Saturday, 12 October 2013

Saturday 12 October 1963

Our first stop on a whirlwind tour of Europe this evening is Waldov, a town somewhere to the East (possibly twinned with Statla).  Carlos Varela books into a hotel there on his way back from a trade fair, and soon wishes he hadn't.  The desk clerk (played by the lovely Sandor Eles) is bafflingly obstructive, and before Carlos knows it the police (led by Frederick Schiller, seen in last week's Espionage being shot by Ingrid Thulin) are extracting an obscene amount of money from him for a trumped-up parking offence.  An especially satisfying touch in these scenes is the use of distinctive Eastern European posters in the background.

I don't think I've sufficiently praised Carlos Thompson before now.  He's a wonderfully charismatic lead, both consummately suave and very funny.  His dry responses to the harassment meted out to him by the various officials of Waldov in particular are priceless.

Only slightly ruffled by his tribulations of the evening, Carlos heads to the bar for an invigorating drink.  The local brandy proves a little bit too vigorous.

Once he's regained his power of speech, Varela strikes up a conversation with glamorous Ann Bell (her hair and make-up deserve a close-up, I think).

She's a local named Katrina who's determined to escape the country but is under surveillance from the oppressive security forces.  She appeals to Carlos for his help - and as is only polite in such circumstances, he takes her up to his room.  A surly drunk (Gabriel Woolf, best known as classic Doctor Who baddie Sutekh the Destroyer) clearly disapproves of her flirting with foreigners, and charmingly spits after the pair.

Never one to resist an appeal to his chivalry, Carlos agrees to smuggle his new young friend out of Waldov on a train.  But what's this? The pair are being listened in to by representatives of the military and the secret police (Patrick Magee and Philo Hauser): Katrina's an agent of theirs they want to get to the West for nefarious purposes of their own.

After Carlos gets in a fight with the spitting drunk, the pair of them are carted off to spend a night in the polie station.  There it emerges that the drunk is in fact a CIA agent.  While he's warning Carlos about Katrina, the Sentimental Agent is obliged to pretend to be snoring to throw off the police.  It looks quite ridiculous.

The morning dawns, and the elaborate plan to get Katrina out of the country swings into motion (Carlos, of course, not letting on that he knows she's a spy).  It's all rather confusing, but involves Katrina regularly switching between her own identity and that of a mousy Frenchwoman. Various characters get in the way, including an army captain (Lawrence Davidson), a priest (Donald Morley) and a sinister man in a trenchcoat (Robin Chapman, later a major TV writer).

When Carlos and Katrina finally arrive at their destination it turns out she's been working for the CIA all the time, along with the drunk - and the priest.  So she's a double agent.  Or is that triple agent? I'm lost.  Anyway, it means Carlos doesn't feel so bad about snogging her.

Express Delivery is enjoyable, if difficult to follow, but it commits the unpardonable sin of doing next to nothing with Patrick Magee.

Back to dear old Blighty now, specifically the cheery environment of Baxter's Holiday Camp.  Not all that cheery for one holidaymaker, however, as he finds something unexpected in his chalet - himself.  There's no time to get over the surprise, as the doppelganger swiftly shoots him dead and assumes his clothes.

It's a thrilling scene - surely one of The Avengers' best openers, though it's lent an extra fascination by actor Daniel Moynihan's remarkable leopardskin briefs, which you can see in this thoroughly-bizarre-out-of-context shot.

Elsewhere, John Steed's been summoned by a superior, Charles (the increasingly ubiquitous Paul Whitsun-Jones), to the institution where a former comrade of his, Peter Borowski (Terence Lodge) is being held.  Borowski was spying on the other side, but now he's returned a madman, several different personalities having been implanted in his mind.  The scene where Steed tries to extract information from Borowski is remarkable, with a frantic performance from Lodge and Patrick Macnee at his most sly.  From a a fleeting moment of coherence Steed's able to garner that there's some kind of plot afoot involving doppelgangers replacing key agents.

Steed's sceptical of the idea of exact doubles, until Cathy points out that a replacement would initially only need to bear a superficial resemblance to their target - plastic surgery and years of intense training could take care of the rest.  "Your double could've walked in this evening and I'd never have known," she suggests.  "How could I?" A naughty smile crosses Steed's face: "Well..."

Digging through Borowski's effects, Steed finds a brochure for Baxter's.  Investigating, he finds that one of the campers there is nuclear physicist Bill Gordon... he's the chap we saw in the underwear earlier.  Suspecting that Gordon may have been replaced with a double, Steed ropes the doctor from the research facility (Geoffrey Palmer) into examining a body found up north.  It's clearly been deliberately made unrecognisable, and it's impossible to tell whether it's Gordon or not.

At the camp, Gordon's double's alarmed to discover that the man he's replaced had embarked on a holiday romance with Northern ingenue Julie Clitheroe (Gwendolyn Watts).  Initially alarmed by this strange young woman declaring her passion, he decides the relationship might in fact be the perfect way to avoid suspicion.

Steed brings doctor and dentist to the camp to examine Gordon.  He's an almost perfect replica in every detail - the only thing that gives him away is the presence of a tooth the genuine article had extracted the previous month.  Gordon's dentist is played by Anne Godfrey - it's interesting how in this series The Avengers seems to be deliberately supplementing the presence of Cathy Gale with other women in traditionally male professions.

More revelations abound - the head of the doppelganger operation is an MP (Philip Anthony) - or rather his double - and they've also created a double of Steed, who lies in wait in the genuine article's chalet...

Charles visits Cathy with a tape recording of Borowski.  Gruff when we saw him with Steed, he's wide-eyed with wonder at Cathy and her ultra-modern apartment.  He's thoughtfully brought along a tub of tutti-frutti ice cream to eat as they listen.  As Borowski's incoherent rambling plays, shots of Charles guzzling down ice cream are interspersed with bleak images of the madman in his cell.

Borowski's latest moment of clarity has led Charles to conclude that Steed's been replaced with a doppelganger, and he sends Cathy to find out and, if necessary, dispatch him.  The signs aren't good as Cathy encounters Steed doing a Roy Orbison impression with a nasty looking injury to his face.

Steed claims he killed the double who was waiting for him: Cathy's not convinced.  She takes the decidedly unwise step of confiding her suspicions to the MP behind the plot, who happens to be paying a visit to the camp.  Coincidentally, he's just decided that Steed must be the real one, so he'd be more than happy for Cathy to shoot him.

But it's a ruse: she's decided Steed's genuine after all, and as her partner tackles the boss, she enjoys a fight with a burly henchman in the deserted bar area to the strains of the Blue Danube (Steed gets a cover line about it being "the off season" to explain the distinct lack of people at the holiday camp).  It makes a nice change to see Cathy wearing a spangly knitted top as she grips a chap's neck between her legs.

Man with Two Shadows may not have the most original of plots, but it's superbly executed.  The genuinely affecting subplot involving poor Julie being callously used adds an extra dimension to the story - ordinary people like her would increasingly become a rarity in the show.  The ending is particularly upsetting, with Steed allowing the fake Gordon to go off and marry her in order to not let him know he's suspected.  Cathy's unimpressed: "You've gone too far, Steed."  Steed doesn't think there's any problem with a relationship based on deception.  "Am I the same Steed you knew a year ago?" he asks, before whispering something in her ear that seemingly confirms he is.  What it is we shall never know.

Our final stop this evening is Norway, pre- and post-World War II.

It's 1942, and two handsome young men with American accents (Bradford Dillman - in a really quite fantastic jumper - and Don Borisenko) are helping an elderly couple (Arnold Marlé and his real-life wife Lily Freud-Marlé - niece of Sigmund Freud and according to some sources the inspiration for the song "Lili Marleen") across country.  The aged pair sit down to rest - they can't go on any further.  Realising this is as far as they're going, the young men prepare to kill them.

Covenant with Death flashes forward and back between the trial of the two young men four years later (both now looking a bit careworn), and the circumstances that led them to become involved with smuggling Jews out of the country and eventually to them ending the lives of two defenceless old people.

For the most part it's a fairly dull courtroom drama, enlivened by the eyecatching direction of Stuart Rosenberg and supporting performances from a host of familiar British characters (among whom the two Americans stick out like scarred cheeks, especially as all the characters are meant to be Norwegian).  Allan Cuthbertson plays the prosecuting counsel.

David Kossoff for the defence.

Alec Mango as the judge.

The ever-slimy Aubrey Morris lends a sinister edge to the role of the accountant the elderly couple entrusted their business to when they fled.  This being Aubrey Morris, he's testimony in court that he hid them from the Nazis automatically seems suspicious (although this is never followed up).

And Alfred Burke, somewhat unfeasibly, plays lunkish Don Borisenko's brother, full of rage at the way the men in the dock are being treated.

The finest performance in the episode comes from Arnold Marlé, whose remarkable countenance is put to fantastic use as he overhears the men who are supposed to be helping discuss killing him and his wife as the only way of saving them from the Nazis.

When the day comes, he and his wife face their fate stoically, not exactly overjoyed but aware it's nicer than what the Nazis would have in store for them.  Heartbreakingly, the old man implores his executioners to treat his wife gently: "My wife, Mr Andersen, is accustomed to gentleness."

But the prosecution makes the horrifying revelation that the Nazi patrols they were trying to escape were no longer in the area at the time: the murder of the old couple was completely unnecessary.  Bradford Dillman's excellent in the scene in the prisoners' cell where they face up to the reality of what they did; Don Borisenko considerably less so.  Deciding that they deserve to face justice, they're horrified when their defence lawyer successfully gets them off by trading on the jury's pity.  It's a satisfying enough twist, but too much of what's gone before is just sheer tedium.

Top of the hit parade this week (you may or may not have noticed I've forgotten to do this bit for the past few weeks), it's Brian Poole and the Tremeloes with another of their Motown covers.  This time it's the Contours' "Do You Love Me?"


  1. "What's for breakfast?"
    "Cook it and see."

    I do like Mrs Gale.

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