A&E // 1964 // 313 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Harold Gervais (Retired) // March 24th, 2000
"Corpses can't argue."
The ongoing adventures of gentleman spy John Steed (Patrick MacNee) and his partner Mrs. Cathy Gale (Honor Blackman). Each disc in the set contains 3 episodes (would'nt it be nice if Paramount did the same thing with the Star Trek series?) and they are:
"Build a Better Mousetrap"
Easily the weakest of all the entries from both a critical and technical standpoint. Gale and Steed investigate what seems to be a localized EM pulse that wreaks havoc on all machinery in the vicinity. Is it the work of a couple of older ladies who may or may not be "witches" or something more sinister?
A former anti-British activist once marked for assassination by the British government returns to London as a foreign diplomat with full immunity. Enter one of the British assassins, long thought to be dead, intent on finally finishing the job.
The funniest episode in the volume is about a school for assassins whose class projects are eliminating both friends and foes. This episode was in fact remade with Diana Rigg as "The Correct Way to Kill."
Steed and Gale find themselves working with the enemy to protect a visiting Soviet concert pianist and to maintain high level trade talks.
"Esprit de Corps"
An attempted military coup by Scottish conspirators puts Steed in front of a firing squad and nearly places Gale upon the throne of England!
Honor Blackman's final episode before going to costar in Goldfinger features Steed and Gales on the hunt for the killer of a fellow British agent. The only clue being a rare chess piece and a resurrected lobsterman.
Being a child of television from the late '60s thru the mid-'70s there are a few shows that will always stick in my memory. Get Smart, The Prisoner, Monty Python, Batman, Columbo, The Rockford Files and The Avengers. Now granted most of my Avengers memories involve Diana Rigg but I do remember watching some of the Honor Blackman episodes in repeats. The thing that always struck me about The Avengers was the sense of style and class that it always brought to the table. What was going on and the plots that were revolving were always secondary to the dialogue being spoken. The show was and still is, smart. And for it's day, almost revolutionary in the way it presents the relationship between Steed and his female coworkers. Never damsels in distress, Gale and later Peel were very much partners and equals. Sharing information and danger.
In this MTV and ER age of fast cuts and throbbing soundtracks The Avengers truly is a show that revels in it's quiet little pace, content to tell it's various stories it's own way. On a performance level Patrick MacNee is smooth, sly and debonair as spy/sleuth John Steed and he is matched in coolness under fire by Honor Blackman as Mrs. Cathy Gale. I must admit she fills out the leather jumpsuits almost as well as Diana Rigg would a year later. And together they have the distinction, at least to my mind, of being the two best of all the "Bond" women.
One of the big dangers of going back and watching things that one enjoyed in youth is that ones perception will change. What was once fresh and funny is sometimes found to be trite and dated. Happily this is not the case with The Avengers. The episodes still have that hallmark of timelessness, good and sometimes great writing. Of all the episodes on these two volumes only "Build a Better Mousetrap" really disappoints. The best of the bunch are "The Charmers," "Esprit de Corps," and "Lobster Quadrille."
On the technical side, I suppose I should not expect miracles from source material that is 35 years old and miracles are not to be found. The worst case is again on "Build a Better Mousetrap." The video is very, very soft and anytime any actor is facing away from a microphone the dialogue is almost completely lost. Otherwise, all things being equal, video and audio are acceptable. I would have liked more detail but I don't see where there is anything to be done about it. One of the steep prices to pay for digital clarity.
After buying and enjoying A&E's Monty Python discs I must say I was very let down by the lack of supplements for The Avengers. With most of the players still around I would have loved to seen some retrospective documentary material or some running commentaries. But instead all we get gallery of production stills...wait let me contain my excitement.
The Avengers is a big blast from the past whose memory is given renewed life by these discs. I am very much on the fence in regard to their presentation though. I doubt if the episodes will ever look or sound any better but still more could and should have been done. If you are a fan of the series by all means pick these discs up, just beware though, at almost 50 bucks a set the price is steep and all of the source material's flaws are glaringly obvious. If you have never seen any episodes of The Avengers and you enjoy literate action/adventure fare from a different era, by all means give these discs a rental spin.
John Steed and Cathy Gale are released to go judo-chopping their way out of here to save the British Empire over and over again. A&E Home Video is fined for not putting more effort into their presentation of Steed and Gale's adventures. Now will someone please tell me when The Prisoner is going to appear in this court for judgment?
That's it. Case dismissed!
Review content copyright © 2000 Harold Gervais; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 313 Minutes
Release Year: 1964
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Stills Gallery