"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 12, 2010

"The Concrete Overcoat Affair, Part I" (ep. 3/11)

We can thank Norman Felton, as we do on so many levels, for his vision of releasing U.N.C.L.E. two-parters as movies; without that, and the corresponding bump in the budget, a "big" episode such as this wouldn't have been possible.  It's an odd mix in places, this one, Peter Allan Fields's only script this year, and sometimes the pieces don't fit as smoothly as we'd like . . . but it works.

The opener to Act I, as the bandaged Solo and Illya make their way to Waverly's office, is iconic.  (I'll bet new staffers are continually startled by seeing damaged Enforcement guys limping in to work.)  Maybe I'm slow, but I suspect that the room where they meet Waverly is not his regular office, but a special map room -- perhaps something like Capt. Picard's "ready room."  We've seen it before, and though it has windows and a couch along the rear wall, it seems smaller than the regular office, which appears in Act III.

I love Janet Leigh's sparkling, sadistic masochist, Miss Diketon, she of the thigh knife and misplaced affection for Jack Palance's Strago.  It's in this story, too, that we have the famous brief torture scene, where Miss D. uses an ultrasonic whip (?) on the captured Illya.  In his "Man from U.N.C.L.E. Book," Jon Heitland describes Miss D. as being somewhat masculine, but to me there's nothing at all masculine about her.  Sick, yes; too sick even for Thrush, possibly; but masculine?  Heck no.

Strago is hard to figure: a twitching bundle of savage neuroses and anxieties, nauseated by Miss Diketon's attentions yet inflamed by Pia the Innocent, as we'll see in Part II.  (Disposing of a valuable trained man like Luger is rather wasteful of personnel, too, except that it impresses ex-Nazi Von Kronen.)  Sometimes Palance's performance slips over the edge; but he must have had a lot of fun on this one, since so many of his roles have been of the quiet dangerous type.

Calling their country-to-be "Thrushland" makes it sound like an amusement park.  ("Step right up, folks!  Ask the Ultimate Computer a question, any question!")

As in "Deadly Goddess," Solo avoids a shotgun wedding; but here, he is not simply relieved to escape, but worried for Pia.  Her branding as a "ruined" woman, he feels, is due to him, and he wants to go back, explain, and exonerate her.

He pronounces "gracias" with the Castilian "th," suggesting that he learned what Spanish he knows from actual Spaniards rather than in Latin America.  It also sounds like he tells Illya "cow" instead of "ciao" -- a gag?

The big joke here is that Pia's American uncles, the Stilletto Brothers, would all fit neatly into a Warner's 1938 gangster flick -- except that they're all 60 or more.  Eduardo Giannelli's "Fingers," in particular, has the true Mafioso flavor and could have stepped right out of "The Godfather" (which hadn't been written yet, of course).

Agreed, Nelson Riddle's music during the action at Strago's warehouse is far too "Batman"-like, as are a lot of moves (the "pineapple" bit, for example).  This is balanced by the point that the Stiletto Brothers, who could have been played strictly for laughs, are clearly professional and deadly.  Note Strago's warning about them to his men: ". . . During the Prohibition days, they could have and would have torn either one of you apart for the price of a cigar."

Verdict:  Sharply directed by Joseph Sargent, who helmed several Season One and Two classics, it moves fast, makes good use of complex sets and colorful locations (e.g., the parade and the well-realized village of Taforna), and lacks only a stronger hook to bring us to Part II.

Memorable Lines:
Strago (chastising Miss Diketon):  "The Uniform Code of Thrush Procedure states quite clearly that the relationship between a Thrush official and an employee must be kept on the highest level!"

Strago:  "I can't tell you, Doctor, how much we've been looking forward to your arrival."
Von Kronen:  "Ja.  They've been looking forward to my arrival in Nuremberg, too.  They're still looking."

Solo (sotto voce, on communicator, as Grandmama Monteri waves her shotgun):  "Illya, come in, little friend. . . ."
Illya:  "Yes, Napoleon.  How is your burgeoning romance?"
Solo:  "It threatens to burgeon too far."

Solo (to "Fingers" Stilletto, as they prepare for his wedding to Pia in Chicago):  "I'm not Italian, you know."
Stilletto:  "It's all right.  Try to be proud anyway."

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