Thursday, 2 July 2015

Species 2 (3½ Stars)

Today is the first time I've watched "Species 2", which was made in 1998, three years after the first film. I already knew that three sequels existed, described as not as good as the original, but I'm a fair man. I decided to give them a chance and bought a box set containing all four films. Only £7.84 for all four films, a good deal.

Natasha Henstridge returns as the beautiful alien-human hybrid. If you remember, Sil was killed in the first film. In this film she's Eve, a clone made from samples of Sil's DNA. That is quite amazing. An alien creature goes on a rampage, threatening to wipe out the human race, and the first thing the scientists say is, "Hey! Let's make another one so we can study it".

Admittedly, the scientists take precautions this time. They use medication to keep Eve docile, and they only allow her to have contact with women to keep her mating urges under control. But it's still not a smart idea.

However, Eve is of lesser importance in this story and spends most of the film locked up. The film begins with man's first walk on Mars. The astronauts bring back rock and dust samples from Mars' surface. Unfortunately, they also bring back a long dormant life form. The aliens responsible for Sil in the first film supposedly visited Mars millions of years ago. Mars used to be a highly civilised planet, but the aliens wiped out all life on Mars and made it the barren wasteland we know today. The life form infects two of the astronauts on the Mars mission, turning them into alien-human hybrids, just like Eve. After returning to Earth one astronaut is discovered and killed quickly, but the other one, Patrick Ross, goes on the run, impregnating as many women as he can. Within hours the baby is born, killing the mother in the process, who becomes food for her offspring. All the babies born to him are male, probably a result of the unusual way the alien took control of his body. He needs a way for his species to survive on Earth. Finally he senses the existence of Eve, and he goes to the hidden laboratory to mate with her.

So, the question is, is this film as good as the first? On the positive side, the special effects are much better. That was the weak point of the first film. Evidently the commercial success of the first film allowed a bigger investment this time round, which they spent on the special effects rather than famous actors. The weak part of the second film is the story. Natasha Henstridge's absence from most of the film is noticeable.

A difference this time is that it's less of a science fiction film and has more in common with horror films. There is more gore, more mutilated bodies, more aliens breaking out of bodies. I'm not opposed to gore in principle, but in "Species 2" it seems like it's being forced on the viewer for the sake of it. It's as if the film makers knew the story was weaker, so they relied on gore to shock the audience.

Next comes "Species 3". Soon.....

The Seven Minutes (3 Stars)

I'm a big fan of the director Russ Meyer. I've seen all his films many times over. Almost all his films. This is the first time I've seen "The Seven Minutes", made in 1971, because it's never been released on DVD. I managed to find a fuzzy copy online which someone had obviously recorded from television to VCR. That's better than nothing for a fan like me.

Unfortunately, it soon became apparent to me why it has never been officially released. It's a courtroom drama. Russ Meyer? A courtroom drama? That's so far outside of his usual genres that it's difficult to believe. The only thing that made it at all Russ-Meyer-ish is the subject matter of the court case. In most of his films he made blunt statements condemning censorship and appealing for everyone to demand free speech. Russ Meyer was a true American, by which I mean that he believed 100% in the ideals of the American constitution and hated all modern attempts to subtly undermine it.

The film begins with a police operation in which a book shop is raided and all copies of a book called "The Seven Minutes", written by J. J. Jadaway (not Irving Wallace, as in the photo above) were seized, because the book was deemed to contain pornographic content. On the same day a 20-year-old boy is arrested for raping and beating up a girl he met, leaving her in a coma.  After the boy's arrest a copy of "The Seven Minutes" is found in his car, suggesting that the book is so evil that it drives people who read it to commit rape. (We actually see that the boy didn't do it, it was someone else, but the girl is comatose and unable to verify his story. This isn't relevant to the film, because it has to do with the trial against the bookshop owner).

The way the book is treated is almost unbelievable. Almost nobody has read it when the trial begins. Instead of reading it himself the prosecutor visits a Catholic priest to ask about the book. The priest hasn't read it either, but he has a report about the book written 30 years earlier. In court witnesses are called who have read the book, some calling it pornographic, others calling it a beautiful work of art.

For me this wasn't a real Russ Meyer film. It contained the erratic film editing typical for his films, rapidly cutting from one angle to another, but in this film his editing techniques seemed out of place.

The photo above isn't a mistake. In 1969 Irving Wallace wrote a novel called "The Seven Minutes" about a fictional book with the same name, and Russ Meyer based his film on Irving Wallace's novel. The fictional novelist J. J. Jadaway was based on the author Maurice Girodias, a writer of erotic fiction, of whom many of his books had been banned. A few years after the film was made Maurice Girodias wrote a book called "The Original Seven Minutes", claiming to be the book on which Irving Wallace's novel was based. Legal action was taken against him. He had to change the title to "The Seven Erotic Minutes" and remove any claims that there was a connection with Irving Wallace.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Nichts als die Wahrheit (4 Stars)

Dr. Josef Mengele's name is well known. He is infamous as a German doctor who performed medical experiments in the concentration camp Ausschwitz. For instance, he carried out experiments on twins, causing one of them pain while testing the reaction of the other in another room to see if there was a psychic link between twins. He also researched medical cures for illnesses such as typhoid and malaria, deliberately infecting Jewish prisoners so that he could attempt to heal them.

After the Second World War Mengele fled to Argentina, a haven for Nazi war criminals, and later moved to Paraguay, where he lived openly using his real name. After Adolf Eichmann was kidnapped by the Israeli secret service in 1960 he no longer felt safe and fled to Brazil, where he changed his name to avoid detection. For the next 20 years he was the most sought war criminal, and he achieved notoriety in films made about him, films that exaggerated his medical experiments rather than adhering to the facts. He died an accidental death in a swimming pool on February 7th 1979, but because he was buried under a false name he wasn't verified as dead by the German authorities until 1985.

So much for the facts that build the background of the story. The film presents the hypothesis that Mengele faked his death in 1979, swapping his dental records with another person's so that if his bones were ever dug up -- as happened in 1985 -- the corpse would be incorrectly identified. The film takes place in 1999. Josef Mengele is suffering from cancer and doesn't have long to live. He travels to Germany and surrenders himself to the German authorities because he wants to clear his name in court. He wants to tell his side of the story. He requests that the lawyer Peter Rohm should defend him, because he comes from Mengele's home town of Günzburg. There are other connections, in particular Mengele knew Rohm's mother when she was a 17-year-old nurse.

At first Rohm refuses to accept the case, but after being put under pressure by the government he grudgingly accepts. He confesses to the judge that he feels unable to defend a person as evil as Mengele, but the judge reminds him that under German law every man has the right to be defended in court, and she warns him that if she thinks he isn't doing his job he will be disbarred. So Rohm does his job as a good lawyer. Unfortunately, that's not the way the public sees it. Because he defends a Nazi everyone assumes he's a Nazi himself.

Mengele's defence is that everything he did was for the good of his patients and the good of humanity. If the war hadn't ended so soon and he had succeeded in finding a cure for malaria he would be considered a hero. He personally hand-picked his patients, and he says that by doing this he helped them. He knew the Jews were being killed in the gas chambers, and he said that any Jew he selected for his experiments had a better chance of surviving. Any Jews that he killed died less painfully than they would have done in the gas chambers.

I was unhappy to see that at the end of the film Peter Rohm broke down and refused to continue to defend his client. He became a bad lawyer. Was he disbarred? The film ends before we see the consequences, but his conscience didn't allow him to carry on arguing the case for a man he personally despised.

The film's message is stated clearly, in the words of Peter Rohm. So many people, not just Josef Mengele, do evil things. That wasn't just in the Second World War, it happens today. Instead of confessing our guilt when we do wrong, we try to justify ourselves and make it sound like we had good intentions. We should be honest. We should admit our guilt.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Knock Knock (4 Stars)

"It is all a dream".

This is a remake of the 1977 film "Death Game", which I haven't yet seen, but intend to watch soon. It's directed by Eli Roth, who is always guaranteed to produce controversial films.

Keanu Reeves plays Evan Webber, a happily married man with two young children. He's planning to go away for the weekend with his family, but because of important work he has to stay home and let them go away without him. Late at night two girls arrive at his door, soaked from the rain. He lets them in and lets them dry off. But one thing leads to another and they seduce him. After a wild threesome they fall asleep in bed together.

The following morning he regrets what he's done and asks them to leave, but they refuse. He threatens to call the police, but when they tell him they're only 15 he changes his mind. Gentle persuasion fails to make them leave, and they begin to wreck his house.They knock him unconscious, and when he wakes up he's tied to the bed. First they force him to have sex again, then they torture him. They invite him to play a game with him, and if he loses he will have to die.

It's obvious from their first appearance that the girls are deranged, but as the film progresses it becomes apparent just how crazy they are. Keanu Reeves, not the world's best actor, does a reasonable job of portraying a man in fear for his life. The girls, Genesis and Bel, played by Lorenza Izzo and Ana de Armas, are the real stars of the film. Any man could have played the helpless victim.

The film took a while  to get going. The initial conversations after the girls arrive at his house last too long. It was obvious they wanted sex with Evan, and it was obvious that he was tempted, I just wished they would get on with it. But from the sex scene onwards it was a wild ride for the rest of the film. It wasn't as gory as I would have expected after seeing Eli Roth's other films, but it was very scary. Scary and arousing. I could have been the helpless victim.

"It is not a dream".

I shan't give away the ending. All I'll say is that an open end has been left for a sequel. If Eli Roth contacts me I'll send him a list of actors I want to see tortured next.

Lust in Space (4 Stars)

New recruits Pete and Susan are training for a mission on an orbiting space station. Unknown to them, an evil organisation wants to take control of the station and convert it into a giant laser to hold the world to ransom. Pete is seduced by Sasha, a beautiful woman who tricks Pete into smuggling equipment to an undercover agent already waiting on board the space station. Can anyone discover the plot before it's too late?

This is a fun romp from Dean McKendrick. Mike Gaglio plays the straight guy, while everyone around him is only interested in sex. Well, there are also people around him interested in conquering the world, but they use sex to pass the time until they achieve their goals.

I think Dean missed an opportunity in making the film. It would have been so easy for Sasha to overpower the security agent Marty, but she didn't. The plot could have gone a different way. If you watch the film you'll see what I mean. Apart from this mistake it's one of his best films so far.

Mike Gagglio is a good teacher...

but his students don't pay attention in class.

Mary Carey does whatever she can to distract Mike...

so that she can rule the world with Sasha. Yes, please!

Let me add a little story about how I bought this DVD. Until now all of Dean McKendrick's films have been available on Amazon UK, but for some reason this was an exception, so I ordered it on Ebay from a merchant based in Australia. Unfortunately I didn't immediately notice that I hadn't changed my default mailing address after moving house in April. I contacted the merchant a couple of days later and they said it was too late to change the address, because the DVD had already been sent via a courier, and it would arrive within three weeks. The courier probably uses a slow boat from Australia to take that long, but never mind. They said that if I wasn't at home at my old address the parcel would be returned to them. Another three weeks? Ugh.

Then yesterday I was informed that the parcel had been delivered to my address last Thursday. I rang up my old landlord to ask about the parcel, and his wife answered the phone. She told me that my old house, 206 Malmesbury Road in Small Heath, was empty and they didn't go into it. I asked who had accepted the parcel, and she told me, "There are builders renovating the house. If you go there tomorrow at 11 am you can ask them".

So I went to the house this morning. I could hear someone working in the house, but I had to knock the door for a long time until someone opened it. Finally the door was opened, and I saw that the "workers" were my ex-landlord and his son. I was curious why his wife had lied to me about not entering the house, but I only asked about the parcel. My old landlord told me that nothing had come. I told him that I had been informed it had been delivered last Thursday, so he asked me what it was, and I told him it was a DVD. He said he would look for it. He searched in a trash can and pulled out a DVD. That was my DVD. I thanked him and left.

However, the DVD was no longer packaged. It was in a DVD case, still sealed, but there was no cardboard packaging with my address. The case was broken as if someone had stood on it. I rushed home and tried the DVD, and it worked perfectly, so I just put the DVD and the inlay into an empty DVD case. It still annoys me though. My landlord accepted the DVD from the courier last week, probably signing for it. He opened the parcel to see what it was. When he decided he didn't want it he crushed the DVD case and threw it in the trash. If I'd known how nasty my landlord was I would have moved earlier.

Off-Topic: How to read the Bible

After a conversation I was having with Christian friends last week I gave some thought into how to read the Bible. I'll try to give my opinions without insulting Christians. Reading the Bible, whether it's one verse or a whole passage, should be done in four steps. These steps apply for non-Christians as well as Christians.

1. Read it
2. Understand it
3. Believe it (Accept it)
4. Apply it

1. Reading

The first step sounds obvious, but it isn't. Many people who call themselves Christians don't read the Bible and just make assumptions on what it contains, based on what others tell them. In the same way, many non-Christians call the Bible rubbish without ever having read what it says. It's impossible to have discussions about the Bible without reading it first.

2. Understanding

Understanding the Bible is vital. Some parts are figurative. Some parts are poetic. However, for the most part the Bible is easy to understand. It means what it says and says what it means. It's important that everyone carries out this step for himself. If a priest, pastor or theologian has a very long, complicated explanation for a short, simple verse it's usually wrong. The obvious meaning is the right one.

3. Believing (deciding whether to believe)

The third and fourth steps could be combined into one, and sometimes the fourth step is irrelevant, but I prefer to separate them. The difference I make is that "believing" means accepting the statement as a general truth, whereas "applying" means using a statement as a guideline for my own personal life. If the reader is a non-Christian there will be many things that he doesn't accept in the Bible, but there are also many things that he can believe, or at least accept as a possible truth.

4. Applying (deciding whether to apply)

This step is relevant when the Bible gives a direct command. A Christian might accept that God, Jesus or one of the prophets said something, but then decide not to obey it, for a variety of reasons. Maybe he thinks the command is no longer relevant for today. Maybe he sees the command in a context that doesn't always apply. The step is also relevant when we read about someone doing something. The question to be asked is, should I imitate this person or not? In the case of a simple statement the step might not be relevant.

That's all very theoretical. Let's give an example.

"Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience". (1. Corinthians 10.15)

This is a very easy statement to read and understand. Eat any meat, whatever animal it comes from, and however it has been prepared. Let's skip straight to the third step. Do I believe it? I think most people would, whether they're Christian or not. But a Moslem might read this and say "No, that's a lie. It's not right to eat pork". A Buddhist might go one step further and say, "No. It's not right to eat animals". Are they right or wrong to say this? I won't judge them. It's the decision of everyone to decide whether or not to accept what the Bible says.

As for the fourth step, applying the statement, a Christian might say that he believes it's right to eat any meat, but he doesn't like the taste, so he prefers to be a vegetarian. Some Christians might refuse to eat Halal meat, because a prayer to Allah was spoken before the slaughter, consecrating the food to Allah. These are two different cases. In the first case it's solely a matter of personal preference. In the second case it's a matter of conscience, so it isn't a matter of applying the statement, he's refusing to believe it (step three).

That was a simple example. Now let's take a more controversial verse.

"Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses". (1. Timothy 5:23)

The seemingly obvious meaning has been confused by some preachers who are too biased to believe the obvious meaning. It's a common statement that the Greek word translated as "wine" means grape juice, i.e. it's a non-alcoholic drink. This is a lie that's easily refuted by linguists, and it's even apparent from other passages in the Bible that it's an alcoholic drink. For instance, at wedding feasts the guests became drunk from wine. The preachers are confusing the second and the third step. They understand the statement incorrectly to conceal the fact that they don't believe what is written. They are saying that what Paul wrote to his friend Timothy was a mistake, and it shouldn't be in the Bible.

Once a person believes that it's permissible to drink wine, the application of the verse can go in many directions. Some might say that wine should only be drunk for medicinal purposes. Others might argue about what is meant by "a little". Another matter is that at the time the Bible was written wine was the only form of alcohol, so can the statement be extended to cover any alcoholic drink available today?

Of course, the Bible is a big book and contains many statements on the matter of food and drink. Some statements even contradict one another. For instance, in Genesis 1:29 God says to Adam, "I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole Earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food". That statement clearly advocates a vegetarian diet. What do we do when we see contradictions like that? Do we choose not to believe it (step three)? Or do we try to contextualise it, believing it was true then, but not something to apply to ourselves today? Even within the Book of Genesis, there are differences. "Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything". (Genesis 9:3).

I hope that my brief thoughts may assist my Christian friends. Please don't dismiss what I say with statements like, "How could you possibly tell us what do do? You're not even a believer". It's irrelevant whether I believe or not. Anyone can understand the Bible, without the help of priests telling him what to think.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Das Zeugenhaus (4½ Stars)

"There is no more guilt, no more innocence, just grey and grey".

This is a remarkable film based on true events that happened in Nuremberg, Germany, from September 20th 1945 to October 1st 1946. The film's title means "house of witnesses". It was a house where the most important witnesses for the Nuremberg Trials stayed for the duration of the proceedings. The characters in the film are the real people who lived in the house, and the events that take place at the trials themselves are well documented facts, but the conversations that take place in the house itself are fictional. Fictional, but credible.

In 1945 a German duchess (called Duchess Belavar, the only fake name in the film, because she asked for her real name to be concealed) was asked by the American army to look after a guest house in which witnesses for the Nuremberg Trials would be living. They were supposedly voluntary witnesses, free to leave at any time if they wanted to, but as we find out in the course of the film most of them had reached a deal with the Americans that they would only avoid being arrested if they gave evidence in the trials. The shocking fact is that high ranking Nazis and survivors of concentration camps were placed in the same house, living and eating together for more than 12 months.

Among the guests in the house were
  • Gisela Limberger, Hermann Göring's private secretary.
  • Heinrich Hoffmann, Adolf Hitler's photographer.
  • Henriette von Schirach, the wife of the former leader of the Hitler Youth.
  • Erwin von Lahousen, a German general who had served on the eastern front.
  • Rudolf Diels, the man who founded the Gestapo.

None of these witnesses seem to be hardline Nazis. That's probably why they were allowed to be witnesses, rather than standing trial themselves. For instance, Gisela Limberger praised Hermann Göring because he was a real man, a man who was proud to be German and make his country great. Heinrich Hoffmann was Hitler's personal friend and considered Hitler to be a good man who was being misrepresented by the war's winners. Rudolf Diehls was one of the men who had supported Von Stauffenberg's plot to assassinate Hitler, but he had committed many crimes (in the eyes of America) before that time.

Most of the house's guests already knew one another. They all tried to downplay their own involvement in what had happened, and the others contradicted them. Even the concentration camp survivors accused one another. As one man said, "You couldn't survive the camps by being innocent. You had to take advantage of the other inmates to guarantee your own survival".

There are some scenes in the courtroom, but most of the film takes place in the house itself. The atmosphere is intense, performances of all the actors involved is superb.

Frivolous Lola (4 Stars)

"Nothing is true when nothing is untrue".

This was the first film that I ever saw directed by Tinto Brass. I checked it out because it starred Patrick Mower, who I hadn't seen in any films for years. I knew him from the TV series "Callan" and several films from the 1960's and 1970's, but I had no idea what he was doing more recently. I was watching a Hammer Horror film, probably one of the Dracula films, I forget which, and I spotted him as an uncredited extra, not even mentioned in IMDB. A dead body was discovered on the road, and I jumped up and shouted "That's Patrick Mower!" The face was unmistakeable to a fan like me, even though it was only visible for about two seconds. I'll look for it again next time I watch the Dracula films. They're on my list. But the point of all my rambling on in this paragraph is that after spotting him in the Hammer film I decided to look for a recent film he had made, and this was it. It was made in 1998, and it's actually the last film he ever made. In 2001 he joined the cast of the TV soap "Emmerdale" as Rodney Blackstock and he's been a regular ever since, the five episodes a week leaving him no time for anything else.

Now let's get to the film itself. The original Italian name of the film is "Monella", as in the poster above. That's Monella riding the bike. For unfathomable reasons she's been renamed Lola in the English version, both the subtitled and the dubbed version, and the film is called "Frivolous Lola". She's my kind of girl. She's beautiful, she knows it and she shows it. She's constantly flirting with all men around her, revelling in the effect she has on men. She frequently flashes her bottom, for instance when she's riding a bike, and she laughs at the men who stare at her, even if its the village priest whose hands begin to shake when he's trying to read his Bible. But despite her playful attitude she's unhappy. She's still a virgin, and she desperately wants her fiancé Tomaso, the village baker, to make love to her. But he says he wants to wait until they're married. The marriage is only one week away, but that's too long for Lola/Monella. She wants sex now!

Lola's father André (Patrick Mower) is a completely different sort of man. He takes photographs of naked women, and she discovers that during the photo sessions he has sex with his models. One of his models is her mother Zaira, but there are others. She spies on the sessions, and this greatly excites her. She decides to seduce her father, because she can't wait the whole week for Tomaso. At first he refuses -- incest is a sin in strict Catholic villages, isn't it? -- but his will power is shattered when she's naked in his arms. Luckily Zaira interrupts them before anything can happen.

And yet, the seemingly good boy Tomaso is really a hypocrite. He's having regular sex with a prostitute. That's the double moral standards of Catholic communities. Men want a good girl who will remain a virgin until marriage, but they have sex with the bad girls while they're waiting.

This is a fun film. Despite the frequent nudity it's a lot less explicit than my description makes it sound. That's Tinto Brass's style: lots of naked flesh and racy themes (such as incest), but no hard sex. It's a film worth watching by people who are open-minded.

Incidentally, how many of my readers know what mutting is? Lola's beauty provokes two local priests to commit the sin of mutting. If you don't believe it's a sin, check out the Bible. The 11th Commandment makes it clear: "Thou shalt not mutt".

Sunday, 28 June 2015

For a Few Dollars More (4½ Stars)

This was Clint Eastwood's second spaghetti western directed by Sergio Leone, after "A Fistful of Dollars". In America it was marketed as the return of the man with no name. First of all, despite the identical clothing and mannerisms, Clint Eastwood seems to be playing a different character in this film. Secondly, his name was actually Manco. His name was used twice in the film, and both parts were cut out when it was shown in American cinemas. That's silly. The Blu-ray disc I have in my hand now is a restored version containing the deleted scenes, and I can verify he does have a name. He's called Manco, not Joe as in the first film.

In this film Clint Eastwood plays a bounty hunter. While hunting for a bandit called El Indio his path crosses that of another bounty hunter, Douglas Mortimer, played by Lee Van Cleef. They meet as enemies, but they make an uneasy truce with one another, splitting the reward money of $10,000. Instead of killing him straight away they decide to wait until he attempts his next bank robbery, because his whole gang will be together, meaning more reward money. As it turns out, the other 14 gang members are worth $17,000 between them. Their plan fails and they are unable to prevent El Indio's next bank robbery, but that means there's a reward of $40,000 for the return of the money, so the "few dollars more" is actually $67,000. That's a whole lot of money, even today. How much was it worth in the 19th century? The sheriff in one of the early scenes says that he needs three years to earn $2000. According to online information a sheriff today earns an average of $45,000 per year, so I calculate that the total reward money was worth about $4.5 million. Not bad for a few days work.

When the film was made in 1965 Lee Van Cleef was a highly successful actor, well known in American westerns as a villain, while Clint Eastwood was relatively unknown, so they received equal credits in the film posters. The film even opens with a scene establishing Douglas Mortimer as a character, and Manco isn't seen until 15 minutes into the film. It's interesting to see the way the two actors continued with their respective careers. For Clint Eastwood it was the second of only three spaghetti westerns, after which he returned to making films in America. This was Lee Van Cleef's first film in Italy, but it was the beginning of a new segment of his life. Over the next 20 years, almost up to his death, he made another 20 spaghetti westerns. In America he had been predominantly a villain in his westerns, but in Italian films he was usually a hero. Maybe all that he wanted was to be known as the good guy.

It's worth mentioning the appearance of Klaus Kinski in this film, despite his relatively small role as a member of El Indio's gang. He speaks very few lines, but the variations in his facial expressions from one moment to the next are fascinating. The more I see him, the more convinced I become that he's the best actor who has ever lived.

Friday, 26 June 2015

R.I.P. Patrick Macnee

Although he appeared in about 30 films, including the James Bond film "A View to a Kill" in 1985, Patrick Macnee is best known to his fans for one role: that of the secret agent John Steed, or simply Steed, in the television series "The Avengers" (1961-1969) and "The New Avengers" (1976-1977). For this reason my tribute to Patrick Macnee consists of a brief overview of his performance as John Steed.

Steed with David Keel (Ian Hendry)

During these series he had a succession of rotating partners. It might surprise some fans of "The Avengers" to hear that in the first season John Steed was the junior partner, the assistant of Dr. David Keel. Ian Hendry had recently starred in a popular television series called "Police Surgeon", and "The Avengers" was intended to cash in on this, by portraying him as a medical doctor who used his forensic skills as a government agent.

Due to the barbaric habit of reusing videotapes after they had been broadcast on television, only two out of 26 episodes still exist from the first season. Audio versions of the episodes are currently in production, in which voice actors use the original scripts.

The government agency that Dr. Keel and Steed worked for was never explicitly named. In a few episodes we saw Dr. Keel receiving instructions from an unnamed superior, but this character was only shown occasionally in the second season and disappeared completely in the following three seasons.

Steed with Martin King (Jon Rollason)

After the departure of Ian Hendry at the end of the first season the original intention was to replace Dr. Keel with another medical doctor, and Jon Rollason was selected to play the role of Dr. Martin King. Three episodes were filmed, but the television studios felt that Jon wasn't a suitable replacement. It was decided to change the direction of the series. In the first season Steed had a network of informants and assistants among the general population. In the remaining episodes of the second season Steed worked closely with two of his female assistants in solving crimes. These two women were referred to as amateurs, since they were not government agents.

Steed with Cathy Gale (Honor Blackman)

The first amateur was Dr. Cathy Gale, played by Honor Blackman. In the second season her trademark weapon was a gun which she concealed in her garter belt. In the third season it was more common for her to use judo in battling criminals, an easy task because Honor Blackman already practised judo. Many of her early episodes had scripts written for Ian Hendy or Jon Rollason, and she simply used their lines. Later episodes show her character becoming more feminine. Beginning in the late second season there were episodes in which she wore black leather, and this became her standard clothing in the third season.

Steed with Venus Smith (Julie Stevens)

The second amateur was Venus Smith, a nightclub singer played by Julie Stevens. Unlike Cathy Gale she wasn't a fighter. Her activities were usually undercover spying, and Steed frequently had to rescue her. Cathy Gale was the liberated woman, Venus Smith was the damsel in distress. A good mix.

In the second season Dr. Martin King appeared in three episodes, Venus Smith appeared in six episodes and Cathy Gale appeared in the remaining 17 episodes. The Martin King episodes had been filmed first, but they weren't broadcast until the middle of the season. Venus Smith's episodes were scattered evenly throughout the season. Since it was obvious that Cathy Gale was the more popular character, she was the only one to be brought back for the third season and appeared in all 26 episodes.

Steed's character began to change towards the end of the third season. He started out as a gritty detective-like spy, almost always wearing a heavy raincoat. He slowly began to adopt the bowler hat and umbrella that became his trademark appearance for the following seasons.

Steed with Emma Peel (Diana Rigg)

In the fourth season Diana Rigg joined the series as Emma Peel, usually called Mrs. Peel, the most famous out of all Steed's partners. There were hints that she worked for the government, so she didn't have the amateur status of the previous assistants. When the series was broadcast in the USA there was a voice-over during the opening credits that called her a "talented amateur", but this was a careless blunder. She was obviously intended to be a clone of Cathy Gale. Emma Peel wore leather outfits and battled with simulated karate moves, since she knew no judo. However, there were disagreements behind the scenes. Honor Blackman had enjoyed wearing leather outfits, but Diana Rigg found them unpleasant and requested a new look. In the fifth season she wore trendy tight-fitting outfits custom made for her.

The series' style changed dramatically in the fourth season, and even more in the fifth. It had started out in 1961 by presenting realistic spy thrillers. In the fourth season the stories became very camp. There were high tech gadgets, and enemy organisations were using barely credible covers for their illegal operations. In each episode people were killed in ridiculous ways. Steed usually made a whimsical remark about the deaths, while Mrs. Peel just grinned. The series was heavily criticised at the time for the way it made fun of death. In the fifth season there were repeated science fiction elements, such as killer robots and man-eating plants.

There is some disagreement about the correct numbering of the seasons from the fifth onwards. Some people say that the fifth season had 24 episodes, whereas others say that it only had 16 episodes, and the sixth season had eight episodes. If you watch the 24 episodes it's obvious that the last eight have a different style to the previous 16. They're slightly less camp. However, I'll follow the consensus of Avengers fans and refer to it as a single season. I'll merely split it into season 5a and 5b.

Steed with Tara King (Linda Thorson)

In the sixth and final season of "The Avengers" Steed's new partner was the young agent Tara King, played by Linda Thorson. It was emphasised that she had been the top graduate of a secret agent training school, so she definitely wasn't an amateur. She admired Steed because in her training he had been presented as the example of a good agent. She looked up to him as a father figure, but there were also hints of a romantic attachment, something missing from all of Steed's previous partners.

In the sixth season we met Steed's superior officer, a wheelchair-bound man called Mother. The organisation he worked for still wasn't named. He had a mobile office which kept being found in the most ridiculous places, such as the top floor of a double decker bus. The sixth season used great amounts of humour and became so camp that it seemed to be parodying itself.

Steed with Gambit (Gareth Hunt) and Purdey (Joanna Lumley)

In 1976 a Canadian company financed a relaunch of "The Avengers", which they called "The New Avengers". This was something that divided the fans. There was initial optimism at the return of Steed and their beloved series, but it soon became obvious that it was a very different program. Steed functioned as a supervisor for the new agents Gambit (Gareth Hunt) and Purdey (Joanna Lumley), giving them their missions in the same way he had received missions from Mother in the sixth season. He outranked them, but when it came to the action he seemed like a junior partner, standing back while they won the battles. The stories themselves carried on in a similar vein to the original Avengers series, camp with over-the-top action and hints of science fiction.

Yesterday Patrick Macnee passed away at the age of 93. He will be severely missed by his family, friends and fans..

Patrick Macnee
6 February 1922 – 25 June 2015

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Young Bruce Lee (4 Stars)

"Some day the whole world will want my autograph".

This is a biopic about Bruce Lee's early years, based on the memories of his younger brother Robert, who also appears at the beginning to introduce the film. The film begins with his birth in 1940, and ends in 1959 when he left Hong Kong to move to America. Chinese actor Aarif Rahman doesn't quite look like Bruce, he's too tall, but he manages to capture Bruce's mannerisms .

Bruce was born in San Francisco, but his family moved back to Hong Kong in 1941, ignoring warnings that a Japanese invasion was imminent. Due to the influence and connections of his father, a successful stage actor, Bruce entered the film business very young. He starred in his first film at the age of 1, then rapidly became a child star, and by the time he was 19 he had appeared in 20 films.

Bruce was an ambitious person who succeeded at whatever he put his mind to. Apart from his legendary fighting skills, he was also an exceptionally talented dancer. In 1958 he won the Hong Kong Cha Cha Championship, dancing with his brother Robert as his partner.

And yet Bruce never learnt how to ride a bicycle. That's strange.