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A&E Home Video presents
The Avengers '64—Set 2, Volume 3 (1964)

"Steed, I am not yours to swap and barter. What do you think you're running, a slave market?"
- Cathy Gale (Honor Blackman)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: April 21, 2000

Stars: Patrick Macnee, Honor Blackman
Director: Peter Hammond (Build a Better Mousetrap), Jonathan Alwyn (The Outside-In Man), Bill Bain (The Charmers)

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for Violence
Run Time: 02h:30m:17s
Release Date: March 28, 2000
UPC: 733961700732
Genre: television


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A B+D+D D-

DVD Review

The British television program The Avengers often took some bizarre and completely eccentric turns over the years. The always dapper John Steed (Patrick Macnee) worked with a serious of female partners over the years, acting on behalf of some vaguely specified secret agency. In this volume, we see a few more details about that agency, and the action takes a turn which seems influenced heavily by the writings of John Le Carre.

In these three episodes from late in the run of The Avengers featuring Honor Blackman as Cathy Gale, we find Mrs. Gale getting increasingly irritated with John Steed; perhaps this kind of interaction was preparing the audience for Blackman's rapidly approaching departure from the series. In any event, it's quite a different dynamic than Steed has in the next two years with Mrs. Emma Peel.

Episode: Build a Better Mousetrap
Recorded: August 28, 1963
Aired: February 15, 1964

"Anyone over 20 is ancient; over 30 might as well be dead."-Cathy Gale (Honor Blackman)

Here Cathy Gale is in proper form wearing her ubiquitous black leathers, for she is part of a motorcycling group; they are rather mild, however, at worst drinking soda out of bottles with straws. This youth-oriented group runs into a mysterious situation when two old ladies put a hex on them and their cycles suddenly cease operating. Steed is called upon to investigate and things take some surprising turns, among others an impromptu motocross race.

This episode is rather unusual in the Avengers universe, since the investigations are initiated by Mrs. Gale rather than Steed. The episode is quite hard to follow due to what appears to be severe time-compression. The dialogue goes by so quickly that it's nearly a blur. Several viewings are required to catch what's happening. Due to the confusion factor, this episode ranks only 2 libations out of five.


Episode: The Outside-In Man
Recorded: February 12, 1964
Aired: February 22, 1964

"Being in jail can do some funny things to a man's mind....Five years....nobody's ever come back from a place like that completely unbroken." -- Quilpie (Ronald Radd)

General Sharp, a British traitor who has risen to head the military of the nation of Abarain, returns to England with diplomatic immunity. Five years earlier, the agency had dispatched Mark Charter to assassinate Sharp. Although Charter was believed to be dead, he was in fact held in prison by Sharp. Charter suddenly resurfaces, quite alive, and determined to carry out his original mission. Due to the trade talks Britain intends to engage in with Sharp, Steed and Mrs. Gale find themselves in the difficult position of defending Sharp's life against one of their own agents.

This episode gives us some details of the operation of the agency Steed works for. The head of the department, Quilpie, masquerades as a butcher in a butcher shop which acts as a front for the agency. We also see the difficulty that the agency has in dealing with its own agents, as Charter makes his resentment over being left in Sharp's prison known to Quilpie, and in the various double-crosses that lead to the resolution. A quite enjoyable episode overall, worth four libations out of five.


Episode: The Charmers
Recorded: February 27, 1964
Aired: February 29, 1964

Martin (John Barcroft): "So you didn't kill Vinkel."
Steed: "No, and I haven't killed anyone all week.

The Le Carre type themes are picked up with a vengeance in this episode. An agent for "the other side," Vinkel, is killed with a fencing foil. As the opposition believes Steed guilty, they send an assassin after him. After some discussion, it becomes clear that some third party is responsible, and that the two side must work together to find out who that might be. As part of the arrangement, each side must give an agent as a hostage, as a matter of good faith. While Steed agrees to turn over Mrs. Gale (much to her displeasure, as quoted at the top of the review), the other side provides Steed with a woman, Kim Lawrence (Fenella Fielding) who is actually an actress who thinks that Steed is a Method writer. This leads to some amusing comedy in the episode as Steed tries to cope with Kim's various inadequacies, giving us a foretaste of what life would be like with Tara King some four years down the line.

We also get a taste of some of the bizarre eccentricities that would take over the series later, as the conspiracy is based in a charm school for gentlemen, where stiff young toadies in suits learn to wave down a taxi with an umbrella, among other various assets. The back and forth with the "other side" is both interesting and amusing throughout. Mrs. Gale's slow burn with Steed reaches incendiary temperature in this episode as she realizes exactly what it is that Steed has done in promising her to the other side. The interplay between the two in this scene is first-rate indeed. Very highly recommended, this episode takes five libations out of five.


Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: The image for these black and white episodes is not very good. Unlike the later Emma Peel episodes, these programs were videotaped, and the difference shows. The picture is comparable to a bad kinescope: blurry, overly contrasted and generally hard to watch. Oddly, the episode The Charmers has a much better picture than the other two. This brings what would otherwise be a D- or an F to a D+. Given the source material is 36-year-old cheaply-produced videotape, this is probably as good as these programs will ever look.

Image Transfer Grade: D+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishno


Audio Transfer Review: The audio in Better Mousetrap is particularly bad. Part of this can be traced to what appears to be a severe case of time compression; at the same time much of the far too rapid dialogue is rather muffled. The combination makes about half of the dialogue in this episode completely unintelligible.

Thankfully the audio is rather better on the other two episodes; while it is still a rather thin DD 2.0 mono, it is at least comprehensible. Range is quite limited though and the music sounds extremely tinny throughout.

Audio Transfer Grade: D

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 25 cues and remote access
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Six productions stills
  2. Weblink
Extras Review: As always in this series, the extras are skimpy. There is a weblink to originalavengers.com, where there is a list of the chapters (which is also on the disc). There are six production stills, two to each episode. The presentation on these is extremely unsatisfactory here. While they are only about one-third of the screen in size, as on the other volumes, they are set against a blinding red and yellow pattern which makes it hard to look at them.

Extras Grade: D-

 

Final Comments

The presentation leaves a great deal to be desired; however the last two episodes are quite good and will be sure to please fans of the series. Those with only a casual interest are liable to be put off by the poor picture and sound.

 


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