The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The Tigers Are Coming Affair”


In India, the sinister Prince Panat (Lee Bergere, slathered in a generous coat of brown face paint), accompanied by his right-hand man, Colonel Quillon (Alan Caillou, who also wrote the episode), and a beautiful French woman named Suzanne de Serre (Jill Ireland, again), hunts tigers on the grounds of his lavish estate. A ragged young man, whom Suzanne recognizes as the prince’s private pilot, interrupts the hunting expedition by hurrying up to Suzanne and gasping out something about poison. At Prince Panat’s orders, guards knock him unconscious and drag him away. The prince calmly explains to Suzanne that the man was only an escaped prisoner and therefore nothing for her to worry about (“It does liven up rather a dull day, doesn’t it?”).

Suzanne visits U.N.C.L.E. headquarters in New York and explains her predicament to Mr. Waverly and Napoleon: She’s a chemist/botanist, who’s been working in India to introduce technological advances in farming techniques to the locals. At this, Napoleon interjects, with his tone laden with skepticism and a smug grin on his lips, “You’re interested in farming?” Oh, oink. I adore you, Napoleon, but please try not to be a sexist jerk, okay? Suzanne explains that her most recent shipment of pesticides went missing shortly before Prince Panat’s pilot disappeared. She suspects the prince of stealing her pesticides for some diabolical reason.


Suzanne, it should be pointed out, is a nails-on-chalkboard irritating character, complete with a brain-manglingly dreadful French accent. One of the few negative side effects of binge-watching The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is that it’s made me realize my Jill Ireland tolerance is pretty low. She’s lovely, with a certain proto-Sarah Michelle Gellar-esque charm, but after sitting through her four U.N.C.L.E appearances, I’d be totally cool with never seeing her in anything else ever again. To be fair to Ireland, though, U.N.C.L.E. mostly saddled her with horrible, underwritten, paper-thin ingénue roles, all courtesy of the aforementioned Caillou, who, I’ve noted before, had a tendency to turn his female leads into flighty, illogical ciphers. Poor Ireland suffered the most for it.

In any case, Napoleon seems to dig Suzanne. He sets about trying to telegraph his interest in his usual subtle manner. 


(And yes, this does mean Napoleon will spend most of this episode trying to bed his co-star’s real-life wife, and yes, it’s awkward.)

So Napoleon and Illya head off to India, posing as travel journalists writing a feature on the prince’s tiger hunt. In tried-and-true U.N.C.L.E.-villain style, Prince Panat and Colonel Quillon identify them as spies on sight. When Napoleon and Suzanne head into the village to talk to the missing pilot’s wife, Colonel Quillon sets an army of knife-wielding lackeys after them. Napoleon tosses a brazier of hot coals at their attackers, then fends them off with some well-placed karate chops.


I don’t like this episode very much, so I’m going to have to make a serious attempt to find favorable things to say about it. I’ll start with this: The outfits, from Suzanne’s darling pith helmet to Napoleon’s entire I’m-a-serious-journalist ensemble, complete with natty pink patterned scarf knotted at the neck, are often wonderful.


Napoleon and Suzanne confront the prince about the attack in the village. Absolutely nothing useful to the plot happens here, though we do get some delightful footage of Robert Vaughn eating grapes in a provocative manner and seductively fondling a water pitcher, so it’s worth it.


Back at the prince’s estate, Illya bribes one of the locals, Julali (Ken Renard), into taking him on an expedition up the river. When he arrives at their meeting spot, however, he finds Julali’s murdered corpse tied to a tree. Colonel Quillon springs out of the bushes and ambushes him. Okay, here’s another thing I genuinely like about this episode: Illya’s white shirt, which he wears with a few too many buttons unfastened. It’s nice.


The nightly tiger hunt commences. A rifle-toting Napoleon sits up in a tree with Prince Panat, unaware that Illya is lying in the grass directly beneath him, bound and gagged, left by Colonel Quillon as very fetching tiger bait. See what I mean about the shirt? It’s good, right? It’s almost worth sitting through all this nonsense just for that.


While freeing the tethered goats being used to lure the tigers to the area, Suzanne stumbles across Illya. Just as she unties him, a tiger attacks. They’re saved through the intervention of Julali’s smoking-hot son, Ferak (Jose De Vega, Chino in West Side Story. Sing along with me: Keep away from her, send for Chino/This is not the Maria we know! God, I love West Side Story. I perked up so much at the sight of Chino, I can’t even tell you).


Chests. This episode is mostly about chests.

Napoleon, Suzanne, and Illya hurry into the jungle, with Colonel Quillon in hot pursuit. Napoleon and Suzanne seize the opportunity to cuddle. Yep, it’s still weird. I know actors learn to be coolly professional and look upon this kind of thing as just another job, but even still, why on earth would you cast David McCallum’s wife as Napoleon’s love interest? This strikes me as a recipe for huffy feelings and rampant on-set weirdness.


They’re joined by Ferak, who leads them up the river to a dock, where they discover the prince’s men loading Suzanne’s stolen pesticides onto a boat. Illya swims across the river and launches a stealth attack on the men, which is mostly a thinly-veiled excuse to get McCallum and his clingy white shirt soaking wet. Fair enough.


Anyway, because the whole pesticide plotline seems to be going nowhere interesting, Ferak drops some expository dialogue about how the prince has been forcing the villagers to work in his ruby mine, so everyone heads off to investigate in the interests of keeping the story rolling along. While Ferak distracts the guards, Napoleon, Illya, and Suzanne slip inside the mine. They encounter a group of starving villagers forced into hard labor, including the missing pilot’s wife, Ninea, who takes a game stab at explaining the situation to them. I’ve seen this episode a few times now, and I still can’t quite unravel the garbled excuse for the plot. Bearing in mind that I’m bridging some gaps with logical guesses, here’s the deal: The prince stole Suzanne’s pesticides and ordered his pilot to deliberately oversaturate the crops grown by the villagers, then falsely imprisoned and murdered the pilot to prevent him from going public with this information. The pesticides had the side effect of driving the tigers out of the jungle into the village. With their crops destroyed, the starving villagers were forced to work in the prince’s mine, which is filled with dangerous levels of chlorine gas. Follow that? No? You’re not alone. It’s a nonsensical mess.

Again, though, it’s almost worth it just for that white shirt. McCallum has never looked better.


Anyway, they’re ambushed by Quillon, who tosses Ferak’s corpse at them. Ugh, yeah, smoking-hot Chino from West Side Story just got casually murdered offscreen. Uncool. I really hate this episode. Even McCallum’s chest is not enough to make me feel better about this.

Quillon drags Illya and Napoleon out of the mine to meet Prince Parat, who announces that representatives from the World Congress for Undeveloped Countries have arrived in India and are awaiting for word from U.N.C.L.E. to let them know it’s safe to visit the area. The prince orders Napoleon to lure the representatives into an ambush. Napoleon refuses, so the prince threatens to murder the villagers and rape Suzanne. Seeing no alternative, Napoleon contacts Mr. Waverly and tells him to go ahead and send in the representatives.


While Illya and Napoleon are forced to toil in the ruby mine, the prince takes Suzanne to the dock to wait for the representatives to arrive by boat. The prince ties Suzanne up and gags her and casually tells her about his plans to rape her, all while the episode indulges in a lame-ass running gag about how he makes a tasty goats’-milk frappe. The combination of tawdry and goofy is downright creepy. 

Napoleon and Illya escape from the mine. They steal a boat and blow a bunch of stuff up to warn the World Congress representatives away from the dock, then take the prince and Quillon into custody. Illya shows off his chest some more.


And still more. It’s like he forgot how to use buttons. Not a complaint.


Back in New York, Suzanne canoodles with Napoleon and gabs on about how she’s headed to Mombasa to give free dental care to the natives, because she’s also a dentist as well as a botanist and chemist, and gee, it’s funny how this episode treats it as absolutely hilarious that a woman could be any or all of those things.


Ick. At least we had that white shirt.



Comments

vintagehoarder said…
When I watched this I felt there was something... off in the body language between Jill Ireland and the other leads. I was left wondering if stuff playing out behind the scenes wasn't leaking in front of the cameras.

But yeah, David McCallum in that unbuttoned white shirt makes up for a lot!
montereysnow said…
I was just thinking last night how grating and irritating Jill Ireland's characters in UNCLE were.

You are right though. Any episode that gets Illya not only half undressed but also wet is a twofer worth watching.
Illesdan said…
I don't want to go to college in the MFU universe: you can get a doctorate in quantum physics, dentistry, botany, and chemistry all before the age of thirty. I declare shenanigans.
Morgan Richter said…
vintagehoarder: Yeah, I think there must've been strange things going on behind the scenes in this episode, because the interactions between the characters are definitely more strained than was usual for this show. I know McCallum's marriage was in the process of falling apart around this time. It's a weird and kind of unpleasant episode.

montereysnow: It's almost all worth it for half-undressed Illya. Even so, I watched this episode three times this week while recapping it, and I feel like I never need to see it again, even for that white shirt.

Illesdan: I also go crazy trying to figure Illya's educational/work history out. He earned his doctorate from Cambridge, but he also served in the Russian Navy, and then in the episode "The Survival School Affair" we learn that he's been an UNCLE agent for a long time (they give a precise date; I'm too lazy to look it up, but since sometime in the late 1950s), and then in "The Summit Five Affair" we learn that he used to work out of UNCLE's Berlin headquarters before transferring to New York... I'm trying to reconcile all this with him being in his late twenties or very early thirties at the start of the series, and I can't figure out a workable timeline.
vintagehoarder said…
One would almost think that Illya lied on his resume, and U.N.C.L.E., being the competent intelligence agency it is, didn't bother checking it out!
Morgan Richter said…
vintagehoarder, I feel certain that's exactly how it happened.
You are entirely right about this episode. I feel awkward about Jill Ireland anyway as their marriage was floundering, and the rape threats are not good, and the episode itself is pretty terrible. One bonus points - goats! I love goats! And of course Illya not only with his shirt so wantonly unbuttoned, but also his sleeves rolled up showing off his beautiful forearms. And wet! God...

As for Illya's career... University in the Ukraine, then the Sorbonne, then Cambridge... I can just about work it out this way. Either he wasn't in the navy (if we're just taking as proof him being in a navy uniform in that one episode - he could conceivably be undercover) or perhaps it was the navy that funded him through uni. So perhaps his undergrad and the navy overlapped. Again, perhaps his PhD and Uncle overlapped. It's conceivable. He might have been a member but not an active agent in the field. He might have been so clever he didn't take so long to do his PhD (although I have my own beautiful headcanon of his PhD days independent of Uncle and in a relationship with another PhD candidate.) What's hard to reconcile with that is the date of his Survival School stint, which I think just have been during his PhD. I don't remember the year.
montereysnow said…
I seem to recall that Illya's graduation year in the Survival School Affair is given as 1956; Napoleon's two years earlier. Which would make Illya just turning 23.
In The Gazebo in the Maze Affair, it seems Napoleon and Illya have been together since at least 1958 since we are told the original action with Partridge took place seven years earlier.

So, uh, yeah a bit difficult to cram everything into those years.

Illesdan said…
It gets worse for Solo if you stare too hard at Napoleon's information in the Man From U.N.C.L.E movie. In the television show, we know that Napoleon served in the Korean War (I love that fact, only because my Grandfather was an Army medic in that war) and the timelines fit for him getting out of the Army and joining U.N.C.L.E. But in the movie, he no longer is a Korean War Veteran (because, srsly, who remembers THAT war, right?) But a WWII vet, which poses a problem, considering that would put Solo in his mid to late 40s in 1963, even with the fibbing on his entry paperwork. Also an issue, because the U.N.C.L.E phases out agents over the age of 40. Anyone remember Norman Fell's performance as the original Mark Slate?
Morgan Richter said…
It's *almost* like the various writers on the show (and, later, the terrible reunion movie) didn't pay too much attention to anything that had already been established about Napoleon's and Illya's backstory. I love the show, but it could be terribly half-assed and sloppy at times.
MrsSpooky said…
About the timeline and Illya's education. I think he was working on his Phd while working at UNCLE. Not sure how remote education worked back in the 60s - I have a friend now who's working on her Phd from Warsaw, Poland (she's supposed to be writing her thesis, forgot when she said it has to be turned in). He was shown doing homework in the hospital in The Deadly Quest Affair, so it's possible he didn't actually attend classes there for the full time even if it's the university where he got his degree.

It's possible too - and my own headcanon - that Illya's just a prodigy and zipped through any schoolwork they gave him in Ukraine - or Russia, wherever his primary schooling was done. Maybe he was younger than the rest of the students in college, that way he could still be in his later 20s when he started at UNCLE in Berlin.

I don't remember, did Napoleon say something that he AND Illya smoked out Partridge into the jungle? Illya didn't know or remember him in their first encounter in front of Del Floria's and Illya really doesn't forget things as a rule.

As for continuity, I'm pretty sure they didn't have anything even remotely resembling a "bible" for the writers. I think they had writers' guides that may have changed from season to season which looked to be pretty much ignored.
Morgan Richter said…
Mrs. Spooky -- yeah, the timeline gets easier to manage if you just assume Illya was a prodigy who breezed through several years of education in no time.

Back when I was at USC's film school, I used to check out old show bibles from the film library all the time (Star Trek, et cetera)--they were fascinating! I should do some investigating to see if they have a bible or any kind of guide from UNCLE (entirely possible, since one of my instructors, Stanley Ralph Ross, was a season three staff writer). It'd be interesting to see what concrete information the writers all were working from.
montereysnow said…

Napoleon's account of the initial encounter with Partridge is ambiguous as to whether or not Illya was involved.

However, on the bus right before Illya is knocked out, Partridge asks Illya if he remembers him, so I took that to mean Illya had seen Partridge before, and therefore had been involved in the earlier action. I just watched the scene again, and I really am not sure what the scene means.

I guess I will stop trying to make sense out of The Man From Uncle and just enjoy it.









Morgan Richter said…
I suspect none of us will ever be able to truly make sense of The Man From UNCLE. Doesn't matter. It's still a delightful show, even when it doesn't *quite* add up.
I think Partridge was just messing with Illya when he talked about remembering him, in a kind of gung-ho British 'do you remember the war' kind of way. I get the feeling he hasn't met Partridge before - after all, what kind of spy would he be if he didn't recognise him? (I know, their incompetence is often a feature here but I don't think Illya is quite /that/ incompetent.
Eric Jon Magnuson said…
I wouldn't be too surprised if there wasn't a full/official character bible--especially considering how much was being played around with, during the series' initial development. I vaguely remember something in Jon Heitland's "Man from U.N.C.L.E. Book" about Napoleon at one point (likely pre-pilot) being Canadian; even though the series did pretty much make the character American instead, there supposedly was still a reference in the press materials during the first season to his service in the Royal Canadian Army (per http://www.manfromuncle.org/biosolo.htm).

If a bible does exist, it might be in the Norman Felton papers, at the University of Iowa; see http://blog.lib.uiowa.edu/speccoll/tag/norman-felton.
Morgan Richter said…
Eric -- that's a good thought about the Norman Felton papers. I think it's also in Heitland's book where they mention that originally Napoleon was supposed to be a widower -- I believe that was back in the days when Ian Fleming was still tangentially attached to the show. It's fascinating to hear about the changes that were made along the way. (Also in Heitland's book: Sam Rolfe's comments about how he originally thought he might have Illya turn out to be a Soviet sleeper agent, which would have been a completely different direction.)

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