"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 almost 50 (!) years after its premiere in 1964. Enjoy!

Update, September 2013: The movie is ON! Henry (Superman) Cavill is playing Napoleon Solo! Let's hope for the best!

(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 12, 2010

"The My Friend the Gorilla Affair" (ep. 3/14)

Nearly everything that could be said or written about this episode has already been said or written. Yes, it's bad.  But . . .

. . . it could have been saved.

Now, before you knock over your coffee, jump out of your chair, and beat the cat, just hang on a moment.  I'll explain.

"Gorilla," I think you'll admit, starts off fine.  The first ten minutes set up a decent story, with a rogue scientist developing a race of super-soldiers in the African bush.  We see Illya and the prince of the African country captured by a troop of them; then Solo has his final briefing from Waverly as Wanda inoculates him against everything but a flat tire.  So far so good.  (Late in the story, too, we have a solid moment, as Solo coolly faces down the rumpled professor.)

The story falls off the cliff, though, with the casting of the professor, who looks less like a dangerous fanatic than like the host of "Shock Theater" with Grade-Z horror flicks on Saturday afternoons; and when Solo, the expert in survival, wanders away from his jeep (without taking water or food!) and meets Xena's descendant, Girl.  Okay.  It's bad, and from here it gets worse.

Now what if, instead . . . we'd had a frame story?

We open with Waverly riding in his Chrysler sedan out to the New York suburbs.  Via communicator, he speaks to Solo and Illya, who are nearing the climax of a mission in Africa.  We never get many details, but it's clearly dangerous.  Alex, however, is on his way to visit his grandchildren.

As usual on his visits, the little girl and boy demand a bedtime story.  They've heard all the standards and want something new.  Both are fond of Tarzan (the then-new Fall ‘66 NBC series) and Kipling's "Jungle Book."  So Grandpa Alex spins a tale involving two top secret agents (he dubs them "Bonaparte" and "Pushkin") as they hunt a rogue scientist who is developing a race of super-soldiers in the African bush . . . and we watch as the tale unfolds, dissolving back in each act to Grandpa Alex and the kids.

This way, nearly all the stuff we wince at here, even Baby the gorilla, could have been cast as a bedtime story!  Grandpa Alex ends with the elephant stampede which smashes the scientist's lab and forever buries his formula, saving the world.  "Did you like that story?"  "It was fun, Grandpa.  I'm sleepy. G' night."

At his desk the next morning, Waverly takes a videoconference call from a banged-up Solo and Illya.  "You gentlemen are rather the worse for wear, I see."  "Well, sir, we had to, ah, subdue Professor Kenton's bodyguard."

Waverly chuckles.  "Be glad, Mr. Kuryakin, that it wasn't a gorilla."

Puzzled, Solo and Illya stare at each other, as we FREEZE FRAME, ROLL CREDITS AND MUSIC. . . .

No, this wouldn't have made "Gorilla" a classic like "Never-Never."  But it would have made it a romp with an excuse for the jungle clich├ęs, even, maybe, for the bits with Solo Watusi-ing with Girl and Baby, and we might recall it today with some little fondness.

Verdict:  What can I say?  Boris Ingster and the two writers were smoking something they shouldn't have touched while working.

Memorable Lines (yes, there are a couple):

Blackburn (about his native bearers): "It's five o'clock!  How can they grant independence to people who don't know when it's time for tea?"

Blackburn (about Marsha): "She has all the ingredients of being a lady, but unfortunately she keeps them well hidden."

Professor: "I hope you have vision enough to picture an entire army of men like Arunda here -- obeying my every command like a pack of trained hounds."
Solo: "It sounds impressive, if you're deciding to declare war on the Kennel Club."

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