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Memphis Flyer Revenge of the Avengers

Just released by A&E Home Video, The Avengers TV series shows who looks better in a catsuit.

By Michael Finger

AUGUST 24, 1998:  It doesn’t matter if you are watching the 1998 Warner Bros. movie or the British television series from the ’60s. The real star of The Avengers isn’t Diana Rigg/Patrick Macnee or Uma Thurman/Ralph Fiennes – it’s the amazing catsuits worn by that sexy, kung fu-kicking Emma Peel.

“In fact, that’s the main reason you watch her,” said my companion, as we snoozed through two episodes from 1967 – the series’ fifth year but the first one aired in America – which have recently been released by A&E Home Video. We were fans of The Avengers when it first aired, and hoped to relive the “unique combination of banter and bullets, sharp wit and champagne,” as the video package put it. After all, the show has achieved cult status, its two stars have gone on to greater things (including a knighthood for Dame Diana), and there’s even a Web site: www.originalavengers.com.

Well, times have changed, because what we discovered was a sorely dated show, with weak dialogue, even worse acting, all-too-obvious use of stunt doubles, and plots more contrived and complicated than a map of the London Underground. Still, though, there are those jumpsuits.

The first tape compiled by A&E contains two hourlong shows. “From Venus With Love” introduces us to a series of bizarre murders that leaves astronomers dead and their heads covered with white powder – exactly as if some stagehand had tossed a bag of flour in their faces. Mrs. Peel (where is her husband, anyway?), and Mr. Steed show up to investigate the crimes, though we never learn how these two find out about them, who recruits them, and why nobody else in England even seems remotely interested. Who are these two “Avengers,” anyway?

But then you learn not to ask questions with these shows. After all, when Mrs. Peel spots a blindingly bright object racing along a road, chases it into a shed, and gets knocked down when it zooms out at her, we are told later that it was nothing but a shiny sports car. “So it’s all done with mirrors,” says Peel. And that white powder was caused by a laser beam. Huh?

And we do get a rare glimpse of that “sharp wit” we remember – so inaccurately, it seems. When the villain – and only in Britain, I suppose, could the number-one bad guy be an ophthalmic surgeon – aims a laser at Peel and warns her, “You’ve seen what it does to people,” she calmly replies, “Yes, it’s quicker than a cream rinse.” That showed him!

The second episode, “The Fear Merchants,” is even odder, involving a trio calling themselves the British Efficiency Bureau who kill people by playing on their fears. This particular show was the first for an American audience, and its “Englishness” was enhanced. Steed’s vintage roadster, for example, sports a Union Jack flying from the radiator cap. Even the accents seem a bit forced, with people poring over “figgers” and worrying about someone else’s “terri-try.” And only in England, once again, could anyone really care about a fellow bumping off his competitors so he could take over the British porcelain industry.

“The Fear Merchants” is mainly important, though, because it introduces Emma Peel in not one but two amazing jumpsuits. The first is a bizarre purple-and-blue woolen affair with big holes where her hip bones can stick out. We encounter Peel in it as she bends over the hood of a Rolls-Royce (veddy British, again). Off-camera, Sneed, perhaps referring to the car, remarks, “Magnificent, isn’t it?“ just as the lens zooms in on the woman’s bottom.

For a while, we fret that this is the only clothing the poor lady owns, because she wears it through half the show, though Steed changes suits and derbys several times. Later, though, she squeezes into an outfit that would make Catwoman proud: a slinky all-black ensemble, with skin-tight top, long sleeves, and even gloves, and hip-hugger pants linked to the top with big gold chains. Words don’t do it justice. With ever-present umbrella, Steed was known for his sartorial splendor, but he couldn’t hold a candle to that (and neither can Uma Thurman).

The Avengers ’67 is available from A&E Home Video, 800-423-1212, or from the A&E Web site, www.AndE.com. Each $29.95 tape contains two one-hour digitally remastered episodes from the original TV series.

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