The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The Foxes and Hounds Affair”

Now in glorious Technicolor!

In Paris, Illya visits a stage magician named Merlin (Andre Philippe), who is in possession of an electronic thought translator, a miraculous device that allows him to read minds. Merlin’s been using it in his nightly stage show; Illya wants to acquire it for U.N.C.L.E. To prove the efficacy of his device, Merlin offers a demonstration. He urges Illya to think of “…some little secret which perhaps only you know.” He fires up the device and probes into Illya’s most private thoughts: “You think of a man. A Monsieur Solo.”

Oh? Do tell, Merlin.

Napoleon, it seems, is on vacation, leaving Illya behind to work. Merlin continues: “You think of a city, Kiev, when you were a little boy.” Illya cuts him off: “That’s enough!” Look, Merlin, you can’t go around spouting concrete facts about Illya’s mysterious personal life. If we start finding out stuff about Illya—like, say, that he once was a little boy—it’ll damage his carefully-crafted mystique.

Before surrendering his device, Merlin wants to use it for one final performance. Illya attends the show, accompanied by a fellow U.N.C.L.E. agent, Cantrell (Adam Roarke). Seated up in the balcony is a coterie of lethal miscreants headed up by Victor Marton (the peerless Vincent Price), a high-ranking operative of T.H.R.U.S.H.’s European branch, which is looking to seize the device for its own diabolical purposes.

When Merlin asks for a volunteer from the audience, his temporary assistant, a skittish young American tourist named Mimi Doolittle (Matlock’s Julie Sommars), selects Marton at random. Merlin uses the device to read Marton’s mind. “Monsieur, you have such thoughts about me?” he gasps, then corrects himself as the true target of Marton’s shocking thoughts is revealed: “No! Monsieur Kuryakin, the gentleman over there!”

Oh? Do tell, Merlin.

Continuing to snoop around in Marton’s brain, Merlin realizes Marton is plotting to kill him and steal the electronic thought translator. His plan exposed, Marton proclaims, “A farewell to subtlety, gentlemen!” before drawing his gun, swinging down from the balcony, and rushing the stage. I hate to contradict you, Marton, but I don’t think subtlety was ever invited to this party.

Illya and Cantrell gather up the device, hustle Merlin and Mimi into the dressing room, and barricade the door. As Marton and his henchmen shoot their way inside, Illya tries to convince a terrified Mimi to climb out onto the fire escape with him. She refuses to go, arguing that the gunmen have no reason to target her. The fight spills outside: Merlin is shot and killed, but Illya and Cantrell rescue the device and scramble up to the relative safety of the roof. From the street below, Marton gives Illya a cheery wave: “Close, Mr. Kuryakin. Very close. Good to see you again, by the way!”

Marton, who is pretty clearly coded as gay in a let’s-slide-this-past-the-1965-censors manner (he wears dapper purple suits and refers to hardened T.H.R.U.S.H. henchmen as “little papillon”, for example), is a delightful villain: witty and charming and fiendishly clever. I wish someone had given Vincent Price his own spinoff—The Man From T.H.R.U.S.H., perhaps—in which he’d utter droll bon mots while outsmarting and outmaneuvering Napoleon and Illya in various diabolical yet elegant ways.

The pursuit continues: Marton’s goons chase after Illya, who abandons the case containing the device and nimbly swings himself over a staircase railing to safety. It’s nicely done; David McCallum, I take back all the mean things I said a couple episodes back about your climbing ability. When Marton retrieves the case, he discovers it’s empty—Illya was a decoy to lure him out while Cantrell escaped with the device. “My instinctive dislike for that young man is growing into a sincere and honest hatred,” Marton mutters, then heads to New York to intercept the device before Cantrell reaches U.N.C.L.E. headquarters.

Illya makes it back to HQ ahead of Cantrell, who, to evade T.H.R.U.S.H., is flying to Canada before chartering a private plane to New York. Mimi Doolittle, traumatized by her brush with danger in Paris, is also returning home to New York. As T.H.R.U.S.H. agents have staked out the airports in search of the device, Mr. Waverly gets the bright idea to use Mimi as a decoy. If a known U.N.C.L.E. agent is seen making contact with Mimi when her plane arrives, T.H.R.U.S.H.’s attention will be drawn to her, which should give Cantrell a fighting chance to sneak the device into the country unnoticed. This plan is risky and unnecessarily complicated, and it places an unwitting civilian in a great deal of peril. In other words, it’s right up U.N.C.L.E.’s alley.

Mr. Waverly also decides Napoleon should be the one to intercept Mimi. Illya raises concerns about this—Napoleon, who is just returning from his vacation, knows nothing about the assignment—but Waverly is unflinching. If Napoleon is kept completely in the dark, Mr. Waverly reasons, he won’t be able to spill any beans to T.H.R.U.S.H. if he gets captured and interrogated. “Besides, it won’t hurt Mr. Solo to be ignorant once in his life,” Mr. Waverly says. “Good for the humility.”

For obvious reasons, this is a terrible plan.

So a blissfully unaware Napoleon saunters into the tailor shop that serves as the front for U.N.C.L.E. headquarters and finds the secret entrance blocked. The shop’s namesake proprietor, Del Floria (Jack Bernardi), pretends not to recognize him. While startled at first, Napoleon decides to take all this weirdness in stride. If you work for U.N.C.L.E., you have to assume that, at some point, your employer is going to deliberately mess with your head for some unfathomable reason. It’s just the way it goes.

Outside the shop, Napoleon spots Illya canoodling with an attractive female agent. Illya also pretends not to recognize him, but slips him an enigmatic message: “Merlin, your code number is seven.” A cab arrives to take Napoleon to the airport; a bemused Napoleon, who is still just going with the flow, hops in.

This whole exchange is witnessed by a T.H.R.U.S.H. spy, who passes the information along to top agent Lucia Belmont (Patricia Medina), who is begrudgingly working with Marton to find the device. Marton is the shining star of this episode, but Belmont—unscrupulous, ambitious, and hilariously spiteful—is almost his match. They’re the best pair of villains this show has offered yet.

At the airport, Napoleon stiffs the cabbie on his fare, then, acting on another inscrutable secret message from Illya, steals Mimi’s suitcases. Police swoop in and seize him; the arresting officer tells him, “Napoleon, this is your Waterloo.” I bet the writers had been holding onto that quip since the pilot episode, looking for the perfect moment to slide it into a script.

With Napoleon in police custody, Mr. Waverly orders Illya to keep an eye on Mimi. Mr. Waverly also casually lets him know the scheduled time and place of the arrival of Cantrell’s flight from Canada. Great merciful Zeus, Mr. Waverly, why on earth would you tell him that? There’s no reason Illya needs to know it, and it’s the exact piece of information T.H.R.U.S.H. is hell-bent on finding out. If Illya falls into enemy hands while protecting Mimi—which seems highly probable, since: a) T.H.R.U.S.H. is certain to go after Mimi, and b) Illya gets captured and interrogated roughly once per episode—it’ll be catastrophic.

Here’s a fun game: Watch this episode while assuming that Mr. Waverly is actually a cunning, sadistic, deep-cover T.H.R.U.S.H. spy who is actively seeking to discredit and/or kill Napoleon and Illya. You’ll be amazed at how logical and plausible it seems.

T.H.R.U.S.H. spies kidnap Napoleon outside the police station and take him to their lair, which is located inside a funeral parlor. Belmont shoots him full of a brand-new, souped-up version of Pentothal and grills him about the location of the thought translator. Under interrogation, a drugged-up Napoleon is chatty and gleefully obnoxious and, since he genuinely knows nothing about the device, utterly worthless. So that part of Waverly’s plan worked like gangbusters, at least.

Except! T.H.R.U.S.H. spies also kidnap Mimi, then nab Illya as well when he tries to rescue her. Oops.

Meanwhile, Marton, who is disgusted by the inelegant manner in which Belmont has been handling this assignment, nonchalantly saunters into U.N.C.L.E. headquarters and asks to see Mr. Waverly. Marton and Waverly, longtime frenemies, greet each other fondly. Cue a ridiculously charming and delightful sequence in which Marton and Waverly discuss the current situation in a genial, civilized manner while Marton openly snoops about, poking his nose into corners and pushing buttons at random. One of the most endearing qualities of the show is how U.N.C.L.E. and T.H.R.U.S.H. agents tend to be impossibly chummy with each other. It’s cute. Marton informs Waverly that Illya and Napoleon are both in T.H.R.U.S.H.’s clutches. He proposes a deal: In exchange for the electronic thought translator, he promises the safe return of “…one innocent young lady and two slightly used U.N.C.L.E. agents.” Aw, it's sweet that Marton assumes Waverly gives a rat's ass about the safety of Napoleon and Illya.

Back at the funeral parlor, Belmont injects Illya with the Pentothal and interrogates him about the location of the device. Napoleon tries to give his partner a rousing pep talk: “Fight it, Illya. Do something. Think of girls!” This method would probably work splendidly for Napoleon, what with his one-track mind, but it’s a bust with Illya. Under Belmont’s rigorous questioning, Illya spills everything he knows about the time and location of the arrival of Cantrell’s flight.

Belmont heads off to intercept the device, leaving Illya, Napoleon and Mimi locked in a prison cell in the basement. Funeral parlors have prison cells? Fascinating. Napoleon urges Mimi to flirt with the T.H.R.U.S.H. agent assigned to guard them. Mimi, who is awkward and prudish, insists she doesn’t know how to seduce men, so Napoleon and Illya team up and give her a crash course in the art of seduction.

Mimi is, understandably, kinda unsettled by this. Then Napoleon slips her the tongue.

Boom! It does the trick. A newly sexually-awakened Mimi heads off to flirt their way out of the cell. I swear, sometimes this show veers off onto weirdly inappropriate and tawdry tangents. This is not a criticism.

To trick their guard into opening the door, Napoleon, ah, tries to rip off Mimi’s clothes. Well! That got unsavory fast. The guard rushes to Mimi’s defense and trips over her stockings, which Napoleon has strung across the door, and the captives make their escape.

Acting on the intelligence extracted from Illya, Belmont intercepts Cantrell’s plane and retrieves the electronic thought translator. It’s never made explicit, but it’s logical to assume she murders Cantrell in the process. Okay, breaking under interrogation wasn’t exactly Illya’s shining moment, but Mr. Waverly, sir, this one’s on your head.

Marton fires up the device and tests it out on Belmont, whereupon he discovers she means to kill him in order to secure a coveted promotion. Napoleon and Illya burst into the middle of their mounting feud, and a big, raucous, messy fistfight ensues. In the chaos, Belmont scampers off with the device. Alas for her, she’s been fighting off a nasty head cold, so she swipes Marton’s fancy silk handkerchief, which happens to be made out of plastic explosives. When she sneezes into it, she blows herself—and the device—all to pieces.

As Mr. Waverly arrives on the scene to round up Marton and the remaining T.H.R.U.S.H. operatives, Mimi demonstrates her new sexual confidence by scheduling dates with both Napoleon and Illya. (Napoleon: “Him? What do you need him for?”).

I tell you, this show is amazing. So preposterous! So delightful! Don’t ever change a thing, Man From U.N.C.L.E.


DKoren said…
The next thing in my netflix queue is disc one of season one. So, as soon as I can return what I have at home now, I can begin watching!!!! And I can't wait. :-D

Vincent Price and Patricia Medina? How cool is that? This episodes seems quite full of plans designed to go awry. This show is probably one of the few that can make that one of the best parts of it. This ep has many things I like about it from your description. Can't wait to get there in the series and see it for myself.

Also, oooh, look at all those pretty color screenshots.

Whatever you do, don't stop writing these reviews! I look forward to them so much. :-D
Morgan Richter said…
I love this show so, so much! Very glad you're going to give it a try. I'll warn you, the first season takes a while to get its footing; for starters, the first few episodes are less frothy and fun than the ones later on. Worse, there's precious little Illya (David McCallum was originally hired to appear in seven of the first fifteen episodes, and only got bumped up to full costar when producers realized a whole lot of viewers were fanatical about him). So there are a lot of episodes, including the pilot, where he'll just kind of drift through a scene or two enigmatically, or not appear at all. Not that Napoleon isn't delightful, but the heart of the show really lies in their cool, hilarious dynamic (my sister compared their relationship to Moonlighting, sexy and funny and argumentative all at once).

Vincent Price and Patricia Medina. Heavenly.

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