Archive for May 7, 2013

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Affair, Episodes 19-24 (Spoilers)

“The Secret Sceptre Affair”: Napoleon and Illya parachute into a nameless Mideastern country to help Solo’s old colonel from Korea, Col. Morgan (Gene Raymond), who’s accused the nation’s Premier Karim (Jack Donner) of planning a coup which he intends to thwart. UNCLE has found no proof of his allegations, but allowed Solo to come on a personal mission. Morgan convinces him to join him in stealing the royal sceptre that the nation’s “primitive tribesmen” hold sacred, following whoever holds it “as if he were Allah himself” — which isn’t remotely how Islam works — so that Karim will lose his claim to power. Although it’s rather blatantly telegraphed that Morgan is up to something and Solo hasn’t been told the whole truth — and that Karim is clueless about the treachery of his own imperious, Celia Lovsky-esque mother (Lili Darvas). The innocent of the week is Zia (Ziva Rodann), a female soldier in Morgan’s outfit who’s unaware of Morgan’s secrets and who helps Solo try to escape after the theft — though Illya gets captured and Solo takes a detour to free him. It’s refreshing for the innocent to be someone who has a legitimate reason to be involved in events rather than a civilian who gets caught up in them somehow.

I didn’t find this one very well-written; the secrets are too obvious, and the attempts to make Illya sound profound just come off as meaningless. And the whole thing about Solo’s trusted mentor being unworthy of his trust makes Solo seem more gullible than sympathetic. There’s also a gratuitous deathtrap involving a bear pit, of all things, though at least they mostly keep the guy in the bear suit behind a cage door so that the fakery isn’t too obvious. Still, it’s a guy in a bear suit for no good reason. The score, credited to Jerry Goldsmith and Morton Stevens, is evidently stock, which seems to hold true for the next few episodes as well.

“The Bow-Wow Affair”: It’s our first episode that sidelines Napoleon in favor of Illya, as Solo, who’s emerged unscathed from battles with spies and mobsters, has been brought low by tripping over the office cat and spraining his knee. (Unfortunately the cat is never seen.) But he’s not the only one with animal problems. Waverly asks him to look into a threat received by a distant cousin — actually Leo G. Carroll in a dual role, though his performance isn’t greatly different. The threat involved a “Gypsy” dagger, and that’s been established before as a culture Illya knows well. And apparently someone is after some valuable stock that the cousin owns. Illya fails to save the lookalike cousin from being mauled to death by his own guard dog, and the investigation reveals that all the stockholders in the company are being attacked by their own dogs either to get them out of the way or scare them into selling their stock (and why do they all own dogs?). Yet the cousin’s slightly ditzy daughter Alice (Susan Oliver) is too busy flirting with Illya — successfully, for a change — to be bothered with grieving for her horribly murdered father. The episode overall is played for humor, and there’s a fun sequence where Illya and Alice consult with a dog expert (Pat Harrington, Jr.) for advice on how to deal with the attack dogs, and the number of (friendly) dogs in the scene keeps multiplying to a nearly tribble-like degree.

Remember how I said that the last “Gypsy”-focused episode was relatively respectful and light on negative stereotypes for a ’60s show? Well, this one’s the opposite. Here, the “Gypsies” are not only villains and charlatans, but possess eldritch power over animals, according to the dog expert. The nominal main villain, Delgrovia (Paul Lambert), initially shows up in a Dracula cape and seems quite menacing, but he’s almost passive in the climactic scenes, with more attention paid overall to Delilah (Antoinette Bower), one of the scammers, who initially shows up as a fortune-teller to try to frighten Waverly’s cousin, and ends up in a catfight with Oliver in the final act.

Despite the conceptual/cultural problems, though, this is actually a rather charming and witty episode by Alan Caillou, with a number of good gags and moments. And it’s nice to see Illya get the spotlight for once. Plus there’s a startling number of Star Trek guests here — not only Oliver and Bower, but bit players Tom Troupe, Reggie Nalder, and George Sawaya. Another notable guest is Leigh Chapman, who takes over from May Heatherly as UNCLE’s resident office babe/tech advisor; she appeared as “Receptionist” two episodes before, but here gets a promotion and a name, Sarah. She’ll be in four more episodes.

“The Four-Steps Affair”: We open with sexy THRUSH agent Angela (Luciana Paluzzi) tricking an UNCLE operative to his death. The operative’s name is Dancer — perhaps a relative of future Girl from UNCLE April Dancer? (Though the name is awkwardly overdubbed in some shots, suggesting it was changed after they were shot.) Anyway, he manages to get a partial message to Waverly before he’s cut off, and Waverly and Illya deduce its meaning with very little assistance from the somewhat vacuous agent Kitt Kittredge (overplayed by Donald Harron with a fake English accent). Infuriatingly, the show’s tendency to treat all Asia as one big jumble is worse than ever here: Dancer uses a line from the Rubaiyat, a Persian poem, as a code for Miki (Michel Petit), the 10-year-old reincarnated lama of a Himalayan country, and somehow Illya is able to deduce the meaning of this huge geographical non sequitur. Illya and Kittridge retrieve the boy, his nurse, and his regent or “potentate” Kaza (Malachi Throne) from a safehouse, but Illya, the boy, and the nurse are captured by THRUSH. Meanwhile, Solo has the more pleasant job of playing cat-and-mouse with Angela, who tries to seduce him into the same trap, though he’s more suspicious than Dancer was. Of course, he manages to keep up the flirty banter while keeping his guard up otherwise.

This is the second episode scripted by Peter Allan Fields, so I was expecting something good. I suppose if you can look past the geographical and cultural ignorance on display, it’s a decent episode, with some fun banter here and there, but overall it doesn’t hold together very well. The main appeal is Paluzzi’s Angela, who’s very nice to watch.

“The See-Paris-And-Die Affair”: The Van Schreeten brothers, Max (Lloyd Bochner) and Josef (Gerald Mohr), are petty criminals who’ve stolen enough diamonds to flood the market and crash prices, and are blackmailing the mob to pay them off regularly lest they release the diamonds. UNCLE wants to retrieve the diamonds and prevent the economic catastrophe or something. So Napoleon recruits the weekly innocent, Mary Pilgrim, a woman that both brothers desire and that Max has arranged to bring over to his Paris nightclub. It’s basically the same premise as the pilot, using the villain’s old girlfriend as a mole. Mary is played by Kathryn Hays, whom I’ve always known as the mute Gem in Star Trek‘s “The Empath,” and I think this is the first time I’ve ever heard her speak. I’d always kind of thought she was solely a dancer/mime and was hired for that purpose, but here she not only acts, she sings as well. Her voice is nothing like I would’ve expected, a salty, brassy alto, and her manner here is totally unlike the sad and poignant Gem, bright and lively with a big, adorable grin that she deploys at the slightest provocation.

Anyway, our UNCLE boys are competing with a THRUSH agent played by Alfred Ryder, another Trek guest (“The Man Trap”), and his boss, Kevin Hagen of Land of the Giants. No doubt THRUSH wants the diamonds for more nefarious reasons. So it’s a jolly chase between the two with lots of schemes and counterschemes, with Solo being unusually forceful about getting what he wants, but at his most impish while doing so. (At one point Mary’s overprotective voice teacher sics the police on Solo for supposedly kidnapping Mary, so he steals the police car at gunpoint, but before leaving he delivers the disclaimer, “In no way do I represent America’s foreign policy.”) I recently read a suggestion that David Tennant would be a better choice than Tom Cruise to play Solo in the recently-announced movie remake, and I could totally see that as I watched Robert Vaughn here.

Anyway, the whole thing leads to Max scarpering with both the diamonds and Mary (without consulting her about the sudden elopement), ultimately leading to a well-done action sequence with a helicopter chasing a van. And Mary acquits herself very nicely in dealing with Max and the cops while Solo and Illya are otherwise occupied. All in all, it’s quite a fun and madcap adventure, with lively dialogue courtesy of Peter Allan Fields once again. The music is credited to Scharf and Stevens, and there seem to be some new bits that are recognizably Scharf-like, as well as a fair amount of nightclub source music performed by a guest group called The Gallants. They’re credited with doing an arrangement of the main theme, but it must’ve been hidden in the background of a nightclub scene somewhere. Hays herself sings a song from the MGM library, “It’s a Most Unusual Day” by Jimmy McHugh and Harold Adamson.

“The Brain-Killer Affair”: When Director Waverly gets too close to identifying a pattern of important smart people suddenly losing competence, THRUSH poisons him so he’ll be taken to a clinic they control, where they plan to perform the same endumbening operation on him so he’ll undermine UNCLE from the inside. The mastermind of this subtle “assassination” method is Dr. Agnes Dabree, played by Elsa Lanchester wearing a frizzy, skunk-striped hairstyle that’s a clear homage to her defining role as the Bride of Frankenstein (though more backswept). She’s set up as a recurring villain, but is never seen again in the series. The innocent is Cecille (Batgirl herself, Yvonne Craig!), whose mentally crippled, mute brother was named by Waverly before he passed out, leading Solo to investigate. There’s a rather uninteresting thread where she’s resistant to cooperation and Solo keeps paying her off with bigger and bigger sums, leading her to become more and more enamored with money — not leading to any sort of lesson, even. It’s rather a waste of Craig’s talents — though I had no idea what a prodigious screamer she was (as we discover when she’s captured by Dabree).

This isn’t a very good episode, and I found myself particularly annoyed by how casually Solo waved a loaded gun around in various scenes — even pointing the barrel directly at Waverly’s head while checking his pulse after he’s poisoned. Vaughn and the director are treating his gun as a prop rather than a deadly weapon, and it undermines the illusion. But the episode surpasses even “Bow-Wow” for the number of Star Trek guests it features. In addition to Craig, we’ve got David Hurst, Nancy Kovack, and Mickey Morton as Dabree’s assistants, Abraham Sofaer as the substitute UNCLE director flown in from Calcutta when Waverly’s compromised (a nice bit of organizational exposition), Liam Sullivan as one of the “brain-assassination” victims, and even Bill Quinn (McCoy’s father from ST V) as a waiter. The only credited guests who weren’t in Trek were Lanchester, Henry Beckman as an UNCLE doctor, and Rosey Grier as an UNCLE bodyguard. Plus Trek’s second-pilot director James Goldstone directs, and Jerry Goldsmith contributes a few minutes of what sounds to me like new music and a lot of stock cues.

“The Hong Kong Shilling Affair”: Uh-oh. This show doesn’t do well with anything Asian. Anyway, this time, Napoleon and Illya are following a courier, Max, who’s with the Bondishly named Heavenly Cortelle (Karen Sharpe) while delivering a stolen item to a criminal organization that auctions state secrets to the highest bidder. For reasons I’m still not clear on, Max is attacked by the organization’s henchman (future Bond uber-henchman Richard Kiel). A passing student, Bernie (Glenn Corbett), sees the fight and runs in to be a good samaritan, but gets so distracted by ogling Heavenly that he lets Max get stabbed to death before he finally intervenes. This gets him mistaken for Max’s partner by everyone involved, including UNCLE at first. He tells them Max’s dying words that he was killed for a pine tree shilling, and why a single coin is so valuable is the mystery of the episode, along with its whereabouts and the identity of the villains’ unseen leader Apricot — though the latter two mysteries share a very obvious solution.

Solo recruits Bernie to spy on Heavenly and find out more, with strict instructions that Bernie blithely ignores, getting himself into bigger trouble and requiring his rescue. He continues to make matters worse through his bullheadedness and his growing (and reciprocal) crush on Heavenly, whose own loyalties and agendas are themselves a mystery. But he and a captured Solo manage to learn the identity of an incoming bidder, and Solo and Illya intercept him at the airport.

Here’s where it gets problematical. The bidder is a Mongolian warlord, and Illya impersonates him through heavy makeup and an accent — plus his voice is processed to sound a bit echoey and staticky, perhaps in an attempt to disguise McCallum’s voice, though it just makes it all the more obviously faked to the audience. The weird voice treatment is almost as annoying and unpleasant as the yellowface acting, though not as offensive. I mean, seriously — we’re shown that Hong Kong has its own UNCLE branch office, so shouldn’t they have agents of the right ethnicity to pull off a more believable impersonation, rather than sticking a Russian in unconvincing makeup?

All in all, it’s kind of a mess, and Bernie is the most unsympathetic “innocent” in the series so far (though Cecille was kind of unsympathetic too, with only Yvonne Craig’s innate charm redeeming the character). They did a decent job making part of the MGM backlot look like a Hong Kong harbor, with some help from stock footage, but really, I wish this show would just avoid portraying Asia altogether, because they’re terrible at it. The music is credited to Stevens, and it’s mostly in his generic-Oriental vein that we’ve heard before — if not the same cues, then at least the same style that’s hard to pin down to a particular culture. (Oh, and Solo is still casually pointing his gun at his friends and waving it around carelessly with his finger on the trigger. Now that I’ve noticed it, I can’t stop seeing it.)

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