"No man is free who works for a living . . . but I am available." (-- Illya Kuryakin, "The Bow-Wow Affair")

These reviews/commentaries on the show's 105 episodes originally appeared in slightly different form on the Yahoo! Groups website Channel_D, from 2008 to 2010. If you're new to MfU fandom, these may give you some idea of the flavor of the series, which is still famous and beloved more than 50 (!) years after its premiere in 1964. Enjoy!

News: Decades Channel is running a "Weekend Binge" of MfU episodes on July 2, 2017. Check the schedule here.

(Except where otherwise noted, images are used with permission of the exhaustive site Lisa's Video Frame Capture Library. Thanks to Lisa for all her work!)

Monday, January 25, 2010

"Alexander the Greater Affair, Part I" (ep. 2/1)

Hola!  Wow!

Pardon the exclamations.  It's a reflection of how I excited I was at age 12 (having just passed through the chaos of Hurricane Betsy in September 1965) when the new season of U.N.C.L.E. premiered.

This, Dean Hargrove’s third script and the show’s first two-parter and color episode, is fast-moving, bouncing from New York to Athens, from Alexander’s estate to his rock quarry, and then to a tomb in Minos.  It sports intriguing set pieces like the living chess game and the wild cliffhanger at the end.  To me, however, the color adds life to the sets, but detracts from the plausibility overall by giving the story an almost comic-book aspect.

Alexander’s twin notions, that of conquering the world a la Alexander of Macedon, and also wanting to violate the Ten Commandments, don’t seem to be related.   Alexander wasn’t Jewish (though Alexander was, and is, highly thought of in the Jewish world).  You could say, “Well, Alexander has a goal -- world domination -- and a hobby -- violating the Decalogue.”  But Alex tells us the two plans are part of one whole for him; the second isn’t just a pastime.

That said, the Commandment business provides a good mystery thread.  We don’t see Alexander break all 10.  We see 8 when he steals the will gas, 7 (adultery) and 10 (coveting your neighbor’s wife) are implied with Princess Nicole, and 5 is done, shockingly, when we see how he has dishonored his parents.  In the scene with Tracey in his den, he burns something before a colorful idol, which bears the number 2 above it: With this he’s breaking “Thou shalt make no graven images,” and “Thou shalt have no god before me.”  We can presume Alexander has given false witness plenty of times in his business and private life.  Killing would bring it up to 8.  If he manages to take the name of the Lord God in vain and does it on a Saturday or Sunday, he’s done.

His theft of the will gas from the Army isn’t very convincing (though the machinations of Mr. Parviz, in the footage for “One Spy Too Many,” at least take the Army’s security responses into account).  Even in those long-gone pre-Homeland Security days, wouldn’t they have searched Alexander’s briefcase?  How was he going to explain an oxygen mask and three silvery pressurized canisters -- tell them he had asthma?  Much better if the site had been an independent laboratory, with much lower security.  The Army could have sent along an observer, perhaps a young Army Intelligence officer, who suspects Alexander.  When his superiors say there’s no proof, he goes to U.N.C.L.E.  In Waverly’s office, he could tell them about the theft and show pictures he’d shot with a microcamera, and then we’d be off to the races.

In Tracey’s attorney’s office, Solo handles his gun as if it were a toy or an afterthought.  Worse than that, the script has him draw it at Alexander’s party and twist the flash arrestor into the nose of the unarmed Prince.  Horribly unprofessional.  If nothing else, it would tend to promote an image of U.N.C.L.E. agents as thugs.

David Sheiner’s Mr. Parviz is scary.  You get the impression that he is tightly wrapped, too tightly, and if things get beyond him, like a deep-sea fish brought to the surface, he’ll explode.

Except for Squire Partridge, Alexander is the first antagonist to have been married.  At least I don’t think any of them mentioned a spouse or ex-spouse.  Hard to imagine Capt. Shark having a wife back home in Boca Raton or Vancouver.

“Tranquilizer mist” (in OSTM, “aphrodisiac mist”) set up to spray in Alexander’s boudoir?  Creepy.  Something tells me, if he lived today, he’d have directed one of his chemical companies to develop a proprietary version of roofies.

We see Solo pointedly inspect Mr. Kavon’s limp, from which he concludes that the man’s shuffle means he might have been in prison.  To me it seems more like a limp than a shuffle.  And then Solo tells us that he jammed the firing pin in Kavon’s “revolver” (it’s actually an automatic).  Hard to swallow that, even for him -- for most of the scene his hands are full of flashlight and gun!  Better if Kavon simply reaches into his pocket to find no gun, and Solo draws the little pistol from his pocket and says, “I took the opportunity to relieve you of this.”

My other objection to the cliffhanger scene, and the script as a whole, is that it gives Illya nothing to do.  It’s Solo who checkmates Alexander, recognizes the mineral composition of the tablets, and explains the numbers as relating to the Ten Commandments.  Solo-phile though I be, I think it's silly to have Illya along and yet only let him be Tonto to Solo’s Lone Ranger.

Verdict: Despite plot holes and inconsistencies, it provides our heroes with an appropriately larger-than-life villain and larger-than-life obstacles.  (I imagine Solo murmuring, “They never told us about razor pendulums in Survival School --“)
Memorable lines:
Solo (Gun in hand, slamming open the door to Tracey’s attorney’s office):  “I have an appointment.”

Solo:  “I’m with the U.N.C.L.E.”
Tracey (apologetically):  “Oh, my favorite charity.”

Tracey (gushing over Illya):  “You’re not . . . Count Kuryakin, by any chance? . . .  You must be thirsty after that long flight in from . . . the Balkans, isn’t it?”
Illya:  “From America.  I own a chain of radio stations in Oklahoma.”

Illya (as Solo tumbles into the throne room):  “I see you found your way here safely.”
Solo:  “I couldn’t miss it.  It was the only temple on the block.”

Mr. Kavon (as he and Alexander depart for Washington):  “And you know how awkward it is to get space without a reservation.”

Mr. Parviz (re: the razor pendulum):  “It’s a new steel process.  I get 15 to 20 times more use out of each one of these blades.”


Randy H. said...

I was also taken aback when Solo brandished his gun at a fellow guest. "Thug" is the absolute right description of this. It could have (and should have) been a much more subtle approach.

vintagehoarder said...

First the positive: I loved the entire sequence at the quarry, from Illya knocking out the guard at the gate, through the discovery and rescue of Alexander's parents, to the chase and shootout at the end. The negative: I found parts of the score to be really, really irritating, especially the music played during some of Mrs Alexander's scene. It seemed to signpost , "This is a comic relief character!" in big, flashing neon letters.

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