Venus is back, and I’m starting to appreciate the approach of alternating between associates for Steed. It certainly keeps things fresh. This time Venus has found herself a job as a singer in a French nightclub, where there is a lot of 60s dancing going on: lean forwards, wriggle hips from side to side, repeat. It’s a good job with a decent rate of pay, and Steed waltzes in and messes it all up for her. She is remarkably tolerant of him.
When Venus is in an episode of The Avengers we have to have some singing, and there are a couple of great numbers from her, including one where she has to play the piano herself, despite Julie Stevens not being a pianist and having to learn a few simple jazz chords. It’s great that everyone cared enough to get that kind of thing right, because I’ve seen far too many television dramas where somebody flutters their hands randomly across the keys of a piano in an unconvincing fashion. As a bonus we get a full performance from the Dave Lee Trio, which is a treat in itself. I have mentioned before how much I like the pacing of 60s television, where enough time is given for something like that, without worrying too much about keeping the plot moving along. We’ve lost the art of allowing a story room to breathe nowadays.
Apart from a couple of songs, Venus doesn’t have much to do this episode, which instead has a strong focus on the magnificent Steed. His infiltration of a gang of hired killers feels very dangerous. This gang is responsible for the deaths of around 25 to 30 people, after all. I love the way Steed earns the trust of Dragna (played by Reed De Rouen, Pa Clanton in The Gunfighters, for the Doctor Who actor spotters, and co-author of Jon Pertwee’s pipe dream of an unmade Doctor Who script). There’s a wonderful scene where somebody is sneaking around Dragna’s apartment, stealing jewellery from a safe, and then we get the shock twist that it’s actually Steed. It’s fun to see Steed playing the criminal, just so he can impress Dragna, and when they get to meet you can absolutely understand how Dragna is taken in by Steed’s persuasive charm. There’s an effortless air of confidence about him, which lasts throughout most of the episode, until his double-crossing is discovered and then for the first time he looks uncomfortable.
The way Steed’s plan fails, although he seems to be so in control of the situation, illustrates what a clever and dangerous enemy he is facing, but in the climax to the episode there’s never much doubt that he will beat the bad guys. This is Steed at his most 007, shooting the villains dead at the end, just when I was thinking this series was going to be like The A Team with our heroes always keeping their hands clean. It certainly seemed that way in Propellant 23, when a bullet fired by Cathy was followed up by the comment, “he isn’t dead.” But this is definitely a drama made for an adult audience. We even get the sight of a man’s legs swinging after a “suicide”, which must have been pushing things to the absolute limit of what could be shown on television in 1962.
Edwin Richfield is back from Girl on the Trapeze to play a different character here: Bug Siegel, who is an effective voice of doubt in contrast to Dragna’s instinctive trust in Steed, adding an extra element of danger to proceedings, as Steed clearly never wins him over. Edina Ronay doesn’t have a huge role here as actress Nicole Cauvin but is absolutely entrancing and lights up the screen whenever she appears. But my favourite performance was Douglas Muir as One Ten, a rare sight of Steed’s boss (or one of them). Just about his first comment to Steed is to ask his opinion of how his front looks. Undaunted by the lack of a compliment (“medium rare”), he then tries to get Steed to rub some oil into his back. At the end of the episode he is hitting on Nicole. I must admit I found the old perv highly entertaining.
“110 and still batting.”
You can always rely on Steed to come up with a witty one-liner, another character trait he shares with James Bond. In fact, so far The Avengers has been a bit like watching a trimmed down Bond film each week. I’ve got no complaints about that. RP
The view from across the pond…
Had I been missing a critical clue at the start of each episode? Venus Smith shows up in the opening credits and I never noticed this?! Was it broadcast each time Cathy was not in an episode and I overlooked it, in that terrible opening theme music? I was immediately disappointed when I realized we’d have no Cathy and instead The Happy Singer of Dreadful Songs would be the “companion” of the story but the episode caught my attention in virtually every other regard. In fact, this is the best episode I’ve seen so far. And by a long shot too!
It didn’t start off that way. Steed breaks into a house, then wakes the sleeping woman so that she specifically can see his face. Then he uses his real name when introducing himself to the bad guys. How clever is this guy exactly? But it all comes together fairly quickly. Steed is robbing a criminal as a means of being interviewed for a job. This entire episode had the feel of many big budget Hollywood movies, in fact. Maybe this was Oceans 1, the original heist movie/episode. There’s a huge cast of characters too not unlike those big budget movies. On top of that, the main bad guy, Jack, is very cordial with Steed. I’d go so far as to say that’s the most appealing part of the story; there’s a genial nature that exists with these villains. Steed is often very friendly in his approach as well, smiling even when he finds himself in harm’s way, so it’s a nice match. It makes the bad guys just people doing bad things rather than mustache twirlers. Although our friend from Doctor Who Edwin Richfield is back, and he is the closest we have to a cutout villain, but he’s less important than the others, so it doesn’t ruin the effect.
I also noticed how frequently Steed and those around him partake of very natural actions. Steed is on the beach at one point speaking to a colleague and a beach ball bounces by. He gives a half-hearted kick at it. When the owner of that ball runs by, he waves amiably. If that were scripted, it was genius. If it were ad-libbed, it was genius. In either case, it speaks of a very natural existence. It was one of the reasons why I loved Hartnell in Doctor Who; how often we all stumble over our words in real life. TV is so scripted that’s not allowed, but when things like this happen, it feels more real. That’s a great experience for a viewer. Speaking of genius, there’s an utterly brilliant moment of comedy when Steed presents the beautiful Nicole with flowers. She appreciatively thanks him for the “daffodils”. Steed looks shocked, does a double take and says they are roses. She says, “they all look the same to me!” I wasn’t expecting to laugh so hard! Even Jack’s wife, Cecile, has some fun with Steed when he brings her flowers (he’s in a flower-giving mood, I guess) saying she’ll put them in the bathtub (referring to the start of the episode when Steed locks her in the bathroom.)
As an old fan of The Honeymooners, I remember Ralph saying “be good to the people you meet on your way up… because you’re gonna meet the same people on your way back down!” Ralph delivered it with a comedic flare. Imagine my shock when I heard Nicole’s aid say the same thing to her! Speaking of things that shocked me, I was dumbfounded when Venus actually sells Steed out. I knew she didn’t mean to, but I was of the mindset that she knew his business and the fact that she almost gets them both killed took my breath away. She actually looked shocked and like earlier, this gave the sequence a realism that was highly believable. This story felt so much like a movie, I was amazed that it was only 50 minutes. It’s not a perfect 50 minutes though. There’s a few minutes just wasted on watching musicians play jazz music. I’m not a fan of jazz to begin with but I could appreciate it in doses, but to have such a good episode have so much filler… that was a massive disappointment!
The episode is a joy to watch, largely because the cast seems to be enjoying themselves so much. I’m hoping we’ve found the stride the series needed, since everyone seems to be having such a good time; surely there’s a comfort level between them now! The Removal Man was a fantastic episode and served to remove any doubt that there’s a lot of potential in this series. ML
Read next in the Junkyard… The Avengers: The Mauritius Penny