"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!)

Friday, January 22, 2010

"The Brain Killer Affair" (ep. 1/23)

What a difference a week makes! This, only the third episode filmed and the second in regular production, was held back to this late in the season, I've read, because Sam Rolfe disliked it. Compared to last week's "See-Paris-and-Die" (and several of the episodes to come), "Brain-Killer" is rather grim and film-noirish, almost as if it belongs to a different series.

The grim flavor has advantages, mainly in atmosphere. As in "Deadly Decoy," a hospital -- here, the Hobart Clinic -- is painted as a spooky, dangerous place where patients are helpless before their doctors' mysterious knowledge, and assassins masquerade as healers.  One wonders if the writers of these episodes, or Rolfe or Felton, once had a poor experience in a hospital.

All sorts of clues -- the small Mark I Mauser Special (especially toylike in Roosevelt Grier's huge hand), the shoulder holsters on the Section II men, Solo's shorter hair, and the general lack of humor -- point to a time when the production people were still feeling their way. That said, I sort of like the notion of a "bullpen" where the Enforcement guys hang out, something like the squadroom in Ed McBain's 87th Precinct stories.

The moment at the club when Waverly chokes, and Solo whips out his Special and announces, "All right, I'll take care of this," is clumsy.  Drawing the gun: fine.  Announcing that he, Solo, is in charge: completely unnecessary.  Also, at the clinic, he actually expects Dr. Tower to be willing to shoot to protect Waverly?

At the club, Solo is leafing through a large-format magazine, the size “Life” and “Look” used to be. So I zoomed in, then Googled. The second article Solo is perusing, “A Wolf in the Family,” appeared in the October 12, 1963 issue of “The Saturday Evening Post.”  So, in U.N.C.L.E.’s universe, this story begins no earlier than the date that issue came out, ca. 10/6/63 -- though it could be much later, given how discarded magazines can stack up in places like salons and clubs.

Cecille and Niels's loft is quite creepy, with all those mannequins posed like frozen people.  So is Illya's tone of voice as he reports to Solo that the waiter is beyond the reach of earthly justice.

The appearance of Mr. Samoy (Abraham Sofaer) from Calcutta is important.  It shows us that U.N.C.L.E. is worldwide and not only staffed with Americans.   More important still, his statement that Section I and Section II forces "have pledged [their] lives" and have sworn an oath to accomplish the Command's mission resonates with the viewer -- something I wish the show had followed up on in other stories.

In that same scene in the loft, Mr. Samoy appears to be checking out Cecille's figure.  Not that I blame him.

Take a look at Cecile's shopping list once Solo has promised her the $1000. In a cute character touch, she misspells "champagne"!

In the '80s, CBN cut the sequence where Solo is in the emergency room while they try to revive Waverly (nice use of dissolves to show the passing of time), and where he meets Dabree.  Without that, the moment when Cecille mentions the good doctor in Act III would come out of nowhere.

When did Solo get his gun back from Dr. Tower?  Or did he just draw another one from the armory?

The clinic nurse watches as David zings Illya with the trance pistol, which suggests she is in on the scheme.  Yet when Solo shows up she doesn't warn Dr. Dabree.

Personally I think the Schmeisser-toting David and the other Thrush would have ventilated Illya's hide without any trouble; all he had protecting him were stair rods. I've have liked it better if Illya had sprayed bullets at them with his gun on full auto.

The elevator sequence is exciting and edgy, and I love the moment when Solo, gun in hand, kicks open the door to the treatment room.  Both are very Bondian.  Unfortunately, the payoff -- Cecille hopping to the control board and switching on the mind machine with her nose (or maybe with her boobs) -- is hard to swallow.  True, she watched while they set the process up -- but how would she know which switch energized the machine?

Elsa Lanchester's Dr. Dabree is one of the most memorable villains of the series; it's a shame she never got to make the return appearance the final scene sets up.   Imagine a script about a Thrush power struggle in which Vincent Price's Victor Marton (“Foxes and Hounds”) battles Dabree for a Council seat.  There'd have been no scenery left for anyone else to chew . . . and we'd have loved it.

Verdict: Despite some clumsy moments, an intriguing and subtle idea (that of "half-killing" crucial people by tinkering with their higher brain functions) is generally well executed. James Goldstone's direction (shooting up through the glass tabletop and down from the ceiling) is imaginative for the time, too.

Memorable lines:
Cecille: "Thrush?"
Solo (grimly): "An organization with one simple ambition in this world: to dominate it."

Dabree (with mad relish): "And before we are finished, we shall have ground U.N.C.L.E., along with Mr. Waverly, into the mud beneath our heels!"

Dabree (recuperating in bandages and splints after her fall down the elevator shaft): "I shall make Mr. Solo pay his pound of flesh."

Waverly: "You didn't drop by to ask about my health?"
Mr. Samoy (jovially): "Good heavens no! Let me assure you, my dear Alexander, if [your being captured] happens again, we shall simply dust off our hands and let them keep you!"

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