The Man from U.N.C.L.E.: s01 e14 – The Terbuf Affair


Uncle

Inconsistency, thy name is U.N.C.L.E. season 1! Aside from the ridiculous title (Terbuf is supposed to be a small Balkan nation, on the Adriatic Coast), this was a perfect example of the kind of episode I’ve been expecting all along, and precisely because David McCallum was allowed to play a full role this week, both in tandem with Robert Vaughn and in his own right. It made a taut, well-written story even more fun by bringing in the kind of light-hearted approach to deadly danger that I associate with my mental impression of the show.

What we have is a Police State (much of the Balkans in that era was subsumed in the now-dissolved Yugoslavia, a Communist state independent of the USSR) whose Head of Secret Police, Colonel Morisco (played by Alan Caillou with a wonderful RAF-style fluffed out moustache) is diverting very large portions of the country’s foreign aid into his own pocket. A gypsy named Emil (Jacques Aubuchon) has obtained letters proving this and is trying to get out of the country with them. An attractive Amarican woman, Clara Valder (Madlyn Rhue, later to make a memorable guest appearance in Star Trek wearing skirts a damned sight shorter than she does here) is trying unsuccessfully to get Emil out of the country. Little does she know that her tall, upstanding sheep-farmer husband, Stefan (Kurt Kreuger) is not only passing every detail to Colonel Morisco, he’s in on the appropriating. But when he tries to bargain with the Colonel to hand over Emil in exchange for Clara being untouched, the Colonel gets a bit shirty – he does not like people who try to bargain with him – and sends Stefan off to torture, just like any other political prisoner, and introduces Major Vicek (Albert Paulsen) to the scheme.

We now cut to Rome, and Agents Solo and Kuryakin on leave, looking for the place that cooks the perfect veal parigan, when they find themselves being herded by gypsies, to meet with Clara Valder. Who, seven years ago, as Clara Richards, had a thing with Napoleon, in whose heart the flame is still alight. Clara wants Napoleon’s help with Emil. Ilya, with his Russian sense of pessimism, as well as his innately cynical turn of mind, adds himself to this voluntary mission, figuring that Napoleon is going to need someone who can keep his mind on the job.

It’s a wonderfully poised set-up. Napoleon arrives openly by train, met by Clara at the main railroad station, two-horse affair that it is, and introducing him to her ‘husband Stefan’ or, as she dare not give away, Major Vicek. Ilya turns up on a fishing boat, in the harbour, which will take Emil out unobtrusively with the fishing fleet, an hour after dawn tomorrow. Not much time then.

What follows is a wonderfully rambunctious affair of gaining the gypsies’ trust, uncovering the false Stefan, rescuing Clara, going before the firing squad and bashing their way out of the country against overwhelming odds. In short, a top-notch U.N.C.L.E. affair full of fun and frolics. The balance between the seriousness of the situation and the carelessness of attitude with which our Men approach it is beautifully maintained, and Madlyn Rhue spends the last third of the episode in her nightie, though with her dressing gown on over it, boo, hiss (she really was an attractive woman, who I’d never heard of before).

The episode ended on a bittersweet note that was, in itself, a moment of poignant genius. Everyone’s getting away on the fishing boat. Napoleon and Clara are handcuffed together but she is fawning over the wounded Stefan, eyes and thoughts only for him. She doesn’t know he’s a rat, nobody does, only the audience. He’s just her husband and she loves him. Ilya, spotting the sadness in Napoleon and sympathising in his reserved and unemotional manner, says they’ll get the handcuffs freed once they’re in Italy. And Robert Vaughn delivers the last line with perfect grace: “There’s no hurry,” he says, “they’re not holding anything together.”

This episode is more or less the middle of season 1. To be honest, I’ve been disappointed so far and thinking of putting the boxset on eBay once I get to the end of it. I’m not saying I won’t, but if they can manage to keep this up for the back half of the season, I’ll definitely be hanging on to it. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.: s01 e13 – The King of Knaves Affair


Uncle

At this point, almost halfway through the first series, the best word to describe The Man from U.N.C.L.E. so far is Uneven. This week’s episode was a good example of what I mean.

It begins with Messrs Solo and Kuryakin employing surveillance on company Executive Mr Bardington and racketeer Angel Gilray upon instructions from a non-appearing Mr Waverley. Angel wants to acquire uranium from Bardington and, when he refuses, knifes him. He’s then grabbed, bundled into a car and driven away.

Our agents have to do better. Apparently, they (and the absent Mr Waverley, or rather mainly him) are the only ones in the whole of U.N.C.L.E. who believe in this uranium plot, and everyone else will be correct as it will turn out to be no more than a fantasy, concocted to attract the right, i.e., wrong sort of people. For the moment though, and for no better reason than that Angel mentioned money being in a bank there, Solo and Kuryakin transfer operations to U.N.C.L.E. Rome.

It’s a nice touch to have access to Rome HQ being practically identical to New York – behind a Del Florio’s dry cleaner, a pretty receptionist (Tanya Lemani) who will shortly double as a scantily-clad belly dancer, and a station head in Mr Venerdi (Gregory Morton) – though the pattern is marred slightly by an austere, aloof, deputy section chief in Gemma (hard G) Lusso, played by the stunning Arlene Martel.

Gemma , however, is not our female guest star. That role, the innocent bystander, goes to Diane Millay as Ernestine Pepper. And that’s the episode’s biggest mistake.

I mean no disrespect to Miss Millay in saying that, as any actor is constrained by her material. The plot is about restoring a deposed despotic Middle Eastern King, Fasik el Pasad (Paul Stevens, looking saturnine) to his throne but first of all destroying his country’s economy and morale, and it’s a decent enough story, but in the middle of it, a lady named Ernestine Pepper sticks out like a sore thumb.

The episode even admits it. Ernestine is an American lady in Rome to hunt for Angel. She’s a legal secretary, and a Notary Public, it just so happens, formerly secretary to the late Mr Heggenheimer. Mr H has left a widow, Shirley, and four children to whom he left all his worldly goods by Will, except that the Will has been challenged as a forgery (by whom? On what grounds? Who else is he supposed to leave his money too? If the Will is brought down, wouldn’t his estate go to his next of kin, i.e., the Widow Heggenheimer?) (You can tell I used to be a Probate lawyer, can’t you?)

If the whole basis for Ernestine’s appearance isn’t already implausible, to put it kindly, it turns out that she’s looking for Angel as the only surviving witness who can prove the Will valid and save Shirley and her brood from destitution. And whilst she may well be influenced by a touch of the green-eye, Gemma is convinced Ernestine is actually an Agent for someone, and not a good one, because her cover story is too complicated.

That, in itself, is a capsule demonstration of U.N.C.L.E.‘s weakness. On the one hand a plausible, and sometimes almost impressive plot to restore a King, on the other a stupid and implausible story about an American secretary on a convoluted Samaritan trip shoved right into the middle of it. And whilst I know the U.N.C.L.E. formula calls for a layman to get entangled into the story, the series would have done far better to make the cool, smooth and clearly superior Signorina Lusso its female guest star rather than the ditsy Ernestine. Ernestine, I ask you!

Aside from her, things are well run. The King, Fasik el Pasad, who apparently comes from an absolute dynasty of Fasik’s is using the uranium rumour as a recruiting tool, in which he isn’t taking no for an answer. That’s what draws Angel in to begin with, and the same goes for Solo. Both are seized and impressed, in the old Royal Navy manner, made into subjects of the King whether they want it or not. Since servitude will lead to Baronies and land and the like, Angel’s ok with that. The higher ranks of nobility are reserved for Fasik’s upper echelon, the kind of despicable rich who treat themselves to luxury, who have got there by methods that might not have been illegal but which are definitely not clean, and who are only too willing to use their talents to bring down this unnamed country, just because there’s something more in it for them.

What trips things up for Solo, at every step, is the egregious Ernestine. I was in agrement with the sultry Gemma, except I thought Miss Pepper’s ‘cover’ was too stupid rather than too complicated: either way, I couldn’t believe in it for a second. It only comes out after she invades Napoleon’s hotel bedroom – he was wearing pajamas, what did you think? – with a gun in hand, though he’s quick to realise she hasn’t got it in her to shoot.

But Fasad is worried about her. Who is she, what does she want, why is she after Angel Gillray and, most inmportantly, if she’s something to do with the future Baron Solo, can he trust our hero? There’s one way to find out: have Solo execute her. Ah, yes, the old staple. Of course Napoleon has to give himself away (though to be fair she wasn’t so irritating that I’d have suggested he did shoot her).

But the escaping pair can’t get far before they’re cornered, which always is the case in walled villas, so Napoleon has to fight a duel with Fasad, using sabres, at which the King is a lifeling expert. Still, Ilya hasn’t been totally forgotten, and here he is, leading the cavalry, Vernardi, Gemma (switched sadly to cavalry trousers) and U.N.C.L.E. Italy’s bunch of agents to a rescue that saves the day.

So what do we end on? Ernestine badgering Angel in his cell and getting him to sign the affadavit she’s carried her seal all this way to notarise. Talk about a bathetic ending, and no, I haven’t misspelled that, though the other word wouldn’t be amiss here, either. Maybe if she hadn’t been called Ernestine? No, probably not.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: s01 e11 – The Neptune Affair


Uncle

I’m almost a dozen episodes into the first season of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and what strikes me most thus far is the inconsistency of the scripts. By this, I don’t mean the individual quality of an episode in either plotting or dialogue, though ‘The Neptune Affair’ came as a great disappointment after last week’s excellent outing, but rather the consistency of the set-up. Episode 11 struck out Mr Waverley completely, restricted Ilya to another almost imperceptible cameo and brought back May Heatherly as Agent Heather McNabb (sunning herself under a sunlamp in her bikini again). That left us with another Robert Vaughn solo, the original idea for the series. It’s leaving me with the impression that the scripts for the first season were written in advance, following a clear line of development, and then thrown into the air and filmed in whatever order they came down.

It’s perhaps easy enough to account for Leo G Carroll’s absence from the episode when you consider that the actor was in his late seventies when U.N.C.L.E. started, and I’ve noticed a couple of times that he seemed a little shaky in his brief appearances, especially when he was called upon to stand and walk, but this sidelining of David McCallum, especially as he’d already proved his merit as a sidekick, is illogical.

Ilya’s written out this time as serving in Russia, in uniform, in some never-explained capacity. Capsules containing some biological weapon in the form of a fungus are being fired by rocket from somewhere near the California coast. The fungus is destroying the Russian wheat harvest. Russia is not happy about this and if it happens again, will not limit itself to verbal protest. So Ilya goes back to Russia whilst Napoleon, under the tutelage of Miss McNabb, becomes country-boy-made-good Harvey Muller, a bumptious, crackerbarrel talker and all-round irritant and sails towards the missing scientist, Dr Lavimore, last known whereabouts being Southport.

Sadly, this is not the Southport with which I am most familiar – I mean, you can see the sea! – and Solo’s approach is complicated by his leaving his sloop to drift away whilst he launches a surfboard to rescue a nearly-dead man who’s just popped out of an explosion of bubbles in the ocean. This encounter is meant to introduce Solo to two of the guest stars in the episode, Gabe Melcroft (Jeffrey Slate), who sails an outrigger and who rubbishes Solo’s story of the bubbles in a way that couldn’t be more suspicious if it had been caught with jam on its fingers, and one of his crew-members, a blonde bombshell teenager played by Marta Kristen (who will, the following year, go on to stardom playing Judy Robinson in Lost in Space. Miss Kristen, who wore a heavy seaman’s jersey and white duck trousers throught, was revealed, after a few foolish words from ‘Harvey’ to be Felicia Lavimore, daughter to the missing doctor and concerned about his whereabouts, and fiancee to hearty Gabe.

Actually, the plot was pretty weak and subject to cliche. There’s this secret organisation that’s been organised by scientist Vincent Lockridge (Henry Jones), discoverer of the fungus. In order to reorganise the world it intends to foment war between America and Russia to break both and allow this secret organisation – which must number all of two dozen – to reform the new world. China? What China?

Having to believe in the ability of this lot to threaten the world placed an unsustainable burden on the already fragile credibility of the plot. After a pointless sequence in which ‘Harvey’ goes out night-fishing on the outrigger, he and Felicia invade the oiltower in the bay that’s not in any way the obvious base for these unemotional, logical scientists. They’re a very professional organisation: one failure and you’re dead, and when Solo locks himself and Lockridge in an air-tight chamber, they’re already dead. Only until the air runs out… And Lockridge is full of how he is unimportant, the organisation matters, the plan will go on without him.

We all know. At the last second, taunted by Solo over how he won’t see his own olan work, Lockridge pleads for help from his protege, Gabe, who’s a bit of a moral weather-vane, twisting this way and that. Of course, Gabe ends up killing his mentor in a struggle over a gun, allowing Solo, with Gabe, to save the day in a flustered ending that involves walking past a cop by saying he wouldn’t believe them anyway (exactly the sort of excuse that keeps the fuzz off your back: I suspect it’s what Bozo Johnson says to the Met every day).

No doubt about it, this was as poor an episode as last week’s was good, a trite story poorly developed, eked out with scenes by no means germane to the story, in which Marta Kristen and May Heatherly in a bikini were basically the only redeeming factors. Inconsistency, thy name is The Man fron U.N.C.L.E.

Incidentally, as everyone else mentions it, this episode features one of the worst jobs of over-dubbing seen in a major TV series. As scripted and performed, one element of the story was freon gas, but only after filming was completed did anyone check to discover that freon was a commercially registered term, and no permission had been obtained to use it. So every instance of the word had to be over-dubbed as hydro, irrespective of what the actor’s lips were saying. And since the cast couldn’t be got back together, one actor over-dubbed everyone, including the actor who was using a German accent, except that the dubber wasn’t…

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.: s01 e10 – The Finny Foot Affair


Uncle

With a title like ‘The Finny Foot Affair’, I was understandably wary of this latest episode. However, I had no need to fear, there being a simple and indeed logical explanation, delivered during an autopsy on a common-eared seal, or pini pedia (spelling?), or ‘finny foot’.

The title may have been serious but the episode, despite its thriller plot, was not. This was the U.N.C.L.E. I remember and love in that, whereas the story was serious enough, the tracing and securing (or destroying) of a chemical compound that causes rapid ageing and death, it was still only an extended McGuffin for the fun of pairing Napoleon Solo up on his mission with a 13 year old boy in search of a suitable second husband for his widowed mother! Add in that the 13 year old boy, Christopher Larson, was played by a young Kurt Russell, and we were in for a treat.

The episode went out of its way to present us with a disturbing open. Dressed in what we would now call hazmat suits, Messrs Solo and Kuryakin descend by helicopter onto the harboutr of an ‘island off Scotland’. Before they depart the copter, they put on spacesuit helmets. They clump around a still and silent town. There are no words until over five and half minutes into the episode and these are spoken elsewhere by General Yakura, the villain (Leonard Strong). Here and there, the fallen figures of old men lie where they died. By the surgery, the men from U.N.C.L.E. find a wooden crate which they remove and fly away. It’s a spooky sequence, which ends, after the General (who is Japanese and not Chinese as I automatically assumed, China being an enemy and Japan an ally, except that this is still less than twenty years from the end of the Second World War) orders the helicopter brought down, with Ilya taking a bullet in the shoulder which sets him up to disappear from the show again.

After a sequence in London (cue red bus in black and white) that features the autopsy and the explanation of episode title, Solo is sent to Norway to find the chemical compound. Enter young Christopher, at the airport, clearly on the look-out for someone to give his mother – who is beautiful and a great cook, you’ll lover her, he tells the clearly amused Napoleon – some new orgasms. Chris attaches himself to our man Solo as only a determined kid whose voice hasn’t yet broken can. Nothing Solo can do can shift him. Even when he’s temporarily sent to watch out for an international spy who’s short, fat and wears a black patch over one eye, Chris sees U.N.C.L.E. agent Henderson drawn into a fight and stabbed, and handed to him the mysterious ring with miniature telescope attached tat’s meant for Napoleon, along with the even more mysterious message, ‘Marry the Maiden’.

To do this, Chris has to swap his New York flight for one to Bergen in Norway (which he was doing anyway). After that, there’s no way of getting rid of him, what woth Yakura’s men hanging around Solo in a none-too-subtle manner and taking him hostage to use against Solo. But, on the plane, Chris has demonstrated a joke he’s bought, a little black box with a small lever. Flick the lever to switch it on and it rumbles conspicuously until a lid opens, a small plastic hand reaches to the the lever – and switches it off. Of course I immediately thought of the pass-taker in The Prisoner episode, ‘The General’, an actual Japanese toy, and wonderfully, this black box was made by the same people, and was the Mark 1 of the idea! And it’s not just there for show, either, though I’d love it if it were, but when Yakura is quizzing Napoleon in that wonderfully cliched mixture of do-not-try-my-patience and I-do-not-believe-you, Solo claims the sought-after-compound is hidden in the little black box: just push the lever. And when everyone is distracted, he grabs a gun and shoots one bodyguard before taking Yakura hostage to get them out!

The final sequence is in the town of Stromberg, where I got to the Marry the Maiden but before Solo, but then so would the whole audience so I’m not claiming to be clever. It was a neat idea, however. As was Solo discovering a direction-finder clipped to Chris’s pants-waist. To throw the General off the track, he attached it to the collar of the gorgeous dog Chris was throwing sticks for, hurled the stick into the harbopur and scooted whilst the mutt was swimming for it. And when Solo led Chris to the cave he’d seen through the miniature telescope, once the ring was placed on the third finger left hand of the Maiden of Norway sculpture, guess what? The dog found them, setting up the climactic shoot-out in which Yakura bites it and his beautiful (and very voluptuous) girl aide speaks her only line. She was Tura Satana, later to be the star of Russ Meyer’s famous Faster Pussycat… Kill! Kill!

So all that was left was to be the comic pay-off. All throughout the episode, young Chris was describing his mother as beautiful, and ofering to show Napoleon her picture, which he kept brushing off. I immediately suspected she would be genuinely gorgeous. And so Solo delivered Chris to New York, where his mother was waiting to collect him. But Chris has changed his mind: his mother needs a stable and regulare sex-… I mean, home life, but as Napoleon is an international spy who’ll be off on missions, he’s not suitable: Chris will keep looking.

It’s a disappointment Solo feels he can bear, especially when Chris points out his mother waving, a sallow-faced, prominent-teethed, glasses wearing fright of a woman. Who’s waving to her husband. The woman who steps out from behind to hug Chris is an absolute doll…

Oh yes, favourite episode to date.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.: s01 e09 – The Project Strigas Affair


Uncle

Small things, they say, amuse small minds, and thus my mind must be small today, for I was immediately amused to see that this episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. not only featured William Shatner as its main Guest Star, popping up in the credits, but that one of the co-stars was none other than Leonard Nimoy, shortly before the two started filming on Star Trek. Not that the two had much screen-time together, only two short scenes lasting less than about two-and-a-half minutes all told.

However, the episode itself was well worth the watching for its clever and entertaining plot, even if this teetered a couple of times in its early stages through confusing handling. We began with Ambassador Kurasov of a small Balkan state pounding his fist on his desk whilst histrionically denouncing both East and West as warmongers. He’s practicing his speech in front of the United Nations. Mr Waverley has him pegged as a dangerous figure, set on edging the two sides into a War that will leave his country primed to pick up the pieces. Mr Waverley wants him removed from the scene. Permanently.

But not in any way that can make him a cause celebre. This rules out asassination. Best to have his own country remove him, from within. For what reason? This is where it gets not only clever, but elegant with it.

A man with a knife in his back staggers into the Embassy, closely followed by two cops, who have no right being there. They plead that the man, stabbed in the back in a street argument, just outside, is badly injured, that he needs to be got to a hospital immediately. The victim, driven by a kind of dearh-bed obsession, throws himself at Kurasov’s feet, gasps out the word ‘Strigas’ and a code. The Ambassador, though plainly suspicious, accedes to the cops’ request. The man is from Section 3 at U.N.C.L.E. and is completely unharmed. The word is implanted.

What is Strigas? To deal with this, Solo and Kuryakin bring in our civilians, husband and wife Mike and Ann Donfield (Peggy Ann Garner). Mike’s a talented chemical engineer who, a year ago, quit a highly paid job to run his own business, in Pest Extermination, with his wife. Mike’s also going under in a big way, but he’s the perfect carrot to dangle in front of Kurasov’s eyes, because he is 100% genuine and rbeal. Up to this point.

You see, Mike is involved in ‘Project Strigas’. Invited to an Embassy Ball, and escorted by Napoleon Solo, he gets ‘drunk’ and lets slip about Strigas, catching the Ambassador’s attention, and also briefly being assisted out by Solo and the Ambassador’s Aide, Vladek, whom the Ambassador scorns and regards as stupid. Vladek is Leonard Nimoy.

Also attending the party is one Colonel Mikealovic Donyev, courier from the President, with a sub-Tolstoy-esque black wig and bushy moustache. The Colonel has a word of warning for Kurasov. His position at home, his place in the succession to the Presidency, is threatened by enemies. He needs an unassailable coup. Something like, say, Strigas. Donyev is obviously Ilya.

So the stage is set, the trap is ready to spring, all that’s need is for the rabbit to hop, inexorably, into it. And Kurasov is hot for it, even at a price of $1,000,000. Nevertheless, he takes precautions. His Intelligence officer, the crew-cutted Linkwood, tapes and films Mike’s demands for a pay-off to sell out his country to put Mike under his power.

The deal is done, the exchange is set up, a suitcase with $900,000 balance in exchange for the papers. The formula is verified by Colonel Donyev to ensure it is real, not a con, the formula for that ridiculous capitalist product, floor wax. But Vladek is not so stupid as the Ambassador constantly berates him as being, even if it’s concern that Donyev is out to replace him. He’s cabled the President, in Kurasov’s name, and the President has no knowledge of the Colonel. Nimoy holds Shatner at gunpoint. The plan is bust. To escape questioning, Donyev bites down on a suicide pill, cyanide. Kurasov gives Mike an hour to dispose of the body or he’ll be framed for murder.

Dammit, they’ve blown it. Mr Waverley will not be pleased. He’s likely to be sarcastic at them. Until Napoleon comes up with a brilliant saver. Linkwood returns to check the body has been moved. It hasn’t. Instead, it moves itself, knocking him out. At U.N.C.L.E. HQ, he’s conned into thinking he’s had a truth drug administered, when it’s only a strong Turkish cigarette. But he’s already given up enough information to ensure his death at home for it, and, just like Donfield, he’s been taped and filmed doing it…

So Linkwood goes back, suitably coached, to spring the surprise that Donyev was genuine after all, and the President didn’t know about him because he was put in by Colonel Koladin, the Intelligence Chief. That’s it, they’re all dead, unless the Ambassador can resurrect his coup with Strigas, the wonder nerve gas that doesn’t kill but puts entire populations to sleep whilst you conquer their country at a stroll. The Donfields are going on the run, until Kurasov turns up with his suitcase of cash and takes the formula in exchange.

The formula for Strigas. The formula for… floor wax. Whilst $1,000,000 of Government money, serial numbers retained by Colonel Loladin, turns up in the Ambassador’s safe deposit box in Switzerland, the one the Colonel’s men have been watching for days, ever since a tip-off… Yes, Kurasov is recalled to his Homeland. But not in glory. And the new Ambassador is… Vladek.

Watching this clearly reminded me of ‘Hammer into Anvil’ from The Prisoner, the careful construction of a con to surround a figure you wish to destroy. There are a multitude of differences, in that Number 2 in The Prisoner was a paranoid figure, responding to a bizarre series of revelations that had no real core or actual cohesion, whereas here Solo and Kuryakin built a complete, plausible scenario without loose ends, but in both cases the intention was the same, to play on the target’s most forceful characteristic by letting then believe something that wasn’t true, and it was beautiful to watch it when a plan comes together.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.: s01 e08 – The Double Affair


Uncle

Firstly, a cheer for the removal of the asinine opening with the three main characters explaining who they were to camera, and its replacement by the opening we all remember, taken from the pilot, with Napoleon Solo standing behind bulletproof glass whilst a shadow with a gun fires at him, turning the glass into threads: yay!

As for the story itself, this was a fascinating mixture of impressiveness and confusion, erected on a basis of Cold War SF and that old staple of US TV, the hero playing himself and his double. Solo is the lead agent on a courier mission, involving himself, Ilya and two other U.N.C.L.E. agents, from the Sicilian and Liberian branches respectively. They are to collect a briefcase in Washington and deliver it to Switzerland. It contains a combination: each August this combination is changed in conditions of the highest secrecy. THRUSH intends to take that combination for themselves, preparatory to a military attack that will enable them to seize the contents of an underground vault, which they will use to make themselves masters of all.

It’s a simple, straightforward, effective thriller story and in that aspect it’s executed in conditions of utter seriousness. There are some well-handled silent sequences, involving security taken with great thoroughness that add to the overall atmosphere, and which do not give the impression of being time-fillers. And the secret of the vault has an almost mystical aspect to it. It isn’t explained beyond being a source of energy far more powerful than nuclear weapons, that destroys people by drawing them in, like moths to a flame: needless to say, it’s the black guy who demonstrates this at work, an unwelcome touch.

THRUSH’s tactic to infiltrate this process is to turn one of their agents into a double of Napoleon Solo, perfect and indistinguishable from the original in every respect but one: his kisses aren’t up to scratch.

Now this is the archetypal Man from U.N.C.L.E. move, the intrusion of the jokiness. It stands out against a more-than-usually serious story, but it’s allowable in itself. Unfortunately, this is the point where the confused side of things starts to play.

Solo is having dinner with a new date, Air Hostess Sandy Wister (Sharon Farrell), an attractive blonde, when he is called away to meet Serena, beautiful girl THRUSH Agent (another one), played by Austrian actress Senta Berger. Of course, Sandy reacts badly to her date sneaking off to enter heavy discussions with another woman even before the food has been served, and demonstrates this by tipping a whole plate of spaghetti down Solo’s shoulder.

A small, indeed trivial incident, but Sandy is a guest star. She comes back into the story when the four U.N.C.L.E. agents are flying to Switzerland, Fake Solo having been accepted for real by everybody, because she’s one of the Stewardesses. And Fake Solo has no idea who she is.

This is the hinge point of the episode. Sandy is the only one who can identify Fake Solo as being fake, because he genuinely doesn’t know her. She will be the means of exposing him at the critical moment. It’s a classic U.N.C.L.E. trick, a classic dramatic point. What else is she in the story for?

Except that she doesn’t. Right up to the last minute, she thinks Fake Solo is real. I’m all for different dramatic paths, setting up then bypassing clixhes with original and witty alternatives, but this just doesn’t work for a second. Certain stories demand the proper form, the correct use of dramatic devices, and if you’re going to explode such situations then you’d better have a good role for the character to fulfil or you have a useless appendage, flapping round in the wind.

In fact, the story goes out of its way to inefectualy avoid Fake Solo being exposed. He has a loose button on his jacket. When he’s secretly opening the case and photoing the combination, the button gets caught inside and snaps off. Blatant clue. In the vault, Liberian guy spots the button in the case, the clue that the case has been interfered with. Highly trained U.N.C.L.E. agent that he is, on a supersecret mission, he immediately draws his gun on Fake Solo, alerts everyone to a breach of mission security, saves the day. Wait, actually, he doesn’t: he stands there wondering, slower on the uptake than the slowest member of the audience, until Fake Solo, realising he’s been blown, rips off the black guy’s protective goggles and shoves him into the path of this energy source without anyone else noticing.

I mean, I get it. If someone exposes Fake Solo, how can Real Solo save the day in the end? Even then, he doesn’t, quite. He and Fake are having a good, evenly matched fight and Serena shoots, only to hit and kill Fake. Accident or… After all, Real Solo is the only one who kisses like Real Solo, as Sandy can attest in the closing moments.

The point of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is to offer a light-hearted, breezy, fun take on international espionage. I learned a lesson off today’s episode, in that for the mixture to work, the serious and the fantastic have to be in balance. I already knew from plenty of failed endeavours that let the comedy overbalance things: now I understand that the drama cannot be too strong or ekse the comedy fails by being there at all. Useful to know.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.: s01 e07 – The Giuoco Piano Affair


Uncle

Now this was more of the sort of thing I was expecting. ‘The Giuoco Piano Affair’ took its title from a chess gambit designed to draw the Queen out, not that I knew that until Napoleon Solo kindly explained it to the villain of the piece, Gervaise Ravel. Yes, the episode was instantly intriguing when the two Guest Stars turned out to once again be Jill Ireland as Marion Raven and Anne Francis as the afore-mentioned Gervaise.

The meat of the story was that, although U.N.C.L.E. had destroyed the lovely but ambitious Gervaise’s organisation in ‘The Quadripartite Affair’, the lady still hadn’t given up on the notion of taking over the world, with the benefit of boyfriend Harold Bufferton’s extreme wealth. U.N.C.L.E. has no intention of letting her start to rebuild and has been pursuing her remorselessly, thugh the Agent who’s doing some splendid rock scrambling at the start is killed off sadly by the evil pair.

So something is needed to draw Miss Ravel out (Anne Francis in tight blouse, jodhpurs and knee-length boots, cor!). That something is Mr Solo. In a slightly convoluted scheme, Ilya visits the ditzy Marion Raven to ask her to risk her life by acting as a blonde decoy in a South American resort. Marion is the bait, though not for Gervaise but rather U.N.C.L.E. It’s a two-level operation: Marion will accompany Solo to Barranquita where she will be kidnapped by Miss Ravel to be used as bait to draw in our man Napoleon. You can see where the chess gambit applies.

And the double level persists. Solo buys Marion a silver locket into which he places a radio tracker that he and Ilya, Triangulating from two separate locations (Ilya gets the cave in the mountains, of course) can folow her. It’s obvious and easy to penetrate, and its duly destroyed almost as soon as Marion is taken, but that’s the twist. Because she has a second radio-transmitter implanted under her skin (which they eventually discover as well, but not before Marion’s been taken to their Andean base).

And the double theme was further extended by the introduction of Lieutenant Manuera (James Frewley), Solo’s Police liaison for the Affair, recommended as an honest cop. But even honest cops can be turned by a large enough bribe, especially ones with large families, so Manuera ended up playing both sides, and flip-flopping from one to the other, until the final switch pulled by Solo.

Before then we’d had a scene of some poignancy. Throughout both episodes, James van Dreelen portrayed Bufferton as a very casual character, treating life as some form of joke. It was an amoral stance rather than actively evil. Here, talking to Marion, who was trying get a raise out of him by taunting with the fact that Gervaise doesn’t love him, Harold agrees. Indeed, he almost boasts of it, that the two tragedies of his life were discovering an emerald mine that gave him so much wealth he had no idea what to do with it, and falling in love with Gervaise. He’s reconciled to her not loving him, as long as he can be with her and do what he can to fulfil her desires. After all, with his money, and the unspoken question of whether any woman loves him or his bank account, he is used to having to buy love.

Even so, she might love him. The only way he’ll ever know if she does is if she weeps at his grave. The moment he said that I was anticipating the outcome: Harold is shot by Ilya whilst he’s getting Marion out. And in a sentimental touch that had been made real by van Dreelen’s almost thrown away self-examination, Gervaise weeps over him, and Harold is still alive for enough moments for him to see and hear that.

Anne Francis never returned to The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Marion Raven was considered for a recurring role but the idea was killed off. She would appear three more times in later seasons, playing two more different characters, but a more permanent role was out of the question once she and David McCallum separated, later to divorce. At least they had conspicuous fun in these two episodes.

Incidentally, the episode was topped and tailed by a never-ending party scene in Marion’s apartment. Episode Director Richard (credited as Dick) Donner had a cameo as a drunk guest, whilst series creator Sam Rolfe also appeared in this episode. His part was tagged as ‘Texan’ and since there wasn’t any kind of Texan character in the story, he must have been another guest, not that I have any clue which, but as there was a guy there sat at a typewriter…

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.: s01 e06 – The Green Opal Affair


Uncle

Ouch.

This was a perfect example of how to turn a basically decent thriller plot into a piece of utter nonsense, and the first real schtumer of the series. From the title on down, the story was plagued by things that turned the notion of story-logic into a colander.

The basic idea was sound: an U.N.C.L.E. Agent suddenly turns renegade inside New York headquarters, attacking Heather McNabb (May Heatherly getting an extended cameo for a pleasant change) before suffering a fit and forcing out the words ‘Green Opal Brach’ before going catatonic, and eventually dying offscreen.

Brach is millionaire eccentric Walter G. Brach (a pre-Archie Bunker Carroll O’Connor), who cruises down to Mexico every year on the 9th of September. Napoleon Solo substitutes for his temporarily-detained secretary, looking and dressing prissy (this is another Robert Vaughn solo, with Ilya confined to a minor role at start and finish and Mr Waverly absent).

However, Brach is an agent of THRUSH and the whole thing is a set-up to capture Solo. Brach is running a former Nazi doctor who has developed a sophisticated brain operation that inculcates absolute loyalty to Brach and THRUSH. This is being used on people with the potential to rise in their operations, to high level, people with skill, knowledge and verve who, in the future will act at THRUSH’s command. Brach anticipates Solo rising to be head of U.N.C.L.E.

Naturally, Solo wins the day and Brach is killed.

It’s nothing exceptional as a story but it has clear potential as 48 minutes of prime-time TV. But it’s loaded down with supposedly clever stuff that attempts to add a layer of the outre but which just sinks the story under the weight of its own pretention.

Firstly, just before Agent George Tenley (Scott Graham) cracks up, we find Ilya in the conference room with the baseball bat, which he’s using to bat around a squsare block, with a knife-blade at each end, hung by a rope from the ceiling. It’s supposed to be a training exercise, emphasising reflexes but it’s simply bullshit that has nothing to do with the story.

Next up is the words Green Opal, gritted out by Tenley and giving the episode its title. More nonsense. Nothing green, or opal-like, has anything to do with the story: they’re just words. He could have said Heliotrope Banjo instead for all the difference it would have made.

Then we’re in Mexico where it’s demonstrated that Brach – an eccentric in black sunglasses concealing his eyes, into numerology (already built-up as seemingly significant, point of this to the story: none) and health foods, mostly smoothies created in a blender out of ridiculous and off-putting ingredients, served up by his nutritionist Mrs Karda, played by Dovima, a tall, grave woman with an endless wardrobe of sleeveless tops and leg-hugging slacks. Again, it’s eccentricity for the sake of eccebtricity, which can be carried off in a solidly-based story, but this is anything but.

We also have it established that sharks are fed from this landing and now turn up at meal-times. This is to foreshadow the ending but the one thing ommitted is why? Why attract sharks in to feed? Oh, yes, I know, it’s eccentric.

Next, up pops our civilian-of-the-week. This is Maryland housewife Chris Brinel (Joan O’Brien), a buxom woman in a tight dress and blonde hair that miraculously turns back into its original style after a prolonged ducking in the creek. Chris has been kidnapped from the supermarket, is trying to get away and falls in with Napoleon in the first extended chase sequence which gives the overpowering impression of being extended so as to fill screen-minutes and save further plot development.

But why Chris? She loves her husband David, a potential engineering genius, but was going on a trial separation because of his lack of ambition. The logic of the set-up would have Brach kidnap David, have the Doctor adjust his brain and send him back but instead they’re going to adjust Chris’s brain (cut cruel and unfair comment here) so that she will drive him to be ambitious.

That is the nail in the coffin of any idea that the story makes sense but there’s an even more egregiously stupid pay-off to come. Brach makes much of how the Doctor has operated on everyone, except him, to ensure their absolute loyalty to anything he orders. The plan is for the converted Solo to take someone back as the ‘Mastermind’, who will confess than be shot dead, by Solo, whilst attempting to escape. At first, this is supposed to be Chuke, his burly Indian bodyguard who can barely speak a word of English, oh yes, so plausible but after Chuke is electrocuted, the role of victim switched to the statuesque Mrs Karda. Who promptly pushed Brach and his wheelchair into the bay just when the sharks have turned up from brunch.

And how is it that Mrs Karda has overcome her brain-alteration conditioning? Because she never underwent it. She persuaded the Doctor that it wasn’t necessary, and we are meant to infer that she convinced him of this fact by screwing him, especially as a scrawny, short-sighted fanatic is not going to get much in the way of tumbles from an ordinary, dumpy hausfrau let alone a hot-to-trot bird like Dovima.

I think by now you’ll get my point. Now that Mrs Karda has murdered their employer in cold blood before everybody’s eyes, they all stand back and let Napoleon and Chris leave, unhindered. And Chris decides to go back to her husband, just like any good 1964 housewife would, and let him be as unambitious and unfulfilled in potential as he wants to be, just as long as he is happy. I may barf.

No, this one did not work, and did it is a big way. The writing was atrocious and the plotting sloppy beyond belief. Next wek’s had better be better.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.: s01 e05 – The Deadly Games Affair


Uncle

For about seventy-five percent of its running time, this episode was a low-key and somewhat shapeless affair, whose plot didn’t seem to hang together or have any real point. Of course, we had already been given a very big clue, in the opening scenes, that fell into place once the mad scientist behind everything gave us the full no-names exposition as the climax neared.

To take things in the order in which they were served up, we began with a bearded individual (who we knew from the credits was Professor Amadeus (Alexander Scourby)) driving a pick-up truck into the woods, to dump an oil barrel into the creek before being interrupted by three boys in a rowboat, driving off, the barrel falling off in the woods and a white-haired man emerging in jerky motion before dropping dead.

Cue Ilya Kuryakin explaining everything to Napoleon Solo (and the audience). The dead man in former Nazi, Major Ernst Neubel, believed dead this past twenty years. Neubel was assigned as security to Dr Volp, a scientist, also believed dead these past twenty years, along with his last, unknown experiment. However, Volp was also an avid stamp collector, and one of his rarest stamps is going under auction tonight. Our men attend to buy it, but so too does an Agent of THRUSH.

This is Angelique, no last name given, played with slinky and steely gusto by Janine Gray. She and Napoloeon are old ‘friends’ and whilst she’d kill him without a qualm, if instructed, the pair do tend to have the odd truce here and there, during which it’s quite obvious that they bonk each others’ brains out. Nevertheless, they are on different sides in this as both THRUSH and U.N.C.L.E. want Dr Wolp and whatever he’s been working on.

Enter college student Chuck Boskirk, played by the fresh-faced Burt Brinkerhoff, and his pretty blonde fiancee Terry Brent (Brooke Bundy). Chuck is the stamp seller. It’s not his stamp, of course, it arrived through the post, anonymously, with instructions, but he gets 10% of the price, amounting to $650, on which he hopes to be able to marry Terry in the summer instead of waiting – in all senses of the word – until Graduation, though with the fair Miss Bundy, who could blame him for impatience?

Everyone wants Volp, who, in case you hadn’t already guessed it, is Professor Amadeus, Science lecturer at Chuck and Terry’s college. Chuck gets kidnapped, twice, the second time by Volp, Angelique finds Volp but fails to convince him to join THRUSH and is tied up herself, Napoleon gets there following Chuck’s homing device but is overcome by fumes. And everything drops into place and the episode suddenly becomes extremely pointed.

It’s now a cliche that no-one of any creative intelligence would dare use but back then, less than twenty years from the end of WW2, it may well have been fresh enough to be startling. Certainly it’s startling enough here, in the fanaticism Volp displays. He doesn’t want THRUSH, he doesn’t need THRUSH, he is aiming higher. He has lost none of his Nazi beliefs. His last great experiment was in suspending animation: now he intends to use Solo’s blood to revive their leader to be a leader to new, disaffected, strong young men. The H-name is never mentioned but does it need to be?

Needless to say, Ilya’s intervention brings the whole thing down in flames, literally, including Volp and his leader, the latter of whom Solo dispatches into the fire. Which gives us time for a happy ending as U.N.C.L.E. treats Chuck and Terry to a world-spanning honeymoon, and Angelique offers our man Napoleon another ‘truce’. Until the next time, no doubt, though she never returned and indeed Miss Gray gave up her acting career only five years later, having also appeared in the first series of Danger Man, in Get Smart, Bewitched and as a presenter on Double Your Money (ask your grandparents).

Taken overall, the ending had a fair amount to make up for, which it did to a large extent, but the episode did itself no favours with its title, and its ongoing theme of Games in the Act titles when the actual story was completely unrelated to games. We’re still feeling our way into what U.N.C.L.E. will become and, after last week, this is a One Step Back. Tune in for more next Tuesday.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E: s01 e04 – The Shark Affair


Uncle

I don’t know what it would have felt like to watch this episode in its original era, in an America still reverbrating from the Cuban Missile Crisis and the assassination of President Kennedy. That world no longer exists in 2021, its tensions and fears receded, to be replaced by the tensions and fears of our times. The story was about living under the shadow of nuclear destruction, imminent nuclear destruction, inevitable nuclear destruction – I know that feeling well, I lived most of my life under that shadow – and about one man’s response: outlandish, wierd and yet strangely noble.

Special Guest Star Robert Culp played the titular Captain Shark, a modern-day Pirate with an almost unfathomable modus operandi, stopping ships in mid-ocean, seizing certain not actually valuable supplies, taking one or more passenger and sinking the ship. What on Earth could he want with a skilled paino-tuner?

This was more like the U.N.C.L.E. I’m waiting to watch, that element of absurdity that characterises the best episodes. It’s starting to break through. Ilya and Solo are interviewing perky, loud-voiced, Brooklyn-accented Elsa Burnman, played by Sue Ann Landen, who has a delightful tip-tilted nose. Elsa is just one of many people around the world whose spuse has answered an add calling for a specialist – librarian in her husband Harry’s case, roof thatcher in another – only to go missing. Immediately I heard the profession of roof thatcher, I knew this had to be connected to the good Captain, but at first Messrs Solo and Kuryakin think they’re on two separate cases, Ilya the missing people, Solo the piracy job.

It’s Ilya who makes the connection. The people being removed by Captain Shark are all related to the missing people – wives, mothers, chidren, sweethearts – but that begs the question of what it’s all about. They know that Elsa has disappeared, having been sent a cruise ticket and money to rejoin Harry. So the two Enforcement Agents are dropped into the middle of the ocean, in the path of Elsa’s boat, complete with cover stories, to be in the right place at the right time. Unfortunately, they’re ‘rescued’ by Captain Shark’s vessel instead.

Culp’s performance, a year out from his starring role alongside Bill Cosby in I-Spy, strikes a strange note. He plays Shark with immense dignity, a Ship’s Captain who is in command, who is working to a plan that involves sinking ships but not hurting people, who acts with an utter calmness and an innate courtesy. This is because, in his own eyes, he is a man on a mission, an important, imperative mission, and one that is wholly beneficial in intent.

This is because he has seen the future, the same future so many of us saw, then and for at least thirty years since, a future in which the rivalries on Earth would lead inexorably to all-out muclear War, and the planet’s destruction. Shark’s mission is to build an Ark, a completely safe and protected environment in which the building blocks of another, better civilisation will survive, to emerge when the toxins disperse and establish a new human race, tied together by its commonality, not its differences, its need for control.

Shark was completely sincere in this. His methods may have been illegal, but in his eyes they were all justified. The ends served, indeed demanded the means, but it was to be done without killing. Culp’s performance underlined the man who was set aside by his mission, and a man who, when his dream was exploded, refused to return to the outside world that he saw no place for himself within, and who, in the best tradition and cliche, was determined to go down with his ship.

In the end, it was that strangeness, and the memory of the times I felt the way Shark felt, that captivated me, yet in amongst the sad madness there was the first flowering of U.N.C.L.E,‘s lightheartedness. The occasional overblown lines, combining flippancy and cynicism, the idea of stranding Solo and Kuryakin in mid-Ocean to do an intercept, Elsa’s completely down to bedrock dottiness. Ah, it’s coming together. All they need to do is lose that mindless talk-to-the-screen introduction and we’ll be flying.