Zodiac: e04 – Saturn’s Rewards


Zodiac

It should be clear by now that Zodiac was not the kind of show to rigorously eschew coincidence, but at the heart of episode 4, focussing on my own sign, Scorpio, was the kind of ultra-contrived coincidence that immediately destroys all possibility of the story being taken remotely seriously. You saw it coming yet you couldn’t believe that they’d do anything that ridiculous, and they did and the rest of the programme was about watching the car crash play out in slow motion.

Guest star Peter Vaughan, excellent as always, played MP Richard Mead. Mead is staying in his London flat with a much younger, bare-shouldered, blonde woman who one instinctively surmises is not his wife when he is disturbed by raised voices. From the window he sees a murder, strangulation of an attractive but wholly disposable young woman, in the flat opposite. His first instinct is to phone the Police but, having regard to his position, his reputation and, at least one hopes it is on his list, his wife, he keeps schtum. The case falls to Inspector David Gradley.

Elsewhere, astrologer Esther Jones is entertaining her old chum, Debbie Mead (played by Joanna David, the attractive young woman whose photo lies above, partner to Edward Fox and mother of Emilia), together with Debbie’s mother and her older boyfriend, Martin Seacombe: handsome, suave, moustachioed, three piece suit, played by Ian Ogilvy, the future Simon Templar of Return of The Saint, in which he was out-acted by hatstands, coat racks and Roger Moore.

Martin is a sceptic. Esther pins him for a Scorpio but he claims his birthday is May 5 (liar). But the crucial moment is the arrival of Debbie’s Dad, who is the MP Richard Meade and, yes, you guessed it, Seacombe was the murderer Daddy saw when shagging his bird.

Frankly, once that outrageous contrivance was wheeled into place, there was nothing left to say about the episode. Debbie kept wrinkling her forehead in puzzlement, Grad and Esther squabbled over whether he would get to solve this one on his own and the whole thing took a turn for the worse, unimaginably, when Meade discovered that Seacombe’s real source of substantial income was not ‘dabbling in stocks’ but pimping out girls (it was hinted that he was drawing Debbie into that as well).

Anyway, the episode pulled a double bluff on everyone, Esther included, by having the enraged Meade tackle Seacombe and seemingly kill him. Grad uses this to get a straight story out of Meade, who recognised things had gotten out of hand and made no bones about everything. It was the episode’s sole moment of quality, as Vaughan sold us a man who knew he’d destroyed everything his life had led up to, and accepted it calmly. Only to revert to Politician type when he discovered he hadn’t killed anyone after all.

What can I say? If I watched this for anything more than Anouska Hempel back in 1974, I was an idiot. Still, only two more to go.

*Guest Post* Garth Groombridge: My 40 Favourite Movies – 10: All About Eve


all about eve

10: ALL ABOUT EVE: 1950. Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz. US. Melodrama. Bette Davis. George Sanders. Anne Baxter. Thelma Ritter. Celeste Holm. Marilyn Monroe.
Produced by Darryl F. Zanuck, a drama written as well as directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, from a 1946 short story The Wisdom of Eve, by Mary Orr (aka Mary Orr Denham, 1910-2006, American actress and author), who sold the story rights to Twentieth Century Fox for $5,000. Although not credited, she apparently received the Screen Writers Guild award. Mary Orr says the inspiration came from an anecdote told her by the actress Elizabeth Bergner (1897-1986), when she was performing in the 1943/44 Broadway version of The Two Mrs Carrolls (originally written 1935 by ‘Martin Vale’, a pseudonym for Marguerite Vale Voiller). Bergner had taken pity on a young fan – referred to as “that terrible girl”, but who then attempted to take over her life. This story, still apparently without naming names, later featured in Bergner’s biography. However, another legend has it that the story’s origins lay in the rivalry between Tallulah Bankhead and her understudy, Lizabeth Scott, when performing the 1942 Thornton Wilder’s play The Skin of Our Teeth. Perhaps, as is so often the case, it was a happy combination of the two.
Duration is 138 minutes; the budget was $1.4million, and box office receipts were $8.4million – so a goodly profit! The characters are:
Margo Canning (Bette Davis) – big Broadway star, but “just turned 40”. One description was an “ageing, egomaniac grande dame.”
Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) – younger, scheming, ambitious, pretends to be Margo’s fan, becomes her understudy, then the next Broadway star with her eye on Hollywood – “outwardly docile, inwardly scheming” and manipulative. She constructs a fake backstory of being young Second World War widow, which almost everyone buys into – at first.
Birdie Coonan (Thelma Ritter) – Margo’s maid and confidante, who distrusts Eve on sight, and instinctively disbelieves her sob story.
Addison DeWitt (George Sanders) – the theatrical critic, and opening narrator, who soon discovers Eve’s true secret past. Aptly named, a perfect vehicle for Sanders’ dry, sardonic wit, described as a “powerful critic who reeks of malignant charm”. He eventually uncovers Eve’s real identity as ‘Gertrude Slescynski’, who was never married or with a deceased war-hero husband, but instead forced to flee her hometown after an affair with her boss. He is now able to blackmail her, telling her she “belongs” to him. Other cast include:
Bill Sampson (Gary Merrill) – Margo’s boyfriend, a director, eight years her junior, who Eve tried to seduce.
Karen Richards (Celeste Holm) – Margo’s best friend who introduced her to Eve.
Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe) – Karen’s husband and successful playwright, who Eve hoped to steal.
Miss Claudia Casswell (Marilyn Monroe) – younger drama college newcomer, and DeWitt’s latest squeeze.
Phoebe (Barbara Bates) – The younger, ‘high-school’ fan of Eve who will continue the cycle.
Once again, pre-production, a number of other names were being touted for the various roles, and especially for that of Margo. Mankiewicz had originally envisaged the role for Susan Hayward (1917-1975, born Edythe Marrenner), but she was deemed “too young”, while Marlene Dietrich was “too German”. Gertrude Lawrence (1898-1952) came with too many restrictions on how she wanted to act the role. Zanuck wanted Barbara Stanwyck, but she was unavailable. Tallulah Bankhead was also considered, as was Davis’s old rival, Joan Crawford, who was already working on The Damned Don’t Cry. Claudette Colbert almost clinched the role, but suffered an injury, and again Mankiewicz considered Ingrid Bergman, before eventually offering it to Bette Davis, who had just finished her 18-year stint at Warner Brothers. She read the script and loved it, deeming it one of the best ever. Subsequently the part was revised, making Margo more abrasive, less genteel. It was perfect, and is probably the best Bette Davis role and performance – Margo was Davis; Davis was Margo. Meanwhile, Ronald Reagan or John Garfield were considered for the role of Bill Sampson, before being offered to Gary Merrill, who was Mr Bette Davis anyway! Nancy Davis, as she was, before she became Nancy Reagan, was considered for the role of Karen. Thank goodness not! Both Angela Lansbury and Zsa Zsa Gábor (married to George Sanders from 1949 to 1954) were considered for the minor role of Miss Casswell, before it went to then unknown, Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962, born Norma Jeanne Martenson). Monroe, always rather mentally fragile, was totally intimidated by Bette Davis, who frequently “barked” at her, resulting in numerous retakes and Monroe being physically sick. It was probably not a happy memory for her. Anne Baxter (1923-1985), whose filmography was from 1940 to 1980, was the granddaughter of the famous American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Barbara Bates, playing the role of Phoebe – George Sanders DeWitt drawling “Hello, and who are you?” – was, in real life, only two years younger than Anne, born 1925, died 1968.
Thus it was that a tightly scripted story, an almost theatrical movie about the theatre, by a series of chances and accident, bought together the perfect actors for each part. Bette Davis was a talented, wholly professional, actress, frustrated by years of bad roles and worse scripts – perhaps factors she recognised in her portrayal of Margo, together with her long-running on/off-screen bitchy rivalry with Joan Crawford. George Sanders (born 1906 in St. Petersburg, Russia, died by suicide 1972), also suffered from what he considered to be mediocre roles beneath his skill and intellect – he spoke French, Spanish, German and Russian. In addition to movie, theatre and television acting, he was a singer, song-writer, musical composer, and author. Indeed, he rather regarded acting with lofty disdain – hence perfect for the role of critic. One biography claimed his father was the illegitimate son of a prince of the House of Oldenburg, with connections to pre-Revolutionary Russian nobility. Her certainly had German, Estonian and Scottish ancestors. His filmography was from 1934 to 1973, often – with his suave, upper-class English accent – playing villains. He – quite rightly – got an Oscar for his role of DeWitt. He played ‘The Saint’ – from the character by Leslie Charteris – from 1938 to 1940, and then, a version on the same theme, ‘The Falcon’ from 1941 to 1942, when he was killed off, and the role passed to the ‘Falcon’s’ brother – actually George’s real life older brother, Tom Conway (1904-1967). Like Davis, this was, without doubt, his best movie, although I liked him in the role of George Zellaby, in the 1960 British movie The Village of the Damned, the quite faithful adaption of John Wyndham’s 1957 novel The Midwich Cuckoos. He was married four times, and reputed regarded women as “strange little creatures”. With both his physical and mental health deteriorating, and the deaths of his mother and brother, he took his own life, leaving a suicide note that read: “Dear World. I am leaving because I am bored. I feel I have lived long enough. I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool. Good luck.” Afterwards, his friend David Niven, in his autobiography, claimed George had predicted as long ago as 1937 that he would die by taking an overdose of barbiturates at age 65. A spooky self-fulfilling destiny, if true, but Niven was apt to tell tall stories.
My own commentary as at 19/03/1989.
I remember seeing Bette Davis in a little film Fog Over Frisco (1934) which is one of these unsung gems – good-bad films. In All Above Eve (1950) she plays ageing actress Margo. Davis herself thought this film brilliant – script, director, fellow actors. And one cannot help feel that there is something of Davis herself in the Margo character, talented, ageing, brilliant, bitter and bitchy. The story (told initially from the rather smug critic’s viewpoint – played by George Sanders, he of the ‘Saint’ and ‘Falcon’ movies) tells of the meteoric rise of an obscure would-be actress Eve from mooning about Margo’s stage door to ousting her from the play and getting the theatre award. At the end the critic moves in for the ‘kill’, he knows her true past, her lies, her weakness and submits her to sexual blackmail (“You’re mine, Eve – forever.” Saunders has just the right voice, cultivated menace) but in her hotel room Eve finds yet another star-struck young thing as worshipful of her as she was of Margo (who has bitchily retreated in high dungeon), and when Sanders sees her (“Hello, and who are you?”) we know the cycle is about to begin again. In retrospect a clever and ingenious ending where the scheming deceitful Eve (Anne Baxter) will get her comeuppance, having evolved from sugar-wouldn’t-melt-in-her-mouth to a rather haughty bitch herself. But it’s Davis who really steals the show – right from the first reel she dominants (as someone said it’s really “All about Margo”) and I’m trying to think of another film where one star does so, and so blatantly.
24/03/1989
All About Eve (1950) was one of Bette Davis’ favourite films – an excellent intelligent script for a change, well directed, and with a cast of enthusiastic professionals. Davis is quite brilliant as the larger than life, but very vulnerable, theatre actress Margo Canning, unsure of her love affair with the younger director, and threatened by Eve, the rather creepy, snide, overambitious and contriving understudy, who not only tries to steal Margo’s part and fame, but even her lover, if unsuccessfully. At the end Margo gets her man without losing her fire, and Eve, after seducing the playwright and nearly wrecking his marriage, gets instead the equally slimy Addison DeWitt (super swathe George Sanders) the theatre critic. It’s a tight, very clever story with twists and turns, deception and revelation, surprises and a brilliant ‘mills of God’ ending. There are some good lines, especially Margo’s cynicism, and some home truths also. Yes, rates high. Marilyn Monroe makes a small, but unremarkable, part as the pregnant potential stand-in and DeWitt’s prodigy prior to Ann Baxter’s Eve.

…And then there were three: Roger Hunt R.I.P.


The death reported today of Roger Hunt, the former Liverpool striker and World Cup Winner in 1966 reduces to three the number of survivors from that long ago day. And Bobby Charlton, George Cohen and Geoff Hurst are all in their eighties. The time will come, ere long, when all that remains are memories. There is little else now.

Danger Man: s03 e22 – The Paper Chase


danger

After this there’s just one episode to go in series 3, and by the standards the programme has set for itself previously, it’s just as well. The reviewer of this episode at imdb hails it as one of his favourites, links it to ‘The Girl who was Death’ in The Prisoner and regards it as a deliberately cartoon episode that allowed everyone involved to let off steam. I don’t. To me, it’s evidence of the clearest that Patrick McGoohan – who directed this episode – was right to demur at another full season.

The set-up is serious enough. We’re in Rome in the rain. My apologies for the clarity, or otherwise, of the image above but that’s truly representative of the open, which is so dark as to be invisible at times. Gordon, a British diplomat driving home, stops off at a bar to have a drink wth a pretty, affectionate, dark-haired girl. He attracts the attention of Tamasio (another seriously OTT performance by Aubrey Morris, giving it the full monty as a volatile, loud, deeply untrustworthy small-time Italian crook, on a scooter naturally) who steals his car keys and robs his car of an expensive looking camera, a posh umbrella, put to immediate use, and a briefcase.

Unfortunately, the briefcase contains highly classified documents that shouldn’t have even been removed from the Embassy and which, when their loss is discovered, will lead to Gordon being crucified by the Foreign Office. Fortunately, Gordon’s old friend John Drake has a free weekend and can fly out to retrieve the papers.

Interestingly, McGoohan wears the same white raincoat and white flat cap combination he sports for ‘The Girl who was Death’, whilst underneath he has on the all-black jacket, polo-short and trousers outfit in which Number 6 is kidnapped. Add to this Aubrey Morris and a small part for Peter Swanwick (the Controller) and it’s very much reminiscent of the series to come.

So far, so sensible. But what we’ve got next is a very plot-loose assemblage of scenes in which McGoohan plays it straight and cool whilst the guest stars are allowed to go very OTT before you learn that Tamasio has sold the briefcase on, and Eddie Gelb has sold the briefcase on, and Signora Nandini is professionally sheltering Laprade, who is negotiating to sell the briefcase on to Constantin, who we trust is the Other Side.

Therefore we get Morris at his most extreme, which can be fun except he’s encouraged by McGoohan to be a spectacle you could see from Venus. Then Kenneth J. Warren, a bit-part actor and pretend tough guy, hosts a poker game with a bunch of bald men. Eddie Gelb is supposed to be the guy to look up to, burly, thick head of hair in contrast to everyone else (it’s a wig, sorry to upset the reveal), living in a plush apartment with his photo everywhere and a classy blonde girlfriend in a floor-length dress, tinkling the ivories because she has nothing better to do during the poker game that lasts far longer than it need to and comes over as a time-filler because the story is short on depth.

Then we get Laparde, a straight part by Ferdy Mayne. Laparde is hiding out at Signora Nandini’s, a ‘hotel’ for people on the run from authority. She is played by veteran actress Joan Greenwood, with her beautiful, smokey voice. It’s very noticeable that, with McGoohan himself at the directorial helm, there is no trace of the statutory glam girl amd the leading female guest star is a woman in her mid-Forties but playing easily two decades older. Greenwood is brilliant as the kind of woman who was once a real beauty and even at her advanced age, possesses the kind of delicately boned, fine features that hold the eye. She dresses in a tastefully elegant, floaty style, and acts like a calm, serene, in control woman.

In fact, Greenwood is the best part of the episode. She takes to ‘Troy Davidson’ immediately, professing to have ‘a good feeling’ about him. She is cold watching him ransack Laparde’s room on closed-circuit TV, and her disappointment in ‘Davidson’ for letting her down is evident even as it seems she will have him ‘removed’. When he beats up her two heavies, she crowns him with a vase, only to have him taken to a small hotel from which he is free to go.

It’s a marvellous parting, too good for this episode. Nandina asks for ‘Davidson’s real name, but Drake gives it as Ari Verdecci. Nandina accepts this and leaves. In the hall outside, she pauses as he asks her, with genuine interest at her enigma, what she was. Long ago? she enquires, then turns and walks out of camera shot, only to return once, and merely smile. They should have built the entire episode around her.

After that the pay-off is just a bit drab. Drake sets Laparde up at Tamasio’s crummy little flat, God knows why, pays 100,000 Swiss Francs (genuinely) for the briefcase, Constantin shoots Laparde dead and Drake escapes with an amusing gimmick that is a gimmick, and genuinely more suited to the surrealism of The Prisoner, a hidden go-kart.

No, this does not go down on my list of the ten best episodes of Danger Man, and I suspect it would be hard-pressed to break into the forty-three best episodes I’ve seen to date. When I consider how good the series can be, and was, for so long ago, it’s a terrible shame. But if it helped lead to The Prisoner

The Infinite Jukebox: The Beatles’ ‘The Long Medley’


Fifty years after The Beatles broke up, you’d expect that I would have heard everything they recorded. On the other hand, my CD collection only goes up to Magical Mystery Tour and even though I once had Let it Be on vinyl, the fact I let it go speaks volumes about my attitude to the music of the end of their career.
A couple of weeks ago, as I write, I heard the Long Medley from Abbey Road in full for the first time. I’ve heard parts of it before, and I used to have the last three tracks on tape, but this was the first time I had heard the Medley from start to finish. I’m not impressed.
John Lennon once described it as “junk … just bits of songs thrown together”, and it is. It’s the throwing together of fragments, half-ideas half-baked, not one of which could constitute a song if taken to an extended conclusion. None of the first five songs are anything worthwhile, they are leaden, not even jokes.
But what I didn’t understand until hearing the Medley in full, is how they establish the context for the immense change that occurs when Paul McCartney launches into ‘Golden Slumbers’. The last three songs have depth, tell a story that anatomises in the simplest of words, where the Beatles were at and where they very shortly would never be again. The last three songs are serious, in intent and in impact. The weary, stupid, barren quintet that precedes them serves to emphasise the instant increase in intensity, a Phoenix from the ashes instant.
Abbey Road was the last Beatles album: Let it Be was released later but recorded earlier. It was a deliberate attempt to record as they had once recorded, as a working band, but against the crumbling relationships between the Fab Four it failed in that task. And McCartney acknowledges that fact openly at the very beginning of ‘Golden Slumbers’.
There’s a change in sound, the looseness, the amateurishness of what has come before vanishes in an instant as McCartney’s gravitas underpins the piano introduction. And what he sings is sad but brave: once there was a way.
Once there was a way to get back homewards. The words are both wistful and resigned. Where is home? What is home? We each of us define this according to our own emotions, but the ambition of the Abbey Road recordings, to make the Beatles a band again and not four talented individuals reaching the point where they cannot work together any more, has failed. Because the other side of Once is that there isn’t a Now. There is no way to get back homewards, to when the Beatles were friends, comrades, allies, a band.
McCartney pairs this line to an old and sentimental lullaby, a song from the Twenties. It’s perfect for his sentimental streak, but it fits the overall theme, for it is a putting to bed, to peaceful sleep, just as the band will do once this final sequence is done. McCartney sings powerfully, sleep pretty darling, do not cry, for I will sing a lullaby. And those words come back: once there was a way.
As if to answer him, the music changes. The band masses its voices, McCartney inside as much as he is outside. Boy, you’re gonna carry that weight they tell him and us, carry that weight a long time. The weight they carry is of being who they’ve become. Whether as Beatles or former-Beatles, they are none of them who they were and they can never recover any of what they were, not after their experiences. McCartney responds by re-writing the words of ‘You never give me your money’ to talk of intangible things, a pillow, an invitation. But in the middle of negotiations, I break down, and the band emphasise it for him again, you’re going to carry that weight. There is no going back.
And from there we pass into the final part, the aptly titled ‘The End’. The band is back, the rock band, the band of Hamburg and the Cavern Club, playing simple, joyous rock. Oh yeah, McCartney roars in delight, all right! Are you gonna be in my dreams… tonight? There’s that little pause before the word tonight that turns the song into a question, and an expectation that no, not tonight, like many nights, this can be as plain and happy rock as it wants to be, this explosion of energy and raucousness.
And of all things we cut to a Ringo solo! His only drum solo in the history of the Beatles, one urgent drum beat in solid rhythm as he builds fills and runs around it, and then the band, playing together for the last time ever in the same studio, make the most of these final moments before the guitars fade and McCartney bangs the piano and sums up the Sixties in a short, sweet but very powerful couplet.
And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.
If one line could sum up the Sixties, that would deserve to be it. Yes, it’s trite, yes, it’s sentimental, it’s even hippy-dippy, but it’s what it was all about. Being together, being one, being for each other as much as for ourselves. Being allies, not adversaries. It’s a reminder of what the Beatles were and where they came from, lost in the poignancy of where they no longer were.
I’ve been conscious of the weight, if you’ll excuse the pun, of those last three songs for a very long time. The rest of the Medley is crap, but by being crap it points up by just how much the end of it is genius, is serious, is the Beatles’ final message.
The rest is history.

Sunday Watch: Country Matters – The Watercress Girl


watercress

It’s so long since I last watched an episode of Country Matters that I’d almost forgotten just how stunningly good they are. More than ever I am frustrated that the one and only DVD set of the series, released in Canada, contains only eight of the thirteen made. It is cruel to omit over a third of the episodes.

For ‘The Watercress Girl’, the series went for an A. E. Coppard story to adapt. Set in the first decade of the Twentieth Century, and filmed entirely on location in and around a narrow valley whose floor was almost wholly occupied by a surprisingly wide river, this was again a cool, superficially simple yet beneath it all both tragic and yet banal tale that, in keeping with other stories, dealt with the quiet undercurrents of the lives of men and women away from the urban areas, where life is a matter of hard work to scratch along on not much, financially and otherwise.

The first half of the episode arranges itself around a trial. Mary MacDowell, the Watercress Girl (Susan Fleetwood), is accused of throwing vitriol – i.e., acid – into the face of Elizabeth Plantney (Susan Tebbs), to which she pleads guilty in an almost inaudible voice. The facts of the case are established by a pompous barrister, Mr Archibold (Peter Cellier), who’s obviously looking down his nose at these common and unwashed folk all the time, via examination of Frank Oppidan (Gareth Thomas) who was formerly walking out with Mary but at the time of the attack was engaged to Elizabeth. These facts take place as flashbacks.

It’s plain and simple. Frank comes to the lonely cottage where Mary and her father live, to buy watercress. He finds her cutting it, moving around the pond with her skirt hitched up to her thighs. They start walking out together. He falls in love and wants her to marry him, but though she agrees she loves him – and she’s proved it by what they’ve done – she first withholds her answer until she’s sure he means it, and then tells him no.

Frank won’t accept it. Frank’s typical of the times: he means to have his way. He’s a wood-turner and ambitious to have his own shop, his own apprentices, call no man master, and his anger at the course of events is all about the effect it has on him with little or no heed for others’ wants and feelings, and it’s a testament to Gareth Thomas that he still comes out as reasonably sympathetic for all that. He keeps asking Mary to marry him, she keeps saying she won’t and refusing to say why, he keeps walking out on her, he keeps coming back.

Until they separate permanently. Doing some woodwork for the recently orphaned Miss Elizabeth Plunkney, a town girl, with the kind of money a man could use to set up a business, a bit more accomplished, a bit more sophisticated, playing heavily on the silly-little-woman pedal, Frank is drawn into first walking out with her – no slap’n’tickle there, oh no, not until the wedding night – and then into an engagement.

Meanwhile, he’s pestered by letters from Mary until he writes back to announce said engagement. And one night, in the dark, walking through the woods, he and Elizabeth are confronted by Mary, who unstoppers a small bottle of vitriol and throws it in Miss Plunkney’s face, burning and scarring her for life.

The trial over, Mary sentenced to eighteen months, no explanation given for any of this though it seems plain and obvious: jealousy, the scarred Elizabeth releases Frank from his promise. Angered by what has been done to him, and by the too-lenient sentence, Frank vows his own punishment on Mary, when she gets out.

The beauty of the episode is that we know there is more beneath it. Why has Mary been so adamant that she won’t marry Frank, and that she won’t marry anyone, ever? She’ll go with him, gladly, she won’t never turn him away. But what is the secret? The second half of the episode gradually leads us through that, by flashback once more, but this time in Mary’s mind, as she waits to be released from gaol, a good and submissive prisoner who has earned six months remission.

And though the secret itself is perhaps as trite and banal as the rest of the incidents, if you do not have the least sympathy for people whose lives this shows, then and still now, it falls into place with an inevitability. Mary was pregnant. She refused to let her father go find Frank. Her letters refused to speak of it. She did not want to be shamed, and Frank has no high opinion of women who let themselves get taken with child but without a man and a ring. So the baby is born, prematurely, and stillborn, buried in secret at night. And Mary goes out with a bottle of vitriol, meant for Frank.

But that’s not the only secret. The other is guessable, being much more of a literary design. When Frank discovers Mary is back, after only a year, he swears revenge, in high dudgeon and in high drink. When he arrives at her home, late at night, carrying his own bottle of vitriol, either the night or seeing her again has sobered him. He cannot harm her. He just wants to know why.

She tells him of the baby. It is the first he has known of it and again his concern is not her experience, or the death of a child, but what’s been done to him. Yet he will make all right. He will still marry Mary. They are still young enough for a future. It’s her rescue, from the shame, the disgrace, the scandal. But she will not marry him. Not to shame him, but even more so not to shame her father. Who was not wedded to her mother but whose pride is such that he cannot tell his daughter the truth, no matter that she has known it since she was small. She will not marry Frank, and he must go and never come back.

Frank, being Frank, goes, but says he will come again tomorrow. The camera freezes on Mary.

Really, the story hasn’t ended. Stories are like lives: they go on after we stop watching and it’s for us to imagine what happened later. Country Matters, made in 1972 and 1973, delves into the underside of stories of the rural poor and reminds us that living in the country, among the peasant stock of England, is nothing like so simple as our own, modern lives.

Infantino’s Experiments 2: Two Series


The five series I looked over in the first part of this mini-series were not the only short-lived series initiated in the wake of Carmine Infantino’s promotion to Editorial Director. This time I’m looking at just two series, which like their contemporaries failed to last more than seven issues.

Secret_Six_covers

The Secret Six

Like Beware the Creeper I’ve long since known and enjoyed the first issue of this series, but it’s only relatively recently I’ve finally made the time to read the series in full. Unlike The Creeper, The Secret Six debuted not in Showcase but their own title – on the cover of it to be exact – and went on to a very strong initial story that made me want to read the rest of it. And I was not disappointed.
The point of The Secret Six, which was what made it the success it was creatively if not commercially, was that it was not a superhero series, not in any way. It’s closest cultural parallel, to which it was continually compared, was TV’s Mission Impossible, in that it was a thriller series, at times criminal, at others espionage, employing a team of specialists, whose abilities were fully human, and far less exaggeratedly so than Batman.
The gimmick was that the Six were gathered together by blackmail by an unknown person going under the name of Mockingbird, who set missions in which the sextet combined their skills either by bringing down organised crime or by striking back at communist plots (this was a very Cold War series with a visceral aggression against Commies). Each member was under Mockingbird’s thumb for one reason or another. The twist was that Mockingbird was one of the Six himself. Or herself. Or so we were led to believe.
The series was written by the combination of Nelson Bridwell, who plotted the episodes and ex-Charlton writer Joe Gill, who dialogued them, with art by Frank Sparling, employing a scruffier, looser, quasi-cartoonist line that was both very effective for a series grounded in gritty reality and far more appealing than any of his superhero work.
The first issue was all about introductions. Six individuals with nothing in common with each other abruptly abandon the jobs they are undertaking and set off to a meeting, where they are taken about a VTOL jet and instructed to wear identical white uniforms – long-sleeved t-shirts and trousers – each decorated by a Roman Numeral, from I to VI. They are, in order, King Savage, stuntman, Dr August Durant, scientist, Carlo di Rienzi, magician and escapologist, Lili De Neuve, former actress and make-up artist, Mike Tempest, ex-boxer and bum and Crimson Dawn, model. All owe Mockingbird a debt. All can be exposed or abandoned for defiance.
Savage was a Korean War pilot who cracked under interrogation: Mockingbird sprang him in time for Savage to save his side but could expose his treachery. Durant has been poisoned: Mockingbird supplies him with daily pills that hold off his fatal disease. Di Rienzi’s wife is dead and his son crippled: Mockingbird pays for treatment that will enable him to walk again. De Neuve was falsely accused of murder: Mockingbird supplied a false alibi that could be withdrawn. Tempest was Tiger Force, boxer, who ratted out the mob: Mockingbird conceals him from their revenge. And Crimson Dawn was a foolish heiress, seduced, her money spent, her family ridiculing her: Mockingbird can reveal her connection to fat, foolish Kit Dawn to that family.
Bridwell provided a taut, convincing plot, putting the Six through their paces for their first assignment, whilst Gill skillfully contributed snappy patter that betrayed bitter humour and cautious misgivings between these strangers without ever descending to anything remotely campy or even flippant. You could believe in these people: they were solid.

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The six succeeding issues followed a template. The Six, either by direct assignment from Mockingbird or else by appeal from one of their members who needs assistance, conduct further missions. Each issues centres specifically upon one of the Six, explaining their situation, and the circumstances in which Mockingbird gained his/her influence over them in greater depth, and allowing each member of the team, as well as the reader, to see how plausible it might be to accept each one as Mockingbird, and not merely the seemingly obvious figure of Dr August Durant.
That’s always to assume Mockingbird was one of the Six and not an external figure. That must have been the case as Bridwell, in one of the later lettercols, admits that they have been dropping subtle clues as to the true identity of Mockingbird through the whole series, but that no-one has yet picked up on any of them. I certainly hadn’t. If that was true. And assuming that, the Six were the only characters to appear in each issue.
Like I said, the obvious assumption was Durant, and I favour him personally. It’s he who, in issue 1, advances the theory that Mockingbird is one of them. And in the two cases where the team acts to protect one of their own, it is Durant on both occasions who makes the point that, although their actions are unsanctioned, their mysterious leader would quickly pull them off it if he/she disapproved.
But seven issues was all The Secret Six got, seven issues and oblivion for nearly two decades. It’s a damned shame because it was a gripping series, but it wasn’t superheroes and even as early as 1968/69 the readers couldn’t accept adventure in any other form. We’re paying for that narrow-mindedness in spades by now.
On the other hand, it would have made a bloody good TV thriller series…
According to Wikipedia, The Secret Six were finally resurrected in 1988 in Action Comics Weekly. By then, Bridwell had passed on, so it was Martin Pasko who reintroduced the team, with art from Dan Spiegle, who put the new Secret Six into spandex uniforms. Durant was specified as Mockingbird, putting together a wholly-new team in the first episode then being killed off, with all the originals, in the second. Despite that flat statement Di Rienzi apparently becomes Mockingbird until he’s killed off in the last episode. Sounds like complete nonsense to me: I shall treat that as never happening.

Bat Lash

bat lash 1

One thing in common with this flush of unsuccessful series is that Carmine Infantino claims to have come up with the concept and assigned others to develop it. If it’s true then it’s an admirable thing, this willingness to go against a grain that many had clung to in the face of Marvel’s first dominance, sticking to the ‘classic’, the comfortable, the familiar approaches, rather than plunge into something new where they feared being out of their depths.
On the other hand, the lack of success for any of these series suggests Infantino was not another Kirby, though any such conclusion must be tempered by factoring in that a large proportion of DC’s audience were just as conservative as the management.
Bat Lash had already had the in-house build-up for his debut in Showcase : I remember seeing the advert for this shambling silhouette and the tag-line ‘Will he save the West – or Ruin it?’ over and over. The raggedy figure must have represented an early iteration of the character because, as soon as Mr Lash appeared, he was anything but ragged. He was a smiling, elegant dandy, a courteous man, a con man and a ladies man, who tried to avoid violence but who, when it was pressed upon him, was pretty darned good at it. You just had to watch out when he carefully removed the flower from his hat and put it to one side for safety.
He may have been a Wild West character, but Lash was also a very contemporary one, a child of 1968, of a growing counter-culture, of the hippy dream of peace and love and the growing opposition to the Vietnam War. No doubt this ‘peacenik’ stance, even in a moderated state, contributed to the series’ commercial failure.
That and the fact that the Western was practically dead by then.
For the Showcase try-out, Infantino commissioned Sergio Aragones – yes, he of MAD magazine and Groo the Wanderer – to plot the story for Nick Cardy to draw, pencils and inks, with veteran Sheldon Mayer brought in to dialogue the issue. For the series, Denny O’Neill came in to dialogue (and Cardy was credited with the plot for issue 2) but otherwise it was the same team.
Cardy’s art is lovely, loose and flexible, and with that cartoonish element that ideally suits the tenor of the stories, though when the letters page suggests he has equalled his former boss, Will Eisner, I have to dissent, no disrespect.
As for the stories, they’re generally good fun. Bat Lash is played as a charming rogue, a drifter coming and going through the usual cliches of western towns. He’s constantly professing his hatred of violence, and his love of peace and flowers, even as he’s lying and cheating his way wherever he goes.

Bat_Lash_6

The fact is, Bat Lash is an unprincipled chancer, and completely selfish with it, willing to con anyone over anything and with only a very few, and very occasional flashes of human remorse. In short, the man’s a stinker, and don’t you forget it. O’Neill and Aragones are never shy of showing this, only they wrap it up in clever moves, demonstrating Lash’s superior intelligence, and his ability to improvise (and plan ahead when the situation requires) with a high degree of intelligence. And it’s all about charm. Lash gets his way, especially with the ladies, who he invariably kisses and runs, by surfing on his easy-going, romantic and charming manner.
There’s a personal touch in issue 4 when the pair introduce a villain by the name of Sergio Aragones, and Cardy draws him like the senor too (it is to be presumed that this bandido has no connection with the former Governor Sergio Aragones, mentioned in passing in issue 1). The fictional Aragones is every bit the twister that Bat Lash is and the issue long challenge between them is full of betrayals and promises.
It’s tremendous fun, but it’s also full of Mexican accents and cliches. Now I’ve never heard Aragones speak, but even now I’m led to believe his spoken English is, shall we say, imperfect, so this may well have been phonetically accurate at the time, and there’s nothing in the collaboration that suggests O’Neill had anything less than full enjoyment with his partner, but a half-century on, it automatically looks a bit cheap.
Plot-wise, if I wanted to be critical, I would point out that the stories tend to be a bit episodic, short vignettes leading up to regular bouts of gunplay and the like as Bat Lash ducks and dives.
And then it all crashes, abruptly, in issue 6. Denny O’Neill summarised things neatly on Wikipedia, explaining that he and Aragones had set out to depict a charming rogue, and suddenly DC re-wrote him as a churlish rogue. Issue 6 presents the origin of Bat Lash, farmer’s son who became a killer after his parents were killed by crooks stealing their land. It was deadly serious, cheap and nasty from beginning to end, and it shovelled a shitload of shit over the character, removing his ability to be regarded as a charming conman.
Instead, Bat Lash’s charm was merely superficial, but he was brutal and greedy underneath. His sister disowned him, preferring to become a nun in support of her best friend, the girl Bat was going to marry, who had found her true vocation, and he was sent away, an empty vessel. In its way, it was a story that would fit perfectly into the modern-day preference for presenting innocent characters as broken and corrupt, but this was done over fifty years ago.
Issue 7 was the last issue. It continued the onslaught on Bat Lash by introducing the kid brother he feared had been killed, grown up as a heartless bounty hunter on the trail of Bat Lash. The two confront each other and the only person who knows the truth is killed by them when he jumps in the way to stop them shooting each other down. It’s another piece of nastiness, and good riddance to the title if this was what now passed for a Western.
Officially, Bat Lash was cancelled for low sales. Comics were never cancelled for any other reason. It’s been stated that sales were good in Europe, but low at home, and O’Neill, in Wikipedia has cast doubt on the official reason, stating mysteriously that he had reason to believe there were other factors, but not detailing what they were.
I don’t care. Bat Lash 1-5 were fun and entertaining, issues 6-7 were unmitigated crap, and I wouldn’t have wanted any more of them to escape.

Zodiac: e03 – The Strength of a Gemini


Zodiac

In case you doubt my motives for the above picture, it does come from this week’s episode, which ladles on the glam with guest appearances by Jenny Hanley and Deborah Norton, in only her second TV credit. That’s about all the episode has going for it as the story was both weak and artificial, not to mention being cretinous in its central conceit.

Guest star Norman Eshley plays Philip Deening, a con man. Deening seduces attractive young Honourables, ladies whose fathers are aristocrats and who consequently, when appealed to to put money up for the betting coup of a lifetime, can’t fail, then let’s nip off to an island somewhere, just you and I, put up the money. The horse then fails to win, which is fine on one level because Deening hasn’t put a penny on, just pocketed it to continue to fuel the lifestyle he cannot otherwise enjoy, and disappears.

But Deening has made two fatal mistakes. The one is that he impresses, and seduces, all his pretty victims by knowing them intimately, due to his ‘deep empathy’ with them, an empathy gained by obtaining their birth dates and having star charts drawn up for them by a prominent astrologer: three guesses, and the second two don’t count. The other is that he’s about as obvious a con artist as there is, and whilst I have no high regard for the average intelligence of the aristocracy, I find it unbelievable to think of even the dumbest Honourable bimbo falling for such complete and utter tosh.

Though Jenny Hanley does, I’m afraid, make that plausible. She’s only in for the first act, during which she wears puzzled eyebrows and keeps her mouth open all the time to indicate that it is posible to make a pretty face look unpretty, and signal that the wind is blowing unobstructed from ear to ear within.

By some mystical means – so much handier than actual explanations – Esther realises that practically all the letters she’s rever received have come from the same person under multiple names, both male and female, in disguised handwriting. By the same mystical means, she works out the kind of con Deening is pulling, identifying him because one of the letters is from him in his real name, you know, like con men always do, so she sweet talks Grad into investigating via an apparently delicious shrimp paste (the long black dress with the low cleavage can’t have had anything to do with it).

Deening, an inveterate roulette player, plots his victims with the aid of his long-term girlfriend Penny (Ms Norton, who’s clearly not getting enough of it from Philip whilst he’s out shafting these aristocratic birds). Penny works in a fashionable flower shop where customers are always ordering flowers for the birthday of sisters and the like, birthdays that always coincide with Penny’s, thus providing dates and times of births.

So Grad goes in, doing the complete Hooray Henry look and manner with spectacular effectiveness (this time I’m not being ironic), Esther gets a request for the star chart of the Honourable ‘Anthea Gradley’, gets picked up by Deening, teases theaudience with the suggestion that she might be seriously considering two falls and a submission and then Grad arrests him.

There are some more details than that, though nothing of consequence, but it really isquite plain why, with only half the Zodiac used up, Zodiac did not get a second series to clean up the rest. Despite Anouska Hempel in a bikini. Or a bath towel. Or that low cut dress.

*Guest Post* Garth Groombridge: My 40 Favourite Movies – 9: The Third Man


Third

9: THE THIRD MAN : 1949. Director: Carol Reed. UK.
Crime thriller. Orson Welles. Trevor Howard. Joseph Cotten.
Alida Valli. Wilfred Hyde-White.
Adapted from an original Graham Greene idea with extensive contributions by Carol Reed, this has to be the best example of British film noir ever – ironically not set in Britain, but in late-1940s, post-war Vienna, still divided and under Allied and Russian occupation. Once again we have the happy harmony of director, script, camerawork, musical score, and the perfect cast, together with the added authenticity of much of it actually being filmed on location, making it a perfect time-capsule of what was a bleak and rather terrible time and place. It belongs to those movies that should forever exist in black and white – like The Maltese Falcon, or Kiss Me Deadly, or Psycho. Even better, this is a movie set in post-war Europe where the Austrians speak German and the Russians speak Russian, giving it that extra grain of truth. Reputedly, when Carol Reed and Graham Greene were asked by producer Alexander Korda to come up with a story, Greene remembered a single introductory sentence he had written years before of a man named as ‘Harry’, seeming come back from the dead. It was to be the basis of the story of Harry Lime, in the movie, the mysterious ‘third man’ after a supposed fatal traffic accident in Vienna. The rest is history. Greene wrote the draft, although Carol Reed (supported by studio boss David O. Selznick) insisted on the more downbeat ending, rather than a happy ‘Anna and Holly’ one. There were other changes along the way – all for the betterment of the final movie – the original narrator was to be Major Calloway; Harry Lime was to be English; Martins first name was Rollo rather than Holly. Movie legend attributed more influence to Orson Welles, who was initially rather reluctant at the comparative small physical presence he had, but while he apparently did add the famous speech comparing Borgia Italy with Switzerland, many years later, when asked by Peter Bogdanovich, he conceded his input was “minimal”, and “it was Carol’s picture.” Probably the best movies – like the best books or stories in general – are big on small things. The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca operate as a snapshot of ordinary, otherwise quite insignificant, people whose personal stories we view briefly within a greater setting or events. They have no influence or control over this bigger world, whether it be 1940s San Francisco, a Vichy enclave in World War II North Africa, or the ruined, military zones of 1949 Vienna. At the end of the story this greater world is the same as it was at the beginning. No wrongs have been righted, no tyrants toppled, no earth-shattering events written into the history books. They, like us, are the little people. This is their story.
All of the key dramatis personae were played by actors at the top of their game. Joseph Cotten (1905-1994) played Holly Martins, the somewhat naïve American “writer of hack westerns”, and Harry Lime’s friend. In real life he had been Orson Welles’ friend since 1934, and appeared in several of Welles’ classics, Citizen Kane (1941); The Magnificent Ambersons (1942); Journey into Fear (1943). He was another Hollywood star who had cut his acting teeth on Broadway, moving from theatre to modelling (when work dried up), to radio work, to a movie career from 1930 to 1981. Welles apparently rated him as a great comic actor. Here he plays a simple, decent man increasingly out of his safety zone. English actor Trevor Howard (1913-1988, born Trevor Wallace Howard-Smith), was best known for his leading role in another British classic, the 1945 David Lean movie Brief Encounter, but he is perfect in the role of British Army military policeman Major Calloway. Another actor originally from a theatrical background, his overall film list is impressive, many of which are in military roles. Howard’s own military service, with the Royal Corps of Signals during the Second World War, was less outstanding, however. Contrary to his, and the studio PR accounts, he was discharged in 1943 for “mental instability” and having a “psychopathic personality”. Never mind, his Major Calloway is intelligent, shrewd, determined and professional.
Refugee Anna Schmidt, with her forged passport, hopelessly in love with Harry Lime, was played by Italian actress and singer Alida Valli, aka the Baroness Alida Maria Altenburger von Marchenstein-Frauenberg (1921-2006), a quiet, but dignified role. At least one critic, reviewing her overall career from 1936 to 2002, said she was the only actress to equal Dietrich or Garbo. Quite an accolade. Finally we have Orson Welles himself (1915-1985), actor, director, screenwriter, producer, equally brilliant in radio, theatre or film, something of a multi-talented genius, larger than life, a true 20th century ‘Renaissance man’, but with a fascination for the darker side of humanity also. This proved ideal for him to play the outwardly charming, but utterly immoral, Harry Lime character. Later the Swiss got upset about his ‘cuckoo-clock’ story, pointing out cuckoo-clocks were made in Bavaria, not Switzerland. Whether it was ab-lib or scripted, Welles’ speech of Harry Lime justifying his indifference to suffering and contempt of the little people, inevitably became the memorable pivotal piece of the story’s character.
British character actor, Wilfred Hyde-White (1903-1991) had the small bit part of Crabbin, who seemingly ‘kidnaps’ Holly to give a speech at their book club. His filmography from 1934 to 1983 is impressive, but he perhaps best known for his role in My Fair Lady (1964).
Again the story is that Carol Reed heard Anton Karas playing the zither in a Viennese wine-garden and was immediately taken by the “jangling melancholy”, which eventually became the memorable sound-track. The zither, from the Greek cithara, is played by plucking or strumming the strings, and is a popular musical instrument found throughout Central and Eastern Europe, and Russia. In consequence of the movie, Karas (1906-1985) found global fame, playing before European royalty, touring North America in 1951, and Japan in 1962, 1969 and 1972, although he had supposedly retired in 1966. He was an unassuming man, who disliked touring and preferred to be home in his native Vienna. Despite his apparent fame, The Third Man theme was a one-hit wonder. Additional music for the movie was by Australian-born composer Hubert Clifford (1904-1959), under the pseudonym Michael Sarsfield. The movie was 108 minutes long, and (according to the-numbers.com) worldwide box office takings was $1,485,311.
There were several adaptions or pre-sequels, Lux Radio Theatre in 1951 (featuring Joseph Cotten) and 1954 (with Ray Milland in the Holly Martins role), and a British radio serial in 1951-52, The Adventures of Harry Lime, by Harry Alan Towers, apparently in collaboration with Graham Greene. Is the USA it was retitled The Lives of Harry Lime. They were a pre-sequel, in a lighter tone than the movie version of Lime, and there would appear to have been 52 episodes, featuring Orson Welles, who claimed (perhaps falsely) to have written at least six episodes – or was it really scripted by a ghost-writer? There was also a television spin-off, 77 episodes from 1959 to 1965, starring Michael Rennie, which may account for my vague childhood memory of the zither theme tune.
The English writer and journalist Graham Greene (1904-1991, born Henry Graham Greene) had already had his novel The Power and the Glory filmed as The Fugitive in 1947, and would go on to see many of his novels adapted into movies, some more than once – Brighton Rock (1947 and 2011); The End of the Affair (1955 and 1999); The Quiet American (1958 and 2002); The Comedians (1967); The Honorary Consul (1983). Having converted from atheism to Catholicism in 1926, the motif running through many of his novels were ambivalent moral and political issues. In his later life he called himself a Catholic agnostic. His writing revolved around travel, thrillers and espionage. He was recruited into MI6 in 1941, and actually personally knew Kim Philby, the Soviet ‘mole’. He resigned in 1944, but travelled extensively, using his experiences as background to his fiction – Serra Leona, Liberia, Mexico, Haiti, the Congo Basin of Africa, Cuba (where he became a friend of Fidel Castro), before moving to the South of France, and finally Switzerland, where he was friends with Charlie Chaplin. Perhaps crucial to his involvement with The Third Man, he was a friend of Michael Korda, brother of Alexander Korda. In 1948 Elizabeth Montague had given him a tour of Vienna, and he had met, and shared stories with, The Times correspondent there, Peter Smolke.
Several years earlier, in August and September 1945, the American-born photographer Lee Miller (1907-1977), in her role as US designated war correspondent for British Vogue magazine, had visited Vienna. Already mentally scarred by her experiences on the frontline, and having witnessed first-hand the liberation of the Buchenwald and Dachau death-camps, she found Vienna “a city suffering the psychic depression of the conquered and starving…[but still as] Gemütlich as ever [the Viennese] are drunk on music, light frothy music for empty stomachs.” Several of her photographs from this time show rubble-filled streets, and a huge Lenin poster in the Soviet zone, in the Kärntner Strasse. But, on another occasion, she visited a hospital, staffed by nuns, where children were dying for lack of drugs. She wrote: “For an hour I watched a baby die. He was a skinny gladiator. He gasped and fought and struggled for life, and a doctor and a nun and I just stood there and watched…This tiny baby fought for his only possession, life, as if it might be worth anything.” One has to wonder if Graham Greene had read Miller’s article when it was published in Vogue, and if that influence the hospital scene between Calloway and Holly.
My 1988 critical comments were less than favourable, but with subsequent viewings, I’ve come to appreciate the brilliant combination of acting, story-line (especially Carol Reed’s more downbeat ending, which even Graham Greene agreed was superior), and the authenticity and originality of this little classic. Below, then, are my earlier comments as written 24/02/1988:
I cannot remembering seeing The Third Man (director Carol Reed, 1949) before, but I vaguely recollect a television series and the distinctive theme music. That said, I did not know the story, or that Orson Welles played Harry Lime, or Graham Greene wrote the story. So I watched what is regarded as a classic. Disappointed? Just a little. The setting, the photography, is good, being immediately post-war Vienna. Germans speak German, which adds realism (how I hate it when they all speak perfect ‘Oxford’ English), showing it to be a British film – Hollywood would never have done that, or very few directors. A Graham Greene story should have warned me. I expected the twist; things not to be what they seem. Instead, apart from Lime’s faked death (how come the police never looked at the corpse?) everything is what it seemed. The American ‘Western writer who drinks too much’ is just that. The Czech-German Anna is a Czech-German girl in love with Lime, the crooks are crooks and Lime is the biggest crook of them all, ignoble, callous, ruthless and unlovable, despite the fact we have two people apparently infatuated with him.
Bred on a diet of Len Deighton, I really expected Lime to emerge as a goodie, perhaps masquerading as a crook to flush out the real villains; instead a series of shady, shifty, unlovable characters: the hack writer, the British military policeman, the smooth-talking Russian NKVD colonel, Lime himself. Perhaps the girl Anna was a sad case, forced to see the man she thought she loved die twice. Rates two stars, but predictable and the plot flawed. A good period piece though, but Len Deighton would have made it sing. Thought: did the Greene story influence Deighton’s work? The cast of characters reappear in several of his books, notably in Funeral in Berlin, Game, Set and Match, and even An Expensive Place to Die.

Danger Man: s03 e21 – The Man with the Foot


danger

For most of this episode I was hoping that it would all turn out to be a dream, or a hallucination, or even some equivalent of Number 6 reading ‘The Girl Who Was Death’ to the Village kids but my hopes were dashed. ‘The Man with the Foot’ was real, alright, and meant to be taken as an actual story. If that were so, then there was no explanation for why the whole thing made no sense whatsoever.

‘No explanation’ was the common characteristic of the whole episode. Things happened. They’re supposed to lead us into the expectation of introgue, espionage, danger, with the intention of leading us up the garden path, but the looseness of everything, especially the writing, betrayed an underlying laziness. It was supposed to be a puzzle, an enigma, so why botheer to make it at all plausible.

The facts are simple. In the open, Drake arrives at a lonely barn to rescue his superior, Derringham (Bernard Lee), who’s been kidnapped by Solby (Hugh McDermott). Who Selby is, why he’s taken Derringham and how he knows Drake is Drake and the recognition codes is never explained. But Drake is blown, and can’t operate whilst Solby is around. He is sent on holiday. He decides to take that holiday in sunny Spain, at a hotel in the south, near Gerona on the road to Barcelona. It rains incessantly. One consolation, for the viewer at least, is that the hotel is run by Maruja, and she is played by the gorgeous Isobel Black.

Drake’s hardly arrived when Monkton arrives at the Hotel. Monkton is being plated by Robert Urquhart, and this time it’s a comedy role, and not a funny one either. Monkton is also a spy, freelance, selling to the highest bidder, though how on earth such a bumbling cluck evrer learns anything successfully is beyond the scriptwriter’s imagination. Monkton is the man with the foot, so-called because of his habit of parking in wet places and stepping ankle deep into dark puddles.

This wet foot, for some reason that I think has nothing to do with Spanish hotel customs, gets him into Drake’s room to dry his shoe and sock at Drake’s fire. Seeing Drake, Monkton decides to stay. Drake leaving him alone in his room, as you do, leads Monkton to exaggeratedly pick the lock on his case. He decides to watch Drake, because something is obviously up. There is talk of lairs, Drake’s friend Gomez will have to shoot him if he succeeds. Patheticly obvious stuff.

Monkton takes his suspicions to Solby, who’s deliberately losing tons of money at the casino in Bierritz. Why? What was Monkton doing there, why does he contact Solby, is he working for him, does he know Drake to be Drake? Who knows? Drake’s supposed to be on holiday until Solby is taken, whereupon he’s unblown, but it doesn’t take a minute’s thinking to realise that that’s nonsense, and it’s doubly nonsense if Monkton also knows. If he knows. We don’t know, we’re only watching this.

Anyway, what Drake and Gomez are doing is tagging wolf cubs so their movements can be monitored. This draws Solby out into the open so he hadd Drake can have a chase scene, on foot and by car that goes on that it becomes obvious that it’s just there to fill airtime cheaply. Solby’s captured, Drake can go back to work, the episode is over, Patrick McGoohan is no doubt wondering why he has to put up with stiff like this after so many good episodes, and I’m going to to have to call this episode a complete clunker from top to bottom. Except for Miss Black, of course.