LOUIS L’AMOUR – Reilly’s Luck. Bantam, paperback original, 1971. Reprinted many times.
I have a theory that the reason so few of Louis L’Amour’s novels have done well on screen is that his quality as a writer doesn’t lie in story and character alone, but in his voice and small details that are almost impossible to translate to the screen. The same, by my estimation, is true of John D. MacDonald. Both men have had successful screen translations, but most often their work seems to lose something when it moves to film.
Reilly’s Luck is a good example of the qualities that illustrate my point: it is a strong well written western on classical lines with a story worthy of Greek myth, and yet as cinematic as it would seem I can’t really see it working on screen.
Valentine Darrant’s mother Myra abandons him in a snowstorm to the mercies of Will Reilly, a young gambler who like most L’Amour heroes is a little too good with a gun. Reilly is angered at first, but soon warms to the child and takes him under his wing as father and mentor.
“Always give yourself an edge, boy. You may never need it, but it saves a lot of worry. Learn to depend on yourself, and if you expect nothing from anyone you will never be disappointed.”
With Reilly, Val kicks around the West from one trail town to another, from San Francisco to the capitals of Europe, gambling, working, and adventuring, but always haunted by why he was abandoned, and an unvoiced threat from his past. It is not until Val reaches maturity that things come to a head and he finds cold blooded gunman Henry Sonnenberg paid to kill him — by his own mother with a Russian nobleman from his European adventures involved.
L’Amour liked his themes from classical literature and he certainly works them here. Will Reilly is a sort of Charon ushering Val to manhood, and you can certainly see Myra as Medea murdering her own children when one interferes with her ambition. Val himself could be Jason or Theseus easily. Myra Fossett, Val’s mother, is certainly the most unusual woman in a L’Amour novel that I have encountered.
Obviously this sounds as if it would be a natural on screen. But the fact is the qualities that make a good L’Amour novel, the complexities and the details, just don’t transfer to the screen anymore than the savage commentary on the world of a MacDonald novel do. Like MacDonald, who he does not otherwise resemble, L’Amour’s plots aren’t really the point. You read them to be in their world, to experience them and not merely the story they tell.
The experience of reading L’Amour doesn’t translate to the screen as well as an Elmore Leonard or Luke Short western for instance. Here, and in many L’Amour works, the plot meanders a bit, a quality that is admirable in a novel but less so in a movie. Most of Reilly’s Luck would have ended up on the cutting room floor to the detriment of the novel and disappointment of L’Amour’s readers.
This one is one of my favorite L’Amour novels, penned later in his career and more ambitious than earlier titles. It’s a fairly big book, close to 300 pages, with a great many characters and a fairly busy plot. I’m sure many L’Amour fans dislike it for that reason, but for whatever reason I found Val Darrant’s quest an entertaining read, and Will Reilly a memorable companion for Val and for myself.
“The Daemons.” A serial of five episodes from the eighth season of Dr Who, BBC, UK, 22 May 1971 through 19 June 1971 (episodes 21 – 25). Jon Pertwee, Katy Manning, Roger Delgado, Damaris Hayman, Nicholas Courtney, Richard Franklin. Director: Christopher Barry.
Sometimes it’s fun to go back and watch movies or television shows that you really enjoyed as a kid, things that really made an impression on you. I remember, for instance, watching the Doctor Who serial, “The Daemons,” on public television when I was maybe twelve or thirteen years old.
Even decades later, I still remembered how this was the serial in which a gargoyle came to life. That idea fascinated me for years and so began a lifetime interest in those stone creatures. I even went so far as taking a series of photographs of cathedral gargoyles while vacationing in France.
So it was a real pleasure to finally get the opportunity to watch “The Daemons” again, this time on DVD, after so many years. And I have to tell you: it didn’t disappoint.
Originally aired on the BBC in spring 1971, “The Daemons” features Jon Pertwee as The (Third) Doctor and Katy Manning as his companion, Jo Grant. In this five-part series, The Doctor faces off against his longtime nemesis, The Master (Roger Delgado) as the scheming, bearded villain seeks to summon the seemingly occult power of an ancient alien force that has been using mankind as some sort of bizarre laboratory experiment.
There’s also a giant horned beast named Azal and a gargoyle come to life named Bok. It’s a thrilling, occasionally tongue-in-cheek journey through the British occult with enough cliffhangers to keep you enthralled and watching. And the gargoyle with the power to make people disappear is pretty cool too. Even after all these years.
THE CIRCUS QUEEN MURDER. Columbia, 1933. Adolphe Menjou, Greta Nissen, Donald Cook, Dwight Frye, Ruthelma Stevens. Based on the novel About the Murder of the Circus Queen, by Anthony Abbot (Fulton Oursler). Director: Roy William Neill. Shown at Cinefest 18, Liverpool NY, March 1998.
One of the disappointments of the convention. Menjou plays Anthony Abbot’s Police Commissioner Thatcher Colt, vacationing in a small town, where the arrival of a circus and an attempted murder draws him reluctantly into the center of a hastily conducted investigation. But not hastily enough.
The beginning is promising and Colt’s secretary (Ruthelma Stevens) registers strongly as an attractive, smart companion, but her role is never sufficiently developed and the lame melodrama is capped by an underpowered, restrained performance by Dwight Frye that never ignites. (He’s much livelier in The Vampire Bat [Majestic, 1933], a cheap but entertaining thriller that I watched last night on a cheap video tape. He reprises his Renfield role from Dracula, even using the Renfield laugh.)
Editorial Note: This move was also reviewed by Dan Stumpf some time ago on this blog. Check it out here.
JOHN D. MacDONALD – You Live Once. Popular Library #737, paperback original, March 1956; reprinted as You Kill Me, G507, 1961. Reprinted several times in paperback under its original title by Gold Medal, including d1761, 1966.
I read a lot of John D. MacDonald when I was twenty, and I always meant to get back that way someday. Well here I am. You Live Once is a tight, fast-paced and deftly-plotted thing, maybe no great shakes as a mystery, but it will keep you turning the pages right from the start.
Ah yes, the start: That’s when Clinton Sewell, a mid-level cog in the local branch of a giant manufacturing corporation (we used to have them here) is awakened by police who want to know what happened to the missing young lady he was last seen with last night—a local heiress named Mary Olen, known (according to the back cover) for her “easy-loving” ways.
Clint satisfies the cops that he doesn’t know where-the-hell she is, they leave, and minutes later he funds Mary’s body in his closet, strangled with his belt.
Now that’s how to start a story!
Clint knows he didn’t kill Mary last night, and it turns out he was only dating her as a cover for her affair with his sunuvabitch boss, but he also knows the police won’t look very far for the murderer if he calls them back, so he does what any Real Man would do in a paperback: he hides the body and tries to find out whodunit.
The next hundred pages are the usual thing, with sexy ladies and suspects looking equally guilty, a few beatings, tough cops and a too-smart private eye, all done up in the smooth style that made MacDonald a favorite over at Gold Medal a few years later. Like I say, the solution is nothing that will make you jump up and holler “Damn, that’s right!” but it’s agreeable getting there.
And I did notice a couple of things that lift this one a bit out of the ordinary: first, MacDonald paints a compelling picture of America in the mid-1950s, sharply-drawn and colorful, reflecting the fads and mores of the time without the fatuous moralizing that slowed down the Travis McGee books. And then there’s MacDonald’s women….
I liked the way he did this. When Clint Sewell / John D. MacDonald describes a woman for us, he does it like a man who loves women, appreciating their flaws and perfections in equal measure without the gaping, juvenile objectification of too many pulp-writers. It’s a mature, respectful and stylish lust, and just one of the pleasures of reading MacDonald.
CRIME DOCTOR. Columbia, 1943. Warner Baxter, Margaret Lindsay, John Litel, Ray Collins, Harold Huber, Don Costello, Leon Ames. Based on the Crime Doctor radio series created by Max Marcin. Director: Michael Gordon.
THE CRIME DOCTOR’S COURAGE. Columbia, 1945. Warner Baxter, Hillary Brooke, Jerome Cowan, Robert Scott, Lloyd Corrigan, Emory Parnell, Stephen Crane, Anthony Caruso, Lupita Tovar. Director: George Sherman.
Crime Doctor began as a radio program, running on Mutual from 1940 to 1947. Four of them are available online on the archive.org website. Listening to the first of them, “Eddie Brooklief’s Money,” I was not impressed.
After twenty minutes of story in which the killer is completely identified to the listeners, Benjamin Ordway, the Crime Doctor, comes on to give the police the evidence they need to close the case, in only a couple of minutes of airtime. Frankly, I heard nothing in this episode to explain how the series managed to stay on the air for as long as it did.
This may or may not have been the pattern of the other three shows, however, nor for that matter, all eight years the program was on the air. The original premise, as I understand it, was that before he became a prominent psychiatrist and a rehabilitator of criminals, Dr. Ordway was a criminal mastermind who somehow came down with amnesia and became a figure of good on the other side of the law.
Crime Doctor was the first in a series of ten movies starring an aging (and ailing) Warner Baxter as Robert Ordway, and in retelling the basic premise as I outlined it above, once again I was less than impressed. In the film, Ordway’s former colleagues in crime had a falling out with him, and tried unsuccessfully to bump him off, without, however, knowing where their $200,000 in stolen money is.
But, hence the amnesia, which the aforesaid former colleagues do not know whether to swallow or not, even after ten years have gone by and Ordway is head of the state parole board. It all sounds kind of silly, and it did even as I was watching it. Perhaps they tried to squeeze too much story in only 65 minutes of running time, as large gaps of story are sometimes skipped over between scenes.
The Crime Doctor’s Courage, the fourth of the movies, has a serious case of split personality. In the first half the new wife of a man whose first two marriages ended in tragedy during their honeymoons asks Dr. Ordway for help. She would like to know if she should be worried.
Compounding her concern is the brother of the first wife, who accuses Gordon Carson outright of murder. After a confrontation, Carson goes into his room, locks the door, and is shot to death. Suicide? The Crime Doctor proves it couldn’t have been.
At which point the brother-in-law disappears (as far I could tell), and the focus of the story becomes the Braggas, a mysterious brother and sister, the highlight of whose dancing act consists of the sister vanishing into thin air during a portion of it.
There are also hints that they may be vampires. They sleep in coffin-shaped beds, stay away from mirrors and are never seen in the daytime. After some confusing transition scenes and lot of action in an old dark mansion, the real killer is caught. How he manged to carry out the locked room gimmick, I’ll never know.
INTRUDERS. BBC2 / BBC-America, 2014. John Simm, Mira Sorvino, James Frain, Millie Bobby Brown, Tory Kittles, Robert Forster, Alex Diakun. Series developed by Glen Morgan and written by Morgan, Kristin Cloke, and Darin Morgan, based on the novel by Michael Marshall Smith. Episodes directed by Daniel Stamm and Eduardo Sanchez.
“In the beginning there was death.”
Intruders is an eight episode television series from BBCA based on the works of novelist Michael Marshall Smith who also writes as Michael Marshall (The Straw Man). Smith pens horror as well as crime fiction, and his “Straw Man” series is perhaps the most innovative and best serial killer trilogy penned, far exceeding Thomas Harris post-Silence of the Lambs output in the genre.
Intruders is horror, but it is also a puzzling mystery, fantasy, and an atmospheric and often disconcerting series mindful of something that might have run in John Campbell Jr.s classic pulp Unknown. This one owes as much to Jack Williamson’s Darker Than You Think or Fritz Leiber’s Conjure Wife as Stephen King.
Jack Whelan (John Simm) is a former cop turned writer married to beautiful Amy (Mira Sorvino), an angel of sorts who saved him from the bottle. When an old friend from high school, Gary Fischer (Tory Kittles) shows up asking for help to solve the disappearance of a man called Bill Anderson whose family was murdered, Jack has little incentive to help, but his life begins to spin out of control shortly after when Amy disappears after curious behavior.
Meanwhile nine year old Madison O’Donnell (Millie Bobby Brown) is a strange child living on the Washington coast with her mother in a summer home and is behaving strangely herself, especially after Richard Shepherd (James Frain) turns up and shows Madison a sand dollar, giving her his black business card bearing the number 9, then threatening to kill her. Like Amy, Madison runs away, and, like Amy, she shows surprising skill at doing it.
Jack’s world spirals out of control as he begins to unravel his wife’s lies, leading him back to Gary Fischer and Bill Anderson who are tied to Amy in ways he could not suspect, and draws him into conflict with Richard Shepherd and his mentor Frank Shepherd (Robert Forster) and the people they work for, the mysterious Rose Gilchrist, and something called Qui Reverte, a mysterious group who hands people strange business cards with a 9 on them, and an even stranger manual to surviving death.
I won’t be giving too much away to reveal the Qui Reverte claim that no one in their group dies They believe they have lived multiple lives over the centuries. Richard Shepherd is a just that, a shepherd, a figure who helps members cross over for their various rebirths — even killing them when they resist — or rather when the other soul in the body they are reborn in does.
Amy is somehow tied to all this, as is Madison, who is apparently possessed by Marcus Fox (wonderfully creepy Alex Diakun: “What goes around comes around.”), a long lived monster the Qui Reverte condemned but who was saved by Richard whom he bribed to shepherd him back. Under his power Madison is a deadly killer in unsuspected form, and some to the most disturbing scenes in the series involve this nine year old killer (usually shown off camera, but still disturbing) under his influence.
Jack is a reasonable and rational man who believes his wife has been taken over by a cult following her miscarriage, but it becomes increasingly hard to remain skeptical as he delves deeper into the Qui Reverte, and finds himself sometimes allied with the murderous Richard Shepherd who for some reason twice refuses to kill him.
I watched this first when it was serialized on BBCA, but recently binge watched all eight episodes in two days where I appreciated even more the novelistic approach of the series and how well it adapts Smith’s novel (not without some changes).
There is little gore here, it is much more about mystery and atmosphere and the almost Woolrichian fate of Jack Whelan as his world falls apart and everything he believed proves a lie or a half truth at best. At times you may be as confused as he is, but stick to the end and all, or at least most, will be revealed.
The plot is resolved, but left open for more, as new doors open for Jack even as old ones shut, and his journey into Qui Reverte and its secrets just begins. Intruders will draw you in deeper as the mysteries are solved and deeper ones revealed. You may never look at anyone you know the same again after watching it, though.
Like the best of this kind of horror fiction, it is the frisson and not the gore or the monster leaping out at you that you will recall. If you wonder where intelligent horror went, after all the big screen splatter fests, gimmicky hand-held cameras, and gore, this is one place to find it.
In its own quiet way this tough smart little horror outing is ultimately more frightening than all the Jason’s, Freddie’s and vampires creeping about and it is presented as a genuine mystery, though, like Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde, the solution may be more frightening than the mystery. This hits all too close to home for anyone who has ever wondered about the stranger they share their life with, or how well you know anyone, even yourself.
MURRAY SINCLAIR – Only in L.A. A&W Publishers, hardcover, 1982. Pinnacle, paperback, 1983. Black Lizard, paperback, 1988.
If what you’re looking for in the detective fiction you read is mood and atmosphere, this is the book for you. It’s a broody melodrama that in a very strong way, is a modern-day paean to life in the sleazier sections of southern California, although from the outside, “paean” would hardly seem to be the right word to use.
Neither pacing nor consistency of tone is a problem for Sinclair. He hits a single note on the very first page, and he holds it throughout the rest of the book, apparently without even straining. Both he and his hero, screenwriter Ben Crandel, view Los Angeles as the ultimate symbol of a dying culture at the end of its spiritual life-line.
A citizens’ group central to the plot attempts to make Hollywood the adult entertainment capital of the US, and foolishly so, as if it weren’t already.
Crandel’s first appearance was in Tough Luck L. A., a paperback original from Pinnacle, and to say that the mystery involved in that earlier book, and its solution, were totally incomprehensible would be an act of high charity. Sinclair has a much better hold on his story line this time around, but only if you consider massive unexplained coincidence as the ultimate in plotting devices.
On the other hand, it occurs to me that perhaps we’re meant only to consider it an indispensable part of the delirious madness and seedy, sour-tasting pornography that Crandel finds himself swallowed up by, as he desperately tries to find his adopted son’s kidnappers.
It’s a point of view, and I’m sure it’s a valid one. It’s like spinach, though. You can sit and admire all its fine qualities all you want, and still be awfully glad you don’t have to eat any.
Rating: C plus.
— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 6, No. 6, November-December 1982 (somewhat revised)
[UPDATE] 08-26-15. The first book in the series,Tough Luck L. A. (Pinnacle, 1980) was nominated for an Edgar in the Best Paperback Original category. There was a third book in the series, Goodbye, L.A. (Black Lizard, 1988), which I have not read.
SANDRA WEST PROWELL – By Evil Means. Walker, hardcover, 1993. Bantam, paperback, April 1995.
This is the first of three recorded adventures for perhaps the only fictional PI working out of Billings, Montana, a former FBI agent named Phoebe Siegel. The case seems simple enough, that of a woman who is afraid that there is something wrong at Whispering Pines, the psychiatric clinic on the outskirts of town where her daughter had recently sought help.
Phoebe is about to turn her down, since (for many reasons) she always takes the month of March off. One of the reasons is that March is the month that her brother Ben, a cop in the local police force, committed suicide. She changes her mind, though, when the mother tells her there may have been an involvement between the girl and her brother Ben, even to the extent of a police complaint just before he died.
Thus begins a long (over 350 pages) investigation into all kinds of secrets in her home town that Phoebe had never had an inkling of, many of them involving her family and friends, and she has many in both categories. The book is slow to start. It is not until page 130 or so, when Phoebe goes sneaks into Whispering Pines and convinces herself at last that Dr. Stroud is indeed up to no good, that the tale really starts to get into high gear.
In some ways, this book reminded me of several of Marcia Muller’s Sharon McCone stories, in which the friends and family seem to be a secondary but essential sidebar to the mystery. But in Phoebe Siegel’s case, the role they both take on simply grows and grows, insidiously so. The ending is as harrowing as any that I’ve read in a PI novel in quite a long time.
I wasn’t so sure for a while, but this one’s a keeper.
The Phoebe Siegel series —
By Evil Means (1993)
The Killing of Monday Brown (1994)
When Wallflowers Die (1996)
An Accepted Sorrow (unpublished)
According to the Thrilling Detective website, By Evil Means was nominated for the Hammett Prize, and both that novel and The Killing of Monday Brown were nominated for a Shamus.
MICHAEL Z. LEWIN – Called by a Panther. Albert Samson #8. Mysterious Press, hardcover, 1991; paperback, June 1992.
Albert Samson, it has been noted before, isn’t your typical hard-boiled, punchem inna nose, kickem inna crotch private eye. He’s middle-aged, low-key, laid-back, and not terribly successful; perilously close, actually, to being one of life’s losers. In this, his eighth appearance overall but first in eight years, he is trying to change his style. He is actually going to advertise on television; cable access, granted, but still —
That’s just one of the threads running through the story. There’s a poet who wants to marry his rich benefactress, but needs Samson’s help in murdering his wife, first. Well, sort of, anyway. But the real problem is that terrorism has come to Indianapolis, yes, Indianapolis. The Scum Front, an environmentalist group, have planted several bombs recently, though taking great pains to not have them go off.
Now the S. F. have had one of their bombs stolen after they planted it, and want Albert to find it for them. Given that the Indianapolis police are practically frothing at the mouth over the terrorists, he is naturally somewhat reluctant to become involved with the anonymous group. Does he? Well, of course.
The ending, I think, will surprise you, as well as raise questions as to where the series goes from here. It’s an interesting if not too terribly believable story, and told in Lewin’s usual witty and enjoyable style. Samson’s exploits are a welcome change of pace from the typically gritty, angst-driven private detective story. I recommend them, and Panther, highly.
— Reprinted from Fireman, Fireman, Save My Books #2, July 1992.
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.