"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, February 2, 2010

"The Birds and the Bees Affair" (ep. 2/18)

With this one we move into a stretch of four memorable and generally well-done episodes.  "Bees," writer Weingart's second script for the series, is sharply directed, and focuses strongly on Illya for the first time since "Arabian."

We open with Solo and Illya as they enter a little clock shop in Geneva, the front for the local HQ.  By now we're used to the contrast between musty Del Floria's and the U.N.C.L.E. reception room, but this story makes it fresh, as Solo sets the clock's hands in the door and steps from the cozy little shop into the chrome and gunmetal chamber -- only to find everyone dead.  I love the overhead shots in which director Alvin Ganzer aims the camera down from the green ceiling lights.  Nice Touch Dept.: Solo and Illya take badges themselves, but they touch them to the dead receptionist's fingers as they should.

John McGiver's precise and pompous Mr. Mozart is not as colorful an antagonist as, say, Ray Danton's Vincent Carver, or Victor Buono's Col. Hubris.  His only human moment is his long look at his lead dance instructress's backside in Act I.  (I guess not all Thrushes will be larger than life; local satraps will always need the functionary and the bureaucrat.)  John Abbott's Dr. Swan is far easier to understand, with his compulsion for gambling and perfecting his "system."

The bees are frightening, able, we're told, to kill you with a single sting.  But how can Mozart control them and retrieve the survivors, if any?  You couldn't whistle them back like a dog or horse.  Most honeybees are not as vicious as wasps or hornets; we needed a line describing these bees' aggressive nature.  And Mozart should have had Swan develop an anti-toxin first, so that he, Mozart, and his minions would be safe.  A terror weapon is only useful in the long term if it's controllable, or if your agents are willing to sacrifice themselves in its delivery.

Illya is very much the focus here.  Beyond his obvious attraction to Tavia the Hungarian girl, he suffers ear-splitting torture, is forced to lead Mozart into HQ (though his plan to spike the Thrush's guns fails), is outmaneuvered by Mozart yet again, and at the last thinks fast and shoots the Cumberly honey to draw the bees.  Bill K. has mentioned the gaffe that Illya wears badge 12 instead of 2.  If that's during the entry sequence, it's because he takes the badge off the security man he knocks out.

Vaughn's Solo seems rather discomfited throughout.  Only during his penetration of the Thrush enclave does he come into his own -- then, and when he's coordinating the search for the bees with Swan in the van.  Contrast, too, his nauseated look whenever Tavia sparkles at Illya, with his pleased smile that Illya and Marion like each other, back in "Quadripartite."

Tavia is the type we've seen Illya drawn to before, such as Susan Oliver's Ursula, back in "Bow Wow": a cat-eyed, graceful blonde.  Unfortunately we never get any background on her, and little motivation (aside from Illya's charm) to leave the store and become a dance "instructress."  Even Swan is a more rounded character.

Transports of Delight: I think the little black car Illya drives in the teaser is a Peugeot or a Renault. It's pretty upscale for those days -- note the sunroof and the leather or taxicab vinyl on the seats. Mr. Mozart's sedan, late in the story, is the then-current upper-level Mercedes nicknamed "the fintail." Finally, the fastback coupe Solo passes as he enters the Thrush enclave is the Plymouth Barracuda, Chrysler's answer to the Mustang.

Verdict: With various illogicalities (e.g., the Kryptonian ability of Illya to join Solo at the climax despite having the width of traffic-choked Manhattan between them in the previous scene), "Bees" isn't top-notch U.N.C.L.E.  But it moves fast, the threat is serious, and the story is notable for both the appearance of HQ in Geneva and the long sequence with its security traps which help to round out the portrait of the organization. Besides -- Illya fans will love it.

Memorable Lines:
Mozart: "Amazing, the therapeutic effect of ten thousand dollars.  I shall recommend it to all my friends."

Illya: "Illya Kuryakin."
Tavia: "Tavia Sandor."
Illya: "I'm with the U.N.C.L.E."
Tavia: "I'm Hungarian."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you could explain some things to me. I understand the bees would go to the honey and that would keep them from attacking people. However what did they do then? Were they killed? If so how? Or were they captured first? Finally,was it ever explained why Thrush attacked Uncle in Geneva if the work on this project was being done in New York?