"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!)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

"The When in Roma Affair" (ep. 3/26)

What a pleasant change!  The only produced MfU script written solely by a woman, it features a strong current of a serious plot that foreshadows the seriousness of Season Four to come.  And after last week, it’s a relief that this one is not played for laughs. 

We open up with a tour bus in Rome, featuring our Innocent, Darlene Sims of Omaha.  (Why is she traveling with the Sparks family of Santa Monica?)  We see Solo think fast and drop the atomizer with the nameless and never-described formula into Darlene’s bag.  Two problems, however:  He does it in sight of Bruno’s men, so it would hardly deceive them; and later, how does he know who Darlene is and where she’s from?

Vito must have spent quite a while working Solo over, as it gives Illya time to hop a plane for Rome.  While we’re never told this, I suspect Solo was late getting back to his hotel after his “escape” because he went back to that bistro to pick up a lead on Darlene, met the tour bus driver, and found out her name and point of origin.  Boy, he’s tough, huh?

If the Thrushes disarmed him, as you’d think they would, where did his gun and holster come from when he leaves in Act II?  My view is that he left the rig in his room to begin with.  Perhaps, when he left to get the atomizer, it was a situation where he judged that to be found wearing a Command gun would jeopardize the mission more than being without it.

Solo realizes that Bruno, Vito, & Co. let him go, and he checks the room for bugs.  Not his fault that Vito is listening at his door (though Solo should really have taken Illya out onto the balcony to brief him).  Also, Illya leaps to the false conclusion that the atomizer is in Darlene’s room because she’s at dinner.  Wouldn’t Darlene have been just as likely to keep it in her purse?

Julie Sommars’s Darlene is much like her Mimi from “Foxes and Hounds,” but it works for this story.  Had Darlene been more worldly, she’d have suspected the count of funny business right away. 

The Act III business as Solo and Illya track the atomizer is designed to drive us out of our minds, and it would -- if the ultimate surprise hadn’t been telegraphed by the bit with Sammy and the maid.  Good side:  We at last get an “over and out” from Solo to Waverly to end a communicator transmission!  Bad:  Why would they bring the rest of the tour members with them to a dangerous confrontation at the palazzo?

Illya gets not only some nifty lines, but the charming gem when, after reading young Sammy to sleep with a blood-and-thunder comic book, “Captain Marvel and his Space Horse,” he looks to see how it comes out.  (Cf. David McDaniel’s “Hollow Crown,” in which Illya is seen “shamelessly reading Spiderman.”)

Oddnesses abound.  The music, and the tone of the villains’ dialogue, often seem less like MfU than like adventure series of the early Seventies.  The villains here, Bruno and Vito, while dangerous, are not exotic or even colorful.  And the lighting in many scenes is different, yellower somehow, though I can’t put my finger on it.

Also, no less than two Ace novel covers come from it, the cover of “Unfair Fare” (Illya on the checkered floor scrabbling for that revolver) and “Stone Cold Dead in the Market” (as our heroes prepare to do battle on the palazzo staircase).

Verdict:  A strange, rather formulaic story, it at least features some danger and unusual locations (a Rome city dump?  So much for the glamour of espionage!).

Memorable Lines:
Illya (to Waverly):  “Am I to understand, sir, that the formula was hidden in the bottom of a perfume atomizer?”
Waverly:  “Rather clever, don’t you think?”
Illya:  “Mr. Solo must have smelled divine.”

Waverly:  “You have your bags packed, I hope?”
Illya (stolidly): “I keep them packed, sir.”

Illya (sotto voce, as Solo reports on the failure of the mission to Waverly):  “Do you think now is the time to tell him we wrecked the car?”


ARH said...

A good, all-round episode. Lots of fun, good character moments, and genuine, serious, danger.

But it also showcases the disregard U.N.C.L.E. often shows toward civilians. Hiding dangerous things on unsuspecting tourists, breaking into hotel rooms without warrants, brandishing guns at will (funny how the tour bus folks instinctively know that Solo & Co. are the good guys), stealing cars, and placing in peril an entire busload of men, women and children. All in a good cause, of course, but to an outsider U.N.C.L.E. could seem a bit gthuggish.

Anonymous said...

Like Come with Me to the Casbah this one also reminds me of an I Spy episode. It has a more of a realistic sense to the adventure. No fanciful sci-fi weapons. It's just about retrieving something that has a McGuffin formula. As in North by Northwest the McGuffin is deliberately vague. In both everyone is after a container holding secrets. Not really too many details on those secrets. But that's just fine. What really reminds me of I Spy are the villains. As you say they are not exotic. But they are dangerous and legitimate. Very realistic. Like the villains on Spy they lack charisma. We're not to find them charming or amusing. Julie Sommars' Darlene Sims is basically a clone of Mimi Doolittle. A little less naive than Mimi perhaps. Thankfully Cesare is shot but does not die in the climax. That would have been too much of a cliche and too heavy for U.N.C.L.E. And even though he does have a wandering eye he does seem genuinely entranced by Darlene. This was a fun one.