"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, March 8, 2010

"The Gurnius Affair" (ep. 4/11)

This one, which reunites several character actors from previous seasons, is unfortunately rather uninspired, despite some startling visuals from director Barry Shear and an interesting, if heavy on the leering, performance from David McCallum as sadist Colonel Nexor.  Still, it has its moments.

We pick up “somewhere in Europe.”  Prison commandant Major Hartmann says he’s been there for 25 years, which puts it back to 1942 -- but Kragensburg from its name is probably in Germany or Austria.  Was this a German POW camp, and the major was left in charge even after V-E Day?  His security is lousy, too.  Gurnius’s men didn’t need to use the mind-grabber; a single bazooka shell from the unguarded high ground would have taken out the fence, gate, and guard house.  Maybe the reason no one’s escaped in 25 years is that it wouldn’t have been much of a challenge.

Will Kuluva’s von Etske does give off a paranoid vibe as he and Nexor approach the checkpoint.  Nice touch, as is having Illya not be an instant expert on “orometchrome B.”  But I’d think von Etske, when he meets “Nexor” later, would wonder why the colonel is not furious with him for grabbing the helicopter and leaving him behind.

If no one’s been allowed to see von Etske for a quarter of a century, how did he know Gurnius was going to break him out?  And how is it that Illya-as-Nexor is able to speak German so well as to fool Gurnius, a “former Axis dictator,” and von Etske?  We saw this Fourth Reich thing a lot on TV adventures in those days, and it was getting dull even then.

Too many cars:  Solo and Illya arrive at the prison in a blue Triumph (?) roadster.  Since Solo and Terry use, I think, an ancient Mercedes (one of their early postwar diesels?), possibly Terry’s car, Illya would have taken the roadster to the lab.  But then Illya shows up at the helicopter rendezvous in a VW Bug!

On the good side, we have Barry Shear’s eye for the arresting visual: the stark dark U.N.C.L.E. interrogation room with its single bright overhead light as Waverly catechizes Illya-as-Nexor, and the fight in Solo’s hotel room with the shots through the slowly turning ceiling fan.  Illya sensibly has the fogged film analyzed, which provides a lead to San Rico (a “humid country”!  Ha!).  The darkroom scene with Terry, as Solo and Illya find out what she knows yet reveal nothing themselves, is fun, as is Solo's outmaneuvering Terry when she tries to report the story -- and the sequence as they creep across the sunlit field, only to be brought up short by the machete-brandishing Indian. 

There’s no surprise that the Indian is actually a Gurnius man -- Solo should have expected it.  On top of that, we leave them at the end of Act II, about to be threatened, and come back to find the Indian is (pretending to be) an ally or a neutral.  We missed something. 

The famous, or infamous, sequence where Illya-as-Nexor is clearly torturing Solo (Solo:  “Can’t stand much more . . .”) has given rise, I expect, to a thousand fan fiction scenes.  Of course Illya had to make it look good for Gurnius and Brown.  It would have been powerful to have some of the torture scene on camera, but no doubt the censors axed that.  (Pun gleefully intended.)  My question about the scene:  Solo’s wired up to an electrical torture system, and Illya throws water on him???

When Illya steps up with the fake suicide pill and tells Solo to bite down on it, however, Solo hesitates not even a moment.  He must trust Illya as much as Illya does him; recall Illya’s instant dismissal of the notion that Solo could be a Thrush double agent in “Summit-Five.” 

Verdict:  Not very original, but at least played straight, with Judy Carne, Macready, Ruskin, and Kuluva adding some spice.

Memorable Lines:
Waverly (to himself, on finding that Solo is in the company of Terry again):  “Same one, hm? 

Terry (ignoring the fact that Solo’s been attacked and nearly killed):  “My camera’s broken.”
Solo (dryly):  “I’m all right, thank you --”

Illya-as-Nexor:  “You are not as young as you used to be, Mr. Solo.”
(Solo growls under his breath)

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