The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The Off-Broadway Affair”

A young actress named Eileen Osborne, who is currently starring in a deliriously terrible off-Broadway musical, rushes backstage during a break between scenes. In a panic, she calls Napoleon to warn him of some unspecified threat involving U.N.C.L.E. She’s unable to give details over the phone, so Napoleon and Illya hurry to the theater to confront her. By the time they arrive, the performance is over, and Eileen is nowhere in sight. Her bubbly understudy, Janet Jerrod (ventriloquist/puppeteer Shari Lewis, of Lamb Chop fame), takes them to a cast party at a nearby restaurant, where they find Eileen dead in the ladies’ room.

Back at headquarters, Mr. Waverly has some disturbing news: A THRUSH operative has just been captured while carrying a printout of top-secret information stored in U.N.C.L.E.’s heavily-guarded subterranean computer, thus suggesting THRUSH has grievously compromised U.N.C.L.E.’s security. Again. Illya and Napoleon gamely try to look surprised at the news, like this kind of thing doesn’t happen all the damn time. “Has he been interrogated?” Napoleon asks of the THRUSH operative. “He’s dead, unfortunately,” Waverly says gravely. Uh… Mr. Waverly? Sir? You just made a point of saying, very specifically, that the operative had been captured, so is it fair to assume he died while in U.N.C.L.E. custody? You guys didn’t, ah, torture him to death or anything like that, did you? I know U.N.C.L.E. likes to play fast and loose with the rules, but I’m pretty sure the Geneva Convention still applies to you.

Since the theater showing Eileen’s terrible musical is only a couple of blocks from U.N.C.L.E. headquarters, Mr. Waverly suspects Eileen discovered some link between the production and whatever method THRUSH has been using to gain access to U.N.C.L.E.’s files, but was murdered before she could tell anyone about it. Napoleon heads over to the theater to chat with Janet. She drags him to a cast meeting called by the show’s producer, David X. Machina (get it?), who is played by Leon Askin, who popped up on this show once before as the splendidly creepy Mr. Elom in “The Project Deephole Affair.” Machina announces a new addition to the cast: To replace Eileen, he’s brought in another actress, Linda Lamentiere (Joan Huntington). Janet, who’d been hoping the role would be given to her, is crushed by the news.

Illya disguises himself as a plumber and snoops around backstage. This plotline goes absolutely nowhere, though it does give Napoleon a chance to ogle his jumpsuit-clad partner while seductively growling, “You’re a dirty guy.” Not a whole lot happens in this episode, which means Napoleon and Illya have plenty of free time to indulge in quasi-sexual flirtatious banter with each other. I have no complaints.

Machina and Linda, who are both in the employ of THRUSH, grow suspicious of Napoleon, who keeps sniffing around the theater and sticking his handsome nose in places it doesn’t belong. They send goons after him, who knock him out, tie him up, and dump him in the lake at Central Park. Napoleon manages to send a distress signal to Illya, who arrives in time to pull him out of the water.

Then our intrepid heroes take a mid-mission break to luxuriate in a Turkish spa. There’s no point in being a secret agent if you can’t pamper yourself every once in a while.

Since Napoleon’s cover (he’d been posing, very convincingly, as a handsome and debonair letch with the hots for Janet) has been blown, they scheme to get Illya embedded in the theater. Napoleon poses as a big-name talent scout and lures one of the performers away from the production, whereupon Illya swoops in as a last-minute replacement.

Oh, lordy. If anyone remembers anything about this episode, apart from the high-energy adorability of Shari Lewis, it’s this: Illya’s amazing—by which I mean amazingly awful—musical number. He’s wearing a turtleneck paired with a cape, turban, and tights, he’s speaking with an Indian accent, and, oh yeah, he’s in brownface. Anyway, he performs a bizarre spoken-word musical number involving various instruments—horns, drums, lutes—and a gaggle of dancing girls. It’s really… something.

Napoleon hovers in the wings, exchanging lewd winks with his partner during the performance. Remember back in season two when Illya would look vaguely scandalized and disgruntled whenever Napoleon would wink at him? Now here we are in season three, and Illya’s winking right back.

After the performance, a tights-clad Illya sneaks into Linda’s dressing room and snoops around. He’s caught by Machina’s henchman, Adolph. Trapped, Illya frantically calls Napoleon to ask for help. Napoleon, however, doesn’t hear his communicator, as he’s currently wholly occupied with trying to get into Janet’s pants. Believing Napoleon to be a big-league talent agent, she dazzles him with a high-energy song-and-dance montage, which culminates with her soulless-white-girl performance of “All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm”.

Napoleon has the correct reaction to Janet’s performance. He probably should’ve had this same reaction to Illya’s escapades in brownface, but it’s possible he was too distracted by the tights to even notice the face paint.

While Illya is still trapped in the dressing room, Adolph, Linda, and Machina have a consultation about what to do with him. Linda proposes killing him. “Pity,” she says. “He was the best thing in the show.” God help us all.

Machina decides to try a different approach: Adolph approaches Illya and, in exchange for a payout, offers to take him to THRUSH’s computer, which has been (somehow) siphoning information from U.N.C.L.E.’s computer. He leads Illya to a decoy computer, which Illya destroys. Here’s a fun bit of trivia: Adolph is played by Charles Dierkop, whose theatrical resume includes a role in the porn film Star Virgin. From the IMDB listing for Star Virgin: “Charles Dierkop wore a Richard Nixon mask for his role as the servant in the Dracula segment in order to ensure that no one would find out that he had appeared in a porn movie. “ This is fascinating.

Meanwhile, Janet and Napoleon are getting steamy. High kicks and jazz hands get Napoleon hot. Then again, everything gets Napoleon hot.

Illya contacts Napoleon to fill him in on his recent exploits. He expresses doubts that he destroyed the real computer—he suspects Adolph set him up to get U.N.C.L.E. to think the security breach has been fixed. Look at Illya, making successful, sophisticated deductions based upon the available evidence! Why, apart from getting locked in Linda’s dressing room, he’s barely botched this mission at all! There’s hope for the lad yet.

Now aware of Napoleon’s true identity, Janet teams up with Napoleon and Illya to find THRUSH’s computer. She drives Linda out of her dressing room with the aid of a tiny and very cute mouse; despite being a tough-as-nails THRUSH agent, Linda collapses into pieces at the sight of it. Women. Always terrified of small furry animals, am I right? Illya sneaks into Linda’s dressing room in the confusion and finds a secret elevator in the closet, which takes him down to THRUSH’s subterranean lair, where the real computer is kept.

Machina and Linda ambush Illya. A fight breaks out, during which Linda is shot and killed. Machina uses Janet as a hostage to ensure Illya’s surrender. With Linda dead, Machina forces Janet to go onstage in her place, while keeping Illya tied up in the subterranean lair.

Those eyebrows. What the hell, Illya? Did the makeup artists get confused about what show they were currently working on? It looks like they tried to turn you into a Klingon, then got bored halfway through the process.

Janet heads onstage to star in the terrible musical. While performing, she sends frantic secret messages to Napoleon and Mr. Waverly, who are sitting in the audience.

Napoleon slips backstage, finds the secret elevator in Linda’s dressing room, frees Illya, then whips out his explosive money clip and blows THRUSH’s computer to smithereens. He and Illya somehow end up onstage, where they’re swarmed by THRUSH goons in the middle of Janet’s performance.

It all wraps up about as you’d imagine: Napoleon and Illya duke it out with Machina and his goons, the miscreants are brought to justice, and Janet’s once-flailing show becomes an unlikely smash hit, due to rave reviews from a venerable theater reviewer seated in the audience.

More ridiculous nonsense from season three. This episode is really no damn good, but it’s worth watching anyway, just to spend some time in the company of these two delightful knuckleheads.

Never change, boys.


FuchsiaRose said…
One of my favourite episodes of season three (the other being The Hula Doll Affair which you also recently reviewed, thank you so much!). Yes it's ridiculous, but it has two major plus points. One is Shari Lewis, who manages to be zany and kooky but completely likeable too and whose high energy performance more than makes up for the flimsy plot. The other is that it is a total send up and everyone looks like they are having a ball. The off-Broadway show is meant to be dreadful. Illya's performance, which the characters all think is fabulous, is supposed to make you cringe (David McCallum is in real life a talented musician). David X Machina is a deliciously over the top villain and even Napoleon is cranking up the suave spy routine (that dinner jacket is hot, compared to Illya's tights and boiler suit!) The final set piece always makes me laugh; UNCLE fights are usually pretty theatrical but this one plays out on stage with the performers and in particular the pianist trying in vain to carry on around them. Sheer joy!
Morgan Richter said…
Shari Lewis is a delight. I'm not quite as sold on the off-Broadway show, FuchsiaRose -- there were a few moments during season three when the show tries to lampoon the counterculture (the beatniks in Pop Art, college radicals in Cap and Gown, experimental theater in Off-Broadway) where I think the satire is a little sloppier than it should be, but Shari gives 100% throughout. And the writers did do a very good job of writing a very bad musical.
vintagehoarder said…
I enjoyed it. It was light and frothy and entertaining, and it for a change it had THRUSH coming up with a plan that was not completely nuts, and Illya not screwing up his assignment. Plus, it had all those delightful faces Napoleon pulled as he watched Janet's showtunes routine. Sometimes I think I could fill an entire blog with screencaps of Robert Vaughn pulling faces!
Morgan Richter said…
vintagehoarder -- I've been threatening for months to create a YouTube channel titled Robert Vaughn Does Strange Stuff, which will just be filled with clips of, you guessed it, Vaughn pulling faces and upstaging everyone in the background of shots. The man had a genuine gift.

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