"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 29, 2010

"The Children's Day Affair" (ep. 2/12)

When this first aired, your intrepid correspondent had the measles, and spent the two weeks before Christmas 1965 in bed or on the living room couch.  But miss U.N.C.L.E.?  Jamais, mes enfants! This pleasant Dean Hargrove script has some tense sequences and darker edges, with the most warped villain duo since the Partridges in Season One, and builds to an exciting climax.

For the second week in a row, Solo and Illya drive a Mercedes.  Carlo Ferenti's loaner is a 190SL, the little 4-cylinder stablemate of the famous 300SL sports car with the "gullwing" doors.  Peculiar, however -- there's no windshield!  The posts are there, though.  Did the crew remove the glass to avoid reflections as they filmed?  Huck's car in Act III, I think, is an Aston-Martin DB2/4, of an older vintage than Bond's car in "Goldfinger"; anybody know?

Let's get right down to it.  Mother Yvonne Fear and Captain Jenks are deliciously twisted, with a complex relationship that would delight any abnormal psych student.  Jeanne Cooper's Mother Fear, as her name implies, has a dual nature.  She controls the men and boys at Ecole Figliano with an iron hand, thus "Fear."  With Jenks she is maternal, nurturing, soothing his little rages, cheering him on; and it works.  Jenks is effective and organized, able to set up the plot to kill the Section One leaders and the trick to find out where the conference is being held.  Creepily, when he refers to his earlier headmaster posts, he mentions "brutality trials" -- plural!  (We see, too, that Jenks doesn't only think of Yvonne in a maternal role. . . .)

As for Yvonne herself, I get the impression that even if Illya had told her the new conference location, she'd still have given him, and her strap, a workout.

Ricardo, the little hellion on the train, is a Thrush recruit, which fits with the acid-loaded "toy" gun.  Was it a prize for passing his tests for the school?  I retroactively demand a 9mm Luger for doing well on my SATs!

Susan Silo's Anna Paola is charming and refreshing: "To tell you the truth, I cannot stand children!"   It's hard to cite another fictional character who admits it, even today.

The entire "Solo vs. the nerve gas on the model trains" scene is a model of how to drive an audience right out of their collective skulls.  Film students should study it carefully.

In-jokes galore: The name "Captain Jenks" may be a nod to an old bluegrass tune, "I'm Captain Jenks of the Horse Marines/ I feed my men on corn and beans/ And often live beyond my means . . ."   Jenks's "Operation Penrod" refers to Booth Tarkington's 1914 novel about, you guessed it, an eleven-year-old boy.  And I know you caught the names of the blond Thrushes, "Tom" and "Huck."

I wish Illya had simply shot Mother Fear at the climax.  The cake bit, and Anna's gosh-awful, predictable line, just don't work for me.  If the story has a real flaw, it's the cutesy scene at the end.   A much darker ending would have brought out . . . well, let's have Solo and Illya tell us:

Illya (quietly): "Napoleon."
Solo: "Hm?"
Illya: "Has it occurred to you that those boys . . ."
Solo: "Yes?"
Illya: "They have been schooled at a most impressionable age in Thrush methods, Thrush lessons in sabotage, in terrorism, in assassination . . . in the culture of Thrush, if you will. Thrush is now their 'family.'  It may be impossible to rehabilitate them. There will always be something in them that will respond when Thrush calls.  And when they are old enough . . ."
Solo (after a long moment): "Let's just hope that if that day comes, Illya, you and I won't be out here in the field to deal with it."

Verdict: A fun story that could have provided a springboard for the "Return" movie.

Memorable lines (Illya shines this week):
Illya (reporting to Waverly): "There's not even an out-of-place elf in the forest."

Anna Paolo (to Solo, about Ricardo): "They say there is no such thing as a bad boy, and that is what I keep telling myself. Over, and over, and over."

Illya (to Capt. Jenks): "This school of yours is quite an innovation.  I imagine the class reunions would be quite fascinating."

Illya (levelly, to Mother Fear): "I must warn you, I don't have any guilt feelings for you to prey upon."

Mother Fear (as Jenks caresses her with his riding crop): "Not in front of the children --!"


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