Tight direction is the saving of Conspiracy of Silence, episode 23 of the second series of The Avengers, a mix of the confusing and the humdrum. Why, for example, is Steed being targeted by a killer while he’s out walking his dog? The imdb brief description tells us it’s because he interrupted a drug-trafficking op run by the Mafia. So, assuming you are the Mafia, why not just kill him in one of the more usual ways, rather than deploy an innocent, Carlo (Robert Rietty), transformed into an automaton killer by a trigger phrase in a redundant mind-control subplot?
Perhaps The Avengers were just warming up the idea for future episodes – mind control became a standard trope eventually. Or perhaps I wasn’t concentrating properly. What I did get was that the whole plot focuses on that 1960s staple, the circus, where Italians are the norm and Mrs Gale has soon been sent undercover – she’s a journalist writing a big story, they’re told – and is billeted with Rickie (Sandra Dorne, one of those blonde British bombshells who each got a handful of years of steady work before being replaced by the next one).
As I say, it’s the direction here that’s the standout, Peter Hammond keeping things tight and crisp, especially in outdoor sequences shot on film of a shocking standard (normal practice on British TV in the 1960s) and with the sound post-dubbed. He even gets a touch imaginative out in the woods, letting the camera suggest panic, frenzy and threat as Steed is shot at, and gives chase.
Hammond is also good at conjuring atmosphere in the circus – this is one of those dead-on-its-arse outfits that TV was killing, full of troupers whose “let’s go on with the show” attitude was really the only thing keeping things going.
Hitman Carlo is one of those troupers, a clown who, along with Rickie, circus manager Gutman (Roy Purcell) and the Professor (Willie Shearer, one of 1960s TV’s go-to guys when a midget was required) are just a handful of the slightly too many characters chasing not quite enough action.
The sound doesn’t help. It’s awful to the point of inaudibility on the DVD I watched and we’re reminded again that these are not transfers of the original videotapes, all of which were wiped for series one, two and three, but 16mm telerecordings (aka kinescopes), so a second generation of a poor original.
I say the direction saves the day but perhaps I’m being unfair – the interplay between Macnee and Blackman is also rather enjoyable, each trying to make the other corpse with eccentric line readings and what I’m guessing is frequent improvisation.
© Steve Morrissey 2018