Feminists Gone Wild

"How to Succeed ... At Murder"

Produced: February 1966
U.K. Premiere (Season 4): 18 March 1966
U.S. Premiere (Season 1): 13 June 1966
Starring: Diana Rigg, Patrick McNee
Female Antagonists: Sarah Lawson, Angela Browne, Anne Cunningham, Zeph Gladstone
Other Guests: Arto Morris
SET UP: A boss calls his secretary into his office to complain about the complex filing system. Instead of going in, the secretary stays at her desk, puts on a combat helmet, pulls out a cartoon-type plunger-detonator, and pushes it. "KABOOM!" comes from the boss's office. She smiles as we are shown that she's wearing a charm bracelet filled with guns and knives and other implements of destruction.
THE PLOT: We cut to a room occupied by seven or eight lovely young ladies, sitting on facing couches, and an older woman in a chair at the head. The explosive secretary is escorted in by the lone man in the room, identified as Henry.
"Well, girls," the older woman says, "our campaign is progressing. No doubt you've all heard about Elizabeth's recent success."
Our secretary beams!
The older woman says to take notes as she tells them their next assignments. Sara, a comely blonde, gets "Morton, Sir George Morton."
Next scene, on a "late-night rendezvous" with Sir George, Sara strangles him, ruthlessly, with her stocking. She, too, is wearing a charm bracelet of death. So is Mary, Sir George's secretary, who takes control of the business. All the girls are wearing them.
"Murders, 11 of them, quite an epidemic!" Steed tells Mrs. Peel. "All of them prominent businessmen."

We soon discover there's something funy going on under cover at "Keep Fit Classes for Young Ladies," run by Henry and Henrietta Thronebottom. It's a plot for "Ruination to All Men"!

These brilliant and athletic young women are being trained to kill their male bosses and, improbably, take control of their companies and fortunes.
It's all based on an elaborate filing system only they can understand.
"It means I can take over when you're gone," Sara later tells Steed, sinisterly.
Sara soon kills another one with a poison dart fired from a tiny bracelet gun, and her colleague Gladys pours poison out of a charm to off yet another. They keep dropping.
Swinging into action, Steed sets himself up as a victim for Sara, while Emma takes a job working for Mary in Sir George's old office and infiltrates the "Keep Fit Classes."
Things only get weird when "Henrietta," the older woman at the head of the room, turns out to be ventriloquist's's dummy who continues to order her "husband" Henry around even when they're the only two in the room.

​Weird and wild.


Feminists Gone Wild

"There you see the splendid beast, naked before you," says a man who makes perfume to Emma, referring to his giant proboscis.
"We're wasting time -- those muscles and sinews are dragging, drooping as we're talking," says Henry to Emma, as he pokes her in the mid-section, before calling the girls back to exercises.
FASHION: It's 11:40 before we even see Emma, and she's painting on a canvas set up in what appears to be Steed's apartment. (The painting is an abstract with just two realistic touches, a bowler hat and a carnation.) She's wearing a patterned jumper with a white front -- uncovered as she paints!
Later, she dons a sleeveless black top over tight patterned slacks with a wide, white,  patent-leather belt. Very hip.
And, in the "Keep Fit" classes, all the girls wear tight, black leotards, revealing Diana Rigg in all her splendor. Emma performs her action scenes in the leotard, as well.
Elizabeth and Sara, off on a mission at 42, both wear tight leather pants tucked into boots.
Emma and Steed, stretched out together on opposite ends of a big couch around 31.
Emma, bending over in the gym, looking backward between her own legs, long hair falling toward the ground, as she spies Mary and Sara conferring. 33:40
Emma thrown into Steed's loving arms 45:50
1. At 14, Steed is jumped, taking a solid shot to the face. The room is dark and, just as Steed can't quite see who's attacking him, the scene is filmed so we can't quite make things out either.
But through the tinted door-glass we glimpse Steed grappling with someone with blond shoulder-length hair (Sara?); then we see a woman (Mary?) slip off her shoe and bash Steed over the head with the heel. He goes down in a heap, and two women saunter off. When he gets his senses back, Steed finds a single charm on the floor.
2. At 32:20, in a Keep Fit class, we see eight women -- including Emma! -- doing karate-chop exercises as Henry chants, "lunge, two, three and lung, two, three..."
Then Emma and Mary sit face to face with arms locked, talking as they do an exercise in which they twist their heads back in forth, in time. Quite exhilarating.
3. Emma's first fight comes at 38:40. As she enters the gym, Mary cries out, "Attack her!" and three women come at Mrs. Peel. She throws an elbow into the stomach of the first one, Elizabeth, then grabs the other two by an arm each and flips them both to the ground.
Elizabeth comes back to grab Emma, but gets a double-chop in the midsection. Then Emma spins her around and locks her in a choke hold. Liz slips slowly to the ground and unconsciousness.
"Excellent, Mrs. Peel," says Mary. "A fine fighting spirit."
4. Later, after being inducted into the "advanced" class, where they learn to kill, Emma hears with dismay Henrietta's instructions: "Sara, take Liz with you and put your technique to work on Mr. Steed."
Sara shows up unannounced at Steed's with Elizabeth -- "Our car broke down!" Steed welcomes them warmly, with an offer of brandy.
When Liz brandishes a gun, Steed shoots her -- with seltzer. In one swift series of moves he knocks the gun away, pulls her jacket down around her arms, deposits her on the ground, places a four-legged stool over her and sits himself on the stool, pinning her helplessly below him.
Then Sara charges Steed, who -- from a sitting position -- blocks a left and a right, then quickly turns the surprised woman across his knee and starts tickling her!
"Now young lady, you're going to talk," he says, smiling as she laughs away. Liz continues to thrash down below, to no effect.
5. We go back to the gym at 43;40, where Emma is being welcomed into the organization.
"What's SHE doing here?" cries out Gladys, the secretary who killed the perfumer with poison and is just walking in the door. She says she saw Mrs. Peel "snooping," when the perfumer showed off his "splendid beast."
Knowing the jig is up, Emma chops Henry and bolts for the door. But it's locked, and two women grab her by the arms, pinning her to the door. Mary walks up -- and barely avoids a kick from Emma.
As the two women tighten their grip on Emma, Mary rears back with her right hand and -- "SLAP!" -- deals a sharp back-hand to Emma's face, sending her head spinning.
Then Mary, reaching her right hand behind Emma's head, grabs a solid mass of hair and -- with the other women two holding her arms -- drags her across the room to Henrietta.
"This sets us a problem," says the dummy. "We've never had to kill a woman before, never one of our own."
As the trap is set for Steed, we see Emma still restrained, her back to the wall and two women pressed tightly against her, one with a silencing hand over her mouth.
After Steed cleverly reveals Henrietta's identity, Emma uses the chance to disarm the machine-gun-carrying Mary. As Henry runs off with a hand-gun and the dummy, all of the women attack Emma.
We hear slaps and punches, and suddenly Emma cries out, "One," and a girl goes flying. She cries, "Two" and "Three," and there go two more girls. They pile up in a heap on the floor.
"It's OK, Steed, I can manage," she says, and Steed -- after a little smile of pride -- goes chasing after Henry/Henrietta.
"Kill him, Henry, kill him," the dummy says.
"Yes, dear," he says, and fires at Steed.
Finishing the girls off, Emma grabs Mary and another woman by hair and bashes their heads together, Three Stooges-style. As they drop to the ground, Emma leans against the wall and takes a deep breath.
She shows up just as Steed shoots Henry dead. The dummy croaks out "Henry... Henry..." as he dies.
A very enjoyable episode, a murder-mystery with a perverted twist set amid a vision of Feminism taken to a revolutionary fervor.
"Because you have been subjugated to men too long," Henrietta tells Emma, explaining why she should join the organization. "Always at his beck and call. Commanded, used, abused, always the slave, never the master. That is the function of this organization, Mrs. Peel, to take woman out of the secretary's chair and put her behind the executive desk. To bring men to heel and put women at the pinnacle of power."
"Twentieth Century Amazons," says Emma.
"Exactly," says Henrietta.
The premise is built on two shaky legs -- a filing system that no one else can figure out, and an inability of British authorities to solve all these killings -- but it doesn't collapse.
The twist of having a dummy at the top of the organization is so wonderfully typical of the series, and Arto Morris as Henry carries it out in truly creepy style. His final, tearful confession -- that he was taking revenge on the businessmen who ruined the career and life of his real wife Henrietta, a ballerina he trained -- is a tour de force, played out to the very end.
Steed reveals the game with a jab of his umbrella handle into Henry's stomach, knocking the air out of him as Henrietta is speaking -- she stops just as Henry doubles over, and the women learn the truth.
"No man will ever dominate you?" he says, mockingly, to the girls. "You've been taking orders from a man the whole time!"
Emma Peel is held up as a Feminist icon today, and success of the "The Avengers" was very much tied to its championing of the cause of the New Woman. Yet it also enjoyed showing a frightening version of Women's Lib gone mad, turning against not only the old male-dominated culture but against men, too. (Mrs. Peel's greatest foe, Miss Peagram, in "The £50,000 Breakfast," was another victim of Feminist over-reach.)
And here, Emma shows first-hand that Feminism used for Good is stronger than that used for Evil. There's a smoldering anticipation for Emma to face off against this all-girl killing squad, and the Action scenes do not disappoint.
It's chilling when Mary cries "Attack her!" and it would have been fun for the three to get a few offensive moves in on Emma before their inevitable defeat. But her choke-hold on Liz is delightful.
Emma's capture is the Action highlight. Though overpowered and outnumbered, she still aims a defiant kick at Mary, who a minute ago was her boss.
The slap is well-played. Sarah Lawrence as Mary delivers a realistic-looking back-hand swat that is accompanied by a loud and painful flesh-on-flesh sound effect. Emma's head snaps back, hair flying, and lolls to the side.
It's a hard, cruel, vengeful move.
Then it is with convincing anger she digs her hand into the dazed Emma's hair and pulls her across the gym. As any aficionado knows, going for the hair is a sign the fight has gotten personal. And so it is here.
Emma was Mary's prized protege, only to betray her -- jeopardizing the organization and making Mary personally look bad.
Killing is normally just part of the job for Mary, a necessary step in the revolution. But killing Mrs. Peel would be a very personal, and enjoyable, thing.
That opportunity never comes. Instead, it is Mary who Emma disarms, and it is Mary whose head is one of two Emma slams together to end the fight. It is fitting that Emma grabs her by the hair to finish her off. Personal, indeed.
Story: 8
Action: 10

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