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The Avengers '62: Complete Set (4DVD)
Before Mrs. Emma Peel joined the team and before THE AVENGERS came to America, Mr. Steed (Patrick MacNee) was a familiar figure on the British telly, pursuing his crime-fighting career alongside a shifting cast of sidekicks. During THE AVENGERS' second season, Steed was busy at work with Dr. Martin King, a beguiling jazz singer named Venus Smith, and the beautiful anthropologist Mrs. Cathy Gale (Honor Blackman). With Cathy onboard, that elusive chemistry was just right, and THE AVENGERS was well on its way to achieving cult phenomenon status. Go back to the beginning of THE AVENGERS with these 14 seminal episodes from the show's second season:
* Mr. Teddy Bear
* Propellant 23
* The Decapod
* Mission to Montreal
* The Removal Men
* The Mauritius Penny
* Death of a Great Dane
* The Sell-Out
* Death on the Rocks
* Traitor in Zebra
* The Big Thinker
* Death Dispatch
* Dead On Course
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Unfortunately (as all "Avengers" afficianados know), the bulk of the first series from 1961, starring Ian Hendry as Dr David Keel, was destroyed / erased, as was the common practise back in those days. For years, the only complete "Avengers" episode from the Hendry series was "The Frighteners". A&E Home Video have finally brought to us all the existing footage from Hendry's tenure, as well as the episodes following Hendry's departure, featuring Jon Rollason as Dr Martin King. While these were essentially "Dr Keel" scripts with a recast, there were two most interesting things about the 2nd series of "The Avengers"; 1) John Steed (always deftly played by Patrick Macnee) became the lead character, emerging from Hendry's shadow, and 2) Honor Blackman arrived, and in doing so, changed the course of women in TV forever.
For the casual fans of the series, Dame Diana Rigg's performance as Mrs Emma Peel is universally recognised as the "look" of "The Avengers", along with Macnee's bowler, brolly, and custom-made suits & boots. What is not generally known to the uninitiated is that Honor Blackman's portrayal of Mrs Catherine (Cathy) Gale set up the rest of the world for the strong female leading role. Often clad in leather catsuits, Mrs Gale was easily John Steed's equal, and quite often his superior. The scripts, like the ones featuring Dr King, were still written for a man, but they weren't retooled at all for a typical early-'60s female role; Mrs Gale was often the one to rescue Steed from the jaws of danger. Quite refreshing and definitely groundbreaking for its time.
This series is also quite different from the Steed & Mrs Peel era, in that the characters are differently defined. Steed is much darker, often shady, menacing, even sinister from time to time, and quite frequently just plain dangerous. While some of that persona survived into the 1965 series (some of the early Mrs Peel scripts were retools from Blackman's tenure before she left the series in 1964 to play "Pussy Galore" in the 007 blockbuster, "Goldfinger"), it wasn't very long until the dapper gentleman-spy-with-a-twinkle-in-his-eye we've all come to know and love was cemented. Steed & Mrs Gale bickered a good deal of the time, and it's apparent that, while she enjoyed the dangerous situations Steed put her in, she had little tolerance for Steed's devious manipulations of her, and voiced her disapproval. The one thing that was established early on that survived all the incarnations of "The Avengers" is that Steed & Mrs Gale are equals, regardless of gender. Again, very groundbreaking for its time.
So a big "thank you" to A&E Home Video for finally completing "The Avengers" legacy on video. Do yourself a favour and watch these episodes!
After the initial run of 26 episodes featuring Doctor David Keel and his cohort John Steed had aired in the UK in 1961/62, the producers of the program opted to bring Steed to the forefront of the action and give him a number of different "assistants," the intention being that Dr. Keel would be one of these. However, Ian Hendry decided not to continue in the role. Thus, for season two, 26 further episodes were made and broadcast in 1962/63 featuring Steed abetted by Martin King, Venus Smith or Cathy Gale. Dr. King was in fact a temporary character to get the show back in production after a strike had shut down the studios and he's simply a renamed and re-cast version of Dr. Keel. Watching his episodes, it's something of a relief that he was such a temporary character! Mrs. Gale turned out to be the most popular and successful foil for the suave agent, and the other characters did not return after this season. Unlike the later Peel/King stories which were all made on film, these studio based TV shows are much more reliant on dialogue and plot than visual elements, and can be somewhat heavy going as a result.
In fairly typical TV production style of the day, the sets are extremely small and sparse; the direction a little slap-hazard; Camera work wobbly; Sound is extremely poor; and the acting is variable to say the least. Patrick Macnee can barely get through an episode without some kind of blunder, but with no budget for editing or re-shooting, all the actor's fluffs and goofs stayed in. Steed's character is far less suave and sophisticated then he became later during his familiar role alongside Mrs. Peel. His bowler hat is only occasionally used and the smart three-piece suit `look' is only intermittent. He appears rather callous and calculating in many stories and the dashing debonair Steed of later years is only sometimes visible. His relationship with Mrs. Gale (who he often calls "Cathy") in particular is at first downright hostile with very little warmth between the two. He seems to get along much better with Miss Venus Smith, a night club singer who he engages at various gigs to act as his eyes and ears. Venus is a very odd character, and played strangely, but enthusiastically by Julie Stevens. On her two outings on these discs, she seems much older and more sophisticated than her later four appearances in the 1963 set. There she looks about 12, sings like she's 40, and dresses like anything in between. She also seems extremely na?ve and it's hard to imagine why Steed engages her to help him at all. The far more intelligent and elegant Mrs. Gale does eventually warm up to Steed, and in the later seasons where she is the exclusive companion to him, their relationship develops nicely and they become much warmer and closer to each other.
The quality of the DVD's is not too disappointing, even accounting for the age of the material and the production values mentioned above. It certainly appears that A&E have made more of an effort to re-master the original tapes then they did with the later Gale stories, but the flaws, jumps, scratches and sound blips on the master tapes are too numerous to mention. Possibly the biggest problem is sound, which at times can be inaudible. One error worthy of note is in the packaging itself. The sleeves state that "Traitor in Zebra" appears on disc 4, when it actually is included on disc 3. Perhaps making this set more of a collectors item as future re-issues may correct the problem. The on screen menus and titles are done very well indeed.
As a big fan of the series, I wouldn't even consider not having these episodes in my collection, and they're certainly very special and sign post the way to later glory. But if you're looking for the wacky camp humor and the tele-fantasy of the Emma Peel
Sadly,of the first season pairing,of Patrick Macnee and Ian Hendry as John Steed and Dr.David Keel only two complete episodes survive(one of which is the recently rediscovered "Girl On The Trapeze" which doesn't feature Steed)and the first reel of the first episode "Hot Snow" out of the 26 episodes made.
Honor Blackman replaced Ian Hendry after he decided to move on to movies and Honor is excellent as the cool,highly intelligent Cathy Gale who really liberated women on television by showing herself to be as equally intelligent and capable as Steed and the fact,Cathy could protect herself by throwing a man over her shoulder and fight back,sent the ratings threw the roof and without Honor's great success,there would have been no Emma Peel,Tara King,Purdey and several other strong woman characters in the Bond films,Honor of course going on to be Pussygalore in "Goldfinger".
Honor Blackman's first filmed episode was "Death Dispatch"
and she was told after it,not to smile as much and be cooler and indeed,in "Death Dispatch",Steed and Cathy are more like Emma Peel and Steed would later be,Cathy doesn't do any fighting in that story but it comes in right after that.
What I like about Cathy Gale is,that unlike the "Avengers"ladies that follow,she really can give Steed a telling off when he deserves it and Steed is a lot more darker and manipulates people a lot more(especially poor Venus Smith,) than he would do with Emma Peel etc.
Cathy really cares about people,in her first screened story "Mr.Teddy Bear" when a young man is killed,she gets very angry at Steed as she feels the young man was used as bait to get at the villian of the piece,at the cost of his life.
I remember being very annoyed at a TV channel in the 90s,it did a feature on "The Avengers"and although it showed a clip of Cathy Gale in the trailer,all the other clips were of Emma Peel and Tara King,Cathy Gale is terrific and athough the pairing of Diana Rigg and Patrick Macnee is the best remembered of "The Avengers",the pairing of Honor Blackman and Patrick Macnee was heaven sent too!
Steed has two other co-Avengers in the 2nd season,Dr.Martin King,Jon Rollason who features in just three episodes,made before Honor Blackman started work and it was just a stop gap between Ian Hendry and Honor Blackman.
The Rollason stories are actually very good although Rollason is very quietly spoken and several rewinds on the DVD are required to pick up his dialogue,the best one of his stories is "Mission To Montreal"where he develops a crush on an actress Carla Berotti,a great performance by Patricia English,who is near to hysterics the whole episode.
There's not a great rapport between King and Steed but in fairness to Jon Rollason,the writers were using scripts leftover from the first season and the fact Jon Rollason isn't in the opening credits of his stories,shows his time was meant to be brief on the show.
Venus Smith played by Julie Stevens is the third co-Avenger in this second season and her character was created before Ian Hendry was leaving the show and had he stayed on,he would have alternated with Venus Smith.
I really like Julie Stevens potrayal,Venus is very likeable but so naive,and not as sophisticated as Cathy and is in the mould of the helpless female but she does hit one of the villians' in a painful spot in "The Removal Men".
Venus'singing is really good and brings a touch of glamour to the show,in a defferent way to Cathy Gale,she only features in two episodes of this disc and did another four in this season and then that was it,as Julie Stevens left the show to have a baby,it would have been nice to see Venus appear in a later story but it didn't happen.
Partick Macnee really made "The Avengers" as we all know,he brings great style,he can be menacing when required in these early stories and yet,always has a twinkle in his eye at the right time too!
Bring on the other 12 episodes of season 2 very soon,please!
Thru the release of this DVD box set, we are able to view the seed of what blossomed into a cult series. Honor Blackman was unique amongst the Avengers girls. Her relationship with Steed is different from the femme fatales he was later to engage with in fighting crime. Unlike later female partners, Honor often berated Steed for endangering her in certain situations. Steed himself was a bit more roguish and not as smooth as his later incarnations thru the 60's and 70's. However, pls note that Honor does not appear in all the episodes.
However, first timers to the Avengers canon should realise that this is very much a diamond in the rough. Production values and sets are basic, rehearsals kept to a minimum therefore mistakes/line fluffs etc occur often and the fighting choreography is fairly poor. However, it's through this rawness that you can see the quality of material which would later be polished into the cult series it became and still is.
This is one of those moments when you can apply the adage - "Nostalgia at it's best".
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