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A&E Home Video presents
The Avengers '64—Set 2, Volume 4 (1964)

"That bloke in the bowler hat, he's not as harmless as he looks."
- Burns (Geoffrey Colville)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: May 25, 2000

Stars: Patrick Macnee, Honor Blackman
Other Stars: Roy Kinnear, Burt Kwouk
Director: Kim Mills, except Esprit de Corps directed by Don Leaver

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for violence
Run Time: 02h:31m:36s
Release Date: March 29, 2000
UPC: 733961700732
Genre: television

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A A-D+C- D

DVD Review

The program The Avengers was a long-running and popular series on first British, and later American television during the 1960's. With this volume, we bid farewell to Honor Blackman as Mrs. Cathy Gale, the leather-clad Amazon anthropologist who plays sidekick to dapper secret agent John Steed. These last three episodes featuring Blackman before she left the series to star as Pussy Galore in Goldfinger are suitably stylish and quite clever throughout. We see some additional facets of Steed, and Mrs. Gale finds herself nearly on the throne of England. Although these were the last three episodes to be aired, Concerto was the first episode to be taped during this third season of the series; for some reason it was kept in the can for nearly a year before airing.

Episode: Concerto
Recorded: April 26, 1963
Aired: March 2, 1964

Stefan Veliko (Sandor Eles): "I'm a representative of my country's art, and I'm not going to be made into a political showpiece."
Zalenko (Nigel Stack): "That is not for you to decide."

Concerto finds Mrs. Gale on the British Cultural Commission, delegated to tend to Stefan Veliko, a Russian pianist who is giving concerts in Britain as part of a cultural exchange. At the same time, vital trade talks are going on. Someone, however, is intent on smearing Veliko and thus disrupting the trade talks. The first effort begins quite violently, with a rape and a murder. Steed and Mrs. Gale must keep Veliko's name clean and at the same time prevent the murder of the British trade minister. We also find ourselves in a strip club named "Le Stud," and Dorinda Stevens gives a good performance as the doomed stripper Darleen.

The best part of this episode is the interplay between John Steed and his Russian counterpart, Zalenko. They show a clear cameraderie under the skin, despite their respective political allegiances. Enormous amounts of alcohol are consumed by these two during this episode; I'm not going to be able to count the number of libations consumed. The classical music is all accurately identified, and there is a fair amount of it, all well played. In all, a very solid Le Carre-type story brought off with panache, although the climax is a little weak. A solid four and one-half libations out of five.

Episode: Esprit de Corps
Recorded: March 11, 1964
Aired, March 14, 1964

"Gentlemen, I give you a toast: To the Royal House of Stuart!"—Brig. Gen. Sir Ian Stewart-Bollinger (Duncan Macrae)

This episode really exemplifies the transition from the more straightforward crime and espionage dramas that appeared early in the series to the almost completely tongue-in-cheek events that came up during the Emma Peel years of 1965-1967. The plot centers on a slightly loopy plot to restore the house of Stuart to the throne, masterminded by a Scottish general. However, care is taken to make the risk seem serious, since the plot is quite clever in at least establishing how the government could be toppled. How the populace is to accept the Stuarts as monarchs is a little less closely addressed. We're given the suggestion that it would be imposed by military force after the coup.

Steed, in the process of investigating, finds himself in front of a firing squad. Meanwhile, Mrs. Gale is identified as the Stuart heir to the throne, a role she isn't terribly excited about assuming. The writing throughout is quite clever, and the performances, especially Roy Kinnear (later Henry Salt in Willie Wonka as the corrupt private Jessop, are earnest throughout. While not quite fish nor fowl, the episode is quite entertaining and earns a solid four-libation rating.

Episode: Lobster Quadrille
Recorded: March 20, 1964
Aired: March 21, 1964

"One piece can decide the whole game....One unexpected move from your partner can mean—checkmate, Mrs. Gale"—Mason (Burt Kwuok)

In this fan favorite, a government agent is found burned to death in a fishing cabin. The only clue is an oddly designed chess piece which leads to a conspiracy involving the lobster fisheries, the world of chess-by-mail, the smuggling of drugs and suspects who may or may not be dead. Mrs. Gale does a good deal of booty kicking in this episode, which is appropriate, since it was Blackman's swan song in the role. We see Steed assuming a rather Bond-like character in this show, since he uses his charm to seduce one of the important principals in order to gain information; I don't recall him ever doing this on any other episodes. Burt Kwouk (later Cato in some of the Pink Panther movies) gives an amusing twist to his portrayal of the chess shopkeeper who disavows the ethics of Confucius.

There is a cute little epilogue in which Mrs. Gale resigns from her position as sidekick to Steed, and declines to do some investigating for him in the Bahamas. She denies his suggestions that she will be pussyfooting on the beach. After she leaves, Steed bemusedly notes, "Not pussyfooting? I must have been misinformed." The nod to her role as Bond girl is later taken up in the Emma Peel episode Too Many Christmas Trees, in which Steed, opening his Christmas cards, exclaims, "A card from Mrs. Gale! Whatever can she be doing at Fort Knox?" After this thought, Steed here continues, completely unruffled, moving on to the next name on his list; just as Mrs. Gale had suspected, she was merely being used by Steed all along.

Another excellent episode and a good sendoff to Mrs. Gale. Five libations it is.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: These episodes are in somewhat better condition than the other episodes in the Avengers '64 boxes. The smeariness of the picture is not nearly as bad, and the contrast problems are much less. The video tends to be a good deal crisper throughout. There are nice ranges of grey, and the blacks are dark and solid. The use of a dual layer disc permits a fairly decent bit rate to be used (about 6 Mbps on average), which helps the video quality.

On the negative side, Concerto suffers from numerous large video dropouts. In Lobster Quadrille through much of chapter 3, there is a bright vertical line on the left side of the screen which is rather irritating. There are numerous instances of damage of one kind or another throughout. All in all, a less than happy viewing experience.

Image Transfer Grade: D+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The audio is decent for a 35-year old TV show on videotape, which is to say that it's not very good. There are large sections that have significant hiss and noise of one kind or another, but they are often followed by perfectly fine segments without such racket. The music is tinny and murky-sounding throughout. I did not have the sensation of time-compression which afflicted vol. 3 of this set; the dialogue throughout was easy to understand. Given the source material, it's hard to imagine it sounding very much better.

Audio Transfer Grade: C-


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 25 cues and remote access
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Six production stills
Extras Review: The extras are limited to scene selection and six production stills. As was the case on vol. 3, the stills are set on a blinding red and yellow psychedelic pattern that makes it impossible to look at them. A&E could just as well not have bothered. The chaptering is, however, more generous than it was on some of the Emma Peel volumes, so that's a positive step.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

As far as content goes, this is by far the best volume of the Avengers '64 sets. The video and audio quality is still marginal, but this is a result of the poor quality source materials—garbage in, garbage out. Quite entertaining if not entirely serious espionage fun that will be enjoyed by fans of things like Our Man Flint.


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