Friday, 4 April 2014

The Avengers: The Removal Men (Venus Smith was an Avengers Girl)

I'm a bit nonplussed how to start with this one, if I'm honest. I can rave about The Decapod until the cows come home, but this episode begins to confirm the commonly-negative opinions of the Venus Smith episodes for me.
In terms of character development, this episode has lots of meat to chew over. For a start, assuming the events of The Decapod are not that far behind her, what the hell is Venus doing having anything to do with Steed? - she actually says 'Oh no, (with the impication of not you),' at one point, but then proceeds to let him put her in mortal danger instead of having nothing to do with him for life, which would be the natural thing to do. Venus - despite a blond wig better suited to a forty year old - comes across as so sweet & na├»ve in this episode.  Unfortunately her naivety also puts Steed in danger: the irony is that their interaction means it is actually Steed's character that is most elaborated in this episode. Leaving his colossal misjudgement in relying on Venus aside, he perfectly plays a lounge lizard. I love how smooth, suave & sophisticated his character is in these series 2 episodes. The dodgy nightclub & spiv scene remains the perfect one for him. In contrast to the way he is an almost fatherly figure to Tara King, here he is incredibly dodgy, apparently having no regard for what could happen to Venus as a result of his criminal involvements: far different from the solid establishment figure he later becomes. He smokes cigarettes (minus holder this time) & once again visibly smokes in the way a pipe- or cigar-smoker smokes, taking the smoke into his mouth & blowing it out again, rather than into the lungs. As far as I know Patrick Macnee's own smoking history hasn't been elaborated, whether it was only something he did for a part, or whether he actually smoked himself.
I can't put my finger on what goes terribly wrong in this episode: certainly some of the common criticisms don't grate on me personally. I don't object to the songs & the whole jazz piece in the middle, myself. I maintain that The Avengers was trying to find a way forward after Ian Hendry in this series, & presumably that was one conceivable way forward. Edwin Richfield is one of several familiar faces in this episode, but unfortunately the only one that irritates me by not being Australian but being an Australian character. Additionally I feel it is possible for the actor to overshadow his character, & going by his filmography (http://radiosoundsfamiliar.com/familiar-faces-edwin-richfield.php#!) he appeared in pretty well *everything*! But for me what brings this one down is the plot, which somehow manages not to draw one in, & doesn't have the oddity attraction of The Decapod.
I do feel there is a disparity in how we would view this show now from how it would have been seen when first broadcast. Britain was very different: the second world war & rationing weren't that far away, people were looking forward to a bright new future of prosperity, including foreign travel. Elizabeth David's books had already brought sophisticated foreign food to the bookshelf, but this episode may be slightly before the masses got cheap package tours. When this episode was first shown it was therefore when the idea of Abroad was both suspect & incredibly sophisticated, since unattainable, at the same time. I do feel it is important to remember that that is how the original audience would have viewed the setting of this one: it is in a sense escapist viewing rather than a more straightforward mystery. The escapism of this one is into the world of those who can just afford to go to the South of France. I think the correct viewing setting would be in a nearly-new flat in Park Hill in Sheffield. I do think that if this episode is seen at the cusp of a brave new world of foreign travel (while drawing on the traditional British suspicion of anything vaguely Foreign) some of its shortcomings wither away.
My favourite bits: the scene where we see a burglar who turns out to be Steed, the very visually-effective (in contrast to the other studio-based scenes) staircase scene, and Steed putting suntan lotion on One-Ten's back.
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