Dead Man's Treasure
Love it or hate it, most reviewers of "Dead Man's Treasure" have asserted (or conceded, in the case of those who like the episode) that it is without a plot. I beg to differ. In fact the plot is one of the most ingenious and entertaining of the Rigg/Peel color series. The plot line is a departure, or a throwback if you will, from the other episodes of the Emma Peel era in that it is a traditional cold war "spy versus spy" story without reliance on the supernatural or sci-fi "diabolical mastermind." Though few in number, I have always believed that The Avengers did the former much better than the latter and that the sci-fi/supernatural episodes were only carried off well due to the amazing acting abilities of and chemistry between Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg (one of the failures of the Thorson series was the complete reliance on plotline, the more outlandish the better, without developing the chemistry between the two leads or recognizing the lack of such chemistry; simply put, viewers didn't tune in for the stories, they loved the characters).
To summarize the plot, Bobby Danvers, a British agent, is delivering secret documents to Steed (so important, or "hot" that Steed has laid out his "asbestos gloves" in anticipation of receiving them). In the process Danvers is way-laid and mortally wounded by Alex and Carl, two agents for "the other side". After a high speed car chase Danvers escapes temporarily to the estate of Benstead, an eccentric motor racing enthusiast, where Danvers secretes the vital documents in a treasure chest and addresses an invitation to a car rally, given by Benstead, in which the treasure chest is the trophy to the winner, to Steed. Danvers manages to get to Steeds flat where he cryptically tells Steed and Mrs. Peel that the documents are in a treasure chest before expiring. When Steed receives a blood-stained invitation to Benstead's rally he puts two and two together and comes to the conclusion that the rally is the key to finding the documents. Alex and Carl, who are eaves dropping on a bug planted in Steed's flat, reach the same conclusion and determine to also attend the rally. Upon going to the Benstead estate Steed and Emma see that Benstead is a true motor racing afficianado, to the extreme that he has a life size Ferrari Formula One simulator which races in-synch with the Brands Hatch race course and delivers a mild electric shock to the driver when he/she goes "off road". They also find out that the rally is a treasure hunt in which clues are scattered about which will lead the winning team (randomly drawn to provide for male/female pairings) to a treasure chest containing a thousand pounds. Alex and Carl get into the rally by stealing invitations from Benstead's study (during which Alex has an extremely unpleasant encounter with Mrs. Peel). Steed, realizing that the documents are in the trophy treasure chest, implores Benstead, who is in his simulator, to reveal the location of the chest. Before Benstead can do so, he goes off course in the simulator and is electrocuted because some unknown person has turned the voltage up to it's fatal maximum. Despite Benstead's death the rally goes on with all of the protagonist's realizing that they must win to get their hands on the precious documents. Steed and Mrs. Peel are split up for the rally, with the former paired with Penny, a ditzy gold digger with a penchant for losing fiancées in dangerous undertakings, while the latter is teamed with Mike, nominally a retired commander in the Royal Navy, but in actuality (and unknown to the principles) a mercenary agent who will sell the documents to the highest bidder. By trick, Alex and Carl get paired together and the rally commences. The rally quickly degenerates to a dirty-tricks demolition derby in which the players resort to spikes in the roadway, altering directional signs, sugaring gas tanks and, ultimately, gunplay in order to garner the necessary clues and get to the treasure chest first. Mrs. Peel is the first to determine the location of the rally prize while also learning Mike's true identity and designs. She races back to Berstead's estate thinking she has lost Mike, but he has secreted himself in the car trunk and subjects Mrs. Peel to a life and death ordeal in the simulator which is turned to full speed and voltage in order to compel her to reveal the location of the treasure chest. Steed arrives and, of course, saves the day by rescuing Mrs. Peel and securing the documents.
Whew! See, there is a plot, and a very intricate one at that, with plenty of red herrings and innovative twists and turns (motor racing pun intended). This episode has all of the classic Avenger elements. The great chemistry and unspoken sexuality between Steed and Emma is readily apparent from their first scene together, where Mrs. Peel arrives in the middle of the night at Steed's flat with a bottle of bubbly while he awaits Danvers, and continues through the episode. The two fight scenes, the first between Alex and Emma and the last between Mike and Steed, are both well choreographed and believable. The guest stars all have meaty roles which are well defined and delightfully well-delivered. The racecar simulator is a great plot element which is utilized well, first to define Benstead's eccentricity, and then as a murderous weapon in the wrong hands. The penultimate scene where Emma is subjected to progressively more painful electric shocks and then has to skillfully negotiate the racetrack with the voltage at the fatal level at the hands of the sadistic Mike, who is trying to torture Emma to reveal the treasure chest's location (while bedlam and Penny's blundering is going on all about her), is brilliant. The viewer truly believes Emma is in pain and danger, the tension is overwhelming, and Mrs. Peel's skill and bravery are displayed to a fuller extent then in almost any other episode.
Then there are the cars and the racing theme. While I admit to a prejudice since I am a motor racing fan, the rally/treasure theme is truly unique and what retro car freak can't appreciate Steed's Bentley being joined by a vintage Benz convertible and a classic Jaguar E-type (the arch-type British "muscle" car of the 60's) and all at speed to boot? While not a great one to appreciate, or even notice, the music in the show, the background themes in this episode connote speed and keeps the pace of the rally moving at a frenetic rate.
And then there is the dialog. Even the staunchest critics of "Dead Man's Treasure" acknowledge the great lines in the episode. The classic chassis comment and the dialog following as Steed admires the simulator and Benstead admires Mrs. Peel is well worth viewing even if one doesn't care for the rest of the episode. More underrated and seldom mentioned, but just as funny, is Carl's incredulous reaction to Alex's revelation that in stealing the rally invitations he barely escaped a tenacious Mrs. Peel after a severe butt-kicking. Just as good is Alex's comeback that he should "have a go" himself if he doubted the formidable Mrs. P. It is one of the better scenes devoted entirely to dialog between guest players in the entire Avengers canon.
All in all, this episode has no glaring weaknesses; no big continuity gaffes, no bad performances, and no incredible or unbelievable elements. And most of all, it is fun, with big doses of danger and wit amidst almost non-stop action. While tipping my hat to other episodes that are consensus classics (in the same manner one might recognize the AFI's selection of Citizen Kane as the greatest movie of the century, but preferring to watch, say, Star Wars for the umteenth time over another viewing of the Welles opus), "Dead Man's Treasure" has, for me, the greatest appeal in that I can reach for it again and again and enjoy it every time. In my opinion the best of the Rigg color series and among the best of all Avengers episodes.
Dead Man's Treasure
This was the first Avengers episode I ever saw and, having seen it again recently, it was a joy to rediscover it.
The plot's not much, but the episode is fast-paced and witty, with some fine performances. The leads are great as usual, but the best are actually Neil McCarthy and Edwin Richfield as two bumbling enemy agents who are actually rather endearing because of their incompetence. Arthur Lowe is splendid, and it's a shame he's not in it for long. Ivor Dean as the butler is very funny, especially when Penny asks him if Mr Benstead is "up there..."
Valerie Van Ost's Penny quickly becomes a bit tiresome, rabbiting on about her unfortunate fiancés, while Norman Bowler is a bit dull as Mike. Once he's revealed as the villain, he starts shouting his lines as if to show how horrible he's supposed to be—even before the noise of the simulator car starts!
As I said, the plot is a bit thin and the location of the treasure is obvious from the word go. Also, the postal service in Avengersland is far better than ours, with Steed receiving the invitation in the post without it being posted and on the same day!
Logic never was one of The Avengers strong points, but then who cares when it's this enjoyable?
Dead Man's Treasure
One of the fun things about watching Avengers videos is seeing all these British actors with which you've become familiar since the 60s. Julian Glover who would someday play General Veers in the Star Wars saga, along with Peter Cushing as Governor Tarkin. Who knew back then? In "Dead Man's Treasure" I finally get to see Neil McCarthy without his makeup as the evil Calibos in Clash of the Titans.
As everyone has noticed, there's not much of a plot in this episode. There's not much to talk about at all except some great performances by the actors. Penelope gets on one's nerves after a while, but she brings out the best in Steed. Something I enjoy is seeing so much of the British countryside. And wonder of wonders, Patrick Macnee actually gets to drive that Bentley. I'm sure that was him backing it up to the starting line. Seems like its always driven by his double (who really doesn't favor him much). This could almost be a comedy like Cannonball Run. You have a pair of villains who give Steed a little trouble, but they're pussycats compared to the real baddie who tortures Mrs. Peel in the final act. Strapped into that simulator, Diana Rigg turns in one of her best performances ever. If it's gut-wrenching suspense you're after, this is about as good as it gets. It more than makes up for all the episodes shortcomings, at least for me. It's an improvement on the final act of "Epic," where Mrs. Peel is strapped on the conveyor belt and about to be killed by a buzz saw. That was too far-fetched to provide any suspense, and it wasn't done nearly as well as this.
And yes, who didn't notice that Swingingdale is also Little Storping from Murdersville? It's pretty, no matter what you call it. Reading about all the production problems The Avengers had, I'm astonished that the programs came out looking so good. But with Steed and Emma on the job, the programs couldn't possibly come out any other way. "Dead Man's Treasure" is no exception to that rule.
Dead Man's Treasure
Plot: Excellent. Sure it's silly, but it's fun! If I ever get rich, I must hold one of those racing treasure hunt parties—they look fun. They did a good job of fooling me for awhile—I thought Bates was the bad guy.
Humour: Excellent. This episode was played for laughs and it was barrels of fun for me (the pun was sadly intended). Unlike David, I enjoyed Penny, which is strange because in the episode "The Living Dead" there is a similar character named Mandy who I couldn't stand and David could. Best line is when Steed is describing the racing car and Benstead thinks he is talking about Mrs. Peel. "What a beauty!" "Oh, I do agree." "Marvelous chassis." "Well, I wouldn't be quite so bold as to say that, but umm..." "Her suspension's pretty complex too." "Eh?"
Acting: Excellent. Great performances from Valerie Van Ost and Norman Bowler. It was nice to see Edwin Richfield again.
Music: Very Good. Wonderful car chase music, though I didn't like the piece that played when Emma and Carl fought—nothing bad, just not to my taste.
Tag: Good. Emma's moustache reminiscent of "Silent Dust."
Miscellaneous: Mrs. Peel's torture drive at the end was a bit too much for me. Benstead must have been a masochist having an electric shock thing installed in his driving simulator for when he made mistakes. Danvers did a good job of hiding the information and giving the two spies the slip. Steed and Emma looked quite peppy and colorful for 3:30 a.m. I got a mild headache when Steed was hit on the head with that horseshoe.
Overall Rating: 9/10
Dead Man's Treasure
Reading all the visitor reviews, I tried to think of which episode I loved the best. An impossible task to be sure. So I applied science. I ran through the episodes to see which one was most clearly worn.
It turned out to be "Dead Man's Treasure. "
Yes, a bit of a wonky story—more of a "romp" than a plot really, but extremely good fun.
As blurred and streaky as it was (must re-record it), I watched it again, and was once again treated to some of the best lines ever delivered on television (or the movies, come to that.)
Hands down, the Number One line for me has to be:
"Each grape individually crushed." Wow! That's better than "shaken not stirred," though not as famous, since Steed—always a class act—had the grace not to repeat it endlessly.
Other, honourable mentions would, in no particular order, be:
"He forgot to get off" (Penny, on hubby number 4. Her fifth hubby was Henry... of course! And Edward was the sixth... this great stuff just keeps emerging)
"Someone's awfully keen on winning" (Penny again, studied understatement, as only the Brits are capable)
And, of course... "I sincerely hope so, madame" (the butler.. you just can't make this stuff up. Well, actually, someone obviously did, but it is a classic!)
I still don't know if it is my favourite, and I continue to watch the entire series, again, so watch this space.
But it's right up there in the top... five.
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