How To Succeed....At Murder
Affectionately referred to as the "Henrietta" episode, this is one of my favorites. Basically I consider it a fun romp. Anyone who has ever been a secretary (as I have been for many years now) can't help but get a kick out of the first scene alone where the boss gets blown up: "Did you hear me, Miss Purbright? Right now! And bring all the files with you!" KABOOM! And Prisoner alum Angela Browne puts in a creepy reptilian performance as Sara Penny: "And it works, too!" Rather than annoying, I find Henrietta strangely alluring; I love her creepy voice and the way she dispatches her "girls" with such efficiency. She adds an interesting dimension to the Henry character, who was more than just a brilliant ventriloquist. I felt sorry for him at the end when he tells his story. "Kill him, Henry! Kill him!
How To Succeed....At Murder
I really never considered "How To Succeed....At Murder" as a sexist episode. As a matter of fact, I always thought that other major topic was hidden by that allusion to the eternal battle of the sexes. To begin with, Henry is not a dominant man (quite the opposite, when he only says "Yes, darling, no darling"); he isn't a villain, much less a mastermind, nor does he try to show any superiority at all. Henry is a traumatized man full of hatred who loved his real Henrietta and thinks he'll avenge her death by killing powerful men. It is not new that many showbiz tycoons ruin their own stars' life. Just look at the cases of Judy Garland or Montgomery Clift, to name but a few, and you'll find good examples in them. So, it would not be new either that a talented artist sought sickly revenge for everything those people did to his dear wife. Now the question is: can a sick man be considered the paradigm of power over a group of women equally stimulated by hatred and eager to seek revenge?
After all... what were these women looking for? To be superior to their male bosses? Or to hold a position that traditionally had been forbidden to them? If sexism is understood to mean the belief that women are weak, less intelligent and less important than men, then, according to what we see in this episode, we cannot talk in terms of sexism. Henry hates men for all the damage they did to his Henrietta; and these women hate men because they were always confined to their role of secretaries. A perfect coalition for a battle between sexes, in which the only common factor is loathing and vengeance, instead of sexism. And hasn't vengeance been one of the main themes flowing from the scripts of The Avengers?
What I didn't like here is both Steed and Emma's attitudes during the last minutes of the episode. Note that Steed is the one who not only seems to enjoy hitting Henry, but also the one who throws that sexist line on the women, explaining to them that they had been taking orders from a man all the time. And even if we see he feels sorry for Henry, he attacks an emotionally defeated man and eventually shoots him dead, when we positively know that Steed has other methods to disarm a weak, hesitant person. This inexplicable attitude is quite opposed to that of Steed in another Clemens' story, "Split!," when Major Rooke begged Steed to kill him, to which Steed, naturally, refused. On the other hand, Mrs Peel also looks inappropriate when she begins a silly fight with the women (to make matters worse, the scene was dreadfully filmed) after they no longer seemed to pose any threat. Sure, it wouldn't have been The Avengers without a final fight, but one has to admit that Clemens completely mistook the reason for that fight, simply because such a reason no longer existed. Henry's death is a sad scene about which neither Emma nor Steed make any comment, something very unusual in the Peel shows whenever they did beat the baddies. If the episode had ended just there, it might have redeemed the faults pointed above, but to me, the tag scene sounds definitively ridiculous. As if Steed and Emma made fun of poor Henry. Shame, really.
In view of this, do not get the impression that I dislike the episode. On the contrary, this is a very interesting story, carrying its unmistakable Avengers touch that I always enjoy. Special kudos to Christopher Benjamin for his eternal, brilliant role of an eccentric—he also stood out in the aforementioned "Split!"—and for his double entendre lines ("Now you're seeing the splendid beast, naked before you," he says to Mrs Peel). And last but not least, if we didn't see that doll who "personifies" Henrietta again in "The £50,000 Breakfast," where did we see it, then?
How To Succeed....At Murder
Plot: OK. Secretaries using a complicated filing system so that when their boss "dies" they have to take over because only they understand it makes sense. The episode was a little sexist and dated ,though.
Humour: Very Good. J.J. Hooter is hilarious. If you need one reason to watch this episode it is the hilarious scene with J.J. Hooter. Picking a favourite line was tough, but here it is: "You see, I smell a great deal." "You DO!... I mean you do?"
Acting: Very Good. An excellent performance from Christopher Benjamin. Also Artro Morris did a good job. It was nice to see Angela Browne from The Prisoner.
Music: OK. In the scene where Emma and Mary were parking, the music was way too dramatic.
Miscellaneous: Henry must be the craziest villain The Avengers ever ran into. The episode is a bit sexist, which drags it down a bit, but other than that I enjoyed it, mainly because of the wonderful scene with J.J. Hooter.
Overall Rating: 6/10
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