"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!)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

"The Man from Thrush Affair" (ep. 4/12)

This, the last Solo-only script and the first to dispense with even a mention of Illya since "Yellow Scarf," feels oddly rushed and first-draftish, but features a strong performance by Robert Vaughn as Solo carries off an undercover mission into the enemy camp.  As in "Summit-Five," the agents must operate out of touch with Waverly.

The Season One flavor is here in the opener.  We not only get an exotic scene in the Greek countryside involving a low-tech method of communication (the carrier pigeon), but we see two agents who are not Solo and Illya -- driving the U.N.C.L.E. car, no less.  Moreover, they're not hapless.  While they do die at the hands of Thrush, it's not before they get their information back to Waverly.  And the steel-nerved driver roars right into the thugs' rifle fire (the car must have had an early version of run-flat tires!) and swings neatly around their roadblock.  We get to see the car's high-tech weaponry, too.

Why couldn't we have had Illya in this one?  It makes sense that Waverly would tap agent Andreas Petros for his knowledge, however imperfect, of the Irbos dialect.  But we with inquiring minds want to know how this came about -- it suggests he has ties to the place.  Solo also implies ("Welcome aboard, Andreas") that this is Petros's first mission, or first out of New York.  Petros might well have been the Innocent in this story, if this mission were to cause a conflict with his past.  But none of this is tackled.

Similarly, the relationship between locals Marnya and Marius is never explored.  We needed a scene between them to show his hostility, and one later to show their rapprochement.  (Well, okay, we get to see them embracing in Act IV.)

Interesting technology abounds, though.  We have the invisible barrier; kudos to the actors for making it look tough to squirm underneath it.  (About time that old acting exercise of miming being trapped in a glass box came in handy.)  Plus the jamming field keeps our heroes from calling HQ.  Then, in the Thrush complex, Filene's ID card operates doors and elevators, which we see every day now.  Did our world have that so long ago?

The production staff had a lot of fun with the back of the Thrush ID card, didn't they?  Exclamation points ("Death, Torture and Terror!") and the three-pronged optical illusion as one of the symbols.

An earthquake machine?  Thrush tried that two years ago in Japan ("The Cherry Blossom Affair"), and it didn't work.  And The Voice of Armageddon rushes to deliver his ultimatum to the world without even testing Killman's device?  Killman, however, has neat character tags.  He constantly refers to himself in the third person, cheerfully admits to being cruel, and loves the Lepidopterae.

We haven't seen this blur-out to show the passage of time in a while.  It's also a superb touch that, when Solo and Andreas are burying their scuba suits, their hair is still wet.  But they should have landed by night.

Solo's performance as efficiency expert Filene (no doubt named for the Boston department store) is the delight here.  He's the perfect corporate drone, one of the fedora-topped, button-down Company Men who swarmed the halls of IBM and BBDO in those days.  The bit where he faces the captured Andreas, and has to try to save him without blowing his cover, is terrific, as is his putting the pieces together about the earthquake machine.  And for once, he's not rumbled instantly.  Killman suspects he's not authentic Hierarchy, but is not sure, and Solo is only revealed by Thrush's examination of his voiceprint.  His efficiency methods work well, even as we see that they are more humane -- putting the workers on shifts, for example, so they are rested.  (Why is it necessary to have so many workers polishing things, though?)

Killman's blackmailing Solo, to continue with the project to save the lives of the islanders, works.  Our Napoleon's sense of honor would never permit him to sacrifice the locals.  But Solo doesn't seem to have much to actually, you know, do before the project is complete.

Verdict:  Possibly rushed before the cameras before the script was really ready, the all-action climax and the tag scene seem hurried.  If there was a story this year that deserved more time, this was it: to show us about Marnya and Marius, Andreas's connection (if any) with the islanders, and Solo's dilemma of having to appear to help Killman as he waits for a chance to sabotage the operation.

Memorable Lines:
Solo (as he and Andreas pause in their scuba gear): "Let's get out of these wet things and into a couple of dry hopsacks."
(Always suspected Solo was a Brooks Brothers man!)


Unknown said...

As I recall, the Illya-less episodes in the last season were due to David McCallum being away on his honeymoon.

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