Archive for July, 2013

The Man from UNCLE Season 2 Affair: Eps. 1-6

Season 2 brings color to The Man from U.N.C.L.E., as well as a new title-theme arrangement by an uncredited Lalo Schifrin. Sad to say, the new arrangement is nowhere near as good as Jerry Goldsmith’s original version (or Morton Stevens’s slight variation thereon), losing the interesting Latin-flavored syncopation in favor of a more bluesy though fast-paced guitar ostinato and playing the main melody in a very different rhythm on a rather anemic solo flute. The format’s changed a little too; now we get a brief UNCLE-logo title card and then a teaser before the main titles, and the episode title is no longer shown during the main titles. Meanwhile, the first-season spy radios disguised as cigarette cases have now been replaced with radios disguised as pens, though the cig-cases do make a few more appearances.

“Alexander the Greater Affair: Part One” and “Part Two”: Not a typo — this is the only story title in the series to lack the opening “The.” Which isn’t the only thing that feels off.  An unrecognizably young and thin Rip Torn gives an unrecognizably flat, phoned-in performance as Mr. Alexander (ne Baxter), a multi-corporate magnate with an Alexander the Great fixation and a bizarre plan for world domination that goes kind of like: 1) Systematically violate nine of the Ten Commandments, 2) Violate “Thou shalt not kill” by assassinating a Southeast Asian president and backing his enemies in a coup, 3) Manipulate said enemies to make their country his power base, 4) dominate all Asia, 5) Rule the World! What exactly the Ten Commandments have to do with an Alexander fetish, or how their self-conscious breaching will help him Rule the World, is inadequately explained; nor do we get any insight into how he violated any commandments besides #5-8. In order, he dishonored his mother and father by enslaving them in a quarry; he attempted several murders; he committed adultery with his neighbor’s wife (which is called number 7 but is actually 7 and 10 simultaneously), and he opened the episode by stealing a docility-inducing gas weapon to assist the coup. As for the rest, I suppose it’s easy enough to take the Lord’s name in vain, to labor on the Sabbath, and to bear false witness against one’s neighbor, and I suppose his coveting of the whole world pretty thoroughly covers #10; but did he actually worship another god before Yahweh or make for himself a graven image which he thereupon bowed down to or served? This is left unclear. If they were going to give their villain a Ten Commandments theme, they should’ve been more systematic about it.

Anyway, Alex has a plucky soon-to-be-ex-wife, Tracey (Dorothy Provine) who’s going after him to finalize their divorce and get her property (amounting to a million bucks) back, and Solo & Kuryakin try to deal with her bulldog insistence on a teamup while also dodging Alex’s henchman Parviz (David Sheiner) and various other henching professionals. Part 1 ends with them trapped in a Greek tomb with an implausible array of traps, several of the death- variety, including a Pit-and-the-Pendulum-type cliffhanger deathtrap for Solo (and it’s not very well-done; the blade is just hanging from a couple of wires and is free to wobble in a couple of dimensions). I’d be tempted to call it a Batman-style cliffhanger, but this was still a year before that show premiered. This is the show’s first 2-parter, and instead of having a recap montage, there’s a brief scene with an UNCLE accountant summarizing S & K’s expenses so far, followed by a full replay of the last few minutes of Part 1. (So that we twice hear Parviz deliver a line about the ancient blade’s new steel technology that lets him get more use out of it, which I assume was a jokey allusion to a contemporary razor-blade commercial, but doesn’t work in context.)

All in all, this is an awkward opening to the season. Dean Hargrove’s script is an odd mix of serious and comic elements, while Joseph Sargent’s direction tends to work against both; most of the actors seem distracted and their timing is odd. Maybe it’s because the show was shifting toward a more comic tone and they were trying to play against the serious material in the script, or maybe it’s partly because the story was spread out across two parts and rather padded, so there wasn’t any sense of urgency. I suppose the principal high point is the score, the TMFU debut of the prolific Gerald Fried, who would be the series’ primary composer from this point on (including the ’80s reunion movie). It’s a jazzier score than I’m used to hearing from him, and a bit more toward his sitcom style (e.g. Gilligan’s Island) than his more dramatic stuff, but it includes a fair amount of the kind of ethnic/regional sounds that are a highlight of his work, and some pretty decent action music — including a variation of Schifrin’s theme arrangement that sounds significantly better than Schifrin’s version. Another point in the episode’s favor, and an improvement over the ethnically tone-deaf first season, is that all the Asian characters in the episode are played by actual Asians, notably James Hong as the neighbor whose wife gets coveted.

“The Ultimate Computer Affair”: Napoleon and Illya must prevent Richard Daystrom’s M5 computer from taking over the Enterprise and… uh, no, that’s the other “Ultimate Computer.” In this one, Illya gets himself thrown into a Latin American prison which, as Solo explains to an UNCLE secretary while sexually harrassing, err, “romancing” her, is really a front for a THRUSH fortress wherein they’re building the Ultimate Computer (it’s actually called that onscreen) to give them all the world’s knowledge and calculate perfect master plans for them, removing human error from the equation (which is what people in the ’60s thought the future of computers would be). The island’s Governor Callahan (Charles Ruggles), an aging THRUSH satrap with two Amazonian “nurses” who are actually his bodyguards and implicitly body-something-elses, resents the modern era’s worship of computers. More sanguine about the high-tech future is his second-in-command, the prison commandant Captain Cervantes, played by Roger C. Carmel in his second TMFU appearance. That’s right, Richard Daystrom isn’t involved with this Ultimate Computer, but Harry Mudd is. Cervantes is a canny adversary who makes Illya as an UNCLE agent as soon as he arrives in the prison, and he and the governor scheme to confound UNCLE’s plans (or plan to confound their schemes, as the case may be).

Meanwhile, Napoleon recruits the innocent of the week, a prim and schoolmarmishly pretty prisoner-rights watchdog with the incongruous name of Salty Oliver (Judy Carne), as his entree into the prison, by impersonating her new husband. He gets caught pretty quickly by the shrewd Cervantes, but the captain has a thing for Salty and agrees to help Solo and Illya destroy the computer and escape if Salty agrees to submit to his advances. Although it’s not hard to guess this clever adversary has a deeper plan than just forcing his attentions on a woman.

Not that there isn’t a lot of that going around. Between Solo’s aggressive flirtations with the secretary, Callahan’s game of strip poker with his nurses, UNCLE tricking Salty into Del Floria’s tailor shop and opening the door to HQ while she’s undressing in the changing room, and Cervantes’s and Solo’s respective attempts to seduce Salty, the degree of sexual objectification and imposition that female characters face in this episode is uncomfortably excessive even by ’60s standards. Other than that, though, it’s an improvement over the 2-part premiere, with a stronger script by Peter Allan Fields and more engaging antagonists. Sargent is still directing, but his work seems more competent this time. The score is by Lalo Schifrin this week, and it’s not as impressive as Fried’s work, though it includes a reprise of Goldsmith’s (?) main romantic theme from the first season — presumably a new performance thereof, though, since union rules at the time said that stock music from one season had to be newly recorded if it was to be used in another.

“The Foxes and Hounds Affair”: We open with the implausible premise that a stage magician with the wildly original sobriquet “Merlin” has somehow invented a real mind-reading machine, the electronic thought translator, which Illya and guest agent Cantrell (Solo’s on vacation) have been sent to acquire, and that THRUSH is also hunting in the person of, ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Vincent Price! The great Price is playing the hell out of a Frenchman named Marton, though his accent veers a bit Transylvania-ward in a couple of scenes. His men kill Merlin and terrify his fill-in assistant, our weekly innocent, the shy and sheltered Mimi (the striking Julie Sommars). But Cantrell gets away with the ETT (I’m calling it that, they didn’t) when Illya leads Vincent Price’s men away. Vincent Price books a flight to New York, where Mimi coincidentally lives. Although Mimi reportedly hops the first flight home yet somehow gets back hours later.

Anyway, Waverly hatches a rather ruthless plan to divert THRUSH from Cantrell by making them think the hapless Mimi was their courier. They select Solo as their decoy for THRUSH to follow — but for some reason Waverly thinks it’s a good idea not to tell Solo what’s going on, but instead to play a series of dirty tricks on him to maneuver him to the airport. (This includes siccing a stereotyped Irish cop on him, but it’s supposedly a real cop, not a plant. Meanwhile Mimi has the Irish surname Doolittle but her mother is a Jewish stereotype.) Meanwhile, the local THRUSH agent, Lucia Belmont (Patricia Medina), is vying for a promotion and doesn’t want Vincent Price showing her up, so the two of them are at odds throughout, Belmont viciously and Vincent Price with the debonair contempt that only he could do so well. Belmont actually manages to capture Solo and then grabs Illya and Mimi, but Vincent Price has already caught onto the decoy plan that she’s too driven to figure out, so he enacts his own plan B, blithely strolling into UNCLE HQ to have a collegial tete-a-tete with his old rival Alexander Waverly, offering the captives’ freedom in exchange for the ETT. But Belmont has plans of her own that don’t involve Vincent Price having a long career.

Things get a bit distasteful when Mimi and the UNCLE boys are captive and the men try to persuade this shy and inexperienced girl to become a seductress to confound the guard, on the premise that every woman has a Jezebel inside just waiting to be unleashed. (When she protests that she doesn’t know how to be flirtatious, Illya asks, “You’re a woman. Haven’t you had your basic training?”) And naturally all it takes is one uninvited kiss from Solo (stolen from Illya, who was about to do the same to the poor cornered girl) to make her an expert vamp. Ugh. I’m actually more sympathetic toward Belmont, who’s determined not to let institutionalized sexism prevent her from advancing at, err, doing evil. Let’s have enlightened comic-book villainy from now on, I say!

Anyway, it all comes to a rather implausible conclusion that relies on UNCLE giving Vincent Price back a lethal weapon when they let him go, though the payoff is rather cleverly set up. It’s a given going in that the game-changing mind-reader machine won’t survive the episode and it’ll all be rather pointless. But it’s also a given that the real point of the exercise was to let Vincent Price be Vincent Price, and he does so superbly, rivalling Cesar Romero for the title of most charming THRUSH operative ever. Fields does the script again, and it benefits from his flair for humor, though it’s his second episode in a row with disturbingly aggressive objectification of women. And Robert Drasnin makes his series debut with a fairly noteworthy, jazzy score, though once again the final scene recycles the standard romantic motif that’s closed so many episodes.

“The Discotheque Affair”: After UNCLE exposes a THRUSH front and Solo’s arm is broken in an explosion (which probably should’ve killed him since he was in an enclosed room at the time), THRUSH plans to move its security records and UNCLE wants to intercept them. The THRUSH operation du jour is conducted out of the titular discotheque run by Carver (Ray Danton) with the improbable assistance of then-popular comedy actor Harvey Lembeck. A THRUSH technician, Oakes (Hans Gudegast, later known as Eric Braeden), has devised a new type of bug to install in the wall of the brownstone next to Waverly’s office, which is occupied by the week’s innocent, aspiring actress Sandy (Judi West). By coincidence, the injured Solo has been assigned to the easy mission of supervising the inspection of the brownstone, which UNCLE owns and landlords for security purposes, and he finds the bug in her apartment and recruits her to get inside Carver’s organization. (He also finds the corpse of the agent that Carver shot and left inside the wall where the bug was installed. Implausibly, the dead body in the wall is discovered not by the smell or the bloodstains, but by a stray shoelace.) Turns out the security “records” are actual records, i.e. 45RPM vinyl phonograph records, fitting for a discotheque (1965 is too early to call it a disco, I think).

There’s also a random subplot in the last half where Carver is trying to get rid of his moll Farina (Evelyn Ward), I guess because she’s last year’s model and he’s taken with Sandy, so he has Harvey Lembeck take her to a sawmill to be Perils-of-Paulined. This would make more sense if their relationship had been set up by more than a single sentence in the first two acts; as it is, it comes out of nowhere and is very confusing. The whole episode’s kind of unfocused and seems to be largely an excuse to show a bunch of go-go girls and young people and Harvey Lembeck dancing to popular music, because that’s what the young folk today want to see, or some such thing. Gerald Fried does the music again, but while the style is unmistakably his, it’s still nowhere near the level of his later, acclaimed work.

The big bit of trivia here is that we get to see blueprints of UNCLE HQ as the villains plan their bugging. And they’re rather inconsistent. For one thing, they show that the brownstones HQ occupies are only four stories tall, with the ground floor being about half a story below street level. Now, that’s not completely unbelievable, since HQ is shown to take up the full interiors of four adjacent brownstones, a reasonable amount of space. The problem is that the backdrop seen outside Waverly’s office window presents a skyline view that seems to be from much higher than three and a half stories. The other problem is that the exterior drawing shows Del Floria’s Tailor Shop at the base of the rightmost of the four brownstones occupied entirely by HQ — but in the next scene, we see that the building where Sandy and other unsuspecting tenants live is the one directly to the left of Del Floria’s! I suppose UNCLE HQ could actually be behind the brownstones — but then, how could Sandy’s bedroom have a window along the wall perpendicular to the one abutting Waverly’s office? And how, for that matter, could said office itself have a window? They must be adjacent windows facing the same way, but since none of the brownstones has side windows (the block of attached brownstones is flanked by a garage on the right and a slightly higher “whitestone” building on the left), so the only possibility is if they both face front (or back) and Sandy’s building is beside HQ. So maybe HQ is L-shaped, or rather Γ-shaped, taking up all of the rightmost brownstone and then wrapping around the others from the rear. In which case Oakes’s plan of HQ’s interior as a rectangular prism is incorrect — but if they didn’t know the correct shape of the buildings, they couldn’t know where to put the bug! It just doesn’t add up, like a lot about this episode.

“The Re-Collectors Affair”: The episode is named for a group who are supposedly hunting down and killing Nazi war criminals to recover their stolen art treasures and sell them back to the original owners or their heirs. It’s a mystery, supposedly, why the Re-Collectors are so successful at tracking down and killing Nazis that UNCLE and the governments of Europe have been seeking unsuccessfully for 20 years, but the answer would be easy to guess even if Waverly hadn’t telegraphed the answer in his initial exposition. The innocent is the very lovely Lisa Donato (Jocelyn Lane), one of the heirs, who was unable to afford the fee demanded by the Re-Collectors’ agent and assassin Valetti (Theo Marcuse), and who ends up playing Illya’s fiancee to give him a bona fides as he and Solo try separate routes to get to the RCs in Rome. There’s some convoluted stuff about Solo being captured by the RCs’s head Demos (George Macready) and then supposedly rescued by police sergeant Vic Tayback, who takes him to the head of a Nazi-hunting department, Fiamma (Richard Angarola), except that department was shut down and they’re all just working with Demos, and Fiamma’s apparent wife (Jacqueline Beer) is actually Demos’s wife, and after Fiamma’s killed for letting Solo go, Mrs. Fiamma tricks Solo by thinking she wants revenge, and it’s all kind of a mess, redeemed mainly by another fairly interesting Robert Drasnin score. The most frustrating part is how many times Demos expresses an immediate intention to kill Solo but then just stands there continuing to threaten, or letting Solo babble, without actually pulling the trigger.

The other annoying thing about this Alan Caillou-scripted episode is the way it treats the Nazis. Yes, it acknowledges that they’re war criminals who’ve been hunted for two decades and kill without remorse, but otherwise the episode gives the impression that the Nazis were basically just a bunch of art thieves and culture snobs, and that the only reason anyone would have for hunting them down is to retrieve stolen property. It’s a rather trivializing take on the idea of Nazi-hunting.

It turns out the Paris-born Jacqueline Beer was the wife of Thor Heyerdahl of Kon-Tiki fame. Watching her perform here, I wondered if she didn’t know English and was having her lines fed to her phonetically through an earpiece or something, given the way she paused between them and delivered most of them without much expressiveness. But apparently her American filmography extended back a decade before this episode, so I guess she just wasn’t very good.

The other interesting bit of casting trivia is that Waverly’s assistant Evangeline, who provides a lot of the expository narration about the Re-Collectors, is played by Shannon Farnon, best known to my generation as the voice of Wonder Woman for most of the run of Super Friends.

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Scheduling Shore Leave

Okay, first the good news: I turned in the manuscript for Rise of the Federation: Tower of Babel on time yesterday. Honestly, it was a close one. Even though I gave myself plenty of time, I had difficulty getting a handle on this one. I was sick when I put the outline together and it was very rough, so it was hard to get a grip on the story. I also made the story rather complicated, covering a lot of different places and events, which slowed me down because I had to create a lot of separate worlds and situations, and beginnings are the slowest parts because I have to take time to figure everything out first. Kind of like in film/TV — every new set needs to be designed and constructed, so the more sets you have, the more time and effort you have to expend. Anyway, I finally got a handle on it, refined and fleshed out the story, and made the deadline, but there may still be some polishing to do. And I drove myself so hard toward the end there that the stress and heavy typing have left me with a very sore and inflamed shoulder, so as soon as I turned in the MS I went to see the doctor and got a prescription for the pain. But last night I got the best, most relaxing night’s sleep I’ve had in months. (I even had a dream about my beloved old cat Tasha! Awwww.)

So hopefully my shoulder will be better in time to drive to Shore Leave in a couple of days. To that end, I should go easy on the typing and get on to the schedule that’s just been posted. Not sure if this is completely final, but here are the panels/appearances I’m scheduled for at the moment:


Tor Books: New and Upcoming — 9 PM, Hunt Ballroom

This will mostly be Tor editors Marco Palmieri and Greg Cox talking about the new books they have coming out over the next year, but I’ll be there to shill the upcoming mass-market paperback of Only Superhuman.

Meet the Pros — 10 PM, Hunt/Valley Corridor

The annual 2-hour mass signing event where all the author guests will be available to autograph whatever you bring or buy.


The Future History of Star Trek’s Past in Prose — 1 PM, Chase Ballroom

A panel about explorations of the Trek universe’s history in prose. Mainly an excuse for me to talk about Rise of the Federation, but it’ll also feature Michael Jan Friedman (author of Starfleet: Year One, the previous attempt to cover the beginnings of the Federation, which was overwritten by Enterprise) and David Mack (who dealt with the ENT era memorably in Destiny). I was hoping we could also get Greg Cox, who’s done so much with Gary Seven, Khan, and the like in his books, but he’s got a Superheroes on Film panel at the same time.

From Tie-in to Original — 2 PM, Chase Ballroom

The third annual panel letting us tie-in authors shill our original work, this time with me, Ann C. Crispin, Peter David, Keith R.A. DeCandido, and Jo Wymick.

Did Man of Steel Tarnish Superman? — 3 PM, Chase Ballroom

My third consecutive hour in Chase, and I was hesitant to sign up for this one, but yeah, I have some unusually strong opinions about Man of Steel and I guess this’ll be me and Dave Mack and the audience talking about it for an hour.

The Legend of Korra: Let’s Review — 4 PM, Salon F

Yayy, I finally get out of Chase! And I get to chat with Marco Palmieri and the audience about the glory that is Korra. (Good thing I just DVRed the whole series. I can spend the day catching up on the show and resting my shoulder.) Although I expect a very small audience since William Shatner will be in the big ballroom at the same time.

Writing Alien Aliens! — 5 PM, Belmont Room

My Saturday marathon wraps up as Rigel Ailur, Mary Louise Davie, and I talk about the science of creating interestingly exotic alien species and characters.


Science Fiction of Asteroids — 1 PM, Belmont Room

A rare crossover of the SF and science guests. I wrote a book set in the asteroid belt, and science guest Paul Abell is an asteroid expert, so I thought, let’s get together and talk ‘stroids! We’re joined by author Melissa Scott as well.

Christopher Bennett — 4 PM, Salon A

Yup, just me for an hour. I’ll be there to talk and answer fan questions about Rise of the Federation, Only Superhuman, the upcoming audiobook of Spider-Man: Drowned in Thunder, my upcoming “Make Hub, Not War” in Analog, and anything else I’ve done.

FYI — there will be a replica of the ’66 Batmobile — aka the only true Batmobile — at the con. I will definitely be there at some point and will probably want to be photographed in it. (I hope someone gets a photo of Shatner sitting in the Batmobile. That might cause a critical mass of geek nostalgia and tear a hole in the space-time continuum, but it will be worth it.)

Matrix misfires and food follies

Well, that fancy new collagen matrix that was supposed to replace my lost gum tissue hasn’t worked out too well. The doctor says I’ll have to come back in for the standard gum-graft procedure where they take some existing gum tissue from elsewhere in my mouth. So I’ll have to go through that same procedure a second time, only it’ll be more unpleasant. Ugh. At least I get to wait a few weeks, since right now I’m busy finishing up Tower of Babel and right after that I have the Shore Leave convention.

At least for now, I’m finally able to resume a normal diet. For about six weeks, I had to avoid biting into anything with my front teeth. I managed to have the occasional peanut butter sandwich or hot dog by cutting it into pieces with a knife, but it just wasn’t the same. For the moment, I’m back to normal and enjoying getting to bite into stuff again.

I actually had a pretty full head of lettuce in the fridge when this started, wrapped in a towel inside a plastic bag with a hole or two poked in it for ventilation and stored in the back of the crisper drawer. I’ve been afraid to take a look at it, expecting it to be badly wilted at best, if not rotten. But to my astonishment, it was still quite crisp and pristine. I guess that storage method really works. I’m not entirely sure it’s actually been in there for six weeks — that seems unlikely — but I can’t think why I would’ve bought lettuce in the interim, since I couldn’t have burgers or sandwiches with crunchy stuff in them.

Unfortunately, now that I can have sandwiches again, I’ve discovered that two of the local sandwich places I frequented, Arby’s and Jersey Mike’s, have both closed, and the nearest remaining ones of both are across the river in Kentucky — though there are others in parts of town I occasionally have other reason to drive to, and indeed I got an Arby’s sandwich after leaving the periodontist’s office the other day, the first meal I had after being cleared to bite stuff again. Still, it’s frustrating not having them in walking distance. There are several other sandwich places locally, including two or three that just opened in the newly constructed plaza by the university, but they’re not the same.

There seems to be an increasing dearth of restaurants specializing in roast beef. There used to be one called Rax that I really liked, many years ago, but then they closed and I had to settle for Arby’s, whose roast-beef sandwiches weren’t nearly as good. Then Arby’s came out with the Market Fresh sandwiches, which were really good, but I usually had the turkey & swiss. Now Arby’s stores seem to be getting thinner on the ground. I guess maybe the trend has been toward more generalized sandwich shops that offer a variety of meats, and that’s absorbed the market for the more specialized ones (and Arby’s barely even qualifies as a roast-beef specialist anymore, even though that’s what the name means — sound it out).

But, although I’ve lost two sandwich shops within walking distance, I recently discovered that there’s a Donato’s Pizza about to open near my local post office. I’ve long been fond of their pizzas, especially their Hawaiian variety, but it’s been a long time since I’ve lived close to one of their stores. So that makes up for the loss somewhat.

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The Man from UNCLE Affair: Alternate pilot and Season 1 overview (spoilers)

Solo — “The Vulcan Affair”: This is the original color version of the pilot, included on the bonus disc. The show was originally going to be called Solo or even Ian Fleming’s Solo, but this was changed after a bit of a legal kerfuffle over a similarly named character in Goldfinger. The credits, accompanied by the same Jerry Goldsmith theme we know from the regular series, begin with the familiar world-map shot underneath the SOLO title, but is then followed by zooming insets of various world locations, with the guest-cast credits shown over the exotic vistas.

The biggest difference in the pilot becomes evident right after the credits, when instead of Mr. Waverly, we meet Will Kuluva as UNCLE director Allison. There’s more material with the THRUSH agents who broke into HQ in the teaser, as we see how ruthlessly THRUSH disposes of its own men once they’ve served their purpose. (This helps illustrate Solo’s memorable line later in the episode: “They kill people the way people kill flies: a careless flick of the wrist, a reflex action.”) In the next scene between Allison and Solo, we get some useful exposition about the workings of the characteristic triangular badges worn in UNCLE HQ, exposition which was late in coming in the series proper. Illya’s first scene is longer, and he has a second one which was removed entirely from the aired version — but I don’t miss it much, since it undermines the plausibility of the premise. Solo recruits housewife Elaine to get to THRUSH agent Vulcan because of their past relationship, but the extra Solo-Illya scene reveals that their sole evidence for that relationship’s existence was a single high-school photo where Vulcan had his arm around her, which is quite a leap. Still, the scene demonstrates effective chemistry between Vaughn and McCallum and gives more of a clue than the aired episode did as to why the producers decided to upgrade McCallum to co-star status.

The rest of the episode has a few more extra scenes, notably some more character-building for the visiting African dignitaries who are targets of the THRUSH plot. Other additions are more extraneous and entirely expendable. But the end title sequence also plays longer, letting us hear a few more bars of the closing theme than in the series version. The color doesn’t add too much to the episode, and in one scene it detracts, for it makes it easier to see that Solo has a bloody cut on his forehead in one scene and then no trace of injury there once he’s cleaned up in the next.

It wasn’t a bad choice to put this at the end of the season set, since it’s interesting to watch the pilot again now that I’ve seen the whole season. For one thing, I recognize the majority of the music cues now and it’s interesting to see what scenes they were written to accompany. (For instance, the cue that regularly accompanied the establishing shot of Manhattan and the pull-in to Del Floria’s in various episodes was not the same cue accompanying same in the pilot, but was instead used for the opening of the scene on the airplane taking Solo and Elaine to Washington.) It’s also interesting to compare the writing in the pilot to that of the first season. The pilot is more serious — not particularly dark or deep, but less broad and quirky than the season became. Also, this is the only episode written by Sam Rolfe, so his sharp and clever dialogue style was unfortunately not heard again.

It turns out that the sequences with Luciana Paluzzi as THRUSH agent Angela in episode 21, “The Four-Steps Affair,” were actually shot (in color) for a third version of the pilot, an expanded overseas feature-film version called To Trap a Spy. Angela’s scenes would’ve evidently come at the start of the film and sometime before its climactic visit to Vulcan’s chemical plant. Now I understand why Agent Dancer’s name in that episode sounded overdubbed — as originally filmed, he was the same Agent Lancer who was mentioned in the pilot as having warned UNCLE of the assassination plot before being murdered. “Four-Steps” just took that material and wrote a different “assassination plot against foreign dignitary” story to accompany it.

When I did my first-season overview of Mission: Impossible, it was after having seen a fair amount of the later seasons, so I could speak of that season in the context of the whole. In this case I don’t have that option; the only things I’ve ever seen before were the ’80s reunion movie, which I haven’t seen in ages, and “The Project Strigas Affair,” which is part of this season. So I’ll just have to assess the season on its own terms, informed by what little I know of what followed.

Reportedly this season was the most serious and dramatic one; as with Lost in Space, the show took a campier, more comical turn later on in order to compete with Batman. But the fact is, TMFU took a light and playful tone from the beginning, with a number of broad, often comic adventures that didn’t take the spy game very seriously. Robert Vaughn consistently played Napoleon Solo in an impish, bantering manner, with a slightly arch, smug attitude as if he’s in on the joke and just playing along. It actually fits the character and the genre rather well, since the audience is expected to be in on the joke too and not take the fantasy violence and death too seriously. But it did have one annoying side effect that bothered me more and more once I started noticing it — namely, Vaughn handled his prop weapons as though they were props rather than weapons. He’d casually wave cocked pistols around and point them at his friends, and his technique for shooting at bad guys seemed similarly haphazard. In “The Gazebo in the Maze Affair,” at one point he was holding a sword and firmly grasped its exposed blade in his hand in such a way that he would’ve lost his fingers if it had been real. His cavalier treatment of prop weapons spoiled the illusion, and even in the context of a show that didn’t take itself too seriously, that feels like sloppy technique.

David McCallum’s stoicism as Illya Kuryakin makes a strong counterpoint to Solo’s fecklessness, and they make a good pair. However, in the majority of the season, Illya is very much in a secondary role, often appearing for only part of the episode and then being sidelined. But there are a few episodes where he and Solo are equally featured, and one where Illya takes the lead and Solo is mostly sidelined.

As was often the case with ’60s TV, the featured weekly guest stars were usually the highlight, allowing each episode to do something different even as the regulars remained constant and unchanging. Many of the featured “innocents” were there for comedy, while a few provided a more dramatic turn. Unfortunately, the innocents were often inserted through awkward coincidence or contrivance, and too many of them fell into the same formula, such as the ordinary Joe or Jane enticed by the glamour and adventure of the spy game. It led to a certain repetitiveness, although that was par for the course in the era, and less noticeable in weekly airings than on DVD.

I can’t be sure which episodes did or didn’t have original music, since every episode credited composers even when their scores seemed to be stock. But the composers for the season included Jerry Goldsmith, his protege Morton Stevens, Walter Scharf, and Lalo Schifrin. Goldsmith’s scoring, including the main title, stands out the most, featuring elements of his famous style from later decades but with a ’60s-TV sound and a jazzy and sometimes Latin flavor. It uses a lot of repeating motifs, but uses them well. Stevens’s work is occasionally impressive but rarely outstanding; what I noticed most about him was a tendency to use the same generic, vaguely Eastern sound for anything Asian, regardless of whether it was the Mideast, India, or Hong Kong — typical of the show’s hamfisted Orientalism. Scharf was mainly notable for the broader range of ethnic/regional source music he provided, rarely doing any non-diegetic music as interesting as his later Mission: Impossible scores, though he did notable work in “The Deadly Decoy Affair” and “The Love Affair.” Schifrin only did one episode — “The Fiddlesticks Affair,” fittingly a very M:I-style heist episode — and gave it a somewhat M:I-esque sound. Apparently the producers liked his work enough to have him redo the main title theme for season 2.

So let’s see, this show doesn’t lend itself to the kind of statistical breakdowns I did in my M:I overviews. So let’s try some bests and worsts.

Best “innocent”: Barbara Feldon as Mandy, “The Never-Never Affair”: Utterly luminous. Feldon was a remarkable performer, able to be simultaneously Amazonian and adorable, at once smolderingly sexy and girl-next-door sweet. She was utterly miscast as a frumpy translator fantasizing about becoming a glamorous spy, given how intrinsically glamorous she was, but she made the part her own and totally killed, just as she always did. Honorable mention: Kathryn Hays as Mary in “The See-Paris-And-Die Affair,” William Shatner  as Michael in “The Project Strigas Affair.”

Worst “innocent”: Kurt Russell as Chris, “Finny Foot” (I think we can treat “The… Affair” as read by this point): A plucky, dense 13-year-old who thinks Napoleon Solo is a good father figure? No thank you. As I said in the episode review, “mawkishly cute and stupid throughout.” Runner-up: Glenn Corbett as Bernie in “Hong Kong Shilling,” who was just annoying and unlikeable.

Best villain: I’d have to say it’s a tie between Robert Culp as Captain Shark in “Shark” and Cesar Romero as Gervais in “Never-Never”. Culp does what’s probably the most powerful dramatic turn in the season, playing a modern Captain Nemo and bringing great intelligence, depth, and gravitas to the role; he’s a cinch for most sympathetic villain, to the point that I’m reluctant to place him in the villain category. Romero’s Gervais was by far the most charming THRUSH agent, getting around most villain cliches by being understanding and patient with his underlings’ screwups, as well as being unfailingly polite and debonair — which only makes the undercurrent of menace all the more effective. Honorable mention to Ricardo Montalban as the part-villain, part-ally Satine in “Dove.”

Worst villain: Pretty much any white actor pretending to be Asian, such as Leonard Strong in “Finny Foot” or Murray Matheson in “Yellow Scarf.” Dr. Egret and her army of blondes in “Girls of Nazarone” were pretty dumb too.

Best episodes (chronological order): “Vulcan,” “Shark,” “Project Strigas,” “Dove,” “See-Paris-And-Die,”  “Never-Never.”

Worst episodes: “Finny Foot,” “Yellow Scarf,” “Secret Sceptre,” “Brain-Killer,” “Hong Kong Shilling,” “Girls of Nazarone.”

As you can see, I’ve picked an equal number of bests and worsts. Overall I can’t say there are more of the former. So far, to be honest, I’m finding this a mediocre series with occasional moments of excellence. It’s often rather fun, and Vaughn, McCallum, and Carroll are good, but often the appeal comes more from seeing familiar guest stars than from the stories per se. It’s not one of the greats, even in what’s generally considered its best season. Which doesn’t leave me too optimistic about what lies ahead.

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