I have to disagree with David and say this is my least favorite episode. What's wrong? A total lack of Steed, a rather weak plot, and the fact that Mrs. Peel was not acting at all like herself. Yes, she was upset over her friend's death, but that's really no excuse:
But this episode was not without its bright spots. The phone call to Steed was classic, I enjoyed seeing her childhood friend, and her intense emotions were—well, not enjoyable—but interesting.
I'd give this 2 out of 5 bowlers... I just couldn't stand Mrs. Peel acting so oddly.
In theory, "Murdersville" had the potential of being a top episode. It certainly started off well enough, with Emma being the main focus of attention. However, the story ultimately gives way to a series of illogical actions. Good performances (especially from Diana Rigg) who is given the rare opportunity to display real emotion. Emma's discovery of her dead friend is a real heart-breaker. There is, however, a real sense of eeriness that emanates from the town and its inhabitants. Better work could have been done on the script, but overall a passable episode.
This episode has some highlights, but ultimately, its weaknesses keep it from really working for me. First and foremost is the initial set up. We are introduced to a childhood friend of Mrs. Peel's. Emma gushes over him and is clearly excited and happy to see him again. Steed is ever pleasant, but noticeably jealous (which Macnee did a wonderful job of understating), in a rather awkward scene at Steed's apartment. How does this friend, Paul, react to seeing Emma again after all these years? Like a wet rag. He's like a bad soufflé: he won't rise, he won't fall, he just sits there. No emotion at all. Zip. Nada. Zilch. Verdict: Baaaaad! In the 10 odd minutes that Paul is on the screen, we're suppose to get to know him enough to care about him so that later on we feel the full impact of the emotion when Mrs. Peel acts out of character upon learning of his death. And Paul failed. Miserably. Colin Blakely just flops through his scenes with all the emotion of a dead tuna. To make matters worse, he jumps to a bad conclusion when he discovers his finery destroyed, and rushes off in an ultra-macho temper tantrum. So I'm left wondering, what on earth does Emma see in this person? He's a creep! And a dull one at that.
Because Paul is such a poorly developed, poorly acted character, all the emotional impact of Emma's reaction to his death is lost. And Diana Rigg did such a great job of it. We've never seen Mrs. Peel lose it like we do here, and she does it well. It's tragic that the story did not support so fine a performance.
And then there's Little Storping. Little Storping starts out quite, quite creepy. In fact, it reminds me of the Village from The Prisoner. In the Village, Number 6 (Patrick McGoohan) was often chased by helicopter during his escape attempts as Mrs. Peel was during hers. And, ironically, John Sharpe played Number 2 in Prisoner episode "A Change of Mind" where Number 6 had to adopt the gestalt-like mindset of the Village or face the consequences: a horrific, frontal lobotomy like operation.
But Little Storping's menacing aire is also squandered. Whereas in the Village, one faced drugs or lobotomies to force compliance, in Little Storping, those that disagree with the predominant paradigm are... locked in the town museum. Huh? Why didn't they just kill them? It's obvious that they are ruthless enough to kill people they've known for years. And why didn't they just kill Mrs. Peel? I loved the telephone scene between Steed and Mrs. Peel, but logically it just doesn't wash. And the pie fight at the end was totally superfluous. It deflated whatever remained of the story's serious atmosphere.
So overall, interesting, but not convincing. The story had great potential and some fine moments. But they choked and couldn't decide whether to make it a true horror or a romp (a pie fight, indeed!). Ultimately, it was hampered by shoddy writing and poor performances. One bowler.
This was the first episode of The Avengers that I ever saw (due to the episodes being re-run out of order.) I think this is why it's my favourite episode. From the picturesque setting to the quite mysterious characters and then, of course, there's the oh-so-memorable telephone conversation between Mrs Peel and Steed (or Johnsy Wonsy!). I like the fact that we get to see a more emotional side to Mrs Peel and it also gives us a rare insight into the background of an Avenger. I find Hilary highly amusing and even though there is a significant absence of Steed, I think this is probably the best colour episode of The Avengers.
I really enjoyed the creepy village where, for a price, you could lure an enemy and dispose of him/her and no one would bat an eye! That said, there were a few problems with the episode. The first is that we never really get to know Emma's old friend Paul too well, so that when he was killed, no tears were shed. Also, after Emma finds Paul and his man dead, and she has to fight the doctor to get away, she doesn't get away! She drives back into town to look around! I would have gone to fetch Steed and then come back with a vengeance. Then, during the chase segment (nice touch having the whole town after Emma), what does Mrs. Peel do when she hears the helicopter? She runs right out into an open field! To be sure, this was how the story was written, but my Emma would have never done that!
Still, I gave it 4 out of 5 bowlers for the fights and the fun lines between Steed and Emma. Johnsey-Wonsey's fine!
Plot: Poor. A good idea that is ruined by too many plot holes. Why didn't Emma phone Steed at the doctor's? Why did Emma drive back to town after she left the doctor's? Why did Emma run into an open field when she heard the helicopter? Couldn't the operator have listened in on Steed and Emma's phone conversation? If murder is their business, why not kill Emma instead of locking her up in the museum?
Humour: OK. The tag was great. I loved the bit involving the silencer.
Direction: Excellent. The zoom-out at the beginning of the episode was great. The helicopter sequence had some great shots. The scene where Emma is surrounded by the townspeople also had some great moments.
Acting: Good. It was nice to see John Sharp from The Prisoner.
Music: Excellent. The music in the introduction was great. I also liked the music when Emma is locked up in the museum.
Tag: Very Good. Could see it a mile away, but still great.
Miscellaneous: I would have never trusted the doctor and Emma wouldn't have, but she was out of character in this episode. I enjoyed the helicopter sequence, even though Emma acted out of character by running into the field. The helicopter sequence is very similar to the one in From Russia With Love. I truly had trouble deciding upon the overall rating for this episode. It was a good episode, but it was a bad episode. So I left it in the middle.
Overall Rating: 5/10
Immediately after one tremendously scintillating episode ("The Positive Negative Man"), another one comes along which, if anything, surpasses it. In my view, it is certainly the best of the Mrs Peel "solo" adventures because of the real sense of menace and peril which is convincingly sustained throughout, to the extent that the viewer wonders at several stages whether she is actually going to survive or not.
Diana Rigg puts in a masterful performance, in fact possibly the best performance I have seen from her in the colour series. For example, Mrs Peel's reaction when she accidentally comes across Paul Croft's & Forbes' bodies in Dr Haynes' surgery is the most emotional I have witnessed from either of the two leads - you really feel that she is going to "lose it" and possibly step right over the line during her subsequent fight with Haynes but she just about recovers her composure in time!
Another memorable scene occurs when Mrs Peel is confronted by the villagers who appear from all directions and surround her—special mention must go to Robert Asher for the way in which the whole scene is shot from a panoramic view, thereby giving the impression that there is nowhere for Mrs Peel to run! Another of the many effective scenes in this episode is Hubert and Mickle's wanton destruction of Major Croft's valuables to the horror of his batman Forbes.
The plot itself is brilliantly written and the performances from all the guest cast are exemplary, from Ronald Hines as the cunning Dr Haynes through to those of Colin Blakely and John Ronane as the "village idiots" (who, as it turns out, are far from that) Mickle and Hubert respectively—even the brief performances of Eric Flynn as Croft & Norman Chappell as Forbes are superb and thoroughly convincing. Also, when Patrick Macnee gets in on the act towards the episode's climax, he puts on his usual unflappable performance as Steed as he comes to Mrs Peel's rescue—I've never seen such an effective use of custard pies!
To sum up, it's an episode where everything comes together beautifully. Even the few humorous/surreal scenes (the murder scene in the library, the interrupted attempts to release the genuine librarian from the iron maiden and, of course, the aforementioned custard pie fight) aren't out of place and Laurie Johnson's score cranks up the air of menace in his usual high-quality style. It is episodes such as this which have rightly earned The Avengers the reputation it deserves—another 10 bowlers plus!
Seriously, if you haven't seen this episode and want to be surprised by it, maybe you should watch it first. I'm going to Spoil the pants off it.
I don't recall having ever seen this episode before. One of the unexpected benefits of having last watched The Avengers decades ago (never you mind how many) is that the show has faded to just a few pleasant images in my mind. In effect, it's new to me. (Just what I was looking for, a new obsession!)
In "Murdersville," we're toward the end of the color season for Steed and Mrs Peel, with just two more installments to follow. There's a bit of slapstick (one of the few pie fights* in spy thrillers) and the usual dry understated humor, but in general, this seems a suspenseful little thriller that could have been played straight. The opening scene in the sleepy village of Little-Storping-In-the-Swuff (?!), where a man is coldly gunned down in front of a pub, while the rustics play dominoes unconcernedly, establishes the oddly paradoxical atmosphere I remember about this show.
Mrs Peel shows up at Steed's home with an old school chum of hers, Paul Croft. She's traveling with Paul (who frankly seems like a boring dud to me) to his new home in some quaint Little-Storping or other. There, as might be expected in a program like this, he is promptly murdered and she is knocked unconscious. (Maybe I should keep a count of how many times Mrs Peel gets a concussion with no noticeable lasting effects.) When she revives, she's told she was in a motoring accident. Emma isn't fooled that easily. As she investigates, we get much creepiness from this seemingly peaceful hamlet where there actually seems to be a good deal of killing going on that no one notices. An American equivalent would be finding that Andy and Barney have been murdering strangers coming to Mayberry and pawning their belongings all these years.
Getting to the bottom of things, Emma discovers that a wealthy gangster has effectively bought the townspeople's silence. In exchange for a hefty sum, they keep mum as various thugs lure victims to the village; there, the murders can be carried out safely and the killers will have dozens of lying witnesses if an alibi is needed.
After being chased by goons in a helicopter (and it beats me why Emma didn't just creep through the shrubbery and make a stealthy escape in the woods rather than foolishly running right out into an open field, while wearing a bright purple jumpsuit) our heroine is captured. Maybe she let herself be caught so she could find out the villians' scheme? This is a common strategy used by pulp and thriller heroes who have more self-confidence than prudence. She is then locked into a bulky chastity belt. (Let me keep my snarky remarks to myself. It does look like it wouldn't work well at all, though; maybe a section was missing.) A few other brave souls who defied the murder racket are also imprisoned in the village museum, which is stocked with Iron Maidens, lead boots, hip-hop CDS and so forth.
Getting dunked a few times in the local pond while strapped to a long plank (a fairly unnerving sequence to watch, she seems genuinely distressed and even some of the villagers are concerned), Emma is given one chance to misdirect anyone who might come looking for her. So she phones John Steed (who has been conspicuously absent from the plot so far) and cleverly throws a few clues into her innocent chat with her "husband Johnsie-wonsie." Steed to the rescue! A bit unusual in a series where she was more apt to haul him out of trouble.
I am electrocuted by how sexy and appealing Diana Rigg is. Man! She was nothing like the surgically rebuilt cyborg blondes we see too much of these days. Diana looks like a real woman, with her chestnut hair, slim curves and mischievous laugh. She seems approachable, too, showing good humor and appears to be a likeable human being. (Again, a far cry from the teeth-clenching insult-spewing woman warriors we've watched in recent movies and TV shows.)
Emma seems to be sincerely fond of Paul, with no hints of romance or carnal interest. His disappearance and the realization he has been killed hits her hard. It's surprising to see her get so worked up that she loses her temper, but the guy who tries to hold her at gunpoint does get quite a thrashing.
There is one odd, rather surreal detail. Emma wears a purple tracksuit with blue trim throughout (and looks great in it), and yet once or twice, she abruptly is in a red suit with black trim for a few minutes. At first, I thought she had changed outfits but there's no break in the action where she could have done so (and anyway, why change back again?). So I'm guessing this is some sort of glitch in the film stock or color correction process.
As for the famous fighting abilities of Mrs Peel, I'd have to say they are much more reasonable and believable than I had expected. She does what a woman in good condition and with some training would do in fights (assuming she's not going to simply poke out eyes or jab throats). Emma does a lot of tripping and shoving her opponents, a few kicks to the midsection (no spinning reverse roundhouse to the head) and some throws that look like they would actually work. Unfortunately, her hand-edge blows are not convincing at all. She obviously is not putting any focus or impact into the chops and is not striking at any particular vulnerable spots. Still, in 1967, few viewers knew enough about martial arts to tell the difference (except those who had watched Bruce Lee in The Green Hornet, of course).
She's not a killing machine by any means, but Emma Peel is capable of acting decisively when called for. One guy gets tossed unceremoniously down a well. My jaw hit my chest when she walks out of the village museum, wearing a knight's helmet and carrying a spear. Met by a group of armed men, she immediately hurls the spear right into one man's chest! I was not expecting that; in fact, it was more shocking than a ten-minute full-blast fistfight.
The chemistry between Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg seems natural and affectionate. (I'd hate to ever read that they disliked each other and were faking it, they're so good in their interplay). We don't get to see much of Steed in this episode. He's suave, unruffled and witty (a pub owner pulled a shotgun on him "and I hadn't even criticized the beer yet!") but he has too little time on stage. I do like the way he pauses while trying to unlock Emma's chastity belt and she drums her fingers on it impatiently. These two show more humanity than most other screen spies put together.
*Custard tarts, actually. I'm afraid I'll likely be mixing American and British phrases and expressions in a way some might find jarring. Sorry about that. I won't pretend I know enough about UK idioms to blend in.
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