"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, February 5, 2010

"The Bat Cave Affair" (ep. 2/28)

Jerry McNeely's second script for the series is a fan favorite, apparently for the campy tone and for Martin Landau's intentionally theatrical performance as Count Zark.  It bounces neatly from the Ozarks to two locations in Spain, and then to Transylvania (which in the MfU world seems to be only a short motorbike ride from Vienna) while confronting our heroes with a world-sized threat.

We open up with a colorful, and distinctly odd, setting for our urban sophisticate Solo, a farm "somewhere in the Ozarks."  We get "an easy country charm," as John Denver sang, from Clemency McGill -- the "Petticoat Junction" stereotype of rural folk which prevailed on TV in those days.  There's also a distinct Peter Lorre vibe from Mr. Transom, and, thank goodness, a solid reason for Solo to be there:  Clemency, apparently, "foresaw" (thanks to Thrush's comb transmitter) the planting of a bomb at the United Nations.  The teaser ends with Illya doffing a battered Borsalino and dodging a live bull in the ring in sunny Madrid.  What's not to like?

At HQ, as well as at her home in the Ozarks, Clemency's ability to ID the hidden pictures depends on Transom, the Thrush plant, being able to "send" the message somehow to her comb transmitter.  (I'll leave the exact method as an exercise for the student.)  But Transom does not see the picture of Waverly's nephew, and therefore cannot prime Clemency's response.  Her "knowing way" must be a real if erratic psi power, which probably is why Thrush selected her to start with.

We get to see the U.N.C.L.E. commissary, which, oddly, has what looks like a window.  The blue tables make it look a lot less institutional, somehow.

For some reason Vaughn's Solo fumbles for words throughout the story.  Almost the first moment when he seems himself is when he puts a swift bullet/sleep dart into Zark's hulking henchman.  The first?  At 41:21, revel in his "We go this-a-way" gesture. Ah, Martha, the boy's got such style.

Clearly Illya does not care for bats at all.  Understandable; by the '60s we knew the little darlings can carry rabies (though, Wikipedia tells me, not so much in Western Europe).  I wish we'd had more comments like Illya's statement that the piranhas in the castle moat wouldn't be able to live in the Rumanian climate.  If Solo, say, had remarked that Zark, clearly insane, is gambling that he can collect the billion before Thrush Central squashes him, it would have pushed the whole thing back over the spoof line and made it somewhat more plausible.

Mr. Redline of our Easily Corrected Corrections Department informs me that when Illya says Chiroptera is "Latin for 'a bat,'" he really should have said it was Greek.  Also, when Count Zark says that bats use radar, he should have said sonar.  Well, maybe that one wouldn't be so easily fixed; the entire story depends on the notion that bats are furry little radar transmitters.

"I Should Have Demanded Gold" Dept.: Aside from the radar/sonar stuff, and the massive task of "altering" (how? Selective breeding?) the emissions of a horde of bats, Zark's plot would indeed induce chaos.  However, even if he got the billion in "assorted currencies" and aborted Night Flight, the ensuing loss of consumer and investor confidence in air travel (remember, people were starting to panic) might well have led to a stock market crash.  Imagine Zark trying to explain to Thrush Central why his one billion bucks is now worth only about fifty million.  "I screwed up" won't cut it.

You know it's a real crisis when Enforcement guys like Badge 26, at the start of Act IV, are on communications duty.

On the plane to Europe, Solo and Clemency have just finished watching "One Spy Too Many" (the movie version of "Alexander the Greater"), to which Solo says that spy movies are light entertainment, but rather far-fetched.  (OSTM hadn't been released yet, so it was an in-joke the audience wasn't expected to catch.)

Verdict:  Rein in your critical faculties and just enjoy.  It's a romp in which the gag depends on no one actually saying the words "Count Dracula."

Memorable lines:
Waverly (to Solo, re: Clemency): "Keep a close eye on her, will you?  . . .  Not too close."

Clemency: "Well, shoot fire and save the matches --"

Count Zark (as Dracula-ish as Lugosi at his best): "I am . . . Zark.  Count Ladislaus Zark.  You have heard of me, of course."
Illya (poker-faced):  "Well, there's something familiar about you, but just what it is escapes me for the moment."
Zark: "You have shattered my ego!  I have fantasies of U.N.C.L.E. issuing orders: 'Get Zark at any price!'  And here you haven't even heard of me!"

Zark (explaining the psi powers hoax): "All we need to do is program our computers to the desired thought patterns, and microwave them directly to the subject.  The marvelous thing about it is that Miss McGill doesn't suspect a thing!  Isn't it marvelous?"
Illya (flatly): "It's difficult for me to restrain my admiration."

Waverly: "Of course it's regrettable if the people panic [over Night Flight].  To paraphrase Marie-Antoinette, 'Let them drive cars.' "


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Wastrel said...

I have always wanted to see Martin Landau play Dracula.