"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!


Update, August 2015: Henry (Superman) Cavill and Armie Hammer look good in the official trailer and posters! The Guy Ritchie-helmed movie premieres on August 14th!

(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 Summit-Five Affair" (ep. 4/1)

In the fall of '67, yours truly (age fourteen) had just come off a summer of Ellery Queen's classic detective stories, and I was thrilled (and still am) to find "Summit-Five" resembled those novels: a locked room murder, a false solution (that turns out to be partly true!), good detective work by Solo and Illya, and at last the identity of the mastermind, all at a breakneck pace.

Right at the start we get the new look: Solo in a double-breasted suit and with the Napoleonic forelock not seen since the series' early days, Lisa Rogers's comm screen and the new "computer alley" outside Waverly's office, that electronic freeze barrier, etc.  At the outset, too, we know this is no comedy; the music charges the scenes with tension.  This is U.N.C.L.E. to Take Seriously.

Those polar map lights indicate that the other three continental headquarters are in New Delhi, Caracas, and Nairobi (though none of the chiefs in Act IV looks African; perhaps one is Egyptian).

Lisa's info scene in Waverly's office sets up a situation we often saw on "Star Trek," in which Kirk & Co. are prevented, by distance or forces natural or enemy, from communicating with base or their ship.  This isolates our heroes from aid and raises the stakes.  Here Illya operates under a similar communications restriction.  (Lisa is much like the early Spock; I can hear him saying her line, "Personal histories have never been in my department.")

On top of all this, we get the flamboyant figure of sybarite Harry Beldon, "everything a cautious, unobtrusive, successful secret agent shouldn't be."  We're told that Illya has worked with him.  This gives him a history with the Command and serves to shift suspicion from him.  If he'd been a new chief that none of them knew, he would have seemed more a suspect.  His summation in Act I even gives him an air of the classic armchair detective.

It's a little unfair not to show us the U.N.C.L.E. Xeron Actuator, yet not tell us what it's for (if not for killing at a distance), and just who is allowed to use it.  After all, while it has to be employed at close range, it's small enough to conceal on your person -- a covert and awfully murderous weapon for an organization that uses sleep darts instead of bullets where possible.

The episode is not completely humorless.  Watch Solo's little spin on his heel at 10:53, as he muses on the "exciting" prospect of trailing Helga; Illya's dazed look after Solo has clipped him on the jaw in the cell; or Solo's fastidious reaction to the soaked and no doubt scummy Illya at the climax.

Solo's interrogation by Strothers (who enjoys this a bit too much, methinks) is mind-bending enough, with the disorienting lights and fisheye camera work.  To see him cling to Strothers' leg and actually weep (and call for Illya!) is affecting, and the effect lingers even after we realize it's a ploy to take control of the chain of plot and counterplot.

I'm not sure Solo's conclusion from the lack of glasses in her purse, that Helga was kidnapped, holds.  Helga and Beldon, the ones behind the plot, would probably have assembled the fake purse, and both knew of her myopia.  But it is a good use of the negative or "What's missing?" clue.

This one contains one of the great and defining moments of loyalty in the Solo-Illya partnership.  In Act III, it's all up to Illya; if he believes that the double agent could still be Solo, he's to call Summit Five off.  And he says, "Don't be ridiculous," and strides without hesitation to the comm panel.  In a word: Wow.

If the story lets us down anywhere, it's that Solo and Illya escape too easily from Beldon's elevator steam room.  Given the strength of this story (and the fact that the tag is not annoyingly cute), we'll let that tiny thing go.

Verdict: A dazzling season opener, an important episode in the U.N.C.L.E. universe, a showcase for Robert Vaughn -- and a shout to the fans disaffected by last year's comedies:  "We are so very back!"

Memorable Lines:
Harry Beldon (taking his leave of the ladies in the limo): "Ah, contessa, arrivederciArrivederci! 
You will remember me to your husband!"

Strothers (interrogating a weakened Solo): "There was no security leak before your arrival at U.N.C.L.E. Berlin.  Do you admit that?"
Solo (low and gasping, but perfectly clear): "No."
Strothers (gleefully): "It's an established fact!  You can't deny it!"
Solo: "That isn't a fact.  Only fact is that there was no security leak discovered before I came here."
(Excellent point.  Even under pressure, the boy's always thinking!)

Next Post:  A guest review!!

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