"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 25, 2010

"The Five Daughters Affair, Part I" (ep. 3/28)

The second two-parter this year and eventually the series' sixth film is a grand improvement in tone and action over the campy episodes this season, with colorful characters and bigger-budget locations that fit the globe-spanning flavor of U.N.C.L.E. at its best.

The "Little Nelly" one-man helicopter in the teaser here preceded the release of the Bond film "You Only Live Twice," which features a similar device.  The U.N.C.L.E. piranha-shaped car displays one of its drawbacks:  The windows are apparently not removable, so that Solo has to lift a door to fire at the Thrush copters.  (I'll bet they were glad to abandon it in the tunnel.  No doubt it got flattened by the first eighteen-wheeler to come barreling through!)

Director Barry Shear ("Minus-X") gives us a shot of the gold-dappled retort, shattered on the lab floor, and cuts to it being examined by Waverly -- for once, not in the standard Waverly's office set.  This one also features a strong detective element, as our heroes wing off to Italy, London, Switzerland (Austria?), and later Japan, to collect the pieces of True's formula.  Now this is neat . . . but at every turn Solo and Illya are either a step behind our villain, Herbert Lom's smoothly Continental Randolph; or he swoops in and gets the drop on them with his karate henchmen.  Every time.  Wouldn't a plot within a plot, a red herring to send him off in the wrong direction, have been a good idea?

Joan Crawford, a star for something like forty years at this point, manages to make the early, rather clumsy stages of her scene with Randolph work.  The segments with the daughters, except for Kim Darby's Sandy, all end predictably, with romantic fadeouts.  As for Kim, whom I've adored since 1969's "True Grit," her Sandy is something like her Mattie Ross in that film, though Mattie is much more prideful and stiff-necked.  Aside from wanting to visit Carnaby Street, Sandy is not developed much.  I wish we could have had a quiet personal moment between her and Solo, perhaps on the night flight to Austria/Switzerland, like the charming scenes with Chris Larson back in "Finny Foot."

Boris Ingster, as we've seen before, is a better scripter ("Yellow Scarf," "Very Important Zombie,"and here with Norman Hudis) than a producer.  The only hints here of his campy production style for the series are two silly fight scenes, at the palazzo with Telly Savalas and Diane McBain, and at the London nightclub with Jill Ireland's Imogen: Keystone Kops stuff with goofy or Top 40 music.  Things improve; check out the professional lady Command agent who, while guarding Sandy, leaps into action and handles the thugs without breaking a sweat!

Only RV could make a dark polo shirt under a lighter sport jacket look not only good but stylish enough for GQ.

Tell me true:  Did you expect the duck on the edge of the pool with the soaked Illya to screech "AF-LAC!!!"?

Other grand moments big and small: Solo using his hand as a foot rest to help Illya down from the skylight at the palazzo; the almost ballet-like attack by the skiing karate killers, schussing toward Solo and Illya to exciting music; and the snowfield fight scene, which everybody manages to keep from looking easy.

Verdict: Though it ends a little too soon, spoiling a great cliffhanger (we get that in Part II), it bounces along so energetically we're willing to suspend our disbelief.

Memorable Lines:
Amanda True: "After five marriages, if a woman hasn't, well, learned to appear to listen to a man without actually having heard one word, then she might just as well turn in her wedding rings."

Count de Fanzini: "Wife?  I have no wife. . . .  You ought to hear how she lies, how she cheats!  How she tell me that her millions will restore the de Fanzinis to their rightful glory.  But what does she bring on the wedding night, eh?  Three Portuguese escudos and one Kennedy half-dollar!"

Contessa (to Solo): "Are you rich?"
Solo (with a smile): "No, Illya and I work, ah, very hard for our living."
Illya: "But mostly in the dark."

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