"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!)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

"The Dove Affair" (ep. 1/12), or "Spy vs. Spy"

As a major-league Solo-phile, I've always found this Robert Towne script, the 11th filmed, to be one of my favorites.  (Since the `80s, that is; I barely recall its first run.)  It's the most Bond-like story of the series.  If you were to trim out the humor -- say, Satine's fear of the kids -- you could imagine this as a Bond novella, with the ace British spy on the run in East Berlin and desperate to get back into the American sector with a microdot.  Here we see, possibly more than in any other script, how Napoleon Solo stays on balance and twists events to his will -- in other words, why he is, and deserves to be, U.N.C.L.E.'s Chief Enforcement Agent.

Bill Koenig mentions in his episode guide that Towne's "Mission: Impossible" movie script contains story elements from "Dove."  An eastern European country, seen at night; someone is dumped off a bridge; the heroes move among diplomats at a party; and the climaxes involve trains.  (I was on Channel_D when it was but a poor downtrodden mailing list, and I do believe I was the one who noted that when the movie came out in '96.)  Of course it's perfectly okay for a writer to cannibalize his own work, as long as he does something different with it, and the Channel train climax of M:I is very unlike the "Von Ryan's Express" flavor here in "Dove."

As we saw in "Iowa Scuba" and "Neptune," the communicator must be linked to the electrical grid for power.  Also as in those stories, Solo's gun is the Mark I Mauser Special, though in the first act he uses a P-38 with long silencer.  Unusually, when he contacts Waverly after Satine dumps him off the Ramar Bridge, he uses the phrase "Open Red Line," then informs Waverly he's on the overseas relay.  Nice touch, that New York is in daylight while Sernia, six to seven hours later in the Balkans, is dark.

The details of the Sernian government, bureaucracy, politics, etc., are well worked out and plausible.  And the Jack E. Leonard-like Thrush, seen in shadow or with his back turned, is creepy.  (Better still, though, if they'd had him seated in shadows in a dark office.) 

There's a misty rain falling at the train station, and Solo's hair is damp.  Nice detail!  His gray suit is damp and wrinkled, too, after his dip in the river.  Where did he get the dark suit, you ask?  Maybe the American ambassador had an aide who was just Solo's size.  Certainly the dark suit, and the dark trench coat we saw in "Finny Foot," work well in this grim, film noir-like atmosphere.

June Lockhart has always charmed me, both when I was a kid and now.  This fell between her "Lassie" and "Lost in Space" gigs.  Though she's too cute to be entirely believable as a spinster, her scenes with Solo on the train are very affecting.  ("Who's going to want to blow open my grave?")  I wonder if Solo ever looked Miss Taub up afterward?

It would be simpler to list the shows Ricardo Montalban wasn't in during the `60s and `70s.  He was a rare thing back then, a successful ethnic actor who didn't anglicize his name.

It's not the same actor -- but doesn't Kirk, the blond teenager with the walkie-talkies, remind you of Eddie Haskell on "Leave It to Beaver"?  The same smarmy passive-aggressiveness that makes you want to smack them both?  "You want my dinner to get cold??!!" I'd have told him I didn't give a damn, and to get that *$%^%*&* walkie-talkie NOW!

You might ask, "What good would a picture of the dove do U.N.C.L.E.?"  Well, with their advanced  microphotography techniques, they could pull up at least half the names of the "countless Thrush agents" and their order of battle in Sernia.  Half a loaf is better than none.

Verdict:  The best pure "spy" story in the first season, and possibly in all four.  The black-and-white photography lends itself to this story perfectly.

Great Lines:
Satine (nervously): "[The teenagers] think I am interesting!"
Solo: "Well, so you are -- I wouldn't deny that for a minute."

Satine: "Are you going to kill me?"
Solo: "Unfortunately I'm a professional.  I can't just because I want to. I have to know why."

Solo (grimly, as the Sernian soldiers surround the train): "Come on, Satine.  It's time to go home."


Clem Robins said...

Dove has always been my favorite MFU

nephew-from-france said...

100% agreed with you on that one. An excellent episode from start to finish.

What does it for me is the unique relation between Napoleon and Satine - this is really the spine of the whole episode and it tends to relegate the rather late feminine intervention in the background, though it is indeed nice and touching.
This relation between those two men has a clear movie model, in its broad nature if not in the particulars ; Satine - played with wondeful charm and ease by Montalban - is to Napoleon what Captain Renault is to Rick in Casablanca : an unscrupulous but rather nice man, who is used to compromise and exercise his power rather mercilessly, but remains able to make the right choices in the end. And, more important, he also has a great sense of humour...
That helps, as all along the episode Napoleon and Satine seem to be sticking to one another like some kind of adhesive tape you can't get rid of. Satine can't kill Napoleon (does he try very hard?). Napoleon can't shake Satine - who keeps reappearing like a jack-in-the-box, quietly and smilingly seated in a train compartment when he was left groggy on the platform with the train leaving; or at the end managing things quietly in a uniform, when he was left in a tight spot, clothed as a civilian who was knocking off people with the same uniform.
This prepares the ground for the finale : Satine does not utter the words about "the beginning of a beautiful friendship" - and indeed, as symbolized by the ongoing friendly feud around the dove, it is unlikely to become ever a simple friendship between those two. But still, the feeling of complicity, with satine waving and smiling to Napoleon, is unmistakably Casablanca-like.
Even THRUSH plays its part to invite the comparison - its main agent, whose fat hands and soft, unpleasant voice are left to convey the threatening character while his face remains in the shadow, is excellently played by Dan Seymour, who played the villain in Have and have not as well as Casablanca. And it would be unfair not to salute as well on this occasion the actors impersonating Prime Minister Earnst and THRUSH-associate Linz - both are utterly convincing.

Benzadmiral said...

Nephew, I have to say, I've never seen the resemblance of this episode to "Casablanca." "Terbuf Affair," yes, and I mention it prominently in my review, but not this one. A very intriguing take on the episode.

We should remember that in '64, "Casablanca" was not yet the super-icon of Hollywood moviemaking it's become. It was a great old flick, maybe more to big movie buffs, but not the icon it is now. So writers like Towne, here, and Caillou with "Terbuf" tipping their hats to the Bogart/Bergman film were way ahead of their time.

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