"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 26, 2010

"The 'J' for Judas Affair" (ep. 4/3)

This story by Norman Hudis (“Bottle of Rum,” “Five Daughters”) has even more of the classic Ellery Queen detective story air to it than did “Summit-Five.”  The question of who wants to kill Mark Tenza the patriarchal industrialist (and his son -- but which one?), the red herrings of the identity of “J,” and the final double surprise have always impressed me.   It’s also peculiar within the series format for not having an obvious Innocent, unless brother James qualifies.

An atmospheric opening in the Tenza family crypt (though Illya is suddenly a remarkably poor shot!) sets up the mystery, and we quickly see the dynamics of the Tenza family are ready-made for Thrush to exploit.  Tenza’s expensive security forces aren’t very good, at least not against the clever Mr. Solo, and his and Illya’s tense expedition into the Tenza vault lifts this above the average TV cop story of the time.

A wonderful detail:  As Solo leaves the Tangier airport, we see signs in English, French, and what I guess is Arabic.  Plus the view from Mark Tenza’s villa looks convincingly exotic.

Security chief Dawson does some purty fair shootin’ there, when he kills the painter at that distance with such a short-barrelled pistol.  Having him be a former cop is a neat touch, as it appears to set him above suspicion.

You have to wonder what Solo’s long plane ride with the elder Tenza was like.  Probably Solo would prefer a nice visit to the dentist.  And John Hoyt’s U.N.C.L.E. technician . . . well, you just want to smack him a good one, don’t you?

I know I’ve objected to the idea of a criminal mastermind masquerading as an everyday person before.   In “King of Knaves” and “Hong Kong Shilling,” the mastermind works in a menial position unconnected with his own organization.  Here, though, Olivia Wills is right on the spot, her fingers plying the strings of the company she’s trying to subvert for Thrush -- and, no doubt, pulling young Adam’s strings too.

Watching the story a second time, you see how neatly Adam, Olivia, and Dawson play Solo and Illya (who really should have been more suspicious, but hey, nobody’s perfect).  Conflicts between any two of the conspirators are always played with Tenza staffers or one or both of our guys present; never do we see conspirators conversing alone.  As for the gas “attack” on Olivia, no doubt Adam called her from the plant as soon as Solo and Illya bolted out the door, and she timed her moves accordingly.

No, Chad Everett is no Paul Newman when it comes to acting chops, at least not here.  However, his performance lends a convincing air to the story, in that you don’t suspect someone who appears so earnest and stodgy as part of a master plan to murder his father and brother.  (I do laugh inappropriately, however, every time I watch him grinning like a big kid as he crawls through the palm fronds of his brother’s hut.)

Claude Woolman’s “J,” James Tenza, is impressive.  His fiery take-no-prisoners manner with Solo and Illya suggests that he would have been exactly the right man to lead Tenza International (and may still be, now that the Thrush menace is gone).

Verdict:  Though our heroes are intrepid, with their “Fiddlesticks”-type vaultcracking (highly illegal, Messrs. Solo and Kuryakin!), they are led a little too easily by the mastermind and her assistants.   But how can you dismiss a mystery thriller in which the identity of the master criminal is withheld until the last few seconds -- and where the final shot and music combine so neatly?

Memorable Lines:
Adam Tenza: “Our security forces?  When did Darien Dawson’s daredevils handle anything tougher than a factory hand forging an overtime claim?”

Solo (to Adam, about the elder Tenza): “He’s entitled to think and behave as he pleases.  It’s a free country.  Especially if you own most of it.”

Mark Tenza: “I’ll get [a plane].   I own an airline.  Any other questions?”
Solo: “What do people get you for your birthday?”
(Thus demonstrating again that the Season Four shows were not devoid of humor)

James Tenza: “Does a man of peace have to wear a beard, tote a banner, look like he couldn’t fight?”

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