"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!)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

"The Four-Steps Affair" (ep. 1/21)

This one is hard to assess because, as we all know, it was an "envelope" story written to make use of the additional footage shot for "Vulcan" and "Double" to create the films "To Trap a Spy" and "The Spy with My Face," respectively. When the episode aired, the U.S. release of those films was still a year in the future -- so that when viewers saw "Four-Steps" in February '65, they were looking at a completely new episode.  Of course "Star Trek" did the same thing two years later, incorporating pieces of the first pilot into their only two-parter.  Here, however, the segments integrate well with the U.N.C.L.E. series as established in the first 20 episodes.  Unlike "Trek," there's no tremendous disconnect between the look and feel of the earlier footage and the footage shot for this one. (Yes, my children, we'll discuss Robert Vaughn's change of hairstyle in the proper place.)  Writer Peter Allan Fields did a top-notch job melding the pieces into a whole.

"Four-Steps" (why the hyphen?) hangs together well and is an exciting spy story with tricky plot switches, deft dialogue (in the "To Trap a Spy" pieces especially), humor, and an unusual Innocent.  Oddly for this late in the season, Solo and Illya have only one exchange of dialogue. It's also neat in that the action, aside from the tag, all takes place in one night.

I want that Lincoln Continental ragtop Solo drives; it's one of the most beautiful cars ever made.  Nowadays, though, a car that gets 10-12 mpg is none too attractive.  Could I just park it and sit in it?

Solo’s line, "I shall retreat to the other room discreetly," while I know it was inserted because of the censorship of those days (couldn't have Solo and Angela actually tuning up for sex, could we?), makes me wince.  I can't imagine anybody saying that who wasn't born in 1890.

Okay, let's deal with it and move on.  During the Angela sequence, Solo's hair is in its right-parted, brushed-back style.  Then, back at HQ, he carefully parts his hair on the left and combs it into the "Napoleonic" style we've become accustomed to.  Now this might seem kind of silly -- in the middle of a dangerous case, during which his friend Illya has been taken by Thrush and Waverly is waiting for his report, he pauses to rejigger his hair?  Well, I'd rather this character touch (he even murmurs a cha-cha beat to himself) than simply presenting us with the change in the second half of the story and assuming we'd never notice!  Besides, isn't this part of the essence of U.N.C.L.E., as Dr. Cindy Walker has said -- extraordinary people doing ordinary things?

Solo and Waverly's trick to get Kaza to lead them to his lair is quite a shock when you first see it.  Kaza is no stranger to gunning people down; note how he pauses before going through the window, waiting to see if his victims move.  A real pro, now, would have made sure to deliver a coup de grace shot to each of them before he left.  On the other hand, Solo was betting Kaza would be in a hurry to escape.  Or it was Waverly's bet; which one do you think devised the scheme?

When Solo hands the unconscious nurse back to the hospital staff, his "Hi, there" wastes a chance for a memorable line.  How about "Hold this for me, will you?"

Illya's scenes with the young Lama are winners.  Illya speaks to Miki as if he were an adult, albeit a na├»ve one, and this (along with the boy's serene, mature manner and dialogue) sets up the wonderful and very human scene with the bubble gum.  ("You did not fail me?"  "I did not fail you.")

"Kit" Kittredge is a southpaw; twice we see him fire his Special with that hand.  Yet his holster is the standard right-hander's model, hanging below his left armpit.  Oops.

Also, I believe the machine gun Solo totes and uses at the mansion is a Schmeisser.  One wonders why Command agents would use the almost 30-year-old technology of the German machine pistol, instead of the carbine-fitted Special on full or semi-auto.

Verdict: An exciting story.

Memorable lines:
Solo: "I have a nervous grandmother back home in Topeka, Kansas.  I'm afraid I've inherited some of her genes."
Angela: "Oh, are you from Kansas?"
Solo: "Of course; isn't everybody?"

Angela (watching Solo probe within her closet with the sword): "And I imagine that every time [your nervous grandmother] entered a room, she would look through the closet just to make sure nobody was hiding there?"
Solo: "Of course not.  Why would she do a crazy thing like that?"

Angela: "What would you like me to change into?"
Solo: "Anything . . . but a boy."

Illya (to the young Lama, who has just discovered that his guardian plans to kill them): "So, my little friend.  Now you learn even more of the ways of men."


Unknown said...

I liked that Napoleon took the moment to re-style his hair. It seemed a natural moment to me. And of course it did make the proper segue for the changed part.

You know though I always wondered why no one ever comments on that "Are you from Kansas?" "Isn't everybody?" exchange between Angela and Napoleon. It is such a wonderful little take-off on Dorothy's line in THE WIZARD OF OZ: "Toto, I don't believe we're in Kansas anymore." The whole idea being "normal" or "everyday" folks are from Kansas, whereas spies are never that, they only pretend to be while actually inhabiting Oz.

Darci said...

I wonder if the title refers to four-step dances? https://mywebspace.wisc.edu/crusbult/web/ballroom/index.htm lists examples like the foxtrot and swing.

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