"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 10, 2010

"The Galatea Affair" (ep. 3/3)

Watching this one when it was new, we probably forgave ourselves for thinking, after “Dreadful,” that Season Three was off to a bad start.  “Galatea” (interesting that the dialogue references her, but not Pygmalion) has the feel of a Season Two entry, while being the only time Illya was ever partnered for a full episode by a Command agent other than Solo.

Venice (no title card, but what else can it be?) is our setting as Solo, with Illya as his gondolier, spies on Thrush courier Baroness de Chasseur, which my French dictionary says means “Hunter.”  Unfortunately Solo sticks out, not just because of the binoculars, but because he’s alone.  He should have had April Dancer or another female agent along for cover.

“Mister Thirty,” hey?  “30” was the code newspaper reporters used to mark the end of a story, at least in movies on the Late Show.  This suggests that the natty security chief made his reputation ending people’s lives. 

The detail of steel shutters on Waverly’s windows is a good one, in case the complex ever receives a frontal attack.

This, as Bill Koenig has said, is possibly the story which best showcases Noel Harrison’s Mark Slate.  Harrison is nobody’s Olivier, but here he gives Slate a professional, authoritative air, especially at the climax.  That goofy caplike thing he wears in Act III and IV, well, you can toss it on the bonfire you’ve got going with Solo’s Indian Army helmet and other lids.  (Don’t forget to add Mark’s pink Carnaby Street shirt.  Somehow it makes him look unreliable.)

Here we delight as Joan Collins plays Bronx sweetheart Rosy Shlagenheimer, and the Baroness Bibi, and then Bibi playing Rosy playing Bibi!  The casting layers an in-joke on top of that, the obvious one that young Harrison plays Henry Higgins to Rosy’s Eliza -- and it was Noel’s father Rex who created the “My Fair Lady” role.  In a clever reversal from MFL, “Higgins” (Slate) doesn’t think he or Rosy can accomplish the job, while “Col. Pickering” (Waverly) is positive he can.  Despite the title, though, the education of Rosy is only a small part of the story.

Pounding manners and a new accent into Rosy’s skull would take time.  If the opener is one of the quarterly meetings the Baroness undertakes, then the next one wouldn’t be for some three months in the future.  But we have little indication that close to three months passes.  Besides, did Solo spend that entire time in the hospital?  Nice if, at some point, we could have had a reference to his getting back in training after two weeks on antibiotics.

Illya seems out of character here.  True, we see him enthusiastically chowing down in that Hamburg dive.  (I’m not sure I’d want to eat anything prepared that close to a live horse.)  But I don’t think he’d adopt a Bronx accent in that scene.  Plus, twice he calls Olaf, the Baron’s retainer, “Sunshine.”  That’s a Solo-style remark.  Our Illya would say to the glowering thug, “You’re such a cheerful creature” or “Thank you for bringing a ray of sunshine into my life.”  (Olaf looks weirdly like Jerry Stiller, don’t you think?  I kept expecting him to break into a Frank Costanza riff.)

The Hamburg dive looks authentically smoky and dingy, the kind of joint, I’d guess, where the young Beatles often played. 

Something about the steady way Illya assesses Bibi/Rosy/Bibi early in Act III makes me think he’s tumbled to the Baron’s substitution, but we see later he hasn’t.

It scarcely comes as a surprise that the Baron is the hidden figure, the Thrush treasurer.  We see him ruling Olaf with a steel fist, tracking down Slate and keeping an eye on him via the maid, building a plan to circumvent Slate and Illya’s play with Rosy, and lying to Bibi (“We are both captives of Thrush”) to get her to cooperate.  It would have been neat to have the hidden mastermind turn out to be someone we never suspected, but this makes a good deal of sense. 

The tag, with Solo swooping in to take Bibi out to lunch, reinforces his reputation as the best there is at what he does.  However, it cheapens the relationship, whatever it was, that seemed to be developing between Bibi and Mark, making Bibi look as flighty in her elegant way as Rosy is in hers.

Verdict:  Without the Solo-Illya dynamic, this one seems odd (and you have to ask how Mark can be so energetic moments after being “mildly tranquilized”).  But scripter Jackson Gillis, an old hand whose credits go back to the George Reeves “Superman,” delivers a better script than you’d think, with tricky plot switches and a good villain revealed and killed at the end.

Memorable Lines:
Illya (overhearing Rosy at work):  “Speaks English.”
Slate:  “English??”
Illya:  “They call it Bronx.”

Baron de Chasseur (levelly):  “Bibi’s last instructor played a bit too close to the net.  I’m sure you would never make such a mistake.”

Slate (in a murmur meant only for Illya, as Solo strolls off with the Baroness):  “Napoleon doesn’t waste any time, does he?”
Illya (grimly diving into his paperwork):  “Yes.  It’s just like he’s never been away.”

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