From Britain with leather comes this three-volume collection of rare Avengers
episodes starring Patrick Macnee as urbane, umbrella-toting spy John Steed and Honor Blackman as Cathy Gale, who preceded Emma Peel as Steed's partner. Virtually unseen in the United States, these six episodes from the third season of The Avengers
will be a revelation for fans of this offbeat series.
Blackman portrayed Cathy Gale, stylish, leather-clad anthropologist and judo expert, from 1962 to '64, leaving the series to star as Pussy Galore in Goldfinger. Another veteran of the James Bond series makes a surprising appearance in "Little Wonders," an episode on volume 1: Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell), a machine-gun-toting nurse. This episode, in which Steed goes undercover in a 300-year-old crime organization, features a kiss between Steed and Gale. He was never so intimate with Emma Peel... at least not onscreen. Volume 2 contains two episodes ranked among the best of the Cathy Gale era. In "The Wringer," Gale comes to Steed's rescue after he becomes a guinea pig in a diabolical plot to brainwash agents. In "Mandrake," a deserted village becomes the burial ground of choice for a rash of "rich and reasonably eminent" victims of a murder-for-hire business. "The Secrets Broker" on volume 3, in which a murder leads Steed to a wine shop, is not quite vintage Avengers, but "Trojan Horse," set at a racetrack and involving an illicit betting syndicate, is a winner.
Produced before the series switched over to film, these black-and-white episodes are technically cruder than their more popularly known counterparts. But the plots are often just as confounding. Cathy Gale may leave Emma Peel enthusiasts underwhelmed; her banter with Steed lacks the erotic promise that made the Peel episodes so provocative. But you'll get a kick out the martial-arts prowess that reportedly knocked out her male adversary in the graveyard fight sequence in "Mandrake." --Donald Liebenson