The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The See-Paris-And-Die Affair”
In Paris, nightclub owner Max Von Schreeten (Lloyd Bochner) and his cousin Josef (Gerald Mohr) receive a delivery of a suitcase filled with cash. The Von Schreeten cousins embezzled half a billion dollars in uncut, unregistered diamonds from a diamond syndicate; to prevent them from flooding the world diamond market, the syndicate has been paying them a cool million each month in extortion fees. Max wants to use his new ill-gotten wealth to lure Mary Pilgrim (Kathryn Hays), a singer from New York who used to date both Max and Josef, to Paris to perform at his club, in the hopes of winning her back.
There’s a listening device attached to the suitcase’s luggage tag. From a hotel room somewhere in Paris, Illya eavesdrops on Max and Josef.
Back in New York, Napoleon kidnaps Mary Pilgrim from her apartment in the Bronx, hustles her into a cab, and takes her to U.N.C.L.E. headquarters, where a quartet of stylists ignore her loud protests and give her a head-to-toe makeover, transforming her from frumpy to glamorous. Napoleon explains the plan to an outraged Mary: He wants her to accept the job in Paris and rekindle her romance with Max to find where he’s hidden the diamonds. Max is already very much in love with Mary, so apparently Napoleon gave her a non-consensual makeover just to be a dick.
Napoleon is very, very good at being a dick.
At first, Mary flatly refuses to cooperate: She’s now studying opera under the renowned Madame Grushenka and has no wish to return to the world of nightclub performances. She relents after Napoleon agrees to let Madame Grushenka accompany her to Paris.
In Paris, Max’s assistant, Corio (Alfred Ryder), who is actually a THRUSH mole, finds the listening device on the suitcase and notifies his superior, Krolik (Kevin Hagen). Krolik, whom we first meet as he’s lolling on a couch while a sexy lady hand-feeds him treats, realizes this means U.N.C.L.E. is on the trail of the diamonds.
At Krolik’s suggestion, Corio taps an electronic tuning fork* against the listening device, thus generating ultrasonic waves that (somehow) make Illya’s headphones explode. Illya survives the explosion unscathed—he’d removed his headphones to chow down on a baguette sandwich, which Napoleon had brought to him in their Paris hotel room. Illya is unfazed by his near-death experience, opting instead to berate Napoleon for his sandwich choices: “Must you put ketchup and mustard on everything?” While he’s being ungrateful and surly—hey, free sandwich!—I’m firmly Team Illya on this one. What kind of uncouth, uncultured American goes to Paris and asks for a baguette sandwich with ketchup and mustard?
*I greatly admire all of THRUSH’s weird yet iconoclastic advances in the heretofore underdeveloped field of weaponized tuning forks. Between this episode and “The Concrete Overcoat Affair”, they’ve got that market cornered.
Napoleon pops by Mary’s dressing room to wish her good luck on her nightclub debut. He’s chased away by the formidable Madame Grushenka (Miriam Goldina), who is seething with unbridled hostility over Mary’s decision to sing in a nightclub. “My Mary is a painted floozy!” she wails.
Onstage, instead of busting out some sultry French torch song, Mary warbles her way through the brassy “It’s a Most Unusual Day” from A Date With Judy, which is a really weird song choice for a debut in a slinky Parisian nightclub. It’s… well, it’s not immediately apparent from her performance that Mary is either a former nightclub chanteuse or a classically-trained opera singer.
While Mary yodels away in the background, Corio and Krolik secretly meet at the nightclub. Krolik passes along new orders from their higher-ups in THRUSH: Now that U.N.C.L.E. has entered the picture, they need to find the diamonds as quickly as possible. Upon rewatching this episode, it dawned on me that Krolik and Corio are roughly the bargain-basement THRUSH equivalent of Napoleon and Illya. The similarities are obvious: Krolik is a genial womanizer, Corio is small and surly, and neither one is particularly adept at his chosen profession.
After the show, Max whisks Mary off to a romantic dinner. While walking Mary back to her hotel, Max is attacked by Illya, who is disguised as a beret-wearing, knife-wielding French bandit. Max gains the upper hand, whereupon Illya confesses he was hired by Josef to kill Max, then flees into the night.
At the luxurious apartment he shares with his cousin, Josef investigates a sudden ruckus on his balcony, only to find Napoleon and Illya engaged in ludicrous mortal combat.
Napoleon dons a ghastly French accent and introduces himself to Josef as, ahem, Inspector Javert. Josef, who is either unfamiliar with the works of Victor Hugo or too distracted by the brawling strangers on his balcony to notice, lets this bit of nitwittery pass without comment. Napoleon claims he spotted Illya, a well-known assassin and all-purpose ruffian, climbing up onto the balcony. A search of Illya’s pockets turns up Max’s business card. Napoleon manhandles Illya out of the apartment: “‘Allo! We go sweat you a little bit, eh, pussycat?”
Pussycat. Wonderful. Out of all the vast and varied and weirdly hilarious pet names Napoleon gives to Illya over the course of the series—Filthy, Little Friend, Little Flower, etcetera—my favorite might be pussycat.
So thanks to Illya and Napoleon, Max now thinks Josef is trying to kill him, while Josef thinks Max is trying to kill him. Max stages a retaliatory attack: He hires a fierce gang of rough-and-tumble furniture movers to beat up Josef and steal all the furniture in their shared apartment.
Max then grabs Mary and informs her that they’re going to run off and get eloped. Mary doesn’t seem too jazzed about this plan, but she goes along for the ride anyway. At the train station, Max spots Illya, whom he still believes is the assassin Josef hired to kill him. Spooked that Josef plans to murder him to get the diamonds back, he tears the claim ticket the furniture movers had given him in two and gives half to Mary. Before boarding the train, Mary manages to slip her half of the ticket to Illya.
Illya calls Napoleon from the train station to fill him in on the situation. Napoleon is sitting on the floor in Max and Josef’s now-empty apartment, where Josef is still lying unconscious after being beaten up by the movers. The diamonds, it seems, were hidden inside the furniture, which is now being transported to some unknown destination. Napoleon gives Illya some well-deserved crap for botching the assignment: Illya had searched the apartment earlier looking for the diamonds, but hadn’t thought to check inside the furniture.
While Illya chats with Napoleon, Corio and Kralik creep up behind him and bonk him over the head, then steal his half of the claim check as he’s lying in an unconscious heap. Oh, Illya. Throughout much of the first season, in which Napoleon is still clearly the star of the show while Illya is merely his loyal sidekick, it’s easy to get the impression that Illya is the more competent agent of the two, simply because he usually has much less to do than Napoleon. And then episodes like this one come along, and… well, Illya’s not necessarily less competent than Napoleon, but that bar is set pretty low.
Back at the apartment, Josef finally regains consciousness just as Kralik bursts in, demanding to know where the movers are taking the diamonds. When Josef attacks Kralik, Kralik shoots and kills him. Kralik turns his attention toward Napoleon, who casually tosses him to his death off the balcony.
Outside, he’s stopped by Madame Grushenka, who has the police arrest him on suspicion of kidnapping Mary. Napoleon, who is a one-man force of chaos in this episode, takes Grushenka hostage at gunpoint and steals a police car. “In no way do I represent American foreign policy!” he yells out the window at the police as he speeds away from the crime scene.
After swapping the police car for a flashier sports car, which he carjacks from some poor Parisian dude, Napoleon zips to the next train station. While waiting for the train carrying Max and Mary to arrive, he calls Illya to tell him to follow along the train tracks in a helicopter and wait for his signal. Bruised and battered, Illya complains bitterly about getting attacked by Kralik and Corio: “When I did manage to get to my feet, it took me half an hour to find my trousers.” THEY STOLE ILLYA’S PANTS! Fantastic. I’m delighted to see an unexpected reprise of the bizarre pants-stealing motif from “The Terbuf Affair.”
On the train, Corio threatens to kill Mary unless Max tells him where the furniture is being shipped. Max, whose love of a half a billion dollars in diamonds far outweighs his love for Mary, refuses to cooperate. Napoleon, who is now aboard the train, tries to intervene, but gets captured as well. Corio forces them all to exit at the next station, where THRUSH reinforcements are waiting to slaughter them.
Luckily, the police are there as well, ready to arrest Napoleon for kidnapping Mary. When Mary insists Napoleon is innocent, the police captain assumes she’s fallen madly in love with her captor, which, he assures her, is a common occurrence with young women. Oh, oink. Gross.
Spotting Illya’s helicopter overhead, Napoleon continues his hot streak of wanton destruction by fleeing from the police and setting fire to a hay cart. Illya sees the fire and lowers a rope ladder to pick him up.
In the helicopter, Illya is sullen and terse and absolutely furious with himself for failing to search for the diamonds inside the furniture. It’s both cute and rare to see Illya filled with self-recrimination for botching a mission. He’s young here; he’ll get used to it. As the series progresses, he’ll botch so many missions that it won’t even occur to him to feel bad about it.
Napoleon and Illya spot the furniture truck, which has already been hijacked by Corio and his goons. Illya takes out Corio with the helicopter’s guns, then lands the helicopter on top of the truck, bringing it to a halt.
With the diamonds successfully recovered, Illya and Napoleon celebrate at the nightclub, which, with Max’s arrest, now legally belongs to Mary. Illya’s evening is ruined by Napoleon, who smugly tells him that he informed Mr. Waverly of his failure to find the diamonds in the apartment. As punishment, Waverly is sending Illya off on another mission to Amsterdam to investigate how the diamond heist was pulled off in the first place. Napoleon romances and dances with Mary, leaving Illya to fend off the attentions of an amorous Madame Grushenka. “Hey, pussycat! Dance with ze lady, oui?” Napoleon calls out to his irate partner.
A perfectly serviceable episode, elevated into the ranks of the all-time classics through the judicious use of pet names and pants-stealing. Excellent.