"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!)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

"The Ultimate Computer Affair" (ep. 2/3)

This Peter Allan Fields story has a special memory for me.  My seventh grade English teacher hit us with one of those dreaded themes on a Monday in October 1965.  But this one wasn't bad, as themes go: "My Favorite Television Show."  Naturally I didn't have to hesitate even a second, and as  "Ultimate Computer" had just aired, I was able to write up all the details.  My teacher's only quibble: I hadn't explained what "Thrush" was.  Gee, I thought everybody knew that --!

This, the first story filmed in the second season, hits the ground running with a trademark what-the-heck-is-going-on-here teaser, with Illya as a scruffy street performer (he really plays that guitar!) who gets himself hauled off to prison.  From there the story leaps and twists on to a satisfying climax.

The exposition in the first act is well done, cutting from Solo expounding to Sarah in Waverly's office, to the prison in Chacua, the Ultimate Computer, the safeguards around it, and the people involved; then back to New York HQ.  Better to show us than tell us, anytime.

A Thrush operative, disguised as a library guard, scans the entire contents of a valuable book without opening it.   A shame we can't do that yet.  This story seems to contradict Sam Rolfe's original notes in which the Ultimate Computer was already a factor in Thrush's operations.  Here it appears as if automation was a new path for Thrush.  Yes, I know, the Computer looks like a rather simple prop, and we never actually see it do anything.  But the very fact that it's compact and portable, in contrast to our world's room-sized punchcard-munchers of 1965, moves it into the realm of science fiction.  And in its red-lit cage, with that cyclopean eye glowing sullenly at us, it comes off as weirdly malevolent.  "And man shall not worship idols --"

Mr. Waverly's no mug; he knows what's what when he catches Solo and Sarah canoodling.  "Would you get me the Oliver file, Miss, ah, `Sugarpie'?"

Charlie Ruggles, the prison governor, is best known to us now as the leopard "expert" in "Bringing Up Baby" with Cary Grant and Kate Hepburn.  His Callahan is a raffish old goat who does his Thrushly duty, though he hates these newfangled computers -- and enjoys taking Cervantes the computer-worshiper to hell with him when the precious mechanical marvel is  destroyed.  And Judy Carne (later the "Sock-It-To-Me" girl on "Laugh-In") is perfection as officious but cute Innocent "Salty" Oliver.  (Gee, how'd she get that nickname . . .?)

I can't let Roger C. Carmel's performance, with its rattled-off Spanish and accented English, go without a serious tip of the hat.  During the `60s, if you wanted a solid yet flamboyant character actor, he was the man to get -- as Gene Roddenberry & Co. realized when they cast him the next year as Harry Mudd.

Illya really chomps on that cold cigarillo for all he's worth, even after he's abandoned his prisoner disguise.  Speaking of disguises, Solo's Philip Toomey (driving cap/straw fedora, double-breasted vest, bow tie, mustache) seems a bit of a wrong'un, the kind who tries a little too hard to be one of the fellows.  (Not the sort to be a member of any of my clubs, anyway.)  Well done on Solo's part.  Though I wonder, if he's established the character as a bowtie boy, why does he switch to the standard Solo four-in-hand when he goes snooping later?

The famous communicator pens debut here; this may be the pens' field test.  Feodore, the agent-in-place in Chacua, uses the old cigarette-case device.

Clearly, if Salty had known Solo would be killed instead of released, she'd have never agreed to stay with Cervantes.  So the lie he tells her, that both agents will be freed, does double duty: it kicks off the decoy plot, and will (he hopes) bring him "mi corazon."  Of course, sooner or later Callahan would have ordered her killed too; I suspect Cervantes was hoping it would be later.

How does Illya know about Salty?  He was already in the prison when Solo recruited her.  Or did Waverly outline this part of the plan to Illya, offscreen, at the beginning of the mission?

Verdict: With a fast-paced adventure featuring plausible danger and humor kept to the right places, U.N.C.L.E. strides confidently into its new season as the most famous TV show in the world.

Memorable lines:
Solo (to pretty staffer Sarah): "Suppose, my darling, you wanted to build a fortress.  You know, with guards, guns, maximum security . . . very secret, very impregnable . . . where would you put that kind of thing, that fortress?  Hmm?"
Sarah: "I don't know.  I never wanted to be impregnable."

Capt. Cervantes: "Up at dawn to watch the sunrise, plenty of hard work, and the fresh air.  Breakfast, of course, is Continental style.  Oh, yes.  If you try to escape we will sever the tendons behind your knees. . . .  We expect that over the course of the next, ah, seven years, our relationship will develop into a warm and lasting friendship."

Salty: "Grown men thrashing around like power-mad juveniles!  What kind of television do you people watch, anyway?"

Cervantes (re: Solo's queasy look after Cervantes has coldly shot one of his own men): "Well, after all, how do you think I got to be captain?"

Solo: "A Thrush doesn't change his feathers just to please a lady."

Illya: "I'm sunburned, blistered, grimy, and very, very hungry."
Solo: "I'm glad I don't have to take you out in public anywhere."


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Wastrel said...

Sarah: "I don't know. I never wanted to be impregnable."

You know the writer had been waiting for years to get that line in a script.