"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!)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

"The Come With Me to the Casbah Affair" (ep. 3/9)

A fun romp, “Casbah” is from the typewriter (among others’) of Robert Hill, and features a fast-moving story with humor.

The teaser is a bit silly, with Colonel Hamid recognizing Illya as a Command agent (how?), managing to miss Illya (and Solo, later) at a distance no greater than your average living room, and Illya getting clobbered by a jar of olive oil.  Things pick up some after that.  Except for the cheap ID card bit, Solo’s entrance to the casbah has a Season One flavor to it, reminding me of “Yellow Scarf.”  The teeming bazaar and other casbah scenes are colorful.  And he handles himself well throughout, with the authoritative Solo whipcrack voice at the climax.  Yes, his impersonation of Pierrot for Ayesha’s benefit is played for laughs, and rather broad ones (that cigarette holder!), but it’s funny.

Waverly is from Boston?  And why would he object to giving Pierrot what he wants (Janine), when it won’t cost U.N.C.L.E. anything to achieve their objective?

Nice Touch Dept.:  The taxi Solo takes to the casbah entrance looks like a (very old) Citroen, a French vehicle which fits Algeria’s history. 

That Ali is about to give Illya a “shot” is quite ominous . . . yet nothing comes of it.  To balance that, the scene in which Illya is willing to march out of the hospital sans clothes is a gem.

Hill includes several nods to classic movies, especially “Algiers” (1938).  In it Charles Boyer plays thief Pepe le Moko (Pat Harrington Jr.’s “child of the casbah,” Pierrot La Mouche, has the same initials), and in it Boyer is reputed to say to Hedy Lamarr, “Come with me to the casbah.”  (Illya gets to say it here.)  Hamid’s lady friend Ayesha is named either after one of Mohammed’s wives, or after “She” in H. Rider Haggard’s novel of that name.

Apparently this was to be a return of Hill’s Colonel Hubris from “Deadly Goddess,” and when Victor Buono proved unavailable, the producers renamed the character.  If so, they also rewrote him, for Hamid, a comic figure, has none of Hubris’s mad élan, and presents only a sanitized threat.  Hamid and Ali (also a knife man, like Hubris’s thug Malik) have more in common with Laurel and Hardy than they do Caspar Gutman and Joel Cairo of “Maltese Falcon” fame.  And without a strong antagonist, the story is weakened.  It’s understandable why Thrush has “dishonorably discharged”  Hamid for “gross incompetence.”  (Though I’d have thought such a discharge would usually come via an assassin’s bullet.)

No cause for alarm, viewers:  It’s Abbe Lane making that steam rise out of your set.  According to IMDb, she was once declared too sexy for Italian TV, and NBC forced her to “cover up” for an appearance on Jackie Gleason.  Fortunately, by the time of MfU, things had loosened up.  She makes a superb belly dancer, and a better operative than Hamid and Ali combined.

Is Pierrot contemptible for using a child as a shield, or merely so desperate he’s out of his mind?  (Luckily for him, Janine never sees him do it.)

If UN.C.L.E. so badly needs the code book to get a jump on Thrush’s plans, why is Waverly so quick to dismiss its value?  And how can Waverly read it so easily?

Verdict:  With some comic elements that leap over the top, hurt by the lack of real villainy, “Casbah” still is an entertaining spy vs. spy tale, with continual obstacles for our heroes and a neat Houdini turn for Illya.  Like most of Hill’s scripts, it’s given an emotional dimension -- here, by Pierrot’s infatuation with Janine.

Memorable lines:
Janine (at her bistro):  “Can I get you anything?”
Illya:  “Yes; I’ll have one rakat loo-koom.”
Janine (bellowing to the cook):  “One Number Three, over easy!”

Solo (to the “blind” beggar):  “How did you know my name?”
Beggar:  “How does the crane know when summer comes to the north?  How does the arrow know how to sink into the heart of its target? . . .  I was told what you look like.”

Nurse (to Illya, as she massages his back):  “How is your blood?”
Illya (deadpan):  “Racing.”

Solo (via communicator):  “I need you immediately.”
Illya:  “Napoleon.  My pores are still open.”

Solo:  “I’m counting on you . . . effendi.”
Illya:  “Don’t you always?”

Solo (donning Pierrot’s glasses to impersonate him):  “I think you ought to have your eyes examined.”
Pierrot (squinting):  “They’re not my glasses.  I stole them.”

Illya (to hotel clerk):  “Would you call us a taxi, please?”
Clerk:  “Are you leaving so soon?”
Illya:  “Yes, I’m afraid we have to.  You see, the young lady, she has a . . . PTA meeting.”
(Illya’s “How about that -- it worked” look as the clerk leaves: priceless)

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