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

At an U.N.C.L.E. test range in the middle of a desert, Illya watches while a sultry technician (softcore starlet Edy Williams, of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls fame) conducts a controlled detonation of M4, a newly-developed and highly volatile explosive material. Following the successful demonstration, the technician handcuffs a briefcase containing the formula for M4 to Illya’s wrist. I suppose the big takeaway from this scene is that the unnamed technician heaves her formidable bosom in Illya’s direction and pants heavily while making double entendres about the hot weather, thus making this one of the relatively rare erotically-charged scenes about military-grade weapons testing. Heaving bosom aside, though, I was mostly just thrilled and relieved to see U.N.C.L.E. does indeed have female scientists. Good for you, U.N.C.L.E.! You folks have been regularly getting trounced by THRUSH in the gender-equality department, so it’s nice to see you making up a little lost ground.

After thwarting a weird and doomed-to-fail attempt by THRUSH to steal the briefcase (long story short, it involved luring Illya into a phone booth and dragging it through an airport lobby), Illya and Napoleon arrive at headquarters via the secret entrance in the tailor shop. Illya grouses that the shop is looking shabby, whereupon the proprietor, Del Floria, responds that Mr. Waverly refuses to spend any money on a new paint job to spruce it up. “I bet THRUSH ain’t so cheap,” Del Floria mutters. Probably not! The horny, sadistic crackpots over at THRUSH always seem to be hemorrhaging money in all directions.

Illya successfully delivers the M4 plans to Mr. Waverly, who reveals that the M4 itself has fallen into the hands of THRUSH: Goons ambushed and killed an U.N.C.L.E. agent who was carrying a sample of the explosive material, which was hidden inside a dashboard hula doll. While Mr. Waverly explains all this, Napoleon occupies himself by toying with a duplicate of the hula doll, which jiggles and sways whenever he touches it. “Pay attention. You can get your kicks later,” Illya growls at him, thus kicking off a strange yet delightful running motif in which everyone views Napoleon as a disreputable letch whenever he displays any job-related interest in hula dolls.

Suspecting the THRUSH goons have taken the M4 sample to their top-secret New York headquarters, Mr. Waverly orders Illya and Napoleon to find and recover it. A heat wave bearing down on the city complicates the issue: If the M4 sample is subjected to temperatures higher than ninety degrees, it’ll generate an explosion large enough to wipe out most of Manhattan.

While Napoleon takes an ill-timed lunch break (long-suffering Mr. Waverly wonders aloud why he couldn’t just send out for food, seeing how the entire office is racing against the clock to prevent the destruction of the city), Illya leads a team of agents in trying to locate THRUSH headquarters. Okay, sure, that’s a pretty unconventional way to position a map of Manhattan--it looks for all the world like the Hudson is flowing along the top of the city--but at least the prop department managed to track down an actual map of New York this time. On this show, that’s not a given.

Across town, top THRUSH agent Peter Sweet (the recently-deceased Pat Harrington, best known as Schneider on One Day at a Time, which is a pop-culture reference long past its expiration date; I suspect kids today have no knowledge of Schneider, or of One Day at a Time, which makes me feel old and sad) triumphantly arrives at headquarters, bearing the hula doll carrying the M4. He gloats about his success to his older brother Simon (comedian Jan Murray), who is THRUSH’s New York section chief. In a couple of days, THRUSH’s Board of Directors will vote to elect a new chief. Thanks to his success in stealing the hula doll from U.N.C.L.E., Peter is confident the board will pick him to replace his despised brother.

Aware of Peter’s ambitions, Simon schemes to sabotage him. After hiring a naive young woman named Wendy Thyme (Grace Gaynor) to work as Peter’s secretary, he doctors a bunch of photographs to make it appear as though Peter has been having a tawdry affair with her. As Simon gleefully informs his brother, this will make the Board of Directors question Peter’s judgment and thus vote against him.

This is a crappy plan, as it hinges upon a gaggle of ruthless and deadly global terrorists being concerned that one of their cohorts is shtupping his secretary. Not to be outdone, Peter decides to counteract Simon’s nitwittery with an even worse plan: As the Board of Directors is currently evenly split in its support of Simon and Peter, the deciding vote will be cast by a visiting representative from THRUSH Central, known only by the codename 26. As Peter gleefully tells his favorite henchman, Oregano, he’s going to replace the real 26 with an impostor, who will cast the deciding vote in his favor.

Hmm, you may be thinking. That’s actually not such a bad plan! Sure, there are some obvious flaws, but on the grand spectrum of batshit THRUSH schemes, it’s almost sensible! And then Peter elaborates on his plan: He’s going to kidnap an U.N.C.L.E. agent and force him to pose as 26 to cast the deciding vote.

Oh, man. This is a terrible plan. This is such a terrible plan, I don’t even know where to go with this. What the hell, Peter? Why are you dragging U.N.C.L.E. into this? Why don’t you hire a struggling actor, or pay some random person on the street a few bucks to pose as 26 for an afternoon? This makes no sense. It’s almost like THRUSH doesn’t hire the best thinkers.

Outside the tailor shop, Napoleon is approached by a blind man selling pencils, who gives him an enigmatic message to go to a haberdashery downtown. Oh, so Peter’s going to kidnap Napoleon and force him pretend to be a representative from THRUSH Central? I’ve changed my mind: This is still a terrible plan, but adding Napoleon to the mix makes it an awesomely terrible plan. It’s doomed to end in disaster, obviously, but now at least it’ll be wildly entertaining. The haberdashery is manned by a gentleman named Cardamom (yes, a significant number of unrelated characters in this episode are named after seasonings; I’m trying to ignore this, and you probably should, too), who lures Napoleon into a trap. 

The posh, upscale haberdashery turns out to be the secret entrance to THRUSH’s headquarters; as Napoleon finds himself ambushed at gunpoint by Oregano, he muses wistfully of his surroundings, “It’s quite impressive. I wish U.N.C.L.E. could afford that.”

Meanwhile, Wendy’s been working as Peter’s secretary, typing up memos about new forms of nerve gas and plots to overthrow prime ministers with growing alarm and suspicion. Oregano brings Napoleon to Peter. “It’s indeed a pleasure to meet you, sir. I’ve been an enemy of yours for a long time,” Peter tells Napoleon, oozing with genuine admiration. Peter explains his plan: Napoleon is going to pose as 26 and cast the deciding vote in favor of Peter at the meeting tomorrow. To protect Wendy, Napoleon agrees to go along with Peter’s scheme.

Back at U.N.C.L.E. headquarters, Illya frets about Napoleon’s disappearance. As he tells Waverly, Napoleon went out for lunch and never came back. “I hope it’s not another of his famous dalliances,” Waverly says with evident distaste. “I’m sure at a time like this, he can… control,” Illya replies, hesitantly and ambiguously. He looks like he’s not at all sure Napoleon can, in fact, control.

Waverly orders Illya to stake out the home of Peter and Simon’s mother. If her sons visit her, Waverly theorizes, Illya might be able to trail them back to THRUSH headquarters. Illya finds Mama Sweet’s place, then breaks into the apartment next door. He hides in a closet, drills a hole in the wall leading into the adjacent apartment, and spies on Mama Sweet (vaudeville star Patsy Kelly) while she has dinner with her sons.

The owner of the apartment he’s hiding in, a young lady named Marge (Bobbie Jordan), returns home unexpectedly. Upon finding Illya in her closet, she smashes a vase over his head and knocks him unconscious.

By the time Illya wakes up, the Sweet brothers are long gone. He calls Mr. Waverly to fill him in on his latest screwup. While Illya explains how he blew their last, best chance to find THRUSH headquarters before the city explodes, Waverly lets out a long, sad involuntary groan, laden with the despair and disappointment of several years of shattered dreams. “Not again, Mr. Kuryakin,” he says. It’s worth noting that there is no surprise in his tone.

Marge, meanwhile, identifies Illya as “some kind of spy.” “Which side are you on?” she asks him cheerfully. Illya gravely tells her he’s a force of good, which… granted, Illya is a force of good, mostly, but if I found a spy with a thick Russian accent hiding in my closet during the height of the Cold War, I’m not entirely sure I’d take him at his word. Illya asks if he can spend the night in her closet; Marge agrees because she wants to do her solemn duty as a citizen, and also because Illya is totally hot.

As prisoners of Peter Sweet, Napoleon and Wendy spend the night in a lavish suite in THRUSH’s high-security headquarters. Left unguarded, they explore the building, searching for the hula doll. The heat wave has caused the temperature to spike to dangerous levels, so Napoleon turns the air conditioning on full blast to make sure the explosive material stays cool. He breaks into the THRUSH vault and retrieves the hula doll containing the M4 sample. Trapped inside the building, Napoleon and Wendy hide the hula doll and return to their suite.

The next morning, Marge brings breakfast to Illya in the closet. She’s on her way to work, though she assures Illya he’s welcome to stick around: “I can’t really refuse you, can I? I mean, you let a man stay in your apartment overnight, you can’t tell him he’s not welcome in the daytime.” No, you can. You can totally tell a man that, Marge.

When Illya spots Mama Sweet leaving her apartment, he quickly poses as a cab driver and intercepts her. She orders him to drive her to the haberdashery.

At THRUSH HQ, the board assembles for the meeting, with everyone bundled up in heavy coats and hats to combat the overzealous air conditioning. The vote to elect a new section chief is, as predicted, tied. The tiebreaker falls to Napoleon, who is posing (splendidly) as 26. As Napoleon hems and haws and upstages everyone while frantically stalling for time, the real 26 bursts into the meeting and demands to know what’s going on. It’s Mama Sweet, who, unbeknownst to her sons, is a top-ranking member of THRUSH Central.

THRUSH! I love you and your many powerful women! It almost makes up for the rampant incompetence and lunacy!

Mama Sweet exposes Napoleon as an U.N.C.L.E. spy. Irate at the way her sons have been botching everything (after all, Peter did willingly bring a top-ranked U.N.C.L.E. agent into their top-secret headquarters), she calls for a vote to decide their punishment. Out of deference to her, the board votes for leniency, but Mama Sweet is having none of it: “I’m a THRUSH woman first and a mother second, if at all!” She calls for both of her sons to be executed along with Napoleon and Wendy.

Illya investigates the haberdashery. When he informs Mr. Cardamom that he’s just looking for a friend, Oregano pops up and pulls a gun on him. “You found a friend,” Oregano tells him dryly. Props to Rex Holman, who plays Oregano and who also played a very similar THRUSH thug in “The Dippy Blonde Affair”. The man’s got a knack for this kind of role.

Illya gets locked in the vault along with Napoleon, Wendy, and the squabbling Sweet brothers. The air conditioning is no longer working--Napoleon overloaded the circuits--so the temperature in the building is rising to dangerous levels. Napoleon informs Mama Sweet that the M4 will explode at any minute. He requests a bucket of ice and a head start to get to the hula doll out of the building before it blows.

Mama Sweet agrees to Napoleon’s demands, then secretly orders Oregano to follow them to the hidden hula doll and kill them. While Oregano is thus occupied, Mama Sweet leads Peter and Simon to a secret escape hatch and, in a rare flash of maternal affection, tells them to flee.

While Napoleon and Wendy retrieve the hula doll from its hiding place, Oregano chases Illya through the building, firing bullets at him wildly. Mama Sweet gets caught in the crossfire. After referring to her sons, accurately, as “a pair of nitwits,” she dies in their arms.

And then somehow Oregano and the Sweet brothers all end up accidentally killing each other. With the hula doll safely in their possession, Napoleon, Illya and Wendy escape via the secret hatch, which leads them directly into the haberdashery. They run into Mr. Waverly, who has decided to spend his last few moments before Manhattan erupts into a gigantic inferno trying on hats. “So this is THRUSH headquarters after all,” he muses.

Back at U.N.C.L.E. headquarters, Del Floria finally gets that new paint job. “All I know is, Mr. Waverly walked in, he said we should paint it. He said he’s sorry he can’t afford to make it a fancy haberdashery,” he tells Illya and Napoleon. “Wonder if this means I’ll get a new typewriter ribbon,” Napoleon says sadly.

Wildly silly stuff, but I love the extravagance of THRUSH juxtaposed with Waverly’s bizarre and counterproductive frugality (the top agent in North America can’t get a new typewriter ribbon? Really, Waverly?). Well done, all.


vintagehoarder said…
Oh, I liked this one! From THRUSH's crazy mixed-up office politics, to the assumption that if Napoleon is late back from lunch he's having one of his "dalliences", this was a delight (and a definite relief coming late in Season 3!)
Morgan Richter said…
It's an adorable episode. In the midst of all the silliness/goofiness that so often marred later episodes, sometimes the show managed to hit just the right light, funny note.

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