Monday, 21 April 2014

Thursday 6 February 1964

The Saint is a show few people would look to as a paradigm of feminist thought, but even so, tonight's episode is quite outrageously sexist.  It's a highly entertaining episode in its own way, but the treatment of its main female character means it's also pretty depressing.  Still, at least it gives The Plane Makers' Barbara Murray an opportunity to go the full Joan Crawford in her portrayal of a dastardly businesswoman who (inevitably) meets her comeuppance at the hands of Simon Templar.

We're in Paris, which means we get some stock footage of gendarmes poncing about the Arc de Triomphe and clips from an old fashion show (as well as an alarmingly phallic hairdo).

Simon Templar's in town, of course, and is greeted by old friend of the week Dave Stern (Bill Nagy, taking a break from playing baddies), Paris correspondent for the International Press.  For some mysterious reason, he's keen on Simon's path crossing that of cosmetics magnate Denise Dumont (Murray)...

Bringing Simon to a restaurant table in view of that occupied by Mme Dumont, Dave relates (in flashback) the story of how this simple village girl became a multi-millionaire bastion of the beauty industry.  She started off as an assistant to meek local pharmacist Phillipe Dumont (Anthony Newlands), to whom she swiftly became engaged, despite being more physically interested in his much younger assistant Jacques (Bruce Montague).  The actors all have their own individual approach to their characters' Frenchness: Montague's accent is pretty full-on, Newlands' half-hearted, and Murray doesn't bother with one at all (what's the point of casting Barbara Murray if you don't want a drawling English accent that makes the word "daaaaarling" sound like it lasts a minute?).

The main obstacle in the way of Denise and Philippe's money was his querulous invalid mother (Veronica Turleigh), determined to be the only woman in his life.  Denise accuses her of treating her son like a lapdog: "Force him to choose between your lap and mine, and believe me, he will choose mine."  It doesn't quite come to that though: for a moment it looks like Denise is going to make like Bette Davis in The Little Foxes and withhold vital medicine from the old lady when she has an attack, but she relents and Mme Dumont's dead within a few days anyway.

Once she was married to Phillipe, Denise became set on expanding the business, encouraging her husband to experiment with creating new toiletries and cosmetics, eventually producing a substance called Dreemykreem.  As Denise observes: "It sounds American to the French, and French to the Americans."  Phillipe's baffled as to why she'd care what Americans think, but the Denise Dumont brand rapidly takes over those parts of the world that matter - in Dave's picturesque phrase, "She spread like bubonic plague" (the map used to show this to us is hilariously woeful - Scotland appears to have transformed into a giant rabbit's head).

It didn't take long for Denise to get tired of her husband.  One day, when he questioned her relationship with an American ad executive, she had him forcibly removed from her office and sent back to the little village of Beauvais: "Get out of my office, my home, and my life!" she snarls, in true uber-bitch fashion.

Years later, Denise's position as the queen of the cosmetics industry is secure, and she swanks around Paris like she owns the place.  Her latest male companion is the quarter-witted Count Alfredo (John Bennett), who clearly comes some way beneath her dog in her affections.

For reasons he hasn't yet divulged, Dave wants this uppity broad taught a lesson, and plans that Simon will be the one to bring about this retribution.  To Simon's puzzlement, he's introduced to Denise as "Simon Tombs", a wealthy man-about-town, and she's instantly taken with him.

Now Dave explains what his plan's all about, taking Simon to the pharmacist's shop in Beauvais, where Phillipe and his sister Marie (Jean Marsh) now live in little more than poverty.  Phillipe's ill, but can't afford treatment, or the six month holiday his doctor's prescribed as essential to his health.  Naive Phillipe signed away all his rights to the products he and Denise invented, but Simon has a plan involving the 100% effective (but prohibitively expensive to make) insect repellent he's recently invented.  Meanwhile, he encourages Marie to go and ask her sister-in-law (who she's never met, having taught in America for the duration of Phillipe and Denise's marriage) for financial help.

With this avenue definitively closed off, Simon puts his plan into action, starting off by going on a date with Denise.  "A woman as beautiful as you, in control of a vast empire - it's hard to believe," he tells her, patronisingly.  Interestingly, Denise here gives her side of the story regarding her marriage to Phillipe: she had wanted the marriage to work, but he was shiftless and continually unfaithful.  Up to now, all we know about Denise's past life has been related to us by Dave Stern, and, for all we know, might not have been totally accurate.  However, it's already been confirmed to us that Denise is a bad egg through her beastly treatment of her maid (Alexandra Dane, who's accent is seriously odd: "Sssanks for everysing!").  It's interesting to imagine an alternative version of The Good Medicine in which Dave's account of Denise's behaviour turns out to be faulty, having been related to him by an embittered Phillipe, that it turns out he did mistreat her, and Simon realises the plot he's been drawn into is simply an attempt to slur a successful woman.  You'd have to find some way to work a punch-up into it.

It's clear that what Denise likes about Simon is that he's not a lapdog - in other words, that what she wants, deep down is for a man who'll dominate her, unlike the submissive count  (John Bennett's extremely camp performance suggests that these two probably don't have a physical relationship).  Simon exploits both her interest in him and her greed by piquing her interest in a pill he claims to be trying to find a manufacturer for.

Idiot he might be, but the count's presence could seriously hinder Dave and Simon's plans, so they decide the best thing to do is kidnap him, forcing him to endure the indignity of being locked up in a room in his underwear.  They're even quite lax in bringing his pink gins.

Meanwhile, Simon's installed Marie as Denise's new maid (obviously she hasn't got a clue it's actually her sister-in-law administering her massages).  Simon's taking Denise out again, and encourages her to swallow one of his pills before they head off.  This would surely set alarm bells ringing for most people, especially as he refuses to say what the pill is, but eventually he convinces her to take it.

When the two dine in the open air, Simon announces that the pill was a brand new insect repellent (made from a nut his explorer father found in the jungle).  Astonished by how well it works, Denise offers him 650,000 francs for it.  Meanwhile, there's some more comic business with the count.

Simon accepts the cheque from Denise - and swiftly takes it to Phillipe, popping back the next day to tell Denise he conned her - there was nothing in the pill, though Marie had spiked all her toiletries with Phillipe's insect repellent.  Not unsurprisingly, she's livid (though, oddly, the idea of stopping the cheque never seems to occur to her), though Simon seems willing to compensate for the loss of the money in his own, particular way - the implication being that massive success in the business world is nothing compared to a tumble with Roger Moore.  It would make for an interesting debate.

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