"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!)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

"The Arabian Affair" (ep. 2/7)

Some argue that scripter Peter Allan Fields knew the characters and format (along with Dean Hargrove and Sam Rolfe himself) best of all the MfU writers.  Unfortunately this one is not a patch on his "Fiddlesticks" or even "Ultimate Computer."  The script as pitched must have sounded terrific, and great whacking chunks of it are quite good, with one of the funniest lines ever in the series (see the last quote below).  Somewhere, alas, it went off the rails.  And those fans who hate it when Solo and Illya work separately wouldn't like this one anyway.

The thing that knocks my inner hamster off his wheel is the "vaporizer" threat.  Now its demonstration, as it turns the desert tribesman into molecules, is impressive.  Unfortunately it looks like a roomful of Mr. Bubble.  Besides, it's a slow weapon; as we see later, it expands less swiftly than a man can run.  How did Thrush plan to deploy it?  Much better, says I, if it had been a real, frightening threat -- say, a biological warfare lab hidden in the desert, where Thrush is developing new, more virulent strains of anthrax, bubonic plague, and influenza.  Then we'd have a real sense of danger.

The grand stuff is the background on Thrush:  the idea that they permanently, uh, "retire" their employees who survive to age 65 is clever.  (Aside from the secrets said employees won't be able to blab, Thrush would save millions in pension funds!)  Solo's plan to find a "nice, retiring Thrush gentleman" is ingenious.

On balance, most of the Solo scenes work quite well.  His bearding Lewin and his wife in their cozy little walk-up apartment, Lewin's fear that the U.N.C.L.E. agent is there to kill them, and his
convincing them of their fate, all click.  Solo's mini-raid on the satrap, however, is the sort of thing that leads Waverly to think Solo's days on this planet are numbered.  Why not just pick Lewin's brain about the deliveries to the project?  That would have led him to the right spot.  (Not as visually exciting, though, is it?  And his use of the exploding watch to blow open the kitchen door is sharp.)

Okay, let's get it over with and move on.  Phyllis Newman is horribly miscast as Sophie, and an Arabian tribeswoman wouldn't be named that anyway.  The fight between Sulador and Illya is spoiled by the silly "Dance of the Flaming Swords" music:  if you mute the sound, the scene is well-done.  On the other hand, Illya gets off some nifty "Taming of the Shrew" remarks; his use of the resemblance between himself and T.E. Lawrence is clever; and he really holds the stage as he narrates the story of "his father" to the tribe.  (How did Illya happen to have this history at his fingertips?  Perhaps he read up on the region in preparing for the mission.  Besides, the movie with Peter O'Toole was only three years back.)  

The tag scene, with Illya the "limping bunny" hobbling away from Sophie, is silly, as are the painted insert shots of Norman's plane.

On balance, the Arabia scenes weaken what could have been a solid episode.  If they had cast a different actress (remember Ina Balin?), and if the script had played it straight to make you believe in these people and their terror of a mysterious death coming out of the desert, it would have worked.

Verdict: Not one to show somebody new to the series. (But the script could have been fixed! It could have!)

Memorable lines:
Sulador (about the wounded Illya): "Look at that leg!"
Sophie: "So we cut off the leg. I sell him as is anyway, half price."

Solo (to Lewin and his wife): "Now, the moment one retires from Thrush, you not only cease to be an asset -- you become a distinct liability. . . .  I'm certain you'll find U.N.C.L.E.'s fringe benefits far superior."

Sophie: "Why did you take that bucket from me?"
Illya (exasperated): "To be polite, you silly little girl!  And before you open that nasty flapping little mouth of yours, I suggest you study up a bit on that trivial amenity called courtesy.  No wonder
you're still unmarried at your age!"

Illya (snapping at Sophie): "Why don't you take that sparsely furnished mind of yours, and go and join the other elderly unmarried women?"

Illya (pretending to be annoyed at Solo): "I should have known who it was when I saw you trip over your own feet."
Solo (fingers Illya's burnoose; lightly): "Gee, I wish I had a dress like that. . . ."


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Wastrel said...

I just started to watch this and Sophie's demand for "a new camel" (which Sulador promised but hadn't delivered) is hilarious, even if in retrospect it seems rather culturally-insensitive (and a big LOL to THAT, too).