The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The Girls of Nazarone Affair”

In Cannes, Illya and Napoleon attempt to contact a Dr. Kelvin, who has developed a serum with miraculous healing properties. To keep it out of the hands of miscreants, Dr. Kelvin has sought the protection of U.N.C.L.E. Oh, Dr. Kelvin, how naïve of you. When it comes to innocent civilians, U.N.C.L.E. doesn’t really do protection. Dangling civilians in front of deadly enemy agents as bait? Hurling civilians directly into the path of danger? Yeah, that’s really more U.N.C.L.E.’s speed. Protection? Not one of their strengths.

Outside a hotel, a champagne-swilling flower vendor is approached by a pair of pretty blonde women in a fancy sports car: sinister Madame Streigau (Marian Moses), and famed racer Nazarone (Danica d’Hondt), who is in town to compete in the upcoming Grand Prix. Madame Streigau asks the vendor to pose for a photo, whereupon she discreetly passes him an envelope, then sticks him with a corsage pin laced with deadly poison.

Unaware of the dastardly deeds going on under their pert noses, Napoleon and Illya scope out Madame Streigau and Nazarone on their way into the hotel. “I do love the Riviera,” Napoleon says. “You just like blondes,” replies his sexy blond partner.

Inside the hotel, Napoleon glances around the lobby and assesses the occupants. “Brunettes,” he says glumly. Ah, Napoleon. Tap-dancing right on that fine line between dashing and detestable, aren’t you?

Upon discovering that Dr. Kelvin has already checked out, Illya and Napoleon break into his former room, which is now occupied by a prim (brunette) grammar school teacher named Lavinia Brown (Kipp Hamilton). Above Lavinia’s angry protests, they conduct a thorough search of her room. Alarmed, Lavinia summons a porter to throw them out; Napoleon cheerfully slips him a hefty tip, whereupon the porter saunters off, leaving the bathrobe-clad woman alone in her room with two strange male intruders. Poor show, unnamed porter. Poor show.

On the balcony, Illya finds a small, nondescript metal disk. Because there is no limit to the amount of weirdly specific knowledge packed inside his attractive head, he immediately identifies it as a modification disk for a solenoid from a racecar. I mean, obviously.

(Hey, why does Illya wear a wedding band? Is this some unexplored facet of his mysterious personal life, or could David McCallum not be bothered to remove his own ring while filming?)

Directly beneath the balcony, the gardenia vendor collapses and dies from the poison-laced pin. Illya rushes downstairs, dons dark glasses and a French accent, and poses as a doctor to loot the corpse.

The envelope Madame Streigau gave the vendor contains twenty-five thousand francs. Napoleon speculates—wildly but, as it turns out, accurately—that she bribed the vendor to stay quiet about something that happened up on the balcony. “I wonder what he had seen,” Napoleon muses, then shrugs and forgets all about it. The mystery of what, exactly, the vendor saw on the balcony will remain unaddressed for the remainder of the episode. Something to do with Dr. Kelvin’s disappearance, clearly, but everyone sort of glosses over the specifics.

Napoleon and Illya tromp around Cannes, visiting garages in search of anyone who can give them more information about the solenoid. At long last, they run across Nazarone. Alarmed at the sight of the solenoid, she brusquely sends them on their way. Immediately thereafter, Madame Streigau and her henchwomen—all blonde, all beautiful, all members of the diabolical global terrorist organization T.H.R.U.S.H.—arrive at the garage. Madame Streigau whips out a gun and, before Napoleon and Illya can intervene, riddles Nazarone full of bullets. She drives off, taking Nazarone’s body with her.

But wait! According to the local papers the next day, a very much alive Nazarone has checked herself into a clinic for a routine examination before the Grand Prix. Napoleon heads to the clinic to investigate. Sure enough, Nazarone is alive and uninjured and wants nothing to do with Napoleon. When he attempts to: a) find out why she’s not dead, and b) flirt with her, Nazarone violently punches and chokes him, then throws him out of her room.

Napoleon will spend much of this episode getting slugged and throttled by enraged blondes. As much as I adore Napoleon, I can’t honestly say he doesn’t deserve it.

Napoleon returns to the hotel to compare notes with Illya. It’s unclear what Illya’s been doing all this time. From the looks of things, he’s been hanging out in the hotel bar while quietly getting plastered on excellent French wine. It’s a tough life, this secret-agent business.

Based on Nazarone’s miraculous recovery from, like, death, Illya and Napoleon assume Dr. Kelvin and his super-healing formula are in the hands of T.H.R.U.S.H. Napoleon immediately comes up with a risky and unnecessarily complicated plan to get the formula back: He’ll trick Madame Streigau into thinking innocent bystander Lavinia also has a copy of the formula, and as soon as T.H.R.U.S.H. tries to capture and/or kill her to get it back, he and Illya will… I dunno, swipe the original formula back from them somehow. He’s a little hazy on that part.

So Napoleon breaks into Lavinia’s hotel room, again, where she’s just sitting around in her bathrobe while drinking champagne. In the glitzy, bubbly, glorious world of this show, champagne is everyone’s default beverage of choice, which is exactly how it should be. Napoleon hands Lavinia a check for $25,000 and urges her to start throwing money around in a splashy manner: “Buy things. Expensive things, like clothes, cars, fur coats, wolfhounds.” He neglects to mention that this behavior will bring a cabal of murder-happy terrorists down on her head, but I’m sure that was an oversight.

After Illya secretly observes a T.H.R.U.S.H. agent planting hidden microphones in their room, Napoleon and Illya talk loudly about how they’re paying Lavinia a great deal of money for her copy of the formula. Madame Streigau swills champagne and eavesdrops on their conversation.

While searching their room for T.H.R.U.S.H. boobytraps, Napoleon and Illya discover poisoned-laced needles stuck in their pillows. I’ve been watching these episodes streaming on Amazon, and the closed captions, which sometimes make freewheeling interpretive guesses as to the dialogue, identify the poison as “methylated cob rocks”. While evocative, this can’t possibly be right. (The closed captions also sometimes interpret “Mr. Solo” as “Mr. Zorro”. I thought “Napoleon Solo” was the world’s most fabulous name, but “Napoleon Zorro” might actually have the edge.)

Acting on Napoleon’s orders, Lavinia goes on a shopping spree, buying a cute sports car and renting a cottage on the Riviera. Figuring she’s successfully attracted the attention of T.H.R.U.S.H., Illya attempts to whisk her off to safety to a cabin in the Alps, but Lavinia refuses to go. Hell, Lavinia, hiding out in the Alps with Illya sounds like a blast. Sign me up. We’d wear turtleneck sweaters and sprawl out on the shag carpet in front of a blazing fireplace, drinking hot toddies and eating fondue while listening to esoteric French jazz albums and debating the merits of socialism. Some might call it paradise.

So Lavinia and Illya head off to her Riviera cottage, where they’re ambushed by a gaggle of lethal blondes. Madame Streigau drags Lavinia off to the clinic to interrogate her about the formula while a couple of henchwomen deal with Illya. After stunning him with poison gas, they smooch him on the cheek and dump him into a dry well. This is a waste of a perfectly good Illya.

Napoleon prowls around the clinic in search of Dr. Kelvin’s formula. He runs into the clinic’s proprietor, Dr. Baurel (Ben Wright). A gun-toting Napoleon greets Baurel with “What’s up, Doc?”; the line should be a groaner, but Robert Vaughn delivers it in a low, husky, humorless growl that somehow flips it right back around into hilarious. This is the magic of Vaughn.

Dr. Baurel confirms that T.H.R.U.S.H. kidnapped Dr. Kelvin and stole his formula, but insists they did him no harm—per Baurel, Kelvin wasted away from what seemed like severe exhaustion. After Kelvin’s death, Baurel took over his research and tested the formula on Nazarone. Baurel drops another bombshell: Madame Streigau is actually the diabolical face-changing T.H.R.U.S.H. scientist Dr. Egret, first introduced in “The Mad, Mad Tea Party Affair”, back when she was played by the fabulous Lee Meriwether. In exchange for his life, Baurel offers to give Napoleon the sole copy of the formula, which is located in a safe in Nazarone’s garage. Before they can leave, however, Napoleon is ambushed and beaten to a pulp by Nazarone, who has become supercharged with unnatural vim and vigor due to the formula.

(One of the beautiful blonde henchwomen, by the way, is played by poor doomed Sharon Tate. Tate, who is billed simply as “Therapist”, spends most of the episode scampering about in a sweater paired with seamed stockings and ballet shoes; it’s a fun, fetching look, though to adopt it for everyday wear, adding pants might not be a bad idea.)

Madame Streigau injects Lavinia with Pentothal and interrogates her about the formula. Lavinia spills the beans about U.N.C.L.E.’s scheme: Napoleon—or “nice, pretty Mr. Solo”, as a spaced-out Lavinia calls him—gave her twenty-five grand to do nothing. In classic T.H.R.U.S.H. style, Madame Streigau comes up with an elaborate and gimmicky way to kill Lavinia and Napoleon: She ties them down to mattresses and sets them afloat in a swimming pool. When the mattresses become saturated, they’ll sink and drown.

Illya climbs out of the well and races to the clinic in time to save Napoleon and Lavinia from drowning. Madame Streigau heads for the garage to get the formula, while a serum-crazed Nazarone hops in her car with Dr. Baurel in tow and speeds off on a mad race to oblivion. Napoleon, Lavinia and Illya pile into Lavinia’s new sports car, choosing to chase after Nazarone instead of going after the formula. This doesn’t make all that much sense plotwise, though it does give the actors a chance to zip around madly in flashy cars (for those who care about such things, Nazarone’s car is an AC Cobra), which: fair enough.

Eventually, after being thoroughly outraced by Nazarone, Napoleon decides to cut his losses and head after Streigau. He leaves Illya behind with orders to do whatever it takes to stop Nazarone. Illya wonders how he can accomplish this without a car; Napoleon replies, “Why don’t you try showing them your legs?” Ah, the sexual objectification of Illya is proceeding apace, I see. Excellent.

Alas, Illya remains fully clothed (this time), opting instead to build a makeshift barrier of hay bales to stop Nazarone. The car skids to a halt; when Illya removes Nazarone’s helmet, he’s horrified to see she’s turned into a grotesque, withered husk of her former self. Or, really, that she’s turned into a beautiful young woman with unblended foundation smears across her face, but I’m willing to accept that the makeup artists were trying to make her look prematurely aged by the formula.

At Nazarone’s garage, Madame Streigau-née-Dr. Egret retrieves the formula, rips off her wig and mask, and takes off. Napoleon arrives at the garage too late to stop her. A pair of blonde T.H.R.U.S.H. henchwomen beat the crap out of him, just for kicks.

Back at the hotel, Napoleon is dispirited about the utter failure of the mission. Because their partnership is built largely upon gratuitous cruelty and relentless one-upsmanship, Illya doesn’t bother to tell him that the formula doesn’t work: “I’d be miserable too, if I had to explain to Mr. Waverly how I let Dr. Egret and the formula get away from me.” After Lavinia lets it slip that the formula is worthless, Napoleon rips off his coat and advances on Illya, presumably to give his partner a well-deserved beating. “You did say you like blonds,” Illya reminds him.

An excellent episode, bubbly and delightful and utterly unfettered by anything resembling logic or depth. This may be the greatest show in the world.


Hamlette said…
DKoren keeps sending me links to your episode recaps and I am laughing so hard over them that tears are running down my face and my kids keep asking what's wrong. Thank you! These are priceless. And I haven't even seen any episodes of the original show yet! YET. I can't imagine how funny I will find these once I've seen some.

BTW, This is a waste of a perfectly good Illya is my new favorite phrase.
Morgan Richter said…
Thanks so much, Hamlette! The show is really marvelous and hilarious; I can't believe it took me so long to discover it. I saw from your blog that you enthusiastically recommend the U.N.C.L.E. movie, which I still haven't seen; between DKoren's and your recommendations, I'm bumping it up to my must-see list.
Hamlette said…
You're quite welcome! I happen to love doofy old TV shows (and non-doofy ones too), so I think I'm going to quite like MFU. My mom adored it back when she was a teen, and just got the whole series from my dad as an early Christmas present, so when I visit them this fall, she's going to introduce me to the series :-) And then when she comes to visit us for Christmas, I'm hoping the movie will be out on DVD by then, and I can introduce her to it! And then we can argue over whose beloved Illya is the cutest.

The movie is extraordinarily fun, and I highly recommend you try to see it ASAP, before it leaves theaters.

And finally, I've been poking around your blog a bit, and read your enormously satisfying and comprehensive post about Ioan Gruffudd from 2007 -- what a joy it was! I've adored him since the first Hornblower movies came out, and it was great to read someone's thoughts on some of his less-well-known roles, as well as the ones that I haven't seen yet. I actually bought a used copy of his Great Expectations on VHS recently and have been hesitant to watch it because I really don't like the book much... but you've convinced me that Ioan is not unlovable in it, so I'm going to give it a whirl soon. Thanks!
Morgan Richter said…
Ioan is wonderful in Great Expectations -- it's one of my favorites of his early roles (Hornblower is still the best, though). Very strong cast--Justine Waddell is a lovely Estella.

I'll try to see the film this weekend, if it's still in theaters. The show is just a crazy good time--anyone looking to understand the concept of onscreen chemistry could do worse than examining it, because McCallum and Vaughn play brilliantly off each other. It's just fun to watch.
Hamlette said…
Marvelous! I'm quite looking forward to GE now :-) And MFU the show! I do hope you can manage to see the movie quick -- I'm hoping for one final viewing this weekend myself, before it disappears and I have to wait for the DVD. It's also a "crazy good time," as you put it -- my favorite adjective for it is "playful."
Morgan Richter said…
"Playful" sounds exactly like what I need in a late-summer movie. It's good to hear that they didn't try to make a grim, gritty, serious film out of such a fun, frothy show.
Hamlette said…
Yes! One of my favorite things about it is that there's no dire "end of the world" aspect to it. Yes, there's a nuclear bomb, and yes, somebody gets tortured at one point, but it's by no means gritty or grim.
Hamlette said…
Oh my goodness, this show really just keeps on improving, doesn't it? This ep was a riot!

Next week, we're going to start watching season 1 backwards, now that we've finished off your ep recommendations for it. That way we'll probably get to see all the really good end-of-season eps before I have to go home.
Morgan Richter said…
Oh, good! Yeah, most of the second half of the first season is strong, so watching it backwards is a good call. Apart from the ones you've already seen, my favorite ones are Gazebo in the Maze, See Paris and Die, Bow Wow, Secret Sceptre, and Project Strigas. Also, both of the episodes guest-starring Jill Ireland (who was married to David McCallum at the time) as Illya's love interest are pretty good -- The Quadripartite Affair and the Giuoco Piano Affair. Really, there are more good episodes than bad ones.

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