SILVERFOX. ABC, 6 July 1991. 60min. James Coburn (Robert Fox), Julia Nickson-Soul, M. Emmet Walsh, Jillie Mack, Leigh Taylor-Young. Story: Chris Abbott, Tom Selleck & Chas. Floyd Johnson. Director: Rod Holcomb.
This is one busted TV series pilot that had some potential, or at least the basis for some. The idea and the leading player were fine. In terms of what made it onto the air, one time only, it’s the story and the execution that misfires, and badly. It was billed as The ABC Saturday Night Movie, but according to the review in Variety, it ran only from 10 to 11 pm, which matches the length of the copy I have.
Which was long enough to tell that the series wasn’t going to be going anywhere. James Coburn is the star, obviously, and he’s definitely not the problem. The concept is not bad, either. He plays a spy who’s been number one in the game all his life, but now that he’s getting older, does he want the comfort of a desk job, or does he want to put off retirement for just one more job?
And frankly, I didn’t really understand what the job was. Something to do with a murdered gangster and some plates for counterfeiting Japanese yen, but other than the young Asian agent named Shimoi Chen he teams up with (Julia Nickson-Soul), I really didn’t put any other names and faces together. A story that’s strictly by the numbers tends to do that to you.
As a younger actor, James Coburn I often found a little too smug and cocky to enjoy his performances, although to be honest, I may have changed too. As Silverfox in this film and at the age of 63, he had mellowed a lot, and I found him relaxed and easy-going and playing a role he was meant to play, at least at that time of his career.
“Sunken Treasure.” An episode of Miami Undercover, Ziv, syndicated, 24 April 1961 (Season 1, Episode 14). Lee Bowman (Jeff Thompson), Rocky Graziano (Rocky). Guest cast: George N. Neise, Adrienne Bourbeau, Gene Damian, Nora Hayden. Music: Johnny Green. Writer: Gerald Drayson Adams. Director: Howard W. Koch.
The gimmick here is that posing as a man-about-town playboy, detective Jeff Thompson is actually working undercover for a Miami Beach hotel association. Rocky Graziano is his live-in assistant who also prepares his breakfast.
There are a couple of other episodes still in existence out of run of 38 — and if you go searching, you may find them online. It’s not likely, but even if someone came up with a complete set on DVD, I wouldn’t pay a lot of money for copies. Based on my sample of size one, I’d say the series was competently done, but where it counts, it was little more than mediocre.
A couple of Jeff’s friends, a young married couple who run a small boating operation, are taken in by a pair of con-artists who want some stolen diamonds to be brought up from the ocean as salvage from a sunken Spanish galleon. (I may have the details wrong — there’s a lot of plot that’s stuffed into a mere 25 minute episode — but it’s close enough.)
Lee Bowman’s was 47 when he made this series, his movie career far in the past, and while still spry, he looks older. Rocky Graziano’s only contribution is to be enthusiastic, which he does just fine. Adrienne Bourbeau is not the Adrienne Barbeau, but the statuesque Nora Hayden makes a very fine substitute for Jane Russell, who probably was not available.
Nothing is made of Jeff’s undercover status. Perhaps the married couple know him only as a playboy (an aging one), but the two con-artists know who he is from the get-go. There is a bomb involved toward the end of this episode, but it’s easily disposed of, and the whole affair is laughed off as a lark, just another day at the beach. Miami Beach, that is.
Some notes of interest for the Mystery*File TV viewer.
CW – Since all programs are made by the studios that own the network (CBS and Warner Brothers) CW is slow to cancel. Only REIGN is in any trouble.
ABC – BLOOD AND OIL will end after 10th episode. QUANTICO has been picked up for a full season. NASHVILLE is in trouble as usual, but CASTLE is in danger due to its age and having its butt kicked by NBC’s BLINDSPOT. WICKED CITY, a series about a serial killer in 1982 Los Angeles, premieres Tuesday the 27th.
CBS – LIMITLESS has been picked up for a full season. CSI: CYBER is doomed. NCIS:LA is in trouble for the same reason as CASTLE (NBC’s BLINDSPOT).
FOX – MINORITY REPORT is gone after its tenth episode. ROSEWOOD has been picked up for a full season. SLEEPY HOLLOW, BONES and any sitcom are in trouble.
NBC – BLINDSPOT has been picked up for the season. THE PLAYER ends in mid-November. The network’s biggest problems are its sitcoms and its suicidal handling of THE BLACKLIST.
PBS – BBC’s SHERLOCK returns with a one episode special. “The Abominable Bride” will air January 1st.
Starz – DA VINCI’S DEMONS has just began it last season.
THE CANARY MURDER CASE. 1929. William Powell, Louise Brooks, James Hall, Jean Arthur, Eugene Pallette. Screenplay by Florence Ryerson. Titles by Herman J. Mankiewitz. Story and Dialogue by S.S. Van Dine (his novel uncredited). Directed by Malcolm St. Clair and Frank Tuttle (the latter uncredited for filming scenes for the sound version).
LA CANARINA ASSASSINATA. Episodes 3 and 4 of Philo Vance, Italy, 10 & 14 September 1974. Giorgio Albertazzi, Stefania Cossini, Giovanni Guerrieri Teleplay by Biagio Proiretti and Belisarrio L. Randone, based on the novel The Canary Murder Case by S. S. Van Dine. Directed by Marco Leto.
Ogden Nash’s well deserved kick in the pants aside, Philo Vance dominated the American detective story in the Golden Age as an influence on such stellar sleuths as Ellery Queen and Nero Wolfe, to name two, from the school founded by Wilfrid Huntington Wright writing as S. S. Van Dine. It was only natural he was one of the first fictional American sleuths to find his way to the big screen when talking pictures made the traditional Golden Age mystery a Hollywood staple. (Craig Kennedy was one who beat him to the screen, thanks to Arthur Reeve’s involvement in early serials.)
Veteran silent screen villain William Powell (he was loathsome as the blackmailing stool pigeon Italian Legionaire in the Ronald Colman version of Beau Geste) was Vance on screen, erudite, charming, and suave, with a human side the novels never gave Van Dine’s hero. In The Canary Murder, an early talkie, Vance is involved when Margaret O’Dell (Louise Brooks), the Canary of the title, a nightclub entertainer and serial blackmailer and twenties style vampire is murdered in her flat. There are multiple suspects, including the son of one of Vance’s close friends (James Hall), and Vance is drawn into the case by District Attorney Markham, to the annoyance of veteran homicide detective Sgt. Heath (Eugene Pallette). Powell’s compassion as Vance is as much in the forefront as is intelligence and elegance, a quality that is intellectual and aloof in the novels but human in Powell’s hands.
Canary was the second Vance outing for Powell (he appeared earlier that same year in The Greene Murder Case, mentioned in this film in passing), and he comes to it assured and natural on screen despite the drawbacks of early sound. Most of the flaws of early sound films are noticeable here, but what is also notable is how at ease Powell, Pallette, and ingenue Jean Arthur are despite the difficulties. You never see them playing to the mike, which is more than can be said for anyone else in the movie. The other actors enunciate painfully, stumble, and otherwise make it evident how hard they are constraining themselves to stay in range of the primitive stationary microphones, and how poor their skills at learning dialogue are.
One black actor playing the nightman at the apartment where the Canary is murdered is given a painfully drawn out and racially offensive stutter that make his scenes actually unpleasant to watch, aggravated by the fact he is struggling both with the microphone and remembering dialogue (not unique to him, of the actors in this film only Powell, Pallette, and Arthur seem to have any concept of learning dialogue).
You will find yourself wishing for the ease and comfort on screen of Stepin Fetchit, Mantan Moreland, or Willie Best, and how much grace and skill they brought to these scenes. This is doubly ironic since in print the Van Dine school of the detective story was noted for its tolerance and racial sensitivity.
Cult actress Louise Brooks has a terribly thankless role as the victim though the novel is rewritten to give her more screen time (in the book she is dead at the beginning). She is dubbed, and badly, by a Bronx accented actress, and there is little attempt to sync her lips with the voice. She mostly speaks with the back of her head turned to the screen or off screen while the camera lingers on her beauty when she is silent. The silent era style still evident in early talkies is most evident when she is on screen. Luckily for her, and for us, she still possesses a translucent beauty even then. It is hard not to watch her even with her back to the camera.
The highlight of the film is a poker game where Vance hopes to trap the killer by recognizing the psychology of the murderer. In yet another deviation from the novel the killer dies before he can confess and Vance has to detect how the crime was done to free an innocent man who has confessed to protect another. Even Van Dine, who provided the screen story and dialogue, seemed to realize his coldly intellectual ubermensch would be a bit much on screen and seems to have approved of the various attempts to humanize him on screen even doing so himself in The Gracie Allen Murder Case.
The clue that the mystery turns on is fairly famous and well known, but if anyone wants to know it, we can cover it in the comments section to save any red flags. It is far from fair play in the film, and though Vance explains how he spotted it, the viewer has no chance to do so. We are shown afterword what the actual clue was, but there is no way the viewer could have spotted or understood it. This is not really a variation from Van Dine, whose clues could involve specialized knowledge of such subjects as the properties of heavy water, the works of Goethe adapted to opera, higher mathematics, Egyptology, modern art, and modern German criminology.
The film, like Greene before it, and unlike many early talkies, has a few stylistic touches from the German expressionist school of film making, including a nice number with Brooks swinging high above her audience and flirting with her lovers in the audience below. I am going to assume that and other such touches were the work of Frank Tuttle, since I don’t know credited director Malcolm St. Clair’s work. Hopefully if I am wrong someone will set me straight.
While far from a masterpiece, this is a good film worth seeing for more than its historical import. If nothing else it is worth seeing how natural Powell was speaking on screen at this early date, a rare role for the legendary Brooks, and a young but already assured Jean Arthur.
La canaria assassinata (the lack of capitals is European style) adapts the Van Dine book in two parts for Italian television and first aired in September 1974. Very much in the style of the Ian Carmichael-Lord Peter Wimsey adaptations, this black and white production is not only faithful to Van Dine, but also handsomely done with Art Decco sets and twenties style clothing.
Giorgio Albertazzi is Vance, and the closest to Van Dine’s creation yet on screen, every inch the monocled, ’g dropping, Nordic superman described by his creator. If he lacks Powell’s charm (and almost everyone does), Albertazzi is much closer physically and psychologically than Powell to Van Dine’s creation. If you ever wanted to see Vance done on screen as he was in the books this is your chance.
The actors here are attractive and smart, and while there is no dubbing or subtitles available, anyone who has read the book will have little trouble following this. Ironically this and The Greene Murder Case of both the Italian and the Powell series from Paramount are available on YouTube to compare.
The Italian series of Philo Vance stories is every bit as faithful and attractive as the sixties Italian Nero Wolfe series that is also available on YouTube for lovers of Rex Stout’s rotund sleuth. Both show a fealty to the original works that is seldom seen in American television, and frankly more faithful to the written word than many of the British adaptations of Agatha Christie and others.
When the hardboiled school took the forefront in American mystery fiction, Van Dine and Vance bore the brunt of the criticism, and the reaction against the clearly artificial school of mystery fiction mostly settled on their shoulders, fairly or not. Vance and his creator became the face of that school of the Golden Age of the detective story, and only Ellery Queen and Rex Stout truly survived the sea change, thanks to EQ’s evolution as a character and the hard boiled voice of Archie Goodwin and wit of Rex Stout.
By the post-war era, they were the only survivors of the sea change, and Van Dine was out of print from the forties until the sixties and then available only sporadically until the Fawcett paperback series (the same thing happened to Dorothy Sayers, the British writer closest to Van Dine in some ways).
Truth be told, by the time of the later Vance books, Van Dine and his creation were showing signs of growing weary and the Vance books formula had become too obvious. Still, in his time Philo Vance was the face of the American mystery, popular on film and radio and a subject of satire even in Will Gould’s comic strip Red Barry, where Gould’s tough undercover tec often shows up an amateur clearly based on Vance, something that needed no explanation to readers.
The Canary Murder Case and La canarina assassinata are two handsome adaptations of Van Dine to the big and small screen and tributes to the popularity of Philo Vance. Whatever the flaws of Van Dine, the school of mystery he founded, or Philo Vance as a character, they are old friends to me, and I always enjoy revisiting them, especially when done as well as they are here.
WEB OF DECEPTION. Made-for-TV movie. NBC-TV, 25 April 1994. Powers Boothe, Pam Dawber, Lisa Collins, Paul Ben-Victor, Rosalind Chao. Director: Richard A. Colla.
In order to review this movie in the usual fashion, I’d also have to tell you more than you’d like to know about it — or more than I normally would. As is my usual fashion I picked this out of a box of DVDs I’d stored away in the basement and totally forgotten about, including how I obtained it and why I’d decided to own it in the first place.
All I knew before I started watching it was that it was a crime film, it had the names of some people in it that I recognized, and that’s all. I didn’t even read the back cover.
So assuming you’re somewhat like me in not knowing too much ahead of time, I’m going to be as sketchy in the details as I can and still come up a set of comments and other observations that make sense.
Powers Boothe plays Dr. Philip Benesch in this film, a forensic psychiatrist who works hand in hand with the police department in court cases in which the sanity of the defendant comes into question. His job: to say the accused was sane at the time the crime was committed; the defense has to hire their own psychiatrist to say just the opposite.
A more smug guy you cannot believe. Even the cops whose side he is on think he’s a jerk. This is a family-oriented blog, or else I’d be able to say what they really think. He is also having marital problems. His wife, played by Pam Dawber, has just found out he’d been having an affair. He claims it’s over, and asks for forgiveness.
About this same time, a good-looking court stenographer (Lisa Collins) starts stalking him, following wherever he goes, and obviously obsessing about him. He’s flattered but finally tells her off, to get out of his life, adios, good-bye. She retaliates, and how. Suffice it to say that Dr. Benesch finds himself in deep sh–, oops, what it’s like to be on the other side of the law.
Powers Boothe, who played Philip Marlowe on the HBO series of the same name, does a fine job here playing a man who finds his life turned upside down, almost literally. Pam Dawber, though, as his wife, does an even better job of playing a woman who is trying to keep loving her husband, but as more and more details come to light, finds it more and more difficult to do so.
This is pretty good entertainment, as far as the standard of TV-making stood in 1994. It would have been even better if the police weren’t so obviously uninterested in doing a proper investigation. The lady district attorney equally so. You’ll have to stay focused on the characters and the relationships between them. If you can, you should enjoy this one. If you’re interested in a murder mystery worthy of the name, I don’t believe you’ll be happy at all.
“The Deep End.” An episode of Kraft Suspense Theater, NBC, 2 January 1964 (Season 1, Episode 11). Aldo Ray, Clu Gulager, Tina Louise, Ellen McRae, Whit Bissell, Paul Langton. Teleplay by Jonathan Hughes based on the novel The Drowner by John D. MacDonald. Directed by Francis D. Lyon.
Despite some of the more obvious sexual aspects of the novel being toned down considerably, this is a fairly faithful adaptation of the Gold Medal original paperback by John D. MacDonald published as The Drowner, and about the closest thing MacDonald ever wrote to a straight private eye novel.
Lucille Benton (Ellen McRae) a soon to be divorced daughter of regional old money, has died while swimming on private property owned by her lover wealthy self made developer Sam Kimber (Aldo Ray), except, we, the viewer, saw her murdered by someone in scuba gear in the opening credits, so we are one step ahead of everyone but the killer when insurance adjustor Dan Walsh (Clu Gulager) shows up asking Sheriff Kyle (Paul Langton) about things like suicide. Things get even touchier when he talks to Sam Kimber at his office once he gets past Kimber’s protective Amazonian secretary Angie Powell (Tina Louise).
It seems Lucille Benton was divorcing weak willed Nico Benton (Dan Barton) for rough tough sweet Sam a real man, and it also plays out Lucille was holding some $200,000 dollars of money for Sam he had salted away as emergency funds without telling the IRS. Now Lucille is dead, the money is missing, the IRS is hard on Sam’s heels, accountant Gus Hickman (Whit Bissell) has been nosing around and may have talked enough to get Lucille killed, and who knows where this Walsh character will pop up. Sheriff Kyle may know which side his bread is buttered on when it comes to Sam Kimber, but he isn’t so loyal he will keep quiet about just anything.
Then Lucille Benton’s sister Barbara Shepherd (a dual role for Ellen McRae) shows up unnerving Sam with her resemblance and we discover Dan Walsh is no insurance man but a private detective she hired because she thinks Lucille was murdered. When Gus Hickman is killed suspiciously near one of Kimber’s construction sites, Walsh puts two and two together, but the only way he can prove his suspicions is make himself bait for murder at the same place and in the same way as Lucille Benton.
Television had to tone down the novel considerably, Lucille goes swimming in a one piece and not skinny dipping for one thing, MacDonald’s sexual themes are kept to a minimum, and there is some psychosexual business that gets considerably trimmed, but all in all it is a good adaptation of a MacDonald novel that touches on many of his themes including the self made man versus corrupt inherited wealth and influence, the darker side of American business and its practices, adultery, sexual healing, and sexual frustration as a motive for twisted emotions and even murder.
As always in MacDonald, sex as anything but a healthy outlet for adults is dangerous and destructive and nothing more so than repressing it or expressing disgust at it. Prudery and murder are never far from each other in MacDonald’s universe.
There is really too much story for the hour-long format to let a lot of suspense develop, but the performances are good and the story moves along well. It might help if the teleplay didn’t keep revealing things too soon, but at the same time I doubt many people couldn’t guess how this was going to go.
Although Dan Walsh is not the only private detective to appear in a MacDonald novel, he is the only one to be anything like the protagonist in one. You have to wonder if MacDonald just wanted to try a private eye set up on for size or what his motivation was since this could easily have been told in a more typical MacDonald manner with a more typical MacDonald hero. He had used investigators, police and Federal, before, but I think Walsh is his only private detective hero.
Nothing great, but worth seeing for MacDonald fans. There is even an early James Bond joke when Sam Kimber says of Dan Walsh’s theory that it is as fantastic as “That Bond fellow, the one who is always fighting criminal masterminds, what’s his name?” It may even be one of the earliest James Bond references in mainstream television, or close to it.
A good hour long entry in a usually reliable anthology series, and an interesting one for John D. MacDonald fans.
THE AVENGERS: A TV FACE-OFF
by Michael Shonk
Season Three v. Season Four
“Don’t Look Behind You.” (Season Three) Honor Blackman as Mrs. Catherine Gale and Patrick Macnee as John Steed. Guest Cast: Maurice Good as Max, Janine Gray as Ola, Kenneth Colley as Strange Young Man Written by Brian Clemens. Produced by John Bryce. Directed by Peter Hammond.
“The Joker.” (Season Four) Diana Rigg as Mrs. Emma Peel and Patrick Macnee as John Steed. Guest Cast: Peter Jeffrey as Max, Sally Nesbitt as Ola and Ronald Lacey as Strange Young Man. Teleplay by Brian Clemens. Produced by Albert Fennell and Brian Clemens. Directed by Sidney Hayers.
In today’s culture virtually everything from politics to entertainment is examined as if it is a sporting event. Which team will win the election? Which is better Star Wars or Star Trek? Sherlock versus Scooby Doo?
So in this spirit we look at the TV series The Avengers. It is a battle between Season Three and Season Four. A fight to the finish, a duel between Honor Blackman and Diana Rigg, between Cathy Gale and Emma Peel, between Steed and Steed, between production values, and between leather jumpsuits.
Representing Season Three is the episode “Don’t Look Behind You” with Honor Blackman as Cathy Gale.
Representing Season Four is the episode “The Joker,” a remake of “Don’t Look Behind You” with Diana Rigg as Emma Peel.
Heroine in jeopardy in the “Old Dark House.”
Both begin with a scene where an unknown pair of hands cuts up and mutilates a close up photo of Gale/Peel. Next we learn a famous reclusive expert in Gale/Peel’s field of interest has invited her to spend a weekend alone with him in his remote mansion.
At the mansion Gale/Peel meets an odd young woman named Ola and learns her host has been called away but hopes to return soon. Ola leaves Gale/Peel alone and mind games begin.
A strange young man appears at the mansion’s door claiming his car is out of gas and he needs to use the phone. They discover the phone line has been cut. More mind games follow until the villain reveals himself and (spoiler alert) the villain is defeated.
WINNER: The plot is a better fit for the third season hardboiled thriller style than the fantasy adventure era of Emma Peel. DON’T LOOK BEHIND YOU
Some of the rewrites changes were minor and not always best for the mood of the story, such as switching Gale’s fan from being an expert in medieval history to that of Peel’s being an expert in the less serious subject of card game Bridge.
The main problem with heroine in jeopardy stories for weekly TV series is the audience knows the heroine will survive thus eliminating any real jeopardy. Clemens’ two scripts handled that challenge differently.
The Gale version was a better than expected suspense thriller worthy of the man who gave us the TV series Thriller. Because you don’t know whom or why this is happening, there is an increasing uneasiness and a feeling of tension typical in “Old Dark House” maniac killer thrillers.
In the rewrite episode “The Joker,” Clemens made a major mistake by revealing too early who the killer was and his motive. This removed much of the uneasiness and suspense that worked well in Season Three version. The best change Clemens made in the rewrite was with the motivations of Ola and the Strange Young Man. These changes made the characters more believable and the villain’s plan much more credible. However, Clemens most unforgivable mistake with the rewrite dealt with John Steed.
WINNER: Both scripts had flaws but DON’T LOOK BEHIND YOU worked the best with the plot and story.
In both scripts Steed’s role was minor but important. Steed drives Gale to the mansion then continues on his way. During the trip Steed flirts with receptive Gale, even stopping to pick some wild flowers for her. While Steed would leave Gale alone in the mansion he would arrive to help her as soon as he learned a certain bit of news.
In Peel’s version Steed falls down the stairs and hurts his leg, but he is more clueless than clumsy. Steed is given the news that made it obvious to third season Steed that his partner was in danger. This time he doesn’t notify Emma of the news because it would spoil her weekend with the Bridge expert. It takes dimwitted Steed too long to realize Mrs. Peel is in danger. Steed’s arrival in this version is a letdown for Steed fans compared to his heroics in Season Three.
The Gale version also featured a great reaction by Macnee when Cathy asks him if he had known she was in danger and used her as a decoy (something earlier Steed was fond of doing to his partners). Steed’s reaction of hurt disbelief that she would ask him that showed just how much he had changed and how much Gale meant to him.
WINNER: For the third season’s moment revealing Steed’s growth and the fourth season episode turning Steed into an idiot… DON’T LOOK BEHIND YOU.
The person who captured that Steed moment was Peter Hammond. Hammond was one of the series first directors and known for his fondness of odd angles and points of view. His camera work added to the uneasiness and strangeness of the story without getting in the way of the story. And boy did he have fun with the camera in this episode especially taking advantage of the odd stairs that went in a variety of directions.
Sidney Hayers did a fine professional but standard job directing “The Joker.” He also made positive use of the surroundings, taking advantage of the large playing cards as doors to add some visual creepiness to the action.
WINNER: DON’T LOOK BEHIND YOU – Peter Hammond.
THE GUEST CAST:
The Gale version went for a theatrical style that matched the tone and style director Hammond set for the entire episode. The guest cast got to ham it up adding a sense of insanity to the characters.
The Peel version used a more typical TV style of underplaying the roles, especially with the Strange Young Man. The increase in Steed’s role meant less of the Strange Young Man, which was a plus.
WINNER: In both episodes the performances of characters Ola and Strange Young Man seemed artificial. Both actors who played the killer were good but I found Maurice Good in “Don’t Look Behind You” better as he added a sense of tragedy to the character. DON’T LOOK BEHIND YOU.
Oddly enough the limited production values in the third season version was a plus. The black and white videotape gave the thriller more of an “Old Dark House” feel than the filmed in color version.
The sets in the Peel’s version were bigger and better. The interiors of the mansion looked real but marred by the rooms decorated with ludicrous playing cards that conflicted with the serious suspense of the story. The Peel era would learn to better balance its surrealism with story.
The smaller sets in the Gale’s version designed by Terry Green gave the episode a claustrophobic feel that worked better. The design of the stairs with a hint of M. C. Escher added to the audience discomfort as it felt that anything could happen from any direction at any moment.
Johnny Dankworth’s theme and soundtrack would be approved by anyone who admired jazz music during the fifties and sixties. But the Steed picks flowers for Cathy scene needed more and better music in the background. The record that would play a clue was misused in “Don’t Look Behind You.”
Laurie Johnson’s theme was more stylish and in a pop style. It plays a major role in the famously popular opening credits. “The Joker” makes good use of the record of a song that is so important to the killer.
Both episodes costume department failed to help establish the guest characters. The Strange Young Man’s sunglasses seemed to reflect his ego but had nothing to add to the story. Gale’s clothes seemed limited to conservative dress and black leather jumpsuit worn only during fight scenes. Peel had the larger more feminine wardrobe (and a scene where Peel is exposed in a bra as she dressed – a big deal for the young audience during a time when the Sears catalog was considered risque). Steed dressed much the same in both episodes.
WINNER: DON’T LOOK BEHIND YOU in Sets and Look. THE JOKER in Music and Costumes.
And now the battles you all have been waiting for…
MRS. CATHERINE GALE versus MRS. EMMA PEEL
Cathy Gale was originally named Mr. Charlie Gale. Studio Press officer Marie Donaldson is credited for naming Emma Peel – a twist of the phrase “man appeal.”
Oddly, the two female characters were more alike than the third and fourth season were. Both were strong kick ass women that looked great in leather jumpsuits. Both had the same relationship with John Steed, one of mutual respect, professionalism, and hints of romance. Gale, as with Season Three, was darker, more serious. She had a sense of wit but rarely smiled. However Clemens was showing signs in Season Three that he saw Gale differently than she was usually portrayed. The flower scene in “Don’t Look Behind You” was notable for softening Gale to the audience.
Emma Peel had strength and confidence. She ran toward danger and kicked down doors to get at the killer. She was the near perfect image of the modern independent woman. While Peel was grateful for Steed’s coming to her rescue she didn’t need him to take out the villains.
While much of what was right with Mrs. Emma Peel came from the development of Mrs. Catherine Gale, Emma Peel remains one of the most beloved female characters in all of television history.
WINNER:THE JOKER – Emma Peel
HONOR BLACKMAN versus DIANA RIGG
Both co-starred in Bond films, both were offered a CBE (Commander). Blackman declined due to her political beliefs favoring a republic over royalty. Riggs accepted hers in 1988 and now is a DBE (Dame Commander).
Website ‘Avengers Forever’ quotes an interview Blackman gave “Star Log” magazine where she confessed that director Hammond argued with her over how to play the final scene with the killer in “Don’t Look Behind You”. Hammond wanted her tough and ready to kill the bad guy. But Blackman felt so sorry for the villain she was unable to play the scene without tears running down her face. Diana Rigg’s performance during that scene would have made Hammond proud.
Rigg had no problem with the tough part of Peel. She could break a man’s arm and still remain feminine. Perhaps the greatest difference Rigg brought to the role was the playfulness. The way she holds the gun in the opening titles is enough to drive a gun safety expert insane but adds a sense of genial fun that is irresistibly appealing,
WINNER:THE JOKER – Diana Rigg who made Emma Peel an iconic television character. But Honor Blackman was a better Bond Girl.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
And the winner is… DON’T LOOK BEHIND YOU. (7 to 4.)
It really should be no surprise that a script written for Mrs. Catherine Gale and the third season of the series would turn out better than a rewrite done to speed up production time while Brian Clemens was still developing where he wanted to take the series.