"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

Summing Up: Season One

To me (and I suspect, most fans), Season One is the overall best in terms of story values, detail, continuity, and excitement.  Under the tutelage of Sam Rolfe, the series told exciting stories in a fast-paced visual way new to episodic network TV.  Indeed, until the advent of "Star Trek," MfU gave us the widest variety of vivid stories ever seen in a series with continuing characters, and told against a wholly created background to boot.  Just look:

- An assassination plot that wasn't
- An attempt to revive Der Fuehrer
- A battle with a modern-day Antony and Cleopatra
- A pirate preparing for the end of the world
- Two different stories about switched identities
- A scheme to smash a new von Ribbentrop
- A high-tech safecracking
- An artifact from the past, turned out by accident to infect the present
- Intrigue in a night-shrouded Balkan nation
- A story about lost love, and another about loyalties
- A fall down a deadly rabbit hole
- A female Walter Mitty who actually gets to live her dream of spy excitement

And now, my coveted Silver Cigarette Case Communicator Awards.  Feel free to join in with your own winners:

Best Overall:  "Project Strigas" and "Fiddlesticks" (tie)
Best Performances by Robert Vaughn:  "Double" and "Dove"
Best Performances by David McCallum:  "Bow-Wow" (of course) and "Hong Kong Shilling"
Most Original Innocent: Chris Larson in "Finny Foot"
Most Original Villain:  Captain Shark
Most Effective Villain:  Brother Love
Most Delightful Stories: "Mad, Mad Tea Party" and "Never-Never" (a coincidence that both involve U.N.C.L.E. HQ and its personnel?  I think not)
A for Atmosphere:  "Dove" and "Yellow Scarf"

And the Tarnished Medals go to:

Dullest:  "King of Knaves"
Silliest:  "Girls of Navarone"

Onward to Season Two!


nephew-from-france said...

I find this 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 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.

nephew-from-france said...

My mistake, the previous comment was for The Odd Man Affair episode and should be deleted...

nephew-from-france said...

As to my own roll of honor :

- best episodes / overall : Project Strigas, Dove, Deadly Decoy, Never-Never, Odd Man

mentions : Vulcan, Four-Steps, See Paris and Die, Mad Mad Tea Party, Secret Scepter, Hong-Kong Shilling

- best "innocents" : Mandy Stevenson (Barbara Feldon) / Never-Never, Mary Pilgrim (Kathryn Hays) / See Paris and Die, Elaine Bender (Pat Crowley) / Vulcan, Marion Raven (Jill Ireland) / Quadripartite/Giuoco Piano, Michael & Anne Donfield (William Shatner-Peggy Ann Garner) / Project Strigas

- best "not-so-innocents" : Satine (Ricardo Montalban) / Dove; Albert Sully (Martin Balsam) & Bryn Watson (Barbara Shelley) / Odd Man

- best villains / ladies first : Angela (Luciana Paluzzi) / Four-Steps & Angelique (Janine Gray) / Deadly Games (demons disguised as angels, it seems)

mentions to Dr Egret (Lee Meriwether) / Mad Mad Tea Party, Serena (Senta Berger) / Double, and the beautiful Nazarone (Danica d'Hondt) / Girls from Nazarone

- best villains / couples : ex-aequo, Emory & Edith Partridge (George Sanders-Jeanette Nolan) / Gazebo in the Maze, Laslo & Madame Kurasov (Werner Klemperer-Narda Onyx) / Project Strigas, and Gervaise Ravel & Harold Bufferton (Anne Francis-John Van Dreelen) / Quadripartite/Giuoco Piano

- best villains / men : Captain Shark (Robert Culp) / Shark, Egon Stryker (Ralph Taeger) & Berry Kroeger (Frame) / Deadly Decoy, Max Van Schreeten (Lloyd Bochner) & Kevin Hagen (Krolik) / See Paris and Die, Walter B. Brach (Carroll O'Connor) / Green Opal, Gervais (Cesar Romero) / Never-Never

- best second fiddles / roles : Linkwood (Woodrow Parfrey) / Project Strigas, Guido Panzini (Pat Harrington Jr) / Bow-Wow, Earnst (Henry Lascoe), Linz (Emile Genest) & THRUSH representative (Dan Seymour) / Dove, Madam Karim (Lili Darvas) / Secret Scepter, Gendarme Sergeant (Marcel Hilaire) / See Paris and Die, Madame Claudile (Lilyan Chauvin) / Hong-Kong Shilling, Magda (Tracey Roberts) / Love, Station Master (Jack Raine) / Gazebo in the Maze

- special prize for best unwilling "couple" : Robert Vaughn & Ricardo Montalban / Dove

- special prize for unique other-worldly character : Mr Hemingway (Richard Haydn) / Mad Mad Tea Party