"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!)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

"The Odd Man Affair" (ep. 1/29)

Here we are at the end of the first season, which has given us some of the 1960s' best hours of TV.  It seems odd to us now, but the season doesn't end with a cliffhanger (that tradition, I think, began with the "Who Shot J.R." storyline on "Dallas" in the 1980s).  Instead we finish with a spy story from the writer of "Deadly Games" and "Mad, Mad Tea Party," featuring one of the most interesting Innocents -- at least in part because he's not really innocent.

We open with an exciting sequence on the plane.  (Strange, but of the last five episodes, four have featured Illya on his own in the opener.)  The sequence gives us a glimpse of a vanished time when you didn't hate flying, because it was comfortable and pleasant.  When Raymond shoots the flight captain and the passenger screams, that should be enough for Illya to spring up; but he doesn't move until Raymond has seized the stewardess.  And oddly, the explosion blasts only outward and not into the passenger compartment . . . but this sets up the delightful shock of Illya nearly being sucked into space.

Mr. Zed, who seems to be into nuclear explosion porn, is played by Ronald Long, whom I recall from one of Stan Freberg's live Sunsweet prune commercials of this time period.  ("They're still rather badly wrinkled, you know." "Today the Pits -- Tomorrow, the Wrinkles!  Sunsweet Marches On!")

This is one story that could have used a few more scenes.  Albert Sully's apartment, with its stacks of newspapers and its TV with rabbit ears, perfectly suggests the dull lonely life of its occupant, as played by Tony winner Martin Balsam.  Yet I still wish we'd had a scene in Waverly's car on the way to Sully's, in which Waverly fills Solo and Illya in on Sully's background.  We gather, eventually, that he'd done assassin work for the OSS, and had been a Command field agent before his Inactive Files desk job.  But the summing-up given us at the end by Solo and Illya ("Men like Sully are only really alive," etc.) comes so late that Sully's determination to continue as Raymond seems strangely quixotic until we get that explanation.

The story also foreshadows today's world of terrorism.  Of course there were fascist and Communist terror organizations then; see "The Day of the Jackal."  And Waverly mentions that Raymond's group (far-righters, I suppose, if they were so opposed to alliance with the "far left"?) used plastic explosive "very successfully in their campaign to bring down the government of France."  Does this mean they were successful in spreading terror, or successful in toppling the ruling clique in France?

Yeah, I Had to Look It Up Dept:. Sully's book, "La Chartreuse de Parme" ("The Charterhouse of Parma") is an 1839 novel by Stendhal.  There's an in-joke with it: According to Wikipedia, the novel's early section is largely focused on the young hero's quixotic effort to join Napoleon when he returns to France in 1815.

Doesn't cat's cradle seem an odd game for two grown men to play?  Why not cards?

Clever of Sully to realize that Solo stuck him with a homing pin . . . and cleverer of Illya to put in a backup.  But why would it take fifteen minutes for Solo and Illya to explain to the customs agent?  A flash of the ID cards and a quick explanation should have done it in less than five.  And isn't "nine-seven degrees" slightly south of east, not west?

Why, too, does Mr. Wye (note how manfully I'm resisting making puns here) give Sully-as-Raymond the pointer to the nightclub, which will lead him to the meeting?  If he thinks the fellow with the blue button is Raymond, the last thing Zed would want Wye to do is steer him to the meeting!  Of course, Raymond was supposed to be dead, so Wye must have assumed this was someone else (though, oddly, Ecks recognizes "Raymond").  And how does Miss Watson know who Wye is?  Does she still skirt the fringes of extremist groups in between compiling quarterly accounting reports?

Illya seems very concerned for Solo when Wye shoots him on the bus.

Illya in trench coat and glasses prefigures Michael Caine as Harry Palmer in "The Ipcress File" and other films.

Verdict: Less a story about Solo and Illya's mission and more about the Innocent, Albert Sully, it's a fast-moving spy tale, the black-and-white photography echoing 1940s films.  (But why the title? Could Albert be considered to be an "odd" man?)

Memorable lines:
Illya: "When Raymond was getting on the plane, I took the precaution of removing his wallet."
Solo: "In other words, you picked his pocket."
Illya: "If you prefer such a bourgeois description of an act of pure presence of mind."

Solo: "Don't play Uriah Heep, Sully.  It really doesn't become you."

Illya: "I have a hunch someone packed a peck of pickled peppers in our bag."

Illya (as Sully pops the homing pin into the customs agent's jacket):  "It's like playing the game of Pin the Tail to the Donkey."
Solo (wryly): "Donkeys."

Solo (to Illya): "You are a sly Russian.  Someday when you grow up you should make someone a marvelous secret agent."

Illya (at the Soho nightclub): "Remarkable, the number of people who find it necessary to protect their eyes in such a dimly-lit room."

1 comment:

nephew-from-france said...

I find this very entertaining episode remarkably played, filmed and, on the whole, scripted.

That is of course apart from the many question marks about who should be recognizing or not recognizing M. Raymond, a man supposedly with no recognizable face.
This is a clear weak spot in many parts of the plot. Just as an example, but there are many others, how does the baroness instantly recognize the man who cannot be recognized in the night-club - especially considering that it's not actually him, and he is impersonated by someone who has never met him and has no clue what he looks like... Quite a fat piece of chance that he should actually just look like him, or like what the Baroness believes Raymond might look like now...

Just one possible answer ; the moustache!! Sully has acquired such an in-depth knowledge of Gallic moustaches, and of the sub-species Gallic-moustaches-enjoyed-by-former-Resistance-types, that he instantly misleads everybody - the Baroness, Mr Zed, Mr Wye, Mr Ecks... Pure disguise genius! A lesson for Clouseau!

Let us not forget the supposedly important detail of a not-receding hairline - that is, when Sully does not leave his toupee stuck into his hat : are French men supposed to be very strong-haired, or just keen to conceal balding by any means?

But jokes apart, this problem was going to be very hard to eliminate completely considering the argument of the story - it is in almost all stories with an impersonation angle. So one has to be quite indulgent and ready-to-believe on that account - no big deal.

There is just one other issue as to which I find the plot slightly harder to swallow - or maybe I just missed something: why does Raymond detonate his own explosive belt in the plane - and as a result, die?
Actually when Raymond enters the lavatory and starts preparing meticulously his explosive device, one is rather led to a very different assumption : he is going to explode the plane with all the other passengers - as might have been his plan in the first place - and he has therefore prepared an escape for himself with a parachute, as in Mission Impossible : 2.
It so happens that this is not the case. And there is no hint either that it is actually a murder because Mr Zed has tampered with Raymond's arsenal (making it lethal, whereas Raymond could have plotted to provoke just a mild explosion in order to get the plane landed somewhere else). One is left with only two remaining explanations : fatal mistake, or suicide.
Mistake would imply that Raymond indeed tried to provoke just a mild explosion, and greatly underestimated the power of his own explosives : very unlikely for such a professional, and not something from which Mr Zed could have confidently expected his demise, as he did.
Therefore suicide remains the only possible explanation - and it is not a really satisfactory one. Raymond might feel cornered, he might know he will be expected with handcuffs by the police on the ground - but would a man with such a formidable past, who among others successfully fought and escaped the nazi Gestapo, choose the defeatist solution of giving up and killing himself? especially considering it will please so immensely Mr Zed, the adversary who has framed him precisely with this purpose in mind? Untrue to type, and therefore unlikely.

There stops any criticism from me. Sully is an excellent character, both brave and duplicitous, not to add slightly irresponsible - very likely as a former daredevil shadow fighter catching the opportunity for a second youth, including by dubious means. And Bryn Watson is almost as fine, charming and strong, very credible as well especially when she suddenly changes her mind exactly at the right last moments. This is a couple who could have had a series of their own. Interaction between them, Napoleon and Ilya is sharp, dialogues are crisp, and action is tight. The lean script keeps its eyes closely to the ball and plays it deftly. An excellent conclusion to the season.