"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!)

Monday, February 1, 2010

"The Very Important Zombie Affair" (ep. 2/15)

This, the New Year's Eve 1965 episode, wasn't aired by CBN in the `80s, I've read, because the network objected to its "Satanist" content.  The View-Master people had no such qualms: "Zombie" was the MfU episode they chose for their 3-D viewer series -- and so it became the only episode aside from the films that I saw in color until 1985.

With a touch of U.N.C.L.E.'s trademark "What the heck is going on here?" flavor, the teaser gives us a car chase and a fight scene.  It contains one of the best bits of byplay in the series, when Solo offers Illya the cigarette he has had in his mouth, and Illya reaches past him to get a fresh one.  I'm a bit confused, though.  Clearly El Supremo's Capt. Ramirez doesn't know where Sr. Delgado is hiding, and doesn't know the courier who passes the address to Solo.  At the same time, however, he knows to dress like the courier (in his case, so he can pass them the explosive).  If he could spot the courier, why didn't Ramirez and his men seize him and wring the address out of him?

That's not a Louisiana accent Suzy the hapless manicurist affects (though she pronounces "New Orleans" like a native!), and I'm not aware of an actual town in this state called "Chickory," but it does make her an unusual Innocent.  I was prepared to chuckle over Claude Akins as El Supremo -- Ricardo Montalban or Fernando Lamas would have been a smarter choice -- but he is effective.  And his line, "Don't let the color of my eyes mislead you," suggests that El Supremo is not a pure-blooded native of his Caribbean country, making Akins's casting more plausible.

The script, while not at the same level of creepiness as Season One's "Yellow Scarf," does give us a distinct exotic atmosphere, with the run-down mansion by the cemetery, the zombie workers, and Mama Lou's ceremony in the jungle night.  And Solo and Illya play things quite smartly: planting a bug on Ramirez; using Suzy to make contact for them when they can't, then bringing her along to keep her safe; decoying the soldiers into the mansion, etc.

A tiny quibble: The use of "voodoo" here is not quite correct. El Supremo's country is clearly a former Spanish colony like Cuba. Its denizens would likely practice that form of animistic religion and sympathetic magic, mixed with Catholicism, called "santería."  "Voodoo" came from former French colonies such as Haiti.  On the other hand, the audience would never have heard of "santería" -- I didn't until many years after this.  Sometimes you have to go with what works.

Does El Supremo believe in voodoo? His chem lab implies that he creates his zombies by a concoction of his which reduces their will to resist or escape.  And this concoction could be something Mama Lou taught him.  He knows this is not magic.  Yet see his speech to Solo and Illya, intended to intimidate them: ". . . [T]he beat of the jungle drums speaks louder to me than all the voices of your civilization."  As we see at the climax, he speaks the literal truth.  (I'm reminded of a line from "Star Trek": "Can a man be destroyed by nothing but a belief?"  "It has happened many times . . . and doubtless will again."  Something like this would have made a much better tag scene than the "Made in Japan" gag.)

Solo leads his troop away from the mansion by night; they run out of gas and visit the zombie-worked plantation by day, and then somehow it's night again.  Did they stay ahead of the soldiers and tramp through the jungle for more than twelve hours?  However, when Solo calls Waverly at night, we see that it's evening in New York, which could be at least one hour behind the Gates of Heaven.  Nice touch.

Verdict: With successive twists and turns, humor kept to the right places, and a strong "spy" flavor, this one is a success for Season Two.

Memorable lines:
Illya: "What a name for a city. 'Gates of Heaven.'"
Solo: "I just hope that they remain firmly shut while we're there."

Illya: "Look at the view. Reminds me of Naples."
Solo: "See La Puerta del Cielo and die."
Illya: "Yes, well, it's not that beautiful."

Solo: "We thought we might mix a little business with pleasure.  Get a glimpse of your country."
El Supremo: "There is really only one thing worth seeing.  And you've already met me."

Illya (to Suzy as he walks past her): "Your towel's slipping."

El Supremo (roaring at Ramirez): "You misbegotten son of a she-ass --!"

Illya: "Ladies and gentlemen, it appears we are about to become a captive audience."

2 comments:

Cary Moy said...

Just watched that episode, and I could've sworn that El Supremo (Claude Akins) hollered, "You numbskull! You misbegotten son of a shit!" Almost but not quite like Clay Davis in HBO's The Wire. That actually might've been the real reason why CBN never showed that installment. How that eluded the rabbit ears of the Federal Communications Commission is a good conversation starter. Just one of quite a few editing flaws that almost rendered the episode into a comedy.

Benzadmiral said...

Cary,

Haven't re-watched this one lately, but I suspect that El Supremo roars something more like "misbegotten son of a *sheep*!" Remember, the Standards & Practices people were eagle-eyed and predator-eared when it came to such things. In Jon Heitland's book, he relates an anecdote about how S & P objected to a scene, possibly in a GfU episode, in which an agent is concealed in the crotch of a tree. They wanted that description taken out, even though, as Jon says, the reference was only in screen directions, not dialog, and the crotch in question was only that of a tree! I doubt they'd have missed what you suggest.