Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The Deadly Decoy Affair”

While parked outside some bizarre bare-bones eatery known as the Cub Room (from the sign on the door: “BREAKFAST 8-9 AM. 9:30-ON VENDING MACHINES ONLY”), Napoleon honks his horn, impatient for Illya to stop dawdling over his morning coffee and cruller: Mr. Waverly has just summoned them to U.N.C.L.E. headquarters to help transport a high-ranking captured THRUSH spy to Washington for interrogation by the CIA. Napoleon makes fun of Illya’s pronunciation of “garage”, Illya looks moody and resentful about his interrupted breakfast, and all is well with the world.

Inside U.N.C.L.E.’s parking garage, heavily-armed THRUSH goons lob bombs filled with poison gas at U.N.C.L.E. agents in an attempt to rescue the captured spy, Egon Stryker (Ralph Taeger). Illya and Napoleon arrive on the scene. Illya leaps out of Napoleon’s car, swings nimbly over a railing, drops into a crouch, and whips out his gun. Fantastic! I thought to myself. This is going to be one of those episodes where Illya is competent! We haven’t had one of those in a long while!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The Her Master’s Voice Affair”

I’m going to kick off this recap with a bold statement: This episode, the season-three premiere, features the absolute worst spy work from Illya that we will ever see over all four seasons of this excellent series. But wait, you say, what about the time Illya spent a whole episode failing to notice THRUSH had replaced Napoleon with an evil doppelganger? Or the time THRUSH tricked him into bringing a live bomb into U.N.C.L.E. headquarters? To which I reply: Yes, those were both terrible moments for Illya… but  he’s even less competent here. Read on, ye mighty, and despair.

Napoleon and Illya are acting as bodyguards for renowned quantum physicist Dr. Matsu (Dale Ishimoto), whom THRUSH has targeted due to his recent iconoclastic breakthroughs in the field of gamma radiation. After picking Dr. Matsu up at the airport, Napoleon and Illya shepherd him back to his lavish Long Island home. Even though it’s the middle of the night, there’s a milk truck parked in the driveway, blasting “Brahms’s Lullaby” over its speakers.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Duranalysis Book Report: Andrew Golub’s Beautiful Colors

Last month I received an email from Andrew Golub, wondering if I’d consider Duranalyzing his book, Beautiful Colors: The Posters of Duran Duran. This was the best idea I’d heard in a very long time.

Andy—well-known in Duran fandom by the irresistible portmanteau “Durandy”—is the world’s leading archivist of Duran Duran memorabilia: posters, photos, books, magazines, press materials, you name it. Much has been written about his collection in publications like The Stranger and The Examiner; I don’t really have a good way to wrap my head around the vastness of his personal archive, but from what I understand, storage lockers are involved. Durandy collects Duran Duran memorabilia the way Nick Rhodes collects art, or Simon Le Bon collects fine wine, or Andy Taylor collects grudges. In other words, it’s a serious business.

Beautiful Colors made waves upon its release in late 2013 for obvious reasons: It’s gorgeous. It’s a heavy, glossy, 260-page hardcover book, impeccably designed and filled with hundreds of full-color images. It’s my new favorite thing in the world.

And yes, the band members are fans, as well they should be:

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The Mad, Mad Tea Party Affair”

 In Central Park, an avuncular old man named Mr. Hemingway (Richard Haydn) enlists the aid of two young boys to get his remote-controlled model propeller plane aloft. The plane soars up into the air and heads for the midtown skyscrapers. The boys worry that Hemingway will lose control of his plane, but he assures them he doesn’t want it to return: “It’s on a suicide mission.”

At U.N.C.L.E. headquarters, Illya and Napoleon track the progress of the toy plane on their radars with growing alarm: It’s headed right for their building! Suspecting it contains explosives, Illya tries to zap it out of the sky with a rooftop-mounted laser beam, which malfunctions.  This is really all you need to know about the inner workings of U.N.C.L.E.: Of course U.N.C.L.E. has a rooftop-mounted laser beam, and of course it never works when you need it to.

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: "The Arabian Affair"

Somewhere near the Gulf of Aqaba, Illya lies in the sand, binoculars out, keeping a covert watch over a THRUSH compound built into the side of a sand dune. Inside the compound, THRUSH agents test their latest fiendish device: a vaporizer that shoots out a deadly foam capable of dissolving an entire human body. They successfully test it on a chained-up Middle Eastern tribesman, as portrayed by some white dude in brown face paint and a burnoose. Unfortunate! This episode is regrettably chockablock with brownface. Into every classic 1960s television series, a little racism must fall.

Illya is spotted by local tribe leader Sulador (Syria-born actor Michael Ansara, who, despite being legitimately Middle Eastern, can’t escape a zealous slathering of brown face paint) and his daughter Sophie (Phyllis Newman). At Sulador’s command, a pair of his men attempt to kill Illya; Illya fights them off, but Sophie hurls a knife at him, winging him in the leg. Sulador wants to finish him off, but Sophie objects: She recently lost her camel, and she wants to trade Illya at the marketplace for a new one.

…I mean, it’s not the most offensive portrayal of Middle Eastern characters on an American television show ever, but it’s not good. This episode is going to take a little bit of patience. Be prepared to cringe and/or shake your head sadly a few times.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The Dippy Blonde Affair”

Somewhere out on Long Island, chief engineer Harry Pendleton (Fabrizio Mioni) oversees the final stages of THRUSH’s latest dastardly plot: He’s created a machine that gathers ions from the atmosphere, which will be magnified via a pair of spike-covered spheres designed by his accomplice, Dr. Segal. The magnified ions can then be shot at any human target, causing illness or insanity.

This seems like a thoroughly plausible and sensible scheme. A fine use of THRUSH’s money and resources. Carry on, Pendleton.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The Quadripartite Affair”

“The Quadripartite Affair” is the third episode of the series and the first in which Illya plays a significant role (he has a few throwaway lines in the pilot, then doesn’t appear in the second episode). It opens with a bizarre bit of stage-setting narration (“In New York City, on a street in the east forties, there’s an ordinary tailor shop. Or… is it ordinary?”), followed by an even more bizarre bit in which Napoleon, lllya, and Mr. Waverly awkwardly introduce themselves to viewers by speaking directly to the camera. This opening was used for the first few episodes before being mercifully jettisoned.

Somewhere in the rustic hills of Hollywood Yugoslavia, a young photographer named Marion Raven (Jill Ireland) rushes to comfort her father, Dr. Gregory Raven, as he screams and cowers from some unseen horror, while the beautiful and evil Gervaise Ravel (Forbidden Planet’s Anne Francis) and her foppish consort, Harold Bufferton (John Van Dreelen), observe them via hidden camera. At Gervaise’s request, Colonel Pattner (Richard Anderson) hunts down and kills Dr. Raven in front of a distraught Marion.