Have Guns - Will Haggle
This episode is unusual in many ways—not just because it was recorded in such a piecemeal way, but also because of the conflicting styles of production. However, considering all the trouble to get the episode to the screen, I don't think it's that bad.
The opening scene of the gang using a trampoline to gain entry to the research establishment and then proceeding to beat the brick dust out of the man who continually wants to be hit, leading to the theft of some rifles, and an escape by blowing a hole in a fence, is amazing in two ways. First, this is a really in your face introduction which illustrates the direction of style Bryce wanted to take the show. Second, the execution and the violence of the scene is very unusual for the original show, and may have been more at home in The New Avengers. But in an afterthought reinforced by the close-up on the mask hanging on the fence, it suddenly strikes one that this is a remarkably accurate prediction of an episode of The Professionals.
That statement is reinforced throughout the episode. African states, guerrilla warfare in Africa, black people, and a character with a past in Africa. Yep, this really is more like an episode of The Professionals that ANY New Avengers episode. This isn't a criticism, though; I think this works well as a change to the season adding variety in the way "Take-Over" does.
The major problem I find with this episode is that wig! It seems totally pointless, and it would have made more sense to re-shoot the entire episode. As compensation, we do get Linda in an incredibly tight pair of trousers, corrr.
The most notable sequence which stands out for me is another Professionals-style sequence in which Steed and Tara are hunted through the jungle.
Have Guns - Will Haggle
More of the odds and ends the short-term producer John Bryce left for posterity. Formerly filmed as "Invitation To A Killing," a few months later director Ray Austin went back to the rushes to make a decent story out of them. Incidentally, Ray Austin wasn't a newcomer popping up in the ABC corridors, but the stunt arranger during the Peel seasons. As it turned out, in this first episode Austin met the challenge of the director's chair, and a while later he'd face it again through several episodes of The New Avengers. Even so, Austin had to assume the responsibility of polishing up quite a collection of already existing takes and doing some retakes as well. It was even said that two other unbilled directors gave him a hand. The end result? Nothing extraordinary, but not lacking in interest either.
With a storyline that is more in agreement with any old action show instead of the original Avengers, "Have Guns - Will Haggle" provides dynamic pace, great action and exciting fights, especially when Tara is involved. As usual, the few moments of subtle humor belong to Steed, who rarely forgets he carries a Patrick Macnee inside him ("Loyalty, amongst other things, was one of the things they impressed upon us at Eton," states Steed). And the scene of the auction, in which rivals Nsonga and Steed "strive" to decide to whom the villain will say "Sold!", counting even the money in their wallets, is definitely amusing.
By the way, Nicola Pagett gives a shining performance as the perspicacious, cynical Lady Beardsley, only interested in arms smuggling and selling. Enough said for a show whose female characters seldom were ordinary. And speaking of unconventional details in The Avengers, we have another biggie to talk about. "Have Guns - Will Haggle" presents a black actor in a main role, no less! In hiring Senegalese Johnny Sekka as Colonel Nsonga, the producers broke one of the golden rules prevailing for years in the Avengers canon—to not show policemen, dead women, gore, children, or black people. However, even though the role of a good guy instead of an enemy of the Third World would have looked much better in this most refined performer, his Colonel Nsonga is awfully well portrayed. Now, if anyone would like to watch Sekka as a good guy, then go rent an old movie called The Bloodsuckers/Incense For The Damned. Pity not even an outstanding cast of illustrious ex-Avengers—Patrick Macnee, Peter Cushing, Patrick Mower, Imogen Hassal, Valerie Van Ost and Johnny Sekka himself—plus ex-Equalizer Edward Woodward, made up for this appalling turkey.
Back on topic. As has happened many times before, Tara becomes the damsel in distress, locked up in a tiny shed with explosives galore and a long lighted fuse running right towards her. The curious thing is that no villain lighted the fuse—it was... Steed! It's fun to see how the apparently cool Steed has to rescue his protégée in the style of Mission Impossible by opening her handcuffs, preferably in less than 30 seconds.
Summing up, too many weapons in an episode of a series that always insisted on not showing violence. However, the reasonable results the production team attained prove the footage left by Bryce wasn't wasted after all. That's a good thing.
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