"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 4, 2010

"The Moonglow Affair" (ep. 2/23)

What a difference a week makes!  Unlike "Foreign Legion," the pilot for "The Girl from U.N.C.L.E." is vivid, colorful (with more expensive sets), and fast-moving, all thanks to Dean Hargrove at the typewriter and Joseph Sargent behind the camera -- the combo who gave us "Never-Never" and "Alexander the Greater."  Ah, if only the series had been like this . . .

We open with Illya looking like a Russian wolfhound despite his well-cut tuxedo (and later, taking a characteristic chance to eat and drink).  He uses the cigarette case communicator to call Solo, I suppose, because someone murmuring into his pen would be kind of conspicuous at a party.  For his part, Solo slides into the Thrush installation much as he did aboard Gervase Ravel's yacht in "Quadripartite."  Nice detail:  When Illya fires at Andy the scientist, we see the splatter of tranquilizer powder on the door.

We see that U.N.C.L.E. HQ has its own infirmary, which makes sense, and that they have specialists from other countries.  However, I can't believe that they have enough room to give each Enforcement agent an office the size of April's.  Supervisors, perhaps, and certainly Solo's office -- but you'd think the rest would have to make do with desks in a bullpen.

From Slate's reaction when he, and we, meet April, it's clear the idea of a woman Enforcement agent is new to him.  We've seen female Command personnel in the field in support roles, though -- in "Vulcan," the agent-in-place who lays the groundwork for Solo and Elaine; and the underestimated Sarah, who teamed with Solo in "Love."

Okay, let's get into it.  Mary Ann Mobley makes a very different April Dancer from that played by Stefanie Powers (from what I remember, and from what Jon's book tells us).  She's good-natured and smart as a roomful of whips.  Her skills as shown here are less athletic than Stefanie-as-April, more suited to cunning undercover work and manipulation, like Barbara Bain on "Mission: Impossible." There's an old saying involving flies, honey, and vinegar, and April clearly knows it and lives by it.  Note how much info she gets out of Andy by charming him.  But she neither kowtows to Slate nor, refreshingly, tries to dominate him.  The series would have been much more vigorous had they kept this older mentor/new agent dynamic.

The description of the quartzite radiation projector ("throwing [human sensory systems] into imbalance") sounds as if it induces synesthesia -- the condition where a person "sees" sounds, "tastes" shapes, etc.  In Act IV, the distortions in color and sound from April's point of view bear this out.  However, Solo and Illya react more as if they're severely drunk.

Slate's taking the German's place on Andy's scuba team makes for a very exciting sequence.  The intriguing thing about the Thrush plot is that they intend to disable both the U.S. and Russian moon projects to make room for their own.  Thrush: Your Equal Opportunity Saboteur. 

Standout performances: Woodrow Parfrey's Andy as he gleefully frazzles Solo's senses with his ray; Mary Carver's resentful, passive-aggressive Jean Caresse (" . . . it's your poor, frail little sister"); Kevin McCarthy's sleazy if capable Thrush businessman, ignoring his sister's advice, ultimately to his downfall; and Norman Fell's bemused, phlegmatic, professional Mark Slate.  (I love that his Plymouth looks like a car pool vehicle.)

I do wonder why Caresse thinks a woman would want lipstick which glows in the dark. And the gag about Slate being out of shape (implying that it's just because he's 40) is a little tiresome, but you'll notice that, after her first gaffe, April never kids him about it.  The tag scene implies that Waverly, while he surely knows Slate is 40, is willing to ignore it for the sake of a successful agent pairing.

Verdict:  Again, if only the series had simply gone with the dynamics and characters set forth here and with this sort of energy, I suspect many of us fans wouldn't wince whenever we hear the words "Girl from U.N.C.L.E."

Memorable lines:
Andy: "The United States government has so little imagination.  Always putting their secret laboratories under basketball gymnasiums."

Caresse (to April, as she fiddles with the model rocket on his table):  "It actually works.  The button activates it."
April: "That sounds dangerous."
Caresse (smiling): "Yes; we're considering a line of children's toys."

Andy (gasping, staggering in wearing his scuba suit): "Just try to get a taxi wearing one of these --!"

(Interestingly, Solo and Illya have no verbal exchanges at all. Illya calls Solo by communicator, but he doesn't reply. And a record is set: Aside from some mutters and gasps in the infirmary in Act I, Solo has only three spoken lines!)

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