Archive for January 5, 2014

The Man From UNCLE Season 2 Affair: Eps. 25-30 (Spoilers)

January 5, 2014 1 comment

“The King of Diamonds Affair”: Arrghhh, the accents! We open “Somewhere in Soho, London” (the same caption from “Bridge of Lions” — too cheap to make a new one?) as a restaurant patron with a Mockney accent only Dick Van Dyke could love gets her tooth broken by an uncut diamond in her plum pudding. This brings Solo and Illya to investigate Pogue’s Plum Puddings to see if they’re involved in diamond smuggling. A supposed new Brazilian mine is turning up stones identical to the kind sold by the Peacock company, which is buying most of them up, but the head of Peacock insists all his stones are accounted for. (Apparently diamonds were one of the anchors of the world economy at the time, at least in the UNCLEverse, which is why our spyboys are investigating this.) But the head of Pogue’s, Victoria Pogue (Nancy Kovack), seems to know nothing about it. She also knows nothing about English accents; Kovack’s delivery migrates freely between Prim English Governess and Scarlett O’Hara, with various unidentifiable stops along the way. Everyone else faking an accent in this episode is at least managing to fake a consistent one, but Kovack can’t even settle on a continent. It is probably the worst English accent I’ve ever heard, and in the context of this episode, that’s saying something.

But there’s a more authentic accent afoot, for the boys decide they need to take a closer, unauthorized look into the Peacock vault, which means consulting an expert, Rafael Delgado, the world’s greatest (and vainest) diamond thief — and it’s Ricardo Montalban in his second TMFU appearance! They come to him in Dartmoor Prison pretending to be Hollywood producers seeking his input for a movie. He catches on, but not before he gives them enough tips to let them break into the vault and find it’s already been broken into from beneath, a billion dollars in diamonds stolen. Peacock has hidden the theft for it would be catastrophic if word got out.

Delgado is broken out by his partners, implicitly the Mafia (for some reason the show had to tiptoe around that), though they dress like John Steed and put on fake English accents that are more convincing than those of the characters who are supposed be genuinely English. They’re led by Blodgett (Larry D. Mann). Delgado plies Victoria with Montalban’s Latin-lover routine in order to reach the mob’s plant inside the shipping department (and apparently the only other employee in the building), who was responsible for the shipping mixup that tipped UNCLE off to the crime. Solo then shows up, and through convoluted circumstances, he and Victoria get knocked out and stuffed in a box by the shipping guy, then shipped out to Brazil by Blodgett’s men. Oh, and the gangsters spot Illya watching them and apparently shoot him, causing him to fall into a pile of garbage, but when he recovers, his only complaint is a bumped head. Maybe he just pretended to be shot? Or maybe the episode doesn’t make much sense.

So they end up in Brazil and Blodgett finds Solo and Victoria and is going to kill them, but Delgado saves them for nebulous reasons and tries to get away with both them and the diamonds, but they get caught and they need Illya and two Brazilian UNCLE men (TIO men?) to save them, and the good guys manage to shoot the mobsters with cannons which affect them a la Yosemite Sam, but Blodgett gets off one last shot and Montalban gets to play a death scene, and then Solo and Illya are chilling with Victoria in front of a badly painted backdrop of Rio’s coastline, but then Waverly shows up just so he can pull rank and get some alone time with the girl. Oh, and there’s a casually racist allusion to cannibalistic Amazon natives.

So, yeah, kind of a mess, and oh good grief nobody ever let Nancy Kovack do an accent again. But on the plus side, Ricardo Montalban! Plus honorable mention to John Winston (Star Trek‘s transporter chief Kyle, and the one person other than the main Trek cast who co-starred with Montalban in both of his appearances as Khan), who plays a British UNCLE agent and, although Australian, does one of the least fakey English accents in the episode. Though admittedly that’s extremely faint praise.

“The Project Deephole Affair”: UNCLE is trying to smuggle a geologist past THRUSH, who want him captured for some evil project (as Waverly explains in an expository walk-and-talk where a huge microphone is on camera for several seconds as they leave his office). The THRUSH team is led by the Bondishly-named Narcissus Darling, who’s played by the lovely Barbara Bouchet and lives up to her mythic namesake in her fondness for self-reflection (and who can blame her?). Due to a mixup in their scouting of hotel windows, they mistake Buzz Conway (Jack Weston), a career failure and nobody, for the geologist when he tries to duck out of paying his hotel bill. Solo takes advantage of the accidental opportunity to use Buzz as a decoy, having Illya slip the real doctor out by another route. Conway later wakes up in a swankier hotel, finding a plane ticket to San Francisco and a sizeable wad of bills by his bedside (although the wad, when he examines it, is visibly just a few singles wrapped in a twenty). He also finds the apparent corpse of the geologist in his closet (never checking to see if he has a pulse), which spooks him into taking the flight to get out of town rather than cashing it in. (Creepily, Illya is monitoring Conway via a camera in the latter’s bathroom.)

So basically they’re risking this guy’s life as a decoy without his consent. UNCLE’s manipulated civilians like this before, but has usually given them a say in the matter. This is just sick. Anyway, he doesn’t remain in the dark for long, because once in San Fran, he’s hijacked via a drone control planted in his car, and there’s a fairly impressive freeway stunt as Solo (in Illya’s convertible) kicks out the car window and climbs inside to regain control (and somehow isn’t lacerated by all the broken glass). Buzz isn’t too happy and tries to get away, but stumbles into the bad guy’s clutches (I’m glossing over a lot of back-and-forth). Said bad guy is Elom (Leon Askin) — spell it backwards. He’s a narrow-eyed man who can’t stand sunlight, wears sunglasses, is insecure about whether Narcissus likes him, and wishes to “penetrate deep into Mother Earth” (oookay) in order to deploy a sonic earthquake weapon. Bottom line, this guy is essentially Marvel Comics’ Mole Man, taking a break from battling the Fantastic Four. Bizarre.

Anyway, Elom disbelieves Buzz’s insistence that he’s not the geologist, and threatens a captive Illya to get his cooperation. By random luck, Buzz actually proves to have useful knowledge and redirects the drill to strike oil instead of, err, nonconsensually penetrating the planet’s crust. And then Solo shows up and shoots everybody anyway. And then Elom falls down an elevator shaft, just at a point where there’s major damage to the film, streaks of blue dots going by. Presumably the DVDs are taken from the original masters, so are you telling me the episode actually went out with that much damage? They couldn’t afford to reshoot even for something so drastic? It makes the visible mike seem trivial. Although the technical problems make me feel a little sorry for the episode, which really doesn’t have much going for it anyway aside from Bouchet being really, really nice to look at.

“The Round Table Affair” opens with Illya in a lengthy car chase, the kind where, whenever they drive off the road into the dirt, you can see leftover tire tracks from earlier takes of the stunt. Why do they never get it on the first take? Anyway, the chase ends up in the flyspeck Duchy of Ingolstein, which has no extradition treaties with anyone. A crook named Artie King (Don Francks) has thus used his influence with the regent Fredrick (Reginald Gardner), a dissolute gambler deeply in debt to Artie, to turn Ingolstein into a haven for criminals. Solo and Illya inform the rightful Duchess, the tomboyish Vicky (Valora Noland), who immediately agrees to leave her Paris boarding school, take the throne, and kick out the crooks. But Artie and his gangster pal Lucho (Bruce Gordon) remind Fredrick that Artie basically owns him and the duchy (and Artie makes a nasty insinuation about droit de seigneur giving him ownership of Vicky as well, although I doubt it would grant a commoner any rights over a duchess), so the gangsters aren’t going anywhere. Solo and Illya make the mistake of gloating to Lucho and the crooks about their impending expulsion without actually having a plan for when the crooks inevitably bag them, although their imprisonment is oddly temporary.

Fredrick convinces Vicky that she needs to marry Artie if she wants to get the crooks out, insisting that a woman can mold a man into anything she wants — a perspective he’s gained from a lifetime of being wrapped around fingers. But when he makes the same proposition to Artie, Lucho sees it as something that benefits the crooks, for some reason. Also for some reason, confirmed bachelor Artie is apparently trapped into it, even though he was just boasting minutes before about how he had all the power. Lucho keeps Artie prisoner in the castle to keep him from ducking out on the wedding. While attempting to do just that, Artie finds Vicky in the chapel (which somehow contains the sword of St. George driven Excalibur-like into the stone, with an attached legend that the duchess must marry whoever removes it). They bond over mutually being trapped into marriage, which, of course, leads to them instantly falling in love and wanting to marry. The guy who was implicitly threatening her with rape in the first act is now suddenly being written as a sweetheart.

But Solo & Illya kidnap Artie so he misses the wedding. Lucho, though, gets a safecracking associate to (somehow, somehow, somehow) rig the sword so Lucho can pull it and force Vicky into marriage. When the boys from UNCLE hear of this, they realize the lovestruck Artie is the lesser of evils. They collaborate on a plan which entails Artie challenging Lucho to a clumsy duel in full plate armor, with Solo & Illya holding the gangsters at gunpoint so Artie can win fair and square, whereupon he instantly consents to the extradition treaty so the crooks can be taken in. That’s one heck of a job of molding there, Vicky.

Despite the flimsy and inconsistent plot, this ends up being a rather fun episode, kind of sweet and romantic too if you ignore the unfortunate droit de seigneur remark (which, to be fair, the episode did too). Robert Drasnin provides a partial new score in the vein of classic movies about knights and castles and European royalty and whatnot.

“The Bat Cave Affair”: Yes, this episode aired nearly three months after Batman premiered and took the nation by storm. But the episode doesn’t really bear any resemblance to Batman beyond the title, which could have been changed sometime during production.

While Illya is in Europe tracking down a THRUSH plot to throw air travel into chaos, a Dr. Transom (Peter Baron) is showing Solo the supposed psychic abilities of Clemency McGill (Joan Freeman), a very beautiful down-home girl from the Ozarks. He and Waverly are skeptical, but her abilities seem uncanny, and she even has detailed knowledge of Illya’s activities a continent away and where to go to find what he’s looking for. This turns out to be a trap, suggesting she’s working for THRUSH after all.

Illya is captured by Count Zark — in other words, Martin Landau doing a Dracula impression, though it’s nowhere near as good as his Oscar-winning performance as Bela Lugosi in 1994’s Ed Wood. Zark has engineered his bats’ “radar” sense to interfere with airport radar, even though it’s actually sonic echolocation and couldn’t do that. He also explains that THRUSH has been using microwave neural induction to implant thoughts in Clemency’s head and lead Illya into their trap in Transylvania, which is an absurdly convoluted way to go about it and a total waste of a technology that could have far more profound applications for evil. She’s a dupe rather than a traitor, and Solo finds the transmitter in her hair comb during his inevitable seduction, so they fly to Illya’s rescue. Zark releases the bats, but information that Zark conveniently handed Illya earlier enables him to recall/disrupt them. And Clemency provides useful information without the hair comb, suggesting she’s really psychic after all, ugh.

This is a pretty bad episode. The plot is a mess, and a lot of the Zark material seems to be played for humor but just falls flat. Landau makes a good try, but it’s simply too broad and awkwardly written a role; the villain doesn’t even get any comeuppance at the end. (Oh, and Whit Bissell is in it too, but is wasted in a fairly redundant role.) The main thing worth watching for is the lovely Joan Freeman, plus a full original Gerald Fried score whose use of ponderous tubas and cackling trumpets anticipates his score for Star Trek‘s “Catspaw.”

Although there is a fun metatextual moment; on the plane, Solo and Clemency are shown watching the final shot of the movie One Spy Too Many, a theatrical version of the 2-part “Alexander the Greater Affair” that opened this season, and Solo remarks that spy movies are light entertainment that’s too far-fetched for his taste. (It’s not the actual end-title card of the movie, though, since that was over a shot of Waverly and Illya. The movie is on the special-features disc and will be covered in the next post.)

“The Minus-X Affair”: When UNCLE learns that THRUSH is after the prototype Plus-X formula of Prof. Stemmler (Eve Arden), meant to heighten human senses and abilities, Solo warns the professor that THRUSH is likely to target her estranged daughter Leslie (Sharon Farrell), a wild child who lives “not wisely but too well” off the money Stemmler sends her in lieu of parenting. But he doesn’t check for bugs first, so it’s entirely his fault that THRUSH captures Leslie. Not that their man in Acapulco, Whittaker (King Moody, better known as Get Smart‘s Shtarker and as Ronald McDonald from 1975-84), has to work at it; the sexy, slutty Leslie is happy to run off with him, though not before Illya manages to get a tracer onto her.

But the abduction is just a cover, for Stemmler has been working with the Blofeldesque THRUSH agent Arthur Rollo (Theo Marcuse), who’s not pleased with her for keeping Leslie’s existence secret from him — and confiding about her to Solo. He wonders at her commitment to THRUSH, but clearly she’s more committed to her daughter than it seemed.

Rollo intends to use Plus-X to enhance his men and its secret opposite formula Minus-X to dumb down the guards at a government “synthetic plutonium” plant. Illya goes undercover at the plant while Solo gets captured at Rollo’s HQ. There are guinea pigs galore as Rollo injects Leslie with Plus-X and slates Solo for a Minus-X test. A bitter Leslie initially decides that being bad is in her blood so she might as well join team villain, but later she has second thoughts that could get her killed. Stemmler, it turns out, will do anything to protect her daughter; the only reason she sent her away was to insulate her from THRUSH. So she fakes the Minus-X injection and helps Solo escape. Still, Rollo takes Leslie as a hostage to the plutonium heist, as insurance. Whittaker has delivered the Minus-X to the guards, who have become mental 5-year-olds — and hey, one of them is Paul Winfield! It’s a minor role, but he does it well. Anyway, Solo and Stemmler follow, and it’s not hard to predict what Stemmler will end up doing to save her daughter and atone for her sins.

This is a solid episode, more dramatic than the season’s norm, and it’s the first time in this show that Peter Allan Fields has written female characters in a way that didn’t feel exploitative, misogynistic, or both. It’s a big step in the direction of his much better work in future shows. Both Stemmler women are effectively drawn and well-played, and Farrell is extremely sexy as Leslie. The direction by Barry Shear is also quite strong and stylish, particularly in the Acapulco sequence, which has some strikingly fast-paced and artistic editing that’s unusual for the era. This is definitely one of the few standouts of the season.

“The Indian Affairs Affair”: Needless to say, when this show does an episode about Indians, it’s an assemblage of cowboys-and-Indians tropes and cliches, beginning with a cigar-store Indian outside the Bureau of Indian Affairs, then onto a group of Indians using arrows and tomahawks to attack Solo and Illya in the city streets for reasons which are never adequately explained. But apparently it has something to do with THRUSH kidnapping Chief Highcloud (Ted de Corsia) of the Cardiac tribe — seriously — to force his people to let them use their reservation as a site for developing a new type of H-bomb. The tribe won’t talk to outsiders, so Waverly sends Illya to investigate and Solo to contact Highcloud’s New York-resident daughter, whose name is Charisma — seriously. Apparently this is the world’s only Greek-speaking Indian tribe. Speaking of names, Charisma is played by Victoria Vetri under her stage name Angela Dorian, the name she would subsequently use as a Playboy Playmate. Charisma’s a student who does stereotyped Indian dances to pay the bills. Solo tries to solicit her help, but THRUSH attacks and Solo “allows” them to kidnap her, though not before he manages to get a tracer on her (deja vu!).

The THRUSH team is led by L.C. Carson (Joe Mantell), who runs a historical museum and has a generations-long grudge against the Cardiacs for their massacre of a cavalry force including his ancestor — which he calls an atrocity by savages with no sense of guilt, conveniently ignoring the far larger massacre inflicted in the other direction over the preceding centuries. His men are the second band of THRUSH goons this season to dress as cowboys. Carson’s kind of a lunatic, at one point donning war paint and trying to rape Charisma because the “savages” have retained a virility the modern white man has lost. She fights him off fairly well and Solo ultimately saves her, though they’re recaptured.

Meanwhile, Illya is attacked by the tribe’s motorcycle-riding warriors, who make an inept attempt to torture him before he wins them over with his usual “You tribal people whom I respect must follow my leadership because I’m smarter than you and also blond” routine. He dresses up as a Cardiac (though with his very pale complexion unaltered) and gets Carson’s man Ralph (Nick Colasanto) to take him to the chief, where his escape attempt dovetails with Solo’s before the aforementioned recapture.

Anyway, the bomb project has involved scientists from multiple countries working on separate components without knowing their purpose, until they’re brought together at the reservation and turn out to be pieces of the world’s first suitcase nuke. In the words of project leader Dr. Yahama (Richard Loo), “We have transistorized a nuclear bomb.” (That was a ’60s term for miniaturization, since transistors allowed smaller electronic devices than vacuum tubes.) The plan somehow involves hiding the bomb in one of four cases and sending them all back to their separate countries without anyone knowing which one has the bomb. I’m not sure what the point of this was supposed to be, but ultimately it’s just an excuse to have a convoy of cars that can “circle the wagons” when an escaped Solo and Illya rally the Cardiacs on motorbikes to attack them Western-style.

In a number of ways, this episode by Dean Hargrove is an attempt to subvert cowboy-and-Indian tropes and align its sympathies with the Indians. The cowboys are cast as the villains and the Indians as the heroes, and Carson’s virulent racism is portrayed as evil and grotesque. Chief Highcloud is portrayed, to a point, as a dignified leader who dislikes seeing his people’s proud traditions mocked, and Charisma is embarrassed by her stereotyped dancing. So it was a decent try. But the episode is nonetheless laden with TV/movie Indian caricatures and cliches that are anything but respectful or authentic, like act titles written in stereotyped broken English. So while it tries to counter the cliches, it’s still a prisoner of them.

On the plus side, we get a mostly original score by Gerald Fried, largely doing his usual ethnic-sounds thing, though there’s an amusing cowboy-guitar motif for the THRUSH men as well. (And Jerry Goldsmith’s episode-wrapup motif is briefly heard at the end as well, arranged “Indian-style” by Fried.)

And that’s the end of season two. Up next, a review of the theatrical One Spy Too Many and a season overview.

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