The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The Deadly Toys Affair”

At headquarters, Mr. Waverly meets with Dr. Armand Warshowsky, a THRUSH scientist who has defected to U.N.C.L.E. Dr. Warshowsky tips Waverly off about a diabolical plot to poison all of Southern California’s water supply. In return, he demands to be allowed to see his brilliant young son, Bartlett, who is a student at a fancy THRUSH-run private school in Switzerland; Mr. Waverly refuses, on the grounds that his visit might alert THRUSH to his switched allegiances. The argument grows heated, so Mr. Waverly brings the discussion to an abrupt close by spraying Warshowsky with a blast of knockout gas hidden inside his pen, which seems like a grotesque overreaction to a perfectly reasonable request. After all, the dude just wanted to see his kid. I think we just learned a lot about the way U.N.C.L.E. conducts negotiations.

Acting on Warshowsky’s information, Illya and Napoleon head to the Mojave Desert to destroy a water tank containing THRUSH’s supply of poison. They slink around in adorable THRUSH jumpsuits and punch out guards and set off alarms and get shot at and blow a lot of stuff up, the usual.

Dr. Warshowsky escapes from U.N.C.L.E.’s custody and sneaks off to see his son. At the La Chappelle School in Switzerland, THRUSH head honcho Noubar Telemakian (Arnold Moss) seethes about the destroyed water tower. Telemakian pinpoints Warshowsky as the traitor within the organization and orders one of his henchmen to assassinate him via a remote-controlled toy airplane filled with explosives.

Illya arrives in Geneva to retrieve Dr. Warshowsky. He’s immediately spotted by THRUSH agents, which means we get lots of nice footage of Illya zipping around the Swiss Alps (as played by the Hollywood Hills) on a motorcycle while Telemakian tries to gun him down. Illya evades Telemakian and tackles the henchman, preventing him from sending the deadly toy airplane after Warshowsky.

The henchman shakes Illya off of him, knocks him out, and successfully launches the plane. It blows Warshowsky to pieces in front of his horrified young son, Bartlett.

Illya contacts Waverly to let him know that, as usual, he managed to hopelessly foul up his assignment. “I was too late. Warshowsky is dead,” he says glumly. Nope. Wrong. Illya, honey, you weren’t too late. You arrived in plenty of time to stop the assassination. You screwed up, that’s all. 

While Waverly huffs in frustration at this latest display of flagrant incompetence by one of his top agents, Napoleon attempts to woo a sexy female agent by quoting a little Whittier at her (“Maud Muller on a summer’s day/Raked the meadow sweet with hay…”). Napoleon may be an incorrigible horndog, but at least he’s a literate and well-educated incorrigible horndog, and that makes all the difference.

According to Mr. Waverly, thirteen-year-old Bartlett Warshowsky is THRUSH’s real target—THRUSH only recruited Dr. Warshowsky in the first place to gain access to his genius son. With Dr. Warshowsky dead, custody of Bartlett falls to his aunt, a famous actress named Elfie van Donck. Mr. Waverly gives Napoleon a suitcase filled with spy devices disguised as novelty toys—a rubber egg that doubles as a smoke bomb, sneezing powder that causes emphysema, oversized rubber ears that can be used as listening devices—and sends him off to Switzerland disguised as a toy salesman to get close to Elfie and Bartlett.

While on the plane to Geneva, Napoleon casually reads a newspaper in Russian, which is a fascinating and heretofore untapped aspect of his character.

He strikes up a conversation with his seatmate, a wealthy socialite named Joanna Lydecker (Diane McBain), who happens to be one of Elfie van Donck’s close friends. Illya is also on the flight, undercover as Joanna’s slinky, sexy, chest-baring hairdresser. He seems moody and venomous about this; while it’s never made explicit, I’m going to go and assume Waverly is punishing him for failing to stop the assassination of Dr. Warshowsky by giving him a menial assignment.

At the airport in Geneva, paparazzi surround Elfie van Donck (the peerless Angela Lansbury, doing an outstanding impression of Zsa Zsa Gabor) as she arrives on a flight from Outer Mongolia, clad head to toe in leopard skin and toting around a poodle with a diamond-studded collar. Elfie greets Joanna happily and swoons over Napoleon and Illya; Joanna offers to loan Elfie the services of a visibly sullen Illya, and you know, the more times I watch this episode, the more blatant the Illya-is-a-reluctant-gigolo undertones seem.

While Illya attends to Elfie, THRUSH goons ambush Napoleon and try to smuggle him out of the airport in a luggage bin. Joanna and Illya come to Napoleon’s defense and chase off the goons. One of Elfie’s suitcases, which contains live aardvarks, pops open, dosing Napoleon in what he euphemistically refers to as “essence of aardvark.” It’s kind of a pointless sequence, though it does give Robert Vaughn the opportunity to pull some marvelously goofy faces, so it’s totally worth it.

Oh, the stuffed animal in the top of the shot there? Yeah, that’s supposed to be a live aardvark. Use your imagination, people. The prop department wasn’t made of money, you know.

Upon checking into a hotel near the La Chapelle School, Napoleon sets to work charming the socks off of Elfie while she explains why she was carrying live aardvarks in her suitcase. Her story involves skydiving from a plane in Amsterdam while shooting a pantyhose commercial; really, it’s best not to know the details. Suffice it to say Napoleon looks alarmed and uncertain, like he’s beginning to realize Elfie might be far too much woman for him to handle. 

Napoleon and Elfie arrive at the school to visit young Bartlett, who overhears Telemakian chatting with the school’s headmaster about how he murdered Dr. Warshowsky to gain access to his son. Still posing as a novelty toy salesman, Napoleon gives Bartlett a conch shell with a wireless transmitter hidden inside it. He uses the transmitter to secretly identify himself as an U.N.C.L.E. agent, here to help Bartlett escape from THRUSH and return to the United States. Bartlett, who is a cool, weird little kid (Jay North, best known as the star of TV’s Dennis the Menace, is very good in the role) orders Napoleon to leave him alone: He’s going to seek deadly vengeance against his father’s killers on his own, thank you very much.

Meanwhile, Joanna returns to her hotel room and flies into a rage when she learns that Illya (to whom she refers as her “hairdresser, secretary, companion”; she doesn't explicitly say "manwhore", but it's implied) has disappeared. The leering concierge, who is clearly not taking “companion” at face value, informs her he saw Illya in the company of one of the hotel’s chambermaids. Joanna storms after Illya and confronts him while he’s in the process of sneaking onto the heavily-guarded school grounds. Joanna berates Illya loudly; Illya insists he was only asking directions from the chambermaid. When that fails to placate Joanna, he kisses her to stop her from making a noisy ruckus.

Whatever’s going on between Joanna and Illya in this episode, it’s kind of fascinating.

THRUSH guards, alerted by their squabbling, capture Illya and Joanna and string them up from meat hooks in the school’s walk-in meat locker. Oh, hooray! It seems like it’s been far too long (four weeks, to be exact) since we’ve had an episode in which Illya gets subjected to some vaguely kinky bondage games.

Concerned that he hasn’t heard from Illya, Napoleon (who is inexplicably but happily clad in a tuxedo) meets with Elfi (who is swaddled in glittery jewels and veils and layers of tulle over shiny gold trousers; truly, Elfi is an inspiration to us all). Joanna is missing as well; Napoleon warns Elfi that he suspects Illya of being a jewel thief (“I think that he has a very definite criminal face. Did you ever get a look at his ears?”), who may have absconded with Joanna. He asks Elfi to smuggle him into the school to search for the missing lovebirds. Elfi agrees to help, mentioning that she finds Illya very attractive. “Those bangs!” she exclaims, whereupon Napoleon spends the rest of the scene anxiously touching his hair, silently wondering how he’d look with bangs.

Napoleon and Elfi sneak onto the school grounds. Napoleon tries to convince Elfi to stay behind while he scales a tree and breaks into the school through a window, but Elfi is having none of it: “I’m not Eagle Scout, Amsterdam Division, for nothing. Alley-oop!” she exclaims, then boosts Napoleon up into the tree. Elfi is wonderful.

They climb through the window into Bartlett’s room, where they find Bartlett in the middle of packing all his belongings: Telemakian is taking him to a special THRUSH academy to learn nuclear fission. Bartlett refuses to go with Napoleon and Elfi, insisting on sticking with Telemakian until he can find he right moment to avenge his father’s murder. Napoleon convinces him to postpone vengeance until he gets a little older; visibly displeased, Bartlett agrees to this. I think you just created a supervillain, Napoleon.

Back in the meat locker, Illya flips himself upside down, dangles by his knees, and uses the meat hook to slice through his bonds, the adorable little showoff.

He rescues Joanna, who promptly picks up a meat cleaver and tries to smash the door down. Joanna is not as formidable as Elfi—who could be?—but she’s certainly no slouch.

Joanna’s attempt fails, so Illya straps a can of hairspray to the doorknob and sets it on fire to blow the door open. They escape from the meat locker and join up with Napoleon, Elfi, and Bartlett. With THRUSH goons in hot pursuit, they flee from the school (somewhere along the way, Elfi manages to get her hands on a pistol, which is both exhilarating and terrifying) and make it to a helicopter. Elfi, naturally, is a crackerjack pilot.

As Elfi flies them safely away from the school, Napoleon mutters something about how the police should be able to come in and arrest Telemakian and all his goons, which is kind of an anticlimactic way to wrap up a mission. Charmed, Elfi invites Napoleon to accompany her on an upcoming trek to Saudi Arabia. “Would you mind bringing your own camel?” she asks. “One hump or two?” Napoleon replies, and because this episode’s light, silly plot about kid geniuses and novelty toys masks a fairly ribald interior, I’m pretty certain we’re meant to interpret “hump” in the filthiest way possible.

Delightful. I want a spinoff series, featuring Elfi’s strange adventures in exotic lands with her increasingly bitter and venomous nephew, who, despite his formidable intellect, is slowly being consumed by his dark need to avenge his father’s murder.


Hamlette said…
AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! I MUST see this. Wow. Wow and wow again.

And yeah, that spinoff series would be amazing. Kind of "Auntie Mame" with helicopters and vengeance.
Morgan Richter said…
Hamlette, there's definitely more than a touch of Auntie Mame about this episode. I definitely could've used an Angela Lansbury-Jay North spinoff.
Anonymous said…
After watching this episode, I immediately petitioned my husband for "breakfast diamonds."
Morgan Richter said…
Anonymous -- Joanna and her breakfast diamonds remind me of an old Elton John quote about how he always packs two tiaras whenever he travels: one for formal occasions, and one for daily wear. Joanna and Elton would probably get along famously.
It just struck me that perhaps Muncle was on to the idea of drones early on, with their use of toy aeroplanes for attacking people. Perhaps it wasn't a good precedent to set. You're right, of course. Illya wasn't too late. He just didn't manage to do his job.

'Napoleon may be an incorrigible horndog, but at least he’s a literate and well-educated incorrigible horndog, and that makes all the difference.' That just sums up Napoleon. That is why he is wonderful. Napoleon checks out women, he checks out Illya's ass, he flirts with anything with a pulse. But he is literate and intelligent and bonkers, and that's why we love him.

Elfi is brilliant, and I don't think Illya is too happy about having to be a manwhore in this episode, but I suppose when you're an Uncle agent sometimes you just have to suck it up.
Morgan Richter said…
Aconitum -- Robert Vaughn and the writers really did a nice job of striking that balance with Napoleon. He's an all-purpose letch, yeah, but there's nothing predatory about him, and he's pretty equal-opportunity about it (as you point out, he flirts with Illya even more than he flirts with all the pretty female UNCLE agents), AND he's so clever and weird and funny that he pulls it off without seeming like a smug creep. Both Illya and Napoleon are brilliant, interesting, unique characters, which is the major reason why the show holds up so well after half a century.
M'lady said…
Elfi is fabulous. She should of had her own spin off. Or joined uncle and just turned up randomly on mission's to save illya and napoleon.
It somehow adds a new dimension to murder she wrote.
vintagehoarder said…
Just re-watched this, and I've decided Mr Waverly should re recruit Elfi. THRUSH didn't stand a chance once she got going!
Morgan Richter said…
Elfi is wonderful. I'm fully in support of an Elfi-centered spinoff.
M'lady said…
I'm slightly tempted to cosplay elfi in her gold outfit even though no one at the comic con will know who I am but she is quite fabulous.

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