The Movie Waffler DVD Review - THE AVENGERS: TUNNEL OF FEAR | The Movie Waffler

Sponsor

DVD Review - THE AVENGERS: TUNNEL OF FEAR

THE AVENGERS: TUNNEL OF FEAR review
A lost Avengers episode is rediscovered after 55 years.







Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Guy Verney

Starring: Ian Hendry, Patrick Macnee, Ingrid Hafner, Anthony Bate

THE AVENGERS: TUNNEL OF FEAR dvd


Fans - whether of football teams, rock stars or movie franchises - like to be completists. For fans of classic British TV shows, this simply isn't possible, with so many episodes lost to time, often discarded after their initial viewings, victims of an era before home recording and digital archiving. If you're a fan of the cult show The Avengers (and let's face it, how could you not be?), you'll no doubt be frustrated by the show's first season being almost completely lost, with only two episodes - Girl on the Trapeze; The Frighteners - having previously been available, along with half of the premiere episode, Hot Snow.

Thanks to the tireless work of the British television preservation group Kaleidoscope, a third episode has now been made available in its entirety. Discovered in 2016 in a private film collection - its owner completely unaware of what he had on his hands - Tunnel of Fear, the twentieth episode of the first season, initially broadcast in the UK on August 5th, 1961, has now been spruced up and released on DVD by Studiocanal.


THE AVENGERS: TUNNEL OF FEAR

When most people think of The Avengers, the image that likely comes to mind is that of Patrick Macnee as John Steed, clad in Saville Row's finest, umbrella dangling from his arm, and the sultry Diana Rigg as his high-kicking sidekick Emma Peel, somehow poured into a physics defying tight leather catsuit. It's as iconic an image of '60s Britain as Bobby Moore lifting the World Cup or The Beatles crossing Abbey Road.

The '60s, or at least what we like to think of as the '60s, didn't really begin until the middle of the decade, around 1963/64 when The Beatles and The Rolling Stones released their first albums. The early part of that decade had more in common with the '30s - men still wore ties and hats as casual wear, women wouldn't dream of exposing their legs in a mini-skirt, and the idea of a folk singer going electric hadn't crossed anyone's minds. As such, the first season of The Avengers, broadcast in 1961, feels like a very different show to the one embraced by the swinging generation in its fourth season, when Peel was introduced to an appreciative audience. For a start, what we think of as The Avengers' theme tune, the rousing stomper composed by Laurie Johnson, wasn't introduced until that fourth season. Prior to that the show opened with a considerably more downbeat tune composed by Johnny Dankworth.

The second season would introduce the classic format of pairing Steed (a crime-fighting mix of Sherlock Holmes and James Bond, with an ambiguous allegiance to official government agencies) with an ass-kicking female companion in Honor Blackman's Cathy Gale, but the show began with Steed accompanied by doctor David Keel (Ian Hendry, whom I've always thought of a suave Leonard Rossiter). In the premiere episode, the two come together to investigate the murder of Keel's fiancĂ©e, and continue their crime-fighting ways, enjoying a far more abrasive relationship than that of Steed and his later female companions.


THE AVENGERS: TUNNEL OF FEAR

The show was known for opening with a pre-credits sequence that hooked viewers into sticking around, and Tunnel of Fear opens with a classic Avengers intro, as a suited man takes a ride on a ghost train, his car emerging with only his umbrella remaining intact.

After the credits sequence, a panicked man, Harry Black (Anthony Bate), barges into Keel's surgery demanding a shoulder wound be taken care of. After knocking him out with an anesthetic, Keel and his assistant, Carol Wilson (Ingrid Hafner), rummage through his wallet and discover he's an escaped convict. Coming around, Black pleads his innocence, claiming he was framed for a robbery at a fun fair. When Steed arrives on the scene, he believes Black's pleas, as he is himself investigating possible shenanigans at said fun fair involving the kidnapping of British spies.

Steed convinces Keel and Black to return to the fun fair in search of answers, while Steed goes undercover as the barker of a now rather politically incorrect show involving belly-dancing dolly-birds. All the fun of the fair ensues.

By the time The Avengers had hit its groove in the Emma Peel years, there was an 'anything goes' approach to the show's content, with far-fetched storylines that often leaned towards the realm of science fiction. The earlier seasons are far more grounded, and in this viewer's opinion at least, not half as much fun. That said, there's much to enjoy in Tunnel of Fear, particularly in Steed, the sort of character you can tell screenwriters really enjoyed creating dialogue for. He gets some great lines here, playing on his sophisticated sauciness, and Macnee is clearly having the time of his life embodying the character. Referring to his pet wolfhound, Steed claims the animal is a great judge of character, making him "very unpopular around Westminster."


THE AVENGERS: TUNNEL OF FEAR

When Steed is offscreen, the episode loses much of its impetus. Hendry is a fine performer, but he's a little dry for this type of show, and it's telling that the actor decided he had enough with the role after a single season. As Black's carny mother, aging actress Doris Rogers has a lot of fun, knocking out a villain with a plank of wood and remarking how she "hasn't done anything like that since my old man died."

For entertainment value, Tunnel of Fear pales in contrast to later episodes of The Avengers, and is somewhat sluggishly paced in comparison, but devotees of the show, and wider fans of TV history in general, will lap it up. With three of the first season episodes now fully intact, it's only 23 left to track down. Next time you visit your grandparents, ask if you can have a rummage in their attic - you just never know!

Extras:

An audio play reconstruction of Tunnel of Fear and an interview with its writer, John Dorney; vintage interviews with Macnee and Hendry, that latter appearing to have had a few too many shandies; reconstructions of 14 of the missing episodes, using a mix of surviving footage, publicity stills and shooting scripts. Add the latter to the fully excavated Tunnel of Fear episode and this is an essential package for fans of cult British TV.

The Avengers: Tunnel of Fear is on DVD April 9th from Studiocanal.



discussion by