"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!)

Friday, February 26, 2010

"The 'J' for Judas Affair" (ep. 4/3)

This story by Norman Hudis (“Bottle of Rum,” “Five Daughters”) has even more of the classic Ellery Queen detective story air to it than did “Summit-Five.”  The question of who wants to kill Mark Tenza the patriarchal industrialist (and his son -- but which one?), the red herrings of the identity of “J,” and the final double surprise have always impressed me.   It’s also peculiar within the series format for not having an obvious Innocent, unless brother James qualifies.

An atmospheric opening in the Tenza family crypt (though Illya is suddenly a remarkably poor shot!) sets up the mystery, and we quickly see the dynamics of the Tenza family are ready-made for Thrush to exploit.  Tenza’s expensive security forces aren’t very good, at least not against the clever Mr. Solo, and his and Illya’s tense expedition into the Tenza vault lifts this above the average TV cop story of the time.

A wonderful detail:  As Solo leaves the Tangier airport, we see signs in English, French, and what I guess is Arabic.  Plus the view from Mark Tenza’s villa looks convincingly exotic.

Security chief Dawson does some purty fair shootin’ there, when he kills the painter at that distance with such a short-barrelled pistol.  Having him be a former cop is a neat touch, as it appears to set him above suspicion.

You have to wonder what Solo’s long plane ride with the elder Tenza was like.  Probably Solo would prefer a nice visit to the dentist.  And John Hoyt’s U.N.C.L.E. technician . . . well, you just want to smack him a good one, don’t you?

I know I’ve objected to the idea of a criminal mastermind masquerading as an everyday person before.   In “King of Knaves” and “Hong Kong Shilling,” the mastermind works in a menial position unconnected with his own organization.  Here, though, Olivia Wills is right on the spot, her fingers plying the strings of the company she’s trying to subvert for Thrush -- and, no doubt, pulling young Adam’s strings too.

Watching the story a second time, you see how neatly Adam, Olivia, and Dawson play Solo and Illya (who really should have been more suspicious, but hey, nobody’s perfect).  Conflicts between any two of the conspirators are always played with Tenza staffers or one or both of our guys present; never do we see conspirators conversing alone.  As for the gas “attack” on Olivia, no doubt Adam called her from the plant as soon as Solo and Illya bolted out the door, and she timed her moves accordingly.

No, Chad Everett is no Paul Newman when it comes to acting chops, at least not here.  However, his performance lends a convincing air to the story, in that you don’t suspect someone who appears so earnest and stodgy as part of a master plan to murder his father and brother.  (I do laugh inappropriately, however, every time I watch him grinning like a big kid as he crawls through the palm fronds of his brother’s hut.)

Claude Woolman’s “J,” James Tenza, is impressive.  His fiery take-no-prisoners manner with Solo and Illya suggests that he would have been exactly the right man to lead Tenza International (and may still be, now that the Thrush menace is gone).

Verdict:  Though our heroes are intrepid, with their “Fiddlesticks”-type vaultcracking (highly illegal, Messrs. Solo and Kuryakin!), they are led a little too easily by the mastermind and her assistants.   But how can you dismiss a mystery thriller in which the identity of the master criminal is withheld until the last few seconds -- and where the final shot and music combine so neatly?

Memorable Lines:
Adam Tenza: “Our security forces?  When did Darien Dawson’s daredevils handle anything tougher than a factory hand forging an overtime claim?”

Solo (to Adam, about the elder Tenza): “He’s entitled to think and behave as he pleases.  It’s a free country.  Especially if you own most of it.”

Mark Tenza: “I’ll get [a plane].   I own an airline.  Any other questions?”
Solo: “What do people get you for your birthday?”
(Thus demonstrating again that the Season Four shows were not devoid of humor)

James Tenza: “Does a man of peace have to wear a beard, tote a banner, look like he couldn’t fight?”

"The Test Tube Killer Affair" (ep. 4/2)

Big-time MfU fan Marc Douglas of the Channel_D list e-mailed me last year to ask if he could be the one to review this smart, fast-paced episode.  He covers all the bases for sure.  Take it away, Marc!

Hello All,

Paul was kind enough to let me step in this one time as "Test Tube Killer" is my favorite episode of the series and it also stands as one of the best hours of  60s television.  And I'm sure we are all curious to see how Paul reacts to a  review for a change :)

To start, this episode is an incredible 50 minutes of television and it shows off U.N.C.L.E. so well that I have used this episode on a few ex-girlfriends to give them the best example of the show that I would never shut up about since  1988.

One more thing before I begin...


The Teaser...

I forget who mentioned in their e-mail about a lack of budget and extras throughout the 4th season. TTK puts that argument to rest.  Right from the beginning notes of Gerald Fried's score (possibly his best of the series) we see a crowded bazaar and you can just tell that something very serious is going to happen.  Is the "Waverly Collection" line hokey?  Maybe, but who cares.  Once we see Martin pop Miguel and Illya chase off after him we know that we are going to be in for one hell of a ride.

The entire scene in the alleyway is incredible, from the gunplay, to the reaction shot of Solo and Illya and to the Fried score which moves the scene along.  I can overlook them trying to stop the car by jumping on when before that, they were crouching behind the crates, exchanging gunfire and in fear of their lives.  Something that was long gone in season 3 comes back with a vengeance.

So what is going on in that fencing school as the teaser ends?  You know you want to find out.

Before I begin...  Yes, the three guest star theme is a little weak.

ACT I...

Nice for a change that we don't start off in New York with Waverly sending off the boys.  Also nice to see the UNCLE car get a good workout (even though footage is used from "Five Daughters" as Illya's hair and Solo's suit don't match the new footage).  The scene in the fencing school is well done and sets up what is going to be a helluva ride for the rest of the show.  Mr. Jones does a solid job as Martin and the beatdown he puts on number 7 is convincing.  Good scene when he gets it on with Miss Lamb and the misogynistic dialog from Dr. Stoller.  (Mr. Lukas seems to pause frequently when giving dialog.)

The U.N.C.L.E. theme used while Illya and Solo are driving is kick-ass (and yes, the first shot of the U.N.C.L.E. NY interior is from next week's show).

And yes, Barbara Moore still can not act; her saying, "Code Yellow" actually makes me cringe. But you get the idea that this is a new U.N.C.L.E. and we get to see a greater part of the inner workings that was not present since season 1.

Nice to see Solo still eyeing up the ladies when he sees Miss Lamb, but is it me or do two guys walking in for fencing lessons make the slash writers drool.

I like how they both react when the see Martin on the training film.

That's a big plane to only have Illya and Solo in it!

Lynn Loring actually does a good job with her role and another hour would have given us a chance for the love affair to develop more.  I like how Martin avoids Hobson till he needs her.

Nice to see another vet from "Deadly Smorgasbord" show up along with Loring.  The hotel employee who delivers the TV was an U.N.C.L.E. doctor in the former.  And yes, the scene was done for laughs.

The bomb disarm was well done and shows the smarts of both men.  Illya noticing the defect and Solo seeing that it is just glass.  Shame they couldn't afford a new prop and used the communicator as a bomb detector as well.  Must have been an upgrade.  Just turn it upside down (good thing they didn't do that for season 3 as it would have gone off every week!  "Har Har").

Shouldn't Martin have come from Guadalajara and not New York as Illya says on the phone?


Love the entire restaurant scene except for how long it takes Solo to get up off his ass after the waiter knocks him down and go to help Illya.

Again, a great job of showing the crowded restaurant really gives the episode life.

Fried's music, "Hot Plate” (which has a whole new meaning today), enhances the scene.  You really get the feeling that Solo and Illya are a step behind as Waverly points out.

Like Solo's line about meeting over a bowl of soup. Though something seems forced about having Martin put a knife to Hobson's throat and then moments later, it's like nothing has happened

What the hell were those two idiots behind Waverly thinking they would find in the fencing masks.

Hey look, we're using the same set from "Deadly Smorgasbord" as an airport again.

Like how Martin escapes but why does he strip the maintenance worker since we never actually see him change clothes or go into disguise?

Like seeing Illya give Waverly a little lip back.  (Why is he on the phone though, as we know those communicators can work after being doused in water.)

You can tell by Waverly's actions that he is concerned that Solo and Illya might actually fail the mission.


Like how Solo lets Hobson escape.  Third season he would have done a dumb thing like that. Now he has a reason.

Wish we would have see more than the radar used in the car, hell, Dancer and Slate used more of the car goodies then Solo or Illya ever did.  Of course why in the hell would you drive a car that stands out like that if you were a secret agent?

Nice touch with the sign in the bookstore.

The entire alley scene, music, pacing, acting, is just one of the U.N.C.L.E. kick-ass moments.  Great scene with the kiss and the reaction by Hobson.  (Love that he tells her to shut up too.  He could say that to Barbara Moore and make us all happier)

Solo and Illya look like they've had their asses kicked by Martin as they walk through the alley.

Again, as Hobson walks in the alleyway (Illya's eyes darting when they confront her as if he knows Martin is close), the music is just great and then the explosion and then Illya not taking the shot because he'd hit Hobson and then Illya's great line about sending Waverly a letter.  You can tell he's pissed off now.


One big laugh in this act and yeah, it's unintentional.

Hobson will kill now for Greg, again because we only have an hour, Greg falling in love with her seems rushed.

You really get the feel that U.N.C.L.E. is global the way they work with the police and with the other HQs.

Seeing Stavros get smacked around is always fun.  (How did hell did he keep his hair while Telly looked like a stick of Ban Roll On since birth?)

So Solo knows Athens while Illya speaks Greek.  (That's why they need each other)

Yeah, yeah, my ex laughed out loud when the helicopter exploded.  (Christ, how cheap did that look!) I like the flamethrower though.

Loring does a good job showing fear of dying when she is trapped in the car.   (Surprised that the censors let her say Thank God when Martin came back to rescue her)

I had no problem believing that Martin was actually on the dam even though it doesn't come close to matching the stock footage.

What happened to the other Test Tube Killers since not all of them were on the bus but yet at the end we see them all.

The music again enhances the scene when Solo and Illya are about to pounce on Martin. You also know that after Solo yells, "Martin, stop!" that they were going to kill him no matter what he did.

And yes, once again we see Bob do the old, fist pump when he shoots.  There was no way in hell he'd of hit him in real life.  I like how Martin makes sure to grab Hobson's hand before professing his love.

Stoller’s revelation that the female influence is stronger than he expected.  (Well, no duh)

As Solo gets Hobson out of the car and tells her that Martin meant it when he said he loved her shows that compassionate side of Solo lost for a long time.  You know Illya's not making that statement.

The music that plays as the bus goes down the hill as it passes the three, "incredible" knowing that 6 more Test Tube Killers are still on the loose.  You would think that Solo or Illya would have picked up on Stoller's voice coming from the bus and even if they could not chase the bus, unload their guns into it.

Again, Fried did an incredible job with the soundtrack.

To conclude...

This should have been a two parter as I would have loved to have seen Martin toy with Illya and Solo more and see them get more pissed.  Love the Waverly attitude in this one.  I can watch this one over and over again and still be enthralled

Piss on NBC for not giving me 30 episodes like this.

I remember the ex saying that she liked the blonde guy when the show ended.

To me, this episode is U.N.C.L.E. (I know you all don't think that way).

A taut script with few errors and the ones we have are easy to dismiss as this simply is U.N.C.L.E.

Paul, if you don't mind, I'll let you pick the memorable quotes and again thanks for letting me do this one.


(If we gave ’em rankings this is an 11 out of 10!)


Kudos to Marc for a detailed, thorough review!

I've enjoyed this one since the CBN days because of the science-fictional idea, Greg's clever and workable subterfuges, and how professionally Solo coordinates the land and air search.  As Marc says, we're shown clearly here that the Command consists of more than our three leads.  We see the agent who is killed in the bazaar (I think he was an U.N.C.L.E. agent), and the exotic Greek (?) lady in the Athens office.

As he pointed out, too, it's neat to see Solo and Illya working with the local law enforcement people.  Even with the locals' aid, Solo and Illya are not in complete control here.  Good as they are, Greg is a jump ahead of them; the entire band of "test-tube killers" would have been a real challenge.  Also, both Solo and Illya remain convincingly rumpled, after being soaked at the airport and covered in brick dust in the alley, all the way to the end.

The shot from this, where the dark-suited Solo crouches in the alley, gun in hand, that the DVD producers used on the episode menu for this disc, is a classic.  If you want one of Solo and Illya together, Lisa has posted this stunner:

"The Summit-Five Affair" (ep. 4/1)

In the fall of '67, yours truly (age fourteen) had just come off a summer of Ellery Queen's classic detective stories, and I was thrilled (and still am) to find "Summit-Five" resembled those novels: a locked room murder, a false solution (that turns out to be partly true!), good detective work by Solo and Illya, and at last the identity of the mastermind, all at a breakneck pace.

Right at the start we get the new look: Solo in a double-breasted suit and with the Napoleonic forelock not seen since the series' early days, Lisa Rogers's comm screen and the new "computer alley" outside Waverly's office, that electronic freeze barrier, etc.  At the outset, too, we know this is no comedy; the music charges the scenes with tension.  This is U.N.C.L.E. to Take Seriously.

Those polar map lights indicate that the other three continental headquarters are in New Delhi, Caracas, and Nairobi (though none of the chiefs in Act IV looks African; perhaps one is Egyptian).

Lisa's info scene in Waverly's office sets up a situation we often saw on "Star Trek," in which Kirk & Co. are prevented, by distance or forces natural or enemy, from communicating with base or their ship.  This isolates our heroes from aid and raises the stakes.  Here Illya operates under a similar communications restriction.  (Lisa is much like the early Spock; I can hear him saying her line, "Personal histories have never been in my department.")

On top of all this, we get the flamboyant figure of sybarite Harry Beldon, "everything a cautious, unobtrusive, successful secret agent shouldn't be."  We're told that Illya has worked with him.  This gives him a history with the Command and serves to shift suspicion from him.  If he'd been a new chief that none of them knew, he would have seemed more a suspect.  His summation in Act I even gives him an air of the classic armchair detective.

It's a little unfair not to show us the U.N.C.L.E. Xeron Actuator, yet not tell us what it's for (if not for killing at a distance), and just who is allowed to use it.  After all, while it has to be employed at close range, it's small enough to conceal on your person -- a covert and awfully murderous weapon for an organization that uses sleep darts instead of bullets where possible.

The episode is not completely humorless.  Watch Solo's little spin on his heel at 10:53, as he muses on the "exciting" prospect of trailing Helga; Illya's dazed look after Solo has clipped him on the jaw in the cell; or Solo's fastidious reaction to the soaked and no doubt scummy Illya at the climax.

Solo's interrogation by Strothers (who enjoys this a bit too much, methinks) is mind-bending enough, with the disorienting lights and fisheye camera work.  To see him cling to Strothers' leg and actually weep (and call for Illya!) is affecting, and the effect lingers even after we realize it's a ploy to take control of the chain of plot and counterplot.

I'm not sure Solo's conclusion from the lack of glasses in her purse, that Helga was kidnapped, holds.  Helga and Beldon, the ones behind the plot, would probably have assembled the fake purse, and both knew of her myopia.  But it is a good use of the negative or "What's missing?" clue.

This one contains one of the great and defining moments of loyalty in the Solo-Illya partnership.  In Act III, it's all up to Illya; if he believes that the double agent could still be Solo, he's to call Summit Five off.  And he says, "Don't be ridiculous," and strides without hesitation to the comm panel.  In a word: Wow.

If the story lets us down anywhere, it's that Solo and Illya escape too easily from Beldon's elevator steam room.  Given the strength of this story (and the fact that the tag is not annoyingly cute), we'll let that tiny thing go.

Verdict: A dazzling season opener, an important episode in the U.N.C.L.E. universe, a showcase for Robert Vaughn -- and a shout to the fans disaffected by last year's comedies:  "We are so very back!"

Memorable Lines:
Harry Beldon (taking his leave of the ladies in the limo): "Ah, contessa, arrivederciArrivederci! 
You will remember me to your husband!"

Strothers (interrogating a weakened Solo): "There was no security leak before your arrival at U.N.C.L.E. Berlin.  Do you admit that?"
Solo (low and gasping, but perfectly clear): "No."
Strothers (gleefully): "It's an established fact!  You can't deny it!"
Solo: "That isn't a fact.  Only fact is that there was no security leak discovered before I came here."
(Excellent point.  Even under pressure, the boy's always thinking!)

Next Post:  A guest review!!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Summing Up: Season Three, the Awards

I know, I know: "Awards?  Why?"

Good point.  This year gave us hardly anything worthy of the sort of laurels earned by the Season One gems like "Project Strigas" and "Fiddlesticks," or Season Two sparklers like "Ultimate Computer" and "Minus-X."  The highlights of Season Three are, with a few exceptions, more a succession of clever scenes or memorable moments, rather than entire episodes.  Still, we shall reward excellence, or at least above-averageness, whene'er we find it.  Accordingly:

Best in Show: "Concrete Overcoat," "Thor," "Deadly Smorgasbord," "Galatea"

Best Villains: Sutro, "Her Master's Voice"; Strago and Miss Diketon, "Concrete Overcoat"

Worst Villain: Colonel Hamid, "Come with Me to the Casbah"

Best Innocents: Captain Morton, "Yo-Ho-Ho and a Bottle of Rum"; Stavros, "It's All Greek to Me"; Rosy and the Baroness, "Galatea"

Worst Innocent: All the innocents in "Hot Number."  Every one of 'em.  They can sit over there next to Nina of "Apple a Day" and Marvin Klump of "Matterhorn."

Silliest/Dumbest: "My Friend the Gorilla," "Abominable Snowman," "Jingle Bells," "Pop Art," "Hot Number". . . ah, the list goes on . . .

Funniest: "Pieces of Fate," "Sort of Do-It-Yourself Dreadful," "Super-Colossal"

Best Scenes and Shots Dept.:
-- The whole jail-cell and escape sequence in "Five Daughters, Part II";

-- the teaser, with Solo grumping about being yanked away from a date, in "Monks of St. Thomas";

-- one of the great defining Solo Moments in "Deadly Smorgasbord," when Beckman "fires" the SAD and gets only a stuffed snake, and Solo holds up his hands with a "For my next trick . . ." smile;

-- the night shot of Solo in "Jingle Bells," crouched on the rooftop with the yellow skylight behind him;

-- the scene in "Candidate's Wife" when Solo tells Irina, "Whatever happens, I'm on your side";

-- in "When in Roma," Illya, after reading young Sammy to sleep with a blood-and-thunder comic book, looks to see how the story comes out;

-- Illya swiftly plugging Sutro in "Her Master's Voice," and the hidden thug about to jump Solo in "Pop Art";

-- and the best, of course, is the moment in "Concrete Overcoat, Part II" in which Solo stands up to Waverly, determined to save Illya and Pia.

Field-strip, oil, reassemble, and load your Specials!  Ensure your communicator is properly tuned for Channel D and local office frequencies!  Onward and upward, to Season Four!

"The Cap and Gown Affair" (ep. 3/30)

At last, here we are at the end of the long and dreaded Season Three, with "U.N.C.L.E. Visits Animal House," or "Spot the Real Dean Wormer!"  It's kind of fun, though its main distinction is that the front cover of Ace novel # 23, and both covers of # 14, are drawn from it.  (I just had to get that in.)

The teaser (as often happened this season) has a serious flavor, with the use of a dummy of Waverly giving us some authentic trickiness.  Things quickly get a bit silly, however, with the students of Blair University apparently so bored, or easily led, that they join in on a protest announced like a meeting of the Spanish Club.  (Oddly, nobody in that '32 Ford roadster seems actually to be speaking into the loudhailer mike.)  Illya looks authentically scruffy, with a two-day growth of beard; he could have passed for a graduate student.  Solo, though, the students would instantly have spotted as The Man.  (To be fair, he's not trying to work undercover.)

Where exactly is Blair University supposed to be?  Here's Illya in a sheep rancher coat and a sweater, Solo in a winter-weight wool suit, and students in Ozzie Nelson sweaters, all in April or May.  It's "in the sticks," the head Thrush says.  Rural New England, maybe?

The girls' dormitory sequence is funny.  Okay, the pillow fight-and-feathers stuff is way too much, and the chase music is silly, but a coed using a book called "A History of Pacifism" to clobber people?  Funny.

It's also a nice touch that Neary the psychology prof is not with Thrush and must be enticed/blackmailed into helping Trumbull and the false Dwight.  Had Neary also been part of the satrap, it would have been a little too much.

The students are protesting U.N.C.L.E., and Waverly's honorary degree, because they've been incited by Thrush; okay.  But why does our head Thrush think that "Dean Dwight" assassinating Waverly will lead to an investigation that will bring U.N.C.L.E. down?  If his plan called for someone identified as a Command agent to kill Dwight (the real one), then certainly.  With Dwight as the assassin, though, you'd expect any investigation to center on Wossamatta U.  (Oops, I mean Blair.)

Things we learn: That Solo, as we always suspected, was named for that Corsican fellow, and that Illya has done some mountain climbing and did so on Mount Whitney.

While it's kind of over the top, the deadly teaching machine fits the setting: academics Neary and Dwight, student Minerva, and intellectual agent Mr. Kuryakin, all forced to take a final exam in which a passing grade means you get to go on breathing.  I love how the academics immediately conclude the machine is wrong when it disagrees with them!  One point:  Each question seemed to take about a minute to deal with.  If our heroes are facing question 336 in Act IV, they must have been stuck in that room, under tremendous tension, for over five hours!  Since Waverly would have arrived around 10 a.m. (or are commencements held in the afternoon?), the false Dwight must have set them up in the death room at something like 4:30 or 5:00 a.m.

Also, wouldn't you think Waverly would be a bit -- heck, a lot! -- more suspicious that Solo and Illya are not there to greet him?

Verdict: A funny script -- not serious, though with some serious moments; the head Thrush's masquerading (a la "Mission: Impossible") as Dean Dwight and Trumbull's threatening of psych prof Neary are worthy of better treatment.

Memorable Lines:
Solo (as they flee the Thrush thugs): "In there."
Illya: "That's the girls' dorm."
Solo: "Is that bad?"

Solo (as the negligee-clad coeds fail to react to his and Illya's arrival in the dorm): "When I was in college, they used to scream."

Dean Dwight: "I think I am on the nerve of a vergous breakdown!"

Teaching Machine: "In what year did Napoleon Bonaparte die?  Answer A: 1823; Answer B: 1821."
Illya: "Come on, Napoleon.  You should know that."
Solo: "I was named for him; I wasn't at his funeral."

"The Five Daughters Affair, Part II" (ep. 3/29)

Better than Part I, as it should be, this one starts with the strong cliffhanger that should have ended the previous hour and leaps from the Med to New York, from Japan to "the polar cap," and a fast-moving final act.

The cliffhanger is neatly done; Vaughn, McCallum, and Miss Kim keep their struggle with the ropes from looking easy, and we see Solo's hair ruffled by the wind from the open hatch.  For some reason the closed captioning has Waverly describing the landing field at the Balearic Islands as "Her Majesty's" Landing Field Charlie, when he is clearly saying "Emergency."  A nice touch, that it's dark in New York but daylight over the Med, which is six hours later . . . but Waverly must have come in to work before six a.m.!

We have to wonder why Randolph and his men (a) didn't take Solo along with Illya and Sandy, and (b) didn't kill Solo when they had him unconscious . . . and why Solo doesn't take the convertible.  The cycle sequence is smooth, though, with Solo's hair ruffled again as he races to the ice house where Illya is being held.

The Japan sequence is colorful.  Director Barry Shear really uses his sets, the crowded walkway in Tokyo, the local police station (with Japanese writing on the bulletin boards), and the temple gate with the wide expanse of night sky behind it.  And Kim makes a lovely Japanese.  But why does everyone act as if a geisha house is nothing more than a house of prostitution?  Was that what most viewers would have believed back then?

Yet another fight scene with Randolph's karate squad makes our heroes seem rather hapless.  What happened to their guns?  True, they must have raced after Randolph and Sandy, and had little time -- but surely they could have stopped at a Command office on the way and re-armed?

We have to ask why Randolph would bring them to his headquarters; it makes as little sense as Goldfinger hiring James Bond to work for him.  Nearly all the spy movies and TV shows of the time used that trope, though, didn't they?  And there's the question of which polar cap Randolph means.  The North Pole is a ready hop from Japan, but if you dig down too far into the ice you hit water, whereas the land-based South Pole is a heckuva long trip from Tokyo.

Then we get a fourth act that really shines.  First Illya asks about how the project will affect the value of the world's gold, showing an economic sensibility.  Then the sequence in their cell is a classic in tone and dialogue; for an instant you think you're watching a story from Dean Hargrove or Peter Allan Fields back in Season Two, like "Foxes and Hounds" or "Discotheque."  The glances Solo and Illya exchange as they set up their escape are wonderful.

Finally we have the long chase sequence through the Thrush installation.  While not the harrowing scene Solo's scramble through Vulcan's plant was, so long ago, it features that dazzling strobe-effect moment as they race through that sun-dappled corridor, backed by exciting music.  That, my friends, is the visual style we expect of U.N.C.L.E.

How did they get back home from the polar cap?  Well, we saw a plane landing, and we know both of our heroes have pilot training, so . . .

Even the sappy happy ending, with the three joint weddings, is all right here, as a similar scene was back in "Concrete Overcoat," because the scenes just before have been so strong.

Verdict: A slow beginning to the two-parter as a whole, but it pays off in the last act.  "Karate Killers" must have done well at the box office.

Memorable Lines:
Solo (as he sags back, worn out, after turning off the ice chopper which is about to dismember Illya): "It's all go on this job, isn't it?"
Illya: "Isn't it just."

Illya (to Sandy, in Randolph's cell): "Graceful surrender seems to be the most dignified course left open to us."

Illya (to Solo): "What does the impetuous child [Sandy] expect us to do?"
Solo: "Escape -- with our customary ingenuity, bravado, flair, dash, et cetera, et cetera."
Illya: "Oh. Ah, yes. I'm supposed to say something very elliptically to you like, 'Pawn A to King's mate ploy,' and you understand what I mean, and we go into one of our daring escape routines."
Solo: "Mmm. Wouldn't that be nice. . . ."
(A scene in which they display all those attributes Solo mentions, and in spades)

"The Five Daughters Affair, Part I" (ep. 3/28)

The second two-parter this year and eventually the series' sixth film is a grand improvement in tone and action over the campy episodes this season, with colorful characters and bigger-budget locations that fit the globe-spanning flavor of U.N.C.L.E. at its best.

The "Little Nelly" one-man helicopter in the teaser here preceded the release of the Bond film "You Only Live Twice," which features a similar device.  The U.N.C.L.E. piranha-shaped car displays one of its drawbacks:  The windows are apparently not removable, so that Solo has to lift a door to fire at the Thrush copters.  (I'll bet they were glad to abandon it in the tunnel.  No doubt it got flattened by the first eighteen-wheeler to come barreling through!)

Director Barry Shear ("Minus-X") gives us a shot of the gold-dappled retort, shattered on the lab floor, and cuts to it being examined by Waverly -- for once, not in the standard Waverly's office set.  This one also features a strong detective element, as our heroes wing off to Italy, London, Switzerland (Austria?), and later Japan, to collect the pieces of True's formula.  Now this is neat . . . but at every turn Solo and Illya are either a step behind our villain, Herbert Lom's smoothly Continental Randolph; or he swoops in and gets the drop on them with his karate henchmen.  Every time.  Wouldn't a plot within a plot, a red herring to send him off in the wrong direction, have been a good idea?

Joan Crawford, a star for something like forty years at this point, manages to make the early, rather clumsy stages of her scene with Randolph work.  The segments with the daughters, except for Kim Darby's Sandy, all end predictably, with romantic fadeouts.  As for Kim, whom I've adored since 1969's "True Grit," her Sandy is something like her Mattie Ross in that film, though Mattie is much more prideful and stiff-necked.  Aside from wanting to visit Carnaby Street, Sandy is not developed much.  I wish we could have had a quiet personal moment between her and Solo, perhaps on the night flight to Austria/Switzerland, like the charming scenes with Chris Larson back in "Finny Foot."

Boris Ingster, as we've seen before, is a better scripter ("Yellow Scarf," "Very Important Zombie,"and here with Norman Hudis) than a producer.  The only hints here of his campy production style for the series are two silly fight scenes, at the palazzo with Telly Savalas and Diane McBain, and at the London nightclub with Jill Ireland's Imogen: Keystone Kops stuff with goofy or Top 40 music.  Things improve; check out the professional lady Command agent who, while guarding Sandy, leaps into action and handles the thugs without breaking a sweat!

Only RV could make a dark polo shirt under a lighter sport jacket look not only good but stylish enough for GQ.

Tell me true:  Did you expect the duck on the edge of the pool with the soaked Illya to screech "AF-LAC!!!"?

Other grand moments big and small: Solo using his hand as a foot rest to help Illya down from the skylight at the palazzo; the almost ballet-like attack by the skiing karate killers, schussing toward Solo and Illya to exciting music; and the snowfield fight scene, which everybody manages to keep from looking easy.

Verdict: Though it ends a little too soon, spoiling a great cliffhanger (we get that in Part II), it bounces along so energetically we're willing to suspend our disbelief.

Memorable Lines:
Amanda True: "After five marriages, if a woman hasn't, well, learned to appear to listen to a man without actually having heard one word, then she might just as well turn in her wedding rings."

Count de Fanzini: "Wife?  I have no wife. . . .  You ought to hear how she lies, how she cheats!  How she tell me that her millions will restore the de Fanzinis to their rightful glory.  But what does she bring on the wedding night, eh?  Three Portuguese escudos and one Kennedy half-dollar!"

Contessa (to Solo): "Are you rich?"
Solo (with a smile): "No, Illya and I work, ah, very hard for our living."
Illya: "But mostly in the dark."

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

"The Apple a Day Affair" (ep. 3/27)

“Super-Colossal,” move over.  From the co-writer of “Hot Number,” this loony story is at least occasionally funny in the same way “Beverly Hillbillies” and “Green Acres” were: so silly you have to laugh.

The tone is set right away, with our Thrush defector sporting the same eyeglasses-and-nose Solo wore in “Deadly Toys,” and with hillbilly hoedown music on the soundtrack.  The setting is effective, though I wonder why Waverly sends his two top men to meet and pay off a mere Thrush defector.

Illya appears to be even more multitalented than we thought:  He’s not only the holder of a doctorate in physics, but an expert organic chemist as well.

Waverly seems to know an awful lot: not only Thrush’s intentions regarding a nuclear stockpile, but also, later, that Picks & Co. intend to ship their doctored apples out that night.  The first time I saw this epic, I suspected we’d be told that Illya’s fellow captive, Gardner Brown, was the Command’s agent in place, feeding Waverly this intelligence . . . but alas, it was not to be.

As soon as Solo and Illya drive into Colonel Picks’s version of Hooterville (apropos, since Jeanine Riley was once a regular on that CBS show), the story trots out every cliché about poor Southerners: hound dogs, mushmouth accents, a sheriff on horseback, every male (no matter his age) called “boy,” and cute Nina’s shotgun-totin’ grandpappy, determined to keep her “pure.”

Three things stand out, however.  First is Robert Emhardt’s performance as Col. Picks.  He shifts without warning from easygoing drawl to startling whipcrack voice, and his mad piggy little eyes are often scary.  Second is the nod to 1958's “The Defiant Ones,” with Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier as chained-together convicts on the run; I can’t imagine that casting a black actor to be chained up and work with Illya was a coincidence.

And come on; admit it.  The shotgun wedding scene (yeah, I know, the third time in two years Solo’s been on the business end of a scattergun) is funny, especially once the damp and gasping Illya arrives to toss in his objections to the marriage.   Hilarious.

Verdict:  Erskine Caldwell would hang his head in shame.  So do U.N.C.L.E. fans.  But here and there, it’s funny.

Cute Lines:
Solo (to the Thrush defector): “I don’t suppose you’d care to take off your nose and stay awhile.”

Illya (as they drive the rented jeep into Purple Valley): “I have a feeling we’re not going to dispose of too many encyclopedias around here.”
Solo: “Now that’s not the right attitude for our gold-star salesman.”

Solo (after shoving on the mule’s hindquarters in an attempt to move it): “What does the manual say about moving a burro?”
Illya (deadpan): “Don’t push from behind.”

Nina: “Them dogs ruined your nice new suit.”
Solo: “That’s all right. It was almost a month old.”

Illya (improvising at Solo’s shotgun wedding): “I have to apologize for my brother-in-law here -- the father of my sister’s nine children.  He does this all the time. . . .  My sister put him on a spice-free diet, but it didn’t seem to help.”
Daddy Jo (startled): “Nine children?”
Illya (counting on his fingers): “Yes, there’s Robert, and Eunice, and Edward --”
(Nice nod to RV’s friends, the Kennedys)

"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?”

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

"The Hot Number Affair" (ep. 3/25)

Oh, dear, dear, dear . . .

Kazoos on the soundtrack?  "The Beat Goes On," and in practically every scene in which Sonny and Cher appear together, a Sonny and Cher song?  Are we watching "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.," or an early example of product placement?

Despite the horrible distraction of the kazoos, early on, and the S & C melodies throughout, the teaser has potential.  The scene in France's dingy apartment/studio as Buuder and his henchman threaten him, and Solo and Illya's little scene with the grumpy manager, are effective.  So, later, is the scene in Waverly's darkened office with Solo inspecting the details of the dress in the news article.

The concept that Thrush would commission a dress to encode their secret report is so far off base that . . . well, you come up with a simile or metaphor; my brain is too tired.

Why would Illya be upset when Solo suggests that he, Illya, pose as a fashion designer?  Illya did it himself back in "Deadly Decoy."  Perhaps, off screen, Solo has kidded him about it for the last two years, and Illya's had enough.  Though we now know Illya decided to make that a second career after leaving the Command!

Joe Mantell comes across as a better villain here than he did in "Indian Affairs," a nasty little fireplug of a Thrush, willing to use a hot iron on two helpless old men.  And Ned Glass and George Tobias (neighbor Abner on "Bewitched") are funny, two I've-seen-it-all-in-ladies'-dresses wholesalers who've never hit it big until now.

Why does Harry ask if Illya is Japanese?  Not only (as he says later) does Illya not look Asian, no one has mentioned any connection with Japan before that moment.  Since we get the bit where Illya bows and says "Hai!", I suspect there was a line in the original script that was cut.

Worse than that is Illya's walking into Buuder's shop after he's seen the tall dark henchman, Hardy -- who was there at Agnes Sue's.  He'd know he'd be recognized.  And while the nasal phone operator, and the comic routine about Andros, Zapata, and Bellport, are funny, they seem far out of place.

Watching this, you'd never know that Cher would develop into an acclaimed actress twenty years hence.  She seems to drift through her scenes as if programmed.

Gems found among the dross: Solo and Illya using hand signals with each other before jumping the Thrushes; Illya speaking, hilariously but with no logic whatever, in a "Japanese" fashion; at 42:57, the "get ready" look that passes between the agents as they prepare to outmaneuver Jerry; and Illya's gymnastics on the dress rack, followed by the much-discussed revelation that he went to "the University of Georgia, in the Ukraine."

Verdict: With pedestrian direction (surprising from an old hand like George WaGGner), this is in some ways worse than "Gorilla" and scores below "Abominable Snowman."  At least the latter had danger and some exotic flavor.  As much as I hate to say it, "Batman" was (sometimes) better.

Cute Lines:
Illya (murmuring to Solo): "'Mr. Kuryakin of the Goldwood chain'?"
(Solo clears throat)
Illya: "Oy."

Harry Parkaginian (to his partner): "You wouldn't know a hot number if it jumped off the rack and hit you on the nose.  You kept us out of knits, we missed the pants suit, the Sonny and Cher look passed us like a shot!"

Solo: "Is [Buuder] involved?"
Illya: "If he isn't, he's awfully hostile toward freelance designers."

Ramona (as Solo and Illya hurry toward her door): "What are you two, some kind of a team?"
Solo and Illya (together): "'Bye."

"The Matterhorn Affair" (ep. 3/24)

My notes from the CBN days on this one say, "The kind of story that gave U.N.C.L.E. a bad name."  Seeing it again now: check.  Cute in places, and with a McGuffin that could have provided the driver for a decent story, it fails on both the cleverness and parody levels.

The opener is well-done, however, with our guys in Singapore to meet and pay off independent agent Fred Score, who gives us probably the clearest dying message in mystery history.  If the Quasimodo project (there's your real title right there!) was so ultra-high priority, Solo and Illya should have reported in while in Singapore or on the plane instead of wasting time flying back to New York, and Waverly could have sent them straight through to California.

The U.N.C.L.E./UCLA gag is cute, but I think it would have been better if Solo or Illya had smiled at Heather's assumption.  Illya's stone face in particular suggests he's heard this one too many times.

Bill Dana, you'll recall, was best known for his Jose Jimenez character in variety-show sketches and his self-titled series, which showcased Don Adams as dull-witted hotel detective Glick.  Here he almost appears to be doing his gay character Bronco Brucie; Marvin makes some of the female Innocents look like Xena the Warrior Princess.  At the end, I'll admit, his rebirth is motivated.  Having your beloved sister threatened by criminals, it appears, is enough to put starch into the limpest spine.

Illya gives the name of his organization as ". . . Law Enforcement."  On the other hand, the U.N.C.L.E. Special carbine makes a guest appearance.  On the third hand, why don't the delirium-producing flowers get to Illya when he swoops in to rescue Marvin?  Now that would have been funny!

Solo is too easily captured at Marvin's in Act III.  Better if Heather had leaped toward the door, expecting Marvin; gun in hand, Solo lunges after her, but Howard the thug crashes in and seizes her, and Solo must surrender.

Twice we get a glimpse of the Solo warmth and charm as he draws Heather out on her lonely and self-sacrificing life, scenes which do work.  However, compare Elaine and Solo in "Vulcan," or his scene with housewife Chris in "Green Opal."

How could this have been saved?  Try a little cleverness.  Fred Score's dossier, let's say, paints him as a lover of puzzles and mystery novels.  His dying message is more cryptic, giving our men a puzzle:  Find the right Marvin Klump.  Fred would have to know about Sam Quartz -- we would be told they'd all gone to school together -- and we'd also be told he'd passed through Southern California on the way to Singapore, giving him a chance to stash the film.  Most important, Solo and Illya would not have hared crazily off to Switzerland!  Imagine that they get Marvin away from Backstreet and Beirut (who have captured Heather to make Marvin talk), then reason out where the "Matterhorn" in the puzzle-loving Score's message is really hidden.  This would not only have been cleverer (though less colorful), it would have been cheaper to film!

I'd like to have several of those cars Quartz has on his lot.  A Mercedes SL, a Thunderbird, a Caddy convertible --!

I didn't recognize Vito Scotti until he spoke.  Usually in his multitudes of character appearances in the Sixties, he wore a mustache.  His Beirut is a sort of Joel Cairo-ish cockroach, while Oscar Beregi's Rodney Backstreet is clearly named after Sydney Greenstreet.  If, based on these names, scripter David Giler was trying for a parody of "Maltese Falcon," no cigar; "Get Smart" did it better.

Verdict: A script to hand a good writer and say, "This isn't working; fix it."

Cute Lines:
Illya: "[Quasimodo]'s a plan to develop a miniature atomic reactor."
Waverly: "And how did you come by that information, Mr. Kuryakin?  Quasimodo is one of the most closely guarded secrets in the world."
Illya: "Somebody from Intelligence mentioned it in the elevator on the way up this morning."

Solo: "Apparently Fred Score is working the back alleys for Backstreet."
(Illya's eye roll and turn away is funny, but it's not that bad a pun, is it?)

Beirut (asked by Marvin why they're threatening him): "Quasimodo."
Marvin: "Quasimodo?  Oh, that must be one of those new Japanese jobs.  Is that a six or an eight?"

Monday, February 22, 2010

"The Pieces of Fate Affair" (ep. 3/23)

This, Harlan Ellison's second and last script for the series, is fun.  Though it's a little simplistic in some of its details, and its pacing is oddly slow and measured, the Ellison Wonderland touch is evident in the great lines.

Theo Marcuse's Ellipsis Zark (cf. Count Zark of "Bat Cave"; it would have been interesting had they been related) is not as colorful, despite his Reynolds Wrap hand, as his Season Two characters Valetti and Rollo.  Zark kills one of his henchmen, to show us how tough he is, and we find that he and Solo have encountered each other before; and that's all.

Nice detail, that April Dancer was an Enforcement agent in 1965.  "Moonglow," which appeared to be her first mission, aired in 1966.  If we take the view, as some fans do, that the events chronicled by the episode occurred earlier than the episode’s air date, then the previous year could be correct.

I loved having Mr. Waverly go undercover in the adventure, with his "Mission: Impossible"/DC Comics mask.  Unfortunately it comes as no surprise.  If they'd planted the character a little earlier, had another actor, not Carroll, dub the voice, and given some reason why Waverly was away from the office, we'd have had a thunderbolt for sure.

Despite the almost comic music, the sequence where a turtleneck-clad Illya and windbreaker-clad Solo take Jacqueline back from Thrush is well done, with a Season Two flavor.

Once again we are shown that Illya's English teachers were, well, English.  He pronounces "clerks" in the British fashion, as "clarks."

Besides Zark and his punctuational first name, we get the strangest character names ever, in a series not noted for bland monikers: Oedipus Buck the bookseller, for instance, and Judith Merle (a play on the name of SF author and critic Judith Merrill, a friend of Ellison's -- the source of the legal flap that kept this episode off the air until the 1980s).  "Jacqueline Midcult" is no doubt a play on best-selling author Jacqueline Susann of "Valley of the Dolls" fame.  "Joe White," the abrasive interviewer in the teaser, is probably based on Joe Pyne, who pioneered the confrontational style of talk show and frequently insulted his "guests."  Intriguing, too, that, in the episode, White's show is being broadcast live -- which would have been rare by 1967.

The names Charles and Jessie Coltrane sound horribly familiar, but I can't Google up anybody famous with those names, now or back then.  (Except John Coltrane the jazz artist.)  Leave it to Ellison to make you think he's working in a gag when he's really not.

Verdict:  Despite slow pacing -- in some scenes it appears the actors are trying to remember their lines -- and a lack of real suspense, it features satire, colorful settings, and deft exchanges like those between Solo and Illya in Act IV.  (Illya: "I wonder if I'm not in the wrong business.")  This would have been a good "change-of-pace" story if sandwiched between strong episodes with danger, say "Concrete Overcoat" and "Thor," or between "Project Deephole" and "Very Important Zombie."

Memorable lines:
Announcer (at the Joe White show): "Joe will have as his guests . . . an American Nazi; a man who claims to have spent last weekend in a flying saucer . . ."
Solo: "That's what I like about Joe.  He comes to grips with the burning issues of our times."

Zark (reminiscing): "When I was thirteen years old, I made my first genuinely original decision.  I killed a playmate because he wouldn't trade me two bubblegum cards to complete my collection. . . .  [T]here are two kinds of people in this world, Spinard . . . those with bubblegum cards, and those without."

Zark (to Judith Merle): "You usually work in bed?"
Judith (striking a languorous pose): "Only in the daytime."

Solo (in the "coal" cellar): "Well, we're not dead yet."
Illya (through his gag): "I'm overcome with awe at your grasp of the situation."

Solo: "If ten tons of coal comes down on us, it's likely to muss up my hair a little."
Illya: "It's unlikely."

Illya (as they sit in the Turkish bath): "Humor is the gadfly on the corpse of tragedy."
Solo: "Pushkin?"
Illya: "My grandmother."
(A truly great exchange, character and humor at once)

Illya: "With a mentality like that [of a seven-year-old], she could really write a best-seller!"

Solo: "It took you long enough to get here; what took you so long?"
Illya (grimly): "Someday I'm going to leave you on your own, just to see how you do."
Solo (equally grimly): "Well, into each life a little rain must fall --"

"The Hula Doll Affair" (ep. 3/22)

Here's another one that starts with a neat concept and veers off into the left field of comedy.  "Hula Doll" features a dangerous McGuffin this time, with the ticking clock a good thriller needs, and has some funny if silly performances and ideas.

The 1954 movie "Executive Suite" must have been a partial inspiration for this.  Not only are the brothers named "Sweet," but it also involves a power struggle for a top job in a huge corporation (in this case Thrush) and the question of how a board of directors will vote.  (You'd think Thrush would maneuver more like the Corleones than like General Motors or IBM, though.)

Jan Murray I know mostly as a comedian, but his obsequious Simon Sweet would fit right into the group of slimy execs using Jack Lemmon's place for amours in "The Apartment."  Pat Harrington Jr. is effective; his Peter is a cool schemer, vastly unlike the Italian dog expert and the “child of the casbah" he's played in earlier stories.  (Uh, Costume Department, wouldn't that gray flannel suit he wears in Act I be awfully hot for a heat wave?)   It's Patsy Kelly, though, as Mama Sweet/Thrush No. 26, who really hits it out of the park.

Yet another mention of a "Felton," in this case 555 Felton Ave.  Plus we have a whole series of "spice" names, Oregano, Sweet, Thyme, and Cardamom (or Cardamon?).  Most of these work, but "Oregano" is over the top.  "Reggie," the nickname Peter Sweet calls the henchman, would have been fine, especially if his real name had been revealed later. ("He's called Oregano??!!")

There are several internal logic flaws here.  The biggest is related to the ticking clock as the temp approaches 90, when the M-4 would explode.  Even in the Sixties, I'm sure, most NYC public buildings were air-conditioned, and U.N.C.L.E. would know Thrush wouldn't be standing out on a
hot street corner with the explosive; so why are they worried about the heat wave?  Now if Waverly had told us that Thrush does not know this property of the M-4 -- that, unaware, Thrush may cause an explosion -- then it would work.  Certainly the Sweet brothers are not so thick as to leave a substance they know will explode in the vault when the A/C is turned off in the evening!  (See the early "Mission: Impossible" episode "Snowball in Hell" for a serious way to deal with this.)

Two, Solo is decoyed too easily.  No, he doesn't know it's Thrush's local satrap, but the Command is in the middle of a crisis.  When the pencil vendor gives him the address, he should report to Waverly or Illya and tell them where he's going -- and ask for backup!

And three, I find it a little hard to believe that the brothers don't know their own mother is with Thrush.  It's a comic notion, but a line from one of them about "So that's why you were always too busy to make it to any of our school plays!" would have cemented it.

Aside from that, I love the urgency of the "scramble" scene, in which Illya is working to determine the location of Thrush's HQ, and staffers continually move with purpose in and out of the scene.  Illya spying on Mama Sweet from within Marge the redhead's closet, and the shivering Solo (a neat performance by RV), trapped in the lion's very mouth, moving swiftly to twist events in his favor, are other charms here.  Del Floria has actual lines, too, and we find that his first name is not "Del" -- Solo calls him "Mr. Del Floria."

Verdict: Silly (check out the silent film-style music during the final chase through Thrush HQ!), but often funny.

Memorable Lines:
Illya (obviously impressed with Dark-haired Test Range Girl): "Are there many girls like you on our testing site?"
Girl (with a complacent smile): "No. I'm one of a kind."

Wendy Thyme: "I guess we're really in the soup, huh?"
Solo: "Well, if you like culinary metaphors, yes."

Peter Sweet: "As usual, dear brother, you have mouth enough for a glee club."

Mama Sweet/26: "A foul kettle of fish, this.  Fortunately, the cat has arrived."

Illya (re: the hatred and rivalry between the Sweet brothers as they try to strangle each other): "Freud could have a picnic with those two."

Mama Sweet/26 (proudly): "I am a Thrushwoman first and a mother second.  If at all."

Illya (surprised by the repainting of Del Floria's): "Will wonders never cease."
Solo: "I wonder if this means I'll get a new typewriter ribbon."
Illya: "Oh, you know Mr. Waverly.  One thing at a time --"

Friday, February 19, 2010

"The It's All Greek to Me Affair" (ep. 3/21)

My notes from the Eighties sum this one up with "Gawd!!" (yes, two exclamation points).  It's a smidgen better than that, a comedy in which every step our heroes take gets them deeper and deeper into trouble, garnished with the colorful character of Stavros, the "terror of Thessaly (semi-retired)."

Illya, he of the steel-trap mind, forgets a password?  But it's a neat interchange (see below), surpassed only by the memorable character of Illya's contact, the schoolteacher/exotic dancer agent, Miss Prendergast.  Her few moments on screen remind us again that Solo and Illya are part of a far-flung organization, and that Waverly asks a lot of his men and women.  (We never see her again; I hope Manolakas didn't kill her.)

Harold J. Stone's Stavros is a delight, an unashamed robber and paterfamilias, determined to protect his daughter -- and make a living -- no matter what.  How interesting it would have been, though, if he had known Waverly in the days when the old gentleman was "an independent agent" in Greece!

Manolakas is a thug; he's no Brother Love or General Yokura; but you get the distinct impression he'd kill Nico, Kyra, and anybody else who got in his way without hesitation.  At other times he seems given to bluster and vainglorious threats.  He hardly deserves the knifing he gets from the Thrush chief -- unless he did kill Miss Prendergast. 

"424046" is apparently Illya's serial number.  Why would he not say "of the U.N.C.L.E.", or include his rank?  And why does he not explain what Thrush is to Stavros and Kyra, who almost certainly would not have heard of it?

The page Kostas, the young shepherd, finds with the Command logo on it looks like a physics exam.

Illya says that Command agents don't carry a lot of cash; they use credit cards.  Diner's Club or American Express?

"Megalopolis"?  What does Solo mean when he says that to Kyra?

Verdict: A lightweight story in which Solo and Illya don't really solve the case; it features a lot of scenes of people standing and talking at each other, and has a far-too-comic climax.  But Stavros's lines are often funny, and scripters Robert Hill and Eric Faust keep the complications coming at a fast clip.

Memorable Lines:
Illya (via communicator): "I think I've located my contact for tonight."
Solo (smiling at lovely brunette): "That makes two of us."

Illya: "How do you remember [the passwords]?  Are you reading?"
Solo: "No, no.  Are you kidding?  I memorized all of Euripides when I was just a toddler."

Illya (captured, kneeling in the cave): "I have a great many sins for which to atone, you know."

Stavros (excitedly, to his daughter): "You're just in time.  I'm about to murder your husband.  Come and watch!"

Stavros (after Waverly has refused to ransom Illya): "What kind of friend and employer is that, I ask you?"
Illya (grimly): "Parsimonious."

Illya (re: the impressive approaching Cadillac): "Why is it [Thrush] always get[s] the bigger cars?"
Solo: "Well, when you're number two, you have to try harder."
(A play on the then-current Avis Rent-a-Car commercials)

Waverly: "Sic transit gloria."
Stavros: "Who is Gloria?"

"The Napoleon's Tomb Affair" (ep. 3/20)

A fun little comedy, this is the first non-Thrush story in a while.

We open up with a scene that could have come from a Season One show, as Malanez and President Tunick arrive at a Paris hotel, and we see Illya undercover as a bellhop.  The story swings left into comedy right away, though, as the President is humiliated instead of being the victim of an assassination attempt, and as Solo and Illya get knocked out during the scuffle on the stairs.

Why is Waverly always the one to brief our heroes, no matter what Command HQ they are in?  Here he's in Paris; last week he briefed Solo in Hong Kong.  You'd think the local chief would be the one to handle that.  Waverly's going to expire of jet lag at this rate.

Apparently Tunick's country, Emertia, is a former African colony of France, no doubt having achieved its independence when so many others did in the Fifties and Sixties.  We are never told why Waverly thinks that Malanez seizing power would cause "the whole of Africa [to] go up in flames."

The closes to the teaser (Tunick crying, "Frog!") and Act I (Illya getting pelted with salad fixings) are quite weak -- there is no sense of danger, nothing much to get a viewer to hang on.  That at the end of II is suitable, but it's foolish of Solo to walk outside and let himself be knocked out by Edgar so easily. After all, there's been one attempt on his life already.

Joe Sirola's Malanez is quite the Mephistopheles; check out 14:43, when a little curl of hair suggests a devilish horn, and in Act II, his glee at Tunick's disappointment.  Kurt Kasznar's Tunick is a big warm-hearted sort, a Francophone Ralph Kramden.  Edgar (Ted Cassidy) is impressive, not only because of his height and basso voice, but because he's so methodical.  See how he carefully sets up the boobytrap (shades of "Iowa Scuba," though this one is explosive/corrosive) in Solo's shower.

We see the U.N.C.L.E. car again, looking like a silver arrowhead.  I suggest this means there were more than one!  The vehicle we saw in "Take Me to Your Leader" was based apparently in Mississippi or Louisiana.  Unless something required the Paris HQ to ship that one across the Atlantic, I'd think this one's assigned to the European Continental Chief, and the Paris office requested it for this, or an earlier, mission.  (I wonder what the agents called it.  "The special U.N.C.L.E. car" doesn't sound right.  Maybe "The Sports Coffin"?)

The evening shots as Illya tails Edgar and Candyce through Paris are suitably atmospheric.  And Solo's method for getting Edgar to talk is classic.  (We'd call that "waterboarding" today.)

The sub-basement in the Hotel des Invalides would have been part of the building from the start.  Malanez's line should have been, "We found this sub-basement in the plans, and built this device ourselves."

Charming points: Solo carefully does not seat himself before Waverly does; when Illya admits "This is my day to be dense," Solo smiles affectionately; shot by Edgar's dart, Illya has time to sniff it, realize he'll be out in ten seconds, and counts as he falls.  This comes around full circle when he uses the same (?) dart on Edgar, and counts aloud until it takes effect on the big guy.  The change in his voice as he squeaks, "Nine?" is hilarious, as is his shaking the communicators later to see, somehow, if they still work.

Verdict: Not too silly; pleasant, but a bit dull.

Memorable Lines:
Solo (to Illya, as they visit Napoleon's Tomb): "I trust you won't make any jokes about my name."
Illya: "Perish the thought . . . Napoleon."
(The look Solo gives Illya: priceless)

Tunick (on meeting Candyce): "My little zephyr of Elysium --"

Tunick (to the fake diplomat, Malanez's agent): "The only constant thing I have found in Paris is rudeness."
Diplomat: "That, sir, is a trait we reserve for visiting boors."