"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!)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

"The Girls of Nazarone Affair" (ep. 1/28)

The title of the 27th episode filmed is apparently a pun on the 1961 Gregory Peck WWII thriller "The Guns of Navarone."  Otherwise why such an unusual name for the "lady race-car driver"?  How the pun connects to the story I don't know, since there are no German soldiers, anti-aircraft guns, or impregnable fortresses to be seen -- and the "girls" of the story are Dr. Egret's, not Nazarone's.  It's a lightweight story with some oddly silly moments, but fun.

The first act is quite solid, however.  Our heroes do good detective work examining Lavinia's hotel room for traces of Dr. Kellwin.  "Methylated cobrox" may not exist in our world, but it should.  Cobra venom dissolved in methyl alcohol, maybe?  It just sounds evil.

It's never stated, but was Dr. Kellwin himself the "something heavy" that Solo theorizes was raised from the balcony?  Isn't that a roundabout way to get your hostage out to your car?  And the gardenia vendor was paid off, then killed -- because he saw this?  Some unanswered questions here.

Part of the fun is that Solo and Illya really have to work at the case, having to tramp to garage after garage to track down the solenoid clue.  And they both look rather rumpled and weary, as anybody would after hitting fifteen garages in an afternoon.

Their scheme to retrieve the formula from Thrush is quite clever.  Naturally Dr. Egret wouldn't want a competitor in the market!  But if I were her, I'd suspect Solo and Illya's setup dialogue.  She probably had them sized up as U.N.C.L.E. agents, and would know they wouldn't discuss such matters where there could be microphones.

Transports of Delight: Nazarone's sports car looks like the famed AC Cobra roadster, one of the fastest cars of its time ("Hey, Little Cobra, don't you know you're gonna shut 'em down. . . .").  Mme. Streigau's elegant sedan is a top-of-the-line Mercedes 300SE “fintail," nicknamed that even at the time; Mercedes was aping, however mildly, the fins on American cars.  Very appropriate car for the Riviera.  And Lavinia's new car is the famous Jaguar E-Type or XKE (". . . there were plenty of Sting Rays and XKEs. . . .").  Were they as fast as an AC Cobra, though?  In the driving scenes, both cars look like they've been fired from colossal slingshots.

It occurs to me that even if the resurrection formula didn't work in the long run, Thrush could have sold it on the international black market as a short-term revenue-generating -- and deadly -- swindle.

The silly moments are confined, mostly, to the "fight" scenes between Solo and Nazarone ("You're not being very feminine!") and the girls at the clinic/garage.  Only Nazarone is shown to have super-strength, and both Solo and Illya outweigh the clinic girls and are masters of unarmed combat as well.  Was this supposed to be a startling role-reversal? Or to show how even our heroes would be handicapped by ingrained chivalry?

Solo's "What's up, doc?" to Dr. Baurel makes me wince every time I watch it.  Surely a man with such a gift for sarcasm and drollery as U.N.C.L.E.'s Chief Enforcement Agent could come up with something better than to quote Bugs Bunny?  (I suspect the line is there to round out the routine where he totes the flotation pad in front of him as concealment, which comes straight out of Warner's old cartoons, too.)

Why the squabble at the end?  I mean, Solo, after having reported the loss of the serum to Waverly, is understandably upset with Illya when he finds Illya has concealed the fact that the serum is a failure.   But why does Illya do this in the first place?  Some of the raillery between them (in Fields's scripts especially) is irritating.

Verdict: Not one of the gems of the first season, though it sustains its energy all the way through.

Memorable lines:
Lavinia (to Solo, holding up the Do Not Disturb sign): "Do glance at it from time to time.  Flash cards still work with children of all ages."

Solo (to Nazarone, re: Illya): "Tovarisch, here, always thinks he knows -- "

Nazarone (to Solo, at the clinic): "Signor, I neither know you nor like your face."
(How dare she not like Napoleon's face!  Da noive of some people!)

Solo (to Nazarone): "I am seeking to find out why you are not a mite more chilly than you are. . . .   Seems to me the last time I saw you, you were rather well-ventilated.  By a number of bullets."

Solo (to Baurel, clearing his throat after Nazarone chokes him without breaking a sweat): "What seems to be your patient's trouble?  Malnutrition, loss of energy, vitamin deficiency, or --?"

Illya (dourly, about Lavinia): "Bored, lonesome, and doggedly determined to enjoy every minute of it."

Lavinia (to Illya): "Oh, good.  One of you learned how to knock on a door."

Illya (about Nazarone and her supercar): "How do you suggest I stop that female rocket?"
Solo: "I don't know, maybe you should show her your legs!"

2 comments:

nephew-from-france said...

The first scene with Napoleon and Ilya arriving at the hotel just when Dr Egret and Nazarone depart aptly sums up the philosophy of the episode, if one may call it so :
"I do love the Riviera." "You just like blondes."
Touche! seems to think Solo, who grins approvingly (and later on in the foyer of the hotel he exclaims with some regret "Brunettes!" about another good-looking group.).

So do the euphonic titles of the four acts of the episode : A Batch Of Blondes, Beware Of Blondes, Battle Of Blondes,: Blondes ‘A Bye-Bye. A more appropriate title for the episode would have been The Blondes Galore Affair. Perhaps they thought about it and hesitated about such frankness.

So lightweight the episode is, Prejudices about blondes seem to have been as vivid in the 60s. That might explain the strange weakness of Napoleon and Ilya when they are fighting them : another tongue-in-cheek joke about those blondes, such strong fighters you know, ooh la la. Humor is not flying that high in this episode.

By the way, as to the Riviera : the episode is supposed to take place in Cannes and the first location title announces French Riviera - but the place shown then and in later stock-shots is actually Monaco (better known then as Monte-Carlo, though it is only a part of it), which technically is not French at all, as Grace Kelly, a locally imported blonde, might have objected.

An episode about blondes and cars, one might add - seemingly hard to take apart as the two first subjects of male American fantasies, then and now. So yes, it is ironic that Napoleon and Ilya have to go through so much effort and so many garages in order to find the blondes they are looking for, The obscure, and later unexplained story of the mislaid solenoid part seems to have only this justification : bring in cars, then bring in blondes.

All this blondes and cars stuff has one major drawback - to distract, especially in the very weak second part of the episode, from the potentially interesting argument which is mostly waited - a real pity, as it could have offered the series one of its most interesting and moving stories. It somewhat echoes, especially regarding the clinic and the gruesome fate of Nazarone and her face, an outstanding French film of the early 60s, Eyes without a face (Les yeux sans visage). But it does not take its subject any seriously, therefore neither does the viewer in the end.

And there are many loose ends. The loosest one is the "St Valentine" garage shooting of Nazarone, which makes for a great scene but does not make that much sense. Why would Nazarone submit to such an extreme experience with the untested serum, as there would certainly be a much less dramatic and dangerous way to test its power? Is she that desperate to win the race? (possibly - there is a very wild and posse look in her eyes)
More important still, we are told that it is a healing serum, not a resurrecting one - but from what they have seen, and they should know about those things, Napoleon and Ilya are dead sure that Nazarone has been plain killed, not simply wounded, so it does not seem to square at all. A little explaining there would have done no harm.

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