The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: "The Very Important Zombie Affair"

Hey, everybody! Ready for a hefty dose of Voodoo Magic™?

Illya and Napoleon arrive at the Miami airport, looking to meet with a contact who, per Mr. Waverly’s instructions, will be wearing a striped suit and a panama hat with a green hatband and carrying a nudie magazine tucked under his arm. Upon spotting their man, Napoleon asks him for a light, whereupon the man passes him a matchbook with a hotel address and room number scrawled on it.

As soon as the man leaves, however, Napoleon and Illya spot another man in a striped suit and green panama hat, who, yep, has a nudie mag tucked beneath his arm. Confused, Illya wanders over to him and asks for a light. The second man hands him a matchbook, which turns out to be blank. Illya tosses the matchbook in the trash, only to have it explode seconds later. Illya and Napoleon might not be the most competent spies out there, but by gum, they sure are the luckiest (and the prettiest, and the most charming, but that’s neither here nor there).

They arrive at the address on the matchbook, expecting to rendezvous with Dr. Delgado (Ken Renard) and his wife Conchita (Isabelle Cooley), a pair of important political exiles from the small Caribbean island nation of Puerta del Cielo. Dr. Delgado is in the United States to appear before the Council of Nations to request help dethroning his country’s tyrannical leader, a violent dictator known as El Supremo. At the hotel, Illya and Napoleon discover the second man in the panama hat, having beaten them to their destination, is attempting to kidnap Dr. Delgado and Conchita. The man flees, but chucks an item through the window: a voodoo doll with Dr. Delgado’s face taped onto it. Upon seeing the doll, Dr. Delgado falls into a catatonic trance.

Illya and Napoleon take Delgado to the hospital, but Conchita, who insists modern medicine is incapable of curing her husband, flies him back to the Caribbean to seek treatment from local voodoo practitioners. As the episode title suggests, Dr. Delgado is now a zombie, though nobody involved with this episode, least of all the writer, has anything more than a hazy idea of what that might entail. The show is playing fast and loose with its scattershot portrayal of what I assume is supposed to be Haitian vodou (kinda hard to tell, though—traditional Afro-Caribbean religious beliefs are depicted with all the keen attention to detail of an episode of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?), and there’s nothing to be gained by examining any of this too closely. That way lies madness.

Shortly thereafter, Napoleon and Illya learn from Mr. Waverly that Delgado, having apparently recovered from the attack, has thrown his full support behind El Supremo. Waverly sends them to Puerta del Cielo to find Delgado and uncover the reason behind his change of heart. Napoleon and Illya pack their swim trunks and flip-flops and head off for an idyllic tropical vacation.

In the Caribbean, while waiting to check into their hotel, they encounter Suzy (Linda Gaye Scott), an unhappy young manicurist from Louisiana, who is caught by hotel security as she tries to slip out of the lobby inside a luggage trunk. Per the concierge, Suzy has repeatedly tried to flee the country, to no avail—El Supremo is too fond of the work she does on his fingernails to allow her to leave. Yeah, I don’t know. I guess it makes sense. Look, dictators are notoriously weird and petty, and Suzy is really good at giving manicures.

Illya and Napoleon check into their room, whereupon they discover someone has left them: a) a lavish fruit basket on the coffee table with a friendly note alerting them to the presence of: b) the corpse of the first man in the panama hat in the closet. Being a seasoned pair of trained super-spies, they’re delightfully blasé about all this. Another stabbed corpse in the closet, yawn. The second panama hat-wearing man pops up and introduces himself as El Supremo’s second-in-command, Captain Ramirez (Rodolfo Acosta). Ramirez cheerfully confesses to leaving the corpse in their closet (and, presumably, the fruit basket) as a welcome-to-the-Caribbean gift, then offers to escort them to El Supremo’s presidential palace.

Napoleon proposes stopping by the hotel’s barber shop first for some primping. He’s ostensibly looking to secretly pass along a message to Suzy, but honestly, it seems entirely probable he schedules quick mid-mission manicures all the time. Dude has nice fingernails. Ramirez thinks this is an excellent idea: “You could use a haircut,” he tells Illya, who quietly seethes at this slight to his magnificent mane. Napoleon jumps at the chance to stroke his partner’s hair a bit.

At the barber shop, Illya slips the barber a bribe to leave his hair untouched, while Napoleon gets his nails done by Suzy. Napoleon offers to help Suzy escape from the island in exchange for a favor, whereupon she fumbles to explain that, while she really wants to get the hell out of Puerta del Cielo, she’d rather not trade her body for an exit visa. Napoleon assures her his attentions are pure—all he needs is for her to call up a local nightclub, find out the exact time of the last show, and make a dinner reservation under his name.

While Napoleon flirts with Illya (“Gee, I think you look much better with a trim”), Suzy slips Ramirez a pair of envelopes supposedly containing Illya’s hair trimmings and Napoleon’s nail clippings. Ramirez then takes his well-groomed guests to meet El Supremo (Claude Akins). El Supremo is a bombastic buffoon who carries around an adorable monkey dressed in a military uniform, which he implies is his ousted predecessor, whom he turned into a monkey through Voodoo Magic™ (it’s the kind of episode where the exact phrase “Voodoo Magic™” is thrown around a lot, which should probably give you a general idea of its verisimilitude vis-à-vis Afro-Caribbean religions). He bounces around the idea of executing Illya and Napoleon outright, or maybe practicing some of his voodoo on them, then ushers in Conchita and a still-zombified Dr. Delgado, who haltingly explains that he now believes El Supremo deserves his full support. El Supremo then instructs Ramirez to drive Illya and Napoleon to the airport and make sure they leave the country.

This is an outstanding example of an episode that manages to be mostly successful despite a weak script by heavily relying upon the show’s single greatest asset, i.e. the weird and ridiculous chemistry between the two leads. Napoleon and Illya spend all their screen time together, instead of splitting off into separate plotlines, and the episode benefits greatly from it. Just this little scene here, in which Illya and Napoleon camp out on El Supremo’s desk and toss around apples while mouthing off to the totalitarian dictator who is threatening to have them shot, encapsulates everything that makes this series so damn irresistible.

Ramirez chauffeurs them to the airport, but Illya sets a timed explosive to blow out the tire. Enraged, Ramirez orders them to change the tire (Napoleon lazily gives the tire an experimental kick, then steps back and lets Illya do all the hard labor. Typical).

Having missed the last flight of the day, Illya and Napoleon head back to their room, where Suzy fills them in on the results of her assignment: The person who answered the phone at the nightclub instructed her to bring a silver dollar.  At the nightclub, Napoleon slips the silver dollar to a flirtatious flamenco dancer, who gives him a flower and the Delgados’ home address. Napoleon wordlessly tucks the flower behind his ear and wears it for the rest of the scene, which is one of those acting choices that makes Robert Vaughn such an enduring delight.

This man is a living legend and should be celebrated accordingly.

As Illya and Napoleon attempt to leave the club, they’re stopped by Captain Ramirez, who gleefully announces that El Supremo has used their hair and nail clippings to turn them into zombies. Suzy reveals that she pulled a switcheroo and gave Ramirez’s own clippings to him instead, whereupon Ramirez recoils in horror and collapses. Boom! He’s been instantly zombified! This is a ridiculous episode, but it’s not without a certain charm.

With Ramirez now a zombie, Illya, Napoleon and Suzy arrive at Dr. Delgado’s home, which is under heavy guard from El Supremo’s army. Posing as doctors, they talk their way inside. Conchita tells them she’s been trying to take her husband to see Mama Lou, the powerful voodoo priestess who trained El Supremo, who will be able to de-zombify him.  As El Supremo’s forces raid the house, they all slip out over the balcony and head off to find Mama Lou. Along the way, they’re given directions by a surprisingly helpful and chatty gaggle of enslaved zombies, who are former political enemies of El Supremo.

Alas, Ramirez, who has been de-zombified by El Supremo, reaches Mama Lou (Maidie Norman) first and convinces her to slip Illya and Napoleon poison while pretending to revive Delgado. The usual anti-zombification ritual ensues, involving energetic dance numbers, kettle drums, drinking from skulls, bloodletting, and, er, simulated rape. Napoleon, Suzy, and Illya raptly observe as Dr. Delgado is roused from his zombie state. Dig Napoleon’s expression at all this nonsense.

Robert Vaughn, you are a strange and amazing man.

Mama Lou announces her intention to stop El Supremo’s reign of terror once and for all. She breaks the zombie curse on Dr. Delgado through Voodoo Magic™, then transfers the curse to a voodoo doll adorned with El Supremo’s photo.

At the conclusion of the ritual, realizing Mama Lou has betrayed El Supremo’s wishes, Ramirez jumps out of the bushes and guns her down. Dying, Mama Lou orders Illya and Napoleon to tell El Supremo she died cursing his name, then gives them the doll.

While waiting for reinforcements from U.N.C.L.E. to pick them up, Napoleon, Illya, Suzy, Conchita, and a fully recovered Dr. Delgado are captured by El Supremo, who orders his men to execute them via firing squad. Napoleon hands him the voodoo doll and tells him about Mama Lou’s curse. To test out the curse, Illya fires a dart gun disguised as a pen (which, being Illya, he just happened to be toting around with him) at the voodoo doll and nails it in the head. El Supremo promptly drops dead.

Back in New York, Illya models a snazzy new turtleneck while Waverly informs them that Delgado has been elected president of the new provisional government. Then Illya and Napoleon play with a voodoo doll while mocking the primitive religion that saved their lives, and all is well.

Oh, man, that’s a silly episode. Sort of delightful, though.


Hamlette said…
Now I know where the photos of Robert Vaughn with a flower behind his ear come from!!! Yippee! Thank you :-)
vintagehoarder said…
Robert Vaughn is a treasure. Some of the weird and goofy things he does as Napoleon are truly inspired!
Morgan Richter said…
Hamlette -- the best part is how Vaughn tucks the flower behind his ear wordlessly, then just wears it for the rest of the scene without comment while mouthing off to villains and getting into brawls. It's wonderful.

Vintagehoarder -- I've long said I want to compile a YouTube channel filled with nothing but clips of Robert Vaughn doing weird stuff in the background of scenes. He's so much fun to watch.

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