"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 Foreign Legion Affair" (ep. 2/22)

Here we are in the home stretch of the sophomore season.  "Foreign Legion" betrays a certain weariness on the part of everyone involved, and a too-strong tendency toward broad comedy in what should be an adventure series spiced with humor.  It features both good moments, mostly from David's performance and that of noted stage actor Howard Da Silva, and bad.

We open with Illya, who wisely masks his blond hair with a skull cap as he maneuvers through the casbah somewhere in the Sudan.  The opening scenes, as he breaks into a Thrush enclave and cracks the safe to steal something called the Triad, are exciting -- though I wonder why, even rushed as he was, he would leave the safe door open.  If he'd shut it, the Thrushes might have concluded he'd never had timeto get into the safe.

This episode's mix of good and bad begins with the moment when, snugly aboard the charter plane to Cairo, Illya identifies himself as "Number Two, Section One."  That must have come as a shock to Waverly.  Illya's scene with Barbara the air hostess is a delight ("You would love Bob if you knew him the way I do." Illya, dryly: "Somehow I don't think that would be entirely possible").  Then he allows himself to be taken by the Thrushes (despite Barbara's warning gasp) and stripped to his skivvies, but then recovers miraculously in time to dive out the hatch with Barbara and their shared parachute.

Waverly says that Illya reported in at six p.m. New York time.  Khartoum, the logical place for Illya to have boarded the plane, is seven hours later, or 2 a.m.  Check.  But could a small twin-engine plane of the time make it to Casablanca without refueling?  If they're only 300 klicks from Marrakesh when Illya and Barbara bail out, why does the scene seem as though it all happens just after the plane has taken off?  It takes a while to fly ca. 2500 miles.  The script should have had them take off from Algeria or Mauretania.

I can just imagine the squeals of delight emitted by all the Illya fangirls, then and now, as he travels through the desert in his Fruit of the Looms.

Why, sez I, would Solo, the chief of Section Two, not know what Thrush's Triad was, and what his own section had arranged regarding it?  (I know, this had to be brought out for the audience, but Solo should have been reporting to Waverly instead of the other way around.)

From this point things get pretty silly, with Solo, supposedly the best of the best U.N.C.L.E. has, getting caught like a trainee by Thrushman Bey.  Da Silva gives a wonderful performance as the disgraced, sun-addled, but dedicated Captain Calhoun.  Calhoun is treated with respect during the quiet backstory scene in Act III, but even that can't save things.  The scene between Illya and Rupert Crosse's Corporal Remy, in which Illya goes down the list of possible contact methods ("Wireless telegraphy? . . . Crystal set? . . . Carrier pigeons?") is more like a "Would you believe . . .?" exchange on "Get Smart."  And the appearance of Macushla, Calhoun's lost love, doesn't come out of left field; it wasn't even inside the stadium!

Verdict:  Maybe there's something about adventures set in the Sahara or Arabia that makes them so tough to write believably.  "Arabian," earlier this season, could have been fixed.  "Foreign Legion" couldn't.

Memorable, or at least funny, lines:

Barbara: "Can I get you anything?  A cup of coffee, tea, milk?  A hot toddy?"
Illya (deadpan): "Borscht."
Barbara (without missing a beat): "Cabbage or beet?"

Captain Calhoun (roaring at Illya): "How many pieces of silver did [Ali Ka-Bar] pay to buy your soul, Judas?"
(In character, but still a neat in-joke; as we know, David played Judas in "The Greatest Story Ever Told" the year before)

Barbara (in shock): "Camel?  I'm eating a camel?"
Calhoun: "I must confess we don't dine this well usually."

Barbara (outraged): "Confinement?  I'm not even married!"
(I'm curious: Would anybody younger than 40 get this joke? That meaning of the word has faded away)

Solo: "Illya! Illya, we're here!"
Illya (irritably): "You're five minutes late!  You know, you're getting completely undependable!"
Solo: "I go 300 miles across a steaming desert and this is the thanks I get?"

1 comment:

vintagehoarder said...

One thing that amused me *very* much watching this episode, is that apparently Thrushman Bey carries Illya's photograph around in his wallet!