I have mixed feelings about ‘The Brain-Killer Affair’, which is highly regarded among Man from U.N.C.L.E. fans, but which didn’t impress me to quite the same degree. The story was built upon the idea of Mr Waverley being poisoned by THRUSH in order to subject him to a brain operation, using a fantastic machine invented by Dr Agnes Dabree that will impair his mental functions, leading him his making stupid errors that will bring U.N.C.L.E. down from within.
An interesting idea, let down slightly by the ease with which Waverley, one of the most important figures in maintaining the security of the World, gets poisoned in a posh club, drinking cognac and playing chess, by a waiter in the pay of THRUSH. Admittedly, he’s got our man Solo sat less than twenty feet away, reading the Saturday Evening Post (a real copy, apparently) but this is security?
And Waverley promptly gets rushed to the Hobart Clinic, which happens to be staffed by Drs Dabree and Elment, Nurse Flostone and all manner of big, hulking orderlies and pretty nurse/receptionists, all of whom are agents of THRUSH, not that U.N.C.L.E. knows anything of this. And though they flood the place with their own security, I would have thought that in a crisis situation like this, so big it has its own code (Situation 20A), I’d have thought that would mean more than two Agents, plus Ilya popping in and out.
But what interested me most was the number of connections I made from outside the episode, via the guest players.
The only one to make it into the credit sequence as a Guest Star was Dr Dabree, who was played by Elsa Lanchester, yes, the Elsa Lanchester, the Bride of Frankenstein himself. For a moment I was astonished, until I remembered that this episode was first broadcast in 1965, making it a matter of a mere thirty years since Lanchester’s classic starring role. In terms of an actress’s life, it’s nothing unusual, yet it also made me think of the distance from the early Frankenstein films with their simple yet Gothic horror, to the sophistication and slickness of 1965. Lanchester’s acting demonstrated that: she was all OTT melodrama, creepy and cracked, as if she had never left Frankenstein’s castle in the first place. Not very Sixties.
The spur towards solving the matter was Waverley’s last conscious words after being poisoned: three names, Farmington, Nikos Korzos and Nils Bergstrom, and what’s initially believed to be ‘Have dead’ but which is actually half-dead. Farmington is the career diplomat Waverley was playing chess with, who’s made a series of terrible blunders, Korzos is a shipping magnate who’s business has utterly collapsed due to a series of terrible blunders, leading to his committing suicide, and Bergstrom…
Bergstrom doesn’t fit the pattern. He’s a near catatonic of four years’ standing, who occasionally likes to bash simeone over the head with a sledgehammer, who’s being looked after by his younger sister Cecille, an attractive girl with shoulder-length black hair who supports them making $4 an hour refurbishing mannequins. I liked Cecille a great deal, even though she was played a bit too much as the sparky yet annoying kid sister who hasn’t grown up yet. Because I’m not used to seeing the lady with her hair down like that, it took me until the closer, when she’s got her hair up, dancing with Napoleon at a fancy restaurant, to recognise her as Yvonne Craig, she of Batgirl fame only a couple of years later.
And then there was Mr Gabhail Samoy. Mr Samoy is another member of Section 1, based in U.N.C.L.E.’s Eastern Division, the leaders, directors, policy-makers, brought to New York to replace Waverley. He’s a philsophical Indian, turbaned and confined to a wheelchair, browned up. This time I needed the credits to recognise him as Abraham Sofaer, the Judge and Surgeon from one of my favourite ever films, A Matter of Life and Death.
And that was not the end of it, though the fourth connection was one I did not know of until after. One of Waverley’s two protectors at the hospital, was a very tall, very solid black Agent named Jason. He was played by Roosevelt ‘Rosey’ Grice, football player turned actor and singer. He would be the man who wrestled the gun from the hand of Sirhan Sirhan in 1968, the assassin of Bobby Kennedy. Sobering thought. Thank God we cannot see what is to come to us.
Oddly enough, though this episode didn’t go out until very late in the series, according to imdb it was actually only the third to actually be filmed, and the second to feature Ilya, who’s in serious, steamy and sinister mode throughout, long before the series really worked out how to play him.
There are a lot of ins and outs before Waverley gets saved. Dr Dabree short-sightedly falls down an elevator shaft, Dr Elmont has his brain softened when Cecille, despite being bound and gagged and her blouse straining mightily to keep her intact, hops across the room and pushes the button with her cute nose, and the names and addresses spilt by Waverley under hypnotic duress turn out to be fakes he’s been pre-programmed to give out if ever this happens (damn clever these Red Chinese – I’m sorry, U.N.C.L.E.) so all’s well that ends well.
Except… Dr Dabree was not found at the bottom of her liftshaft, nor was the beauteous Nurse Flostone. No, she’s spirited the fanatical Doctor saway, have first splinted and bandaged all the broken bits. Lanchester is still in full flow, promising Flostone that she will seek revenge on Napoleon Solo for her, she will not rest…
But though she kept acting until 1980, by when she was in her late seventies, neither Elsa Lanchester nor Dr Dabree, nor Nurse Flostone, made good on that threat, as it was clearly decided that, THRUSH itself as an umbrella organisation excepted, the series would not deal in recurring villains. Pity.
Overall, a good and solid episode. I wouldn’t call it a classic myself, but it did keep stupidity to a minimum, it kept its momentum up, it threw a lot at the wall, pretty much all of which stuck and I have never found it a burden to look at Yvonne Craig for forty-five minutes. I’d have preferred her to be in colour, though.