The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The Quadripartite Affair”

“The Quadripartite Affair” is the third episode of the series and the first in which Illya plays a significant role (he has a few throwaway lines in the pilot, then doesn’t appear in the second episode). It opens with a bizarre bit of stage-setting narration (“In New York City, on a street in the east forties, there’s an ordinary tailor shop. Or… is it ordinary?”), followed by an even more bizarre bit in which Napoleon, lllya, and Mr. Waverly awkwardly introduce themselves to viewers by speaking directly to the camera. This opening was used for the first few episodes before being mercifully jettisoned.

Somewhere in the rustic hills of Hollywood Yugoslavia, a young photographer named Marion Raven (Jill Ireland) rushes to comfort her father, Dr. Gregory Raven, as he screams and cowers from some unseen horror, while the beautiful and evil Gervaise Ravel (Forbidden Planet’s Anne Francis) and her foppish consort, Harold Bufferton (John Van Dreelen), observe them via hidden camera. At Gervaise’s request, Colonel Pattner (Richard Anderson) hunts down and kills Dr. Raven in front of a distraught Marion.

While investigating Dr. Raven’s murder, Napoleon and Illya visit Marion at her New York apartment. Per Marion, her father had recently stumbled across something alarming in Yugoslavia, but was killed before he’d been able to tell anyone about his discovery. The day before his death, Dr. Raven had insisted Marion destroy a photograph she’d taken of a yacht. Napoleon heads off to follow this lead, leaving Illya behind to protect Marion from whomever murdered her father.

This early on, U.N.C.L.E.’s writers and producers still seem to be feeling their way around Illya. He’s brusquer and more Slavic here than he’ll be later in the series, though he’s got an incongruous yet charming flirtatious streak (after describing Marion as “stubborn” for refusing to go into hiding, he solemnly tells her, “Resolution is my favorite virtue.” Napoleon reassures a perplexed yet intrigued Marion: “You’ll get used to him. He might even grow on you.” It’s cute).

Back at U.N.C.L.E. headquarters, Napoleon flirts shamelessly with comely female agents while taking a halfhearted stab at doing his job. He discovers that the yacht Marion photographed is owned by Gervaise, the scheming and dangerous widow of the former head of France’s army intelligence division. Having recently sailed from Yugoslavia, the yacht is currently docked in New York.

Left alone with Illya, Marion suggests playing a record. “You probably don’t have anything I like,” he replies. Illya Kuryakin, music snob and proto-hipster. He coldly advises Marion to pretend he’s not even there, to just treat him as part of the furniture. Marion, who is having none of this nonsense, sets about trying to win him over. Next thing you know, he’s lounging on her living floor, jacket off, listening to albums and having a whale of a good time.

They’re interrupted by the arrival of a messenger, who drops off a box of chocolates for Marion. Illya checks the box for traps or explosives in his usual meticulous manner, i.e. he orders Marion to stand back, then removes the wrapping and opens it up. The chocolates turn out to be laced with a mysterious gas, which spreads throughout Marion’s apartment, incapacitating them both.

Bravo, Illya! This is the very first time viewers have ever seen you out in the field, and you’ve already botched the mission. It’s almost impressive.

When Illya fails to check in at the expected time, Napoleon heads over to Marion’s apartment, only to find Marion nowhere in sight and a gas-addled Illya whimpering and cowering on the floor from some unseen terror.

Disguised as a fire inspector, Napoleon crashes a party on Gervaise’s yacht, where he rescues Marion from her captors: Gervaise, Bufferton, and Colonel Pattner, all of whom are corresponding via satellite with a fourth conspirator, Professor Karadian (Robert Carricart). The “Quadripartite” of the episode’s title refers to the four villains: Gervaise, Bufferton, Pattner, and Karadian. Funded by Bufferton’s considerable wealth, Gervaise has been scheming with the others to overthrow the Yugoslavian government, for some nebulous and unspecified reason.

Back at headquarters, U.N.C.L.E.’s top scientists inspect the chocolates sent to Marion and discover traces of diphenyl sulfide, a gas that inspires severe terror in anyone who inhales it. Professor Karadian, the creator of the gas, disappeared mysteriously around the same time Colonel Pattner was stripped of his military commission for his fanatical political beliefs. It’s… well, it’s a little convoluted and tedious, frankly. Despite the impeccable pedigrees of the creative staff who worked on this episode—it was written by frequent U.N.C.L.E. scribe Alan Caillou and directed by none other than Lethal Weapon’s Richard Donner—the plot is sluggish and hazy, with big honking chunks of irrelevant exposition getting disgorged during long meetings in Mr. Waverly’s office. Napoleon has about as much tolerance for these draggy, sludgy scenes as I do.

Big honking chunks of irrelevant exposition are also disgorged during long meetings on Gervaise’s yacht, though these scenes are slightly more interesting, mostly because Gervaise conducts them while swilling champagne and wearing sparkly gowns and bathing suits. The episode might be a drag, but none of that is Anne Francis’s fault. Anne is bringing it.

Gervaise and her cohorts are manufacturing massive amounts of diphenyl sulfide in a mountainous area in Yugoslavia. As the area is treacherous and nigh-unpassable, Marion agrees to arrange a meeting between Napoleon and Illya and one of her father’s trusted friends, a Yugoslavian smuggler named Milan Horth, who will be able to guide them through the mountains. Napoleon, Illya, and Marion suit up, ready to head into a rough, treacherous region to take down a pack of fanatical murderers.

Hmm. They don’t exactly inspire confidence, do they?

Upon arriving in Yugoslavia, Napoleon, Illya, and Marion meet up with Horth (Roger C. Carmel! Good to see you again on this show, sir). Horth takes them back to his home, which features goats randomly (and adorably!) wandering around his dining room.

Having led Napoleon and Illya to Horth, Marion’s role in the mission is now over. She refuses to leave, however, and insists on tagging along while they raid and destroy Gervaise’s gas-producing lair. For some damn reason, Napoleon and Illya are totally cool with this. Look, guys, when the untrained civilian wants to accompany you on a dangerous mission just for kicks, it’s perfectly okay to say no. In fact, it’s a very good idea to say no.

With Horth guiding them, Illya and Napoleon and Marion wearily trudge through the Hollywood Yugoslavian hills (Illya: “I had a feeling I was in shape.” Napoleon: “You learn a little something every day.”). While Napoleon and Horth scout up ahead, Illya and Marion take a quick breather. Marion confesses that she’s unable to feel comfortable around grim, dangerous Illya. Illya once again tries to persuade her to view him as part of the scenery: “Pretend I’m part of the background. A rock, or a tree.” Marion takes him literally and leans against him to take a quick nap. Illya and Marion are pretty adorable together. This is perhaps unsurprising, considering David McCallum and Jill Ireland were, at this time, married to each other.

Armed guards ambush them at the entrance to Gervaise’s secret base. Napoleon escapes unseen, but Illya, Horth, and Marion are captured. After Horth is killed during an escape attempt, Illya and Marion find themselves locked in a cell together, awaiting interrogation and execution by their captors. While Illya searches for some way to break out, a traumatized Marion begins to freak out a little. Illya urges her to stop distracting him, whereupon Marion snaps, “Just for once, couldn’t you pretend you’re a human being?” Illya considers this, then agrees: “For a few moments then, let us pretend I’m a human being.” He gathers her up in a hug. A gigantic, awesome hug.

Future U.N.C.L.E. historians will agree this is probably the precise moment fervent Illya-mania began to kick in around the world.

His tender moment with Marion concluded, Illya then enlists her help in breaking out of their cell.

Illya clings to the grate covering the ceiling vent and tries to kick it loose. Bemused, Colonel Pattner observes his efforts on hidden camera: “Energetic young man, isn’t he?”

Meanwhile, Napoleon mugs one of the armed guards, dons his uniform, infiltrates the compound, and begins merrily setting bombs all over the place.

Napoleon breaks Illya and Marion out of their cell, then releases the diphenyl sulfide. As Pattner and Karadian cower in gas-induced terror, Napoleon, Illya, and Marion saunter casually out of the compound, which explodes behind them.

Their mission successfully concluded, they head back to New York. Illya gallantly offers to walk Marion home from headquarters. Napoleon seems a little nonplussed to find his partner skipping out on work in the middle of the day, but Waverly, in an uncharacteristically benevolent mood, assures him it was his idea: “Best possible thing for her. She has a lot to forget. I told Illya to help her put it all behind her.” Waverly reminds Napoleon that Gervaise and Bufferton, who were still in New York when the factory in Yugoslavia exploded, are still at large. Napoleon heads off to investigate their current whereabouts, thus setting the stage for the return of Gervaise and Bufferton in “The Giuoco Piano Affair.”

Not an outstanding episode, but it’s got some strong moments, and it’s notable for featuring the earliest steps on David McCallum’s path from infrequently-seen supporting character to equal costar with Robert Vaughn.

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Illesdan said…
Y'know how Robert Vaughn looks totally uninterested in the UNCLE meeting? Well, take a good look at him at the point Waverly asks Marion about the Yugoslav village! It gets really funny, just by his eyes and how his hand doesn't quite hide his wide grin. Something obviously happened off-camera that just about made Vaughn blow that scene!

Roger C. Carmel is just awesome. I always loved his performances in Star Trek.

'Hmm. They don't exactly inspire confidence, do they?' Should be trademarked for this show. At least in these first-season shows they tried. Still failed hard, but an A for effort.

A shout-out for racial diversity in hiring the henchmen; Illya and Marion get thwarted on their getaway by a black man and an Asian guy. I love you bad guys sooo much! And, oh joy, that annoying alarm from one of the prior episodes is back. This is thoroughly uncalled for and just goes on too long.

Marion... strange little Marion. Its such a shame they wasted an acting talent like Jill Ireland with such an awfully spastic character. I see some moments that really make me want to like her, but then the next scene comes along and makes you go, 'what?' Well, sadly, this won't be the last time Jill has to suffer through horrible characterization at the hands of U.N.C.L.E. writers. I've weathered three of her five performances for this show, and, wow, its not good.
Morgan Richter said…
Poor, poor lovely Jill Ireland. U.N.C.L.E. never did figure out how to use her well.

I'm going to have to take another look at Vaughn during the meeting! I totally missed that.

Roger C. Carmel is always a welcome presence, anywhere.

Every once in a while, this show does okay on the diversity front with featuring nonwhite actors as UNCLE and/or THRUSH agents. And then at other times, they just slap a little brown paint on a white actor instead, and we all shake our heads sadly and cringe in embarrassment.

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