While this may not be the best of Brian Clemens' "Emma's in trouble" sub-series (I think "The House That Jack Built" is the pinnacle in that regard), this truly amusing pastiche of Hollywood movies is one I run time and again.
Three elements make it particularly satisfying:
The first is Diana Rigg's consistently strong portrayal of Mrs. Peel's blend of bemusement, exasperation, and sober realization as she is manipulated by the crazed cine artists. At times, she almost seems to break the fourth wall and wink at the audience, as if saying, "I know this is only a movie and is as unreal as you know that my world is equally unreal..." And I think her fights with Kirby teeter deliciously on the edge of parody. Of course, the day that Mrs. Peel couldn't really handle an overage movie actor...
The second is the tantalizing blurring of the lines between the reality of the movie von Schnerk is shooting, the reality of The Avengers universe, and our own suspension of disbelief as viewers. Clemens really taps an intriguing vein, which would later be mined by Richard Rush in his film The Stunt Man. My assumption that the prop-laden back-lot that Z.Z. and pals inhabit really reflects the studio where The Avengers was made adds to the frisson. I suppose, though, that Macnee, Rigg, and Co. didn't actually have to vault an electrified fence to get to and from work daily (or at least the current was usually off, if shooting that day went well).
The last is the casting of Isa Miranda as Damita Syn. Miranda had appeared years before in Max Ophuls' La Ronde, that delicious play-within-a-film about the merry-go-round of love and sex. Our guide in that film is a character played by Anton Walbrook who persistently reminds us that we are watching a fiction and that he is in control of all the coincidences we see at work. Kudos to the casting director (and, I presume, Clemens) for establishing that lovely link.
My favorite line in this romp is delivered by Von Schnerk and comes after Mrs. Peel's skill has momentarily trumped his scenario, and goes:
I always break up when I hear the line, and I'll bet the crew behind the camera of this episode did as well, all too knowingly.
This episode should be filed under S for Surreal. As surreal, in my opinion, as "The House That Jack Built."
Has anyone else noticed close similarities in this episode to those of another superb 60s series, The Prisoner?
1. Take the classic, opening sequence of The Prisoner: Patrick McGoohan gets a visit from some undertakers driving a hearse, one of whom points an umbrella of knockout gas through his flat's keyhole, stupefying him. He awakes later to think, initially, that he is in his flat. He looks out of the window to then realise that he is in The Village.
Mrs Peel is accosted in a taxi. Knockout gas seeps through a vent in the vehicle, knocking her out. She wakes up in her flat (she initially thinks), but then realises she is in The Studio.
2. The western saloon scene: there was a whole episode of The Prisoner ("Living in Harmony," episode 14) set in a Wild West location, with fake shoot outs, etc.
3. The bizarre attempts to kill Mrs Peel in a variety of ways and styles are reminiscent of The Prisoner episode "The Girl Who Was Death" (episode 15), where equally fiendish repeated attempts at murder were attempted.
An interesting thought, don't you think?
Call me blind but I still fail to see why no one else seems to find this episode any good. I happen to think there are far worse episodes—try the whole Tara King season. OK, so the plot falls a bit thin, but the characters are so ridiculous that you have to laugh at them. I must admit that Damita and Von Schnerk do become quite tiresome towards the end but Kirby, Steed, Mrs Peel and even the policeman all provide viewing pleasure. I admit it's not the best episode ever, but it's certainly not the worst.
Plot: Poor. Once-great actors, actresses, and filmmakers try to regain their previous glory. This was too unbelievable for me. Are they trying to tell me Emma didn't see Z.Z. in the saloon and other places? I believe Emma could easily escape from the studio. She also could have easily beaten Stewart Kirby.
Humour: OK. I loved the bit with the policeman, but alas it was not enough to save this episode. I like when Emma hit Steed with the chair thinking it was a prop. The humour in this episode was just not to my liking.
Direction: Very Good. The slow motion shots during Emma's funeral were great.
Acting: Good. Kenneth J. Warren and Peter Wyngarde did their best and can't be blamed, for they are both great actors, but it seems the script gave them nothing great to do.
Music: Good. The silent music type piece at the end was nice.
Tag: Very Good. Truly the highlight of the episode.
Miscellaneous: A great Prisoner reference when Emma wakes up in a set dressed to look like her apartment. I enjoyed the references to all the different film genres. Strange that in an episode of Danger Man, Kenneth J. Warren plays a similar role to his here. This episode does have some redeemable qualities to it; I can see why some people like it. It's just not my cup of tea, although the next time I watch it I might love it—I don't.
Overall Rating: 4/10
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