"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!)

Sunday, March 7, 2010

"The Deadly Quest Affair" (ep. 4/8)

When, a year or so back, Diana of RaspberryWorld asked the members of Channel_D for our recommendations for episodes to show a first-time viewer, this was my pick for Season Four.  The first episode filmed this year, "Deadly Quest" (the sixth and last episode to use that adjective) has even more of the feel of Season One than does "Thrush Roulette" -- partly due to the use of that year's music, as Bill Koenig has noted.  For danger, suspense, and Solo smarts, this is a true winner.

Again we find a hospital to be a slightly less than safe haven, as Illya is kidnapped by Viktor Karmak's thugs.  Somebody at Arena must have had a bad experience during his tonsillectomy or prostate exam.

The shadowy former theatre contrasts sharply with the brightly-lit gas chamber where Illya is held; and the nighttime setting, the croaking mynah bird, and those scenes actually filmed at night set up the atmosphere beautifully.  We also see Solo's wits at work: a chisel for a weapon, using the backhoe to clear the electric fence, and the current of the bulb wire to blast a hole in the ice house wall.  Whether that last would really work, I don't know, but it's part of the essence of U.N.C.L.E., like his shaving can bomb in "Iowa Scuba."

Yes, this one separates Solo and Illya very early, so that they have only two scenes together; and Illya is not given much to do -- though his attempt to manipulate the glass to cut through his leather wrist bonds is edge-of-the-seat stuff.  Unfortunately, the imprisonment of Illya is the linchpin of the plot.  The captive must be someone Solo, and we, care about.

No, I don't suppose that even in 1967 so big an area of Manhattan would be condemned all at once.  If they had set it in one of the other boroughs, it might have been more plausible.  On the other hand, the first map slide in Waverly's office is correct in showing a simplified version of the streets around the Manhattan Bridge.

Marlyn Mason is lovely.  Did we need her character, though?  Well, we needed an Innocent, someone for Solo to converse with during the ordeal.  Why not someone attractive?  Plus she adds a little lightness to a heavy story, and her emeralds come in handy during Act IV.

Darren McGavin's Karmak is an over-the-top villain, true -- something about his boots, his stance, and his leopard reminds me, paradoxically, of the comic-book hero the Phantom.  But he's a powerful and threatening presence.  While you wouldn't call him noble by any means, he faces death in his own gas chamber on his feet and without begging or whimpering.   (He's also one of the worst shots ever.  He misses Solo across the width of an alley while using a telescopic sight?  Or was he just playing with his quarry?)

I guess Karmak always intended to have Stefan pretend to betray him to Solo, to lead the agent to the ice house trap, and then dispose of Stefan afterward.  Illya plants the seed of "A reward?" in Stefan's mind, and so he demands money from Solo (which he planned to conceal from Karmak) in the process of playing out Karmak's game.

Thompson has Solo say that "felinophobia" is "fear of cats."  Isn't it "ailurophobia"?   Similarly, his villain, Brach, uses "intractable" for "tractable" in "Green Opal." 

Solo's darn lucky that Ying the leopard didn't disembowel him with its back claws while they were wrestling.  And I don't think the big cat's fangs would have broken Solo's arm, as the tag scene implies; his arm would have been lacerated, and he'd probably need reconstructive surgery and physical rehab, too.

Verdict: For atmosphere, setting, and tension, as an old enemy hunts Solo through a dark urban landscape and time ticks away for a captured Illya, the halfway point of the final year is superb adventure.

Memorable Lines:
Solo (to Illya in his hospital bed):  “. . . You have time for meditation!  Fruit of the vine; flowers of the field; exquisite view --”
Illya (looking around at the sterile room):  “What exquisite view?”
Solo (as an attractive nurse comes in):  “That exquisite view.”

Solo (to Waverly):  “What was left of Karmak was staked out in a jungle clearing for the scavenger ants.  With scavenger ants, death is never slow . . . but it’s always certain.”

Solo (to Sheila):  “Come on now, jump.  You said you did some skydiving, didn’t you?”
Sheila:  “Well, not exactly.  I started to.  I even went so far as to get a silver lame jumpsuit.  But when I actually looked down out of the plane . . . acrophobia!”

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