"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 15, 2010

"The Giuoco Piano Affair" (ep. 1/7)

I never saw this one in first-run or its spring '65 rerun. This Alan Caillou script, along with a similar display of our heroes' brains in "Project Strigas" and "Fiddlesticks," is a blueprint for the kind of snares the Impossible Missions Force would lay for its targets two years hence.

In the opening scene, the U.N.C.L.E. Special Mark II makes its only appearance as a carbine with shoulder strap -- a very logical and necessary addition.

In the data room at U.N.C.L.E. HQ, Waverly kids Solo, giving us a hint that their relationship is slightly more than superior/operative, almost father/son. (Ha! You thought I was going to write "uncle/nephew," didn't you?) More important, when the young agent's voice tape cuts off, Solo and Waverly share a moment of silence for a fallen comrade.

Where in the Andes is Barridqua supposed to be? When I first saw the show, I presumed it was in Peru, but Chile also has resort areas wedged between the Pacific and the Andes. (Santiago, Chile, has a climate much like Southern California's, so having mountain/desert areas of CA stand in for South America works quite well here. In the mountain scenes, the clear hard skies give you the distinct feeling you are indeed at 10- or 12,000 feet.)

However, the aerial map Solo and Waverly inspect has water to its right, as though it were on the east coast of South America. Of course the aerial shot could be of an inland lake or bay -– such as the Golfo de Ancud, a little south of Santiago, and the Golfo de Guayquil, in Ecuador -- but then Solo would refer to the "shore" rather than the "coast."

The famous party scene has been discussed to the point of Extreme Unction.  I’ll merely add that Illya's telling Marion about Ravel and Bufferton (for the audience members who haven't seen "Quadripartite") is sorta clumsy. After all, she knows who they are: their partners almost killed her only a few months back.

This story marks the debut of the Illya we have come to admire and love: the cool, job-focused master of disguise, clearly Solo's equal partner (though the "Machiavellian" plot is all Solo's; Illya says so). Sparks fly in his exchanges with Marion as he tries to enlist her aid, and he has one memorable line. (Marion: "Will we see you [in Barridqua]?" Illya: "Well, I'll see you there.")

I like this Solo/Illya relationship better than the sometimes too edgy, impatient banter we get in later seasons. Here they seem to admire each other's abilities, and we have none of those "I should have known it was you; you were stumbling over your own feet" and "Your smoke signals were almost as illegible as your handwriting" jabs that they toss at each other later.

The carbine Bufferton uses is a "broomhandle" Mauser with shoulder stock -- a gun that might have helped to inspire the attachments for the Special guns. Lt. Manuera has one at the climax, too.

Bill Koenig, on his Episode Guide, has pointed out more than once the central irony of this story, that Bufferton says he will know that Gervaise loves him when she weeps at his grave . . . and then actually hears her weeping over him as he dies from Illya's bullet. This, Bufferton's love for Gervaise and her grief for him, makes them both more comprehensible (though not sympathetic), and gives them a human dimension that borders on tragedy. Antony and Cleopatra, indeed.

What military force is it that backs them up at the climax -- Federal troops of the country they're in? I don't think we ever heard. 

A wonderful tag, with Solo reaching for one "for the road."

Verdict: a fine sequel to "Quadripartite."  With its witty dialogue and clever tricky plot, it's a good one to show someone who's curious about MfU, but not yet a fan.

Great Lines:
Marion: "Two words: Balder Dash!"

Marion (to Solo): "You're nothing but a whirling mass of plots and schemes!"

Bufferton: "Your assurance borders on the arrogant."
Solo: "You know, I used to worry a lot about that, until I realized it only offended people such as yourself."


Unknown said...

This is one I won't actually be re-watching again any time soon. Frankly I just don't like it.

There are stunning visual moments in this one (yacht masquerade scene), no question; and interesting scenes from a dialogue perspective (Bufferton and Napoleon in that outdoor cafe). Yet overall this one just doesn't hold up for me because the basic premise doesn't.

I see no reason on earth either Ravel or Bufferton would want to kidnap silly Marion. She has no relation to what they are involved in at this point and I don't see Gervaise risking everything for revenge on an addle-patted woman with no power to harm her or ruin her plans.

So the whole recruiting of Marion for this caper is incomprensible to me. And thus I can't see anything Machiavellian here at all.

And of course Marion is the a really annoying innocent to begin with, so bringing her back in a story where her place to begin with warrants head-scratching just doesn't cut it in my opinion.

nephew-from-france said...

Two elements are missing to make this a really great episode : a plot that makes sense and good action scenes.
Action scenes as such are seldom a forte of MFU, but those in Giuoco Piano Affair are both particularly tedious and clumsy, especially the final one, with an overlong chase and unthrilling stunts performed by awkwardly obvious body doubles (Ilya's one).
As to the plot we never get any good understanding of which devilishly mischievous plan Ravel and Bufferton are actually pursuing - which makes it a bit hard to believe that they go to such extremes to protect this plan.
Fortunately we do not care too much, as the chess game itself, rather brightly devised, becomes the sole magnet of the story. Both Ravel and Bufferton get an opportunity to show much more interesting and less monochromatic personalities than in The quadripartite affair, where they were ordinary nasty and smirking villains. Antony and Cleopatra is perhaps a heavy coat to put on them, but human they are and as to Bufferton at least - yes, maybe even sympathetic, in his own villainish and doomed way that is.
Last point of detail : with that episode and the previous one (The green opal affair) MFU will not win any prize for early sensitivity to political correctness. In both, local law enforcement officers seem naturally to have very low ethics, any crime money is good for them; and much worse, native people do not fare any better - they are used as the lowest rung of cold and pitiless henchmen.
Though maybe no one should feel really offended : both episodes are supposed to take place in Caribbean regions, but in the previous one Indian hired hands seemed to be directly from the Amazons, armed with blowpipes; whereas in the present one they remind much more of some navajo tribesmen. In both cases, they seem rather far away from their native lands - just mercenaries...

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