The Man from U.N.C.L.E.: “The Concrete Overcoat Affair” (Parts 1 & 2)

 It’s a two-part episode. You know what that means? Twice the usual amount of nonsensical plotting and high-spirited nitwittery! Get comfortable—this is going to be a long one.

During its four-season run, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. produced eight feature films, which were cobbled together from a mixture of existing episodes and additional footage and released in theaters internationally. “The Concrete Overcoat Affair”, repackaged for theatrical release under the title The Spy in the Green Hat, is one of the stronger efforts. It’s a touch darker and more brutal than the usual U.N.C.L.E. episode (more blatantly James Bond-ish, really), but Illya and Napoleon are their usual sparkling and charming selves, and the big-name guest stars—Jack Palance and Janet Leigh—are standouts.

In Los Angeles, Napoleon and Illya hang out at Pacific Ocean Park, zipping above the pier in a suspended gondola while spying on fugitive Nazi scientist Doctor Von Kronen (Ludwig Donath) as he secretly meets with a THRUSH agent named Luger (Vincent Beck). Back at U.N.C.L.E. headquarters in New York, Mr. Waverly updates them on their mission: A wine tycoon named Louis Strago has recruited Von Kronen to help THRUSH with a diabolical scheme to, uh, redirect the Gulf Stream north to turn Greenland into a tropical paradise. Upon gaining control of a newly-verdant Greenland, THRUSH will (somehow) rule the world. Sounds plausible. Von Kronen is en route to Sicily to meet with Strago at one of his wineries; Waverly orders Napoleon and Illya to head to Italy to find out all they can about Strago’s plan.

In Sicily, Strago (played by the always-entertaining Jack Palance) receives a rubdown from his lovestruck assistant, Miss Diketon (Janet Leigh). Strago, who is fussy and finicky and temperamental, complains about Miss Diketon’s heavy breathing, then criticizes her outfit: “The skirt is too tight, the length is too short, the neckline is too low.” He invokes the Uniform Code of THRUSH Procedure, which explicitly frowns on improper employer-employee relationships. Wait. Full stop. THRUSH has a code of conduct? Seriously? From everything we’ve seen, THRUSH is run by a bunch of creeps, sadists, and kinky weirdos, none of whom seem like they’d be overly troubled by assistants who flash too much cleavage at the office.

Our intrepid heroes, meanwhile, have managed to get hopelessly lost on their way to Strago’s winery. After squabbling and bickering and puzzling over road maps, they finally ask some random dude for directions. Random dude turns out to be a THRUSH agent, naturally, who sends word to Strago that a couple of adorably featherbrained U.N.C.L.E. spies are looking for him. By the time Illya and Napoleon make it to the nearby village, Luger and his henchmen are lying in ambush. A gunfight ensues; Illya escapes, but Napoleon gets cornered inside a pizzeria, which is blown to pieces by a grenade.

Luger returns to Strago to report that Napoleon is (presumably) dead, but Illya is still at large. Displeased by this news, Strago sends for Miss Diketon, who unzips the side of her skirt, whips out a dagger from a holster strapped to her thigh, and hurls it at Luger. Having slaughtered Luger, Miss Diketon breathlessly pants and writhes with, er, joy.

…was that too subtle? Okay, I’m going to give it to you straight: Killing people—or, as we’ll soon see, inflicting pain, particularly on sexy blond Russian spies—makes Miss Diketon orgasmic. Upon first watching this episode, I was a little bored by the opening scenes—U.N.C.L.E.’s two-parters tend to drag due to padding, and thus my hopes were low—and then Janet Leigh started creeping out all her fellow THRUSH members with her crazy-eyed, horny sadism. From there on, I was riveted.

Knocked out by the grenade blast, Napoleon awakens to find himself in the care of the pizzeria’s owner, a beautiful young woman named Pia Monteri (Leticia Roman), who has already swiped all the cash from his wallet while he was lying unconscious. Larceny is in Pia’s blood: On the wall of her home are framed wanted posters for her great-uncles, a trio of notorious Prohibition-era Chicago gangsters known as the Stiletto brothers.

While Napoleon flirts with Pia, Illya steals a THRUSH uniform and breaks into the winery, where he discovers that Strago is filling wine bottles with super-heavy magnetic water (…just go with it), which will be used to divert the Gulf Stream. While posing as a THRUSH worker, Illya first crosses Miss Diketon’s radar. She scopes him out from head to toe and gushes about how he’s “really very cute.” She’s creepy, but she’s not wrong. Illya is really very cute. It’s just a fact.

THRUSH guards sweep the town in search of Illya. To evade them, Napoleon hides under Pia’s bed, where he’s promptly discovered by her angry grandmother (Penny Santon). Convinced Pia’s honor has been compromised, she pulls a shotgun on Napoleon, hands her old wedding dress to Pia, and sends for the priest to make an honest woman of her granddaughter. Napoleon contacts Illya and requests an emergency rescue. While desperately trying to reach Illya, Napoleon mutters, “Come in, little friend” into his communicator. Ha! That’s wonderfully condescending. If Illya knew his partner was in the habit of referring to him as his “little friend”, he’d be apoplectic. Come to think of it, that’s probably exactly why Napoleon does it.

Illya arrives in time to save Napoleon from unhappy matrimony. This marks the first of two occasions in Season Three in which Illya will prevent Napoleon from being married against his will (the second takes place in “The Apple a Day Affair”). One time can be considered bad luck, Napoleon, but if this sort of thing becomes a pattern, you need to start taking a hard look at your life choices.

Pia and her grandmother fly to Chicago and round up the Stiletto brothers to track down Napoleon. The Stiletto brothers (aka Fingers, Feet, and Pretty) are played by a trio of distinguished screen actors—Eduardo Ciannelli, Allen Jenkins, and Jack La Rue—all of whom earned their fame playing gangsters; this is very nice and all, but the episode crawls to a halt for a while as these crude Italian stereotypes bluster and snarl about how Napoleon has sullied Pia’s good name. Intended as comic relief, the Stilettos are too brutal and unpleasant to pull it off; vaudeville legend Joan Blondell, who makes a brief cameo as a long-suffering Stiletto wife, deserves better than this.

Illya and Napoleon hurry back to headquarters in New York. Napoleon, to his credit, feels kind of crummy about skipping out on Pia and ruining her reputation. Waverly reassures him: “I’m sure an UNCLE agent would never do anything improper.” This observation is met with awkward silence.

Strago returns to his home in Chicago. Posing as a longshoreman, Illya skulks around Strago’s warehouse, snooping into crates and setting random explosions and attracting a lot of attention to himself. He’s spotted by Miss Diketon, who alerts Strago to his presence. Strago, who is trying to convince the murderous Stiletto brothers that he doesn’t know the whereabouts of Napoleon, sets them loose on Illya instead. Napoleon pops up out of nowhere to rescue his partner, but gets captured by the Stilettos himself. The Stilettos whisk him off to an impromptu wedding ceremony at a nightclub.

This means Illya is left in the tender clutches of Miss Diketon. Miss Diketon is delighted to see him again: “Oh, you are so cute. You know what I’m going to do? I’m just going to love you to death.”

Cue the de rigueur torture of Illya. Nobody on television gets beaten up, tied up, and tortured as much as Illya does. This time, Miss Diketon works him over with an electrified cattle prod while carrying on a cheerful monologue: “Oh, Illya, you’re awfully attractive. I mean, I’ve known a lot of fellas—in college, I mean, before I joined THRUSH—but you know, you get tired of those one-shot affairs. Besides, they couldn’t hold a candle to you.” Wow. Miss Diketon, you’re a sick puppy, but you’re also kind of amazing.

Acting on orders from THRUSH Central, Strago crashes Napoleon’s wedding. He kidnaps Napoleon, then, on a lark, grabs Pia as well. Note how Napoleon is much too cool to put his hands fully up while held at gunpoint by a slew of heavily-armed terrorists.

Instead of cooperating with Strago, Napoleon makes a break for it. “I’ll be back, Pia!” he yells over his shoulder as he hightails it out of there, leaving her behind in Strago’s clutches. It’s… well, it’s maybe not the noblest thing he’s ever done.

Back at U.N.C.L.E. headquarters, Waverly fills Napoleon in on the latest developments: Strago has moved to his main base of operations on his privately-owned island in the Caribbean. As it’s vital to stop Strago before he launches his undersea missiles to divert the Gulf Stream, U.N.C.L.E. will mount an airstrike in sixteen hours and reduce the island to rubble. Alarmed, Napoleon tells Waverly he can’t do that: Strago is holding Illya prisoner on the island. Mr. Waverly—who, after all, sends his agents off to die in the service of U.N.C.L.E. on a daily basis—is unmoved by this argument. Napoleon switches tactics: Pia, an innocent civilian, will die as well. Because Mr. Waverly’s bumbling, grandfatherly exterior hides an unfeeling, callous core, he orders Napoleon to either do his job or turn in his badge. At the prospect of leaving Illya to die, Napoleon whips out his most miserable, devastated, brink-of-tears expression. 

This turns Waverly’s cold, cold heart to mush: He grants Napoleon permission to try to rescue Illya and Pia before U.N.C.L.E. bombs the island into smithereens. “Alexander Waverly, sentimental grandmother of the year,” he mutters disgustedly to himself as Napoleon scampers off to save his partner.

In Strago’s massive lair in the Caribbean, Dr. Von Kronen expresses his admiration for Miss Diketon: “I must tell you, I cannot forget how beautifully you tortured that U.N.C.L.E. agent.” Eek. When Nazis start complimenting you on your sadism, it’s probably time to dial it back a few notches.

(Take a close look at the background of that above screenshot: With the exception of Von Kronen, all of Strago’s top scientists and engineers are women. I’ll say this for THRUSH: They may be a bunch of brutal, nasty, power-crazed, rape-happy torture fanatics, but at least they don’t believe in the glass ceiling.)

More unsavory business takes place elsewhere in the lair, as a lecherous Strago chases Pia around his conference table. Hey! Whoa! Let’s take another look at that THRUSH code of conduct, buddy! If THRUSH is so squeamish about employees hooking up together, surely there’s a section in there that frowns on molesting prisoners. Upon receiving a message from his bosses at THRUSH Central, Strago stops harassing Pia and sends for Illya. Miss Diketon brings Illya in, looking somewhat worse for wear. She’s leading him around by a belt wrapped around his neck, so we can probably safely assume the code of conduct has been chucked out the window by this point.

Strago informs Illya, whose usual cold, composed demeanor is starting to fray at the seams, that THRUSH Central has ordered him kept alive until one of their top representatives arrives at the island. He takes Illya on a tour of the facilities. In particular, he demonstrates his newest and most gimmicky weapon: a giant reflecting disk powered by a hundred thousand vibrating tuning forks, which can demolish anything in its path. Tuning forks? Why not just use a rocket launcher, or maybe a laser beam? For crying out loud, THRUSH, can’t you do anything in a straightforward manner? Strago aims the reflecting disk at an approaching boat, which happens to be piloted by Napoleon, and forces Illya to watch while he blows it to pieces.

While this demonstration takes place, Miss Diketon is left to watch over Pia in the conference room. Pia and Miss Diketon hiss and snarl at each other, then Pia whips out a stolen letter opener, Miss Diketon brandishes her knife, they roll around together on the conference table, and a good old-fashioned catfight ensues.

Pia gets the upper hand and makes a break for it. She’s caught by a furious Strago, who returns her to her prison cell, then chews out Miss Diketon for her “unclean mind” and sundry other moral failings: “You’re sick, Miss Diketon. Even for THRUSH, you are very, very sick.” That’s a pretty high bar, but it’s probably true. He announces his intention to have her transferred out of his department.

His boat in pieces, Napoleon is fished out of the ocean by the Stiletto brothers, who’ve come to rescue their grandniece from Strago. They hijack a THRUSH boat, change into THRUSH uniforms, and swarm the island.

Having been spurned by Strago, Miss Diketon decides to switch her allegiance to Team Illya. She visits him in his prison cell, where Pia, bless her misguided heart, has been trying in vain to flirt with him. Oh, Pia. Sweet girl, but no sense of appropriate timing.

Miss Diketon makes Illya an offer: If he helps her kill Strago, she’ll help him escape in time to stop the missile launch. Suspicious and baffled by this totally random development, Illya nonetheless agrees.

The head honcho from THRUSH Central, a man named Thaler (Will Kuluva, who was originally cast as Napoleon’s boss in the Man from U.N.C.L.E. pilot, only to be replaced by Leo G. Carroll’s Mr. Waverly), arrives on the island. Thaler, who is planning on having Illya executed in a showy public ceremony before the missile launch, orders Illya brought to him. First, though, Strago throws a big party for Thaler. Dancing girls! Flowered leis! Fruity drinks served in coconuts! Public executions of captive U.N.C.L.E. agents! It’s always a good time at THRUSH. Strago informs Thaler of his decision to transfer Miss Diketon out of his department due to her grievous moral corruption. Thaler, who seems nonplussed by the concept of anyone being too corrupt for THRUSH, suggests just killing her to save everyone the paperwork.

True to her word, Miss Diketon rescues Illya from his cell. After killing Von Kronen and a THRUSH guard, Illya changes into a THRUSH uniform and heads off after Strago with Miss Diketon. Outside the lair, Illya and Miss Diketon find themselves surrounded by Napoleon and the Stiletto brothers. Stunned, Napoleon and Illya hold each other at gunpoint. This is how their reunion goes:

Illya: “Hi.”
Napoleon: “Hi, there.”

They stare at each other in shock for a long moment, guns still pointed at each other, and then Napoleon breaks the magic moment by muttering something characteristically snide about how he’d assumed Illya wouldn’t be smart enough to get free on his own.

So Napoleon, Illya, Miss Diketon, and the Stiletto brothers formulate a plan: Napoleon will take out the tuning fork-powered reflecting disk, Illya and Miss Diketon will stop the missile launch and rescue Pia and kill Strago, and the Stiletto brothers will stand around shooting anything that moves. It’s not a good plan, frankly, but they decide to go with it anyway.

Out of all the creepy and unsettling things that happen in this episode, the creepiest and most unsettling part is how Miss Diketon and Illya—torturer and torturee—keep voluntarily sticking close to each other, like they’re buddies. This is not healthy, you two.

While trying to rescue Pia, Miss Diketon and Illya discover Strago has moved her from the prison cell into his suite. Miss Diketon bursts into Strago’s quarters, intent on killing him. Instead, he knocks her out, then heads off to launch the missiles. Injured, Miss Diketon tells Pia where she can find her uncles, then charges after Strago. I’m not at all convinced Miss Diketon’s character arc, complete with multiple rapid-fire changes of heart, makes a lick of sense, but what the hell—start to finish, she’s fascinating to watch.

Illya, meanwhile, tries to find some way to sabotage the missile launch. He’s approached by Thaler, who, failing to recognize him, cheerfully introduces himself and asks for a guided tour. Rookie mistake, Thaler. Should’ve read your THRUSH handbook closer; I’m sure there’s a section in it on Illya, complete with full-color photos. Illya opens the undersea missile chamber and uses the resulting blast of pressurized ocean water to kill Thaler.

As the lair rapidly floods with water, Illya fights off THRUSH guards and swims to safety. Somewhere in the chaos, he loses his stolen uniform and spends the remainder of the episode running around in the world’s most artfully shredded black t-shirt.

Napoleon battles with Strago at the reflecting disk controls. Miss Diketon joins the fight and is shot and mortally wounded by Strago. Before dying, however, she triumphantly watches as Napoleon kills Strago.

Yep. She has an orgasm while she dies.

With the missile launch stopped and Strago dead, Napoleon tells Illya they need to leave the island before U.N.C.L.E.’s bombers arrive to destroy everything in sight. Exhausted and miserable, Illya glumly asks, “Do we have to swim?”

I was really hoping things would wrap up with Illya checking in for a long session of U.N.C.L.E.-mandated counseling to deal with all the weird and traumatic crap this episode put him through, but no such luck. Instead, everyone ends up at Pia’s new pizzeria, where the Stiletto brothers, lovable as ever, threaten and insult Illya and Napoleon and yell at them to keep their hands off their niece.

Fine stuff. A little grimmer than the usual fluffy, frothy episode, but sterling nonetheless.


vintagehoarder said…
Given that Napoleon was nearly married off in the second season's "The Deadly Goddess" affair, and that Illya knew *exactly* what Napoleon wanted with his muttered "get me out of here!" call... Do you think Napoleon makes a habit of being the guest of honour at shotgun weddings?
Morgan Richter said…
And then in season three's "Apple-a-Day Affair", Napoleon *also* almost stars in a shotgun wedding! Three times is too many to be explained away, Napoleon.

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