Our access to theatrical films may not be comprehensive, but we can retrieve movies dating back to the 1890’s. It is more of a challenge to acquire anything like a true historical perspective on the relatively recent phenomenon of television. Between 1962 and 1964, the British series “The Avengers” starring Patrick MacNee and Honor (“Goldfinger’s” Pussy Galore) Blackman was an international hit, but not in America. European and American video systems were and are incompatible and it wasn’t until the late 1960’s that the B.B.C. developed a converter so that we could see each other’s broadcasts.
By 1968, most broadcasting was in colour, so interest in old black and white video programs was negligible. It was only when home video caught on in the 1980’s that promoters felt there might be a market for cult television favorites. It is now possible to rent all seventeen installments of “The Prisoner”, half a dozen “Police Squad” shows and many “Avengers” episodes., one of which, “Death Of A Great Dane” was never broadcast on U.S. television. Although it was first shown in England on 17 November, 1962, (the same month “Lawrence of Arabia” was released and two months after Sean Connery launched James Bond in “Dr. No.”) the fifty-minute video looks like something out of a time capsule. The first scene in a pet cemetery is not of broadcast quality. The picture and sound are okay after that, but it is obvious why the producers decided to re-shoot it on colour film with Diana Rigg and MacNee as “The 50,000 Pound Breakfast.” Before M.T.V. popularized fast video editing, many videotaped teleplays had a somewhat forced, stagey quality. Bright humour and spontaneity are far easier to achieve with more flexible camerawork. Also, black-and-white video works aesthetic murder on normally photogenic subjects. Everyone, including MacNee, Blackman and the Great Dane, looks vaguely sinister under the harsh lighting and the camera work is intrusive without being intimate. The 1967 film accomplishes miracles of subtlety clearly not possible five years earlier. Still, ‘Death of a Great Dane” is a most watchable entry, and even the flaws are a fascinating reminder of what was possible and not possible in the still-very-young industry of television. As today’s filmmakers turn to video for economic reasons, a look at these two variations on a theme provides revealing differences in a style and approach. The famous Laurie Johnson theme for the series was still to come: the 1962 jazz score was composed by Johnny Dankworth. “The Avengers,” like many British classics, is available on A & E Home Videos and DVDs.
© 2006 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 7/12/06
The Avengers On Video