"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 Sort of Do-It-Yourself Dreadful Affair" (ep. 3/2)

With this one, a Harlan Ellison script (!), we are skating on thin ice.  Any misstep could send us plunging into the dark Silly depths, and sometimes we can see how eroded the ice is.  But -- it's often quite funny.  And as with "Indian Affairs," the bones of a serious plot poke out here and there, too.

It opens with atmosphere, as Solo (wearing his shoulder rig outside his windbreaker, as he did way back in "Fiddlesticks") breaks into a Thrush-front pawn shop, only to fight for his life with the first of the Thrush cyborgs.  Good stuff:  We see him reload.  The bad, of course, is the Karloff-as-monster pose of the A-77 fembot, who seems too easy to dodge, and the save-money-at-all-costs shooting day for night when Solo emerges.  Directed differently, with the A-77 kept more to the shadows and simply striding purposefully like Schwarzenegger's original Terminator -- and with less comic music -- this could have been exciting.  (Kind of scary to think we might have some of James Cameron's inspiration for the Terminator right here.)

The idea that Thrush, despite their assets (that $1.6 billion = $10.6 billion in 2008), must float a loan from a Swiss bank, is the sort of imaginative springboard you'd expect from the series and from Ellison.  In contrast, why do both Waverly and Illya refuse to believe their top agent and friend, respectively, after all the wild things they've seen in the Command's service?  But then this scene, and the characters' byplay, are going for laughs.

Our blonde Innocent, Andy, is Jeannine Riley, most famous for her role on "Petticoat Junction."  We can understand her taking off after her late roommate Muriel, though she'd certainly be fired from the commercial and lose more income than Muriel owed her.  That giant phone bill ($1300 smackers today) sounds like a clue . . . but it's never mentioned again.  I'm certain that Ellison, when he has Waverly murmur at Solo, "Cease the flummery," is tipping his cap to Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe mysteries.

The U.N.C.L.E. medical examiner looks like he's having fun delivering lines like "This cupcake hasn't got an appendix."  So this A-77 was Muriel, the original.  Are the others pure robots?  Or did Pertwee tack together some more human pieces with his colloid plastics and circuits?  Lack of body parts would be a serious bottleneck in producing the robot soldiers.  (Well, maybe not for Thrush.)

The captain of Thrush industry, Mr. Lash, is played by Barry Atwater, who holds a special place in all "Star Trek" fans' hearts as the famous Vulcan Surak.  Here his delivery and mannerisms seem terribly inhuman, so much that I thought he would be revealed as a robot himself.  Some of that scenery he chewed up in Act II may have given him heartburn.

Woodrow Parfrey is fun to watch as the absent-minded if clich√© professor.  (His answering machine is interesting; did those exist in our world then?)  Also, Pamela Curran's Margo has a nice chemistry with Solo as he beams the Solo Charm right at her.  Not to mention the comic turn by Madame Hecubah the fortune teller, which wouldn't have been out of place in a private-eye story.  Solo's ploy of wishing to join Thrush, in order to get closer to Miss Margo and thus to the heart of the operation, is smart, too.

Nomination for Worst Line in the Series:  Solo's "Call me Nappy."  It's supposed to be funny, but . . . good grief.  Imagine the howls of laughter in England, where a "nappy" is a diaper.

Nice Detail Dept.:  Solo uses a code name, "Sheep's Clothing"; Waverly arrives armed with the U.N.C.L.E. Special carbine.

Verdict:  This isn't U.N.C.L.E. as we know it, Jim.  Had it not been for the change in tone this year, this episode could have been an interesting and more believable SF story with some clever lines and good action scenes.

(More) Funny Lines (than Usual):
Solo (attempting to explain his experience with the A-77 to Illya):  "She just twisted the head off [the dummy] and walked away."
Illya: "No offense, Napoleon, but she probably thought the dummy was you."
Solo: "That's not funny. It's true!"
Illya: (oddly dismissively): "After you put two full clips of bullets into her?  Seems reasonable.  She did it in a fit of pique."

Waverly (at Illya's reading of Thrush billion-dollar balance sheet):  "I think we can dispense with the tone of naked greed, Mr. Kuryakin."
(If Illya is a good party-line Communist, wouldn't he be disgusted instead?)

Medical Examiner (about the A-77): "A living creature with artificial parts.  A composite; something Burke and Hare might have gathered in graveyards if this were Edinburgh, eighteenth century.  A sort of do-it-yourself dreadful!"

Toeffler: "Punctuality is the blood and gristle of our [banking] business."

Madame Hecubah: "That'll be a finif, five bucks.  [At Andy's protest] I'm tellin' ya the past, ain't I?"

Illya: "Miss Francis and I were detained by the Thrush Welcome Wagon."
Solo: "Ah, you've been captured."
Illya: "It's amazing how you grasp the picture with such unerring clarity."

Solo (to Margot): "Do you think I want to be a white-collar worker all my life?  An appraiser for foreign banks -- a toady for totallers?"

Waverly (to technician Miss Townsend, re: her umbrage over Solo):  "Triangulation, Miss Townsend, not alienation of affections."


ARH said...

What you failed to mention was that the conclusion of the episode was abrupt and forced. Why, oh why, would ALL the fembots cease to work when one was electrocuted? I expected better from Mr. Ellison.

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