"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!)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

"The Bridge of Lions Affair, Part I" (ep. 2/20)

This, the series’ second two-parter (and, eventually, fourth theatrical film), is based on a novel by Henry Slesar.  Apparently it was not unheard of in those days for a series with continuing characters to purchase a novel for adaptation; John D. MacDonald’s “Cry Hard, Cry Fast” became a multi-parter on the Ben Gazzara series “Run for Your Life” a few years later.  Here, Slesar was involved in creating a handsome, if somewhat slow, episode.

We open with a classic among the trademark “What the heck is going on here?” teasers, as Illya releases and tracks a black cat in night-shrouded Soho.   Not until almost the end of this hour do we get an inkling why he is doing this -- and we are never told what leads him to do this.  Would complaints of disappearing cats attract the attention of U.N.C.L.E.?  Truly Illya is fascinated by patterns -- and here, darned lucky that Olga the trench-coated hitwoman only wings him.

Back in New York, Solo sounds like Spock reporting to Captain Kirk as he rattles off Dr. Lancer’s resume for the benefit of the audience.  Better if Waverly had said that he’d asked Solo to research Lancer’s background prior to the meeting.   It’s also odd how Solo refers to Illya by last name only, even in the formal atmosphere of Waverly’s office.  “Illya” or “Mr. Kuryakin,” surely?

Vera Miles’s elegant, dangerous Raine De Sala is the driving force here.  Her desire to see the love of her childhood, Sir Norman, rejuvenated -- and not for his own sake, but so that she can marry him and enjoy political power by his side -- leads to her subsidizing Gritzky’s process, to the Command’s involvement, and thence to Thrush’s interest.  Bill Koenig has aptly likened Maurice Evans’s Norman Swickert to Winston Churchill; put a cigar and a balloon glass of brandy in his hands, and the resemblance would be complete.  He and De Sala are a kind of modern Lord and Lady Macbeth, though Swickert, unlike the Thane of Cawdor, does not cause and is not aware of the deaths De Sala engineers in her ambitious plan.

What the heck is an U.N.C.L.E. “Camel Station”?  A place to buy smokes or fresh water?  Waverly implies that it’s separate somehow from the regular HQ comm room.  And isn’t the actress playing Wanda, to whom Solo waxes eloquent about the Paris moon, the same one who, with raven hair, played Sarah in “Love” and other Season One stories?

“Bridge” also introduces us to one of the most efficient Thrushes ever.  As played by Bernard Fox (who so often played Colonel Blimpish or ineffectual characters), Jordin is exactly the kind of professional operative (“I’ll look into it”) that Thrush should have done anything to encourage.  Recruit another dozen like Jordin and the infamous Angelique, and Thrush would have U.N.C.L.E. in a corner.

I could really do without Solo’s stingy-brim tweed hat when he visits Sir Norman’s estate.  And why does Jordin engineer Solo’s car crash, but then fail to capture and interrogate him?

The sequence in Soho, with the high night wind swirling newspapers down the passage and Illya’s discovery of Corvy’s body (with one of his cats grooming herself atop him!) in the shadowy abandoned lab, is well done.  I applaud, too, the professional technique of Solo and Illya when they encounter each other.  The last thing you want to do is hold your flashlight in front of you, to let an opponent in the dark know where to shoot.  This, by the way, is where we should have had Illya tell Solo why he’d been on the cat-tracking mission to start with.

Verdict: Slow in places, possibly because of the human drama that is also its strength, it gives us a memorable cliffhanger, a refreshingly competent antagonist/competitor in Jordin, and a science-fiction McGuffin that is not just another Thrush plot.

Memorable lines:

Solo (via communicator, to Wanda): “[The moon] we have here is a girl moon, and her eyes are open wide, and her mouth is open in the shape of an O, because she’s just been kissed.”
Waverly: “I’ll relay your information to Mount Wilson Observatory, Mr. Solo.”

Solo: “Everyone’s hands are steady when they are dead.”

Sir Norman (glumly): “I take pills, therefore I exist.”

Illya (to the pet-shop owner): “Naturally, for a collar such as this, I need a very elegant cat. A nice, big, fat one.”
Owner: “Well, I’m a bit confused, sir. Which do you wish, elegant or fat?”
Illya: “What I need is the kind of cat that gets himself stolen.”

Sir Norman: “I ran out of time. . . . I don’t want it now, Raine. To lie awake wondering how to move puny people to great purposes --?”
De Sala: “. . . How I longed then to take your hand, and walk with you through the halls of power -- to feel that terrible strength going from you into me. . . . And it shall be.”

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