The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The Monks of St. Thomas Affair”


Illya and Napoleon drive around at night. From the passenger seat, Napoleon chows down on a hotdog with something less than unbridled enthusiasm. The following conversation ensues, and it’s so brilliant and wonderful that instead of summarizing it, I’m going to transcribe it for your reading pleasure, word for glorious word:

ILLYA: How is it?
NAPOLEON: (scrunches up his beautiful face in distaste) Very inferior mustard.
ILLYA: Perhaps I should have stopped at the taco stand.
NAPOLEON: Twenty minutes ago, I’m sitting on the terrace of a lovely restaurant overlooking the East River…
ILLYA: Yes, there’s a very nice view from there. I’ve seen it.
NAPOLEON: Violins are playing. Opposite me, in a black dress that leaves little to the imagination, is a perfectly gorgeous creature….
ILLYA: Yeah. Wanda. I’ve seen her, too. (shrugs in indifference) She’s all right.
NAPOLEON: Stop interrupting. The wine steward has just filled my glass with an exquisite Beaujolais, Maison des Saint Bourrée, 1947, and I have just cut into a Chateaubriand steak, when… Beep, beep, beep! “Mr. Solo?” “Mr. Waverly.”
ILLYA: There’s a can of root beer in the glove compartment.
NAPOLEON: (dripping with caustic sarcasm) Mmm. Thank you. You’ve made my evening.

Amazing. I could not love you two more. Nothing in this episode lives up to the promise of the opening scene, but it’s almost worth it just for that.


They’re headed to the home of a scientist, Dr. Lambert, who contacted U.N.C.L.E. about an urgent matter. When they arrive, the place is dark and outwardly deserted. As they hover on the sidewalk, debating whether to enter, the lawn sprinklers automatically turn on and soak them to the skin. THRUSH goons drive by and spray them with bullets; Napoleon and Illya dive for cover and return fire, then dart into the house. As soon as they step inside, the house explodes.

Next thing you know, they’re chatting with Mr. Waverly in his office, unscathed. It seems Dr. Lambert was dead before they arrived; the THRUSH goons murdered him and stole his latest invention, a high-powered laser beam, then rigged the house with explosives. Mr. Waverly compliments Illya and Napoleon for having the foresight to soak their clothing in water before entering, which prevented them from incinerating in the blast. Napoleon: “Oh, it was nothing.” It’s probably safe to assume Waverly is well aware his top two agents have, yet again, lucked into staying alive, and simply chooses to live in denial about their flagrant lies and general ineptitude.


Found among the ruins of Dr. Lambert’s house are some fragments of broken glass, which Mr. Waverly identifies as the remains of a bottle of Aquitine, a highly-coveted spirit made by the monks of the Order of St. Thomas up in the Swiss Alps. (A die-hard Aquitine connoisseur, Waverly sniffs the glass fragments longingly for lingering traces of booze, which is actually a wee bit sad and unsettling.) The head of the Order, Abbot John, is one of Waverly’s oldest friends; concerned there may be some connection between the monastery and THRUSH, Waverly orders Napoleon to investigate. Napoleon protests the assignment, arguing he has no place in a monastery; Waverly counter-argues that spending some time hanging out with monks might be good for his soul. Napoleon and Illya exchange helpless glances at this, like they’re well aware Napoleon’s soul is far beyond salvation. Waverly tells Illya to track down the THRUSH goons who murdered Dr. Lambert and retrieve the laser.

Napoleon heads to the Alps. Outside the monastery, he’s attacked and overwhelmed by a pack of enthusiastic and adorable Saint Bernards.


The new head of the Order of St. Thomas, the sinister Abbot Simon (David J. Stewart), brusquely informs him that Abbot John is no longer with the monastery and sends him on his way. As Napoleon prepares to leave, Brother Peter (Henry Calvin) secretly slips him a bottle of Aquitine.


Illya trails the THRUSH goons to the airport, where they board a flight bound for Zurich. They’re in possession of two very heavy suitcases, which most likely contain Dr. Lambert’s special high-powered laser. The flight is booked to capacity, so Illya smuggles himself on board in the cargo hold.

Napoleon returns to his Alpine hotel, where he eavesdrops on a lovely young Swiss woman named Andrea Fouchet (Celeste Yarnall) as she makes a frantic telephone call to the Vatican about her missing uncle, Abbot John. He approaches her and offers to help find her uncle. Andrea is suspicious of his motives: “Do you always listen in on personal telephone calls?” she asks him icily. “Oh, yeah,” Napoleon replies blithely.

As Napoleon and Andrea banter in the corridor, Napoleon overhears suspicious noises coming from his hotel room. He slips inside and finds a pair of THRUSH goons rifling through his belongings. A scuffle breaks out, whereupon the THRUSH goons escape by jumping off the balcony. In all the commotion, the bottle of Aquitine shatters. Inside, Napoleon and Andrea find a piece of paper with “HELP” scribbled on it in Abbot John’s handwriting.


Napoleon and Andrea hike up the Alps. They swipe a couple of robes, disguise themselves as a pair of oddly glamorous monks, and sneak into the monastery.


At the Zurich airport, Illya flabbergasts the porter by emerging from the cargo hold. “I was frozen inside there,” he snarls. “No heating. Is this any way to run an airline?”


Please note: Illya was stuck in the cargo hold of a transatlantic flight from New York to Zurich, a flight which, we may safely presume, lasted several hours. His explicit assignment from Mr. Waverly—the entire reason he boarded the flight, in fact—was to search the suitcases the THRUSH goons were carrying to see if they contained the laser stolen from Dr. Lambert. During the flight, he had ample time—hours and hours!—to search the suitcases and confiscate the laser.

Illya, being Illya (i.e. beautiful and dazzling and hilarious and really bad at his job), did none of that. Instead, he waits at the airport for the THRUSH goons to collect their suitcases, then hops on an adorable little motorcycle and follows them at a safe distance while they drive up into the mountains. The goons stop for lunch at a tavern (the sign by the door proclaims, “William Tell Tavern: All The Apples You Can Eat!”; the camera lingers on it for a really long time, like someone involved with the production was super-proud of that joke). While the goons are inside, Illya breaks into the trunk of their car, rummages through their suitcases (which, again, he could’ve done at his leisure in the cargo hold), and finds the laser beam. The goons return unexpectedly and attempt to capture him; Illya narrowly escapes their clutches, though he’s forced to leave the laser behind.

Still (poorly) disguised as monks, Napoleon and Andrea slink around the monastery, striking up conversations with everyone they meet and drawing a whole lot of attention to themselves. They find Brother Peter, who informs them that everyone in the monastery, Abbot John included, is being held prisoner by Abbot Simon. Abbot Simon, who is actually a THRUSH agent, arrives and captures them.


Abbot Simon brings Andrea and Napoleon to his secret lair in the belfry and reveals his diabolical plan: He’s going to fire Dr. Lambert’s laser straight down the mountain into Paris and set the Louvre ablaze. Not because he particularly dislikes world-class art or anything—he makes unconvincing mouth noises about how destroying the Louvre will show the world that THRUSH means serious business, but honestly, he’s mostly just doing it to be a dick. Napoleon and Abbot Simon debate for a while about lasers navigating the curvature of the Earth all the way from the Swiss Alps to Paris vis-a-vis Einstein’s gravitational theory (it will not surprise you to learn Napoleon is hopelessly out of his depth on this topic), then Abbot Simon orders his prisoners locked up in the dungeon.


While chained to the dungeon wall, Andrea babbles on to Napoleon about her feelings for her fiancé, then she and Napoleon randomly make out for a while, and then they use both their teeth to activate Napoleon’s stash of portable explosives, which they then drop on their chains to blast them apart. This seems like an outstanding way to accidentally blast your face and/or hands off.


Once free, they rescue Abbot John (John Wengraf) from the dungeon, then try to make their way through a maze of tunnels back to the belfry to stop Abbot Simon.

Armed with a grappling hook, Illya scales the wall of the monastery. He uses his own handy stash of explosives to blast his way through a barred window. By my calculations, Illya and Napoleon should've each been blown to pieces twice over in this episode.


Once inside, he slides down the ropes of the bell tower and is promptly nabbed by Abbot Simon. Abbot Simon isn’t a particularly outstanding villain, especially by THRUSH’s high standards, but he does have the fun habit of surrounding himself with smoking-hot henchmen, so he gets points for that. The foxy Teutonic blond in the below screenshot also popped up as one of Mother Fear’s creepy lackeys in “The Children’s Day Affair”. In the mid-1960s, the poor actor, Austrian-born Horst Ebersberg, apparently was in hot demand for, er, a certain type of bit part; his IMDB credits include the following parts: “S.S. Sergeant”, “Gestapo Agent”, “German Sentry”, “German Officer”, “German Pilot”, and “German Border Guard.” (Just to mix it up, he played an Acolyte of Satan on an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.) Look, if you're a tall blond with chiseled features and a German accent trying to find a career on television in the 1960s, you're going to end up playing a string of Nazis. It's just how it works. Sorry about that, Horst.


Anyway, Abbot Simon can’t be bothered to take Illya down to the dungeon with Napoleon and Andrea, so he ties him up in the belfry so he can leer at him while he destroys the Louvre. I can respect this. Were I in Abbot Simon’s shoes, I’d probably do the exact same thing.


Before Abbot Simon can fire the laser, Napoleon bursts in and attacks him. Illya frees himself and joins the fracas. The usual brawl ensues, which ends when the gaggle of Saint Bernards swarm the belfry and overpower Abbot Simon in a furry cloud of enthusiastic adorableness. I think the Saint Bernards are maybe supposed to be terrifying, but they’re damn cute, that’s what I’m saying.


With the Louvre saved and the monastery returned to normal, Illya and Napoleon return to New York, whereupon they triumphantly present Mr. Waverly with a case of his beloved Aquatine. Waverly decides to be a jerk about their generous gesture and bawls them out for packing it on ice, then samples it and decides it tastes fine anyway. And on that odd note, the episode ends.


A perfectly benign, sleepy little episode, with not much in the way of either rough edges or memorable features. If you’re in a rush, just watch the opening scene with Illya and Napoleon bickering about hot dogs and skip the rest. You won’t miss much.


Comments

Illesdan said…
A Tuesday review on Sunday? You'll spoil me! I had a good laugh out of this run-down; especially the part on your observation of German actors from back in the day. It was something my husband brought up that his uncle, Curt Jurgens, was often cast as a German officer/bad guy. Most notably, he was the main villain in James Bond's The Spy Who Loved Me.

I sometimes wonder if the people involved in U.N.C.L.E.'s production had issues with dogs? The Bow Wow Affair comes to mind, with how vilified those poor pooches got.
Morgan Richter said…
Illesdan--it's early this week, but it'll come a few days late next week; I'm taking some time off, so I wanted to get this posted early. Curt Jurgens was your husband's uncle? That's kind of wonderful -- he's one of those actors who pretty much showed up in everything (including a pretty bad two-part UNCLE episode, as I'm sure you know). Very cool.
Illesdan said…
Hmm -- Curt's appearance must be in the season 3-4 era; going to have to buy the other seasons soon -- I'm going onto disc nine of season two now.

My husband is full of stories from his childhood in Modesto; I swear that man forgets nothing. Me? I'm lucky to remember what day it is.

Enjoy your vacation! I'm going to see two concerts at the end of September in Eugene (Megadeth is playing 2 days before Def Leppard) at the same venue. Then I'll be in San Francisco in October for our anniversary. The year is going to get mad busy soon.
Ah, thank you for my weekly dose of explosive giggles. You're right, the scene at the start is marvellous, but I did enjoy Illya sliding down the bell rope and apologising for introducing a D major seventh into the clamour. If Illya were in Mission:Impossible he would have taken a torch with him into the aeroplane hold, extracted the laser, and the episode would be over. But hey, where's the fun in that? I need Illya sliding down ropes and showing off his musical knowledge. I really do need that in my life.
Morgan Richter said…
Sorry for the long delay, Illesdan and Aconitum -- back from vacation and finally getting over a post-vacation illness. Illesdan, yeah, Curt Jurgens was in season three's Five Daughters Affair, which was one of the two-parters that got a theatrical release; it's really no good, despite an appearance by Joan Crawford (the omnipresent Jill Ireland played one of the five daughters, too), but it's not awful or anything. Megadeth and Def Leppard! Fantastic. While we were in Washington, it seems like everyone we knew was at the Guns N Roses concert in Seattle.

Aconitum -- I liked Illya sliding down the bell rope. He doesn't always do things competently, but he does them with a great deal of style.

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