I am yet to see an episode of The Avengers I didn’t enjoy, despite the quality of the scripts being variable, and I think this episode put into perspective why that might be. The standard of acting has consistently been top notch. It’s hard to make a bad episode of something with great actors. That certainly applies here. Beyond the revelation of the exact nature of the crime being committed, there is not much to get excited about, and it’s generally a slow episode with little action, and yet I loved every minute of it. I have to put that down to the performances of Patrick Macnee, Honor Blackman and the guest actors playing the villains.
Out of those, the weakest link is surprisingly Frederick Jaeger as Getz, whose performance is a little flat. Only occasionally, when Getz is under pressure, does the character start to come to life (look out for that trademark stressy rub of the head, Doctor Who fans, which is so Sorenson) but most of the time he is an emotionless blank slate. He is not helped by Getz’s motivations being by far the most uninteresting of the three main villains: he just wants to get rich, and is a bit miffed about the lack of recognition he has received in the wider community for his skills. In contrast, both Sir James and Gregory are absolutely fascinating.
Let’s save the best for last and talk about Sir James first. He is an essential link in the chain of this crime. There’s no way they could have gotten away with it, without a crooked doctor to cover things up. But the interesting thing is that he has a very grounded view of money:
“It’s madness, of course, this pursuit of wealth far greater than anyone could possibly need.”
So why is he involved in the crime? Simply because he wants to make a real difference with his medical skills, setting up a clinic abroad, rather than pandering to the rich who are digging their graves with their knives and forks. I loved his fantasy of speaking his mind to a patient:
“Madam your heart flutters because you’re a gross and greedy overeater.”
Of course, it goes without saying that John Laurie lights up the screen every time he appears, but how about Leslie French as Gregory. How wasted was he in that minor little role in Silver Nemesis?! What a performance he delivers here. Gregory is a textbook gentleman’s gentleman, with politeness ingrained into him, following in a noble tradition of butlers who are more intelligent than their employers:
“I don’t have the benefit of education as my two colleagues have, but then I have a higher IQ than either of them.”
This could so easily have been an over-the-top representation of a bitter man, looking to get one up on the rich after a life of shining their shoes, but instead he just wants to have fun. He wants to misbehave a lot, particularly with women:
“I look forward to an association with a considerable number of good looking women.”
Gregory is by far the most entertaining character in this episode and his motivations are the most believable, played with beautiful subtlety by French. And ultimately Steed and Cathy are able to bring down the whole organisation because they are not united in their methods. Getz is willing to resort to murder, and that revelation shocks Gregory and Sir James. They weren’t prepared to go that far. The sober truth is that one crime leads to another. Gregory and Sir James thought they were committing a victimless crime, and had to learn the hard way that they had been naïve.
“Our dreams have betrayed us Gregory.”
“Sad about all our beautiful women.”
What great characters. I don’t think I will forget Gregory and Sir James in a hurry, and I ended up feeling quite sorry for them. In particular, Gregory deserved to live his dream of behaving badly, after a life of butlering. At least the title of the episode wasn’t literal, and that gorgeous Great Dane got to live after all. Hold on a minute… Gregory was shocked by the murders, but was willing to go along with the murder of a dog, wasn’t he? I’ve just changed my mind. The butler got what he deserved: absolutely nothing. RP
The view from across the pond…
I knew right away that I wasn’t going to be thrilled with this episode. It was the funeral in the rain that put me off. The sound quality was terrible and every bite of my popcorn was too noisy to hear the dialogue. Imagine having to stay very still while people are talking while popcorn sits in your mouth because each bite will drown out the sound! It gets better after the funeral, but it started me off on the wrong foot. And I have to wonder if the writers of this series had some conspiracy theory about banks and financial institutions as it’s the second episode in just a few weeks to show us a bad batch of bankers. Then Getz shows up and everything changed.
Frederick Jaeger, who plays Getz, may not get top billing but there’s something about him that is fascinating to watch. For me, a lifelong Doctor Who fan, the moment he put his hand to his temple and rubbed, I was waiting for Sorenson… I mean Getz to transform into a Mr. Hyde like creature. Alas, wrong show, but it was still fantastic to see him as one of this week’s bad guys. The best of the lot, however, is Gregory, the butler. He’s doing bad things for money but he’s a very decent fellow. This was one area that I was hoping Steed would be a bit more like Sherlock Holmes and let the man go. I even felt sorry for Sir James. While the bad guys are all winning points for me in this story, the good guys lost a lot. There’s a constable who is watching an injured man, Mr. Miller, who was found with £50,000 worth of diamonds in his belly. The constable wants a cigarette and allows the man to remain in the care of a faceless doctor; one who promptly kills the man! That constable, if he still has a job, is walking the beat for the next 10 years, you can bet! But it’s also the main cast that lets us down. Gale spends much of the episode lounging around and when she and Steed go to a wine tasting party, they are seen in each other’s company which gives them away later in the story. (I still credit Gale for being the world’s most calm fighter. Every time she bests a man, while he’s down, she’s relaxed as can be, slowly planning her next move.) And Steed, who continues to use his real name, nearly forgets diamonds as he walks out of the stock market room and later falls into a trap rather nicely. Admittedly this gives us a wonderful bit of dialogue with Gregory and I just love when the good guys and bad guys talk like friends, knowing a bad fate awaits one of them! And I was delighted to hear Cathy ask Steed, “must you be so callous?” I’ve been saying that for weeks! One point for Mike, if nothing more!
Let me segue for a moment to talk about Steed’s “real name”. For all I know, Steed may indeed be code name. But if he uses that one code name only, he’s effectively establishing it as his name and will always be recognized by it. If he were Guy Gadwah in one story and Elmer Gantry in the next and Maxwell Smart in yet another, the idea of a code name would work better. But using John Steed each time might hide that his real name is Dallas Powers, thus protecting an unseen family, but it’s no more effective at masking who he is! The bad guys just need to research John Steed and see he’s made his rounds with all the criminal fraternities, often at their expense. Code names, man… use them!
This series does do some things quite well though. I love the macabre and the ventriloquists dummy in this story might have taken the creepiest dummy ever prize. I loved that thing. The massive hound is one of a series of great looking dogs that have been in this series and I’m sure that dog wanted to audition for the Hound of the Baskervilles. There are also some moments that I wonder if they are scripted or just incredibly adlibbed. The scene of Cathy walking up the stairs being watched by Sir James is great because he seems to be truly lost in thought. Steed also does a lot of little things from week to week that make me impressed with how clever the actor is. I was less impressed watching Steed throw his cigarette on the floor of the office and step on it; that seemed really callous, since some poor shlub will have to clean that up. And I do wonder if it’s a British thing for people to talk to one another with their backs to their intended target. We saw that in season one and now Mrs. Miller does it with a man who may be buying her joke store. This deplorable habit leads to her death too. Far as I’m concerned, it was deserved. Who invites a stranger into their home or store, then takes away something they want and then turn their backs on them? I mean, I barely do that with people I know; I sure as the devil won’t be doing that with some unknown who comes in my story.
The Death of a Great Dane was a good episode in the end, but made so by little nuances from the cast and the writing of the characters. I would not say the story was that good. Wine lovers and stock markets might create a posh atmosphere, but I can’t say they make for a great spy story. OH, and one last thing: I’m not a huge fan of wine, but how much would one need to drink to really be able to name a year that a wine is from? I’m sure it’s a thing, but it seems like one of those affectations put on by the wealthy to seem more impressive than they are. No, this story was forgettable, but at least it kept the characters interesting enough to push me on to the next story. ML
Read next in the Junkyard… The Avengers: The Sell-Out