Sherlock Holmes in New York (1976)


Country: United States
Director: Boris Sagal
Starring: Roger Moore, Patrick Macnee, John Huston, Charlotte Rampling, David Huddleston, Gig Young, Geoffrey Moore
Music: Richard Rodney Bennett
Based on characters by Arthur Conan Doyle

Regular visitors to this site, may have read this review before (originally posted in Jan 2010), but as the film has finally been released on DVD (by Madman Entertainment in Australia.) I thought it was well worth revisiting. I must admit, I am rather happy I can now relegate my old grey-market NTSC videotape to the scrap heap.

Before we begin, one thing, I feel is important to point out, is that Holmes is now so much bigger than the original stories written by Arthur Conan Doyle. There have been countless continuation novels (not only limited to Holmes, but Professor Moriarty and Holmes’ brother Mycroft have each had novels written about their exploits).

Then, of course, there are the films. The first Sherlock Holmes film was the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (AKA: Held For Ransom) and starred Maurice Costello as Holmes. Since then, over 70 actors have played the part in over 200 films. But for most people, it was Basil Rathbone’s portrayal of the deerstalker cloaked crusader during the 1930’s and 40’s that are most fondly remembered. But with a 200 plus film back catalogue, a huge range of actors have tried their hand at playing Holmes; some more successfully than others.

The novelisation
For the spy fan, the Holmes adventures that are of interest are the propaganda films from the forties, which feature Basil Rathbone as Holmes battling Nazi spies and other assorted evil doers. Also of interest are the films which feature arch villain Professor James Moriarty. There is no mistaking that the rivalry between Homes and Moriarty is one of the battles in popular culture. Moriarty himself is one of the great ‘evil masterminds’, and certainly a prototype Blofeld (or any other diabolical villain). It is not so very surprising that David McDaniel in The Man From UNCLE novel, The Dagger Affair intimated that the evil organisation THRUSH was set up by Professor Moriarty.

Roger Moore in his biography only has one page devoted to Sherlock Holmes in New York, but it appears to have been a pleasant working experience. From My Word is my Bond (page 264) – Roger Moore – 2008 Harper Collins:

‘Jack called me up and asked if I’d be interested in a TV movie for Fox called Sherlock Holmes in New York. Patrick Macnee was already cast as Watson. It was to film in LA, so that all rather suited me. It was actually shot on the Hello, Dolly sets at Fox’s Hollywood studio.

I’ve already related the story of how I called Oliver Reed and asked if he was interested in playing Moriarty. Well, after he turned us down flat, Jack approached John Huston. As well as being a famous and accomplished director, writer and producer, Huston also turned his hand to acting in the odd film. He was wonderful to work with. On his arrival, John said to our director, Boris Sagal, ‘My boy, I have a lot of speeches to deliver. I may need some help remembering them.’ So, the art department made up beautiful prompt cards – or idiot boards as well call them – with the dialogue written on, and held them behind the camera at strategic points for John to refer to. He delivered every line perfectly, never looking at them once. The old cad.

John and I both enjoyed backgammon and fine cigars, so between takes we’d sit down to play and smoke. I never had the opportunity to work with Huston as a director. That would have been fun and is one of my few regrets.

Other casting fell into place: Charlotte Rampling, David Huddleston, Gig Young, Signe Hasso and my son Geoffrey, who was around ten, who played Irene Adler’s (Charlotte Rampling’s) son who is kidnapped by Moriarty. We later discover that the boy is in fact the result of a suggested liaison between Holmes and Irene Adler.

I won’t say this is regarded as one of the most popular or warmly remembered Holmes film, but we certainly had fun making it.’

As the film opens the year is 1901, and in London, Moriarty (John Huston) is enjoying a brandy is his gaudily decorated villains lair at Victoria Docks. As the clock strikes midnight, one of Moriarty’s lieutenants, Colonel Moran arrives with news. Moriarty and his team of cronies have been plotting the assassination of Lord Brackish, who is the head of the London Bank.

As Moriarty congratulates Moran on the success of his part of the mission, Moran’s voice begins to change. Then he pulls off several rubber appliances that had been glued to his face. Underneath is Sherlock Holmes (Roger Moore). Holmes recounts how all of Moriarty’s men have been rounded up by the police and how his assassinated attempt has been thwarted.

Moriarty is enraged. But then goes to show Holmes a trapdoor in the floor, a knife that is fired from a cash register on a desk, and a falling chandelier. He shows Holmes each of these devices that could have killed him, and then explains why he didn’t use them. He chose not to kill him at this time because he is preparing the crime of the century, and not only does he plan on changing the world with his audacious act of criminality, but also to humiliate Holmes in the process. Moriarty taunts that he plans to commit the perfect crime and Holmes will be helpless to stop it. As there is no direct evidence against Moriarty at this time, Holmes cannot have him arrested.

In the United States, Irene Adler (Charlotte Rampling) is preparing to star in a new Broadway production at the Empire Theatre in New York. For nine years, for each production she has starred in, she has sent two tickets to the premiere Holmes. He has never attended any of the productions.

Three days later, Holmes and Dr Watson (Patrick Macnee) are at their modest lodging at 221B Baker Street. An envelope arrives from the United States and inside are two tickets for Irene Adler’s new play, but the tickets are torn to shreds. Holmes realises something is amiss and immediately, with Watson in tow of course, he heads for New York.

Upon arrival, they go to the Empire Theatre to acquire tickets for the evening’s performance, but when it comes time for the curtain to be raised, the theatre owner addresses the crowd and says that Irene Adler will not be appearing on this evening due to illness. Her understudy will play the role. Holmes and Watson waste no time, and head directly to Irene Adler’s home. Irene is not ill at all, but something is troubling her, and it doesn’t take long for Holmes to deduce what it is. It appears that Irene’s son, Scott (played by Sir Roger’s son Geoffrey) has been kidnapped.

Shortly thereafter, a note is delivered by a messenger addressed to Holmes directly. But who knew he’d be here? The note says that if Scott is to survive, then Holmes is to refuse any request that the local police may ask.

It all becomes clear on the following morning when Inspector Lafferty (David Huddleston) of the New York Police Department approaches Holmes in want of assistance. In seems that New York plays host to the world’s largest gold depository in the world. Many countries have stored their gold in these top secret vaults, and all the gold has just been stolen. Lafferty asks for Holmes assistance in retrieving the gold. If the gold is not found, then in two days time, when an international transfer is set to take place, then pandemonium will break out between the different countries. It may even lead to war.

But, as Scott’s life is at stake, so Holmes refuses to assist the police in their investigations. At that moment, Moriarty’s taunt about how he will commit the crime of the century and Holmes will be helpless to solve it rings in his ears.

Sherlock Holmes in New York is actually a great deal of fun…that is if you can accept Roger Moore as Sherlock Holmes. I can. But, to be honest, Moore is the weakest link in the film. His acting is okay, but Roger Moore is, …well he’s Roger Moore. He’s the same likeable character that he portrayed as The Saint or James Bond. If you like Moore, then I suggest that you will like this film.

Patrick Macnee does a fine job with Watson, as the character is written. unfortunately, Watson is written as somewhat of a buffoon – definitely from the Nigel Bruce school of Watson – which I know rubs some people the wrong way. As an adjunct here, I must watch The Hound of London, in which Macnee plays Holmes (although it has a reputation for being one of the worst Holmes films ever).

In the quote above, Moore suggests that Sherlock Holmes in New York is not popular or warmly remembered which is quite a shame really. It is well written and the cast is engaging – Huston is clearly having a ball as Moriarty. Out of all the Sherlock Holmes films made this is far from the worst, and Moore’s performance isn’t bad.

Here’s the spiel from Madman.

Roger Moore takes on another literary hero in the DVD debut of this cracking and rare Sherlock Holmes mystery

The games afoot for Sherlock Holmes when he is lured to New York by his arch nemesis Moriarty under the guise that something sinister has happened to Holmes’ former flame, Irene Adler.

During their last meeting, Moriarty had promised revenge in the form of shattering Holmes’ reputation in the eyes of the world. He plans to commit the crime of the century – a crime that will occur under his very nose – and he will be powerless to stop it. The world will sneer, ridicule and the hound the famous sleuth into oblivion.

So when the villainous scoundrel makes good on his promise by quietly robbing the world’s gold reserves from a high-security bank vault, why is Holmes refusing to put his remarkable deductive powers to use? Has Moriarty indeed pulled off the crime of the century?

Roger Moore, taking a break from the height of James Bond hysteria, joined an all star cast including Patrick Macnee, Charlotte Rampling, Gig Young and John Huston as Moriarty for this sumptuous big-budget Sherlock Holmes adventure filmed by 20th Century Fox in 1976. Never before available on DVD, this Special Edition includes a newly recorded feature-length audio commentary with Sir Roger Moore.

Sherlock Holmes in New York (1976)

Matt Helm: Pilot (1975)

Release Year: (1975)
Country: United States
Director: Buzz Kulik
Starring: Anthony Franciosa, Anne Turkel, John Vernon, Patrick Macnee
Music: Jerry Fielding
Based on characters created by Donald Hamilton

The Ambushers
Dean Martin as Matt Helm

I had heard a lot about this Matt Helm series – most of it was bad. The biggest complaint seemed to be that Matt Helm was no longer a wild, swingin’ secret agent with a crazy bachelor pad (I am of course, referring to the Dean Martin films as the template for this series, as opposed to the Donald Hamilton books which are a different kettle of fish altogether). In this series Helm is a private investigator with a less gadget reliant household. The thing is that while this Helm show is not a spy show, and therefore quite different to the movies of the sixties, there is — at least in this, the pilot episode — a concerted effort to explain that this Helm is the same character, only that he became disillusioned with all the lies, double-speak and double dealing in the espionage community, and sickened to his stomach, walked away from that life and now works as a private detective.

This is best explained by a character called Harry Paine, played by John Vernon (I love John Vernon – I think he’s a great character actor, whether it be as the Mayor in Dirty Harry or the befuddled Dean of Faber in Animal House). Paine explains that ‘Helm used to be a professional, employed by one of the intelligence agencies’ The agency that Paine is referring to is, thankfully not I.C.E., but a branch of covert intelligence referred to only as ‘The Machine’.

It is interesting to compare this Matt Helm pilot, with the Derek Flint telemovie, Our Man Flint: Dead on Target (which I think was also intended as a pilot for a prospective new series). In both programs, the swashbuckling spy heroes from the sixties, had become private eyes. But in the Flint production, the film-makers didn’t see fit to explain the change in profession — and consequently the character. In that instance, it appeared that the writers weren’t even aware who Flint was. At least in Matt Helm the writers have seen fit to acknowledge the character’s past — and while at first it may seem a little disconcerting at first to see Helm as such a different type of character, it is not impossible to reconcile the two. Some of the differences could simply fall down to the different personality styles of Dean Martin, compared to Anthony Franciosa.

This episode starts with an actress named Maggie Gantry (Anne Turkel – I recently looked at Turkel as Modesty Blaise), and she is keeping trim by running a few laps at a local sports ground. As she runs, she is approached by a gentleman named Gerald Taber. Taber is a private investigator that she has hired to track down her father’s murderer. Taber has bad news. It appears that he has hit a bit of a wall. He tells her that ‘they can’t do it – they’re are in over their head’. Maggie continues her exercise regime as Taber watches on. That is, until a grenade is thrown at the detective and he is consequently blown sky high. Then a car swings on to the sports arena and at speed, chases after Maggie. Eventually she gives up and the car slides to a halt beside her. Two men get out holding machine guns and wearing gas masks to disguise their faces. One says:

“Repeat after me! Gerald Taber is dead!
Bryce Redfield is Dead!
Earl Gantry is dead!
You, Maggie Gantry will be… if you don’t stop now!”

The thugs get back into their car and drive off. Maggie is consequently picked up by the police on suspicion of Taber’s murder and is now being held at the police station. She is given her one phone call to call her lawyer, which she does. The Lawyer’s name is Kronsky (Laraine Stephens), and it just so happens that she is the latest flame of Matt Helm. Kronsky has given Helm’s home phone number to her telephone service if she needs to be contacted, so when Maggie rings through, Helm answers the phone.

Some things never change. Matt Helm didn’t like answering the phone or getting out of bed in the ’60s, and he doesn’t like it in the ’70s. None-the-less, he reluctantly passes the phone to Kronsky. She arranges to come to the police station straight away to help Maggie out of her predicament. Kronsky needs a lift to the police station and Helm obliges — he now drives a very sleek red Porsche (which is a big step up of the brown wood-panelled station wagon that Helm drove in The Silencers).

Helm accompanies Kronsky to the police station and watches as Kronsky arranges for Maggie to be released. As Kronsky has other duties to perform, Helm agrees to drive Maggie home. Back at her home she explains that she hired Taber to investigate the death of her father, Earl Gantry. Apparently, he was killed during the war, but not during a battle or as a direct consequence of the war. He was murdered behind the lines whilst driving a jeep. It is believed that a Staff Sergeant named Bryce Redfield fired an anti-tank rocket at Gantry to stop him reporting an elaborate black-market ring. She had hired Taber to track down Redfield. His enquiries led him to a man named Harry Paine (John Vernon) who is an arms dealer, and a shady military commander named Shawcross (Patrick Macnee).

From his old days, working for ‘The Machine’, Helm has come across both men and knows what they are capable of. But still, he agrees to help Maggie out and take up the investigation from where Taber left off.

Going against all conventional wisdom — and reviews of Franciosa’s turn as Matt Helm — I think that this pilot episode was pretty damn good. It had a decent enough plot, with a few twists and turns, and I was particularly fond of the way that Helm’s past, and the nature of the spying business was painted as a dirty and corrupt game. It gave this show that touch of gritty varnish that it needed. Then it had a good cast too. I don’t mind Franciosa — obviously he’s a long way from Deano, but he handles the light stuff pretty well, and when the script had a bit of meat to it, he showed he was capable of delivering the goods. A supporting cast that features John Vernon and Patrick Macnee cannot be sneezed at either.

The thing here though is, I am basing my opinion on the whole series on viewing this one single episode — and being the pilot episode, the one made to sell the series, maybe a bit more effort and money was thrown into it to make it a solid piece of entertainment. From the modicum of research I have done about the series, it would appear that most of the episodes did not hit the heights of this pilot and were pretty disappointing. If that is indeed the case, that is a great shame, because on the strength of this, the Matt Helm series could have presented a good alternative to a character like Mike Hammer.

I must admit, I’d be curious to see more episodes, and see where exactly the wheels fell off.

My thanks, once again to MB.

Matt Helm: Pilot (1975)

Sherlock Holmes In New York (1976)


Director: Boris Sagal
Starring: Roger Moore, Patrick Macnee, John Huston, Charlotte Rampling, David Huddleston, Gig Young, Geoffrey Moore
Music: Richard Rodney Bennett
Based on characters by Arthur Conan Doyle

Why Sherlock Holmes? Some readers may be wondering why I am writing about Sherlock Holmes? After all, he isn’t a spy. But I would assert that Holmes and many characteristics found within a Sherlock Holmes story provided a template for many of the spy stories that were to follow throughout the years. I consider Sherlock Holmes to be one of the ‘Originators’ along with Bulldog Drummond, Simon Templar and Flash Gordon. Yes – Flash Gordon, but I’ll talk about him some other day.

One thing, that I feel it is important to point out, is that Holmes is now so much bigger than the original stories written by Arthur Conan Doyle. There have been countless continuation novels (not only limited to Holmes, but Professor Moriarty and Holmes’ brother Mycroft have each had novels written about their exploits). Then there are the films. The first Sherlock Holmes film was the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (AKA: Held For Ransom) and starred Maurice Costello as Holmes. Since then, over 70 actors have played the part in over 200 films. But for most people, it was Basil Rathbone’s portrayal of the deerstalker cloaked crusader during the 1930’s and 40’s that are most fondly remembered. But with a 200 plus film back catalogue, a huge range of actors have tried their hand at playing Holmes; some more successfully than others.

For the spy fan, the Holmes adventures that are of interest are the propaganda films from the forties, which feature Basil Rathbone as Holmes battling Nazi spies and other assorted evil doers. Also of interest are the films which feature arch villain Professor James Moriarty. There is no mistaking that the rivalry between Homes and Moriarty is one of the battles in popular culture. Moriarty himself is one of the great ‘evil masterminds’, and certainly a prototype Blofeld (or any other diabolical villain). It is not so very surprising that David McDaniel in The Man From UNCLE novel, The Dagger Affair intimated that the evil organisation THRUSH was set up by Professor Moriarty.

But moving forward and retaining the espionage theme, what we have in Sherlock Holmes In New York is James Bond (Roger Moore) as Sherlock Holmes and John Steed (Patrick Macnee) as Doctor Watson. Incidentally, Macnee would move from second banana (Watson), to top-dog (Holmes) in the film The Hound of London.

Roger Moore in his biography only has one page devoted to Sherlock Holmes in New York, but it appears to have been a pleasant working experience. From My Word is my Bond (page 264) – Roger Moore – 2008 Harper Collins:

‘Jack called me up and asked if I’d be interested in a TV movie for Fox called Sherlock Holmes in New York. Patrick Macnee was already cast as Watson. It was to film in LA, so that all rather suited me. It was actually shot on the Hello, Dolly sets at Fox’s Hollywood studio.

I’ve already related the story of how I called Oliver Reed and asked if he was interested in playing Moriarty. Well, after he turned us down flat, Jack approached John Huston. As well as being a famous and accomplished director, writer and producer, Huston also turned his hand to acting in the odd film. He was wonderful to work with. On his arrival, John said to our director, Boris Sagal, ‘My boy, I have a lot of speeches to deliver. I may need some help remembering them.’ So, the art department made up beautiful prompt cards – or idiot boards as well call them – with the dialogue written on, and held them behind the camera at strategic points for John to refer to. He delivered every line perfectly, never looking at them once. The old cad.

John and I both enjoyed backgammon and fine cigars, so between takes we’d sit down to play and smoke. I never had the opportunity to work with Huston as a director. That would have been fun and is one of my few regrets.

Other casting fell into place: Charlotte Rampling, David Huddleston, Gig Young, Signe Hasso and my son Geoffrey, who was around ten, who played Irene Adler’s (Charlotte Rampling’s) son who is kidnapped by Moriarty. We later discover that the boy is in fact the result of a suggested liaison between Holmes and Irene Adler.

I won’t say this is regarded as one of the most popular or warmly remembered Holmes film, but we certainly had fun making it.’

As the film opens the year is 1901, and in London, Moriarty (John Huston) is enjoying a brandy is his gaudily decorated villains lair at Victoria Docks. As the clock strikes midnight, one of Moriarty’s lieutenants, Colonel Moran arrives with news. Moriarty and his team of cronies have been plotting the assassination of Lord Brackish, who is the head of the London Bank.

As Moriarty congratulates Moran on the success of his part of the mission, Moran’s voice begins to change. Then he pulls off several rubber appliances that had been glued to his face. Underneath is Sherlock Holmes (Roger Moore). Holmes recounts how all of Moriarty’s men have been rounded up by the police and how his assassinated attempt has been thwarted.

Moriarty is enraged. But then goes to show Holmes a trapdoor in the floor, a knife that is fired from a cash register on a desk, and a falling chandelier. He shows Holmes each of these devices that could have killed him, and then explains why he didn’t use them. He chose not to kill him at this time because he is preparing the crime of the century, and not only does he plan on changing the world with his audacious act of criminality, but also to humiliate Holmes in the process. Moriarty taunts that he plans to commit the perfect crime and Holmes will be helpless to stop it. As there is no direct evidence against Moriarty at this time, Holmes cannot have him arrested.

In the United States, Irene Adler (Charlotte Rampling) is preparing to star in a new Broadway production at the Empire Theatre in New York. For nine years, for each production she has starred in, she has sent two tickets to the premiere Holmes. He has never attended any of the productions.

Three days later, Holmes and Dr Watson (Patrick Macnee) are at their modest lodging at 221B Baker Street. An envelope arrives from the United States and inside are two tickets for Irene Adler’s new play, but the tickets are torn to shreds. Holmes realises something is amiss and immediately, with Watson in tow of course, he heads for New York.

Upon arrival, they go to the Empire Theatre to acquire tickets for the evening’s performance, but when it comes time for the curtain to be raised, the theatre owner addresses the crowd and says that Irene Adler will not be appearing on this evening due to illness. Her understudy will play the role. Holmes and Watson waste no time, and head directly to Irene Adler’s home. Irene is not ill at all, but something is troubling her, and it doesn’t take long for Holmes to deduce what it is. It appears that Irene’s son, Scott (played by Sir Roger’s son Geoffrey) has been kidnapped.

Shortly thereafter, a note is delivered by a messenger addressed to Holmes directly. But who knew he’d be here? The note says that if Scott is to survive, then Holmes is to refuse any request that the local police may ask.

It all becomes clear on the following morning when Inspector Lafferty (David Huddleston) of the New York Police Department approaches Holmes in want of assistance. In seems that New York plays host to the world’s largest gold depository in the world. Many countries have stored their gold in these top secret vaults, and all the gold has just been stolen. Lafferty asks for Holmes assistance in retrieving the gold. If the gold is not found, then in two days time, when an international transfer is set to take place, then pandemonium will break out between the different countries. It may even lead to war.

But, as Scott’s life is at stake, so Holmes refuses to assist the police in their investigations. At that moment, Moriarty’s taunt about how he will commit the crime of the century and Holmes will be helpless to solve it rings in his ears.

Sherlock Holmes in New York is actually a great deal of fun…that is if you can accept Roger Moore as Sherlock Holmes. I can. But, to be honest, Moore is the weakest link in the film. His acting is okay, but Roger Moore is, …well he’s Roger Moore. He’s the same likeable character that he portrayed as The Saint or James Bond. If you like Moore, then I suggest that you will like this film.

Patrick Macnee does a fine job with Watson, as the character is written. unfortunately, Watson is written as somewhat of a buffoon – definitely from the Nigel Bruce school of Watson.

In the quote above, Moore suggests that Sherlock Holmes in New York is not popular or warmly remembered which is quite a shame really. It is well written and the cast is engaging – Huston is clearly having a ball as Moriarty. Out of all the Sherlock Holmes films made this is far from the worst, and Moore’s performance isn’t bad.

The illustration of Roger Moore as Sherlock Holmes at the top is from Pat Art.
SPY CONNECTIONS:

Roger Moore – played James Bond in seven films.

Patrick Macnee – played John Steed in the television series The Avengers.

John Huston – was one of the myriad of directors on the 1967 version of Casino Royale.

Richard Rodney Bennett – composed the score for The Billion Dollar Brain.
Sherlock Holmes In New York (1976)

The Avengers: Epic (1967)

Country: United Kingdom
Director: James Hill
Starring: Diana Rigg, Patrick Macnee, Peter Wyngarde, Isa Miranda, Kenneth J. Warren, David Lodge, Anthony Dawes
Music: Laurie Johnson

Epic is a bizarre little episode in The Avengers. Although there is a simple plot, the way it unfolds is not very linear and confusing. It’s meant to be that way. We are on a journey with Emma Peel (Diana Rigg) and really we don’t know where it is going. But let me start from the beginning.

The episode opens in the film studios of a famous film producer and director, Z.Z. Von Schnerk (Kenneth J. Warren). With him are actors, Stewart Kirby (Peter Wyngarde) and Damita Syn (Isa Miranda). They are auditioning an actor for a role in a film. They decide that the auditionee has what it takes for the role, so Kirby pulls a gun and shoots the man dead. You see the role is that of a corpse.

Next Von Schnerk needs a leading lady for his film, and after a secret screen test, he chooses Emma Peel. To get her to the studio, Kirby disables her car, and when she goes to use it, he just happens by in a taxi. Emma gets intoi the back of the cab, and for her trouble is gassed and passes out. When she wakes, she is on a film set in what looks like a lounge room. As she investigates her strange surroundings she moves from one set – and one set-piece at a time.

Firstly she strolls past a church where she is invited to ‘the wedding of Emma Peel’. From a hilltop, dressed as a priest, Kirby calls to her. She walks up the hill, only at the last second, to be pushed down the other side, where she rolls down to a funeral service. Her name is written on the coffin, and each of the tombstones in the cemetary has her name too.

Next she is in ancient Rome and has to do battle with Kirby, who is now a Legionnaire. The variations and sets continue. We have the wild west, incorporating a shootout in a saloon; then World War I, with Kirby as a German soldier in the trenches; and Emma is even attacked by a red Indian. All the while, as these strange scenes go on. Hiding in the wings is Von Schnerk, and he is filming everthing that Emma does for his latest movie.

The film that Von Schnerk is making is called The Destruction of Emma Peel. Why he wants to destroy Emma is never really explained, but I guess it doesn’t really matter. This is one wild ride and is not really meant as a cohesive an linear tale. It’s one strange and slightly surreal set-piece after another. As an episode of The Avengers, it must be considered one of the silliest, but at the same time it is very enjoyable and showcases both Diana Rigs’s brand of iconic sixties cool and Peter Wyngarde’s brand of sixties excess. They compliment each other.

Naturally Steed comes to the rescue just in the nick of time as Emma is on a conveyor belt, heading towards a spinning saw blade. There are a few more gags to round out the episode – because this is a comedy, and then we can be on our merry way – it’s over.

As I mentioned at the outset, this is a strange little episode. Added to the mayhem described above there are some crude sight gags like a ‘meanwhile back at the ranch’ inter-title, and even a scene where Emma imitates the MGM roaring lion logo. These only serve to heighten the sense that what we are seeing is not real…it’s all smoke and mirrors, much like the movie industry.

The screencaps used in this post have been taken from the website Hellfire Hall: A tribute to Peter Wyngarde. Youtube clip posted by Yovant7.

The Avengers: Epic (1967)

The Avengers: A Touch Of Brimstone (1966)


Country: United Kingdom
Director: Sidney Hayers (although my print suggests it was James Hill)
Starring: Patrick Macnee, Diana Rigg, Peter Wyngarde, Colin Jeavons, Michael Latimer, Jeremy Young, Bill Wallis, Carol Cleveland, Steve Plytas
Music: Laurie Johnson

A Touch of Brimstone is an Avengers fan favourite, primarily due to the outlandish ‘Queen of Sin’ costume, that Emma Peel (Diana Rigg) adopts, or has thrust upon her for the final fifteen minutes of the show. The costume is sensational – barely more than a black corset, knee high boots, coarse black stockings, and a spiked black dog collar around the neck. But we’ll talk about that a bit more later, once I have settled down. Because of its suggestive content, and a hint of violence, this episode was banned in the United States, and even the English censored the climax where the villain of the piece, attacks Emma with a whip. The villain is played by Peter Wyngarde, who is the epitome of evil in this episode, able to switch from utterly charming to icy malevolence with the subtlest intonation. Wyngarde, of course, is no stranger to spy fans, having appeared on The Saint, The Baron, and returning to The Avengers a year later in the episode ‘Epic’. He then went on to star in Department S, where he continually stole the show from under the nose of its American star, Joel Fabiani. Wyngarde’s character was so popular in Department S that he was given his own spin off series, Jason King.

The episode starts with a hypnotic visual. From a lit doorway, a large patterned square object moves towards the camera. It moves closer and closer until it almost fills the screen, and then it is swivelled around and it is revealed to be a large armchair, and the gentleman pushing into into position near the television set is John Cartney (Peter Wyngarde). Cartney sits down in the chair and begins to watch television. On the screen is a Russian diplomat, Boris Kartovski, and he has been spending time in the UK brokering a peace deal between the two countries. As he speaks positively about the experience, he reaches for and lights a large cigar. As he continues to speak (and smoke), the cigar explodes in his face. Humiliated, Kartovski packs his bags and leaves the country – the peace negotiations off!

Other practical jokes have been and continue to be played out on other visiting dignitaries as well. John Steed (Patrick Macnee) and Emma Peel (Diana Rigg) witness an Arabian oil sheik as his chair breaks as he sits down. This too has political consequences, as the Sheik was negeotiating oil concensions with the UK. The pranksters must be stopped, and it is Steed and Emma’s job to find out who is behind it and why.

Very little detective work is required. There are two main suspects – Lord Darcy (Colin Jeavons) and John Cartney. Steed is to investigate Darcy, and Emma is to investigate Cartney.

When a diplomat is electrocuted cutting a ceremonial ribbon it seems like the joke has gone too far. Darcy is distressed that he may have inadvertently taken part in a murder and hits the bottle. That’s when Steed catches up with him. Darcy tells him that the practical jokes are a part of a club that he belongs to called the Hellfire Club, which is run by John Cartney.

According to Wikipedia, the Hellfire Club was the popular name for a number of supposed exclusive clubs for high society rakes established all over Britain and Ireland in the 18th century. These clubs were rumoured to be the meeting places of “persons of quality” who wished to take part in immoral acts, and the members were often very involved in politics.

Cartney’s club has modelled itself in the same style, adopting the motto, ‘Fais ce que tu voudras‘ – Do what thou wilt! It too is filled with drunken, lecherous men of quality. Steed and Emma proceed to look into The Hellfire Club. Steed tries to join as a member, and Emma uses her feminine wiles to latch onto Cartney.

To join Steed has to pass a few initiation tests. The first is to down a large goblet of wine (well it’s a bucket really!) He does this easily. His next task is more of a challenge – he has to remove a dried pea from beneath a falling axe. If he is too slow, he’ll lose his fingers. Naturally Steed outwits the Hellfire Club’s pranksters and is admitted to the club. His timing is good too, because the following night there is a special celebration taking place – it is called ‘The Night of All Sins’.

The following night, Steed and Emma turn up at the Hellfire Club, for the special night. When Cartney sees Emma, he has her spirited away to be dressed in clothing more appropriate for the theme of the evening. Later, Cartney presents Emma to the drunken crowd as the ‘Queen of Sin’, draped in a black silk cloak. Cartney removes the cloak to reveal Emma in the costume described in the opening paragraph. Added to this, she is wearing lurid eyemakeup, with jeweled eyelids, and has a python wrapped around her arm – I am sure the snake symbolism isn’t wasted on anyone. Even though censorship laws have changed over the last forty years, Emma’s appearance as the ‘Queen of Sin’ is still provocative and sexually charged. Cartney urges the crowd to ‘do with her, what you will’. The crowd lunges at Emma and hoists her into the air like a trophy, and then they carry her off to a room for their pleasure as a shower of rose petals falls down on the procession.

An interesting observation on the tilting of the sexual stereotypes comes from the book, ‘Saints & Avengers’ by James Chapman – Published by I.B. Tauris – Reprint 2005 (Pg 81)

‘The episode achieved notoriety through Emma’s appearance as ‘The Queen of Sin’ at an or
gy. Rigg’s outfit of high healed leather boots, tight black corset and spiked collar alluded specifically to the fantasy figure of the female dominatrix from pornographic subcultures such as the ‘bondage art’ of John Willie. But although she is visually coded as a dominatrix, it is Emma who is at the receiving end of Cartney’s whip as she fights with him…’

Below is one of the more suitable (for this website) examples of The Bondage Art that Chapman was alluding to – Image taken from Retro Xotique. More of John Willie’s art can be found on the website (NB: The images are of an ‘Adult’ nature – NSFW).

As you can clearly see, the Emma’s ‘Queen of Sin’ costume could (and would) sit very comfortably next to Willie’s images of the girls above. A brief overview of Willie’s career can also be found on Erotica Bibliophile: (once again – images of an adult nature – NSFW)

John Willie is a pseudonym used by John Alexander Scott Coutts, who was born on December 9th, 1902 in Singapore, Japan (his family moved to England a year later in 1903). From 1925 until 1945 Willie lived in Australia, then for about a year in Canada before finally moving to New York sometime in 1946 or 1947….during which time the magazine (and the artwork) he is best known for, ‘Bizarre’, was born.

But back to the story – Emma has been carried away by the drunken rabble, but she is woman in control. It is safe to presume that this whole ceremony is just a bit of fantasy role playing. She wasn’t raped by the drunken rabble. In fact, when we next see her, she is sitting alone watching the festivities, clearing bemused and bored by the whole event. She is there to solve a mystery, not to participate in the sexual fantasies of a few rich drunken men.

Meanwhile, working underneath the Hellfire Club in a network of tunnels, Cartney and his cronies are transporting a shipment of TNT to a location underneath where a sitting of parliamnet is taking place. Emma engages some of Cartney’s minions and stops the transfer of the TNT only to be confronted by Cartney who is brandishing a whip.

It isn’t all beer and skittles for Steed either. His deception has been discovered too, and he is forced into a duel with the Hellfire Clubs leading swordsman. A Touch Of Brimstone is one of the premiere Avengers episodes, and one that must be seen if you are a fan of the show, enjoy spies on television, or sixties culture. Above, I may have touched on some of the ‘seedier’ elements of this episode, but don’t get the wrong idea – this is first and foremost a rip-roaring adventure series and I doubt that too many people could be offended by the content in this day and age.

For an in depth look at the fashions featured on The Avengers, and how they filtered through into the mainstream, read ‘Peeling off the Trenchcoats’ at Jason Whiton’s Spy Vibe.

The screencaps used in this post have been taken from the website Hellfire Hall: A tribute to Peter Wyngarde.

The Avengers: A Touch Of Brimstone (1966)

The Avengers: Lobster Quadrille (1964)

Directed by Kim Mills
Patrick Macnee, Honor Blackman, Burt Kwouk, Jennie Linden, Leslie Sands, Gary Watson, Corin Redgrave, Norman Scace
Music by Johnny Danworth

Lobster Quadrille is one of the most popular episodes of The Avengers for a couple of reasons. The first is that is the episode where we bid a fond farewell to the character Cathy Gale. The second reason is that Honor Blackman, who played Gale, left the show to film the James Bond film Goldfinger with Sean Connery. To reflect this, at the end of the episode, their are a few subtle in-jokes, which suggest she will go ‘pussy’-footing around on the sun soaked shores of the Bahamas. For those who don’t ‘get it’, the character that Blackman played in Goldfinger was Pussy Galore. So this episode is really one for the hard-core fans. Not that the story is inaccessible to ‘regular’ people. Far from it, it is simply the bigger fan that you are, the more you’d get from this episode.

The episode starts with a man waiting in a fishing shack. At his feet is a dead man. The body is John Williams. He was an agent for the Ministry, who operated out of France. Recently he had been working on breaking a narcotics smuggling ring, but his investigative days are over. A second man, named Bush (Gary Watson) enters the fishing hut. The first guy explains what happened, then smashes a kerosene lamp. The two men leave as the hut goes up in flames.
Two of the Ministries top agents are assigned to find out what happened. Enter John Steed (Patrick Macnee) and Cathy Gale (Honor Blackman). Their first port of call is the morgue. Among Williams personal effects, Cathy finds a very rare and valuable chess piece. She decides to follow that lead and find out more about chess. But Steed heads to the scene of the crime.

At the hut, he meets the pathologist, Dr Stannage (Norman Scace). He has ascertained that Williams was shot and is now looking for the bullet. He doesn’t find it and moves on. This leaves Steed to his own devices. He starts poking around the hut, examining some charred pots of lobsters, when he is interrupted by Bush. Bush enquires as to Steed’s purpose at the hut. Steed says he is working for the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and is looking into the case. Steed also arranges a time to interview Bush in more formal surroundings, along with his boss, Captain Slim. Slim runs a fishing fleet that specialises in catching lobster, which it then sends all over the world.

Meanwhile, Cathy arrives at the aptly named ‘The Chess Shop’, an establishment run by an oriental gentleman called Mason (Burt Kwouk). Cathy asks about acquiring a chess set in the same style as the piece she has acquired from Williams. Mason doesn’t have one in stock, but says to call back in a few days.

Steed interviews Captain Slim and Bush, and both men assure him that they had never met Williams before and had no idea how a fire could have started in one of the fishing huts. Soon after, as the interview winds up, the Captain’s daughter in law, Katie Miles (Jennie Linden) arrives at the house. She was married to the Captain’s son, who tragically died in a boating accident a year ago. Now she works as an entertainer at a nightclub in London. Naturally Steed takes a shine to her, and arranges to meet her after work.

I won’t outline any more of the plot, because the astute among you will have already pieced together this puzzle. It is exactly as you’d expect.

Lobster Quadrille features chess motifs throughout the show. Black and white chequered floors abound, whether it be in the morgue, Steeds apartment or in Katie’s nightclub. Equally, on the walls, there are images of knights, kings and queens. It’s the kind of surreal environment that would become a feature of The Avengers in future episodes, and would dominate the shows with Cathy Gales successor, Emma Peel.

Lobster Quadrille, like all the earlier episodes, doesn’t have the polish of the Emma Peel or Tara King era episodes, but it still is a good example of the show. These days, because Diana Rigg was so popular and successful as Emma Peel, she sort of overshadows Honor Blackman as Cathy Gale. But let’s not forget, in her time Cathy Gale was quite groundbreaking for a female lead in a television show. She wasn’t simply an appendage to Steed. She was an equal. In this particular episode, in fact Steed fails to rescue her. But that doesn’t matter, because Cathy is smart, tough and resourceful, and can get out of any trouble that she gets into.

Lobster Quadrille is one of the core episodes of The Avengers. If you are a fan of The Avengers and haven’t seen it, you owe it to yourself to track it down. If, on the other hand, you’re just a casual observer who likes the colourful costumes and offbeat stories, well then, I suggest that you skip forward to the episodes from 1967. That’s the year when The Avengers went ‘colour’ and by this time the formulation of outlandish plots had been honed to perfection.

The Avengers: Lobster Quadrille (1964)

A View To A Kill (1985)

Directed by John Glen
Roger Moore, Christopher Walken, Tanya Roberts, Patrick MacNee, Robert Brown, Lois Maxwell
Music by John Barry
Title song performed by Duran Duran

A View To A Kill was the fourteenth official James Bond movie, and the seventh (and last) film to feature Roger Moore as agent 007. Quite frankly, Moore was too old for the role by this time. He knew it and the producers knew it, but there was no logical successor at the time. The producers had considered casting American actor James Brolin in the role before filming began on Octopussy (the preceding movie in the series) but decided against it. Footage of Brolin’s screen tests can be seen on the recent MGM/UA 2 disk DVD of Octopussy. Octopussy ended up being one of Moore’s better films, which is probably why the producers stuck with Moore again. But for A View To A Kill, the team went to the well one time too many. Let’s look at why A View To A Kill doesn’t work:

The casting, with the exception of Patrick Macnee, is uniformly weak. I have already mentioned Moore’s age. He is really showing it here. Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell), after 23 years of service, she appeared in Dr. No in 1962, is looking slightly out of place too. But you can almost forgive the aging Bond family regulars because they are faces you have grown to love. The major casting blunders are the female leads. Tanya Roberts as Stacey Sutton is so vacuous she barely registers as a human being. She spends most of the film shrieking and squealing. Often in Bond criticism, the Bond girls are given short shrift by the media. Most of the time, I think this is unfounded. Most of the female characters are intelligent and capable women who happen to be rather attractive. Not just mere window dressing. Many are equals to Bond. But Robert’s character comes off as a dumb blonde. He acting is so stilted, she destroys any dramatic scene in which she appears. Just don’t let her speak. She is the reason for any negative Bond girl criticism.

Similarly Grace Jones is rather wooden as Mayday. Her delivery of lines is very forced, but thankfully she doesn’t have many to deliver. She is very eye catching though, and certainly has a presence on the screen.

Next we come to Christopher Walken. Walken is an actor I really appreciate. I can sit through most of his B-grade movies and smile due to his performances. But here, he is simply miscast. Not that he gives a bad performance here; far from it. He does ‘psychopath’ very well. But his character is supposed to be an Anglo-French multi-millionaire industrialist, who was born in Germany. So the character is very European. Yet Walken is so New York. He doesn’t belong in a French chateau, or at Ascot in a top hat and tails.

As I briefly mentioned earlier, the one successful bit of casting is Patrick Macnee. The fact that Moore and Macnee were friends from their early television days, and appeared together in the movie The Sea Wolves, may count for the chemistry between them. But despite this (or maybe because), Macnee has an understated grace that makes it seem like he belongs in these opulent surroundings. And acting wise, his is the only character to have any emotional impact in the film.

The next weak element of the film is the script. Admittedly the writers have tried something new. Rather than a megalomaniac for a villain, they have a Max Zorin (Walken’s character) played as a psychopath. Interesting idea on paper, but on screen it doesn’t work. For example, when Zorin kills all his henchmen in a gleeful psychotic display, it leaves him isolated and alone (well practically) against Bond in the final showdown. And let’s remember that Bond has taken on armies in volcanoes, on oil rigs, and on space stations. No matter how creative the backdrop (atop the Golden Gate Bridge, no less), Bond is essentially going up against one man – it’s not impossible odds. And really with the way the plot has unfolded, Bond, with a little help from Mayday, has already saved the day The only reason to go after Zorin is to rescue Stacey Sutton, and you already know my opinion of that character. Do you think I care? The way the whole denouement unfolds is clumsily written.

The story is a fairly simple one. Wealthy industrialist, Max Zorin own’s a company that makes microchips. Unfortunately for Zorin, most of the world’s microchips are made in Silicon Valley in the USA. Zorin (I have already mentioned that he is psychotic), plans to cause an Earthquake, unlocking the San Andreas and Haywood faults. That will cause the destuction of Silicon Valley, which will simply disappear into the sea. His company will then have a worldwide monopoly. Naturally James Bond has to stop him.

To the music now: When the film came out in 1985, Duran Duran’s theme song was a massive hit, even though it sounds a little dated today. The theme ties in nicely with John Barry’s score, which is one of the more evocative one he has composed for the series. I am particularly fond of the music when Bond carries Sutton down a fire truck ladder to safety, while the San Francisco City Hall burns behind them. The music is rousing and heroic, combing the ‘dance into the fire’ motif from the title song with the ‘Bond sound’. The score is universally good except for one minor quibble. During the pre-title sequence, Bond uses a ski from a snow mobile as a snowboard. As he glides down an embankment of snow and across a small pond, instead of the John Barry score, which has been working a treat through the previous action, we are slapped in the face with an annoying cover version of The Beach Boys ‘California Girls’. It is simply not necessary, and it is certainly not funny!

While I do not believe A View To A Kill is quite as bad as Die Another Day, it is one of the weaker entries in the series. It is an unworthy swan song for Roger Moore, who despite a recent dip in popularity is truly one of the great Bond actors. He brought a great deal of enjoyment to many people, and most of all he filled the shoes of Sean Connery.

A View To A Kill (1985)