The 15th of 26 episodes in the first series is a story that Humphrey Bogart might recognise. A tale of a greasy heel sending his thugs around to put “the frighteners” on a society lothario who is wooing the impressionable daughter of a local business big noise, it looks and feels every inch like a film noir.
It’s something director Peter Hammond clearly relishes and, on a TV budget, he does impressive things with pools of shadow, out of which loom both goodies and baddies. Two levels of baddies, what’s more – the Deacon (Willoughby Goddard) is the sweaty and corpulently effete manager of muscle, while Sir Thomas Weller (Stratford Johns) is the sort of crook who pays to have his dirty work done for him, though he looks like he’d rather be doing it himself. And that’s not including the heavies themselves, the slightly rentamob Philip Locke and Godfrey James.
Steed and Keel both appear in this one, Steed first appearing in the back of a dimly lit cab to brief Keel on their latest job – taking out a pair of “massage demonstrators” who are plying their trade in London. Really? A couple of low-level fists for hire, that’s the gig? Indeed it is, and all the more mystifying is that Steed seems now to have become a kind of crime-fighting Fagin, with a network of cheery Cockney street operatives addressing him with an “Ere, Guv” wherever he goes.
If it asks a lot of unanswered questions about what organisation it is exactly that Steed actually works for – the Savile Row division of the CID is what it looks like – it doesn’t detract too much from the story, which is starting to move in what would later become the recognisable baroque Avengers way.
Preventing a silver-tongued lounge lizard (Philip Gilbert) from eloping with the breathy, silly daughter (Dawn Beret) of some magnate, and stopping him from getting a thorough beating first, yup, that’s it. But it’s efficient and, to an extent, quippily done, with Willoughby Goddard and Stratford Johns providing a lot of the acting wallop, while there’s a nice comic turn by Doris Hare towards the end. And nice to see Macnee beginning to stretch out in his first real lead role in a career that was already 25 years long. Hat fans – Steed wears a trilby, not a bowler. Looks dapper enough in it, though.
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© Steve Morrissey 2017