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

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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