"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!)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

"The Deadly Decoy Affair" (ep. 1/15)

What a contrast to the seriousness of "Terbuf" or "Dove"!  This, Albert Aley's first aired script for the series (his "Love" had been produced earlier) and the 19th filmed, features Vaughn's special "Let's step out from behind the glass and talk to the audience" intro for the benefit of new viewers.  Like the original "Or is it ordinary?" intro, I hate it.  Something about Vaughn's narrowed eyes, as if he's making fun of the material, and the repetition of "nasty" sets my teeth on edge.  Once we're past that, though, the episode is a delight, full of tricks, clever dialogue, and colorful scenes.

The Chevy that Solo drives is the latest model, a '65, in contrast to the black '64 we saw earlier. This scene features a garage gunfight and Illya's shouted request, "Clip!"  The neatest touch here is that Illya's round, clearly a sleep dart, glances off the Thrush car's windshield and leaves a spray of powder.  And Solo's "We haven't even punched in yet" sets the appropriate light tone -- once the danger is over.

Ralph Taeger later played the lead in "Hondo," a 1967 series based on the John Wayne Western (and excellent Louis L'Amour novel). His Stryker/Westcott is a vivid character, and the friction between him and Solo is fun to watch. Also, Waverly the spymaster shines here, keeping his strategy secret not only from Thrush but from his own men. (Personally I'd be darned annoyed if I found out my boss had kept crucial information from me that could get me killed, but I'm funny that way.)

Whatever the CIA has to interrogate Stryker about, it's clearly dangerous to Thrush. I'd expect the CIA would think of U.N.C.L.E. as the experts on the supra-nation. Maybe the Hierarchy had a finger or three in some Langley pies? Or Director John McCone had a score to settle with Mr. Frame?

Frame the blind mastermind, as played by Berry Kroeger, is an intriguing (if slightly comic book-ish) villain. For those of you who remember "Sky King," doesn't Frame's twin-engine plane remind you of the Songbird?

At the door of Del Floria's, what does Solo mean by his gestures when he tells Stryker, "Be a good boy, please"? Is he reminding Stryker that he, Solo, is armed, and won't hesitate to flick that gun out and use it if Stryker gets out of line?

Illya tells Madame Fleur that he is "Kuryakin of Paris" (shades of the "Return" movie!) and shmoozes her in French. In the dressing room, he acts like a hunting dog, ranging up to the window, then back to Solo, urging him to hurry, pointing out problems. And on the train, he's relentless as he corners the Thrush woman. ("I'll call the conductor!" "Yes, why don't you?")

I'll leave it to others to discuss the "Amish" (or "Pennsylvania Dutch"?) couple. Their lack of a telephone complicates things nicely for Solo.  But what happened to his communicator?  We heard no line from Waverly instructing him to keep radio silence, did we?

The only crack in Westcott's performance as Stryker comes when he and Fran are in the bedroom at the farmhouse. His assignment from Waverly would be to stay with Solo and Illya, making convincing but ineffectual attempts at escape. He'd only want to get away if there was no other way to keep Thrush believing he was the real Stryker.  If he did get picked up by Thrush, as soon as Frame learned that Waverly had delivered the real Stryker to the CIA, Westcott's life wouldn't have been worth a used sleep dart!  Now you could say he was pretending to escape for Solo's benefit, but the blind was down; how could he know that Solo was waiting outside to head him off? Or maybe he was performing for Fran in case she was a Thrush plant? (It would have been so cool if we'd had a scene in which the guys discuss that possibility, and dismiss it. "No, it's not likely. How would Thrush know in advance we would go into Madame Fleur's?")

Apparently Solo and Illya were to deliver Stryker to the hospital all along.  But -- how did Frame know, and know which hospital to staff with his fake doctor?  This, and the fake's knowledge of the "second cousin" pass phrase, suggests that Frame "turned" somebody in U.N.C.L.E.  Solo's first job after this: find and plug that security leak!

Also, Solo says Stryker told him Thrush had the destination "covered."  Now Waverly would never have told the real Stryker about the hospital rendezvous, in case Stryker managed to slip word out to Thrush.  But he might have told Westcott.  So when their prisoner admitted he knew about the hospital, it should have tipped Solo or Illya that he was not the real Stryker.

Peculiarly, here -- and later, in "Brain-Killer" -- a hospital is presented as a spooky, dangerous place, not a source of healing but a den of vicious snakes, ensnaring our heroes not only with Thrush dangers but with hospital bureaucracy. (And this was before HMOs and soaring costs reared their serpentine heads!)
Verdict: A wonderful spy tale, and a good episode to show a potential new fan.

Great Lines:
Stryker (sneering at Solo's inexpensive lighter): "You really should pay your help better, Waverly."

Solo (to Waverly, about transporting Stryker): "Must we deliver him in perfect condition?"

Frame (with relish): "I think Mr. Waverly has made one of his rare mistakes."

Solo (after female squeals alert him that the door he's checking leads to the ladies' changing room): "Dead end --!"
Illya (checking another possible exit): "It's just as lethal this way."


Anonymous said...

A comment about the Amish or Penna. Dutch. Hollywood really had a strange idea about this diverse group of Pennsylvania Germans. If they had a buggy, they were Amish, but then they wouldn't have had electricity either. If they had electricity, they would have been Mennonites, and they would have had a car, complete with black bumper and possibly a telephone. I always cringed at that part. I believe, too that in the 60s, the Amish would have been wary of outsiders.
An excellent movie depicting the Amish is Witness with Harrison Ford, much of which was filmed Lancaster County in Pennsylvania.

Anonymous said...

Watching this I had thought the girl was maybe a Thrush agent. If you think about that it would make more sense in explaining how Thrush knew about the hospital. She followed Solo and told them.The business about the decoy's bug was not explained. Did the real Stryker have the bug and then did Uncle plant it on the decoy? Why risk planting a bug at all? Decoy or not. Here are two alternative solutions that would have solved these problems.

1. The decoy himself was helping Thrush as a double agent. Hence they knew about the hospital and gave him the bug. Explains both facts.

2. He was the real Stryker and Uncle missed the bug. The girl worked with him, and followed Solo and him to the hospital. Both need to be true to cover both facts.

Any thoughts?

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