday camp in question, and he brings Mrs Gale along to back him up (Honor Blackman has a very different hairstyle to her usual one in this story, almost enough to distract one from her various swimsuit scenes). The mangled body of the original Gordon has turned up, so Steed also gets the man’s doctor and dentist to come with him, for a full examination (a spurious reason for this is come up with). But could this all be a trap? It turns out a duplicate Steed is already standing by… The possibility has certainly occurred to Steed’s superiors, one of whom is also taking an interest. If it ever looks like Steed has been replaced, Mrs Gale is to terminate the duplicate.

Not, perhaps, the most original of premises for a story, and one they revisited (rather less plausibly) in the New Avengers episode Faces, in which London’s homeless population apparently contains a double for every single member of the security establishment. This one works a bit harder to seem sensible, stressing the amount of time and effort it takes to create one of the duplicates (Steed’s double complains it’s taken five years of hard work.)

Nevertheless, a solid episode: you can tell the programme-makers are taking advantage of the fact they’re not making the episodes as-live any more, as this one would have been almost impossible to achieve under those limitations. Mrs Gale gets a cracker of a fight scene with one of the henchmen come the climax, tussling away in the camp ballroom as a waltz tinkles away in the background, and it finishes on a great character moment – Steed decides to leave the fake Gordon in place, as he’s a very useful channel for supplying the Other Side with credible misinformation. But what about his fiancee? Shouldn’t she be told? Steed is at his most amoral; Mrs Gale is morally outraged, naturally. As I say, solid stuff.

Up next, The Nutshell is the first of two episodes from the obscure writer Philip Chambers, and it enjoys a very positive reputation, amongst the writers of at least one major Avengers website anyway. It opens with a very striking young woman in a wetsuit engaged upon some sort of covet mission; it’s Edina Ronay, again, getting a bit more to do than in her previous appearance in the series. (Perhaps my head is getting too easily turned by a set of cheekbones and a fringe, but I’m wondering if Ronay wouldn’t have made a terrific Avengers girl herself.)

(I make no apologies…)

Steed, meanwhile, is having tea with Mrs Gale, and revealing he is a believer in the MAD doctrine which shaped a lot of strategy during the Cold War. Let us be charitable and assume this is a sign of Steed’s innate pragmatism and cynicism, rather than outright foolishness. The phone goes, summoning him urgently to a meeting – what’s more startling is that Cathy was warned ahead of him this would be happening, and is under orders to go along as well.

They are off to the Nutshell, a top-secret nuclear bunker (‘the nutshell’ is one of those laborious acronyms you often find in spy-fi stories; this episode is full of them). Here they are placed under the command of top man Disco (John Cater) – this is another acronym – and told that Big Ben – yet another acronym – has been stolen. Big Ben is one of those lists of undercover agents which are always prone to being nicked (see the first Mission: Impossible film and Skyfall) and it has to be retrieved – but who would know about the security at the bunker?

Steed would, it seems: he goes straight off to see Ronay, who is playing Elin Strindberg, a Swedish escapologist and contortionist (excuse me a moment – >sigh<). It looks like Steed himself has orchestrated the break-in and is intent on passing the secret list to somebody from the Other Side. Can he possibly have gone bad?

Well, of course he can’t, it’s Steed, but that doesn’t stop this from being a particularly involving and tense episode (even if Edina Ronay isn’t in it quite enough). For once Steed seems to be operating entirely independently, and Cathy has no idea what he’s up to, and the audience is also kept well and truly in the dark until the closing minutes of the story. Is this, as some have suggested, the single best episode of the videotaped incarnation of The Avengers? Well, I think I’m going to keep my counsel on that for the time being, but it is certainly in the top bracket of the series up until this point.

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The third season of The Avengers begins with the appearance of a name which was notably absent throughout the credits of the second: that of Brian Clemens, undoubtedly the most significant behind-the-camera contributor to the series (not to mention The New Avengers, for which he wrote over half the scripts). Clemens wrote a couple of episodes of the first series (though not, as is sometimes stated, the very first), but this marks the beginning of his regular association with the show, as we will hopefully see.

This adds to the sense the opening episodes of the series give: that The Avengers has suddenly become much slicker, quirkier, and more confident. (I understand some behind-the-scenes changes in terms of how the episodes were actually recorded – no longer quite as-live – may have had something to do with this.) Clemens’ first contribution of the season is Brief for Murder, which is lots of fun even if it doesn’t entirely seem to hold together.

A man is on trial as a noted traitor to his country, but the prosecution is failing, mainly due to a brilliant defence exploiting every legal loophole in the annals of British justice. Key is the prosecution’s failure to produce the man’s alleged contact – the mysterious ‘Johnno’, a well-dressed, well-spoken man-about-town in a position of trust. (Switched-on viewers may be able to anticipate what this is leading up to.)

Well, the man is acquitted, to the chagrin of all right-minded folk, especially Mrs Gale. Steed, however, seems to be great pals with the traitor, who – you guessed it – calls him ‘Johnno’. Mrs Gale expresses her disgust to Steed and goes so far as to suggest Steed himself is a traitor and working for the Other Side. Steed is outraged, and threatens to start proceedings against her.

He ends up going to the same solicitors who handled the treason trial, Jasper and Miles Lakin (played with possibly a bit too much relish by John Laurie and Harold Scott), who are as a corrupt a pair of crooks as you could imagine: in return for a substantial fee, they help would-be criminals to plan and execute whatever nefarious scheme they have in mind, all with an eye to their being able to present an impenetrable defence when and if it comes to court. This suits Steed, who has it in mind to kill Mrs Gale…

Two diabolical masterminds, yesterday.

Yes, it’s all a scheme to get evidence on the crooked solicitors, but well-told. The problem is that it goes on for most of the episode, which leads to a rather busy and possibly slightly confusing final act. There’s also the slight problem that – so far as I can see – we’re never told who the real Johnno is, or why Steed initially came to befriend a traitor and a blackguard. Are there two Johnnos? If not, why are the defence making such a big deal of it? As I say, a fun episode, but probably best to enjoy the details rather than worrying about the plot.

The same is really true of Malcolm Hulke’s The Undertakers, which opens with a very Avengers-y sequence where a bunch of undertakers carrying a coffin arrive at an office, shoot the man working there, and carry him away in said receptacle (possibly it’s a bit Prisoner-y, too). A classic Avengers hook, I would say.

The episode proceeds with Steed looking forward to a tour of the USA, looking after a prominent scientist who is due to have a series of important meetings.  ‘I’ll send you a postcard!’ Steed promises as he takes his leave of Mrs Gale. ‘Remember to put a stamp on it this time,’ is Cathy’s deadpan response. However, Steed doesn’t get his trip, as the man he is due to accompany has apparently gone into retreat, at a very exclusive retirement home, where visitors are not allowed without an invitation. Luckily it turns out that the place is looking for a new assistant manageress…

It all turns out to be something to do with inheritance tax (that old stand-by of escapist action-adventure stories). If nothing else, watching The Undertakers will give you a better understanding of early-60s tax law, always assuming Hulke bothered to do his research properly (I have great respect for the writer so I expect this is the case). Apparently the inheritance tax rate was at something around 80% at this time, which if you are the partner or child of a rich bod is far from ideal. One way of dodging this would be for the money to be handed over prior to death as a gift, with the crucial caveat that the original owner had to continue to breathe for another five years after making this act of generosity. Can you see where this is going?

Yes, all the secluded folk in the retirement home have actually been killed by the undertakers, but the illusion that they are still alive is being preserved so the death duties can be dodged when their passing is eventually announced. I think. Once again, it does all get a little bit confusing, and much of the execution doesn’t quite have the kind of lightness-of-touch one might hope for given this is The Avengers. However, there are some other fun, quirky touches: there’s an early instance of Steed displaying his mastery of brolly-fu when he gets a fight in a room full of coffins, for instance.

Also of interest is the climax, which is a lengthy gunfight in the grounds of the retirement home, with both Steed and Mrs Gale taking on the two main villains. This is shot on location, on film, in broad daylight, and possibly constitutes another first for the series (although filmed sequences become increasingly common and lavish across season two): it feels much more like a season four moment than something from season 2. It provides a big lift to the climax of the episode, which is probably just as well given the nature of much of the plot. Not surprisingly, tax law is not a topic one readily associates with The Avengers.

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The issue I’ve previously mentioned in connection with TV in the early 60s – that there seems to be only an extremely limited talent pool available – is once again apparent when we come to Six Hands Across a Table, an episode which doesn’t quite warrant such a florid title. Not only does it feature Philip Madoc in one of the lead roles (Madoc previously turned up as a suspicious foreigner in The Decapod, back at the start of the season), but it is written by Reed de Rouen, who also appeared as a bad guy in The Removal Men.

This is a slightly more routine episode than either of those, though still not really The Avengers-that-we-know-and-love. A consortium of shipping moguls are planning on constructing a revolutionary new vessel, but one of their number is threatening to split with the plan by involving the perfidious French in the project! That’s not the kind of attitude that made Britain great. The removal of their errant associate is the top item on the board’s agenda…

The new ship is such a prestige project that Steed is keeping an eye on things and liaising with his French ‘opposite number’ (the mind boggles at what the French equivalent of Steed might be like), and he does not share the insular and Francophobic attitudes of the conspirators. What complicates matters, and makes this rather more character-driven than almost any other Avengers episode you might care to mention (well, there’s that New Avengers episode where Purdey falls for Martin Shaw…), is that one of the leaders of the plot is the father of an old friend of Mrs Gale’s (it looks like he must have been about fourteen when he became a dad), and he and Cathy have recently developed a bit of a thing…

Most of the rest of it concerns boardroom arguments, tricky business with stocks and shares, union troubles, suspicious accidents at shipyards, and people complaining about the decline of British industry: only the prospect of Mrs Gale in love makes it especially memorable. Steed seems to be actively trying to wind her up about it, as usual: only at the end, when the story is resolved and she seems genuinely upset, does he come close to actually showing any sympathy. Being Steed, this takes the form of his asking if she fancies giving him a lift, but such is the extent to which the relationship between Steed and Mrs Gale has been established that it does speak volumes. That bit’s good, Philip Madoc is always very watchable; the rest, not so much.

Season two concludes with John Lucarotti’s Killer Whale. In the course of a prolific career, Lucarotti is perhaps best remembered as the writer of a series of historically-set science fiction stories produced by the BBC in the early to mid 1960s; this is a much more… well, I was going to say realistic story, but as it concerns the intersection of boxing and the smuggling of rare whale products, perhaps that’s overstating the facts. It’s perhaps not quite as odd as  – to choose a vaguely similar example – that Babylon 5 episode which mingles bareknuckle boxing with Jewish funerary traditions, but it’s not that far off.

While round at Mrs Gale’s place ravaging the drinks cabinet, Steed meets Joey (Kenneth Farrington), the star pupil at her judo class down the local youth club (how does she find the time…?). (Farrington is visibly in his mid-to-late 20s, which might one to wonder what kind of ‘youth’ club this is, but it was the sixties, people aged more quickly, I suppose.) Apparently Joey is a handy boxer, too, but doesn’t have the cash to try going pro (again, just how old is he supposed to be…?). Steed offers to bankroll and manage him, until Cathy smartly steps in, recognising when Steed is up to something: he may provide the money, but she will do the actual managing.

Her instincts are quite right, as it turns out Steed’s apparent act of generosity is just a pretext to justify his hanging around at the boxing club of one Pancho Driver (Patrick Magee). Steed is on the trail of people smuggling ambergris (a whale extract used in the production of perfume) and is pretty sure the gym is a front, but his investigations so far have turned nothing up. Hence his scheme with Joey.

The details of what follows are not especially memorable, given the care with which the premise is estabished: adding Joey to the mix shakes up the usual dynamic slightly (he is almost a proto-Gambit, able to pull his weight in the fight scenes), and Magee is as effective a presence as usual. But it is, as usual, slightly mechanical, studio-bound stuff, with uninspired plotting, people turning up dead just in time for the ad breaks, and not fantastically well-staged fight scenes. I find myself a little reminded of The Decapod, again, even though that was about wrestling rather than boxing – although that particular episode was just so weird it was sort of memorable in a way this mostly isn’t.

Anyway, we thus come to the end of a season which is, any way you look at it, a mixed bag. One is inevitably reminded that TV drama 57 years ago was almost unrecognisably different – filmed as-live and studio-bound, this seems to have acted as a spur to the creativity of the programme-makers rather than a limitation. No TV drama nowadays would contemplate doing a story set in Jamaica, Peru and Chile, and make it entirely in the studio; likewise, no TV show these days would respond to losing its lead actor the way The Avengers did: promote the second lead and then introduce a rotating cast of new partners for him. The experiment is ultimately a successful one, given it allowed them to see that Mrs Gale’s character worked best and drop Venus Smith and Dr King (although I understand that King was only intended as a stopgap for use in scripts written for season one’s Dr Keel). I expect that season three will prove rather more consistent and see a gradual shift towards the ‘classic Avengers style’ I keep going on about. We shall see.

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Deep in The Avengers‘ second season we come across Man in the Mirror by Geoffrey Orme and Anthony Terpiloff, such a thin piece of work that it does seem to suggest a production team struggling to keep things together. Most of it isn’t that bad, I suppose, it’s just very slow and obvious.

After an opening which features a man being found dead at a funfair, there’s an extended sequence of Steed turning up to a briefing and chatting with various colleagues: which would be an interesting insight into the way his department operates, were it not for the suspicion that it’s really just filler. On this occasion he’s working for the first time with yet another superior, One-Six (Arthur Gover): Steed’s new boss is a stickler for procedure and is clearly not much taken with Steed’s more swashbuckling style, suggesting that a protracted stint of office work may be good for Steed’s attitude. The particular assignment is to investigate the recent apparent suicide of a man called Trevelyan, an expert in cryptography – if it really was a suicide, the department can relax and not worry about having to change all its codes. If not…

Venus takes Steed’s dog for a walk to the funfair where Trevelyan was found dead at the top of the episode and enjoys herself with the camera Steed has lent her (apparently he wants some pictures of the location where the body was found and has sent her here deliberately, which is just as well or this episode would be based on a completely preposterous coincidence). However, when the photos of the hall of mirrors are developed, one of them shows a man’s reflection – it seems to be Trevelyan! Could he still be alive?

You can probably work out the rest of this one for yourself, although your version may end up with more twists and a slightly more cohesive and rewarding climax than the episode they ended up making. Pretty mundane, ambling stuff, and the apparently obligatory musical interludes where Venus does a couple of numbers don’t really help much (she started off as some sort of jazz singer, but in this one she’s singing the folk song I Know Where I’m Going from the Powell and Pressburger film of the same name). Undistinguished and unmemorable.

Much the same is true of Conspiracy of Silence, from the typewriter of Roger Marshall, which is part of that subset of Avengers episodes concerned with circuses and killer clowns. (Possibly I am overestimating the frequency of this particular trope.) This is, as you might expect from a second season episode, towards the naturalistic end of the spectrum, and concerns an Italian circus performer, long established in England, finding himself unwillingly activated as an agent of the Mafia. Suffice to say that if he wasn’t before, he is now the crying-on-the-inside kind of clown. Quite why the Mafia have singled out the clown as their hitman of choice is not clear, as he seems both temperamentally and physically unsuited for the role. However, we shouldn’t be too upset as his assigned target is none other than Steed, who has been making a nuisance of himself breaking up the Mafia’s drug pushing activities.

The clown turns out to be about as much use as a contract killer as you might expect, missing Steed at short range while our hero is out walking his dog (Sheba not Freckles on this occasion). Even worse, he drops not only his gun, but his briefcase, which contains various helpful clues as to his identity. (What kind of a hitman, or indeed a circus clown, carries a briefcase around with them?) Steed wastes no time in inserting Mrs Gale into the circus in order to discover what’s really going on.

A little trouble in a big top.

The premise of the episode, not to mention the opening section, is so dubious that it really struggles to recover; there are some interesting characters, but also a few duds, and much of it is played as a melodrama (for example, many of the scenes between the clown and his wife). There is some interesting tension in the Steed-Gale relationship (a bit more than usual), but other than the circus setting there is little to elevate the episode or make it especially memorable.

The last of the Venus Smith episodes heaves into view in the form of A Chorus of Frogs, which is supposedly the best of the bunch. I can see how you might think this, but on the other hand it is one of those ‘exotic’ episodes which I don’t think the series ever handles especially well. A part-time agent (basically, a mercenary) turns up dead in the Med, apparently of the bends, having seemingly been dumped from the yacht of millionaire Archipelago Mason (Eric Pohlman). Steed, who is on holiday in the area and sporting what Mel and Sue used to call le fashion nautique, meets up with One-Six who packs him off to investigate what Mason is up to: the complication being that the dead man was part of a tight-knit crew of divers known as the Frogs, who are intent on doing a spot of avenging of their own…

This is by no means the worst studio-bound Avengers episode set largely on a boat, but the bar in this area is set particularly low. It’s okay, I suppose: the tension between Steed’s activities, those of the Frogs, and those of Mason and his backers from the Other Side, creates an interesting dynamic even if the actual revelation of what’s going on is relatively pedestrian (tests on a new type of bathyscape which could revolutionise the production of midget submarines). Much of the fun of the episode comes from Steed having to stow away on Mason’s yacht, which requires him to hide out in Venus’ cabin, much to her chagrin (once again we have to accept the apparently monumental coincidence that she just happens to be singing in the vicinity of where Steed has an assignment in progress): she and Steed even butt heads in a very mild way, although her general uselessness as a sidekick is still much in evidence, as are the musical numbers (Julie Stevens sings straight to the camera some of the time, which is a bit jarring). One other odd quirk stems from the fact that there were apparently only about twelve people involved in making British TV in 1963: Frank Gatliff, who was in an earlier episode of season 2, reappears here as a different character. All in all this is a reasonably good episode; the best of an indifferent bunch.

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I know I have complained about the slight level of confusion that seems to pertain when it comes to the running order of the second season epsiodes of The Avengers, but I suppose this is somewhat understandable given the episodes were transmittedly well out of their production sequence: Warlock was only the fifth episode to be produced, but ended up being held back until late into the season, next to The Golden Eggs, which was broadcast less than a week after it was completed. This wouldn’t ordinarily be noticeable but for a very peculiar quirk of casting: Peter Arne plays the villain in both episodes (they are different characters). Arne is issued with glasses and a false moustache for Golden Eggs, and gives a very different performance, but even so. This sort of thing wouldn’t happen nowadays.

Other parts of the episode remain dismayingly topical. The house of an eminent research biologist is burglarised, but he insists nothing was taken. Steed is not so sure and sends Mrs Gale in to investigate, undercover as a reporter. It soon becomes apparent the scientist is covering something up. Meanwhile, the thief who carried out the robbery, on the orders of ruthless dealer-in-secrets Julius Redfern (Arne), is really not feeling at all well…

It turns up the thief has whipped a couple of golden eggs which were being used to culture a deadly new virus, Verity Prime, which causes respiratory failure in its victims. Needless to say it is up to Steed and Cathy to recover the eggs before something catastrophic happens. (Well, maybe: no internet or DVDs in 1963, when this episode was transmitted, which would have made lockdown an absolute ordeal, but on the other hand Alexander Boris Johnson was still years away from being born, so the government response to a lethal virus outbreak would probably have been more capable and perhaps its members even inclined to respect their own rules.)

Quite heavy stuff in places, or so it seems at the moment. The episode nevertheless isn’t afraid to play certain scenes with a light touch: after the hook scene, it opens with the suggestive image of Steed and Mrs Gale having breakfast together – it turns out her flat is being refurbished (again?) and Steed has agreed to put her up in return for her cooking for him. Later on there’s a scene where she is trying to glue a vase back together while some exposition goes back and forth, and of course the inevitable happens. Arne’s performance is also remarkably arch given the seriousness of the plot.

In the end, this is another solid but slightly atypical episode, a bit more Cathy-centric than usual (Steed is almost completely absent during the climax, vaguely suggesting he was somewhere in the area when Mrs Gale brings this up with him), and with a hard edge to it in places (three characters are killed and their bodies destroyed with thermite to stop the virus spreading). Not bad at all.

Venus Smith comes back for School for Traitors, in which Steed once again displays prophetic powers by inserting her into the locale of his next mission before he’s actually been assigned it (on this occasion his handler is One-Seven – I can only assume Douglas Muir, who plays One-Ten, was busy that week). A student at one of the great old universities of England (Oxford, Cambridge, Hull) commits suicide under slightly suspicious circumstances, especially when there were previously reports that the young man was being blackmailed. Have agents of the Other Side managed to infiltrate the British higher education system?

Well, of course they have, although as this episode aired only a couple of weeks after Kim Philby, one of the notorious Cambridge spies, fled to the Soviet Union, it’s not the most far-fetched of premises. To be honest, the whole episode is rather down-to-earth, maybe even mundane: the various bright young chaps of the university are suborned not through anything especially scandalous but by being persuaded to forge a signature on a cheque. Chief honeytrap is Melissa Stribling, a few years on from Dracula; her partner in crime is Reginald Marsh, who will probably be best remembered as playing Sir Dennis in many episodes of Terry and June. Various people get bumped off but the only memorable bit comes when Venus is sent some caustic face-cream and Steed sticks her head down the sink before she can explain she hasn’t used the stuff. Decent performances, though, I suppose. Venus Smith is obviously no-one’s idea of a classic Avengers girl, but I must confess I find Julie Stevens’ portrayal of her to be rather endearing, even if the musical numbers still drag somewhat.

Malcolm Hulke returns for the next episode, writing alone, and the result is The White Dwarf, another early episode with distinct science fiction overtones – handled quite seriously, too. A distinguished astronomer is murdered while observing the movements of a star – this is the white dwarf of the title (the episode handles the astronomy quite decently). Steed fills Mrs Gale in on the background, which is more momentous than usual: the astronomer had predicted that the small, intensely heavy star would enter the solar system and collide with the sun, dragging the Earth with it. The question is when and if the news should be annnounced to the public and other governments (Britain is the only country aware of the possibility). It must be said that Cathy and Steed are both very matter-of-fact and unmoved by the possibility of impending armageddon, and seem quite happy to press on with investigating the scientist’s murder. (It’s tempting to draw parallels with the BBC’s enjoyably daft 2018 cop show Hard Sun, which had a vaguely similar premise.)

Mrs Gale is packed off to the observatory, where the death has been hushed up to avoid revealing the truth about the dwarf star, and finds the usual mixed bag of suspects, while Steed sticks around in London and works on figuring out who would stand to benefit from a delay in determining whether or not the world is doomed. (It turns out that Steed is so laid back because he’s quietly sure the world will not end, on the grounds that there is no precedent for this happening. Very uncharacteristic woolly thinking, I would say, and at least Mrs Gale does take him to task for his spurious logic.) His investigations eventually lead him to a bunch of tycoons aiming to take advantage of the disturbance in the global stock market that will ensue if the news of impending doom is announced and then rowed back upon…

Again, one is impressed by the composure involved in coming up with such a scheme when everyone (apart from Steed) seems to think there is at least an equal chance that the theory of the approaching death star is correct, but so it goes. You could argue that the episode is built on a slightly flawed premise – there is no tension involved in the question of whether or not the world is ending, because we the viewers know it won’t – but it’s still another episode with a unique flavour to it. Hulke’s left-wing politics are on display in the choice of villains, obviously, but he’s by no means the only writer to have bad guys solely motivated by greed. This one scores points for originality, for well-drawn characters, and for a climax which is – rather unusually – shot on film, on location (though, again, Steed seems a bit out of character as he turns up packing a handgun). Nevertheless, another step towards The-Avengers-as-we-know-and-love-it.

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Box of Tricks is written by Edward Rhodes and Peter Ling – Ling is possibly best-remembered for co-creating the, erm, well-remembered soap opera Crossroads, but don’t let that put you off. Well, not entirely. This is another Venus Smith episode, although since her last appearance she has had a pixie cut and possibly acquired some sort of recreational drug habit, to judge from the way her personality has changed: perky and effervescent don’t begin to cover it.

The episode opens with a magician’s assistant turning up murdered in mid-act (a tired variation on the old ‘vanishing woman’ gag, and the fact the script repeats it before the first ad break doesn’t help), which is bad news for the nightclub where the deed takes place. Luckily, they get Venus in as a replacement act (it seems that Steed has been acting as her agent and wangled this, although the line explaining why has either got lost or isn’t given enough emphasis). Steed’s current assignment is to work undercover in the house of a distinguished elderly general as his masseur, from where it has been established there is a security leak of some kind.

For quite a long time there seem to be two plots running in parallel, in the nightclub and the general’s house, and the connective tissue turns out to be a Dr Gallam (Edgar Wreford), a plausible-seeming faith healer. Gallam’s particular schtick is to insist his subjects carry around a sealed box containing curative substances, the revelation of which marks the point at which any half-awake viewer can figure out what’s really going on in this episode. Not especially distinguished, but watchable – one is inevitably curious about what the original version of the story would have been like, as it was intended to include Steed, Venus, and Cathy acting as a troika. As it is, you can see why Steed tends to work with more capable partners than Venus, who is rubbish in a fight: he has to take on all the villains himself, and while he approaches this in his usual nonchalant style – at one point lighting a fag in mid-scrap – he ends up having to rely on a guest character to help him win the day.

Doreen Montgomery’s Warlock is a definite outlier as episodes of The Avengers go, pushing the series into areas you really don’t associate it with, but in a way this does add to its odd appeal. It also has a certain significance for being the episode originally intended to introduce Cathy Gale to the series, although it was eventually pushed back to much later in the running order and most of the duo’s scenes together refilmed – although not quite all of them, resulting in various odd little moments like Cathy calling him ‘Mr Steed’ at one point, which really does feel not quite right.

Given the title, it’s not entirely surprising that the episode opens at some kind of witches’ sabbat, although these seem to be syncretists rather than Satanists considering that their ritual includes voodoo drumming, hermetic symbols on the floor, and traditional Chinese iconography on the wall (given the famously primitive conditions under which these episodes were made, the hermetic symbols may just be the marks showing the actors where to stand so they’re in shot). The focus of their attention is a photo of a distinguished-looking older man.

It turns out this chap is a top missile boffin, whom Steed is supposed to be taking to an important meeting – but when when Steed turns up to collect him, he’s still in bed, seemingly frozen stiff and eyes frantically boggling. The doctor suggests there’s nothing actually wrong with him beyond some kind of psychological shock, and an odd plant found in the man’s hand, together with his extensive library of occult tomes, leads Steed to wonder if there isn’t some sort of occult connection.

Mrs Gale, of course, is an expert on the occult (add that to her lengthy list of areas of expertise) and Steed tracks her down to the Natural History Museum, where she’s helping out with the fossil collection (palaeontology, too) where she gives her opinion as forthrightly as ever: black magic really can have an influence over people who believe in it. One-Ten eventually meets up with Steed and reminds him of another important government scientist with an interest in the occult, who died in mysterious circumstances a few years earlier.

Our heroes’ investigations lead them to the occult bookshop of the resplendently-monickered Dr Cosmo Gallion (Peter Arne), whom we the viewers already know is the warlock leading the witch cult from the top of the episode. Gallion has hit upon a scheme to bolster his income from the bookshop by luring important government scientists into joining his coven, putting the ‘fluence on them, and then making them give their secrets away to the Other Side (what the supposedly materialistic leaders of the Other Side will make of their agents employing a magician is something the episode leaves to the imagination). Can Steed and Mrs Gale put a stop to Gallion’s rather bizarre scheme?

Peter Arne in the first of two back-to-back villainous appearances.

As I say, a definite outlier for the series, not least because it includes elements more normally associated with fantasy and horror. Never mind what Mrs Gale says about black magic ultimately being only a subjective, psychosomatic phenomenon, there are scenes here where Gallion uses his powers to great effect against people who clearly don’t believe in the supernatural – so the episode seems to be suggesting that magic is real, in Steed’s world at least! It’s fascinating to speculate how the series could have developed differently had the writers decided to follow up on this notion, rather than going with the more science-fictional elements that eventually became commonplace in the show.

All interesting stuff, and the episode opens strongly, but the episode unravels before the ending and the pacing is a bit iffy in places. Montgomery also seems to be struggling to quite get a handle on Steed’s character – he actually gets drunk at one point, which seems very out of character, and spends most of the next scene trying to get Cathy to go back to his place with him. I suppose it’s understandable, given Warlock was written when the character was still being developed, but given these scenes were mostly reshot, it’s a shame they couldn’t have been tweaked a bit too. Nevertheless, an episode with more than enough originality to make it very watchable.

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We spend our last few minutes in the company of Jon Rollason as Dr King in Eric Paice’s Dead on Course (four of the last seven episodes have had Dead or Death in their titles, which perhaps speaks to a certain lack of imagination in the script department). A passenger jet flying from Canada to Ireland crashes after having navigational problems, which would ordinarily be just a tragedy – but given this is the second flight in a short period to meet the same fate, going down in the same small area, Steed has been packed off to oversee the crash investigation and see if foul play was involved. He has brought Dr King along to have a look at the bodies of the passangers and see if there are any signs this wasn’t just an ordinary crash. 

Well, of course it wasn’t, and the fact that both planes were carrying large sums of cash tips Steed off to what may have been going on. The revelation of what’s been going on involves corruption at the airline, the local pub in the village of Ballyknock, a fake navigational beacon and some very bad habits from the nuns at the local convent. There’s a wonderful moment when the mother superior suddenly whips out a sten gun to take Dr King prisoner, an unintentionally hilarious one when a corpse King has solemnly declared to have been strangled starts blinking at the camera in close-up, some technical problems with the cameras, and Steed revealing an unexpected talent when he starts flying a passenger jet. The best of the Dr King episodes, but still sub-par compared to the average Mrs Gale or even Venus Smith story.

Another episode from Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke comes along next, in the form of Intercrime. This isn’t quite up to the standard of their previous offering, but it’s pacy stuff and hangs together well – it will probably also give the viewer that ‘I know what’s coming next!’ sense, which I actually think is a sign of a story that’s working, or at least meeting expectations.

A couple of safebreakers turn up shot, one fatally, but their loot was left untouched. Steed concludes that they were members of a new international criminal organisation, Intercrime, which has recently set up in London, who have been made an example of for indulging in a little unauthorised private enterprise. However, the survivor knows the name of a woman from the German branch of Intercrime who is due to be arriving in town very soon, which gives Steed the opportunity to infiltrate the gang – if only he can find someone to impersonate a female German assassin…

Jerome Willis’ sister was a supply teacher at my mum’s school. Not a lot of people know that, and even fewer care.


This is the kind of episode that puts one in mind of Brian Clemens’ description of the Steed-Gale relationship (or was he talking about Steed and Peel? Hmmm) – they are Bing Crosby and Bob Hope in the Road series of films, and he keeps talking her into wrestling the alligator. Steed really must be a silver-tongued devil – Cathy seems like someone with her head screwed on, and yet here Steed persuades her into letting herself be put on remand in Holloway prison, and then – an incredibly dicey prospect! – go undercover in an organisation of killers, with no guarantee she won’t be rumbled and shot on the spot.

As you might expect, the person who Cathy is pretending to be escapes, thus setting up an energetic climax with a lot of running around from everyone (including the odd cameraman, who wanders past in the background of one shot). Lots of plot here, perhaps a bit lacking in that vital Avengers quirkiness, but robustly put together and entertaining.

My first exposure to videotape-era Avengers came in 1992 when The Gilded Cage was shown as part of a strand called TV Heaven; the following January the station followed up with a whole run of Keel and Gale repeats (well, mostly Gale, considering that only one Keel episode was known to exist at the time). For some reason I am certain that (along with November Five) Immortal Clay, written by James Mitchell, was one of the episodes I watched then (most of them I just had taped and then forgot about – sorry, mum) – I’m not sure where this certainty comes from, for other than the fact it has Paul Eddington in it I had no memory of the plot prior to this latest re-watch.

An industrial spy turns up dead in the slip tank of a small ceramics company while Mrs Gale happens to be visiting (she is planning to write a book about pottery, when not doing anthropology, helping out at the Natural History Museum, birdwatching, or studying modern European languages). By a stupendous coincidence, Steed has been ordered to investigate the same company by One-Ten – their chief researcher is reputedly on the verge of discovering how to make indestructible ceramic tiles, which will obviously be of significant value to all sorts of industries. Who killed the spy? And can Steed and Mrs Gale keep the Other Side from getting their hands on the miraculous tile?

The setting gives this a certain distinctiveness, and there are very… vigorous… perfomances from Steve Plytas and Frank Olegario as the representatives of the Other Side, but rather too much of it is duff, mundane stuff, concerned with the convoluted personal lives of the various people working at the pottery: the chief designer has developed an unrequited love for the factory’s blonde bombshell, who wants to be an actress, and resents the fact she’s sweet on the chief researcher. The researcher’s brother, on the other hand, is letting the grind of business embitter him and is in danger of having his marriage fall apart. Steed in particular wanders through all this like an emissary from a different world entirely. It passes the time, but a chief plot point is that the one and only indestructible tile is turned into a tea cup for reasons of concealment, and (given the whole point of the thing is that it’s indestructible) I couldn’t figure out how they would have done this. Very nearly a thorough dud.

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One of the great what-ifs of cinema history is the question of what kind of career Bruce Lee would have enjoyed had he not passed away, aged only 32, a month before the release of his first major American movie in 1973. Certainly one gets a sense that big things were planned for Lee (perhaps not least by himself): the title of Enter the Dragon doesn’t really mean anything in the context of the film itself, but does make some sort of sense if you think of the film as Lee’s calling card for mainstream cinema. As it is, the card marked a departure rather than an arrival, but what a card it is.

Directed by Robert Clouse, the film opens with a mysterious British chap turning up to watch Lee (whose body appears to consist of something in the region of 90% sinew) put the smackdown on a rather less athletic member of his own temple (the proof that a successful career is not just the preserve of people who work out is that this actor, Sammo Hung, went on to become a martial arts superstar in a series of films with titles like Enter the Fat Dragon).

The spectator turns out to be Mr Braithwaite, a representative of British intelligence. Braithwaite wants Lee to attend a martial arts tournament to be held on the private island of the reclusive Mr Han (Shih Kien), and try to turn up evidence that Han is a drug-dealing white slaver. Lee’s own tutor takes him to one side and reveals that Han is actually a corrupted renegade member of Lee’s own Shaolin temple. On a quick trip home before heading off to the tournament, Lee’s dad reveals that it was Han’s men who drove his little sister to commit suicide some years earlier. It is fair to say he heads off on his mission feeling very well-motivated.

Other people on the boat are less burdened with back-story, but then this isn’t a vehicle for them. Chief amongst these are charmingly roguish (or possibly roguishly charming) American gambler Roper, (John Saxon), and his mightily-Afro’d old ‘Nam buddy Williams (Jim Kelly).  (This isn’t a particularly forgiving script for the various Asian actors: the Enter the Dragon drinking game includes taking a sip every time someone refers to the mysterious ‘Loper’ or ‘Wirriams’, two characters who are occasionally mentioned but never seen.)

Well, soon enough everyone arrives on Han’s island and gets down to the business of kicking great lumps out of one another. Will Han succeed in luring Roper and Williams (or even Loper and Wirriams) into joining his nefarious organisation? Will Lee succeed in his mission? Will everything come to a peaceful conclusion? (Clue: of course it won’t.)

Enter the Dragon has a bit of an image problem amongst my immediate family: when my father came across me watching it, he was moved to start leaving me slightly sarcastic notes around the house suggesting I might want to reconsider my choice of recreational viewing. My sister refused to stay in the room during a subsequent viewing some years later. The case that the movie is essentially just schlock, a kind of soft-core pornography of violence (and perhaps not just violence) is, at first glance anyway, a difficult one to answer. My answer would probably be: yes, but what schlock! What violence!

It is the case that this is not a film aspiring to heights of erudition and a sophisticated insight into the human condition. It is emotional, kinetic, superficial and visceral. ‘Man, you come right out of a comic book,’ says Williams to Han at one point, scornfully, but he overlooks the fact that he himself and every other character and plot element has been derived from comics and pulp fiction. The Bond series seems to have been a particular donor: at one point Han gives Roper a tour of his secret base (he keeps his own skeletal severed hand in a display case, or so it is implied), and of course he is carrying a white cat around with him as he does so.

There is something bizarrely reductionist about the plot: the film establishes characters and setting in the most minimal way. Lee, driven martial arts guru, is playing Lee, a driven martial arts guru; Han, it is made absolutely clear, is a very naughty man; and there is a kung fu tournament which will provide many opportunities for violence. Perfunctory doesn’t begin to cover it, but then the film is primarily a vehicle for Bruce Lee and his martial arts choreography.

You do get a strong sense that the producers of the film are playing it very safe and don’t fully appreciate what a talent they had on their hands in Lee – this is not the most demanding of acting roles for him, but he still manages to find places to play scenes against expectation and find comedy in unlikely moments. Given his natural charisma, it’s easy to imagine him carrying off a much more sophisticated role very successfully. He certainly doesn’t need to be teamed up with John Saxon, who is presumably here to do the heavy lifting in the acting department and present a Caucasian face for audiences resistant to a Chinese lead actor. Saxon gives a decent performance considering he is essentially supernumerary to the film. I only found out recently that the actor is in real life a karate black belt; nevertheless, his fight scenes in this film have a distinct whiff of dressage about them as he hops about somewhat inelegantly.

Any action involving Lee is on a different level, however, whether it’s an individual fight or the sequences in which he takes on armies of opponents singlehandedly (Jackie Chan is somewhere in the crowd, as well as doubling for Lee in a few stunt sequences). You can almost sense that the grammar of the American martial arts movie is being written as you watch, but few other stars have had Lee’s intensity and virtuosity. The fight in the maze of mirrors is one of those sequences which has been endlessly ripped off ever since. Pretty much the only complaint you can make about the fight sequences is that Clouse’s direction is often not up to scratch, filming Lee in mid-shot where the full extent of his speed and skill is often unclear (too much is going on beyond the edges of the frame).

It’s hard to imagine where an eighty-something Bruce Lee would be now; possibly still producing and directing movies, but most likely having moved on to something else – politics, perhaps, or spirituality. We shall never know. This is, of course, his most famous film for western audiences, and one designed for him. He dominates it completely, and yet for all the irresistible entertainment it provides, it somehow doesn’t do him justice. But this much is obvious even while you’re enjoying it as an irresistible piece of genre cinema, and I imagine it does a great job of inspiring people to learn more about him.

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They say there’s no such thing as a job for life any more (personally, right now I would settle for a guaranteed six months), but that’s not the case for everyone. Once a movie star, always a movie star – which is to say that, once you achieve a certain level of success, you are always going to be guaranteed some kind of gig simply because of how recognisable your name is, as long as you don’t mind lowering your standards and possibly working abroad. Every maker of low-budget genre movies is delighted to be able to slap a proper movie star name on the publicity, often in inappropriately large print.

But why should you, as a successful movie star, contemplate demeaning yourself in this way? Well, most likely because you can’t get a decent gig any more, either because no-one is going to see your films or you have done something so unspeakable even Hollywood film producers won’t be seen in your company. Yes, we are here to talk about Mel Gibson, who managed to almost destroy one of the most successful careers in Hollywood with various bouts of alcohol-fuelled bigotry. Even through Gibson’s wilderness years, however, he was still managing to land the odd part, with the longest pause between lead roles coming between Signs, in 2002, and Edge of Darkness in 2010. This latter film appears to have been a slightly marginal release – the end of January is not a prime juncture to be releasing a thriller with an $80 million budget – and possibly Gibson agreed to do it for a reduced fee, or perhaps because he was a big fan of the original material.

The movie is directed (not entirely surprisingly) by Martin Campbell. Gibson plays Tom Craven, a veteran Boston detective who has a slightly awkward relationship with with his daughter Emma (Bojana Novakovic). Nevertheless, Craven is delighted when she comes round for dinner, even though there is clearly something on her mind. Maybe even more than that, for she is suddenly taken violently ill, and on the way to the car they are jumped by a masked gunman. Emma is shot and instantly killed and the killer makes his escape.

Everyone’s assumption is that this is someone from Craven’s past with a score to settle, but he is not so sure. His investigations lead him to Emma’s employers at Northmoor, a private company linked to the defence establishment, and also reveal that she was part of a group of activists working to limit environmental damage and nuclear proliferation. His discoveries eventually attract the attention of Darius Jedburgh (Ray Winstone), an enigmatic British security consultant employed by Northmoor and its allies in the government to keep situations like this from attracting publicity: Northmoor is illegally producing nuclear weapons for deniable use, and when they attempted to reveal this, Emma and three of her friends were murdered. Can Craven bring the truth to light or will the conspiracy silence him as well?

Yes, well, the key thing to bear in mind about Edge of Darkness is that it is based – loosely! – on a British TV serial (mini-series, I suppose) from 1985, which Campbell also directed. To call the TV series critically acclaimed is an understatement – for many serious critics as well as viewers, it remains a landmark piece of TV drama, emblematic of a time when British television drama was not afraid to be bold, ambitious, and include a touch of fantasy. Although ostensibly about a conspiracy within the nuclear industry, the series touches on a vast range of themes and ideas, incorporating the Gaia hypothesis of James Lovelock, the implication of a generational feud between rival secret societies, Anglo-American politics in the 1980s, and some genuinely fantastical elements (the original script ended with Craven mystically transforming into a tree, symbolising the coming restoration of the balance of nature by the elimination of the human race). It is a mind-boggling, frequently breath-taking achievement.

This is not true of the movie version of Edge of Darkness, which is, not to put too fine a point on it, just another bog-standard Mel Gibson revenge thriller, about a man on a mission to get justice for his daughter’s death. Forget the place of humanity within the ecology of the planet, the closest this comes to a substantive subplot is Craven’s increasing realisation that he didn’t know his daughter as well as he thought he did.

It does make you wonder what Martin Campbell really thought the core of Edge of Darkness was, for once past the initial set-up and Emma’s murder the two pieces diverge in almost every imaginable way – the characters of Craven, Emma, and Jedburgh are just about recognisable (the fact that Robert De Niro walked off the movie led to Winstone being cast, which at least inverts the nationalities of the characters from the TV version), but the character of Bennett is promoted to being chief villain, and Danny Huston plays him almost as a panto bad guy. This is another of those movies which sets up the stock figure of the private security contractor as a hissable villain – which I suppose is as good a way as any of allowing American audiences to process any ambiguity they may feel towards their country’s foreign policy adventures over the last two decades without the film criticising, even implicitly, members of the country’s armed forces.

It’s not just that the movie takes a genuinely thought-provoking and multi-faceted drama and reduces it to something not unlike Death Wish, it’s that even on its own terms Edge of Darkness is just not a very good movie. It is oddly paced, slow at the start (many scenes of Gibson wandering mournfully around empty rooms on his own) and rushed at the end. The requirements of the plot result in many very odd and often inexplicable contortions: there’s a repeated motif where someone poisons someone else, usually with irradiated milk, but as it takes a long time for someone to die from radiation poisoning the film chivvies things along by having them subsequently shot anyway.

If I say that Gibson is competent, then it may largely be because the film has obviously been tailored to suit his persona: he looks intense and beats people up a lot. Ray Winstone actually makes a fairly positive impression as Jedburgh, though this is an almost completely different character from the TV version: rather than a rogue CIA agent pursuing his own rather cryptic agenda, here Jedburgh is yet another security consultant, albeit one who has improbably grown a conscience. Hardly anyone else in the film makes much of an impression, but then the film as a whole hardly lingers in the memory much. The best I can say for it is that it made me want to watch the British version of the story. I fear it may have the opposite effect on anyone not familiar with the TV show, which is possibly the most heinous sin it commits. A bad movie, regardless.

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