The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The When In Roma Affair”
In Rome, Napoleon races through the outdoor seating area of a restaurant with a pair of THRUSH goons in hot pursuit. As the goons close in on him, he stops at a table and tucks a perfume atomizer containing a top-secret formula into a purse belonging to Darlene Sims (“The Foxes and Hounds Affair”’s lovely Julie Sommars), a meek young woman from Omaha who is visiting Italy with a tour group. This episode is pretty typical of season three, in which the plots were drawn with increasingly broad strokes, so we’ll never learn any concrete details about what the atomizer contains. It’s a formula, it’s top-secret, Napoleon has it, THRUSH wants it. That’s all the information anyone’s going to get. It’s probably all anyone needs, really.
The goons capture Napoleon and drag him off to a lavish palazzo owned by a louche count, Cesare Guardia, who, upon finding himself in dire financial straits, has reluctantly allied himself with THRUSH. Cesare is played by dashing Italian actor Cesare Danova, who gives a strangely nuanced and poignant performance while surrounded on all sides by the usual overcaffeinated third-season nonsense; it sometimes seems like he mistakenly wandered into the episode from the set of some somber, respectable drama filming simultaneously on the MGM lot. The effect is weird, but not unpleasant.
While THRUSH goons slap Napoleon around a bit, Cesare drinks fine wine and exchanges barbs with local THRUSH boss Bruno (Than Wyenn). Torturing Napoleon, while undeniably entertaining, fails to reveal anything interesting, so Bruno instructs his chief henchman Vito (veteran screen villain Sid Haig) to let their prisoner escape, hoping he’ll lead them directly to the location of the atomizer. Which, yep, is pretty much exactly how this plot unfolds, so that was a pretty good judgment call, Bruno.
Napoleon escapes from his captors in some part of the episode we don’t get to see. Bruised and grumpy, he returns to his hotel room, where he finds Illya hiding in the closet. They roll around on the floor together for a while, which is probably the very best part of the episode.
Napoleon fills Illya in on his recent exploits. He mentions that his escape from THRUSH was suspiciously effortless, which suggests to him that THRUSH wanted him to get free so he could lead them to the atomizer. That’s a pretty good deduction! Nice spy work, Napoleon! He then promptly ruins the aforementioned nice spy work by failing to notice that Vito is listening at the door while he gabs on to Illya about how he stashed the atomizer in Darlene’s bag. While Napoleon rests up from his injuries, Illya heads off to find Darlene, unaware that Vito is one step ahead of him.
After discovering the mysterious atomizer in her purse, Darlene loans it to the woman in the adjoining hotel room, Mrs. Sparks (Kathleen Freeman), who is touring Rome with her husband, George (Stuart Nisbet), and their terminally bored son, Sammy (Billy Corcoran). While Darlene dines with Mr. and Mrs. Sparks, Illya tries to break into her room to search for the atomizer. He’s caught by young Sammy, who, upon finding a stranger trying to break down Darlene’s door, does the only sensible and reasonable thing: He threatens to yell for help unless Illya comes with him to his hotel room and reads him a bedtime story.
So Illya reads a book to Sammy (Captain Marvel and the Space Horse, which sounds sort of awesome), then tenderly tucks him into bed while muttering something about the sweet innocence of youth, because Illya’s icy, caustic exterior hides a fluffy marshmallow core.
With Sammy sound asleep, Illya searches Darlene’s room. Vito pops out from behind the curtains, wraps a rope around his neck, and throttles him unconscious.
When Vito fails to find the atomizer in Darlene’s room, Bruno sends in his secret weapon: Cesare, who slinks into the hotel restaurant, joins Darlene at her table, and proceeds to blast her with the full brunt of his charm. Unprepared for this onslaught, Darlene dissolves into a happy puddle.
Napoleon heads to Darlene’s room to search for his missing partner and finds him locked in a broom closet. Illya spends much of this episode stashed in various closets.
Cesare and Darlene spend a romantic evening together. While sitting in a moonlit park with him, a smitten Darlene gives a fumbling, heartbreaking speech about how, while Cesare is everything she’s ever dreamed about in a suitor, she's genuinely baffled and maybe a little suspicious about what he could possibly see in her: “I’m not rich, I’m not sophisticated, I’m not wise, and no one has ever said, ‘Hey, wow, she’s beautiful!’” This is one of only two scripts written by women in The Man From U.N.CL.E.’s hundred-episode run, which maybe helps explain Darlene’s high level of self-awareness. It’s not a particularly notable episode, but Darlene seems like a real person.
While Cesare assures Darlene he’s genuinely infatuated with her, Vito and Bruno sneak up and steal her purse. They’re ambushed by Napoleon and Illya, who beat them to a pulp. They search the purse for the atomizer and come up empty-handed.
The next morning, Napoleon and Illya drop by Darlene’s hotel room to return her purse and ask for the atomizer, which she had tossed in the trash. The hotel’s garbage has already been collected, so Illya and Napoleon hijack a tour bus and head off to the dump to search for it.
Upon reaching the dump, they stare at the piles of garbage for a while, then shrug and call Mr. Waverly to tell him they’re not going to bother to look for the atomizer any further. “We seem to have bungled very badly, Mr. Solo,” Mr. Waverly tells Napoleon gravely, his sonorous tone reverberating with a lifetime of disappointment in his two beautiful, charming, lazy, terminally incompetent top agents.
Acting on Bruno’s orders, Cesare reluctantly takes Darlene to the palazzo and hands her over to Vito and Bruno, who inject her with truth serum and interrogate her about the missing atomizer.
Having lost their best chance of regaining the top-secret formula, Illya and Napoleon return to Darlene’s hotel to protect her from THRUSH. Upon spotting Illya, Sammy exclaims to his parents, “He was my babysitter last night! He read me to sleep!” Mr. and Mrs. Sparks seem strangely unbothered by the knowledge that a strange man might’ve been in their hotel room with their young son while they were dining in the restaurant. I know this show is a full half-century old, but sometimes it seems like it exists in another universe as well.
After learning that Darlene has left with Cesare, Illya and Napoleon hijack the tour bus again and speed off to the palazzo, with the entire Sparks family coming along for the ride. Illya and Napoleon break into the palazzo. They’re promptly captured by Vito, who locks them up in the dungeon in the usual improbable and vaguely kinky manner: He forces Illya to kneel under the blade of a guillotine, then chains Napoleon up from the ceiling, his feet barely touching the lever that operates the blade. If Napoleon moves his feet off of the lever, the blade will drop, killing Illya. Anxious to save Darlene from THRUSH’s clutches, Cesare heads down to the dungeon and frees Napoleon and Illya from their predicament.
Napoleon, Illya, and Cesare mount an attack against Vito and Bruno. While Napoleon and Illya commence with the usual ferocious onslaught of judo throws, uppercuts, and karate chops, Cesare takes a bullet to the chest to protect Darlene.
And then it turns out young Sammy had the atomizer in his pocket the whole time, having swiped it out of Darlene’s trash can.
At U.N.C.L.E. headquarters, Mr. Waverly pins a medal on a fully-recovered Cesare, who announces his plan to go to Omaha with Darlene to meet her parents. It’s a perfectly lovely ending…
…which is then immediately ruined: A buxom female U.N.C.L.E. agent waltzes into the office to deliver some files, and Cesare abandons Darlene to pant and leer after her. While Darlene looks increasingly miserable, Illya and Napoleon decide to be a couple of big, smug dicks about her obvious heartbreak. “Do you suppose they’ll live happily ever after?” Illya mutters to his partner. Napoleon smirks in reply.
Oof. Awful. You were doing pretty well, Man From U.N.C.L.E., and then you crapped it up at the last minute. For shame.