"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 2, 2010

"The Thrush Roulette Affair" (ep. 4/7)

At last, an episode that could almost be a Season One!  As I watched I kept imagining this one in black-and-white, with the martial first-season theme and the shattered glass intro. . . .  On top of that we get an unusual Innocent (both male and middle-aged!), plus the twin delights of Solo playing private eye, and a historic battle between U.N.C.L.E.'s two top agents.

The opener is in two parts, so to speak, and the second follows from and amplifies the first.  That establishing shot of New York must have been from the early to mid-Fifties; look at the taxicabs.  And even I know that Lincoln Center is nowhere near the UN.  Nice detail, though, that we're told Command HQ is near the UN building.

The target range scene moves the exposition out of Waverly's office for a change, and gives us a character bit for Waverly himself.  Part of the fun is Solo's narrow-eyed reaction as Waverly aims.  First he glances at the Old Man, then at the gun, and then at the end squints through the telescopic sight, as if wondering if it spoiled his own aim.  Priceless.

Full marks to this episode for actually having Solo end his call to Waverly with "Over and out."

Uh, casino-goers . . . do ya think it might have been smarter to, I dunno, stay away from a club whose name means "A sight of Death"?  Nice though to see that simply laid out in the episode.  In a modern TV story, we'd have had an annoying scene where one agent explains the Greek origin of the word, and the other snickers at what a nerd the first agent is for knowing such things.

Taggart Coleman is invited to the Club, and then we find he and Monica the hostess used to be an item.  At first this comes off like a throw-the-remote-across-the-room coincidence.  Partridge, I think, implies the cause and effect were the reverse:  When he, Partridge, found out his employee Monica had been involved with Coleman the millionaire -- as he says, it was public knowledge -- he made sure Coleman got an invitation.  (The real coincidence is that Solo manages to snatch Coleman's invitation out of hundreds.)

Monica looks as though she'd rather be kissing a dead cod than Mr. Partridge.  Can't say I blame her. Michael Rennie's blinded-by-ambition Partridge would probably be called a "perv" nowadays.  Smooth, authoritative, positive he's thought of everything -- but watch how he cracks when Solo and the now-unbrainwashed Illya break loose.  One question:  He hasn't been conditioned, and yet he panics at what he knows are films of his greatest fear, trains hurtling toward him?

Got to love Dr. Ieato, though, with his psychological torture technique, and then we see him biting his nails -- and munching happily on a sandwich while he watches Illya shooting at Solo.

Again RV proves a superstar in the reaction department, when Coleman calls him "Bonaparte" the first time.  (Solo to himself:  "I'd love to maim this character, but we need him for the mission. . . .")

My only comment about the file cards on Solo and Illya, which have been discussed for decades, is that the cards look less like something spit out by an Ultimate Computer, and more as if a clerk had hand-printed them.  Still fascinating, though.

The long sequence in which Solo and the brainwashed Illya battle each other is as startling in its way as the battle when Kirk goads Spock into fighting him in "This Side of Paradise."

The images of Solo and Illya, both clad in black, Solo hoisting the machine gun as they stride down the corridor -- stamp `em Iconic.  We're outta here.

Verdict: An exciting story with a solid villain, a rare male Innocent, trivia about our heroes, and a plethora of scenes in which the guys have rarely looked better.

Memorable Lines:
Ambassador Vanderloon: "I've tasted your methods before.  You are wasting your time if you think you can torture the information out of me.”  [Proudly]  “I was a silent guest of the Nazi experts for three years."

Solo (beating a quick retreat after the desk girl has taken his bribe, then called in the thugs): "I guess in the long run you can trust most women, anyway. . . ."

Coleman (to Solo): "Tune in yourself, man.  Find out what's happening in your brain before you start messing around the other guy's."
Solo: "Do you always talk like a protest poster?"

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