The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The Children’s Day Affair”

Somewhere in Switzerland near the Italian border, Napoleon and Illya zip along in a sporty convertible, patrolling the roads to Geneva as part of security measures for an upcoming gathering of U.N.C.L.E.’s Western Hemisphere Section One leaders. When someone opens fire on them, they leave the car and explore the surrounding woods. In no time at all, Illya finds himself ambushed from all directions by a gaggle of gun-toting young boys in school uniforms. Illya, my love, try not to let small children get the drop on you. It reflects poorly on U.N.C.L.E. when a bunch of preteens can outmaneuver one of its top spies.

At the sound of a whistle, the boys scurry. Napoleon apprehends one of the kids. He and Illya take him to U.N.C.L.E.’s Geneva headquarters, where they brief a visiting Mr. Waverly and local division chief Carlo Farenti (Eduardo Ciannelli) on the situation. The boy, who is dressed in the uniform of a private school located in the nearby town of Figliano, was carrying a rifle identical to those used by the dreaded terrorist organization THRUSH. Fearing a potential THRUSH attack, Farenti shifts the location of the conference from a Geneva hotel to a secluded lodge in the middle of nowhere.

Waverly suggests Napoleon and Illya try to discover the connection between THRUSH and the school. Farenti agrees to this plan, though he seems openly skeptical of their investigating prowess, probably because Napoleon and Illya keep pulling weird faces and looking bored out of their skulls during this crucial security briefing.

The Figliano School is run by a pair of fabulously nasty villains: Captain Dennis Jenks (Warren Stevens) and his wife Yvonne (Jeanne Cooper, the late Young and the Restless doyenne who, fun fact, is also Corbin Bernsen’s mom), who prefers to be called Mother Fear. Their THRUSH-financed school is dedicated to transforming delinquent young boys into soulless killers. The first big test will be at the upcoming conference, at which the boys will attempt to assassinate all of U.N.C.L.E.’s leaders. Jenks frets that the attack on Illya and Napoleon has alerted U.N.C.L.E. to their scheme; Mother Fear soothes him with a combination of gentle massage and brutal nerve pinches.

I’m just going to quickly point out that Mother Fear wields a leather flogger, Captain Jenks always carries a riding crop, and there are no horses anywhere in sight. Jenks makes a chilling offhand reference to “all those brutality trials” at other schools where he was the headmaster; Mother Fear keeps Tom and Huck, two hulking henchmen with matching facial scars, in line with sunny threats of whippings. They’re sadistic, creepy, and kinky. Obviously, nubile young Illya is going to wander into their clutches before the second commercial break. He’s a magnet for this sort of thing.

Illya and Napoleon head back to Figliano by train. A young boy aims a pistol at them; jumpy after recent events, Illya quietly draws his own gun and almost shoots him before the boy’s caretaker, an adorable young social services worker named Anna Paola (Susan Silo), jumps in and reassures them it’s just a toy. After Anna, who is escorting the boy, Ricardo, to a placement center, heads off after her errant charge, Illya and Napoleon discover that Ricardo’s toy pistol is filled with corrosive acid.

(All children in this episode, even the ones who haven’t yet been exposed to the toxic influence of Mother Fear and Captain Jenks, are depicted as vicious, remorseless, wantonly destructive beasts. Perhaps someone on the Man From U.N.C.L.E. creative staff once underwent some kind of traumatic babysitting experience.)

When the train arrives in Figliano, a panicked Anna begs Illya and Napoleon for help finding Ricardo, who has gone rogue. Illya spots a helium balloon emblazoned with the school’s logo, which Tom is using to signal to prospective recruit Ricardo. Illya follows the balloon to a THRUSH-operated bakery, where he’s quickly apprehended.

At the school’s shooting range, where the young pupils are trained to fire rifles at cutouts of nice old Mr. Waverly, Captain Jenks cheerily tells a captive Illya all about his diabolical plans for the school. They have a very polite, civilized chat about how Jenks is going to torture the stuffing out of Illya to find the new location of the U.N.C.L.E. conference (“Torture, then?” Jenks asks. “You’re the headmaster,” Illya replies, calmly yet tinged with a certain weary must-this-happen-to-me-every-damn-mission? resignation).

So next thing you know, Illya’s shackled to the floor, wrists and ankles, in front of Mother Fear: “Illya, dear, when’s the last time you told your mother that you love her?” When Illya, cold and polite as ever, refuses to divulge the conference location, she throws hot tea in his face, announces that she’s going to flog him, and starts unfastening his clothes.

While Illya’s indoctrination in the world of hardcore BDSM happens demurely off screen, Napoleon and Anna continue the search for Ricardo. Napoleon spots the balloon in the bakery window and whips out his gun. “I have a sweet tooth,” he explains to a startled Anna.

Napoleon stuns the bakery workers with a smoke bomb, then asks Anna to stay behind and guard them while he heads off to the school to continue his mission. For crying out loud, Napoleon, they’re deadly THRUSH agents, there’s four of them, they’re tied up with kitchen towels, and poor Anna is armed only with a rolling pin. Even by your slapdash standards, this is a whopping lot to ask of an untrained civilian. Call U.N.C.L.E.’s Geneva office and ask them to send over a couple of agents. It’s the least you can do.

Nope. No siree. No way, no how. That’s not how Napoleon works. He scampers off to the school, leaving the innocent young social worker alone with the cluster of vicious, lethal terrorists.

At the school, Napoleon poses as an inspector and snoops around the grounds while Mother Fear and her pupils observe him on hidden cameras. Mother Fear carries on a running analysis of his actions (she’ll eventually assign him a grade of C-minus for his spy work. Seems fair), then gives the students a crash course in all things Napoleon-related: “You’ll find the name in your THRUSH manual. Napoleon Solo. Look it up.” Of course there’s a section on Napoleon in the THRUSH manual. Of course. I bet it’s a thick chapter, complete with annotations and footnotes and glossy photos, plus maybe some cheeky first-person accounts from the various comely THRUSH agents who’ve slept with him.

After shaking off Tom and Huck and a slew of gun-wielding kids, Napoleon finds Illya, a little worse for wear, locked up in a cell. Napoleon takes a quick breather from the usual glib one-liners and edgy barbs that characterize his relationship with Illya to tenderly dab at his injured partner’s wounds.

Hi, guys. Take your time; I’ll just watch.

Because all this tender wound-dabbing sucks up time that could’ve been spent, like, escaping, Tom and Huck arrive and capture Napoleon as well. And now it’s Napoleon’s turn to be interrogated. I swear, these two get tortured so, so much. While the methods for torturing Illya tend to have weird sexual undertones (or, as in this case, blatant sexual overtones), Napoleon’s torments lean more toward the elaborate and gimmicky. Case in point: Here, he’s chained in front of a model train set, in which the freight cars are loaded with vials of nerve gas. Captain Jenks forces Napoleon to maneuver two trains along the rails at ever-increasing speeds, constantly switching tracks to prevent collisions. If the freight cars derail and spill their bounty, the nerve gas will kill him.

Eventually, Captain Jenks puts a stop to this nonsense, claiming he’s already learned the new location of the conference. As he gleefully tells Mother Fear, this is all part of his brilliant plan: He’s going to allow Napoleon and Illya to escape, then secretly follow them to the conference. Spoiler alert: This is exactly how the rest of the episode plays out. Captain Jenks’s plan will be 100% successful. Illya and Napoleon, who bravely withstood brutal torture and mind games to keep the location out of the hands of the enemy, will now lead THRUSH right to the conference doorstep.

Back at the bakery, Anna gets sick of waiting for Napoleon to return. She somehow herds the four THRUSH agents into the back of the bakery van and drives up to the school. It’s not clear how, exactly, she accomplishes this—she’s still armed with only a rolling pin—but in any case, she’s far and away the most competent person in this whole episode. At the school, she incapacitates Tom by, uh, rolling the van window up quickly and trapping his arms, then rescues Napoleon and Illya. The three of them steal a car and head for the conference to stop the assassination plot.

Huck trails them at a safe distance. As soon as he sees them take the turnoff to the lodge, he alerts Mother Fear and Captain Jenks as to the conference location. Meanwhile, Napoleon discovers a bomb in the car. Realizing they’ve been tricked, Illya chucks it into Huck’s backseat and blows him to bits. Of Huck’s violent death, Illya quips, “Too bad. He did have the right of way, you know.” It’s a clunker of a line, but it’s worth it for the way Napoleon stares at him, appalled and aghast, as if realizing for the first time that his mild-natured partner is actually a cold and ruthless—albeit charming and delightful—monster.

Mother Fear, Captain Jenks, and all their pupils hijack a bus transporting a children’s choir, which, for some unfathomable reason, has been booked by U.N.C.L.E. to perform at the top-secret, ultra-high-security conference. They steal sheet music and robes, then head to the lodge, ready to impersonate the choir and gun down all the U.N.C.L.E. leaders during the performance.

Meanwhile, U.N.C.L.E.’s Section One chiefs assemble at the lodge for dinner and light entertainment. It’s the usual sausage fest. I’ll say this for THRUSH: At least we’ve seen plenty of women of varying ages and backgrounds holding high-ranking positions within their organization. U.N.C.L.E. has female operatives, sure, but, with a few exceptions, they tend to be cute young receptionists and assistants. As for the U.N.C.L.E. top brass? Nothing but middle-aged dudes, as far as the eye can see.

The boys take the stage, their rifles hidden under their choir robes. With Captain Jenks conducting them and Mother Fear at the piano, they begin to sing. Illya and Napoleon haven’t checked in for a long time, and Mr. Waverly is growing a wee bit concerned, so Carlo Farenti decides to senselessly needle him about it while sneaking in a subtle dig about the competence of his agents: “If it were two of my agents, I would be very worried. However, your two men are so outstanding…” I like you, Farenti. You’re spiteful for no reason.

The evil bakers, having been abandoned by Anna in the back of the bakery truck, show up in the truck and shoot all the guards stationed outside the conference. Enraptured by the choir performance, none of the conference attendees notice the noisy gunfight taking place just outside. Illya, Napoleon and Anna arrive and join the battle. While Napoleon sneaks inside through the roof, Illya, who is quickly evolving into a remorseless killing machine, shoots and kills Tom from underneath the car.

Inside the lodge, Napoleon swings from the rafters and incapacitates the choir boys before they can draw their rifles. Captain Jenks is apprehended by U.N.C.L.E. agents, but Mother Fear makes a break for it. Outside, she faces off against Illya, guns drawn. On this show, punishments for villains tend to be doled out based upon level of heinousness. As Mother Fear is among the nastiest (dude, she flogged Illya), her fate is equal parts brutal and ridiculous: Anna hits her with an explosive-laced cake from the bakery truck (a horrified Anna exclaims, “I did not know the cake was loaded!”), whereupon Mother Fear stumbles onto a giant water wheel and is swiftly crushed and/or drowned.

Denouement: At the train station, Illya and Napoleon once again help Anna, who has been left in charge of all the murderous young THRUSH recruits, search for Ricardo, who has disappeared yet again. Ricardo shows up in the care of Mr. Waverly, who snuck off with him to eat chocolate treats. “Boys will be boys,” Anna says affectionately, while Illya and Napoleon stare at each other, deeply skeptical about the chances of any of the boys growing up into decent human beings.

Marvelous. There was a grievous lack of champagne-swilling in this episode, but there was plenty of snappy banter and a healthy dose of tender wound-dabbing to compensate. It’s all good.


DKoren said…
I am so tempted to just buy this series on DVD and be done with it. This is just too much fun.

Warren Stevens! I have always been extremely fond of him. He guest starred on all the tv shows I watched growing up.

The screenshot of the two of them bored during the meeting made me laugh out loud. I also love those triangular tag/badge thingies.
Morgan Richter said…
The guest stars are always first-rate, whether it's the big names (Vincent Price, Shatner and Nimoy, Joan Collins) or those working actors who I've seen in a million things (Warren Stevens and Jeanne Cooper). It's always fun seeing who'll pop up in the credits.

My sister and I are going broke watching UNCLE -- we're too impatient to get the DVDs one by one on Netflix, so we keep ending up buying full seasons streaming on Amazon. Er, it looks like some kind soul has put season one streaming on DailyMotion for free, if you care to try that approach -- here's the Shatner & Nimoy episode, for example. "The Fiddlesticks Affair", which is wonderful, is here.

I love the triangle badges. Agents (and visitors) have to wear them inside UNCLE headquarters at all times to operate the automatic doors.
Hamlette said…
It’s a clunker of a line, but it’s worth it for the way Napoleon stares at him, appalled and aghast, as if realizing for the first time that his mild-natured partner is actually a cold and ruthless—albeit charming and delightful—monster.

I completely lost it there, and my children demanded to know why baking pumpkin doughnuts was so funny. Um, yes, sorry kids... breakfast will be 10 minutes late because Illya.

I'm getting so antsy for my trip to my parents' next month, when I can finally watch some of these!!!
Morgan Richter said…
Hamlette -- It's a weird, hilarious moment in the episode (and pumpkin doughnuts sound awesome!).

I'm glad you're going to get a chance to watch some episodes! I hope you enjoy the show. It's very, very (very!) different in tone from the movie, which I did finally see before it left theaters.
Hamlette said…
"Weird" and "hilarious" seem to characterize many moments, at least by your accounts :-) I'm a fan of both, so I'm pretty sure I'll dig the show, though I may disturb my mother mightily by laughing aloud at inappropriate moments. I think she takes it very seriously, having been an Illya fangirl when it originally aired.

Glad you did manage to see the movie!
Morgan Richter said…
Hamlette -- the show is definitely both weird and hilarious! The first season is more like a straightforward spy show, at least for the first half of the season (the first half also doesn't have all that much Illya in it -- they didn't make David McCallum a regular cast member until later on), and then it gets progressively lighter and goofier as it goes along.
Hamlette said…
I've read a lot of fans saying they liked season 2 best... perhaps this is why?
Morgan Richter said…
I'm sure you're right, Hamlette. I'm only slightly more than halfway through season three, and I've seen nothing of season four yet, but season two is overall the best so far. Season three gets too silly in parts, and the first half of season one can be too dry (especially before Napoleon partners up with Illya), but season two has the right balance.
Hamlette said…
Since my mom has the whole series, I'm thinking of not starting at the beginning when I'm visiting her, and sort of cherry-picking eps, as I won't have time to watch all of them. Or I might just begin with season 2 and see how far we get!
Morgan Richter said…
Let's see, if you're short on time and don't want to start at the beginning, these would be my picks for my ten favorite episodes from season one and two, for what that's worth.

From season one: The Fiddlesticks Affair, The Mad Mad Tea Party Affair, The Never Never Affair, The Girls of Nazarone Affair.

From season two: The Ultimate Computer Affair, The Foxes & Hounds Affair, The Children's Day Affair, The Adriatic Express Affair, The Project Deephole Affair, and The Bat Cave Affair.

There are an awful lot of other really fun episodes, but those would be my top picks.
Hamlette said…
Brilliant! I will keep this list handy and use it as a jumping-off point, plus whatever eps my mom wants to show me :-D Thanks!
Hamlette said…
Now we've seen "The Never-Never Affair" too, which so far has been my favorite. It was almost like an AU crossover with Get Smart, like "Here's how Agent 99 decided spying was not for her after all." Tonight we're going to watch "The Girls of Nazarone," and then it turns out my mom only has season 1 after all, not all of them, but she also has a bunch of the reunion movies -- any recommendations there?
Hamlette said…
PS I'm going as Illya Kuryakin for Halloween.
Morgan Richter said…
Illya would be a fantastic Halloween costume! Let's see, there's only one actual reunion movie -- 1983's Return of the Man from UNCLE, which is dreadful (but maybe still worth watching, if you just regard it as really bad fanfiction instead of a continuation of the series) -- but there's also a DVD set of eight movies that were released while the show was airing, made from combining episodes together. If those are what your mom has, my recommendations would be The Spy In The Green Hat (which aired as The Concrete Overcoat Affair) and One Spy Too Many (which aired as The Alexander the Greater Affair). I'd give cautious recommendations also to One of Our Spies is Missing (aka The Bridge of Lions Affair) and The Helicopter Spies (aka The Prince of Darkness Affair), both of which drag in parts but have some nice moments. Stay far, far away from How To Steal the World (The Seven Wonders of the World Affair), which is unwatchable. The remaining movies are fine if you've got nothing better to watch, but not spectacular.
Hamlette said…
Aha! Looks like Mom has both, so we'll stick with the 8 movies for tonight -- probably will try either of the first two you mentioned. Thanks!
Hamlette said…
We watched "One Spy Too Many" last night, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, partly because Rip Torn is always an interesting time, and in that particular movie he kept reminding me of Bill Paxton's character in the first season of Agents of SHIELD, which cracked me up continuously. Also, an Illya Mummy is so simultaneously hilarious and tragic! So thanks for yet another good recommendation.
Morgan Richter said…
I'm so used to present-day Rip Torn that it's kind of a shock to see him running around in 1965, being all young and handsome and evil. Hadn't thought of it, but you're right, he's very much like Bill Paxton on Agents of SHIELD!
vintagehoarder said…
I just watched this tonight, hence my belated response to this post! I think the real reason Anna had no problems handling the THRUSH agents was she was used to looking after delinquent children. A bunch of hardened ADULT terrorists must seem a doddle by comparison!
Morgan Richter said…
Excellent point, vintagehoarder -- with all of Anna's experience with delinquent kids, the THRUSH agents in the bakery didn't even make her blink.
Illesdan said…
I finally saw this episode tonight; its been probably the better part of a month since I've gotten to watch anything longer than 15 minutes, and it was worth it.

I love the THRUSH couple, such kinky little minxes. Such a joy to watch. Now I know where they got the template of Major Houlihan and Major Frank Burns in M*A*S*H from. Obviously, we weren't the only ones who enjoyed seeing that lovely couple.

I loved the part where Napoleon is going to jump on the THRUSH guy once he comes into the cell to get him and Illya... only to be thwarted when the guy stands outside the cell asking them to come out. Illya walking back into the cell to ask Napoleon if he was coming was priceless.

Oh, THRUSH, your wonderfully over-elaborate ways to achieve world domination never get old; shine on you crazy diamond.

And, on the other end of the spectrum, we have... Okay, I'm going to get this out of the way; Illya, Napoleon, if you worked for me, you wouldn't have made it past the probationary period. Right now, you guys are making Johnny English look good. When Mother Fear gave Solo a C-, I think she was being quite charitable. Once again, we are forced to ask, 'If Solo and Kuryakin are the BEST U.N.C.L.E agents in the NYC branch, who the heck are the WORST?!' Most of their mission 'successes' are only due to sheer dumb luck and an innocent being in the right place at the right time. This isn't good, guys; you're lucky no one thought to hire the innocents instead and make THEM the head agents.

Ohh -- Imagine Cricket and Anna as a pair of agents? I could totally get behind this....
Morgan Richter said…
Illesdan, I can't believe I never made the Burns-Houlihan connection with Mother Fear and Jenks. Now that you've pointed it out, the similarities are obvious.

I could totally get behind Cricket and Anna teaming up as U.N.C.L.E. agents. They'd put Illya and Napoleon to shame. It always horrifies me that Illya and Napoleon are THE BEST that U.N.C.L.E. has to offer.
Desmond said…
There is one scene in that episode where Illya tries to attack someone in the bakery as far as I can remember. But the two bakeress pushed something on his face and he suddenly fell asleep. Did they chloroform him? That scene is a bit irritating for me because I don't get how Illya suddenly gets unconscious...

Popular Posts