Early adventures for Steed
(4 out of 5 stars)
"For all the fans of The Avengers familiar with the Emma Peel/Tara King era of the show, these early episodes featuring Cathy Gale and Venus Smith may come as something of a disappointment. In fact, fans of the later shows may find it hard to believe that they are even part of the same TV series! After the initial run of 26 episodes featuring Police Surgeon David Keel and his cohort John Steed had aired in the UK in 1961/62, the producers of the program opted to bring Steed to the forefront of the action and give him a number of different "assistants." Thus, for season two, 26 further episodes were made and broadcast in 1962/63 featuring Steed abetted by Martin King, Venus Smith or Cathy Gale. Mrs. Gale turned out to be the most popular and successful foil for the suave agent, and the other characters did not return after season two. Unlike the later Peel/King stories which were all made on film, these studio based TV shows are much more reliant on dialogue and plot than visual elements, and can be somewhat heavy going as a result.A&E is releasing these stories in a somewhat confusing order, and has started with season three. The first two sets released, Avengers 64 1 & 2, feature the LAST six episodes of season three. Next comes Avengers 63 sets 1 & 2 which comprises of the first half of the season. Next up in the release order is 63 sets 3 & 4 which precede 1 & 2 in running order and in fact feature the last seven stories from season two, plus the first from season three. Confused? Ultimately, it doesn't really matter, since thankfully there's no real reason to watch the stories in chronological order anyway.What is interesting is the development of the production standards. 63 sets 3 & 4, featuring the latter stories from season two, are far more rudimentary in terms of production quality. The sets are extremely small and sparse; The direction very slap-hazard; Camera work shoddy; Sound is extremely poor; and the acting is negligible. With no budget for editing or reshooting, all the actor's fluffs and goofs stayed in. Steed's character is far less suave and sophisticated then he became later during his familiar role alongside Mrs. Peel, and the relationship with Mrs. Gale in particular is at first downright hostile with very little warmth between the two. He seems to get along much better with Miss Venus Smith, a night club singer who he engages at various gigs to act as his eyes and ears. Venus is a very odd character, and played strangely, but enthusiastically by Julie Stevens. She looks about 12, sings like she's forty, and dresses like anything in between. She also seems extremely naïve and it's hard to imagine why Steed engages her to help him at all. The far more intelligent and elegant Mrs. Gale does eventually warm up to Steed, and in the season three stories where she is the exclusive companion to him, their relationship develops nicely and they become much warmer and closer to each other.The production values on season three are also much better than the earlier episodes. The sets became larger and more elaborate. The direction, lighting and sound improved greatly and the acting was much less wooden. Some editing was clearly allowed on these later stories, whereas the earlier ones clearly were broadcast as if they were live. There's a terrific blunder in "Six hands across a table," where Cathy is called "Ros" in one scene, and both actors realize the mistake, but keep going.The quality of the DVD's is somewhat disappointing, even accounting for the age of the material and the production values mentioned above. It may not be the case, but it certainly appears that A&E have made no attempt whatsoever to re-master the original tapes, and the flaws, jumps, scratches and sound blips are too numerous to mention. Virtually every episode on 63 sets 3 & 4 are hampered by picture and sound flaws and defects. Things do improve for 63 1 & 2 and 64 1 & 2, but the quality is still disappointing. Mind you, it appears they have done nothing to clean up the Tara King episodes either!As a big fan of the series, I wouldn't even consider not having these episodes in my collection, but if you're looking for the wacky camp humor and the tele-fantasy of the Peel/King eras, these stories may not be for you."
Vol. 2 of set 2 the best yet of the Cathy Gale episodes
F. Behrens | Keene, NH USA | 09/27/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"amazon avengers 63-2 The 4 episodes in the 2nd volume of this set seem to me to comprise the best of the Honor Blackman lot so far. For starters, it is good to see the very young Peter Bowles ("The Prisoner," "To the Manor Born," etc.), Warren Mitchell (who would appear twice later as the bumbling Brodny), and even Leonard Rossiter (who would portray the immortal Reginald Perrin in his own series). Then we can enjoy the elements, which would later be reworked into Rigg episodes. "Dressed to Kill" is essentially the same basic idea as "The Superlative Seven" from the 1967 series in which a seemingly mixed group are lured to a party (this time aboard a train) for reasons they have to reason out themselves. "Death A La Carte" seems to predict "Honey for the Prince," the last of the black and white Riggs, even having the little round Ken Parry (the honey man in the later episode) as the head of the kitchen. And then there is the famous "Don't Look Behind You" which was redone almost intact with Rigg as "The Joker." You remember, Cathy/Mrs. Peel is invited to a spooky old house by a spy she once seduced and turned in to Our Side. The other episodes are not bad, although one suffers from very bad sound. Some of the camera shots, however, of "Second Sight" are almost cinematic and definitely a pioneering effort in live TV production. There is seldom the sparks-go-flying chemistry between Gale and Steed as there was going to be between Peel and Steed; and the horrible percussion that inevitably accompanies the fights do not make them any more exciting--but at least we know that doubles are not being used and it was shot "live" after all. Further, Johnny Dankworth's music is somewhat repetitious and unimaginative; the scores by Laurie Johnson for the Rigg series will be witty and appropriate. Still, it is not fair to judge this set by what was to come. So where I gave the '64 set four stars, I should but am not permitted to give this one 4 1/2. Therefore I will let that bad sound lose a point and recommend this one as good fun."
Not a bad start for a cult series!
A D Zurvas | Brisbane, Qld Australia | 09/23/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Could it get any better? I think not. Honor Blackman as the briliant Cathy Gale and Patrick Macnee as Mr Steed.These few episodes go part way to explaining the relationship between the the main characters for the rest of episodes sharing the "Avengers" name. We get a glimpse inside the "ministry" which was a bit of a thrill for me.The filming techiques changed considerably between '64 and '65. This season demonstrated what sort of advances could be made in technique resulting in the '65 season looking totally different. In fact it was the rough and ready style of the '64 season that made me realise what truely fabulous actors this couple were. They had only their talent and great writers. No wiz-bangery here!Having said all that, there just isn't anything better than these two swapping pithy comments whilst fighting the bad guys and still looking totally glamerous. Keep in mind that the later episodes displayed the muchly improved cinimatography ( in other words they were better at using a camera! )What these guys did with such a tight budget is totally amazing. Clever scripts and brilliant chemistry made for one of the true highlights of recent re-releases.I gave it 5 stars and why not I say?"