R.I.P. Patrick Macnee 1922-2015

Well, June has not been a good month for my childhood heroes. First, we lost the last great horror actor, Christopher Lee, and now time has done what no number of outlandish Avengers enemies could – taken John Steed away. Both actors lived to a wonderful age of 93 but no amount of time is enough.

Patrick Macnee

Patrick Macnee had 167 roles on imdb and while many of them were memorable, he will always be remembered as John Steed in The Avengers. Not just that but while he had many partners, he will always be linked with Diana Rigg’s Emma Peel.

The Avengers ran from 1961 to 1969 and starred Ian Hendry with Patrick Macnee’s John Steed as the sidekick. It really hit its stride when Ian Hendry left to become a movie star (rookie mistake, right David Caruso?) and Steed became the central character with several very capable female partners. First, Honor Blackman (Pussy Galore from Goldfinger) as Catherine Gale, then Diana Rigg as Emma Peel, and finally Linda Thorson as Tara King.

John Steed and Patrick Macnee were brought back in 1976-77 for The New Avengers. Here John Steed leads a team consisting of Joanna Lumley as Purdey and Gareth Hunt as Gambit. It tries but doesn’t have the wonderful sense of style that the original did. Macnee also has a voiceover in the dreadful The Avengers movie with Ralph Fiennes as John Steed.

The Avengers

 

Sadly, Netflix doesn’t even recognize Macnee in their actor database so go buy Season 5 of The Avengers on Amazon. It is easily the best of the series and features all of the color episodes featuring Diana Rigg.

Rest in peace, Patrick Macnee, you will be missed.

The Hospital – Bad Doc, No Biscuit! week

 

The Hospital (1971) – Rated PG

George C. Scott stars in this black comedy as Herbert Bock, a suicidal doctor who struggles to find meaning in his life while a murderer stalks the halls of his hospital. Herbert’s life is on a downward spiral, but just as he contemplates killing himself, patients at the hospital begin dying — apparently from erroneous treatments they’re being mysteriously ministered. Diana Rigg co-stars in this Academy Award winner for Best Screenplay.

“These things happen”

“We stayed together through a process of attrition.”

I could fill this whole review with quotes pulled from this movie. Paddy Chayefsky’s snappy indictment of the hospital business (circa 1970) is the real star here. Yes there is a fair amount of psychobabble, a Hollywood relationship where two people meet and instantly fall in love and more than a few dated references but the damning of  the medical establishment remains pertinent now – more than four decades later and the dialogue is continuously quotable.

George C. Scott is a good orator and gives a powerful performance here as hospital administrator Dr. Bock. He was nominated for Best Actor but (justly) lost to Gene Hackman’s signature performance in The French Connection. Scott plays angry quite well, even while delivering the wonderful soliloquys that Chayefsky wrote for him. The Hospital has a large cast but Scott is the only one with significant screen time but it works due to his delightful performance.

Diana Rigg is radiant as a young oddball/radical/love interest. A young Frances Sternhagen has a brief but amusing role as Mrs. Cushing. Richard Dysart is enjoyable as the arrogant incompetent Dr. Welbeck. Other cast members were not particularly memorable.

Side note: One thing I really like about 70’s films is that it was okay for people to be ugly. People were just people, not supermodels. If this film were remade today, the cast would look like something on the CW network.

People Watch: Look for Stockard Channing, Christopher Guest, and SOAP’s Katherine Helmond in blink-and-you’ll miss them parts. Also Paddy Chayefsky is the opening narrator.

The Rest of the Bonds

While instant Netflix is a goldmine if you like Connery or Moore as Bond, you are completely out of luck if you prefer Daniel Craig or Pierce Brosnan. Also missing is the screwball 60s comedy Casino Royale. Still there are a few more Bonds for me to cover.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

George Lazenby takes over the role of Agent 007 for what many consider to be the finest Bond film ever made. Bond tracks archnemesis Ernst Blofeld (Telly Savalas) to a mountaintop retreat where he’s training an army of beautiful but lethal women. Along the way, Bond falls for Italian contessa Tracy Draco (Diana Rigg) — and marries her in order to get closer to Blofeld. Meanwhile, he locates Blofeld in the Alps and embarks on a classic ski chase.

This one is better than many give it credit. Unfortunately what sinks it is the casting. George Lazenby is a cipher as Bond and shows little charisma and Telly Savalas makes the worst of the Blofelds. Diana Rigg is quite good as Tracy Draco and is thankfully treated as more than the arm candy that some of the Bond girls end up as.

The Living Daylights (1987) – Rated PG

Timothy Dalton makes his suave and lethal debut as superagent James Bond in this turbo-charged action-adventure. This time, Bond’s charged with protecting a Soviet general (Jeroen Krabbe) from a beautiful sniper (Maryam d’Abo). But after being used as a pawn in a fake defector scheme, Agent 007 must trek across the world to find the escaped general and stop a terrifying weapons conspiracy that may be linked to the Soviet military high command.

Licence to Kill (1989) – Rated PG-13

James Bond (Timothy Dalton) resigns from the Secret Service after a friend in the CIA (along with his new wife) is brutally murdered by drug lord Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi). With a score to settle, Bond partners up with pilot Pam Bouvier (Carey Lowell) and Sanchez’s mistress (Talisa Soto). While avoiding the British government, Bond races across land, air and water in a whirlwind of action and suspense.

Timothy Dalton was not bad as Bond. He jettisoned the tongue-in-cheek approach of Roger Moore to bring back some of the Bond toughness but I am afraid that he comes across as the successor to George Lazenby. They tried him a couple times and then rebooted with Pierce Brosnan.

Casino Royale (1954)

Having gambled away a vast sum of his country’s funds, a diabolical Soviet spy (Peter Lorre) tries to recoup his losses through a high-stakes game of baccarat, but secret agent James Bond (Barry Nelson) enters the competition to foil him in this 1954 teleplay. Intended as a pilot for a weekly TV series that never materialized, this first screen adaptation of a James Bond novel finds 007 portrayed as an American.

Casino Royale (1954 – not the 1967 comedy or the 2006 reboot) is quite an oddity. It showcases many of the limitations of 1950s television. I’ve always enjoyed Peter Lorre from his scary debut as the serial killer in “M” up through his humorous AIP turns in The Raven and Comedy of Terrors (both 1963) but this is not one of his best roles.

There is not much to recommend this film except as the first appearance of James Bond and that it is less than an hour long. Still if you are curious, instant Netflix offers it up.

 

Shakespeare week – Theater of Blood

This is Shakespeare week. Apparently when you fail to give an actor of the Bard his due, you may be in for some trouble. Theater of Blood is currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: Theater of Blood (1973) – NR

“Vincent Price channels his peerless talent for playing refined madmen into the character of Edward Lionheart, a proud London actor who goes dramatically bonkers when he fails to receive a coveted award. While riverside tramps foil his attempt to drown himself in the River Thames, the world believes he has met a watery end. The thespian uses this cover to exact grisly — and fitting — revenge on the critics who ignored his genius.”

“O pardon me thou bleeding piece of earth, that I am meek and gentle with these butchers.”

The concept of having a Shakespearean actor take poetic revenge on his critics is certainly a fun one and this one is milked for all it is worth beginning on the Ides of March. The murders are quite inventive and each is taken from a different Shakespeare play. They were gory for the time but seem quaint today.

Much as Richard III was yesterday, Theater of Blood is essentially a one-man show. If you do not enjoy the theatricality (or hamminess if you prefer) of a Vincent Price performance then you probably will not enjoy this. This is not his best performance (see Witchfinder General – also available on instant Netflix) but ranks up there with Dr. Phibes as one of his most enjoyable.

Diana Rigg acquits herself well in her second billed role as Edwina Lionheart, daughter of Edward. This is probably her best role after her fabulous stint as Emma Peel in The Avengers but no one steals a scene from Vincent.

Actress Coral Browne, who plays Miss Chloe Moon here, first met Vincent Price on this movie. They were married the following year and, unlike traditional Hollywood marriages, stayed married until her passing in 1991.

The rest of the cast reads like a list of Hammer supporting players – Madeline Smith (Vampire Lovers), Diana Dors (Hammer House of Horror), Ian Hendry (Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter), Michael Hordern (Demons of the Mind), Dennis Price (Twins of Evil) and even the voice of Charles Gray (The Devil Rides Out).

This film is a huge amount of fun and could be watched just for the early 70s fashion. The Shakespeare references are plentiful and much of his dialogue is included as well. Theater of Blood is a showcase for Vincent Price and he shines so watch it already. Besides which, where else are you going to see a swordfight on gym equipment?

People Watch: When Vincent Price retired from his stint of hosting Mystery for Masterpiece Theater, his co-star in this film, Diana Rigg, took over hosting duties.