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A&E Home Video presents

The Avengers '63—Set 1, Volume 1 (1963)

Steed: Was it an accident?
Dr. Terence: No.... A car hit him all right, but it wasn't a hit and run.
Steed: Why not?
Dr. Terence: It hit him about 12 times.

Stars: Patrick Macnee, Honor Blackman
Other Stars: various
Director: various (see below)

Manufacturer: DVCC
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (early 60s-style television murder and mayhem)
Run Time: Approx. 02h:36m:00s
Release Date: 2000-10-03
Genre: television

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

 

DVD Review

The Avengers"Cathy Gale Seasons"

In 1962 after just one season, Ian Hendry, who had played the central role of Dr. David Keel, left The Avengers after an equity strike. Thus began the spotlight for his sidekick, John Steed (Patrick Macnee), and his string of female partners to follow over the course of the original series 6-year run.

Cathy Gale was the first, and is credited as being the " first truly liberated, self-sufficient, fighting female character ever created for television", well ahead of her time. Although not first choice, this honor fell to Honor Blackman, who finessed the role of the Mrs. Gale until early in 1964 when she left The Avengers to play the infamous Pussy Galore in James Bond classic, Goldfinger.

As agents in the service of an unnamed branch of Her Majesty's government, The Avengers adventures range from solving various and sundry murders to unexplained disappearances and kidnappings to saving the Crown from traitors and foreign adversaries to wrestling world dominance from the grip of diabolical masterminds.

A smart and witty series, with moments of ingenious writing, acting and directing, The Avengers has remained a favorite worldwide, through its many incarnations, to this day. Much of these laurels rest on the head of Patrick Macnee, who as John Steed, wears them in the form of the ubiquitous bowler he has become synonymous with.



'63 Set 1, Volume 1
3 Episodes:

The Undertakers
UK air date: 5 October 1963
Director: Bill Bain

Steed: This could be very good for you and your husband, you know. The government is prepared to finance his invention to a very high degree. Now the inventor's royalties alone could amount to—whoa!—a million pounds!
Mrs. Renter: But I already have a million.
Steed: (Sighs in exasperation) I'm sure another one wouldn't be in the way, huh?Mrs. Renter: Well I'm not so sure, what with death duties being rich hardly seems worthwhile.

Millionaires are suddenly going into reclusive retirement and questions are raised when one misses an appointment to travel with Steed. He and Mrs. Gale follow leads to the Adelphi retirement home and disclose the tightly guarded secret that centers on the old standbys: death and taxes.

Macnee shows himself as the pivot point on which the series revolves in his comfortable banter with his various partners. The first scene is a kicker, with Steed saying everything he can to get a response from Cathy, but she remains all business and coolly continues to clean her arsenal. This is the stuff this great series was built on. Characters like Mrs. Renter (Lally Bowers) and Mrs. Lomax (Marcella Markham) add the right pinch of extravagance to make this episode highly entertaining.

Libations: Steed has a brandy; they both have a cocktail and toast with champagne at the end. I raise my glass 3 times, more for the delightful characters that populate this episode than the storyline itself.




Man with Two Shadows
US air date: 12 October 1963
Director: Don Leaver

Steed: It's a brochure from a holiday camp. Borowski mentioned a holiday camp - Baxter's.
Mrs. Gale:1963—it's up to date!

A well-done version of a familiar plot—doppelgangers trained to replace VIPs, with Steed on their list! Mrs. Gale must decide which is the real Steed when she is given orders to kill the imposter, but how can she tell?

This is a fun one with several delightful scenes between Steed and Mrs. Gale that are worth the watch in and of themselves—don't miss the grin on Steed's face (15m:34s) as Cathy walks away from him in her bikini! And it is charming to find our heroine, a woman of many talents, at home doing some sort of mending when duty calls. Gwendolyn Watts appears as the bubble-headed blonde, the unsuspecting fiancée of one of the doubled victims and Terrence Lodge brings in a stunning performance as Borowski, the tortured, brainwashed agent that sets our heroes on the path to uncovering this grand switcheroo.

I can't see that this says much for fun at British holiday camps, but it is a good is-he-or-isn't-he episode.

Libations: Hard to count with many glasses sitting around that no one touches, but I call 2 sherries for Steed; a sherry and a soda for Mrs. Gale. I rate this 4 drinkies of 5, mostly for the terrific portrayal of Borowski.




The Nutshell
US air date: 19 October 1963
Director: Raymond Menmuir

Mrs. Gale: How would I know if you were working for a foreign power and not the government?
Steed: You wouldn't, would you? Now that's a very interesting question. And for the moment—it'll have to remain academic.

This is as good as it gets. Top Secret information is captured on microfilm by a professional escapologist (the important point is that a good escapologist is a contortionist, I suppose) and the Avengers are called in. It doesn't take long before Steed is suspected of duplicitous espionage and arrested as a traitor. An elaborate, miles deep security facility (The Nutshell) sets the stage for most of the episode's action, as Steed is questioned, threatened and analyzed in custody.

This story has everything: the usual banter; circuitous spy games; great contemporary devices (fingerprint scanners, room-size computers, etc.) and a humorous bit when Steed visits the escapologist in the midst of a training session.

One complaint: With the brush of a hand, Mrs. Gale is allowed to leave this subterranean fortress—with every conceivable (for 1963) security device in place—without having to run through security checks - . Necessary, but obvious.

Libations: Steed: a cuppa with biscuits, Pouilly-Fuisse (almost); Mrs. Gale: just the tea. One of the best of the Cathy Gale era—the full five-tipple salute!


Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

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


Image Transfer Review: This is one of the better transfers from the early series I have seen. The original black & white source is in great shape after nearly forty years; the contrast is excellent and extremely even. About 16m:04s into the first episode, the image jumps to the left for a second but immediately corrects itself. Other than that, it is very clean—well done, A&E!

Image Transfer Grade: B+
 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishno


Audio Transfer Review: The original monaural track is in great shape as well, with absolutely no hiss or noise evident. The score, by jazz musician Johnny Dankworth, reflects the beat sound so popular at the time and peps up the action well, although not quite seemlessly—it does tend to jar when it first comes in.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+ 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Packaging: Alpha
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Promo for A&E;'s originalavengers.com
  2. Stills gallery
Extras Review: With so many fine actors, directors and crew members attached to this long-lived, well-loved series, A&E really dropped the ball with their scant offering. There are fansites with copious Avengers minutiae and behind-the-scenes information that could fill out the presentations here. While the menus are well devised with full-motion and animation, they are poor substitutes for substantial features. The photo gallery is as lame as on previous-released discs in the series: Why can't we have them larger and (in this case) square on the screen?

Extras Grade: D+
 

Final Comments

The Cathy Gale era has taken a backseat to the more popular Emma Peel episodes. In some way, this is understandable—the series itself got a makeover, took on a more polished look that generated wider appeal. But these are solid stories, and the more "teleplay" presentations have a certain nostalgic charm about them. This is an excellent entry in the series. Very recommended.

debi lee mandel 2000-09-26