Conspiracy of Silence
Oh, wake me up when something interesting happens.
"Conspiracy of Silence" has a distinct echo of the gritty feel of the first season, but with a script by Roger Marshall and direction by Peter Hammond, this tale of Mafia agents and hired assassins should be a winner from the outset. Sadly, it appears that Marshall and Hammond evidently couldn't be bothered.
The intro sequence has the best direction, with much use of pictures of happy and laughing faces being inverted to become mocking. The basic plot is established here: the Mafia is hiring some dreary weed of an assassin to kill Steed. With Steed so pivotal to the plot, it begs the question, where is he? After a uninspiring location sequence with bad sound illustrating an attempt to kill Steed, he virtually vanishes for the episode. I assume this is to indicate Steed has gone into hiding, but it makes the episode very drawn out.
Willie Shearer does a good performance as the Professor and his interaction with Cathy is good, but it isn't enough to spark any life into the episode. Honor Blackman, however, does try her best at various times, the most notable bit being at the end when she believes Steed has been murdered in the ring.
Marshall's script seems very soap opera inspired, as the entire episode is full of miserable people who are stuck in dull situations; we want less standing around being grumpy and more action and/or witty dialogue.
This is a waste of the talent involved. One Bowler.
Conspiracy of Silence
Having loved most of Roger Marshall's work and believing the circus to be a great setting for The Avengers, I thought this would be more interesting than it turned out. I can't put my finger on it but there is just something about the plot that didn't grab me. It just bored me. There is one of those excellent fiery Steed and Cathy arguments which always help to liven up any episode. With the Mafia presence it could have been quite effective but the episode doesn't really go anywhere. We just have to watch how miserable those affected by the Mafia are which doesn't make for a very entertaining story.
The acting is of the standard you expect from early sixties television. Carlo's wife delivers a performance you'd expect to find in a sixties soap opera which isn't to say that she is bad, just a tad melodramatic at times. I do like James, played by Arturo Morris. He gives more life to his performance than he would later in "How To Succeed....At Murder." Robert Rietty, who is probably better known for his voice dubbing on Bond villains than his acting, gives a very credible and sympathetic performance as Carlo. But the best character is undoubtedly the Professor. Willie Shearer is amusing and very playful in all of his scenes, even if his thick Scots accent makes it difficult to understand him at times. I don't think that Cathy coughing over his cigar smoke is a blooper as some suggest. Honor Blackman always looks really iconic with this black leather cap on. She puts in her usual excellent performance. Even when the surrounding script is not particularly exciting, she is always interesting to watch.
To an obvious Peter Hammond fan, even his direction didn't lift this story up. It is up to his usual quality. There are some great moments like before Cathy and Steed have there argument. There's a shot of Cathy, but Steed is on a rocking chair and he rocks in and out of her shot. I found it really effective. Although the studio sets aren't bad, they can't really rise to the occasion as a circus. There is some good location filming (even if the music wasn't turned up).
I give this episode two out of five as it should have been much better.
Conspiracy of Silence
My first-time trip through Season 2 is nearing its end. This episode is notable for some very strong work by Honor Blackman. She acts her socks off! Take the final scene, where Cathy finds Steed again after thinking him dead. Steed points out that she's trembling, and with obvious relish feigns surprise: "Well I'm blowed," he smirks, "You really thought you'd lost me." Cathy then looks at him and snaps, "[a] disappointment, isn't it?" and as she storms off in the final shot, she holds her hand to her left side as if she's feeling pain or trying to contain her emotions (perhaps anger at Steed's smug teasing, perhaps something else). It's a very human scene in an episode often lacking real warmth.
The Avenged?: If the Professor knew where Carlo was, and was prepared to tell Cathy for five pounds, Cathy would surely have asked him to tell Carlos' wife, who was (feigning) being sick with worry. As it stands, Cathy looks uncaring or overly suspicious of Carlo's wife or of the Professor. Loads of names are thrown at us, so it gets confusing to tell Arturo from Terry from Sica from whoever. To top it all, Leggo is really Carlo. Or something. It gets hard to know or care which name belongs to whom.
Diabolical Masterminds?: Maybe this was an attempt to do a "realistic" Mafia blackmail story, in contrast to exaggerated gangster films? Carlo was never going to be a very good assassin. Why didn't his more competent "employer" do the job himself? The lengthy location film sequence is lavish for the time, but the handheld camera work is very shaky. Unintentionally hilarious moments include Steed unable to wrest the ball from the jaws of his dog, and Carlo losing his nerve, flinging his briefcase away and escaping through some bizarre clearing where kids or lumberjacks pop up at random to impede him!
The Avengers?: Steed's escape was rather convenient, and not very plausible. He also crosses the line into irritatingly smug. Cathy can be childlike (her joy at finding the endless handkerchiefs in the horn), yet always strong and caring—she lectures a vengeful Steed about compassion. In my first viewing of her episodes, I've become a huge fan of Honor/Cathy. There's far more to her than the first impression of someone who grudgingly works for (and argues with) Steed. Not only does she care for the people she helps, this episode hints that she cares deeply for Steed in a way. She is also immensely resourceful when Steed, or others, cannot help her. (Enough worship, already. But in a poorer episode, you have to accentuate the positive.) Honor's interactions with Macnee have become very intuitive, too; off-camera teamwork is boding well for the series' longevity.
Umbrella, Charm and a Bowler Hat?: No Italian flair or fashion is on display, oddly; only a ludicrous buttonhole worn by the mafia bigwig. He sports a vulgar hugely-checked coat, and employs a leather-jacketed young roustabout. What a cad. Cathy looks the bee's knees, as usual. The caravans are nice, too. Steed promises (rather timidly, from the safe distance of the other end of a telephone!) to scrub Cathy's back. Fat chance! I do like the roguish Steed of the videotaped seasons. Contrasting with his later clean-cut image, he is a rough diamond and an interesting anti-hero, putting the mission above everything and everyone—yet the cracks begin to show as he realises Cathy cares for him. He's evolving!
Bizarre?: A rather listless tiger or two suggests the circus' encampment. Whenever they are off-camera, roaring sounds are piped into the studio. On camera they do nothing fiercer than twitch their ears. I felt quite sorry for them. At least Steed's dog gets some exercise.
Despite good sets (e.g. the Billboard Office) and valiant efforts from famed director Peter Hammond (the scene setups and camera positioning look like they were a nightmare), this ends up as ambitious but slow-moving. And I only found out that the villain's name is Sica from websites (no-one seems to name him on-screen).
One bowler. I leave the final comment to Cathy: "Disappointment, isn't it?"
Conspiracy of Silence
Plot: Very Good. A believable story involving the mafia wanting to kill Steed, but we never find out why! There was a nice twist with Carlos being Leggo.
Humour: OK. A good number of jokes fell flat but I liked the professor a lot. Anyway, I don't find clowns funny.
Direction: Excellent. The scene where Carlos was going to shoot Steed is extremely confusing, but I think this is good because it expresses both Steed's and Carlos' confusion when the event happens.
Acting: Good. I thought Sandra Dorne delivered a good performance. Willie Shearer was great!
Music: Poor — due to the music faintly coming in and then BOOM!
Tag: Excellent. Wonderful Steed/Gale scene.
Miscellaneous: It was interesting to have a scene outside the studio. The tattoos playing a role reminded me of "Quick-Quick Slow Death." In this episode you can see the world's smallest circus — the audience is about ten people.
Overall Rating: 5/10
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