What the Butler Saw
This episode can be summed up in one word (if such a fantastic one ever can): excellent. Actually, "excellent beyond belief" might be more appropriate. What's not to like? I've seen it five times in three weeks and still laugh hysterically every time. Emma and Group Captain Miles are too funny for words ("Competition? What competition?") and Steed becoming a butler is great as well. The musical score alone is good enough to constitute a watching, the mastermind is not only impossible to guess (I thought so, anyway) but diabolical enough to suit those of you who like a villain you can hate. Steed's scene listening in is fantastic, and Emma's reaction when she sees him at the Group Captain's house (as the butler, no less!) is classic, as she walks by him without a second thought, then turns around and stares. I have to say this is probably one of my favorites ever.
What the Butler Saw
I hadn't seen this one in years because the tape I had it on broke. But now I have the DVD. I can see why the tape broke because I must have played this one a dozen times. And I can cheerfully say it still entertains.
This is probably one of the best Steed oriented episodes of the series. The military disguises are a riot. And it's funny how much he looks like Doctor Who's Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart in his army outfit and mustache. But Mrs. Peel, of course, puts in her good tuppence worth as she masterfully beguiled the hapless Group Capt. Miles.
John Le Mesurier was wonderfully evil, and very efficient. And Kynaston Reeves's Maj. Gen. Goddard is priceless. Don't you love the way he charges in at the climatic scene to sound the charge and give orders? Cracks me up every time. ("Close quarters combat!")
This one of my favorite episodes. Four bowlers.
What the Butler Saw
The many features this episode has could be easily summed up as follows: a groovy, inspired comedy skillfully written—Brian Clemens at his best—and displaying fine humor, spark, witty characters, a hilarious eccentric and an unexpected villain. Is anything missing? Well, one might bring up the lack of that "magic" ingredient that typified the Peel times. There aren't any genies, haunted houses or time machines here, true. On the contrary, in this case we chance upon common facts (the use of spy microphones or tape recorders has no originality at all) that nevertheless are taken to the most absurd extreme. Or has anyone heard of a military meeting held in a zippered plastic bag? There may not be very much "fantasy" in this, but there is a great deal of madness and creativity. And we should remember that these two elements always lived comfortably together under the Avengerland's roof.
Military men of diverse rank and branch have appeared with noticeable frequency among The Avengers storylines. But perhaps they've never had been so splendidly stereotyped as in this episode. No matter how much the script helped, Patrick Macnee's performance is crucial to create such portraits that efficiently. Even if the first ten minutes are "wasted," as it were, on Steed's incursions into the residences of an admiral, a brigadier and a group captain, the end result is superb. As a bonus, one runs into that old madman who must be one of the audience's favorites amongst the most colorful characters ever appearing in the show.
As in many other Avengers episodes, the links between the different institutions involved in the plot are not so evident, at least in the beginning, when one tries to establish some parallels between these military men and the highly original butler training school. However, not only do such connections appear gradually, but once again, this fleeting "confusion" is widely compensated for when one more time as Steed takes the reins, demonstrating his matchless abilities in the "better-brighter-more beautiful butling" business. A new goal scored by the ineffable Macnee.
Although this is in particular mainly a Steed episode, well, how could one fail to appreciate Mrs Peel's key role? Even though Emma's assignment is perfectly targeted, her "Operation Fascination" lasting for almost half an hour, is and will be the talk of anyone who regards this episode as a real gem—a new goal scored by the ineffable Di Rigg. Not that Emma hasn't unfolded her feminine charms through other "calls of duty" ("A Touch of Brimstone," "Honey for the Prince," "The Danger Makers"), but it's clear that in this one she does so nearly over the whole episode. Anyway, as in all the other cases, a jealous Steed makes his point before Emma takes the job: "Don't do anything I would," he "advises" Emma. And she complies.
I always thought that if I had to choose an episode to show to a newcomer eager to discover, admire and enjoy an archetypical Avengers sample, "What The Butler Saw" would be high on the list. Who could resist the Avengerland appeal within such frame of reference?
What the Butler Saw
Plot: Good. Having a tape recorder in someone's jacket makes sense, but why would they have three recorders instead of one? They were all within range of the microphone. I sort of wish Major General Goddard had turned out to be the diabolical mastermind instead of Sergeant Moran.
Humour: Very Good. Steed's moustache reminded me of Piggy Warren's from "The Town of No Return." Group Captain Miles trying to seduce Emma was funny, and Steeds trying to listen in on it through a martini glass was a nice touch. The best line is whatever gibberish Steed and that man from the RAF say to each other—it kind of reminded me of the RAF officers in Allo' Allo'.
Direction: Good. Nice shots when Sergeant Moran was trying to kill Emma.
Acting: Very Good. Excellent performance by Kynaston Reeves. I know Howard Marion Crawford from Danger Man so it was nice to see him. Thorley Walters and Denis Quilly also did very well.
Music: Very Good. I enjoyed the army, navy, and air force versions of The Avengers theme.
Tag: Good. Yes, the butler did it, but what did he see (as the title infers)?
Miscellaneous: The bag the officers got in reminded me of Get Smart, and I thought of that before I read David's comments! The question I still am puzzling over is how did Hemming fit through that small hole?
Overall Rating: 7/10
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