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

It’s New Year’s Eve, and Napoleon and Illya are hanging out at the train station in Vienna while taking a half-assed stab at doing their job, which in this case means keeping an eye out for a T.H.R.U.S.H. agent named Herr von Kreidel. Mostly, though, they’re playing to their strengths: Illya is looking mysterious and unapproachable while muttering gloomy thoughts about the weather, and Napoleon is ogling girls.

Madame Nemirovitch (Jessie Royce Landis), a fur-draped, jewel-bedazzled cosmetics maven, flies into a panic before boarding a Venice-bound train: Herr von Kreidel, the manager of her salon, was supposed to bring chocolates and roses to her, and she can’t bear the thought of taking a long voyage without them. She sends Konrad, her chauffeur, off to look for him.

Von Kreidel, it turns out, has been badly injured in a traffic accident. He passes the roses and chocolates to a demure young thing named Eva, along with an urgent message to bring them to Madame Nemirovitch before her train departs. When Napoleon tries to help her board the train with her bulky parcels, the chaste and unworldly Eva accuses him of being a “masher”. Napoleon is disgruntled and affronted at this, but… well, per, a masher is “a man who makes advances, especially to women he does not know, with a view to physical intimacy.” Time to face facts, Napoleon: You’re a masher.

Eva, by the way, is played by Juliet Mills—daughter of Sir John, sister of Haley, and wife of Grease 2 heartthrob Maxwell Caulfield, who is eighteen years her junior; they’ve been married since 1980, when Mills was 39 and Caulfield was a dewy young 21. Ms. Mills, you’re an inspiration to us all.

At the station, Napoleon and Illya spot a nervous, twitchy man wearing a phony beard. Assuming, erroneously, that he’s von Kreidel, they follow him onto the train. Because it’s New Year’s Eve, the train is jam-packed with drunken revelers, including a hard-partying, leggy blonde model who immediately sets her amorous sights on glacial, aloof Illya. The model, who is played by Jennifer Billingsley, goes unnamed for the whole episode (she’s listed in the credits simply as First Model), which is a crying shame, as her plucky and tireless attempts to shag Illya will provide this episode with a glorious running gag.

From the privacy of their train compartment, Napoleon uses his secret cigarette-case communicator to brief Mr. Waverly on their progress. Per Waverly, Herr von Kreidel is in possession of a capsule containing a highly-contagious virus that destroys the ability to reproduce. If Napoleon and Illya fail to find the capsule in time, T.H.R.U.S.H. could obliterate humanity in a matter of a few generations.

While conversing with Waverly, Napoleon shoots Illya one of his signature lascivious winks, apropos of absolutely nothing, while Illya looks mildly disapproving. Well, huh. Look, it’s not that I think Illya and Napoleon are shagging each other on the sly, it’s just that some scenes make a whole lot more sense if you assume they’re shagging each other on the sly.

Eva successfully delivers the roses and chocolates to a grateful and relieved Madame Nemirovitch. They’re interrupted by the arrival of the twitchy man, who bursts into Nemirovitch’s compartment and demands to speak with her.  Nemirovitch, who identifies him as “Dr. Ingster”, calms him down and promises to meet him later in the drinks car. She then alerts her chauffeur, Konrad, to his presence on the train.

While searching for Dr. Ingster, whom they still believe to be von Kreidel, Napoleon and Illya run into Konrad, who is trying to murder Ingster in the baggage car. Ingster flees to safety, Konrad attacks, weirdly-choreographed fisticuffs on top of the moving train ensue, and Napoleon ends up killing Konrad. “We better get him out of sight,” Napoleon says, staring glumly down at Konrad’s body.

So Napoleon and Illya move Konrad’s corpse from the relative privacy of the baggage compartment to, uh, the ladies’ room, where it’s promptly discovered by a nice American tourist.

God, you two. What was the thought process there? What was going through your decorative heads? Did you just assume women never use the bathroom, is that it?

In the bar, Eva introduces Napoleon to Madame Nemirovitch, whereupon Napoleon finally—finally!—figures out that the dude he and Illya followed onto the train is, in fact, not their assigned target. Upon learning that Nemirovitch is von Kreidel’s employer, Napoleon immediately realizes she’s a T.H.R.U.S.H. agent, while she in turn realizes he’s from U.N.C.L.E. Over glasses of slivovitz, Napoleon and Nemirovitch set about charming the socks off of each other while carrying on a diplomatic conversation—using carefully veiled terms, for Eva’s benefit—about their dueling organizations.

At Napoleon’s suggestion that she betray T.H.R.U.S.H. to work for U.N.C.L.E. instead, Nemirovitch sets him straight: She’s been working for T.H.R.U.S.H. for almost forty-four years—in fact, she founded the entire organization. Well, good for you, Madame Nemirovitch! This is probably why T.H.R.U.S.H.’s track record for promoting women to high-ranking positions is so vastly superior to U.N.C.L.E.’s.

Illya, meanwhile, is hanging out at the bar, swilling champagne while shadowing Dr. Ingster. The leggy blonde model tries to flirt with him; in response, Illya is polite but remote. I feel you, nameless blonde model. Seducing Illya is like scaling Everest: Many will try and few will succeed, but for those rare intrepid souls who reach the climax, the bragging rights are phenomenal.

Ingster drags Illya into the men’s room and demands to know why he’s following him. Dr. Ingster, it seems, is a chemist working for Madame Nemirovitch; he discovered the infertility virus accidentally while trying to develop a face cream (…not a very good chemist, are you, Ingster?), and now Nemirovitz wants to use it for T.H.R.U.S.H. to wreak mass destruction. The capsule containing the only strain of the virus is hidden somewhere on the train; Ingster agrees to help Illya and Napoleon find and destroy it.

Madame Nemirovitch tells guileless young Eva that Napoleon is a diabolical T.H.R.U.S.H. agent who wants to kill her and use her vast cosmetics empire for evil. She gives Eva a gun, which was hidden in the bouquet of roses from von Kreidel. Insisting the gun contains only a mild yet incapacitating gas, she convinces Eva to seduce Napoleon, then place the gun directly to his head and pull the trigger. “The gas penetrates directly into the tissues,” she explains, improbably. Eva, the dumb bunny, agrees to go along with this plan.

Napoleon, Illya, and Ingster ransack the train in search of the capsule. The leggy blonde model spots Illya, grabs him, and drags him into her room, presumably to shag him senseless. Illya, a known judo expert, puts up no resistance, which is as close as anyone’s ever going to get to a confession of romantic interest from him.

While his partner is having an impromptu mid-assignment quickie, Napoleon wanders off to do something or other. He leaves Dr. Ingster alone and undefended in the corridor, where Madame Nemirovitch promptly shoots and kills him.

Nice going, Napoleon and Illya. Top marks, you two. You should be very proud.

Blissfully unaware of the spectacular way his assignment is falling to pieces around him, Napoleon returns to his compartment and finds Eva lolling on his bed, slathered in makeup and dressed in a fancy gown borrowed from Madame Nemirovitch. “I’m mad about you,” she proclaims. Bemused, Napoleon is not buying her act: “You know, so many girls are. I guess it’s because of my long black hair and the way I play the guitar.” He may be a masher, with vast and varied tastes—cute flight attendants, lonely Midwestern schoolteachers, winsome U.N.C.L.E. receptionists, comely T.H.R.U.S.H. assassins, brooding blond Russians—but he’s pretty much immune to the charms of teenagers. He politely rebuffs Eva’s advances, then uses his handkerchief to try to wipe off her excessive makeup.

In a last-ditch effort to seduce him, Eva grabs him and smooches him, them places the gun to his head. Napoleon wrestles the gun away and fires it into the air. Designed to kill both the target and the shooter, the gun fires real bullets in two directions, forward and backward.

While Eva is dealing with the simultaneous realizations that: a) she almost killed Napoleon, b) she herself almost died in the process, and c) sweet-natured Madame Nemirovitch might actually be kinda evil, Illya bursts into the room to tell Napoleon about Dr. Ingster’s murder. Cut to the same nice American tourist finding a second body in the ladies’ room. It’s unclear how, exactly, Ingster’s corpse ended up in the loo, but it’s entirely possible Illya stashed it there, in which case: Illya, my darling, what is wrong with you?

Eva suggests that Madame Nemirovitch might be hiding the capsule in her world-famous jewelry. Illya and Napoleon immediately make plans to ransack Nemirovitch’s compartment. “Mr. Kuryakin is not unknown as a cat burglar,” Napoleon tells Eva, whereupon Illya whips out a long coil of rope from the back of his pants. I have no words.

Using the rope, Napoleon and Illya climb up and over the roof of the train, then make an unholy racket slipping in through the window of Nemirovitch’s compartment. Having heard them coming from miles away, she’s patiently waiting for them, her gun drawn. “It can’t be romance, so I presume you’re after my jewels,” she tells them dryly. When Napoleon demands the capsule from her, she calmly sends for the conductor, who detains Napoleon and Illya on suspicion of attempted burglary.

The conductor locks them up in a barred cell in a storage compartment. “Did you bring the pocket detonator?” Napoleon asks Illya. Illya is forced to admit that, no, he left it behind in their hotel room. Ditto for the electronic screwdriver and the flamethrower. “Did you bring anything?” Napoleon asks, incredulous. “Did you?” Illya snarls in reply.

Sidebar: While the dialogue is, generally speaking, downright witty and clever, so much of the humor of this very entertaining series hinges upon the crackerjack comic timing of Robert Vaughn and David McCallum. Thus, if you’ve never seen the episode, you’ll just have to take it on faith that McCallum’s snarling, resentful, aggrieved, long-suffering delivery of “Did you?” is hands-down the funniest moment in the whole episode.

Illya manages to produce a book of matches. The floor of the compartment is wooden, so Napoleon gets the brilliant idea to set it on fire to loosen the bars of their cell. They’ll need an accelerant, though; cases of cognac, which would do the trick, are stored tantalizingly out of their reach. When the leggy blonde model wanders in, they convince her to hand them a couple bottles, then send her off to the bar in search of seltzer.

So after she leaves, they douse the floor with cognac, then start a blazing inferno in their tiny cell. It’s a marvel these two have managed to stay alive as long as they have.

In any case, their cockamamie plan works. After extinguishing the flames with seltzer, they break out of the destroyed cell and head off to stop Madame Nemirovitch. There’s a grand old fight against some T.H.R.U.S.H. goons in the corridor, during which Nemirovitch accidentally sprays herself with her own lethal nerve gas. In her dying moments, she pops a chocolate containing the virus-laden capsule into her mouth and swallows it, thus ruining U.N.C.L.E.’s chances of getting its grubby hands on the formula. Fortunately, this works out fine for Illya and Napoleon, since Waverly had given them strict instructions to destroy all traces of the virus.

Having lucked into the successful completion of their mission, Illya and Napoleon swill champagne with Eva and the leggy blonde model and toast in the new year.

Fantastic. A flawless episode, complete with snappy banter and some disgracefully poor spy work. Well done, gentlemen.


Hamlette said…
Juliet Mills! I love Juliet Mills! Oh man, I wish we'd watched this ep last night instead of um... whatever ep we did watch. "The Four-Step Affair" or something like that? It turned out to have Michael Petit in it, who played one of the most divisive-to-the-fanbase guest characters on my favorite show, Combat!. (Divisive because most of the fans find him gratingly precious and smarmily sinister, but I think he's cute and funny and lonely. So do a precious few others.)

Anyway, this is absolutely topping my list of eps to see on DVD in a couple weeks!
Morgan Richter said…
Hi, Hamlette! Oh, yeah, "The Four Steps Affair" is a weird one, because it's made up entirely of leftover footage from two different feature-length UNCLE movies. There are eight total UNCLE feature films from the original series, which were made by padding out existing episodes with newly-shot footage. Anyway, the first two films had a lot of new footage that hadn't been used in any TV episodes, so they pieced together an entirely new episode out of it. Which is... weird!

Juliet Mills is wonderful.
Hamlette said…
LOL! Well, that totally explains the weirdly abrupt ending and some odd pacing choices, doesn't it?
Illesdan said…
That poor nice woman from Kansas will never use the bathroom again.

And, yes. Yes I can go onboard with Illya and Napoleon banging each other off-screen. They flirt/bicker/touch each other in EVERY episode, so, it's not like its out of the realm of reason. As someone pointed out (and lost their mind over) on Tumblr: 'Its canon that Illya and Napoleon go on vacation together! That happened!'

Ah, yes, these two. I love them so much, but really guys, have you no survival instincts at all? Burning the barn (cell) while still in it should make the psychiatric department of U.N.C.L.E look at you two more closely.

I have a theory. Possibly wrong, but a theory nonetheless: I think all of the trainees and screwups get sent to the NYC division of U.N.C.L.E until they get better or die. This would explain Waverly's resignation to his 'best agents' shenanigans and why he's so pragmatic about anyone's deaths, including their own.

I love this episode run-down. Spot on, as always. This glorious little gem of an episode will be seen again... if nothing more than to see Solo weirdly flirt with Illya and Illya growl at him later in the cell. It's all gold.
Morgan Richter said…
This is one of my favorite episodes. By the time our heroes start BURNING THEIR CELL DOWN, I was delighted and stunned. And the flirting! They're so much fun to watch together.
Paper_Crane_Song said…
Thoroughly enjoyable review as always!
So my highlights, apart from the ones you guys already mentioned were:

-Ingster caressing Illya's knee and getting all up in his personal space. For someone so untactile as Illya, it's funny how much he inspires it in others.

-The bit where NS and IK are spraying soda on the bars, around 45 mins 51 seconds going by my Amazon online episode, it seems that McCallum starts to corpse (laugh), then he quickly hides it.

- Realising that Illya does in fact have MASSIVE bear paw hands! - when he helps Napoloen pull the metal bar off the cell, they have their hands vertically next to each other, and it looks like Illya's hands are bigger than Napoleon's. I read it in a fic and dismissed it but it really is true.

-The general giddiness in that scene on the end. Especially Illya. I want what they're all drinking.
Morgan Richter said…
Paper Crane Song, this is one of my very favorite episodes. I just checked out that bit where McCallum starts to laugh, and it's adorable.

Illya has gigantic hands, it's true.

Really fun episode.

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