Agent Carter: The Edge of Mystery/A Little Song and Dance (Review)

This penultimate double serving of Agent Carter, The Edge of Mystery and A Little Song and Dance, keeps the tension high and the subterfuge deep.


This penultimate double serving of Agent Carter, The Edge of Mystery and A Little Song and Dance, keeps the tension high and the subterfuge deep. The comedic pairing of Jarvis and Carter has made way for a large serving of tragedy and Chief Thompson proving that he really is not to be trusted.

It is odd that ABC have opted to do this “times two” delivery of episodes in the days running up to another Marvel series coming back on after its winter break, Agents of SHIELD.   This rush to get through Peggy Carter’s story, which finished on an explosive note  before the end credits ran on A Little Song and Dance,  can only mean one of two things.

This mad pace to end the series, with the finale of Agent Carter airing  one week prior to Agents of SHIELD premiering after its mid-season break,  is either setting up a “tie-in” to the second Marvel series or there is a huge plot point meant to affect the “modern” Marvel verse’s storyline. (These two options are not the same thing, a tie-in is not necessarily a plot point.)

The first half of the second “double feature” (the first duo being Life of the Party  and Monsters with the latter ending with  Wilkes being grabbed up by Whitney, who then shot Ana in the abdomen  before escaping with her old boyfriend Manfredi with the physicist in their car.) The Edge of Mystery begins with Ana in surgery, Jarvis feeling both rage and concern and being hell bent on making Frost pay for shooting his lady love and leaving her unable to have children.

Samberly (played with a magnificent odiousness by Matt Braunger) builds a gamma cannon, using blueprints sent via teletext by Howard Stark, in record time and accompanies the two chief’s; Thompson and Sousa,  along with Jarvis and Peggy to stop Frost from detonating the second atom bomb. 

The calvary arrive too late and the explosion takes place, creating more zero matter. Wilkes is drawn up into the ball of black energy, much to Whitney’s displeasure, and the cannon is aimed  and shot at the ball in the sky, rather than at  Frost.

Samberly queries just what they should do, prior to setting the cannon up and both Thompson and Sousa shout at the scientist, in unison, to:

“Do as Peggy says!”

The gamma ray strikes the ball of zero matter and destroys it.  Jarvis drives down to the test site and as Peggy arrives, shoots Whitney point-blank. Wilkes is lying in a shallow hole in ground and despite the gamma cannon is still alive, as is Frost.

Manfredi arrives and they take Carter and Jarvis hostage so they can force Wilkes to cooperate with Frost. The butler and the SSA agent are knocked unconscious.

Carter and Sousa in a little song and dance number

The second episode on offer, A Little Song and Dance starts with a sequence that has to be a direct nod to the David Niven WWII drama A Matter of Life and Death (aka Stairway to Heaven in the US). A 1946 fantasy that has an airman stranded in a  black and white world while his fate is determined. The presence of Peggy’s dead brother Mike in the sequence seems to make this a certainty along with another “dead giveaway” in that the  character Niven played in the film was named…Carter.

After this sepia interaction with Michael, Peggy then turns up in a very abstract setting of a bar where she bumps into Wilkes, Sousa and Jarvis. After a little song and dance,  the butler appears, attired like Fred Astaire, and he tells her to wake up.  Rose (Lesley Boone) turns up, under the sign of the talent agency which fronts the entrance to the SSA offices in LA, and tells Peggy that the agency has no need of her talents and punches Carter.  This wakes the agent up.

She and Jarvis escape from the back of the van, Thompson and Sousa trick Vernon Master’s thugs into not killing the two chiefs or Samberly. Peggy and Jarvis are almost recaptured and Frost begins attempting to painfully extract the zero matter from Wilkes.

Jarvis and Carter argue in the desert, a verbal sparring match which Peg wins. She then recants her ire when Jarvis reveals that Ana cannot have children due to complications.

Thompson talks Masters into using the gamma cannon against Whitney after Samberly repairs it.  The New York chief (played with greasy abandon by Chad Michael Murray) then goes on to prove that “once a two-timing douche always a two-timing douche.” He double crosses Vernon, Frost and Sousa by having Samberly sabotage the cannon turning it into a bomb. 

When the cannon explodes, it should kill both Whitney and Wilkes (Vernon will have been killed by Frost before the bomb explodes) and pave the way for Thompson to get a seat on the council.

Sousa and Peggy force Samberly to block the signal and as Whitney starts to kill Masters, Wilkes arrives (after turning down Peggy’s offer of help) to explode before the bomb can go off. (Thompson actually forced Samberly to un-block the bomb.)

Wilkes emits an explosive amount of zero matter and now all that remains is for the second season finale to tie things up.  Jarvis, who was sent off to help Peggy by Ana, has not turned up and with the eruption of Dr. Wilkes, it seems all those by the car could be doomed as well.

The season finale of Agent Carter airs March 1 on ABC, tune in to see who survives and perhaps to learn why such a rush to end the second season.

The Trouble with Writing Memoirs

CD cover for The Moon's a Balloon
I remember reading David Niven’s account of issues he faced while writing his “Hollywood” autobiographies. For those who have no idea what I’m on about, the two titles were Bring on the Empty Horses and The Moon’s a Balloon, a compilation of tales, both his own and borrowed, about the Hollywood of old and his time in it. In an interview with someone, he tells of sitting in his garden and being distracted by literally everything. “Oh look! There’s a jet flying overhead…” was just one great example given by the author.

Sitting down and recollecting my own memories of working for Her Majesty’s Prison Service as, to the best of my knowledge, the only “Yank” in the service and definitely the only one with Native American heritage, has been an uphill battle. Not necessarily the remembering, that part is pretty easy, but the documenting has been a bit problematic. Sitting in front of my laptop does not automatically prompt instantaneous recall for inclusion. At night however, just as sleep begins to claim my non-cooperative brain, funny and memorable events from my time at Warren Hill flood in.

From the lad who decided to escape on the day of his release to the day the prison “lost” a youngster who found the perfect place to hide all prance across my mind as I drift off.

I will not lie, there are other events that are not so pleasant, the day I got so angry at the female governor that it seemed a heart attack was imminent. The time “The Hill” lost two wings, both of which had been my work place for years until moving to another portion of the prison, because 7 lads rioted. Almost losing a good workmate and valued colleague in the same riot.

HMP/YOI Warren Hill Front Gate

The year we lost three friends from the staff to the grim reaper within a time span of mere months still haunts me, as I know it does all those who worked on The Hill. This was the one time that I actually cried in front of a prisoner. While explaining that a popular member of staff “will not be returning,” the lad, a “lifer” got angry. “You’re lying Guv!” Choking back the overwhelming sadness I looked the young prisoner in the face and said, “No lad, I’m not.” Tears streaming, I turned and left his cell.

It is not, however, the “bad” memories that make writing all this down so difficult. It is the reliving of all these events, good and bad. The funny recollections make me laugh just as hard now as then and the annoying ones still make me angry. I never intended to work for the prison service. Once I joined, though, it was something that I enjoyed and becoming, self admittedly, addicted to the adrenaline rush that working with juvenile offenders entails. The people whom I worked with, again good and bad, all made the job what it was and the lads we looked after insured there were no dull days at work.

During my interview, one of the then governors who was conducting the Q&A stopped in the middle of the process and said, “I hope you have a good sense of humour. These lads will make you laugh.”

He was right.

However hard the documentation of those days continues to be (Oh look! There’s another hummingbird!) I realize that if given the choice again, I would go back to work for Her Majesty’s Prison Service all over again. Only this time I would opt to not have the heart attack which resulted in my ill health retirement.

6 April 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

David Niven The Man Behind the Balloon by Michael Munn

Published in 2009, this appears to be the last of the biographies about the “grin and tonic” man so loved by many. Sheridan Morley was commissioned intially by Niven’s two sons after his death to write about their father. As he had grown up knowing the two men and had  met David on several occasions throughout his life, Morley was a good choice to be Niven’s first “serious” biographer.

Morley’s effort was titled The Other Side of the Moon and brought up a lot of issues that Niven had left out of his two “biographies” which, as his sons said, were really about other people. A collection of his cocktail anecdotes that had amused his fans and friends for years; David was, if nothing else, a brilliant raconteur both on talk shows and at parties.

Graham Lord then gave us his two pence worth with very little new information but a slightly different point of view in his book Niv. Both men gave more information than was generally known about the actor whose life has been referred to as “Wodehouse with tears.”

Michael Munn says in his introduction to the book that Niv himself came to him in 1982 to “get the facts” straight so that he was not vilified or slandered after his death like his old drinking mate Errol Flynn. At that time David knew he was dying from Motor Neurone Disease; a horrible wasting illness that slowly and horribly kills the afflicted sufferer. Although it was difficult for Niv to communicate with Munn (one of the side affects of the disease is losing the ability to speak clearly) he set Michael in the right direction.

Why Munn? Because he had been a friend and confidant of Niven since 1970; back then Munn was an entertainment reporter just starting in the business. His boss set up a meeting with Niven who was in London promoting his latest film. The two men clicked and a long running friendship was formed.

Munn works pretty well as David Niven‘s last life chronicler. He manages to show the Niven skeletons and shies away from stories already in print by other authors. He even manages to be sympathetic toward David’s second wife Hjordis. Of course he also praised Sheridan Morley’s book (which was really very, very good) and that speaks volumes to me as a reader and a fan of Morley’s writing.

Most people know David Niven as the author of The Moon’s a Balloon and Bring on the Empty Horses. He sold millions of these books that were in reality his “cocktail party stories” and mainly about other people in his life. He told very little of his own life and skated over things he felt that no-one should know or would be interested in.

Niven won an Academy Award for his portrayal of the fake war hero Major who has a fondness for fondling young ladies in the film Separate Tables. He was the second star of Around the World in 80 days (the first being the actual film according to him) and either one of the most unappreciated character actors in the business or the most overused. It was said that a lot of producers wanted him in their horrible films because he could add class to the drivel they were selling.

He was a favourite on the talk show circuit. He seemed to have a never-ending reservoir of funny tales to tell. Often they had originated as someone else’s story, but Niv had a good “ear” for stories and he often “borrowed” them and polished them up for further audiences delight. The people he borrowed the stories from never minded as Niv could tell stories like no one else.

While quite a lot of the anecdotes he related in both his books have been refuted or at least had their veracity questioned, Niven was the first Hollywood star to write a book himself  that ran so long in the number one best-seller spot. He was a remarkable man and a much better actor than he was ever given credit for. He continued to work until it became physically impossible for him to do so.

Unfortunately a lot of his films were dross. Made for the money or made because of the great “chums” he would be working with. Ironically the last really great performance he gave was in a film Paper Tiger where he played a variation on his Oscar-winning Major in Separate Tables. A phony war hero who makes good by the end of the picture; it is a brilliant bit of work and stupidly difficult to find. The irony was that he hated making the film and was not his usual cheerful self during filming.

A scene from Separate Tables. Niven with one of his best chums, Deborah Kerr.

David Niven was a man who wanted to entertain people, whether it involved acting or just being an eternally cheerful chap who told the most glorious and funny stories; he wanted to be liked. Most folks who came into contact with him did like him; especially women.

That he was a man addicted to sex is beyond question. He was incapable of remaining faithful to one woman. Even the love of his life, his first wife Primula (Primmie) was not able to stop his insatiable sexual appetite for the opposite sex. David himself felt no real guilt about these extra marital dalliances. In his mind, he loved Primmie (and later Hjordis) and that was what mattered. He really felt that the sex with other women he did not love (and this included prostitutes) was not of any consequence.

Munn himself never understood Niven’s viewpoint and it puzzled him. But one does, after all, have to remember that David’s first sexual experiences were with a prostitute, the infamous Nessie, who he fell madly in love with at the tender age of 14.

Niven’s life was unbelievably sad and tragic; it also seemed to be riddled with “bad luck.” He was just beginning to become a star when the Second World War broke out and he rushed home to sign up to a country who did not want him. He then went on to work in a specialized unit. This unit’s “secretive” role haunted him for the rest of his life.

I suppose that Munn’s book gives a fairly good insight as to what made Niven tick. Sadly, a lot of “truths” that are brought to light only make his life seem more tragic. Niven was a wonderful entertainer, a more than capable actor and a pretty damn good writer. It is sad that this revealing book is the last word on his character.

I would recommend reading Michael Munn’s revealing book, but only after reading Sheridan Morley’s and Graham Lord’s sympathetic and fond recounts of his life. Munn is not less sympathetic and perhaps even fonder, but as I have said, with Niven’s cooperation and blessing the cat was let well and truly out of the bag on the details of his life.

David Niven (b March 1, 1910 – d July 29, 1983)

The Oscar’s: Ego’s “R” Us

With all the usual hype and build-up to the 85th Oscar Academy Awards, I suddenly realised that, unlike the ceremonies that I watched growing up, I did not care at all about the upcoming event.

I used to love the Oscar ceremony. The Academy Awards with all its pomp and circumstance kept me glued to the telly for the entire show. I saw my first “streaker” on the Academy Awards and learned that David Niven really was that funny when he quipped, “Now that chap will only ever be known as the fellow who showed the world his shortcomings on national television.”

When I used to watch, Bob Hope was the eternal master of ceremonies and each year a wealth of jokes about his being passed over for the little golden man were trotted out for the audience’s enjoyment. There were some great moments in the “old days” of the show.

I saw John Wayne moved to tears when he got the nod for True Grit. I saw a very young Henry Winkler telling the world about how excited he was and how star-struck he felt. I watched Clint Eastwood forced to “stand-in” for Charlton Heston; fumbling along until Moses showed up and took over. I also watched Sally Fields exclaim (in a statement that has had the eternal mickey taken out of it ever since) “You like me, you really like me!”

I watched Sir Richard Attenborough give his thank you speech where he talked for what seemed like hours. I also saw the resultant microphone cut-off that the producers of the show introduced after his mammoth acceptance speech. I saw  Elizabeth Taylor get flustered when the above mentioned streaker dashed across the stage (or should I say flashed) during her relay of that category’s nominees.

Mega-Star Taylor creasing up at the streaker. Later she couldn’t concentrate on the auto-cue.

I used to go and get a snack and use the bathroom when the live Broadway show of the moment came on and the other live acts that turned the Awards ceremony into a “variety show” came on. But I loved the awarding of the lifetime achievement awards.

I loved everything about the show, even its awkward (if I chose to watch them) live acts; even when Bob Hope ceased to be the master of ceremonies and was replaced by, among others, Billy Crystal.

Then I got older and began to notice things that I’d missed before.

I realised that actors “got the gong” for films that just were not that great. Other actors never got nominated for outstanding performances or never won when they did get nominated. Films won best picture that were not the best picture by any means. Horror films, screwball comedies, science fiction and a few other film genres were never acknowledged by the Academy’s committee.  Steven Spielberg had to make Schindlers List to finally get the bald golden chap.

Films with “a message” always beat out films that were just damned good entertainment. Your chances of nomination went up with how popular you were. But most obvious were the winners who should have won the year before for an outstanding performance, film, score, et al; who were then nominated for and won the year after for a performance that was nowhere near as impressive. Guilt awarding, I call it.

The other type of award was the Outstanding Lifetime Achievement award (which as I said I used to love) these were usually handed out to someone who had been snubbed by the committee for the entire length of their career. Usually trotted hurriedly out when it appeared that the recipient was about to die or, if the timing was off, just after they had died.

I began to realise that the Oscars were not about merit or excellence. It was about egos and agents and publicity and managers who could splurge for the biggest campaigns for their clients. It was a popularity contest. If your peers liked you and, more importantly, liked your political stance you were almost a shoo in.

Liberals were the fair-haired children of the business and right-wing “hawks” were not. Unless you were NRA hawk Charlton ‘Chuck’ Heston whom Hollywood has always equated with God. After all Charlton played Moses for Christ’s sake, you can’t mess with Him.

Moses, I mean, Charlton Heston.

I think the honest humour that used to be present in the ceremonies has disappeared. They all seem to take themselves entirely too seriously. Maybe it’s because the “funny men” have changed or stopped caring. When the actor Chills Wills took out an entire page in Variety to plead his cause for winning the Oscar the ad said:

 “We of The Alamo cast are praying harder than the real Texans prayed for their lives at the Alamo for Chill Wills to win the Oscar.” “Cousin Chill’s acting was great,” he wrote, signing, Your Alamo cousin.” Another ad read: “Win, lose, or draw. You’re still my cousins and I love you all.”

Comedian Groucho Marx, wrote back: “Dear Mr. Wills. I am delighted to be your cousin. But I voted for Sal Mineo. *courtesy of*

Admittedly a somewhat “tasteless” lapse of judgement on Wills’ part, but a damned funny response from Groucho; but the Oscars have grown up and become more cynical, more about the money and the highbrow idea that these people are more than just talented performers, they are royalty and way above mortal men.

When I became older and more cynical, I began to realize that, just as they don’t make actors like they used to, the business itself has changed. Oh not the money bit, it has always been about the money, but the overtly political overtones have become unwatchable.

The cut-off microphone isn’t the only control that has been placed on the show; they also limited the amount of time that acceptance speeches could last. The televised proceedings have been shortened to show what “they” deem important. Lesser categories (foreign films, documentaries, et al) are not shown at all, except in a quick “credit” recap at the end of the show…if you are lucky.

For me, the magic has gone from the event. They might as well change the name to Ego’s “R” Us. It is all about who has the biggest ego and pocket-book to match. It stopped being about talent and the virtue of a single outstanding shining moment, if indeed it ever was about that to begin with.

The laughter of the audience (filled with the crème de la crème of Hollywood) looks forced and the comedic “in-jokes” have lost their ability to be really funny. When the event becomes more about who has been chosen to be the master of ceremonies; or who is wearing what on the red carpet, and less about the films and actors who have been nominated, it’s time to stop watching.

I’ll just wait to read the list on the internet of who won and who didn’t. Because I don’t believe in the integrity of the award any longer and cannot be bothered to see egos catered to and the audience talked down to. I also don’t want to be overwhelmed by the Botox brigade of new surgically enhanced actors who believe that the secret to a great performance is having the least amount of facial movement possible and big boobs, or a six-pack.

If you watch the show, enjoy it if you can. I’ll probably be watching a film instead; preferably one with the Duke in it.

The Duke’s acceptance speech.
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