"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!


Update, August 2015: Henry (Superman) Cavill and Armie Hammer look good in the official trailer and posters! The Guy Ritchie-helmed movie premieres on August 14th!

(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 29, 2010

"The Cherry Blossom Affair" (ep. 2/10)

As I watched this one, which I hadn't seen since the CBN era, I was positive it was yet another Peter Allan Fields script or co-script.   Clearly Weingart and Yellen were using his best stories as a benchmark.  Tight Joseph Sargent direction, more dry humor than usual, and a plausible danger make for wonderful U.N.C.L.E.

The teaser is a model of "What the heck is going on here?"  In Waverly's office, Solo makes a mighty leap of induction when he concludes the Thrush scientists all come from countries with volcanoes. It would have been better for him to hazard a guess, and then Waverly could nod: "Quite right."  As he did in "Ultimate Computer," Sargent next shows us what they are discussing: Thrush Eastern HQ and their discovery that they have the wrong film.  Then he jumps neatly back to Solo and Illya's briefing.

For the longest time in this episode, however, I was confused as to where we were.  Waverly cautions Illya that "Miss Okasada is leaving for Japan tonight," and thus when we first see her I assumed she was visiting a novelty store in New York.  Later, it becomes obvious that the store is in Japan.  An establishing shot and label, "Tokyo" or "Kiru, Japan," would have been a good idea here.

Just how does Cricket, following Illya's mention of the Ogaki Academy (she's smart!), get into the academy to save Solo?  Wouldn't the Thrushes have locked up behind them?  And how does Thrush get on to Cricket at all -- did she introduce herself at the novelty store, or mention where she worked?

And just how did Waverly get to Tokyo so fast?  Even today that trip would take some ten to twelve hours.  Was Illya held by the cops that long?

Despite such quibbles, and the fact that once again Solo and Illya work separately, there are real dangers, such as the stake pit with its skeletal victim (Illya) and samurai swords sharp enough to slice rope with one pass (Solo).  Cricket, the innocent, has a solid motive for mixing in the adventure; and we have the edgy, ultra-polite dynamic between Thrushes Kutuzov (from Central) and Harada (the local boy, from Eastern).  We see that Solo, despite his sometimes casual air, is no slouch at martial arts (though when the teacher knows his name, he should have been more on guard!).  Harada proves his tactical skill by using the dead man to ensnare Illya with the local police.  And Illya's setting off the firecrackers to get out of the store, and his posing as the A/C repairman, are twin delights.

Beyond all this, like a cherry atop your sundae, we get a tiny warm scene between Solo and Cricket that echoes Solo's heart-to-heart talk with Elaine, way back in "Vulcan."  Hemingway defined courage as "grace under pressure"; here we see it embodied in Napoleon Solo.

You might object that the Japanese police are made out to be buffoons, especially when the captain fires the U.N.C.L.E. Special thinking it a toy.  No racism here, though: There's a long tradition in mysteries of all stripes of having the officials be duller than the hero.  And the point of the scene is to show how cool Illya is, not how dumb the Japanese cops are (and to keep the toy gun in play, so it makes sense at the climax).

Verdict: With fast cuts, neat music ("Boo-Bam-Boo, Baby"), and dry wit, this smart story is vintage U.N.C.L.E.

Memorable lines:

Illya (re: Cricket's job): "Dubbing?"
Solo (helpfully): "Mm-hm.  That's the process where a person from one country says lines on film for a person from another country --"
Illya (briskly): "If there's anything I can explain, don't hesitate to call."
Solo: "I'm glad of that."
(-- In its comic timing, this echoes the endearing babble of Kelly and Scotty on "I Spy")

Kutuzov: "Isn't it the Japanese who say, `The longest journey must begin with the first step'?"
Harada (coldly): "The Chinese."

Cricket (to Illya): "Tell me, Mr. Kuryakin, are you talented in your profession?"
Illya (flatly; no false modesty) "Yes."
Cricket: "Do you know that [the recording engineer] has been listening to everything we have said?"
Illya: "Yes; I put him there.  He's an U.N.C.L.E. agent."
(The look on Cricket's face: priceless)

Solo (tied atop the fast-growing bamboo, to Cricket): "You're just in time for the harvest --!"

Police captain (to Illya in the lineup): "Just one question, Mr. Kuryakin.  Why do you carry two guns?"
Illya: "One of them is a novelty item.  A toy."
Captain (smiles): "Well, of course." (Fires the one in his right hand -- the Special -- shattering glass)
Illya (motionless while the other members of the lineup dive for cover; dryly): "I believe it's the other one."

Illya: "The U.N.C.L.E. is a worldwide organization devoted to the preservation of world peace."
Captain: "Like the Salvation Army?"

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