"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!)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

"The Her Master's Voice Affair" (ep. 3/1)

And so we kick off the dreaded-by-many, yet still-loved, Season Three: a whole new approach to the stories, the theme song, and the characters -- "playful," as the author of the season's liner notes puts it.  Since I haven't rewatched most of these since the CBN era, most of the good and bad will be new to me.

"Her Master's Voice" -- a play on the old RCA Victor logo of the little dog listening to "His Master's Voice" -- starts with our man Solo, wearing a stingy-brim fedora. (He would look good in the right hat -- say, a Bogart-ish fedora!)  Despite his calling cab driver Illya "stiff" and "Spike" for some reason, the teaser, like most of the action scenes in this one, is not played for laughs, and feels like a Season Two entry.  I do wonder why Thrush makes their move on the same morning that Matsu returns; did they expect him to arrive much later?

In Act I we get some cool background on Illya: black belt in judo (the look on Solo's face tells us he doesn't have one), et al.  He must have been a child prodigy to get all that in as well as Survival School and three years or so, now, with the Command.  But what leads Waverly to conclude that Miki's school needs to be investigated?

Again we have a kind of Season One or Two flavor, as Solo takes on a cover identity at the school. (Better still, says I, if he'd taken a cover name as well.  By this time, the moment a Thrush reports his name to Central, somebody's gonna recognize it.)  Despite that British Imperial tropical helmet, which ought to be burned, he's the perfect confidential secretary, with an "American by birth, but don't hold it against me, I'm really a subject of the Queen, don't y' know" air.

Why does no one ask just why Joseph Ruskin's Mephisto-bearded villain, Sutro, has endowed the school so handsomely?  He needed a line about "My daughter once attended Partridge," etc.  Otherwise, by our standards today, he seems a bit of a perv, what?

"Next time, Mr. Solo, if you haven't checked your entire quarters for bugs, don't call your partner until you do."  "Ah, yes, sir. . . ."  "To be fair, sir, Mr. Solo was under scrutiny by everyone at the Academy. He would have had a hard time calling in via communicator without being spotted."  "Hmf. True, of course. Just be careful in future, won't you?"

Let's not give Illya an F for not recognizing Record Delivery Guy as the inside milkman.  Remember, he never saw that one's face.

Solo moves fast in getting next to Miss Verity, don't he?  True, she's been surrounded by girls, and the sluglike Duane, for two years, but even so, that's quick work, boy.

Nicely creepy, the scene with the "sleepwalking" Verity stalking Solo with the axe.  Though why would Solo leave his door unlocked in enemy country?  It could have been Gratz coming after him.  Besides, if Sutro and Partridge wanted to get Solo off the premises, all they had to do was command Verity -- or worse, one of the girls -- to tiptoe into his room and start screaming.  That they could have hushed up; an axe murder, not so much.

Good stuff: Solo's one-upmanship with Duane in collaring his own bag; his verbal thrusts and ripostes with Sutro at the pool; his detective work as he questions Verity; the charming/annoying bits with Illya and Miki ("If you do have to fire a gun, please remember to take the safety catch off first"), including a mention of my favorite war, the Second Punic; and another comment about expense accounts, which Miki overhears and then needles Illya about.  (He should have spanked her, and much sooner.)  Naturally we have the self-referential bit of Illya and Miki watching what is clearly "Girl from . . ." on TV.

At the climax, however, there's nothing playful, with Solo being hunted like a fox by a pack of the hypnotized schoolgirls.  Neat to see Waverly tossing that Jaguar E-Type around like Stirling Moss, but the "rush hour" gag is too silly.  Illya should have assembled a team, landed a Command helicopter on the playing field, and stormed the place.  As for Illya the fast and ruthless, he has as little hesitation in shooting Sutro, twice, as he did with Col. Morgan in "Secret Sceptre."

Verdict:  Effectively directed by Barry Shear, fraught with more danger and with a more plausible threat (not Thrush) than many episodes this year, it sports a raft of funny lines and character moments for our Dynamic Duo.

Memorable lines:
Solo (rather snidely, about Illya's Ph.D. from Cambridge): "Dead languages, wasn't it?"

Dr. Matsu (to Illya, re: the revelation that the Russian holds a Ph.D.): "I didn't know we were colleagues."
Illya: "Well, of course, I'll have to brush up on my new maths."

Waverly: "You, Mr. Solo, will check into the matter of the school.  The Partridge Academy for Young Ladies."  (At Solo's look)  "Young ladies, Mr. Solo.  Somewhat younger than you're accustomed to."

Solo: "The maharani has just turned sixteen.  My, my, how time flies.  It seems like only yesterday that I took little Gigi on her first tiger hunt."

1 comment:

ARH said...

I think you are far too soft on this episode. The idea that everyone else at U.N.C.L.E. is so busy that the head of Section 1 needs to personally drive the lone backup agent to the school is beyond silly. That alone killed it for me.