Archive for May 26, 2013

The Man from UNCLE Affair, Episodes 25-29 (Spoilers)

“The Never-Never Affair”: The parade of great ’60s-TV guest stars continues, with this episode featuring Cesar Romero and the magnificent Barbara Feldon, about half a year before her debut as Agent 99 on the spy comedy Get Smart. Feldon plays Mandy, an UNCLE translator who (like many of the show’s “innocents”) craves the adventure and excitement of the spy game, and is constantly trying to convince Solo to let her go on missions. (She wears heavy glasses that were probably meant to make her look plain but completely fail to do so, because she’s Barbara Feldon!) Romero plays Gervais, the head of THRUSH’s French agency who’s working with its American branch to intercept courier Illya and the list of French THRUSH agents he’s carrying. (The American THRUSH agent, Varner, is played by John Stephenson, the original voice of Dr. Benton Quest from Jonny Quest.) Unlike your usual villain type, he reacts to Varner’s failure to capture Illya with patience and gentle encouragement to do better next time, although one can sense the underlying threat in his words. He’s my favorite THRUSH character so far.

Anyway, while Waverly is arranging a second courier for the list (now on a microdot), Solo decides to do a favor for Mandy; he sends her out on an errand to refill Waverly’s tobacco humidor, but makes her think it’s a secret mission and gives her a complicated “evasion pattern” to the tobacconist which he promptly forgets. Predictably, she ends up telling the microdot guy that she’s the special courier, so he gives it to her, and now Napoleon has to fix his mistake and track her down before THRUSH does. It leads to a convoluted game of cat and mouse through the New York streets (of the MGM backlot), leading to an accidental encounter between Mandy and Gervais, who initially doesn’t know she’s the “courier” and, being a gentleman, inadvertently ends up almost helping her escape before he catches on. Eventually both Mandy and Solo end up in Gervais’s clutches, but Mandy proves more resourceful than expected.

This is one of the very best episodes yet, a delightfully clever tale by Dean Hargrove, who in later decades would become a fixture of TV mysteries, developing The Father Dowling Mysteries and creating Jake and the Fatman and Matlock as well as producing the Perry Mason revival movies. It’s very well-written and fun with excellent characterization, and you can’t go wrong with the Joker vs. Agent 99. (Indeed, I’m tempted to believe that this was 99’s origin story, and that soon after this she got a job for CONTROL. After all, we never learned 99’s real name…)

“The Love Affair”: Cute — finally a title that’s a pun on the title format itself. And all the act titles are mock love-song lyrics or sayings that fit the action: “Love is a Bump on the Head,” “Love is a Hand Grenade,” etc. But “Love” in this case is revivalist preacher Brother Love (Eddie Albert), actually a THRUSH agent (or “satrap” as Waverly calls it here) who’s using his cult as cover for recruiting/blackmailing/abducting scientists to build a nuclear rocket to blackmail the world. A scientist Illya was sent to track has a heart attack on her way to the revival meeting, so the recurring background UNCLE character Sarah (Leigh Chapman) is sent to take her place, with Solo chaperoning. But when they find a young lady has taken the scientist’s seat, they swap tickets and Solo chats up the girl to find out who she is. Turns out she’s the innocent, a college student named Pearl (Maggie Pearce) who’s doing a paper on the cult. But the cult’s “acolytes” mistake her for the scientist and abduct her afterward.

The next day, Solo goes to find her at a society party Love is holding, and for the first time we get a sense of Illya’s proletarian politics, as he expresses disdain at the wealthy partygoers and their conceit that they’re better than anyone else. Solo finds Pearl but ends up getting abducted himself, and Illya is thrown off pursuit by a grenade in the road. (Love calls it a “magnetic” grenade, but he drops it right next to his own car and it doesn’t stick to that, nor does it seem to behave any differently than an ordinary grenade when it blows in front of Illya’s car.) UNCLE gets a surveillance report that Love’s cult has flown to a compound in LA (and the voice of the decoding computer may be Dick Tufeld, but I’m not sure). Said compound is made of several familiar sets and backlot locations. Solo passes himself off as the late doctor’s assistant willing to sell out her secrets, but the cult keeps him under observation anyway. Solo has to find a way to rescue Pearl and sabotage the cult’s plans.

A decent episode, but a little unfocused. It might’ve worked better to use an evil revivalist cult if their plan had actually tied into that cover in some way, like some kind of mind-control scheme. And I’ve previously expressed my distaste for the episodes that contrive to involve an innocent by random chance. The main point of interest here is an entirely original score by Walter Scharf, the first full score we’ve had in quite a while and a reasonably good one, dominated by a hymnlike leitmotif for the cult.

“The Gazebo in the Maze Affair”: Illya is kidnapped by Partridge (George Sanders), a British gentleman and wannabe feudal lord who was displaced from his rule of a South American country by Solo and UNCLE seven years ago and is now seeking revenge. He takes Illya to his estate in Eastsnout, England, where he’s pretty much taken over the whole region as his petty fiefdom and rules over the people, keeping everything as old-school as possible, since he idealizes the past. His rather nebulous plan is to use Illya as bait to lure in Solo, then use Solo to lure in Waverly, and apparently he somehow hopes to lure in the entire worldwide UNCLE organization one person at a time, which doesn’t make a bit of sense, but it’s all recited in a very classy and mannerly tone so at least it’s pleasant to listen to. Partridge shares his estate (which is the same castle exterior and mansion interior that we’ve seen in countless other episodes this season) with his wife Edith (Jeanette Nolan), who seems quite ditzy and senile at first but turns out to be cannier than she appears. Solo is assisted in infiltrating the estate by the innocent of the week, a servant girl named Peggy (Bonnie Franklin doing an unconvincing English accent), but naturally he ends up being captured anyway and taken to the dungeon. Oh, and the dungeon’s beneath a gazebo in the center of a hedge maze laden with deathtraps plus a hungry wolf.

This one’s not bad, but kind of goofy. The main appeal is in the Partridges’ character quirks and their performances by Sanders and Nolan. Scharf gets music credit again, but it sounds like a stock score.

“The Girls of Nazarone Affair”: THRUSH scientist/master of disguise Dr. Egret, briefly played by Lee Meriwether in “The Mad, Mad Tea Party Affair,” is back in a new disguise (Marian McCargo, who’s significantly shorter than Meriwether), and for no clear reason is leading a gang of pretty blondes this time. She’s in Cannes at Grand Prix time, and has stolen a rapid-healing formula that Napoleon and Illya were also sent to retrieve. Their hunt for the missing inventor of the formula causes them to barge into his former hotel room, now occupied by schoolteacher Lavinia (Kipp Hamilton), who doesn’t appreciate the intrusion. Upon further investigation, they see “female race car driver” Ms. Nazarone (Danica d’Hondt, who’s sort of like a more Amazonian Mariette Hartley) get gunned down by Egret yet then turn up alive and well the next day, and sufficiently strong to overpower Solo. THRUSH already has the formula! So Napoleon has the idea to keep them in town by convincing them that Lavinia has a copy of the formula that UNCLE is paying her handsomely to hand over. Lavinia’s not interested, still reeling from the bad first impression they made, but changes her tune when Solo gives her 25 grand to throw around conspicuously. Somehow Illya lets Lavinia lead him into an obvious trap, but fortunately the villains obligingly toss him down a well rather than just shooting him, and he escapes in time to save Napoleon and Lavinia from a similarly inefficient (though better-justified) deathtrap. It climaxes in a car chase through the French Riviera, which bears an uncanny resemblance to the mountain roads of the Los Angeles area. (When they got into race cars and said they were heading for the race course, I was expecting the climax to be built around a bunch of stock footage of the Grand Prix. I think this is one case where I actually would’ve preferred stock footage.) Oh, and the resolution of the magic healing formula subplot is telegraphed a mile away.

All in all, a rather unfocused, not very coherent episode, a disappointment coming from scripter Peter Allan Fields. Basically this episode was made for people who like looking at blondes and fast cars — that’s about where its intellectual level resides.

“The Odd Man Affair”: Illya is on a plane, tailing a radical terrorist and master of disguise named Raimonde (I’m guessing on the spelling), when the latter is exposed by a tip sent to the pilots. Raimonde locks himself in the bathroom and there’s an explosion which sends the plane temporarily out of control, yet even though it’s obvious what happened, Illya still insists on breaking down the door and almost getting sucked out of the hole in the side. Fortunately, the rest of the story makes more sense. Raimonde was on his way to a meeting with his fellow right-wing radicals to discuss an alliance with the radical left to work together at overthrowing the world’s governments. The proponent of this, Mr. Zed (Ronald Long), sent the tip to get Raimonde killed, because Raimonde opposes the alliance. UNCLE found that opposition useful since it kept the radicals from uniting. But since nobody knows what he looked like, the UNCLE boys have the idea to impersonate him in order to scuttle the alliance. Waverly consults an UNCLE file clerk named Albert Sully (Martin Balsam), who’d been an OSS agent in the war and encountered Raimonde then. Sully leaps at the chance to get back into action and insists that he’s the only one who knows enough about Raimonde (and is the right age) to pull off the impersonation. Napoleon and Illya fly him to London, intending to shepherd him closely, but he eludes them to meet with an old wartime friend, Bryn (Barbara Shelley), since he actually doesn’t know a thing about Raimonde and needs her to fill him in. Once the men from UNCLE track him down and find the truth, they have to bring Bryn along and hope that Sully’s improvised impersonation doesn’t blow up in their faces. Meanwhile, Zed’s men discover that “Raimonde” is still alive and try to kill him more decisively this time.

This episode feels like a different show from most of its predecessors. It’s less focused on Napoleon and Illya’s antics or humorous and fanciful spy games, and more a character drama about Sully and Bryn. It’s in the vein of the kind of show that was common in ’60s TV, when episodic series tended toward a semi-anthology approach with each episode focusing on a guest star of the week and their personal drama. Sure, TMFU has given us the innocent-of-the-week all along, but never really overshadowing the leads to this extent — indeed, Solo is wounded in the third act and isn’t seen again until the tag. But it’s kind of a refreshing change of pace, especially after the borderline-campy mess of the previous episode. And it’s kind of an appropriate coda to the first season of TMFU, because reportedly it gets far campier from here on out. “The Odd Man Affair” is the last hurrah of the original, at least somewhat dramatic format.

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