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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Affair, Episodes 19-24 (Spoilers)

“The Secret Sceptre Affair”: Napoleon and Illya parachute into a nameless Mideastern country to help Solo’s old colonel from Korea, Col. Morgan (Gene Raymond), who’s accused the nation’s Premier Karim (Jack Donner) of planning a coup which he intends to thwart. UNCLE has found no proof of his allegations, but allowed Solo to come on a personal mission. Morgan convinces him to join him in stealing the royal sceptre that the nation’s “primitive tribesmen” hold sacred, following whoever holds it “as if he were Allah himself” — which isn’t remotely how Islam works — so that Karim will lose his claim to power. Although it’s rather blatantly telegraphed that Morgan is up to something and Solo hasn’t been told the whole truth — and that Karim is clueless about the treachery of his own imperious, Celia Lovsky-esque mother (Lili Darvas). The innocent of the week is Zia (Ziva Rodann), a female soldier in Morgan’s outfit who’s unaware of Morgan’s secrets and who helps Solo try to escape after the theft — though Illya gets captured and Solo takes a detour to free him. It’s refreshing for the innocent to be someone who has a legitimate reason to be involved in events rather than a civilian who gets caught up in them somehow.

I didn’t find this one very well-written; the secrets are too obvious, and the attempts to make Illya sound profound just come off as meaningless. And the whole thing about Solo’s trusted mentor being unworthy of his trust makes Solo seem more gullible than sympathetic. There’s also a gratuitous deathtrap involving a bear pit, of all things, though at least they mostly keep the guy in the bear suit behind a cage door so that the fakery isn’t too obvious. Still, it’s a guy in a bear suit for no good reason. The score, credited to Jerry Goldsmith and Morton Stevens, is evidently stock, which seems to hold true for the next few episodes as well.

“The Bow-Wow Affair”: It’s our first episode that sidelines Napoleon in favor of Illya, as Solo, who’s emerged unscathed from battles with spies and mobsters, has been brought low by tripping over the office cat and spraining his knee. (Unfortunately the cat is never seen.) But he’s not the only one with animal problems. Waverly asks him to look into a threat received by a distant cousin — actually Leo G. Carroll in a dual role, though his performance isn’t greatly different. The threat involved a “Gypsy” dagger, and that’s been established before as a culture Illya knows well. And apparently someone is after some valuable stock that the cousin owns. Illya fails to save the lookalike cousin from being mauled to death by his own guard dog, and the investigation reveals that all the stockholders in the company are being attacked by their own dogs either to get them out of the way or scare them into selling their stock (and why do they all own dogs?). Yet the cousin’s slightly ditzy daughter Alice (Susan Oliver) is too busy flirting with Illya — successfully, for a change — to be bothered with grieving for her horribly murdered father. The episode overall is played for humor, and there’s a fun sequence where Illya and Alice consult with a dog expert (Pat Harrington, Jr.) for advice on how to deal with the attack dogs, and the number of (friendly) dogs in the scene keeps multiplying to a nearly tribble-like degree.

Remember how I said that the last “Gypsy”-focused episode was relatively respectful and light on negative stereotypes for a ’60s show? Well, this one’s the opposite. Here, the “Gypsies” are not only villains and charlatans, but possess eldritch power over animals, according to the dog expert. The nominal main villain, Delgrovia (Paul Lambert), initially shows up in a Dracula cape and seems quite menacing, but he’s almost passive in the climactic scenes, with more attention paid overall to Delilah (Antoinette Bower), one of the scammers, who initially shows up as a fortune-teller to try to frighten Waverly’s cousin, and ends up in a catfight with Oliver in the final act.

Despite the conceptual/cultural problems, though, this is actually a rather charming and witty episode by Alan Caillou, with a number of good gags and moments. And it’s nice to see Illya get the spotlight for once. Plus there’s a startling number of Star Trek guests here — not only Oliver and Bower, but bit players Tom Troupe, Reggie Nalder, and George Sawaya. Another notable guest is Leigh Chapman, who takes over from May Heatherly as UNCLE’s resident office babe/tech advisor; she appeared as “Receptionist” two episodes before, but here gets a promotion and a name, Sarah. She’ll be in four more episodes.

“The Four-Steps Affair”: We open with sexy THRUSH agent Angela (Luciana Paluzzi) tricking an UNCLE operative to his death. The operative’s name is Dancer — perhaps a relative of future Girl from UNCLE April Dancer? (Though the name is awkwardly overdubbed in some shots, suggesting it was changed after they were shot.) Anyway, he manages to get a partial message to Waverly before he’s cut off, and Waverly and Illya deduce its meaning with very little assistance from the somewhat vacuous agent Kitt Kittredge (overplayed by Donald Harron with a fake English accent). Infuriatingly, the show’s tendency to treat all Asia as one big jumble is worse than ever here: Dancer uses a line from the Rubaiyat, a Persian poem, as a code for Miki (Michel Petit), the 10-year-old reincarnated lama of a Himalayan country, and somehow Illya is able to deduce the meaning of this huge geographical non sequitur. Illya and Kittridge retrieve the boy, his nurse, and his regent or “potentate” Kaza (Malachi Throne) from a safehouse, but Illya, the boy, and the nurse are captured by THRUSH. Meanwhile, Solo has the more pleasant job of playing cat-and-mouse with Angela, who tries to seduce him into the same trap, though he’s more suspicious than Dancer was. Of course, he manages to keep up the flirty banter while keeping his guard up otherwise.

This is the second episode scripted by Peter Allan Fields, so I was expecting something good. I suppose if you can look past the geographical and cultural ignorance on display, it’s a decent episode, with some fun banter here and there, but overall it doesn’t hold together very well. The main appeal is Paluzzi’s Angela, who’s very nice to watch.

“The See-Paris-And-Die Affair”: The Van Schreeten brothers, Max (Lloyd Bochner) and Josef (Gerald Mohr), are petty criminals who’ve stolen enough diamonds to flood the market and crash prices, and are blackmailing the mob to pay them off regularly lest they release the diamonds. UNCLE wants to retrieve the diamonds and prevent the economic catastrophe or something. So Napoleon recruits the weekly innocent, Mary Pilgrim, a woman that both brothers desire and that Max has arranged to bring over to his Paris nightclub. It’s basically the same premise as the pilot, using the villain’s old girlfriend as a mole. Mary is played by Kathryn Hays, whom I’ve always known as the mute Gem in Star Trek‘s “The Empath,” and I think this is the first time I’ve ever heard her speak. I’d always kind of thought she was solely a dancer/mime and was hired for that purpose, but here she not only acts, she sings as well. Her voice is nothing like I would’ve expected, a salty, brassy alto, and her manner here is totally unlike the sad and poignant Gem, bright and lively with a big, adorable grin that she deploys at the slightest provocation.

Anyway, our UNCLE boys are competing with a THRUSH agent played by Alfred Ryder, another Trek guest (“The Man Trap”), and his boss, Kevin Hagen of Land of the Giants. No doubt THRUSH wants the diamonds for more nefarious reasons. So it’s a jolly chase between the two with lots of schemes and counterschemes, with Solo being unusually forceful about getting what he wants, but at his most impish while doing so. (At one point Mary’s overprotective voice teacher sics the police on Solo for supposedly kidnapping Mary, so he steals the police car at gunpoint, but before leaving he delivers the disclaimer, “In no way do I represent America’s foreign policy.”) I recently read a suggestion that David Tennant would be a better choice than Tom Cruise to play Solo in the recently-announced movie remake, and I could totally see that as I watched Robert Vaughn here.

Anyway, the whole thing leads to Max scarpering with both the diamonds and Mary (without consulting her about the sudden elopement), ultimately leading to a well-done action sequence with a helicopter chasing a van. And Mary acquits herself very nicely in dealing with Max and the cops while Solo and Illya are otherwise occupied. All in all, it’s quite a fun and madcap adventure, with lively dialogue courtesy of Peter Allan Fields once again. The music is credited to Scharf and Stevens, and there seem to be some new bits that are recognizably Scharf-like, as well as a fair amount of nightclub source music performed by a guest group called The Gallants. They’re credited with doing an arrangement of the main theme, but it must’ve been hidden in the background of a nightclub scene somewhere. Hays herself sings a song from the MGM library, “It’s a Most Unusual Day” by Jimmy McHugh and Harold Adamson.

“The Brain-Killer Affair”: When Director Waverly gets too close to identifying a pattern of important smart people suddenly losing competence, THRUSH poisons him so he’ll be taken to a clinic they control, where they plan to perform the same endumbening operation on him so he’ll undermine UNCLE from the inside. The mastermind of this subtle “assassination” method is Dr. Agnes Dabree, played by Elsa Lanchester wearing a frizzy, skunk-striped hairstyle that’s a clear homage to her defining role as the Bride of Frankenstein (though more backswept). She’s set up as a recurring villain, but is never seen again in the series. The innocent is Cecille (Batgirl herself, Yvonne Craig!), whose mentally crippled, mute brother was named by Waverly before he passed out, leading Solo to investigate. There’s a rather uninteresting thread where she’s resistant to cooperation and Solo keeps paying her off with bigger and bigger sums, leading her to become more and more enamored with money — not leading to any sort of lesson, even. It’s rather a waste of Craig’s talents — though I had no idea what a prodigious screamer she was (as we discover when she’s captured by Dabree).

This isn’t a very good episode, and I found myself particularly annoyed by how casually Solo waved a loaded gun around in various scenes — even pointing the barrel directly at Waverly’s head while checking his pulse after he’s poisoned. Vaughn and the director are treating his gun as a prop rather than a deadly weapon, and it undermines the illusion. But the episode surpasses even “Bow-Wow” for the number of Star Trek guests it features. In addition to Craig, we’ve got David Hurst, Nancy Kovack, and Mickey Morton as Dabree’s assistants, Abraham Sofaer as the substitute UNCLE director flown in from Calcutta when Waverly’s compromised (a nice bit of organizational exposition), Liam Sullivan as one of the “brain-assassination” victims, and even Bill Quinn (McCoy’s father from ST V) as a waiter. The only credited guests who weren’t in Trek were Lanchester, Henry Beckman as an UNCLE doctor, and Rosey Grier as an UNCLE bodyguard. Plus Trek’s second-pilot director James Goldstone directs, and Jerry Goldsmith contributes a few minutes of what sounds to me like new music and a lot of stock cues.

“The Hong Kong Shilling Affair”: Uh-oh. This show doesn’t do well with anything Asian. Anyway, this time, Napoleon and Illya are following a courier, Max, who’s with the Bondishly named Heavenly Cortelle (Karen Sharpe) while delivering a stolen item to a criminal organization that auctions state secrets to the highest bidder. For reasons I’m still not clear on, Max is attacked by the organization’s henchman (future Bond uber-henchman Richard Kiel). A passing student, Bernie (Glenn Corbett), sees the fight and runs in to be a good samaritan, but gets so distracted by ogling Heavenly that he lets Max get stabbed to death before he finally intervenes. This gets him mistaken for Max’s partner by everyone involved, including UNCLE at first. He tells them Max’s dying words that he was killed for a pine tree shilling, and why a single coin is so valuable is the mystery of the episode, along with its whereabouts and the identity of the villains’ unseen leader Apricot — though the latter two mysteries share a very obvious solution.

Solo recruits Bernie to spy on Heavenly and find out more, with strict instructions that Bernie blithely ignores, getting himself into bigger trouble and requiring his rescue. He continues to make matters worse through his bullheadedness and his growing (and reciprocal) crush on Heavenly, whose own loyalties and agendas are themselves a mystery. But he and a captured Solo manage to learn the identity of an incoming bidder, and Solo and Illya intercept him at the airport.

Here’s where it gets problematical. The bidder is a Mongolian warlord, and Illya impersonates him through heavy makeup and an accent — plus his voice is processed to sound a bit echoey and staticky, perhaps in an attempt to disguise McCallum’s voice, though it just makes it all the more obviously faked to the audience. The weird voice treatment is almost as annoying and unpleasant as the yellowface acting, though not as offensive. I mean, seriously — we’re shown that Hong Kong has its own UNCLE branch office, so shouldn’t they have agents of the right ethnicity to pull off a more believable impersonation, rather than sticking a Russian in unconvincing makeup?

All in all, it’s kind of a mess, and Bernie is the most unsympathetic “innocent” in the series so far (though Cecille was kind of unsympathetic too, with only Yvonne Craig’s innate charm redeeming the character). They did a decent job making part of the MGM backlot look like a Hong Kong harbor, with some help from stock footage, but really, I wish this show would just avoid portraying Asia altogether, because they’re terrible at it. The music is credited to Stevens, and it’s mostly in his generic-Oriental vein that we’ve heard before — if not the same cues, then at least the same style that’s hard to pin down to a particular culture. (Oh, and Solo is still casually pointing his gun at his friends and waving it around carelessly with his finger on the trigger. Now that I’ve noticed it, I can’t stop seeing it.)

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Affair, Episodes 13-18 (Spoilers)

“The King of Knaves Affair”: Investigating a mysterious effort to buy uranium and the abduction of the racketeer making the offer, Solo and Kuryakin travel to Rome, where UNCLE HQ is situated behind the local branch of the Del Floria’s tailor franchise. (Clever to have identical UNCLE HQs all over the world, so the same standing sets can be used everywhere.) The local agents include Gemma (Arlene Martel, best known as Spock’s betrothed in Star Trek‘s “Amok Time”), who poses as Illya’s wife when they go undercover, and a receptionist who doubles as a dancer at the nightclub they investigate (played by belly dancer Tania Lemani, who uses a lot of the same dance moves she’ll use a few years later in ST’s “Wolf in the Fold”). The club’s proprietor is Fasik, a deposed Middle Eastern monarch played by the decidedly non-Middle Eastern Paul Stevens (a frequent Mission: Impossible guest, often playing characters impersonated by Martin Landau, whom he resembled). It turns out he’s building an army and recruiting allies as part of a genuinely clever multipronged plan to undermine the credibility, finances, and military strength of the populists who deposed him in order to pave the way for his reconquest. The innocent-of-the-week is Miss Pepper (Diana Millay), whom Solo suspects is a rival agent but who turns out to be a notary seeking the abducted racketeer’s signature on some document so some person back home won’t be rendered destitute — the explanation is very convoluted and not that important, mostly playing out in the background while Illya fights off an assassin on Solo’s balcony. It’s a fairly interesting episode overall — the villain’s plan really is most ingenious and alarmingly credible — but the show’s insistence on shoehorning an innocent civilian into every adventure is already starting to wear thin after just a baker’s dozen of episodes. It’s the sort of thing I feel would work better if they only did it when there was a good reason for it, rather than having to concoct all these contrived excuses to drag civilians into things every single time.

The episode makes effective use of the MGM backlot, including a castle courtyard set that we haven’t seen before on the show, though I expect we’ll see it again sometime. Jerry Goldsmith gets the music credit again, and this time I’m certain it’s a mostly or wholly original score. Some of the motifs are familiar, but from the thematic unity of the overall score and the way the music fits the action and editing, I’d say it’s not stock music, but Goldsmith developing his established motifs further. It’s a solid, effective score with a classic Goldsmithian flavor to the rhythms.

“The Terbuf Affair”: In a subtle bit of continuity, Napoleon and Illya are still in Rome on vacation, implicitly in the wake of their last mission. Napoleon is approached by old flame Clara (Madlyn Rhue, best known as Khan’s love Marla in ST: “Space Seed”), who seeks his help getting a “Gypsy” named Emil (Jacques Aubuchon) out of the Balkan country of Terbuf with proof of the corruption of its leader Col. Morisco (episode writer Alan Caillou). Clara is married now, but Solo still has a thing for her, and Illya determines he needs to go along to keep Solo anchored. But Clara confides in her husband Stefan, who turns out to be loyal to Morisco and tells him of the plan. Morisco doesn’t return his loyalty, having him imprisoned and ordering the smarmy Major Vicek (Albert Paulsen, whom I liked in his several Mission: Impossible appearances) to impersonate her husband, with the real Stefan held hostage to force her cooperation. Illya uses his familiarity with Roma culture to infiltrate the suspicious local “Gypsies” and convince them they can trust Solo with Emil. It’s an elaborate tale of plots, counterplots, false identities, arrests, abductions, rescues, and a couple of de-pantsings.

All in all, an entertaining story of intrigue, making further good use of MGM’s really impressive backlot (although I recognized one of the outdoor locations from the Kurt Russell episode, and it used the same interior prison set we just saw in “King of Knaves”). It makes up for last week’s contrived insertion of “the innocent” by having the innocent be the one who instigates the story in the first place. There are lots of familiar faces in the cast, including two more future Trek guests, Michael Forest and Rex Holman. The portrayal of the Roma is actually relatively positive for ’60s TV despite the use of the “Gypsy” label. And there’s a solid score (mostly new, I think) by Goldsmith and Walter Scharf.

Best of all, this episode is the strongest showing Illya’s had since episode 3, I’d say. Usually, even in episodes where Illya’s on the mission with Solo instead of sidelined back at HQ or whatever, he’s nonetheless been very much a second banana, with most of the focus being on Solo and his interaction with either the innocent or the villain. Here, though, he’s equal in prominence and importance to Solo, and we get a good feel for their friendship, the way their contrasts make them a good pairing. It’s not so different from the relationship Kirk and Spock would have in a little show that came along a few years later. It’s nice to see, and I hope it’s a harbinger of things to come.

“The Deadly Decoy Affair”: They’re playing with the opening again. There’s new music, and after the usual sequence of the shadowy figure shooting at Solo and cracking the pane of bulletproof glass in front of him — whereupon we usually get a freeze-frame for the episode title and then cut right to the main titles — instead Solo strolls out from behind the glass and gives the audience a little verbal teaser for the upcoming episode. Weird. I half-expected him to segue into talking about the sponsor’s product. Anyway, this is followed by a slightly modified arrangement of the main title theme, with the main melody a bit more clearly articulated than before. IMDb says Morton Stevens did the new arrangment.

The story is a comedy of errors as Solo and Kuryakin try to escort captured THRUSH lieutenant Stryker (Ralph Taeger) to Washington past a gauntlet of THRUSH agents trying to retake him, while Waverly leads a decoy intended to draw their fire, which proves unsuccessful — or does it? The way the innocent-of-the-week, Fran (Joanna Moore), gets dragged into the chase is the biggest contrivance yet, although I guess it’s forgivable since they were going for comedy. Illya gets left behind on a train and it becomes a three-person show as Solo and Stryker flirt with Fran and the three of them try to shake the relentless pursuers, and there’s a plot twist that became obvious to me about half an hour before it was revealed.

Kind of mediocre overall, with an underwhelming guest cast (and not just because it’s short on faces I find familiar). Its best feature is an all-new Walter Scharf score, the first one he’s done for this show that I’ve been impressed by, reminding me of some of his Mission: Impossible work.

“The Fiddlesticks Affair”: No talking to the audience this time, but we still get the Stevens arrangement of the main theme. The episode is another one that could be considered a proto-Mission: Impossible story: a casino heist to destroy THRUSH’s Western-hemisphere treasury, with Napoleon and Illya recruiting allies to form a team. They even have Lalo Schifrin doing the music, and his scoring during the heist portions is very reminiscent of some of his future M:I work. However, their recruits aren’t of the caliber that the IMF used. Their main specialist is a safecracker named Rudolph (Dan O’Herlihy) who gets pressured into helping and who’s more than willing to betray them to score points with THRUSH. The other is Susan (Marlyn Mason, herself a future M:I guest team member), a perky Midwestern girl trying to make a break from her wholesome life and do something scandalous, making her ripe for recruiting by Solo. (Though it’s rather startling that they’d draw a civilian into such danger rather than using a professional agent. What they need is some kind of, I dunno… girl from UNCLE, maybe. They should look into hiring one.)

Despite the sketchiness of the situation, it’s a fun, solid episode due mainly to a strong and clever script by future Columbo and Deep Space Nine scribe Peter Allan Fields. The character interplay and badinage between Napoleon and Illya is a lot of fun; this time out, we get the sense that the normally stoic Russian somewhat resents that Napoleon hogs the womanizing part of the mission all to himself. I didn’t care for some of the ridiculously implausible spy gadgets they used, though. For instance, a “treated” 100-dollar bill which, when placed in the casino vault, can somehow detect the turning of the combination lock and transmit the numbers to Solo’s receiver. Or a magnetic coating which, when rubbed onto ordinary dice, allows a special watch to control their rolls. Even with microcomputers and nanotechnology, that would be hard to pull off. In 1965, even with the sci-fi tech many spy shows used at the time, it’s just preposterous.

There’s a scary moment in the scene where Illya’s coercively recruiting Rudolph: David McCallum shoves O’Herlihy back onto the hotel-room bed, and it looks like O’Herlihy just misses hitting his head fairly hard on the corner of the bedside table. A centimeter more to his left and he could’ve really been hurt. He reaches back and puts his hand on the back of his head and goes “Sh…”, but then he recovers and they both just carry on with the take. A real trouper, O’Herlihy. And it makes the scene a lot more convincing.

“The Yellow Scarf Affair”: Oh, dear. It’s Napoleon Solo and the Temple of Doom, as Solo (without Illya) takes on the so-called Thuggee cult in India, replete with Western stereotypes about Hinduism, a lot of talk about how indigenous Indian culture is a relic of the past and how enlightened modernity equals Westernization, and plenty of non-Indian actors in brownface. It embraces the traditional media image of the Thuggees as a cult of assassins who preyed on travelers as a sacrifice to the “death” goddess Kali — in this case, a revived and modernized version in which they arrange plane and train crashes and the like and steal the victims’ valuables, including a top-secret lie-detector that an UNCLE agent had been bringing back home. Now, what I recall from Indian History class is that such cults of murderous fanatics were largely invented, or at least had their prevalence greatly overstated, by the British Raj in order to paint indigenous peoples as violent savages who needed British rule and Westernization to “civilize” them for their own protection. Even if they were real, they were an extreme fringe group whose practices were falsely held up as symbolic of Indian religion as a whole, and this episode is a classic example of that, implying that the Thuggee cult is synonymous with traditional Indian culture in order to paint that culture as primitive and well-forgotten.

The episode has other problems. For instance, the McGuffin’s case is said to have a nitroglycerin self-destruct capsule–quite implausible because the slightest jolt could set it off. What’s more, it gets jolted plenty in the climactic fight and nothing happens. Not to mention that Solo’s stunt double in said fight looks nothing like Robert Vaughn and there’s hardly any attempt made to conceal his face even by the standards of lower-resolution ’60s TV sets and broadcasts. Plus, while Morton Stevens’s music is generally good, he bizarrely uses a faux-Middle Eastern musical style to establish the Indian setting, presumably on the principle that American audiences would consider all things “Oriental” to be interchangeably exotic.

There are a few decent things about the episode, mainly Kamala Devi as the “innocent,” a flight attendant who helps Solo. Not only is she the only actual Indian performer playing an Indian character, but she’s quite lovely and delicately appealing, though she doesn’t show a lot of range as an actress. (And it’s quite silly seeing Murray Matheson standing next to her as her uncle — it just throws his cheesy brownface makeup into sharp relief.) There’s also an entertaining turn by Linden Chiles as the world’s most affable THRUSH agent, alternately competing and cooperating with Solo to retrieve the McGuffin from the cultists (a formula the show has used before). But my favorite part is probably Madge Blake’s brief appearance at the beginning, passing the McGuffin to the ill-fated agent. Aunt Harriet is a secret agent! The aunt from UNCLE! How awesome is that?

“The Mad, Mad Tea Party Affair”: Time for a bottle show, set mostly on the standing sets of UNCLE HQ and Del Floria’s tailor shop. UNCLE is preparing for a secret summit of world leaders, and a THRUSH mole within HQ, Riley (Peter Haskell), is planning to blow them all up — following a plan masterminded by Dr. Egret (Lee Meriwether), who’s narcissistic enough to demand that Riley join her in narrating the entire plan for the audience’s benefit, a deeply awkward scene. But a third party, an eccentric older man named Hemingway (Richard Haydn), is launching his own campaign against HQ, a series of seemingly harmless but high-tech pranks that expose some serious gaps in their security system — and it’s not hard to guess that that’s his whole intention. One of his pranks is to trick a random innocent, Kay (Zohra Lampert, whose voice I found very annoying), into the changing booth at Del Floria’s and through the secret HQ entrance therein. Kay is initially terrified, since for some reason UNCLE, the spy agency whose agents constantly go around telling people who they are and discussing secret missions at crowded parties, and whose HQ location is already well-known to their enemies, are suddenly so hyper-secretive that they refuse even to tell Kay who they are and where she is. But Kay turns out to be the second innocent in the past three weeks (and at least the fifth this season) to be tired of her ordinary life and thrilled by the chance to get involved in excitement and intrigue. It’s getting a bit repetitive, guys!

So yeah, you can tell I’m not enthralled by this one. It has some decent ideas, but the execution has a lot of flaws — particularly in the climax, where the bomb’s trigger device, which is supposed to be innocuous and understood to be a detonator only by Riley himself, is shown sizzling and smoking for a good 20 seconds or more, long enough that anyone could figure it out. Plus it criminally underuses Lee Meriwether, who’s only in one scene plus a voiceover later.

The music is credited to Goldsmith and Stevens, and is mostly built around familiar motifs, but at least some of it seems newly arranged and tailored to the scenes.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Affair, Episodes 7-12 (Spoilers)

More U.N.C.L.E reviews…

“The Giuoco Piano Affair”: A sequel to “The Quadripartite Affair,” as UNCLE finally tracks down evil mastermind Gervaise Ravel (Anne Francis) and her rich husband/backer Bufferton (John Van Dreelen) and tries to draw them out for capture. The title references a chess gambit that, according to Solo, involves using a lesser piece as bait to draw the queen into a vulnerable position. This involves bringing back Marion Raven (Jill Ireland) for a return appearance. Ireland was David McCallum’s wife at the time, and there was an idea that Marion could be Illya’s recurring love interest, though this would be the character’s final appearance (though not the actress’s). The plan is to use her as bait for Gervaise to kidnap so they can use her as bait to capture Solo when he tries to rescue her, and then track her to Gervaise’s lair using an implanted transmitter. Except the execution doesn’t make sense, because Solo is right there with her in the Andean town where she’s paraded as kidnap bait. He’s already on hand for Gervaise’s goon to try to assassinate before the abduction and Bufferton to make contact with after — so why would Gervaise feel she had to abduct Marion to lure Solo into her reach if Solo was already in her reach? It just doesn’t make sense.

Also, even though this episode is by the same writer who created Marion, Alan Caillou, she doesn’t seem to be as assertive and adventurous a woman as she was before, instead being portrayed as more traditionally timid. Plus the way she’s recruited is weird — Illya comes to her while she’s throwing a party (whose guests are the show’s production staff, including the episode’s director Richard Donner — yes, that Richard Donner — as a drunk), and they have a loud conversation about the secret mission he’s trying to recruit her for right in front of all these party guests he’s never met. As before, UNCLE has an oddly cavalier approach to operational secrecy.

Walter Scharf does the music, and again, it’s sadly less memorable than his Mission: Impossible work. It’s largely source music for the party and the South American village, plus some cues that sound recycled from Scharf’s earlier episodes.

“The Double Affair”: Only eight episodes in and we already get an evil twin! Robert Vaughn gets to flex his acting muscles again by pretending to be someone pretending to be Napoleon Solo, as THRUSH replaces him with an impostor in order to gain access to the super-top-secret August Affair (and yes, UNCLE really does call its missions “The [Something] Affair”). The first act is a much better chess match than the previous episode which was named for a chess gambit; as THRUSH tries to abduct Solo by having the waiter summon him to the telephone, he quickly catches on that it’s an attempted abduction and gets the upper hand on his lovely abductor (Senta Berger, who somehow gets billed above David McCallum here), but THRUSH anticipated his anticipation and has countermoves, and so on. It’s a nice dance between players who see each others’ moves coming, but THRUSH has the advantage of having had more time to prepare. And so they manage to gas him unconscious and spirit him off to their hideout in the Austrian Alps, which looks exactly like the Griffith Park Observatory. Those fiends! On top of everything else, architectural plagiarism!

Unfortunately, the cleverness and perceptiveness drops off on both sides starting in Chapter 2. The Solo impostor, who was so carefully altered and trained to imitate Solo exactly, has one glaring and obvious flaw in his impersonation: He doesn’t flirt with every woman he encounters, and indeed doesn’t even notice them. This includes not recognizing the flight attendant Solo was on a date with before his abduction — even though the impostor was right there in the restaurant and should’ve recognized her! And even though Illya supposedly knows Solo so well that THRUSH tried to assassinate him before starting the mission, he totally fails to notice Solo’s uncharacteristic asexuality or any of the other anomalies that should’ve tipped him off.

(By the way, the attempt on Illya’s life is enacted by a pair of rocket-firing robot/toys right outside Del Floria’s Tailor Shop, the front for UNCLE HQ. If the bad guys know where HQ is, why even hide it? Again this show’s use of spy tropes is hard to reconcile with its portrayal of the UNCLE as a fairly open global-security organization.)

The rest is a bit of a mess too. There’s a sci-fi twist to the secret behind the August Affair, but it serves little story purpose. There’s a big mistake the impostor makes, a clue he accidentally leaves in a damning place, but it serves little purpose other than to give him an excuse to kill off the token black agent in Chapter 3 — again, part of Illya’s total failure to notice anything wrong. And when Solo manages to escape from Griffith East, his escape is made easier by the most poorly-designed evil-lair self-destruct mechanism since… well, actually most evil-lair self-destructs are poorly designed in one way or another, but this one you just have to see to believe.

The music is by Morton Stevens, and I found it much more striking this time, a very interesting, somewhat avant-garde sound. Stevens, I’ve discovered, was a protege of Jerry Goldsmith, and he’s best known for writing the Hawaii Five-O theme. Oh, and this episode also introduces a new, briefer prologue — instead of the instructional-film tour of UNCLE and the leads introducing themselves to the audience, we get a tauter, more stylish opening built around the scene in the pilot that gave us our first look at Napoleon Solo. It’s a much more effective beginning.

“The Project Strigas Affair”: This is the one episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. that I’ve seen before (not counting the ’80s reunion movie), an episode I’ve been aware of for a long time as a piece of Star Trek trivia — the one time that William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy worked together before ST. But they’re on opposite sides here. The episode has a somewhat Mission: Impossible-ish setup (though it predates M:I by a couple of years): an Eastern European warmonger, Kurasov (Werner Klemperer), is threatening to destabilize international relations, so our heroes are assigned to discredit him so he’ll be removed from power, and they employ an elaborate con game to do so.

Like M:I’s Jim Phelps, Solo and Kuryakin recruit a specialist to help them with the scam, but unlike M:I’s team members, that specialist, Michael Donfield (Shatner), is taken rather by surprise and needs to be talked into it. He’s a chemical engineer who’s given up a lucrative job to open a small exterminating business with his wife Anne (Peggy Ann Garner), which is something that S&K can spin to make it look like a cover for a secret government project. The idea is to get Colonel Klink, err, Kurasov to believe Donfield’s working on a secret weapon called Strigas (rhymes with bypass) and get him to think he’ll score a major career coup by obtaining the formula for his nameless country, thus humiliating and ruining him when it turns out to be nothing. But the plan hits rather more snags along the way than your typical M:I scheme, and there’s a fair degree of improvising. It doesn’t help that Kurasov’s aide Vladeck (Nimoy), an ambitious sort who resents Kurasov’s constant insults, does some digging of his own and disrupts plans on both sides.

It’s a pretty fun episode overall, with nice performances from Shatner, Nimoy (if you can get past his unconvincing accent), Klemperer, and Woodrow Parfrey as one of Kurasov’s agents. I always enjoy seeing Shatner in this early phase of his career, when he tended to give more laid-back and unaffected performances. Donfield, though reluctant at first, gets into the thrill of the spy game much like Pat Crowley’s character in the pilot — and unlike her, he has his spouse right there to wipe the grin off his face when he’s told he has to assume the role of a womanizer. The role is a good fit for Shatner. Mainly, though, I must admit that the principal charm of this episode is watching Napoleon Solo and Captain Kirk take on Colonel Klink and Mr. Spock. It’s a little hard to look past who the actors are to focus on their characters.

Again, Scharf does the music, and again it doesn’t stand out as much as I would’ve expected.

“The Finny Foot Affair”:  Ugh, let’s just get through this one quickly. Solo and Illya play Andromeda Strain, investigating a Scottish island where everyone’s died of old age due to a bioweapon that some supposedly Japanese bad guys are also trying to get hold of (it was made by one of their countrymen during WWII and then lost until now). True to ’60s form, the speaking bad guys are white actors with eye prosthetics and phony accents and the only real Asians are in nonspeaking roles. The bad guys wing Illya so he’s stuck at London HQ while Solo pursues a lead to Norway, where the infectious agent originated. Teenage Kurt Russell latches onto Solo as a potential replacement for his dead father, and tags along to Norway, being annoyingly cute and Opie-ish the whole way. Solo keeps trying to ditch him but keeps having to drag him along as the fake-Japanese henchwoman and her muscle pursue him. Illya passes along a screamingly obvious clue (a strange oversized ring with an inscription to “marry the maiden” — I caught on in seconds that it was meant to go on a statue’s finger to reveal a clue) that Solo totally failed to figure out for two acts (though in his defense, he is a confirmed bachelor). Baby Snake Plissken remains mawkishly cute and rather stupid throughout, even as the boy is forced to experience abduction and killings and other stuff that would turn a real kid into… well, into Snake Plissken, maybe. And it all turns out to be for nothing. In-story and out.

Nothing good to say here. Morton Stevens’s music wasn’t enough to impress me this time. And even famously curvaceous ’60s exotic dancer/martial artist/actress Tura Satana was mostly wasted as the henchwoman; she had a token dance scene early on that was kind of interesting, but was too mired in confused Orientalism to be really enjoyable (why is a fake-Japanese woman dancing to belly-dancer music?). Let’s just move on before my headache gets any worse.

“The Neptune Affair”: Illya is mad — not because he’s hardly in this one, but because some rogue faction in America is launching missiles containing a fungus that’s destroying wheat fields in the USSR. Solo has 3 days to stop the next launch or they’ll retaliate and nuclear holocaust begins. Heather McNabb makes her final appearance, alas, and hypnotizes Solo with a hayseed cover identity (just an act for the most part, but he can trigger himself to really believe he’s the guy for a few hours if he’s caught and interrogated). Robert Vaughn’s performance here isn’t as interesting as the fake persona he adopted in the Carroll O’Connor episode. There, he seemed like a totally different person; here, he just seems like Solo putting on a corny accent.

Solo searches for the scientist who developed the fungus, and meets his daughter, played by Lost in Space‘s Marta Kristen, as well as her fiancee Gabe (Jeremy Slate), who’s working for a Mr. Lockridge, who’s played by Henry Jones so you know he must be evil. Solo wheedles his way onto their boat when it goes out for “night fishing,” and they knock him out and interrogate him with help from — hey, it’s Sgt. Schultz! Yup, John Banner’s being his usual jovial self, but more evilly than usual. But true to form, Schultz sees nothing and hears nothing; Solo has activated his cover persona, so their interrogation is unproductive. Their fishing expedition a failure, they cut him loose.

Later, Marta Kristen catches on that he faked his cover, but manages to clue him in that the bad guys must be based on an oil derrick just offshore. She convinces him to take her with him in exchange for the use of her rowboat, since he wants to sneak aboard. But it’s no use, since they’re monitoring everything and catch them, bringing them down to their deep undersea base where Lockridge’s band of scientists plan to wait out the apocalypse they’re about to trigger, after which they’ll ascend and rule the world scientifically and emotionlessly. Solo (who annoyingly keeps up his fake persona well after they’ve figured out he’s a spy) manages to appeal to Gabe’s emotions to get his help in stopping the plan.

Hey, just imagine if UNCLE weren’t around — WWIII happens just on the schedule that Captain Shark from “The Shark Affair” thought it would, because Lockridge triggered it. Civilization is wiped out, and the only survivors are Shark’s group of well-intentioned utopians aboard their ship and Lockridge’s group of conquest-minded technocrats in their undersea base. That could make for an interesting post-apocalyptic struggle between the two factions.

An okay episode, but the past two have sort of a similarly awkward format — a tense, high-stakes setup being largely ignored as it’s just an excuse for the ensuing hijinks of the episode. I suppose plenty of Mission: Impossible episodes, Bond movies, and the like are structured similarly — the evil plot being just a McGuffin to motivate the story — but in these cases I didn’t find the hijinks as interesting as the setup.

The music this time is credited to both Goldsmith and Scharf, though a lot of it sounded like stock. Goldsmith’s work remains my favorite among the composers so far.

A weird dubbing issue here — there’s an explosive gas that’s a plot point here, and every time they say its name, it’s awkwardly dubbed over with “hydro.” I’m guessing it was originally “nitro” and they changed it at the last minute, but why?

“The Dove Affair”: This one’s too convoluted to summarize point-by-point, so I’ll just given an overview. This is the most Illya-free episode since the second; he isn’t even mentioned. It’s Solo truly solo, playing a cat-and-mouse game against Ricardo Montalban as Satine, the charming-but-deadly secret police chief of a fictional Balkan country. Solo was sent to retrieve the premier’s dove medallion containing vital information about THRUSH, but the premier was murdered just before he got there, and he must steal the dove. The cabinet secretary works for THRUSH and wants Solo arrested and accused of the crime to discredit UNCLE. Satine’s boss, the new, weaker premier, doesn’t want that, so he orders Satine to retrieve the dove (which they need for reasons of their own) and keep Solo from being taken alive — by either helping him escape or killing him. So Satine and Solo keep charmingly and deviously going from working together to battling each other, and a school tour group led by teacher June Lockhart gets caught in the middle. It’s fun to watch Vaughn and Montalban banter and play out their gentlemanly rivalry, but there are some plot contrivances like a couple of convenient hangups Satine has that give Solo an edge over him at key moments, and some conveniently accidental interventions by a couple of Lockhart’s schoolkids (the kind of TV “kids” played by actors in their 20s).

I also have to wonder why a spy chief in a Balkan country would have a Mexican accent, but then, I’ve often wondered the same thing about Khan in Star Trek. Montalban was like Sean Connery, I guess: you want him, you get the accent with him.

The music’s credited to Goldsmith, but I think by this point in the season it’s reasonable to assume it’s all stock. I definitely recognized some of it.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Affair, Episodes 1-6 (Spoilers)

I’ve recently begun renting season one of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. from Netflix, and I wanted to post some thoughts about it. This won’t be as detailed as my Mission: Impossible reviews; I think I got a little too in-depth with those, and I’m not sure I have the time to go to such length. But I wanted to post my thoughts about it anyway.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. premiered in 1964, and was developed by Sam Rolfe from concepts by Norman Felton and an uncredited Ian Fleming, so it has some James Bond-like elements. It was originally meant to focus on a single lead character, as the title suggests; indeed, Robert Vaughn’s character is actually named Napoleon Solo. But David McCallum made such a strong impression in his brief appearance as Illya Kuryakin in the pilot that they made him a regular — though we didn’t actually see him partnered with Solo until episode 3.

U.N.C.L.E. is the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement — something the show’s producers made a point of specifying in the introductory sequence and the closing gag credit where they thank the organization for its help in the production. The original plan was for it to be a United Nations organ, but the real UN objected to having its name used in a fictional context, so the “Network” name was coined and repeatedly stressed to appease the UN. In the episodes I’ve seen so far, Solo usually gives the acronym as “the U-N-C…L-E,” to further drive home the distinction. (Which makes me wonder if the title of the show is meant to be pronounced “The Man from You-en-see-ell-ee” rather than “The Man from Uncle.” I doubt it ever has been, though.)

Anyway, despite the careful separation from the UN, UNCLE is very much an international organization, with even hostile nations like the US and the USSR cooperating against enemies that threaten the whole world — primarily the Fleming-created organization THRUSH, itself an international organization of aspiring world conquerors, ruthless assassins, evil scientists, and other assorted villains. Their acronym was never explained in the show, though the tie-in novels claimed it stood for “Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity.” In addition to Vaughn and McCallum, the show starred Leo G. Carroll in a charmingly stodgy performance as UNCLE’s New York branch chief, Alexander Waverly. (UNCLE HQ is hidden behind a secret wall in Del Floria’s Tailor Shop in Manhattan.)

Moving on to the episodes, all of which are called “The [Something] Affair”:

“The Vulcan Affair”: This is a black-and-white, cut-down version of the original color pilot, which also had a theatrical release with some expanded footage. The color pilot will be on the last disc of the season 1 set. Anyway, the episode is written by Sam Rolfe and is very strong. I quickly became fond of the clever dialogue and character writing, and it establishes the season’s wry but relatively serious attitude. Vaughn establishes Solo’s persona clearly right away — unflappably professional, cool under pressure, and with a Bond-like eye for the ladies (and vice-versa), but with more of a sense of whimsy and occasionally almost childlike playfulness, as if the whole thing is a game to him. The word “impish” comes to mind.

In the pilot, Solo tries to foil an assassination plot masterminded by THRUSH agent Andrew Vulcan (Fritz Weaver), and recruits Vulcan’s old flame Elaine (Pat Crowley) to get close to him. Housewife Elaine is drawn to the excitement of the spy life and the glamorous identity she assumes, and torn by her reawakened feelings for Vulcan, while Solo has to cope with the consequences of drawing this innocent into his spy games. The pilot establishes the pattern of the series, with most every episode involving an “innocent” getting caught up in the story. The way Solo (and Kuryakin in later episodes) interacts with civilians is surprising after all the off-book secrecy of Mission: Impossible; the U.N.C.L.E. (as they themselves call it, or “Uncle” as everyone else calls it) is a well-known organization, and Solo & Kuryakin openly introduce themselves to civilians as its agents, rather than using cover identities and deception. It’s a little confusing; is (the) U.N.C.L.E. a spy agency or more of an international police force? The show seems to want to play it both ways.

The music is by Jerry Goldsmith, and thus is excellent. I really like Goldsmith’s theme for the series, which has a syncopated Latin rhythm that reminds me of West Side Story while also having elements of orchestration and melody that remind me of John Williams’s themes for Irwin Allen shows. But it has some very Goldsmithian touches too, like a driving and rhythmically complex ostinato that makes a very welcome earworm.

The conventions of the show’s title sequences are established here as well. Like many ’60s shows, it followed the shots of the regular cast with shots introducing the featured guest stars of the episode, and each act opened with a chapter title shown onscreen, usually a quirky reference to something in the scenes to come or a quote of a line of dialogue from the act. I love that. I’m fond of titles, and I love it that not only every episode, but every act (or “chapter”) gets its own title.

“The Iowa-Scuba Affair”: The title tells the tale. Solo (truly solo, since Illya isn’t in the episode at all) investigates murder and sabotage in a farming town next to an underground Air Force base, and explores the mystery of why the saboteurs are using SCUBA gear in the middle of Iowa, and what Slim Pickens has to do with it. (Spoiler: he does not end up riding on the back of a nuclear bomb and going “Yee-haw!” Though there’s a moment or two when it seemed he might be headed in that direction.) The “innocent” is a farm girl (Katherine Crawford) who was dating an Air Force man who turned out to be a saboteur (and was killed by Solo, something the farm girl is rather blase about).

All in all, not as impressive an episode as the pilot. Although it has a great bit establishing Waverly’s dry British wit: After Solo survives an assassination attempt (poison gas in the shower head) and reports it to HQ, Waverly says: “Report further such attempts immediately.” (Thoughtful pause) “Unless they’re successful.”

The music is by Morton Stevens this time, and it’s not bad, but doesn’t stand out in my memory. The episode is most notable as the debut of May Heatherly as recurring UNCLE HQ staffer Heather McNabb, who’s basically Miss Moneypenny only in more of a researcher/tech support capacity, and who’s really, really hot (replacing a different actress/character in an identical role in the pilot). Unfortunately her run on the series will be brief.

This episode introduces the standard opening, a very stilted  introduction to the premise and characters that feels like an old instructional film or documentary. The lead characters actually speak directly to the audience to introduce themselves and tell us their jobs within UNCLE. It plays very oddly to the modern eye and takes way too long.

“The Quadripartite Affair”: UNCLE vs. the Scarecrow! The bad guys this time are a scientist who’s invented a fear-inducing gas and the unspecified evil organization planning to use it for nefarious purposes. The innocent is Marion Raven (no, not Karen Allen, but Jill Ireland), plucky daughter of the first fear-gas victim, whom Illya is assigned to protect and who later insists on accompanying the duo on their mission to the villains’ mountain stronghold. This is Illya’s first big episode, and he’s established as a dour and driven Russian in contrast to Solo’s droll and playful persona. He keeps advising Marion to treat him as not even there, just part of the scenery, but she’s not inclined to play along. It seems they were already playing on the fact that David McCallum was anything but unnoticeable, having made such an impression in one brief scene that they made him a regular two episodes later. McCallum became a major sex symbol with female viewers, and my personal suspicion is that the real reason Gene Roddenberry created the Russian Mr. Chekov for Star Trek was in hopes of emulating Kuryakin’s audience appeal (since the Pravda article that Roddenberry claimed to be his inspiration apparently never existed).

The weirdest thing about this episode for me is that it features a heroic Harry Mudd against an evil Oscar Goldman. Roger C. Carmel plays a local mountain man who helps the team infiltrate the enemy base, and Richard Anderson plays the surly, bitter military man who heads the enemy force. (I was surprised to see that Anderson was balding here. All that time, Oscar was wearing a rug! Although now that I think about it, that was kind of obvious, wasn’t it?) The bad guys are working with, or for, a wealthy woman named Gervaise Ravel, played by Anne Francis, who makes a stunning brunette. She gets away at the end and will fortunately be back in episode 7.

The music here is by Walter Scharf, whose work I praised in my M:I reviews (and whose best-known work is probably the National Geographic theme). It’s nice to hear his work again, but unfortunately the music doesn’t carry the action and storytelling to the same extent here as it did on M:I, so he doesn’t get to be as impressive here (or in the next episode, which he also scores).

And I’m amused to learn that the episode’s writer, Alan Caillou, was also an actor who played The Head, Conrad Janis’s boss, in the brief but memorable sci-fi sitcom Quark from the late ’70s.

“The Shark Affair”: UNCLE vs. Captain Nemo! Investigating a series of odd pirate raids, abductions, and disappearances — of supplies as odd as shoelaces and building supplies and professions as odd as thatchers, glaziers, and piano tuners — leads Napoleon and Illya to a ship commanded by Captain Shark, a modern-day Nemo played brilliantly by Robert Culp (just a year before starring in his own spy show, I Spy). And I’m not kidding — aside from having a ship rather than a submarine, this character is a virtually exact pastiche of Captain Nemo, a good man grown disillusioned with the warfare of the world and using advanced technology, cunning, and surprisingly debonair piracy to build his own utopian community aboard his vessel, with Solo and Kuryakin somewhat filling the roles of Aronnax and Ned Land. Shark is convinced that nuclear holocaust is only months away and is building an ark of survivors with the range of skills and knowledge necessary to rebuild. He’s an admirable character in a lot of ways and Culp makes him deeply sympathetic, but Solo still has to stop him, arguing that good men need to participate in solving the world’s problems rather than retreating from them.

The downside of the episode is the innocent, a caricatured Brooklyn housewife played for laughs by Sue Ane Langdon. There’s kind of a cute running gag where she keeps accidentally hitting Illya in the face with doors, but the comic broadness of her character and her interactions with her husband (one of the disappeared, with whom she’s reunited aboardship) get a little annoying and clash unfortunately with Culp’s marvelous dramatic performance.

“The Deadly Games Affair”: UNCLE vs. THRUSH vs. Nazis! Solo & Ilya are pitted against a THRUSH agent in the chase for valuable secrets left by a Nazi scientist who’s not as dead as was believed. The THRUSH agent, Angelique (Janine Gray, who’s a somewhat Julie Newmar-esque type only not quite as attractive), is a past — and current — romantic interest for Solo. Illya doesn’t understand how his partner can be so amorous with someone who’d kill him without a qualm, but it’s just part of the way Solo sees his business as a game, with Angelique seeing it much the same way. They’re kind of like Ralph Wolf and Sam Sheepdog in the Chuck Jones cartoons — trying to defeat and/or kill each other is their job, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be friendly off the clock (though Ralph and Sam were never this friendly). In their efforts to track down or flush out the Nazi (Alexander Scourby) with the help of the innocent, a student he recruited by mail to sell his valuable stamp collection for funding, they go from cooperating to battling; Angelique naturally betrays Solo the moment their truce is no longer useful to her, but ultimately needs him to rescue her from the real menace. I don’t think I’ll spoil the big secret the Nazi scientist is keeping (though IMDb and Wikipedia both spoil it, and you can probably guess it), but let’s just say it’s something that horrifies Angelique as much as it does Solo. And it’s the most science-fictional, implausible premise to show up in the series so far. I’m afraid I found it to be a bit too much to really buy into.

On the plus side, Goldsmith is scoring again, and is still doing great work, here and in the next episode, which is…

“The Green Opal Affair”: UNCLE vs. Archie Bunker! Okay, that gag is wearing thin. Solo goes undercover to infiltrate the organization of eccentric rich guy and THRUSH supporter Walter Brach (Carroll O’Connor) in order to uncover and dismantle his brainwashing operation, but it turns out to be a trap to capture and brainwash Solo. The innocent is another housewife, Chris (Joan O’Brien), whom Brach is going to brainwash so she’ll push her genius husband to be more ambitious and rise to a high position that THRUSH can exploit. Why they don’t just brainwash hubby instead is unclear and seems to be just a plot contrivance so Chris can learn a lesson about ambition not being all it’s cracked up to be.

The most impressive thing about this episode is Robert Vaughn’s acting. Solo goes undercover as a foppish, effeminate personal secretary in order to infiltrate Brach’s organization, and Vaughn does a fantastic job of Clark Kenting, totally transforming his body language and appearance and coming off as a completely different, if somewhat broad and theatrical, character. It’s really impressive work, and I hope there are more undercover-Solo episodes to come so I can see more of what Vaughn is capable of as a character actor. (By the way, Illya is hardly in this one, appearing just in the early expository scenes. I wonder if this was an early episode that got delayed and reshot/rewritten to add Illya to a scene or two.)

Otherwise, the episode is mainly notable for giving Heather McNabb her biggest role yet. It gives the impression they were setting her up as a major recurring character, so it’s odd that this is her second-last appearance.

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