Posts Tagged ‘The Man from UNCLE’

The Man from UNCLE Affair: The 2015 movie (spoilers)

Well, I haven’t bothered to continue my rewatch of the original The Man from U.N.C.L.E. beyond season 2, but I came upon last year’s Guy Ritchie-directed movie reboot of the premise, and I decided to give it a try, since I liked Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes films, and since I liked Henry Cavill as Superman in Man of Steel, even though the film didn’t really let him be Superman. Coincidentally, Cavill’s co-star in TMFU, Armie Hammer, almost but not quite played Batman some years earlier, having been cast in George Miller’s planned Justice League movie before it was cancelled.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. movie has been criticized for not being all that faithful to its source material, but as readers of my previous reviews may recall, I wasn’t really that fond of the source material. It was the weakest of the ’60s spy shows, the most sexist and racist of them by a good margin, with the poorest rapport between its leading duo, who often seemed to hate each other and barely interacted at all in season 2. So the fact that this movie didn’t draw too heavily on the series was kind of an asset for me. And the fact that it told an origin story where the two leads started out hating each other felt pretty appropriate.

Ritchie’s TMFU is a very stylishly directed and edited film that I thought was a lot of fun to watch. It’s as cheeky as his Holmes films, but taking advantage of its ’60s setting to bring in more flashy action and editing tricks that feel like some of the more experimental, iconoclastic films of the period while also feeling very modern. There are neat tricks played with the English subtitles translating foreign dialogue, like flashing them on the screen in large type or having them superimposed over a conversation that’s largely inaudible to us until one character rolls the car window down. A couple of action sequences have the same kind of moving split-screen effects that Ang Lee used in Hulk, but not to the point of distracting overuse. Visual tricks aside, the action sequences are creatively choreographed and shot and quite effectively edited; Ritchie makes an interesting choice to downplay the violence by keeping it offscreen or in the distance or playing the scenes silently under music. Generally, the movie’s choice of what to focus on during an action scene is significantly different from the norm, often to quite refreshing effect. There’s also a heavy use of a technique the TV series Leverage used routinely, leaving bits out of a scene (e.g. showing only half a phone conversation) and then filling them in later in flashback to explain what was happening (e.g. by showing the whole conversation) — although this is one stylistic trick that I feel was overused here.

I talked about the style first because it was so impressive, but that isn’t meant to downplay the performers or the plot. This is an origin story giving background to Napoleon Solo, Illya Kuryakin, and the UNCLE organization that they never had before. All of them are reinterpreted in ways that don’t quite fit the series, but again, I wasn’t that crazy about the series. Solo is now a WWII vet-turned-master thief who was recruited by the CIA so that his awesome thieving talents wouldn’t be wasted in jail. Kuryakin is a nigh-indestructible muscleman with serious anger management issues, pretty much none of which was ever hinted at in David McCallum’s version. There isn’t even an UNCLE organization until the very end of the film; Solo and Illya are, respectively, CIA and KGB agents competing to get to Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander), the daughter of a nuclear scientist they’re trying to find before he builds a bomb for neo-Nazis. Gaby, an auto mechanic, shows herself to be an incredibly skilled driver in the opening chase and handles herself coolly in a life-or-death situation, and yet somehow both male leads are surprised when she later turns out to be an MI-6 agent working for Hugh Grant’s Alexander Waverly, who ultimately assembles all three agents under him in a permanent team, which is supposedly the origin for the international UNCLE agency. We and they are supposed to assume for the first two acts that Gaby’s playing the standard TMFU role of “the innocent,” the civilian who gets inadvertently caught up in the spy game and has to be protected by the heroes, but she’s so skilled and together from the start that the twist is easy to see coming. And the twist involving Waverly’s role in the story only works if you’ve never seen the show and don’t recognize the name Waverly.

Henry Cavill does an impressive job playing Napoleon Solo. He captures Robert Vaughn’s cadence and tonality well, but downplays it to the point that it’s more an interpretation than mere mimicry. (His Solo is as much an underplayed impression of Vaughn’s Solo as Andrew Robinson’s Garak on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was an overplayed impression of same.) And yet I found his look and manner surprisingly reminiscent of Matt Bomer’s Neal Caffrey from the TV series White Collar. That’s fitting, since both characters are debonair, womanizing master thieves who reluctantly work for the government and dress in ’60s fashions. It’s also a reminder that Bomer was once a candidate to play Superman (for the abortive J.J. Abrams film) before Cavill got the role. (Bomer eventually did play Superman as a voice role in the animated Superman: Unbound.) As for Hammer, he’s reasonably effective as Illya, and his chemistry with Cavill is maybe comparable to what McCallum had with Vaughn, though that’s not saying much. Alicia Vikander is quite good as Gaby, just as she was quite good as Ava in Ex Machina, though this is a more conventional “spy-movie leading lady/romantic interest with hidden talents and depths” type of role. Making her essentially an equal partner to Solo and Kuryakin is a good antidote to the dreadful gender politics of the original show (and setting the story entirely in Berlin and Rome avoids the dreadful portrayal of non-Western cultures in the original show). The other major lead is the villainess, Victoria Vinciguerra (meaning “victory winning the war,” the same kind of themed name we’d often get in the series), played by Elizabeth Debicki. She’s excellent in the role, with a statuesque blonde beauty and a marvelously posh English accent that are perfect for a ’60s spy-movie archvillainess. I think her makeup artist deserves a lot of credit too, with the very ’60s look to Debicki’s eye makeup.

The music, by Daniel Pemberton, is also quite good and imaginative, although there’s also a heavy use of period songs that I wasn’t as fond of (but then, I’m never as fond of pop-song scoring as I am of orchestral scoring). I didn’t notice any use of Jerry Goldsmith’s theme from the series (in either its original arrangement or the better-known Lalo Schifrin reworking), though it was included in the music credits at the end.

Is this the best spy movie ever? No. But it’s definitely fun and stylish, and a cool piece of ’60s nostalgia even if it’s not especially faithful to the specific piece of ’60s television that it’s based on. Heck, it’s got more in common with its source material than most of the Mission: Impossible movies. I wouldn’t mind seeing a sequel, though I gather the movie didn’t perform all that well. I’d like to see whether they’d stick with the idea of UNCLE as just this small team or if they’d build it into something more like the large international peacekeeping agency of the original series. The end title graphics implied the latter, though it’s hard to see how they’d get there from these humble beginnings.

It would also be nice to see if, unlike the first four M:I movies, they could actually hold onto a female lead for more than one film…

The Man From UNCLE Season 2 Affair: ONE SPY TOO MANY and overview (spoilers)

One Spy Too Many, as I mentioned in the previous post, is the theatrical version of the 2-part “Alexander the Greater Affair,” released five months after the episodes aired on television, and with more sex and violence added for the big screen. The violence comes first, with a new opening sequence under the movie titles, in which Alexander’s chief henchman Parviz (David Sheiner) breaks into an army base and battles its guards with gas grenades and a machine gun. The film periodically goes into jerky slow motion at several action beats (no high-speed cameras involved, just slowing down the regular film to a few frames per second), I guess to prolong them while credits are shown over them. It’s pretty awkward. Also, Sheiner sports an obvious bald cap (is there any other kind?) that he doesn’t have in the TV material; no doubt this scene was filmed some time later and Sheiner wasn’t willing to shave his head again. The most awkward thing about it, though, is that after this sequence of his breaking into the military installation, we cut to the opening scenes of the TV episode, in which he’s still waiting outside the gates of the installation and breaks in again. I guess the idea was to suggest that he broke through two levels of security, but the guards at the “inner” gate don’t act as though his van is out of place where it is, so it just doesn’t fit.

The added sex appeal comes largely courtesy of Batgirl herself, the delightful Yvonne Craig, who previously had a disappointing guest role in season 1. Here, she’s one of the various UNCLE communications women that Solo always seems to flirt with, and she’s constantly reminding him of impending dates that he can’t remember making with her; indeed, he can’t even remember her name. It’s pretty blatantly tacked onto/interpolated into the story, with Craig having a scene inserted every time the agents call HQ on their pen-radios, or else showing up and saying “Here’s that thing you talked about arranging in the previous scene” before flirting some more with Solo. She finally gets out of the office for a final scene at the closing reception (though the shape of the wine glass props changes from the episode footage to the movie footage). Its only purpose is to provide some semblance of a romance for Solo in a storyline where he’s uncharacteristically lacking in one. And to add a bit of skin: Craig does a repeat of the sunbathing-in-the-communications-room scene that I recall seeing in the pilot, but since this is the big screen, she’s got her bikini top unfastened. We don’t get to see much more than would’ve been allowed on TV, though. There is another added scene, though, of Rip Torn’s Alexander in bed with Donna Michelle as the neighbor’s wife he’s committing adultery with, in which Ms. Michelle shows her bare back and, briefly, a side view of a nipple. Ms. Michelle later has a brief added scene where Solo finds her in a jacuzzi, but only her shoulders are visible there.

A couple of things are deleted as well, notably the scenes with Alexander’s parents enslaved at the quarry (leaving the reasons for the quarry sequence unexplained in the movie) and the part-2 recap with the UNCLE accountant and Waverly. Despite these changes, though, the movie is very blatantly a recut television episode, complete with the act breaks left pretty much intact. And the original was already rather incoherent, cluttered with random digressions and side threads to pad it out to two hours, and the addition of one more subplot just makes things worse — although getting to watch Yvonne Craig makes anything better. It’s a shame they chose this 2-part episode to release as a feature, since the season’s other 2-parter, “The Bridge of Lions Affair,” was far superior. Although I suppose this one has more of the big action that would’ve been considered appropriate for a cinematic release.

Oh, by the way, in my original review of “Alexander the Greater,” I commented on the incomplete depiction of Alexander’s violation of the Ten Commandments. I said, “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.” However, this time around, I realized that one conversation between Alexander and his estranged wife takes place while he’s performing some kind of ritual in front of a statue of some bizarre creature with a placard on its head bearing the number 2. The episode couldn’t overtly call attention to it, no doubt for censorship reasons, but this must represent his violation of the second commandment, and might cover the first as well. Although he doesn’t seem to be sincerely worshipping the graven image, given that he finishes the ritual by using its flame to roast marshmallows.

So how to assess The Man from U.N.C.L.E. season 2? My initial understanding was that this season would be more comical than the first, but overall it seems to be about the same — maybe a little more tongue-in-cheek on average, but not yet actively campy. Still, I found its quality to be lower, with a lot of weak episodes, a significant amount of what seemed like careless acting and directing, continuity and production errors, and the like. It often seemed to me like the actors and directors — and, often, the writers — weren’t trying very hard. The addition of color doesn’t help much, since black-and-white gives things a certain class.

This was the first season where Illya Kuryakin was as central a protagonist as Napoleon Solo, although the show didn’t do a very good job of establishing them as a double act. Often they were pursuing separate parts of a mission, and often Solo was very unhelpful toward Illya, making out with women while Illya was getting beaten up and generally mistreated. In fact, it often seemed as though the two of them didn’t like each other very much. I guess the idea was to play up a sort of comic rivalry, but it was hard for me as a viewer to like them (especially Solo) when there were so few reasons shown for them to like each other. There were so many other partnerships in ’60s TV that worked far better: Kirk and Spock, Batman and Robin, Jim West and Artemus Gordon, Alexander Scott and Kelly Robinson, John Steed and Emma Peel, Maxwell Smart and 99. And note that most of those are spy shows. In this season, Solo and Kuryakin didn’t even feel like partners much of the time. They were more like two independent leads pursuing their own storylines that occasionally overlapped. And unlike most of those other pairings, they didn’t come off as people who would enjoy each other’s company or spend any time together between missions. Like so much else about the show this season, the partnership just didn’t mesh.

On the positive side, this season had less of the first season’s contrivances of getting the weekly “innocents” drawn into events by convoluted accidents, but on the downside, we did see a ruthless streak as UNCLE occasionally used innocents as decoys and bait for THRUSH without their knowledge or consent. And very much on the negative side, the season continued the pattern of embracing ugly or condescending stereotypes of practically every non-Western ethnic group, to the point that I was getting very sick of the show’s relentless racism after a while; but it actually more or less managed to avoid doing so once or twice, portraying Japanese culture almost respectfully in “The Cherry Blossom Affair,” and at least attempting to be sympathetic toward the cultures depicted in “Tigers Are Coming” and “Indian Affairs” while still ineptly and condescendingly portraying them and casting in brownface. At least most East Asian characters this season were actually played by Asian actors, but otherwise there was little improvement on the racial front. Worse yet, the season also demonstrated an uncomfortable streak of misogyny and sexual objectification toward women, particularly in scripts by Peter Allan Fields, though he seemed to grow out of it by the end of the season, and definitely had done so by later on in his career. The lowest point of all is at the end of “The Nowhere Affair,” in which erasing a woman’s entire memory and identity except for her attraction to Solo is portrayed as if it’s somehow a romantic and positive outcome rather than something absolutely horrific and exploitative. To be sure, there was plenty of sexism and ugly racial attitudes in ’60s TV, but I’ve rarely seen so much of it concentrated in a single show. And there were so many other shows, including competing spy shows, that did better. I Spy and Mission: Impossible were trendsetters in racial inclusion (and while M:I wasn’t great at depicting non-Western cultures, at least it generally avoided trying), and The Avengers and Get Smart had marvelously strong and engaging female leads.

I guess what I’m saying, basically, is that virtually every other ’60s spy show was better than this one.

The one relative high point this season was the music, though that’s a qualified success. Lalo Schifrin’s new arrangement of Jerry Goldsmith’s theme is far less interesting, losing Goldsmith’s Latin syncopation and strong orchestration in favor of a more simplistic rhythm and fewer instruments. While Schifrin scored episode 2, “The Ultimate Computer Affair,” all the other music in this season was done by either Gerald Fried or Robert Drasnin. It’s an unusual degree of musical consistency for a ‘6os adventure show, and both composers did good work, though Fried’s work only occasionally rose to the standards of his later work for Star Trek, Mission: Impossible, and others. Notably, though there were a lot of stock scores, there was an unusual resurgence of original music in the final episodes of the season, which was good to hear.

There were a number of notable guest stars this season, including Vincent Price, Maurice Evans, Vera Miles, Ricardo Montalban, Martin Landau, Eve Arden, and Paul Winfield, plus quite a few really lovely guest actresses. Unusually, several actors played two different roles in the course of the season, including David Sheiner (“Alexander the Greater” and “Nowhere”), James Hong (“Alexander” and “Bridge of Lions”), Cal Bolder (ditto), Theo Marcuse (“Re-Collectors” and “Minus-X”), and Woodrow Parfrey (“Cherry Blossom” and “Moonglow”). While it wasn’t uncommon for actors in ’60s and ’70s TV to play multiple roles over the course of a series, it was unusual to do it twice in the same season, let alone for so many actors to do so. I’m not counting this as one of the season’s negatives, but it’s an odd quirk.

On to the bests and worsts:

Best innocent: Depends on how you define it. Maurice Evans in “Bridge of Lions Pt. 1 & 2” gives the standout performance of the season, but he’s kind of a borderline innocent, straddling the fence of good guy and bad guy. By the more conventional formula of a bystander caught up in events, I’d say my favorite was probably France Nuyen in “Cherry Blossom.” Though Jill Ireland in “Tigers Are Coming,” Susan Silo in “Children’s Day,” and Sharon Farrell in “Minus-X” were pretty impressive.

Worst innocent: Ann Elder, “Bridge of Lions Pt. 1 & 2,” for her atrocious Irish accent — although Nancy Kovack’s all-over-the-map attempt at an English accent in “King of Diamonds” is pretty awful too.

Best villain: When Vincent Price (“Foxes and Hounds”) is one of the villains, is there any contest? Although Vera Miles in “Bridge of Lions” comes close, giving one of the finest dramatic performances of the season.

Worst villain: Jerome Thor, “Arabian.” Strident and annoying.

Best episodes (chronological order): “Cherry Blossom,” “Bridge of Lions Pt. 1 & 2,” “Round Table,” “Minus-X”

Worst episodes: “Alexander the Greater Pt. 1 & 2,” ‘Discotheque,” ‘Re-Collectors,” “Deadly Toys,” “Children’s Day,” “Deadly Goddess,” “Nowhere” (!!!)

So out of 28 distinct stories (including two 2-parters), I count only 4 as good, 7 as bad, and the remaining 17 as mediocre. And even the good ones are a mixed bag, episodes that were flawed but had enough strong moments or overall entertainment value to be worthwhile anyway. Overall, this was just not a good season. The main things that made it bearable to sit through were the music and (for me, at least) the abundance of really lovely female guests.

At this point, I’m unsure if I intend to continue to season 3. I didn’t like season 2 much, and season 3 is reportedly far worse, so I’m not sure it would be worth it to subject myself to it. After all, it’s not like anyone is paying me to do these reviews, so what would I get out of it? Well, beyond getting my morbid curiosity satisfied. I’m almost tempted to continue for that reason alone. But at the very least, I’m going to take a break from The Man from U.N.C.L.E. for a while and take a look at some of the other shows piling up on my Netflix queue. I’ll shortly be getting season 2 of The Six Million Dollar Man, which I’ll be reviewing here. (Actually I’ve already gotten the first two discs — I needed a break from TMFU — but I wanted to get through this series of reviews before I began posting those.) After that… we’ll see.

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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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The Man From UNCLE Season 2 Affair: Eps. 19-24 (Spoilers)

“The Waverly Ring Affair”: After raiding a THRUSH message drop disguised as a storefront photo developing service (complete with an oddly blurry fight scene — perhaps there was a camera error and they couldn’t afford a reshoot), Illya finds a top-security UNCLE document in the captured packet, revealing that there’s a mole inside UNCLE HQ. We get to see more of UNCLE’s security procedures as Solo and Illya investigate. Suspicion seems to fall on a friendly Clark Kent-meets-Fred MacMurray type named George Dennell (Larry Blyden), who’s caught with a secret document and gets kicked out of UNCLE and “de-trained” using a spinny-disk hypnosis “beam” to erase his classified knowledge — but it’s really a ploy by Solo to use George as bait for THRUSH recruitment. It’s pretty easy to guess that the other new UNCLE employee introduced here, Carla (Elizabeth Allen) — who’s just friends with George though he wants more — is really the THRUSH mole. But when Solo gets captured by both of them seemingly working together, it’s unclear which one is the real mole — especially since they both seem to have so-called Waverly rings, a top-security device that can only be issued by Waverly himself to his most trusted operatives. Which one is the real spy? (Well, for THRUSH, I mean. Obviously they’re both spies.)

This is a fairly good episode, a nice look inside the title organization, though as is often the case, the climactic action gets a little incoherent. Still, there was a moment where I thought the story was going to go in a totally different direction. The de-training hypnotist, Dr. Lazarus (Jim Boles), had a very sinister-looking pointy goatee, so I thought, “Of course! He’s the mole! He frames UNCLE agents for security breaches, gets them kicked out, and pretends to hypnotize them into forgetting all UNCLE’s secrets, but he rigs the process with a back-door suggestion so THRUSH agents can capture them, trigger their suppressed memories, and get their secrets! It’s brilliant!” But none of that actually happened. Which is a pity, since that sounded more interesting than what we got. Not that this was a bad one, but it feels like a missed opportunity, and a less cohesive story, since the hypnosis angle has little payoff in the actual episode.

“The Bridge of Lions Affair, Parts 1 & 2”: Solo investigates the disappearance of elderly scientist Dr. Lancer, who looks like James Doohan in old-age makeup, and the appearance of a man with identical fingerprints named Bainbridge, who looks like James Doohan with a fake mustache. Bainbridge, of course, is a de-aged Lancer, as he reveals to the elderly Sir Norman Swickert, played in age makeup by the great Maurice Evans, who does such a convincing job playing an elderly man that I almost forgot he was still much younger at the time this was made. Swickert was once one of the great men of power in the UK, and he formed the Bridge of Lions Society, a chess club allowing world leaders to keep the lines of communication open so the misunderstandings that led to World War I couldn’t happen again.

Solo’s investigations lead him to Lancer’s daughter Lorelei, a model at the Paris salon of Mme. Raine De Sala (Vera Miles), who has ambitions to seize the power that the men of the world reserve for themselves, and who has her henchwoman Olga (Monica Keating) strangle Lorelei and shoot Dr. Lancer/Bainbridge/Scotty to keep them from talking to Solo. There’s also a Richard Kiel-esque strongman chauffeur, Fleeton (Cal Bolder), who tries to keep Solo from getting into Swickert’s estate by lifting the front of his roadster and rotating it to point in the other direction — whereupon Solo simply kicks it into reverse to get inside.

Meanwhile, Illya is tracking cats around Soho, trying to find out why they’re being, err, catnapped. And eventually THRUSH’s Hong Kong office, of all places, gets wind of these investigations, and their Waverly equivalent (James Hong) orders Jordin (Bernard Fox, without his usual mustache) to look into it all. Which is a slow scene that’s mostly for padding, but it’s mildly interesting to see inside a THRUSH HQ and to see how different James Hong looked and sounded back then.

It’s a while before all these plot threads come together. Raine reveals that she’s been in love with Sir Norman since she was a little girl — maybe it was his power she was in love with, but Vera Miles and Maurice Evans have a beautifully acted scene where Sir Norman speaks of how time has defeated him and Raine passionately insists she can give it back to him. It’s perhaps the finest acting I’ve seen on this show — which helps make up for the performance of the innocent, Sir Norman’s nurse Joanna (Ann Elder), who has an atrociously fake Irish accent. Anyway, the cats are research subjects for Gritzky (Harry Davis) and his age-reversing process, which Raine has developed so she could de-age Sir Norman in a machine that’s basically a big box with Robby the Robot’s head on top. That’s not a joke; it’s actually the outer part of Robby the Robot’s head used as the machine’s dome. (IMDb’s episode page actually says “Robby the Robot … Part of Rejuvenating Machine (uncredited).”) But even as Sir Norman is being de-aged, Solo and Illya try to win over Joanna, but she’s a prim lass who doesn’t like strange men showing up at her window, so she summons Fleeton, who knocks them out and dumps them into a wine press. Holy vintage! Can our heroes handle the pressure? Will they be turned into wine before their time? Tune in next week, same UNCLE time, same UNCLE channel!

Or, just play the next episode on the DVD. Which opens without a “Previously…” montage, instead replaying some of that well-acted Miles/Evans sequence interspersed with new material of Solo and Illya trying to shore up the wine press. Apparently lifting the floor left enough space underneath to save them, for Jordin subsequently retrieves Solo (while Illya plays dead) and quizzes him on recent events, recapping part 1 through dialogue — similar to what they attempted in their previous 2-parter, but better handled. Illya helps Solo get away from Jordin. Later, we see Sir Norman in the Robby-head contraption, and it actually plays out differently than in the closing shot of part 1: Rather cleverly, the de-aging machine causes no instant outward effect, but triggers the cells to gradually restore themselves over the ensuing days.

Some time later, Sir Norman has made a triumphant return to politics, and his old friend Waverly sends our boys to try to talk him into turning the process over to UNCLE before THRUSH gets it. But Sir Norman insists it’s his marriage to Raine that’s rejuvenated him and won’t reveal the truth. But Jordin has the room bugged, so he captures Dr. Gritzky and blackmails Raine into sharing the de-aging process with THRUSH. By this point, though, Sir Norman has realized that he’ll need monthly treatments to stay rejuvenated, and that he’s therefore trapped. He doesn’t like that, and he wonders if Raine ever really loved him.

Solo tries to reach Sir Norman and tries to persuade Nurse Joanna that he’s on their side. Having little success, he asks Mr. Waverly to fly over and talk to Sir Norman. But Jordin gets the drop on Solo and puts him and Joanna back in the wine press. Later, Waverly arrives, but Raine has Jordin take him prisoner — and the unflappable Waverly utterly schools him in the etiquette of proper hostage-taking. Leo G. Carroll is in rare form here, and later on as he and Solo contrive their escape from the press.

But Sir Norman has reached his own decision without Waverly’s help. He tries to convince Gritzky that the process is a trap and must be buried, even if Gritzky has to be buried along with it. Jordin just barely stops him from shooting Gritzky himself, but Sir Norman urges Gritzky to do the right thing. He then begins to confess the whole story to his assembled compatriots, and when Jordin attempts to shoot him, Raine surprises her husband and herself by taking the bullet for him. Gritzky subjects himself to an overdose of the machine, and booby-traps it, taking Jordin out of the picture. His secret is lost, except for a notebook that even UNCLE’s computers can’t decode — at least, not anytime soon.

This is one of those stories that would’ve been so much easier to resolve if not for the insistence on maintaining the status quo of the world. Sir Norman and Gritzky were trapped because only Gritzky held the secret and couldn’t let THRUSH have it — but if he’d just published it, then everyone would’ve had the secret and the bad guys would’ve had no advantage. Not to mention the potential benefits to humanity. Plus there would’ve been no need for Gritzky’s suicide.

Still, this 2-parter is the highlight of the season so far and one of the high points of the series. I’ve found this season rather disappointing on the whole, but this one really clicked, with a good script by Howard Rodman (story by Henry Slesar) and effective direction by E. Darrell Hallenbeck, as well as mostly excellent guest performances (with one or two exceptions). The main thing it was missing was an original score.

“The Foreign Legion Affair”: Speaking of original scores, this one has an entirely new one that’s immediately recognizable as Gerald Fried’s work, built around an Arabian-style leitmotif that presages Fried’s Capellan theme for Star Trek: “Friday’s Child.” Illya is caught photographing a THRUSH code somewhere in Morocco. He manages to escape, but the THRUSH agents get to his chartered plane before he arrives, and for some reason, instead of just shooting him, they replace the pilots and go through the charade of taking off and everything. For some reason, the plane’s stewardess Barbara (Danielle De Metz) doesn’t discover this substitution until after they’ve taken off, so she and Illya are both taken by surprise. But Illya fights the baddies off and parachutes out with Barbara, landing deep in the Sahara, where they stumble across a French Foreign Legion fort run by Capt. Calhoun (Howard Da Silva), who doesn’t know the Legion was disbanded five years ago and the Arab war ended, so he arrests them as enemy spies. (For some reason, he thinks the blond, Nordic Illya is a Tuareg, one of the Berber natives of Saharan North Africa.)  Meanwhile, Solo goes to Casablanca to investigate, gets captured, and predictably gains the support of a gorgeous and very lusty harem-girl type, Aisha (Vivienne Ventura), who helps him escape.

The “outpost commander who doesn’t know the war is over” trope is a hackneyed one, and it plays rather goofily at first (Da Silva’s character is supposedly Irish but you’d never know it from his New Yawk accent), but it ends up taking a rather touching turn when we learn of the unearned disgrace that drove Calhoun to the legion, and the reasons for the loyalty of his only underling, Cpl. Remy (Rupert Crosse). So what seemed like it was going to be a very silly episode turned out to be rather sweet. Although it’s certainly jam-packed with Arab stereotypes.

“The Moonglow Affair”: This is a backdoor pilot for the spinoff The Girl from U.N.C.L.E., which would premiere the following season. However, although it introduces that show’s main characters April Dancer (a name suggested by Ian Fleming, unsurprisingly) and Mark Slate, they’re played by different actors here, namely Mary Ann Mobley and Norman Fell rather than Stefanie Powers and Noel Harrison. Slate is introduced here as an older agent, the man who trained Solo, and now he’s been brought in to train Dancer, apparently UNCLE’s first female field agent. They’re needed to take over an investigation that’s gotten Illya captured and Solo exposed to a THRUSH radiation weapon causing sensory aphasia. Due to the importance of the mission, Waverly bends the rules that say agents over 40 (like Slate) aren’t allowed in the field.

The bad guys are Arthur Caresse (Kevin McCarthy) and his sister Jean (Mary Carver), whose front is the Caresse cosmetics company — seriously, why do so many THRUSH operatives go into the glamour business? Caresse is working on a new cosmetics line called Moonglow, and Waverly is concerned that they may be planning to sabotage America’s Project Moonglow rocket program, since of course the first thing that enemy saboteurs will do to keep their evil plans secret is to name their cover story after the exact thing they’re targeting. April goes in as a secretary, but inevitably (given that they cast Miss America 1959 in the role), Arthur takes one look at her and appoints her the new Miss Moonglow — much to Jean’s frustration, for while she’s trying to pick the best spokesmodel, he just picks the girl he most wants to sleep with. While April uses her feminine wiles on him, Mark tracks down Illya and saves him from execution, getting into fights with THRUSH assassins and generally being Too Old For This Crap. It turns out the plan is to irradiate the US astronauts’ space food so they’ll go loopy and crash, thus scuttling both the US and Soviet  space programs so that THRUSH can hold the high ground. While Mark scuttles this plan, April manages to find the microdot plans to THRUSH’s rocket base (as if there weren’t enough McGuffins already), and when Jean discovers her identity, she manages to get the better of both Caresse siblings, but unfortunately the episode wasn’t willing to let a woman save the day all by herself, so she gets irradiated and needs Mark to save her.

All in all, not a particularly good backdoor pilot. I can see why they recast the leads. I liked Mary Ann Mobley a lot in her Mission: Impossible appearance, but here, while she was certainly very nice to look at, she came off as a bit vapid and limited as a performer. And Norman Fell wasn’t very appealing at all. Really, I’m not sure why this pilot convinced them to go ahead with the spinoff. Although in the final show, Mark Slate was made British and de-aged ten years, no doubt to make him more Kuryakinesque. Odd that they  revised a character so completely in what was supposed to be the same continuity. Why not change the character name along with everything else?

The main virtue here is another full score by Gerald Fried, in a mode that’s at once very much a ’60s spy score (with lots of bass guitar and bongos) and very much a Fried score. I’ve commented on how Fried’s earlier scores for this show sounded kind of underdeveloped, sounding more like his early/contemporary comedy work (on Gilligan’s Island) but not quite having the full-fledged qualities of his familiar adventure/drama scoring on shows like Star Trek and M:I. But by now, between “The Foreign Legion Affair” and this one, I can safely say that Fried’s style had reached maturity.

“The Nowhere Affair”: A search for a map to a THRUSH facility takes Solo to MGM’s Western town backlot the ghost town of Nowhere, Nevada, where he’s captured by the enemy and takes a temporary-amnesia pill. The facility’s head, Longolius (David Sheiner putting on a Western accent), doesn’t believe he’s amnesiac, but his captive cybernetics expert Tertunian (Lou Jacobi) convinces him it’s real, and that the best way to break through the memory block is to “arouse” his metabolism — which predictably means sending a woman to seduce him. Just as predictably, the computer-dating algorithm Tertunian runs reveals that the ideal candidate is the one woman already working in the facility, Mara (Diana Hyland), who protests because she’s a bookish type who missed the obligatory seduction course for female THRUSH agents. Yet also predictably, she somehow manages to seduce Solo like a pro. (She even has a seminude scene that’s surprisingly revealing for 1966.) And even more predictably, she falls in love with him and helps him escape to sabotage the facility. (His memory returns when she puts a gun in his hand — which was almost a good scene, seeing his nonverbal reaction as he regained himself, but then they went and ruined it by redundantly revealing the same thing in stilted dialogue.) The predictability is only slightly offset by the revelation that Tertunian chose her with the full knowledge that this would happen, intending all along to sabotage THRUSH’s plans. But that doesn’t help any, since a few scenes earlier, we’d seen Longolius actually planning to let Solo escape so they could follow him to UNCLE, but then when Solo actually does escape, Longolius is outraged and betrayed. What?

Meanwhile, Illya is trying to track Solo down and ends up bizarrely allying with a stereotypical grizzled prospector (J. Pat O’Malley) who’s found the THRUSH map and thought it was leading to buried treasure. He helps Illya find the facility and then rig it to blow up once the good guys have escaped, and is oddly untroubled by the fact that he’s just killed a whole bunch of THRUSH agents, most of them dressed up like Yul Brynner in Westworld.

The THRUSH computer lab is a nifty set at first glance, with forced-perspective computer banks seemingly receding into the distance, but then they ruin that too by shooting from side angles that give away the diminishing size of the computers.

There’s almost a nice scene in the ending, where Mara reflects on THRUSH’s lifelong indoctrination that left her no choice but to become who she is, but then it takes a rather ghastly turn when Waverly decides the best solution for her tragic upbringing is to get her to swallow down a whole bottle of barely-tested amnesia pills and hope it wipes all her memory rather than just killing her, whereupon she evidently forgets everything she’s known since childhood except that she’s in love with Solo, and this ultimate roofie is somehow supposed to be a happy ending rather than the creepiest one I’ve ever seen on this show. Egad.

So, yeah, it’s an amnesia-themed episode that I really wish I could forget. Way to go, show. At least it has a mostly new Robert Drasnin score, plus a reuse of that nice jazzy, syncopated cue I liked from “The Tigers Are Coming Affair.”

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The Man From UNCLE Season 2 Affair: Eps. 13-18 (Spoilers)

“The Adriatic Express Affair”: A bottle show aboard a train is a nice way to save money on sets while having some international intrigue and bringing an eclectic group of characters together. Here, Solo and Kuryakin are after, they think, a THRUSH scientist who’s developed a sample of a substance that would “interfere with the reproductive process,” as Waverly puts it — though he doesn’t clarify whether this means sterility or some sort of anti-Viagra, but I assume the former since they talk about it ending all life on Earth within a few generations. The McGuffin is somewhere aboard the Adriatic Express, a nonstop train from Vienna to Venice. The episode opens with our boys at the station looking for the THRUSH doctor, and does that Judgment at Nuremburg thing (or, as it’s better known now, that Hunt for Red October thing, or maybe that Star Trek VI thing) where we’re shown the characters at the train station speaking German, then we pull in on Solo’s face to establish his POV (with a train whistle to bridge the audio transition), then cut back to the same characters speaking English (i.e. we accept that they’re “really” speaking German and the TV is magically translating for our benefit). It’s a nice stylistic touch, and there’s another one where the person our boys think they’re following magically disappears behind a group of passersby while our boys close in on him from either side. Realistically there’s no way David McCallum didn’t see exactly where the actor went, but I watched the shot frame by frame more than once and I don’t have a clue where the actor went, so yeah, that was clever.

Anyway, several other characters are established as passengers, primarily Mme. Olga Nemirovitch (Jessie Royce Landis), an aging glamour diva and cosmetics mogul, and 19-year-old Eva (Juliet Mills, actually 24 at the time), the innocent of the week, who’s desperately trying to deliver Olga’s chocolates to her after the man she assisted, who in turn was Olga’s assistant, was struck by a taxi en route to the station. Eva ends up getting stuck on the nonstop train thanks in part to Solo and Illya forcing their way aboard, so they aren’t off to a great start. There’s also a rather striking blond model (Jennifer Billingsley) who’s in a party mood and has a thing for Illya, as well as being totally carefree and oblivious about all the dangerous stuff that ensues later on. Oh, and an American tourist who keeps stumbling upon the dead bodies that Illya tries to hide in the ladies’ room for some reason.

Anyway, it turns out the guy they were chasing onto the train — who had an unconvincing fake beard — wasn’t the doctor who invented the deadly virus, but some minor THRUSH functionary who had a crisis of conscience and was trying to get the virus away from his boss — who turns out to be Mme. Olga. When Solo makes amends with Eva and then meets Olga through her, he tries to convince Olga to side with UNCLE rather than THRUSH (though speaking implicitly, for innocent Eva is dining with them), but she tells him that not only has she been loyal to THRUSH for over 42 years, the whole organization was her idea in the first place. This bombshell is never followed up on. Anyway, once alone with Eva, Olga convinces the girl that Solo is the evil THRUSH agent and tries to turn her into a seductress, giving her a gun which she assures Eva will only fire knockout gas, but which is rigged to fire bullets in both directions and kill Eva and Solo alike. Solo is surprisingly unaffected by the teenager’s clumsy seduction — I guess he has some limits after all — and saves them both from the gun. Then he and Illya attempt to find the virus capsule, and it’s quite easy to guess where it is (I’ve given you all the clues, Gentle Reader), but of course our guys don’t figure it out until the end.

Not a great episode, clunky in some respects, but not bad either. It’s interesting to see the innocent being used by both sides, as it were, although you never get the sense that Olga’s plan to use her poses any real danger to Solo. And the “intrigue among a diverse group of travelers” idea never really comes together, since most of them are just background players who have a couple of gags to embellish the main plot. Still, the way this season is going, I’m glad to see an episode that’s devoid of any major failings.

“The Yukon Affair”: The show must have been running out of ethnic groups to stereotype offensively, because this week it’s Inuit, aka “Eskimos.” G. Emory Partridge (George Sanders), the wannabe old-fashioned British feudal lord from last season’s “The Gazebo in the Maze Affair,” has established a new petty fiefdom (without Jeanette Nolan as his wife this time) in the Yukon, where he’s uncovered a superdense, highly magnetic mineral — called “Quadrillennium X,” because most TV writers are not geologists — that could somehow allow THRUSH to control the seas and airways, I guess by disrupting navigation. He plans to sell it to THRUSH, but rather unwisely tips UNCLE off by having his men try to assassinate Solo with a chunk of the stuff, using his trademark pear tree (as in “A Partridge in…”) as a calling card. Luckily UNCLE has a geology computer that can instantly identify the exact coordinates where an otherwise completely unfamiliar mineral sample originated, because this is the 1960s and computers are magic oracles. But no sooner do Solo and Illya surface from the submarine that brings them that they’re captured by Eskimos. Luckily, their headman’s daughter, Murphy, is half-Caucasian and educated at McGill, so she’s properly Westernized and therefore the only good member of a tribe which she herself calls primitive. The only thing that keeps this from being totally offensive is that the actress they cast, Tianne Gabrielle, is not a white actress in brownface but genuinely looks the part — though I can find no other screen credits or information about her online, so I can’t be sure of her actual ethnicity.

Anyway, the episode is mostly a bunch of back-and-forth captures,escapes, and mutual outwittings, with Partridge abetted by the headman and locals along with his icily lovely blonde niece Victoria (Marian Thompson), who may not be as loyal to the family as she appears, and with Murphy siding with the UNCLE boys as they try to destroy the Chemical X before THRUSH arrives to collect it. It’s not an improvement on the previous Partridge episode, which was pretty mediocre to begin with. Its main virtue is that both female guests are quite attractive in nicely contrasting ways. And there’s some mild metatextual amusement in seeing George Sanders hanging around in the Yukon in an episode aired just six weeks before his appearance as the original Mr. Freeze on Batman. (The comics character was previously named Mr. Zero, which was changed to follow the TV show’s lead, so yes, he was the original Mr. Freeze.) Oh, and speaking of dates, there’s a bit of an anomaly with the dating here, since a couple of lines indicate that Partridge last clashed with the UNCLE boys years earlier and disappeared more than a year before the episode, even though his first episode aired less than nine months earlier. Well, that’s ’60s TV (non)continuity for you.

“The Very Important Zombie Affair”: I was wrong, they haven’t run out of cultures to insult. This week it’s Caribbean vodoun society, or “voodoo,” with all the voodoo-doll and zombie stereotypes, with the dictator who rules through the power of voodoo curses, El Supremo, being implausibly played by Claude Akins. Yup, Sheriff Lobo as a Caribbean dictator. Solo and Illya are trying to deliver Sheriff Voodoo’s leading (and badly acted) political rival, Delgado (Ken Renard), to a conference to denounce him when a voodoo-doll package is delivered and traps him in a trance. His wife then takes him back to Unnamed Caribbean Country to try to get him cured by a voodoo priestess, and the men from UNCLE go to retrieve him. They run afoul of Sheriff Voodoo’s enforcer Ramirez (Rodolfo Acosta), and recruit the help of the innocent, a vacuous blonde named Suzy (Linda Gaye Scott), a manicurist who’s terrified of El Supremo but forced to stay because he likes her work. She’s played with a ridiculously overdone Southern accent — she uses “y’all” as a singular pronoun, which is not unheard of but rare, so in this case I’d call it just one more lazy stereotype to add to the list.

I’m hard pressed to remember anything in particular about the plot, except that it’s another bunch of captures and escapes and evasions as they try to get to Delgado and evade Ramirez’s attempts to expel, arrest, or murder them in that order, plus an annoying scene of Akins pretending he had mixed ethnicity despite his blue eyes and talking about how the jungle drums ran through his veins and he had no patience for “your civilization,” since of course civilization is something white people invented, right? This show is really starting to get on my nerves.

Aside from a moderately enjoyable scene of Suzy wrapped in a towel that isn’t very well secured, the only real point of interest in this episode is a new, but mediocre, Gerald Fried score.

“The Dippy Blonde Affair”: Uh-oh. A sexist stereotype in the title and a script by Peter Allan Fields. Should I be worried? Well, it’s not too misogynistic, I guess. The titular blonde is Jojo (Joyce Jameson), who’s dating THRUSH engineer Pendleton (Fabrizio Mioni) and attracts the interest of his boss, Baldonado (Robert Strauss), who checks up on Pendleton as he’s completing a pair of devices that will enhance an “ion projector” weapon to lethal intensity. Or rather, a scientist working for Pendleton perfects the spherical devices and then gets shot for his trouble, an act witnessed by Jojo. Meanwhile, Solo has infiltrated the house and gets himself captured (in an awkward bit of editing, the teaser ends mid-fight and then Act I opens with the revelation that Solo lost the fight). As a test of Jojo’s loyalty, Pendleton insists that either she kill Solo for him or he’ll kill her. While she’s led a dissolute life of petty crime, she’s never killed before, and is relieved when Illya’s stunt double barges in and beats up Pendleton’s stunt double. She fills the UNCLE agents in on the location of the spheres, to Pendleton’s disgust.

On later interrogation, Pendleton sneaks a suicide pill, and with his dying breath, asks to be shipped home to his family in Riverside. Needing to find the ion projector, Solo and Waverly recruit Jojo to infiltrate the THRUSH cell. She approaches two of Baldonado’s men, Max (actor/director James Frawley) and Eddie (Rex Holman), and wins their trust by “killing” Illya when he confronts them. This gets her in with Baldonado, whose attraction she’s happy to cultivate, since it entails lavishing her with gifts and money. But Max grows impatient with his boss’s romantic preoccupation. It turns out that the Riverside cemetery is actually the THRUSH base, and the plan was to revive Pendleton with an antidote to his death-feigning pill. (I was amused to see Frawley’s character “directing” the fake mourners before the funeral. It was shortly after this that Frawley would make his TV-directing debut with The Monkees, the beginning of a directorial career that would span over 40 years and would include directing The Muppet Movie.) But the aging, lonely Baldonado is falling in love with Jojo and wants Pendleton to stay dead, an order that sits poorly with Max, and that he and Eddie decide to override, more afraid of Baldonado’s THRUSH masters than of the man himself.

But when Illya gets himself trapped by the bad guys (and Max recognizes him as the agent Jojo “killed,” proving that she’s working for UNCLE), Solo confronts Baldonado and threatens to kill Jojo if he doesn’t order Illya freed. This leads to a final confrontation in which Baldonado’s own blind devotion to Jojo causes him to sabotage his own side’s plan and shoot his own men, and in which Solo is pretty much useless since he’s making out in the car with Jojo, leaving Illya to mop up Baldonado on his own — in the rain, no less. Sometimes Solo is a real jerk.

There’s some good dialogue in this episode, and some moments that work well, but there are also some awkward bits of scripting, directing, and editing, and the guest cast aside from Frawley is fairly unimpressive. There’s a decent, jazzy new score by Robert Drasnin, though.

“The Deadly Goddess Affair”: In North Africa, Solo eavesdrops on an awkwardly expository discussion involving the implausibly named Col. Hubris (Victor Buono), revealing THRUSH’s plan to send him a courier pouch containing money and McGuffin files via robot plane, which he will trigger to release the cargo using a remote control that he thinks is unique, except UNCLE has intercepted the plans and built their own. Solo and Illya arrange to bring the cargo down on the Mediterranean “Island of Circe,” some sort of generic pan-Mediterranean land where everyone has Italian names and accents despite the implied Grecian heritage. (Never mind that Circe’s island was actually called Aeaea, and was mythical.) The boys from UNCLE get caught up in a rather silly intrigue involving local marital customs: local girl Mia (Brioni Farrell) wants to marry local cop Luca (a very young Daniel J. Travanti giving a very bad performance), but custom demands that her older sister Angela (Marya Stevens) marry first — but even though Angela’s knock-down gorgeous, no local man will marry her without a dowry her father can’t afford. But Solo mentioned that Americans don’t need dowries, so that gives Mia an idea. (And yes, they refer to Illya Nickovetch Kuryakin as an “American.”) She and Luca literally force our heroes at gunpoint to play suitors to Angela, preventing them from intercepting the courier pouch they’ve just brought down. Then Col. Hubris comes looking for the pouch and it’s all kind of a mess from there, but it ends up with Solo and Illya wearing fezzes now, because fezzes are cool.

This is a really ineptly written and ineptly made episode. I couldn’t even watch it in one sitting, it was so boring. There’s a scene where our heroes are operating their robot-plane-intercepting equipment at what’s supposed to be an ancient lovers’ lane that has “X loves Y” grafitti dating back from modern times to Roman times — yet all the inscriptions that are supposedly from different centuries, in different languages, are all painted on the face of a single boulder in the same handwriting, and so large that there’s only room for the three inscriptions that our characters read out loud. It’s incredibly sloppy and thoughtless work, and exemplifies the problems with this episode and, really, with the season as a whole. They just don’t seem to be trying very hard.

The score is credited to Fried, and at least some of it seems to be new. He’s starting to sound more like his familiar self now.

“The Birds and the Bees Affair”: Solo and Illya find that UNCLE HQ in Geneva (behind a Swiss watch shop rather than the usual tailor shop) has had all its personnel wiped out by some kind of lethal insect attack, which turns out to be a special strain of killer bees engineered by THRUSH — bees which, conveniently for the special-effects department, are so small as to be effectively invisible.They’re the work of Dr. Swan (John Abbott), an entomologist whose compulsive gambling enables THRUSH operative Mozart (John McGiver) to co-opt his services in exchange for money. But they need a special variety of honey only sold at a few health-food stores, including one where Illya meets Tavia (Ahna Capri), a lovely clerk whom Mozart tries to recruit as a dance instructor at the dance studio that THRUSH operates because of course it does.  Illya somehow convinces her to infiltrate the studio, then comes in as a client to arrange a lesson with her and stupidly gives exposition about her mission in the bugged studio, leading to their capture and torture until Illya agrees to help Mozart get the bees into UNCLE’s New York HQ’s ventilation system. Illya knocks out a guard to get one of the triangular badges that are necessary to wear inside HQ to keep an alarm from sounding, yet Mozart is inexplicably able to get in without having a badge — and then just as inexplicably is wearing a badge later in the scene. UNCLE has been watching the whole time, but Mozart gets away by threatening to release the killer bees into the city; Illya’s plan is a failure. But Solo has managed to get Swan’s help to track the bees in exchange for promising to return them to him. Eventually Illya manages to redeem himself by finding a way to contain the invisible bees when Mozart releases them in the climactic fight.

This wasn’t as bad as the last one, but it wasn’t very good. Capri is lovely to look at, but her character serves little purpose beyond random damsel in distress, and she isn’t much of an actress. In the scene where she’s held captive and being threatened with torture, she shows about as much facial expression as a Vulcan. John McGiver’s urbane Mr. Mozart is fairly entertaining, although urbane, well-spoken THRUSH operatives are a well-worn cliche by this point. The score is stock from Drasnin’s library, and at one point the Oliver Nelson-esque action music I mentioned liking in “The Tigers Are Coming Affair” is oddly enough used as a bossa nova record that Illya and Tavia dance to. It’s nice to hear that cue again, but that’s an odd way to use it.

The main appeal of this episode, though, is in its opening minutes, as director Alvin Ganzer uses effectively unusual camera angles — looking down from the rafters or up from knee level — to make the scenes of the corpse-filled Geneva HQ feel unnerving and off-kilter, and also to differentiate it from the New York HQ, which of course is the exact same set.

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The Man from UNCLE Season 2 Affair: Eps. 7-12

“The Arabian Affair”: Two parallel plots here that converge at the end. Solo’s plot is kind of interesting; he’s found out that THRUSH “retires” all its 65-year-old agents quite permanently, with exploding gold watches, to make sure they don’t reveal what they know. And so, in order to gain intel on a THRUSH operation in Arabia, he tracks down a THRUSH man who’s a day from retirement, proves to him that he’s marked for death, and convinces him he’s better off taking the UNCLE retirement plan, in exchange for his help getting the info. Oddly, though, the retiring agent, Lewin, is played by a 42-year-old Robert Ellenstein in very unconvincing age makeup. Also, the head of the THRUSH satrap of the week, Mr. Norman (Jerome Thor), is more loud and unpleasant than an interesting adversary.

Meanwhile, Illya is playing Lawrence of Arabia, almost literally. He’s spying on the aforementioned THRUSH operation, which involves a “vaporizer” machine that spews deadly dish-soap foam that disintegrates anyone it engulfs. He’s attacked and captured by a band of Arab stereotypes led by the late, great Michael Ansara, and it all gets rather embarrassing. Seriously, they threw in every Arab stereotype that existed as of 1965 — violent, greedy, gullible tribesmen who needed a white man to show them a better way and unite them behind his rule. (The “Arab terrorist” stereotype was still in the future.) Illya actually claims to be T.E. Lawrence’s son in order to convince the tribe to follow him, although he has to defeat Ansara in an obligatory fight. Oh, and Ansara’s daughter (Phyllis Newman in brownface) has claimed Illya as her “property” and intends to trade him for a camel at Aqaba, except his constant condescension and insults somehow make her fall for him (I think they call it “negging” in some circles). Did I mention this is another Peter Allan Fields script? It’s amazing that someone who wrote such virulently misogynistic stuff on this show could go on to write so many great scripts for Lwaxana Troi and Kira Nerys in Star Trek.

This one has another decent Gerald Fried score, but not much else going for it. Even Michael Ansara can’t save it, though he has a moment or two where his innate dignity shows through the pile of negative stereotypes. Seeing this episode so soon after Ansara’s passing wasn’t the tribute I’d hoped it would be.

“The Tigers Are Coming Affair”: Shouldn’t that be “The The Tigers Are Coming Affair”? Oh, well. It’s another episode set in India, but the stereotypes aren’t quite as awful as last time. Jill Ireland is back playing Suzanne, a French missionary teaching modern farming techniques and pesticide use to the backward natives, but the main villains are Prince Panat (Lee Bergere in brownface) and his compatriot, a cashiered British colonel named Quillon (episode writer Alan Caillou), who are generally very condescending and exploitative toward the natives. So while there are mentions of dacoits (murderous bandits) and a degree of White Man’s Burden condescension, for once it’s the Western or at least Westernized elites who come off as more villainous than the indigenes. Specifically, the prince has stolen Suzanne’s pesticides to defoliate the jungle and drive the peasants from their homes so they’ll have to work in the prince’s dangerous ruby mines to survive — which, as a fringe benefit for him, has driven a bunch of tigers down from the upcountry so he can mount an ongoing safari and shoot a bunch of pretty kitty-cats. Although the episode doesn’t paint this as evil, since Illya himself fells the only tiger killed onscreen (well, the only stock-footage tiger supposedly shot offscreen and then replaced with a fake dead tiger lying on the ground).

This time, Ireland is playing Robert Vaughn’s love interest rather than her husband David McCallum’s, but there were apparently limits to how far she’d take it, since they never kiss on camera (the final freeze-frame just prevents it). She comes off fairly well; her French accent is certainly a lot better than whatever they were trying to pass off as Indian accents here (only one guest character’s accent sounded even slightly Indian), and in the climax, Suzanne gets to save Solo and Kuryakin and hold the bad guys at bay rather effectively — literally with her hands tied behind her back and her mouth gagged.

A highlight of the episode is a really strong score by Robert Drasnin. Parts of it remind me more of Gerald Fried’s future work than Fried’s own scores on this show have done so far, making me wonder if Drasnin was an influence on Fried. But in the last half, Drasnin gives our heroes a really neat, jazzy leitmotif that reminds me of Oliver Nelson’s work on The Six Million Dollar Man, and gives the episode a ’70s sound ahead of its time.

“The Deadly Toys Affair”: I don’t even know how to recap this one. It’s an incoherent jumble of parts. The core story is about Solo & Illya trying to win over a boy supergenius (former Dennis the Menace star Jay North) that THRUSH has in its clutches in a Swiss private school run by THRUSH agents Arnold Moss and John Hoyt. They want to take him to THRUSH central in the Near East and seduce him with a state-of-the-art lab facility including “his own Van Allen Belt” — seriously, they said that. But Dennis has rigged up a means to spy on the headmasters, knows they killed his father, and plans to go with them to mount an extended campaign of revenge from within. Now, that sounds like a plot with potential, but we only get a few slapdash glimpses of it in between a lot of other, mostly irrelevant stuff.  The extended teaser involves a mission to blow up a THRUSH nerve gas silo — contradictorily described as a hypnotic poison gas which would put all of Southern California to sleep forever, a massive euphemism fail — which has no evident connection to the rest of the story beyond the fact that the boy’s father tipped UNCLE off to it. And most of the rest of the episode revolves around two innocents who are mainly a distraction from the core plot — Angela Lansbury basically playing a Gabor sister as the boy’s aunt, and Diane McBain as a spoiled heiress who’s a friend of Lansbury’s character and has no reason to be in the story at all except as a flirtation interest for both Solo and Illya. All these various bits are flung together without any real coherence, and I often found myself confused at the randomness of it all, Or the occasional contradiction — in one scene Moss reflects on the lucky accident that they hired the boy’s father and then discovered the boy’s incredible brilliance, but in a later scene it’s stated that THRUSH hired the father specifically to get to the son.

Also, the boy’s brilliance is more discussed than shown. In the few scenes North actually gets, he’s given little opportunity to convey any particular intelligence — and UNCLE’s plan bizarrely involves sending Solo in as a maker of novelty gags like chattering teeth and sneezing powder, as though these would somehow excite the intellect of the greatest boy genius of the age. (There’s a scene where Waverly plays Q and tells Solo about all the spy tricks built into the novelty items — yet Solo never uses any of those tricks!!)

The episode’s only asset is a lively Gerald Fried score, but I think it’s mostly stock.

“The Cherry Blossom Affair”: A defecting scientist from THRUSH Eastern in Japan brings UNCLE a film proving that his employers have invented a “volcano activator” with which they can blackmail the world. THRUSH assassinates him at the airport in New York before Solo can meet him, but in an unlikely coincidence, his film gets mixed up with one belonging to Cricket Okasada (France Nuyen), who dubs English films into Japanese. UNCLE gets the real film and THRUSH’s Japan branch, led by Harada (Jerry Fujikawa), gets Cricket’s film, embarrassing him in front of visiting THRUSH representative Kutuzov (Woodrow Parfrey), who comes from that well-known ’60s-TV nation known as “My/Your Country.” Solo and Illya must track down THRUSH’s HQ and protect the determined Cricket as she tries to get her film back at all costs — although they keep ending up in worse danger than she does, and Solo even needs her to rescue him at one point.

The prospect of another TMFU episode set in Asia filled me with dread, but this one was a pleasant surprise. Oh, by today’s standards it wallows in Orientalism, with lots of thick accents and “Oh, look how Japanese we are” moments — THRUSH’s front is a karate dojo, Harada is obsessed with baseball and life-size kabuki marionettes (which are obviously stuntmen in costumes), and a policeman mentions to Illya that they could make his UNCLE radio for half the price — but by the standards of the series to date, its portrayal of Japan is surprisingly authentic and respectful, with genuine Asian actors, real Japanese being spoken, and characters like Cricket and Harada coming off as rather respectable and non-stereotyped. There’s a bit of business where Kutuzov makes some condescending remarks about how the Japanese can’t get the air conditioning to work, only to be smugly informed by Harada that the broken A/C unit was built in Kutuzov’s own anonymous country — a nice subversion of Western condescension.

In addition to being refreshingly non-awful in its portrayal of Asia, “Cherry Blossom” is a pretty solidly written episode overall, with a fairly strong story and some effective wit, and Joseph Sargent does a good job directing it. There are a number of very clever scene transitions in the episode, and I’m not sure how much of that is due to Sargent and the editor and how much is from scripter Mark Weingart (from a story by Sherman Yellen). Fried gets to do Japanese music this week, and again, it’s a somewhat interesting score but not up to his later standards. Nuyen (who’s actually French-Vietnamese, but speaks decent Japanese in the episode) is excellent as Cricket and has a good rapport with the leads. (By the way, about two years after this episode, Nuyen would marry I Spy star Robert Culp, who was so memorable in the first season’s “The Shark Affair.”)

“The Virtue Affair”: A namesake descendant of the Reign of Terror’s Robespierre (Ronald Long), trying to follow in his ancestor’s footsteps in the pursuit of “virtue” by whatever violent means are necessary, has abducted prominent scientists to build him a nuclear missile with which he’ll contaminate the French vineyards, basically his own aggressive form of Prohibition. One scientist he goes after is female physicist Albert Dubois (Mala Powers), named for Einstein, and Solo tries to protect her (futilely — seriously, he should just give up trying to go undercover, since the bad guys always know who he is the moment he shows up). Illya, meanwhile, goes after Robespierre’s main assistant Volger (Frank Marth), an avid bow hunter, challenging him to a target-shooting contest where Illya upstages him with a fancy kind of “bow” that’s more a high-tech slingshot that shoots arrows. I think there’s supposed to be some kind of electronic trickery with the arrows homing in on a ring or something, but that isn’t explained, just implied, and wouldn’t explain most of Illya’s trick shots. But Volger catches him out as an UNCLE agent (he asks Illya if he got the bow from “Uncle,” and Illya makes the mistake of asking “What’s that” instead of “Who’s that”), and makes him the target in The Most Dangerous Game (literally, with a target painted on the back of his shirt). It seems the show has abandoned the early idea that the general public had heard of “the U.N.C.L.E.” — in the past couple of episodes it’s been treated as a secret that only spies know about. Anyway, Illya eventually ends up slated for the guillotine, and Solo finds a rather clever way to trick his guard (Lawrence Montaigne) and escape his cell. (Montaigne strongly reminded me of Leonard Nimoy here, a resemblance I never noticed before even though I’ve seen him in Star Trek‘s “Balance of Terror” and “Amok Time” countless times. I suppose it explains why they cast him as a Romulan and a Vulcan.)

The episode is by accomplished mystery/thriller/SF writer Henry Slesar, but I can’t say I found it very impressive. It’s decent, which is above average for the episodes in this post, but unremarkable. We’ve seen the conceit of the villain trying to replicate a historical ancestor’s gimmicks before, and it’s all pretty much by the numbers. The episode makes a point of establishing that Robespierre is as fanatical about not harming women as he is about everything else, so it’s obvious that his unwillingness to hurt Albert will be his downfall. So really, not a lot of surprises — except early on, when Albert’s father (Marcel Hillaire) escapes from Robespierre by taking Solo and Illya hostage at gunpoint, and later when Robey’s henchmen assassinate Dubois père in a rather brazen and startling way. The rest of the episode is something of an anticlimax. It isn’t helped by the inconsistent French accents of the actors. Robert Drasnin scores again, but it’s mostly stuff we’ve heard before.

“The Children’s Day Affair”: Doing security for an upcoming conference of UNCLE heads, Solo and Illya are ambushed while driving along a back road in Geneva (which looks exactly like the back road in France where they were ambushed last week). The attackers turn out to be a bunch of teenage boys in the uniforms of a local boys’ school with the THRUSH logo in its insignia. (Seriously, why does a super-secret organization even have a distinctive logo?) They and Waverly are surprised and wonder what THRUSH would want with a boys’ school in Switzerland — even though they just broke up a THRUSH-run boys’ school in Switzerland three episodes earlier! The school is run by Mother Fear (Jeanne Cooper), who’s got this weird Mommie-Dearest dominatrix thing going on and has headmaster Jenks (Warren Stevens) and her other adult henchmen acting in a perpetually childlike and obedient state around her. They’re planning to assassinate the UNCLE heads, but the boys’ impetuous attack on our heroes has led UNCLE to move the conference, and now they have to try to find the new site, first by capturing and torturing Illya, then by capturing Solo, letting him escape with Illya, and following them to the conference site. For some reason, even though our heroes figure out they’re being trailed, they still let the villains find out where the conference is, when they could’ve easily led them astray and thus avoided the climactic danger altogether. And for a secret conference of UNCLE’s top men, they have absolutely awful security, letting the student assassins smuggle in a bunch of high-powered rifles under their choir-boy robes. So there are at least two reasons why the climax shouldn’t have happened at all.

Oh, the innocent is Anna, an Italian woman who claims to hate children but has ended up in social services anyway and likes kids more than she lets on. She’s escorting a brat who turns out to be one of the THRUSH recruits, and she gets involved with our boys when trying to track him down. She’s played by Susan Silo, who’s been a prominent animation voice artist for decades, but at the time was doing mainly live-action work and looked and sounded a bit like a real live Betty Boop. She’s fun to watch and listen to, one of the few highlights of the episode, though she’s underutilized and rather tacked on.

All in all, a pretty mediocre episode by Dean Hargrove, completely falling apart in the last act. The music is stock, credited to Fried and Drasnin.

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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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