For Balladeer’s Blog’s review of the very first episode of this 1971-1973 series about London by Gaslight detectives from both the Victorian and Edwardian Ages you can simply click HERE
Episode: THE SECRET OF THE MAGNIFIQUE (February 19th, 1973)
Detective: Mr J.T. Laxworthy, created by the incredibly prolific Edward Phillips Oppenheim. The first Mr Laxworthy story was published in 1912.
Comment: In J.T. Laxworthy’s adventures he wasn’t so much a rival of Sherlock Holmes as a detective, but more in terms of the handful of Holmes stories in which he served as a spy. However, while Holmes was motivated by patriotism, Laxworthy was largely interested in the money he could make from his espionage activities.
Synopsis: The enigmatic but well to do Mr J.T. Laxworthy (Bernard Hepton) recruits two men fresh out of prison – the handsome and smooth conman Sydney Wing (Christopher Neame) and the brawny safe-cracker & thief called Anderson (Neil McCarthy).
After a six-month period in which the two ex-cons acclimate themselves to their restored freedom AND refine themselves into useful agents for Laxworthy, the trio kick off an illicit operation on the Cote d’Azur.
From there the story unfolds almost like a caper movie set during the Belle Epoque. Laxworthy, Wing and Anderson (NOT a law firm) involve themselves in a scheme to steal torpedo plans from the French warship Le Magnifique.
A traitorous French spy, the Marquis Lefant (Gary Watson), has mounted a rival operation involving two recruits of his own. Those recruits – Madame Bertrand (Mitzi Rogers), a beautiful widow and adventuress, and Freeling Poignton (Bruce Boa), a bombastic American millionaire.
Madame Bertrand has seduced the Magnifique‘s Admiral Christador (John Nettleton) into an affair and through him she hopes to obtain an all-access pass to the warship, the better to steal the torpedo plans. The tycoon Poignton was recruited by the Marquis Lefant to finance the operation, including bribes where needed.
The new torpedo plans are supposedly so advanced that the projectiles can be launched from land and travel for miles, thus eliminating the need for France to keep up in the expensive international battleship race.
The Marquis has misled the naive – even delusional – millionaire, an ardent pacifist, into believing that the new torpedoes can end war forever if the plans are stolen for him. He can then use his fortune to finance such torpedoes for every nation, supposedly making war impractical and ushering in an age of peace. A “Pax Poignton” as the egotistical plutocrat fancies it.
The French spy is lying, of course. The newly designed torpedoes are state of the art, but are certainly not capable of the science fiction deeds that the blustering American has been conned into believing. Lefant plans to exploit the millionaire’s delusions by having him foot the bill for his spy operation’s expenses, then will simply turn over the stolen plans to France’s rival Germany for a large fee.
As the two competing trios feel each other out and try to outmaneuver each other, romantic sparks fly between Sydney Wing and Madame Bertrand, further complicating events.
Meanwhile, J.T. Laxworthy hopes to foil Lefant’s larcenous plan and also extort money from the Marquis and his millionaire patsy.
Viewers expecting a mystery to be solved will be very disappointed. Those expecting a slick caper tale may find a so-so example of the genre, but anyone in the mood for a riveting spy story will not be entertained by The Secret of the Magnifique.
The problems with this episode start with the lead, since Bernard Hepton is just too bland and unengaging as J.T. Laxworthy. Ironically, the 1970s Jeremy Brett, a decade before he turned in the definitive portrayal of Sherlock Holmes, might have been a sensation as the supposedly cosmopolitan mastermind Laxworthy.
Hepton just fades into the woodwork, sabotaging the reasonably watchable performances of the other players and dragging down the overall quality of this episode. +++
I’LL REVIEW ANOTHER EPISODE SOON.
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