Avengers, The - The '66 Collection: Set 2, Volume 3 (DVD) (DVD, 1999)

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"The Avengers" - Butlers, Brimstone And Brits Banned In Boston

Nov 14, 2009
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Superlative star chemistry and dialogue. A Touch Of Brimstone far ahead of its time.

Cons:Black & White format may repel non-believers.

The Bottom Line: Clever, fast and fun, The Avengers is a contemporary television classic.


Before season four of The Avengers was imported to the States (via ABC), various co-stars and production formats had come-and-gone. An infusion of American interest (and capital) brought an upgrade from videotape to 35mm film stock and yet another attractive co-star to replace the departing blonde and athletic Honor Blackman (Goldfinger).

An unknown but impressive brunette named Diana Rigg became the producer’s second choice; making the fourth-season opener the only episode of the series to be filmed twice. With Royal Academy credentials and exceptional skills, the beautiful and refined Rigg would appear over-qualified for the role of super-spy Mrs. Emma Peel - but for three seasons ('65 - '67) her presence became a phenomenon that made hers a household name.

The Danger Makers (Original air date: February 12, 1966)

Old soldiers never die - they just borrow a colleague’s motorcycle and play chicken with the local delivery van. When a slew of proper British military heroes begin acting like teenagers on testosterone, Steed (Patrick MacNee) and Mrs. Peel investigate.

“Show him your bumps . . .”

Undercover (as always), Mrs. Peel becomes an expert in antiquities and amateur phrenologist (the study of the human skull as an indicator to said subject’s character) to access the office of Major Robertson (Nigel Davenport). The thrill of battle can be an exhilarating experience that keeps a man in his prime - at least that’s the theory here. Post Traumatic-Stress Disorder used to be called “Battle Fatigue” - but can the lack of battle also promote similar symptoms in a chosen few?

The Avengers in its prime was a blend of high-caliber sleuthing with a subtle dollop of science fiction, sold convincingly. The ultimate inspiration for this episode’s dubious undertaking is strictly British; though American audiences can relate such criminal aspirations to a number of Yankee landmarks.

Teleplay: Roger Marshall
Director: Charles Crichton
Episode rating: 4.5 stars

A Touch Of Brimstone (Original air date: February 19, 1966)

Leave it to Mrs. Peel’s penchant for unorthodox crime-solving to get her banned by the censors at the American Broadcasting Company - her wardrobe indiscretion here seems tame by today’s network standards. However, A Touch Of Brimstone crosses the line of mid-sixties debauchery with the unrestrained patrons of a modern-day “Hellfire Club” - consisting of wine, women and song - not to mention alleged anarchy and murder.

“Let the wenching begin! . . .”

A rash of embarrassing political shenanigans are costing the British government with both monetary and diplomatic ramifications. The perpetrator of said incidents - one John Cleverly Cartney (Peter Wyngarde) - raises the political stakes when a rural ribbon-cutting ceremony results in the murder of a foreign dignitary. In the line of duty, Mrs. Peel puts the moves on Cartney while Steed endures the Hellfire Club’s initiation; with the keen and sophisticated humor that continues to make this an outstanding series some forty-plus years forward.

In truth, The Avengers was driven more by the dialogue and chemistry of its two principals than an emphasis on Holmesian plot devices. The best example of this lies in the construction of A Touch Of Brimstone and its outside-the-box approach to the formulaic TV who-dunit. A mix of suggestive dialogue, semi-Shakespearean interludes (Wyngarde as the delusional Cartney is terrific in this regard) and other excesses (including Rigg’s “too hot to handle” wardrobe in the fourth act) make this episode a marvel of mid-sixties drama macabre. Miss Marple would not be amused.

Teleplay: Philip Levene
Director: Sidney Hayers
Episode rating: 5 stars

What The Butler Saw (Original air date: February 26, 1966)

Patrick MacNee is front-and-center here with comic impersonations of several high-ranking British military types - his goal is to identify and stop a persistent leak of top-secret intelligence. The common thread involves the sudden disappearance of several butlers in service to said military personnel. The replacement butlers also have something in common - they’re all graduates of the same local academy dedicated to the fine craft of butlery.

“Better Brighter More Beautiful Butling”

Whilst undercover, Steed’s manservant skills so impress the principal, he becomes the subject of jealousy and scrutiny amongst the ranks. With the adoption of the slogan above, these scenes are played strictly for laughs; as butlers couldn’t possible take their positions this seriously... or could they? Just make sure that your references are up-to-snuff, old boy. It’s a jungle out there in the world of better butling - just the idea of perpetrating such an archaic and dated tradition is comical; in retrospect to current social climes.

“The butler did it?”

Due to Steed’s maneuvers, Mrs. Peel is relegated to a second-act appearance; though she’s quickly up-to-speed with the seduction of perpetual ladies-man Georgie-Porgie - one Group Captain George Miles (Dennis Quilley) - the purpose of which is to prove his allegiance to the crown. He and his cohorts hold their top-secret meetings in a zippered plastic bag to avoid eavesdroppers and patronize the local pub where bartending skills should never be ignored nor underrated.

Speaking of underrated, the unintentional humor mined from tiny tape recorders, Mrs. Peel’s car phone - a Victorian-styled boudoir affair - as well as the front-loading washer in the butler’s pantry (where else?) with a door the size of a porthole add weight to the producer’s vision of the technological gadgetry whose budget is not quite in the league (or tradition) of fellow spy James Bond.

Teleplay: Brian Clemens
Director: Bill Bain
Episode rating: 4.5 stars

The DVD offers the three chronological episodes in flawless black & white. Individual Chapters and a Production Stills gallery featuring a half-dozen shots can also be accessed from the user-friendly menu.

The Avengers - The '66 Collection: Set 2, Volume 3
Associated British Corporation
DVD:
New Video Group, Inc. (1999)
A&E Home Video (2005)


Recommend this product? Yes

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