The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The Re-Collectors Affair”
In Madrid, Gregori Valetti (frequent U.N.C.L.E. guest villain Theo Marcuse) checks into a hotel room and shoots an elderly bellhop with a gun disguised as a walking stick. He then calls the police, introduces himself, and dramatically confesses his crime: “I have just executed Colonel Oscar Manheim.” He adds that he works for a secret organization known as the Re-Collectors (slogan: “We hunt, we find, we kill”), then hangs up. A beautiful young Italian woman named Lisa Donato (Jocelyn Lane) bursts into the room, gun in hand, intending to shoot Valetti. He escapes unscathed, leaving Lisa to discover the bellhop’s corpse.
Back in New York, Mr. Waverly briefs Napoleon and Illya on their new mission: The shadowy members of the Re-Collectors have dedicated themselves to hunting down four Nazi war criminals who vanished after amassing a priceless collection of looted artwork. The Re-Collectors have claimed responsibility for killing two of the Nazis thus far, including the elderly bellhop, and have recovered several valuable pieces of stolen artwork, which they’ve sold back to the rightful owners for great sums of money. Valetti, a well-known assassin associated with the Re-Collectors, approached Lisa Donato in Rome and offered to restore a looted painting belonging to her family; unable to pay his exorbitant fee, Lisa turned to U.N.C.L.E. for help recovering her family’s artwork.
Waverly points out that the Re-Collectors seem able to track down the fugitive Nazis with ease, even though U.N.C.L.E. has been fruitlessly searching for them since the end of WWII. Waverly thinks this seems mighty fishy. Mr. Waverly, sir, I hate to be the one to break this to you, but the reason your well-funded global spy organization has spent the past twenty years trying to find four old Nazis to no avail is that all of your agents are grotesquely incompetent.
Posing as a famous art collector, Napoleon heads to Rome, where he posts a classified ad in the name of the Re-Collectors offering his skills at recovering missing works of art. When he arrives at the post office to pick up the responses to his advertisement, he’s kidnapped by thugs and brought before the leader of the Re-Collectors, Demos (George Macready, who’ll pop up again in the final season as the creepy old Nazi in “The Gurnius Affair”). Demos demands to know why Napoleon is falsely representing himself as a member of his organization; Napoleon explains that he wanted to attract the attention of the Re-Collectors to hire them to help him recover a stolen Correggio. Demos, who is openly skeptical of Napoleon’s story, presents him with two bottles of wine: a super-fancy one, and some cut-rate plonk. He instructs Napoleon to sample both and tell him which is which. Napoleon refuses to play along (“I promised my dear old mother I wouldn’t drink until I turned twenty”), which raises Demos’s ire.
While first watching this episode, Napoleon’s refusal to drink the wine confused me, as Napoleon is a classy and sophisticated bastard who would have no problem distinguishing fine wine from the cheap stuff. It gradually became clear that Napoleon was simply being prudent by refusing to drink anything offered to him by a foe, even though the wine turns out to be neither drugged nor poisoned. Basically, I was so befuddled by the incongruous sight of Napoleon actually—wait for it—being a good spy that it jolted me out of the episode.
Demos orders his thugs to hold Napoleon down and inject him with truth serum. A police sergeant bursts in at the last minute and arrests Demos (as Demos is being led away, Napoleon taunts him by offering to bring him a bottle of California wine in prison, which is a joke that probably landed better back in 1965, when California wines were still universally regarded as undrinkable swill). The sergeant escorts Napoleon to the home of Inspector Fiamma (Richard Angarola) and his lovely wife Genevieve (77 Sunset Strip’s Jacqueline Beer).
Napoleon explains to Fiamma that he’s a secret agent with U.N.C.L.E., in Italy to investigate the Re-Collectors. Meanwhile, from a lavish villa somewhere in Rome, Illya eavesdrops on the conversation via a listening device hidden in Napoleon’s signet ring. When Fiamma offers Napoleon a glass of wine, a visibly unsettled Napoleon only pretends to sip from his glass, then smoothly sends a coded distress signal to Illya.
Much of this episode centers around Napoleon assuming perfectly good wine is poisoned.
Illya contacts Mr. Waverly, who confirms that Napoleon has good cause to worry: Inspector Fiamma is an imposter. Illya prepares to rescue his partner from imminent danger, but Waverly soundly talks him out of it: “No, no, no, no, no! When Mr. Solo gets into trouble, that’s when he starts getting results!” He orders Illya (who is being uncharacteristically lippy to his boss—at one point, he calls Waverly “Sir” in a magnificently sarcastic manner) to relax.
Illya, as we will soon see, will take Waverly’s orders rather too literally.
In Fiamma’s mansion, Demos observes Napoleon and Fiamma via a two-way mirror. Convinced they’ve learned all they can from Napoleon, Demos quietly sends a message to Fiamma to lure him down to the basement so Valetti can kill him. Sensing a trap, Napoleon hastily improvises a heap of lies and convinces Fiamma to let him go.
Furious about Napoleon escaping his clutches, Demos orders Valetti to murder Fiamma with his cane-gun. Demos asks Genevieve—who turns out to be his lover, not Fiamma’s wife—to use her womanly wiles on Napoleon to lure him back so Valetti can properly murder him. Genevieve seems to think seducing Napoleon will be no big deal. Genevieve is, of course, exactly right.
Back at Illya’s lavish villa, jazzy music plays on the stereo while some kind of unseen frisky mischief takes place in the living room. We see Lisa, fully clothed, rise up from the middle of the couch, and then she stands and dances around to the music. And then Illya, who’d been sprawled out of sight on the couch, sits up, dark glasses on, shirt partially unbuttoned, hair disheveled. Holy smokes. I know my mind is a filthy sewer—it really is, that’s just a fact—and I know television decency standards in 1965 were very different than they are in 2016, but even still, from the staging of this scene and from all references to it that follow, it seems like we’re meant to interpret the situation thusly: Lisa just gave Illya head.
Correction: Lisa just gave Illya head while Napoleon lurked in the doorway, bopping to the music and watching them, unobserved. He saunters into the living room and turns off the music, whereupon Lisa and Illya notice him for the first time. Napoleon looks a little bemused/weirded out by whatever he just witnessed. “Just obeying orders: Mr. Waverly told me to relax,” Illya reassures him.
Napoleon explains the plan: When Demos’s goons kidnapped him at the police station, they also swiped the letters he’d received in response to his classified ad, which included a phony message from Illya requesting the services of the Re-Collectors. Soon enough, Valetti breaks into the villa, searching for Illya. While Napoleon hides, Illya throws a smoking jacket over his gun holster and, with his accent thicker than usual, poses as Lisa’s fiancé, a wealthy young nitwit willing to pay the Re-Collectors a hundred grand for the return of Lisa’s stolen painting. Valetti, who appears to hold no grudges against Lisa for trying to murder him in the opening sequence, accepts Illya’s check and agrees to recover the painting.
With that settled, Napoleon heads off to seduce Genevieve. He departs amidst a flurry of lurid comments about whatever went down between Illya and Lisa: “Illya, I think you’re going to have to stay with her. She’s going to need a… bodyguard.” Yep. They fooled around. You saw it. We got it, Napoleon.
So Napoleon sneaks into Genevieve’s bedroom at night, looking for Inspector Fiamma. Still posing as Fiamma’s widow, Genevieve agrees to help Napoleon trap Demos.
Back at the villa, Napoleon and Illya debate the trustworthiness of Genevieve: “She’s a very attractive girl and, I feel, extremely competent,” Napoleon says. “I’m always depressed when I see competence reflected in a woman’s face,” Illya replies. He elaborates on this notion: “An attractive woman should be more than just competent.” Illya, babe, I’m not entirely sure what you’re trying to say, but I’m pretty sure I don’t like where this is going.
Valetti, who has been secretly trailing Napoleon around, leads a raid on the villa. Napoleon, Illya, and Lisa climb out a high window, scurry along the rafters, and leap down to safety, all of which would have been much more impressive if Napoleon hadn’t stumbled on the rafters and almost knocked Lisa clean off the roof.
A mad chase ensues. Poor Lisa gets attacked and dragged off at gunpoint by Valetti, while Illya and Napoleon evade capture by hiding up in a tree together. Noble, gentlemen. Very noble.
So Napoleon goes to Genevieve and asks her to smuggle him into Demos’s wine cellar, which is where he figures Lisa is being held captive. Genevieve, naturally, leads him straight into an ambush. Before Demos has a chance to kill him, Napoleon explains his theory: The Re-Collectors knew where the old Nazi fugitives were hiding, because the Re-Collectors are the old Nazis. The man posing as Inspector Fiamma was the third Nazi; Demos is the fourth, having killed his three comrades in order to have the entire collection of looted artwork to himself. He formed the Re-Collectors as a way to sell off the paintings to the only people legally allowed to buy them, i.e. the original owners.
Illya skulks around outside Demos’s home, where he’s ambushed by Valetti. They brawl for a while, and then Illya accidentally shoots Valetti with his cane. Illya is delighted to find out how it works. This is the face of a man who is making a mental note to requisition U.N.C.L.E.’s weapons division for a cane-gun of his very own.
Demos holes up in his cellar, surrounded by his world-class collection of stolen artwork, and threatens to kill Lisa with an old-timey blunderbuss (“How wonderful to be killed by so historical a weapon!”). Before he can pull the trigger, Illya slides down a random fireman’s pole located smack in the middle of the cellar and shoots him.
Genevieve wails over the body of her slain lover, whereupon Napoleon testily points out that Demos isn’t dead—Illya used a tranquilizer dart, so Demos can stand trial for his war crimes. Napoleon waxes philosophical about Art for a while, Illya and Lisa canoodle while ignoring him, and this weird, messy, bumpy little episode wraps up about as tidily as it can, everything considered.