The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The Indian Affairs Affair”

Hoo, boy. Brace yourselves. This is a bad one.

Napoleon exits the offices of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, which, in a high-water mark of cultural sensitivity, has a carved wooden cigar-store Indian propped outside of it. A headband-wearing Native American man ducks behind the statue to avoid being seen and rolls it down the sidewalk after Napoleon. Napoleon meets up with Illya in an alley, where they find themselves surrounded by a gaggle of Native Americans, who hurl tomahawks and shoot flaming arrows at them. Amidst a flurry of smoke signals, Illya and Napoleon fend off the attack and escape unscathed.

At U.N.C.L.E. headquarters, Mr. Waverly briefs Illya and Napoleon on their new mission: With the aid of Japanese nuclear scientist Dr. Yahama (Richard Loo), THRUSH has developed a hydrogen bomb. U.N.C.L.E. has tracked Yahama to the Cardiac reservation outside Oklahoma City. The chief of the Cardiac tribe, Chief Highcloud (Ted de Corsia), has recently disappeared; Waverly suspects the attack on Napoleon and Illya was part of an attempt to find the missing chief.

Cardiac. Cardiac. Some screenwriter (Dean Hargrove, I’m surprised at you) decided “Cardiac” was a perfectly plausible name for a Native American tribe.

Waverly sends Illya to the reservation to uncover its connection to THRUSH, then instructs Napoleon to track down Chief Highcloud’s daughter, Charisma (Angela Dorian, Playboy’s Playmate of the Year, 1968). Charisma is currently employed as a dancer in a Manhattan nightclub; when Napoleon finds her, she’s bopping around the stage in a war bonnet paired with a bikini and hotpants.

Napoleon tries to convince her to accompany him to the reservation to find her father, while doing a half-assed job of trying not to stare at her breasts. 

While they’re chatting, THRUSH agents pop off of a city bus and spray knockout gas everywhere. As they force a struggling Charisma onto the bus and speed away with her, Napoleon turns to a passenger waiting at the stop and quips, “Well, the bus service hasn’t improved much, has it?” Oh, Napoleon. My dear, you are not at your lovable best this episode.

Charisma is taken to the Oklahoma estate of THRUSH boss L. C. Carson (Joe Mantell), who happens to be a horrible old racist who will spend most of the episode calling Charisma a “savage” in between attempts to rape her. Carson brings in Chief Highcloud and threatens to harm Charisma unless the chief lets THRUSH use the reservation for its own nefarious purposes. Highcloud responds by slut-shaming his daughter for her nightclub act, disowning her, and flouncing out of the room.

The male characters in this episode are not sterling, I’ll just say that. Oh, hey, you know who that is in the above screenshot playing Carson’s sunglasses-wearing henchman, Ralph? That’s Nicholas Colasanto, Coach from Cheers, believe it or not. I know! Doesn’t look a damn thing like him, but it’s true.

Charisma persuades Carson to let her talk to her jerkass father. She tries to convince Highcloud that her dancing is harmless: “It’s not wrong what I do. I do it during my lunch hour!” Er… those are two unrelated statements, right, Charisma? Because no, of course your dancing isn’t wrong, but I’m having a hard time following the logic of “if it’s done during lunch hour, it can’t possibly be a bad thing.” I rob banks, but I do it during my lunch hour, so it’s cool, right? Chief Highcloud complains about her decision to leave the reservation, then asks if she has a good life in New York. Charisma: “You’re not supposed to be happy in New York. You’re supposed to be lonesome.”

Illya sneaks onto the reservation, where he’s contacted by Napoleon, who has trailed Charisma to Carson’s lair. Napoleon insists to Illya that he deliberately let THRUSH kidnap Charisma so he could track them to their hideout. Illya: “I’ll accept that story for the moment.” The only thing this sodden, miserable episode has going for it is Hargrove’s signature snappy repartee between our two leads.

A gaggle of Cardiac tribe members ambush Illya, tie him to stakes on the ground, and threaten to cover him in flesh-eating ants if he doesn’t explain his reasons for trespassing. “If you don’t talk, then soon will come the giant red ants, drawn by the sweet smell of your pale skin,” says one of the Native Americans, who is played by a pasty white dude.

This episode is very embarrassing for everyone concerned.

Anyway, Illya manages to convince his captors he’s there to help them find their missing chief, which leads us right into Act III, which kicks off with the worst and most hilariously nonsensical title card in this show’s history:

Yeah. I got nothing.

Illya dons a buckskin jacket, a headband, and an egregiously terrible Prince Valiant wig and poses as a member of the Cardiac tribe. He meets with Carson’s henchman, Ralph (who refers to Illya as “Little Beaver”, which is one of those moments that makes me feel an ephemeral pang of fondness for this vomit-splattered dumpster of an episode). Illya adopts a stilted and terrible quasi-Native American accent (wars have been started for less, Illya) and demands to be taken to see Chief Highcloud. He meets with the chief and Charisma, and you’re going to have to excuse me, because I try to keep my language mostly clean on this site, but I feel like the only way to adequately describe what happens next should involve the phrase “metric shit-ton of mortifying fuckery”.

Aw, crap. I wish I hadn’t noticed the pattern emblazoned on Illya’s headband. Oh, why, why?

While Illya hobnobs with Highcloud, Carson spews more racist abuse at Charisma while trying to rape her. Angela Dorian, I’m sorry. You’re lovely, and you deserve better than this episode.

Napoleon crashes through a window and knocks out Carson in time to save Charisma. Napoleon and Charisma head upstairs to rescue Chief Highcloud, where they find Illya trying to place a call to headquarters. Napoleon circles around his partner, his expression incredulous, scoping out his ghastly disguise from head to toe, then asks, in a tone of coldly blistering contempt, “What’re you doing, generally speaking?”

Hey, can we start a movement to get Robert Vaughn a posthumous Emmy or something for his work as Napoleon? Because no matter how badly the scripts failed him, the man always, always brought his A-game.

They’re all caught and tied up by Carson. Left to his own devices, Napoleon manages to wriggle over to the radio and uses his mouth to turn the dial to some lively music.

This inspires Charisma to wriggle around and do one of her dance routines while tied to a chair, which loosens her bonds enough to allow her to escape, whereupon she frees the others.

Meanwhile, Carson meets with a coterie of international THRUSH baddies, all of whom are sporting natty headwear (turbans, fezzes, fedoras). Each of the baddies has been in charge of developing one particular element of Dr. Yahama’s latest fiendish device. Yahama snaps the various parts together, Lego-style, and ends up with a small, functioning hydrogen bomb. 

His invention a success, Dr. Yahama drinks a celebratory cup of sake while proclaiming “Banzai!” A gong sound plays in the background. I’m just going to leave you with this gut-wrenching sound bite from the daughter of Hawaiian-born Chinese-American actor Richard Loo, as quoted in his New York Times obituary: ''He was always either stabbing himself or committing hara-kiri or kamikaze,'' she said. ''He always played the big honcho who was really going to make life tough for the Americans, the really nasty Japanese general or colonel who ended up killing himself as a point of honor because he never got the best of the Americans.''

Carson gives each of the four THRUSH baddies a locked briefcase. One of the briefcases, he tells them, contains the hydrogen bomb. If the briefcase is opened improperly, the bomb will be triggered. The baddies each climb into separate jeeps and drive off, ready to take the briefcases back to their countries of origin. I don’t really understand the logic of not knowing whether you’re carrying an atomic bomb, but the garbled plot is one of this episode’s lesser problems, so I’m giving it a pass. The THRUSH villains are ambushed by motorcycle-riding members of the Cardiac tribe, who, at Napoleon’s command, surround the jeeps and start a gun battle.

Upon defeating Carson and the other THRUSH baddies, Napoleon rounds up all four briefcases.  Figuring Carson would keep the bomb for himself, he shoots open the briefcases, which indeed turn out to be empty. Sure, he guessed correctly, but seeing how all of Oklahoma would’ve been a radioactive inferno if he hadn’t, it seems like maybe he should’ve (carefully) handed the briefcases over to U.N.C.L.E.’s highly-trained bomb technicians instead.

Anyway, Mr. Waverly pops up out of nowhere to announce that he already arrested Dr. Yahama and found the bomb, so that takes care of everything. And then Chief Highcloud starts grousing about how Charisma would be happier if she could just settle down with a nice Indian boy, whereupon Napoleon tries to hook her up with Illya, whereupon Illya coldly yanks off his terrible wig, hurls it angrily at Charisma, and gets up in Napoleon’s personal space to make some meaningful eye contact with his partner.

And on that odd note, the episode reaches a merciful end.


That eye contact at the end - when Napoleon just starts to stare meaningfully at Illya's lips - is the single best thing about this dire, uncomfortable episode. From the attempted rape to Illya's disguise and everything in between. Yuck. Just yuck. I enjoyed Illya rolling in a muddy puddle at the start and the scenery is pretty, but you just spend the whole episode cringing. I think it's probably a good thing there weren't any actual Native Americans involved. Oh, by the way, the motorcycles they ride are Indians. Of course.
montereysnow said…
This is the last episode of season two and is a foreshadowing of what was to come in season three. You would think that after seeing this episode the powers in charge
would have run from this path instead of charging down it.

The Little Beaver references were supposed to be funny at the time. Most of the 1960's audience would have recognized Little Beaver as Red Ryder's pre-teen Native American side kick in the long running western comic, Red Ryder. He was played in several 1940's movies by future Baretta star/murder suspect Robert Blake.

Illya actually does look like Little Beaver in that goofy outfit he is wearing, so audiences may have found it funny.

Anonymous said…

This episode is obviously pretty damn racist. It is also, however, a broad parody of the western genre and includes a lot of references a 1960s audience probably would have understood. It is (believe it or not) actually very metatexual, combining two genres (spy and western), which were huge at the time. There are loads of other shout-outs, apart from the Red Ryder one, although you'd need to be more informed than me to find them all. For instance, the scene with the ants echoes the film 'Broken Arrow' (1950) (possibly also other films). The scene with the motor bikes is like the 'circling the wagons' scene, which appears in a lot of different films. The list goes on... The 1960s were also seeing the start of the so-called 'revisionist western' genre, which often subverted older tropes in various ways, such as asking the audience to side with the 'Indians' rather than the 'cowboys'. There are definitely echoes of that in this episode. One of the things, which fascinates me about 'The Man from UNCLE' is that it includes so many references to things (pop cultural and otherwise), which probably often go over a modern audience's head (including mine).
vintagehoarder said…
When MFU is good it is very, very good, but when it is bad it is *horrid*. I'm afraid this episode is an example of the "horrid".

(And why is it they're always disguising the guy with blue eyes as a member of an ethnic minority? It's a good thing that THRUSH has absolutely no observational skills whatsoever, otherwise Illya would have been unmasked within two minutes of showing up in that ridiculous "Indian" getup!)
I swear it's something of a in joke to the Muncle people. How many dark haired dark skinned ethnicities can we disguise this pale, blond Scot as?
Morgan Richter said…
Easily the worst of season two, which had shaky moments but managed to stay more or less together, until it came completely unglued at the season finale. Up to this point, Dean Hargrove had a terrific track record with scripts for this show -- Never-Never, Gazebo in the Maze, Deephole, Children's Day -- and then this one. He didn't write for the show at all in season three, and then came back at the end to do the two-part Prince of Darkness, which is better than most of season four's offerings.

montereysnow -- thanks for pointing out the Red Ryder reference! That helps.

Anonymous -- I'm glad they used the western tropes (it's always fun when UNCLE goes a little cross-genre), and things like the reference to circling the wagons was even nicely foreshadowed early in the episode with our THRUSH villain watching a televised Western. I just wish it had been done with a little more finesse (and less racism, ideally).

Vintagehoarder & Aconitum -- Illya's apparent belief in his own ability to seamlessly disguise himself as, say, a Native American or a Chinese rickshaw driver or a Central American vagabond musician always cracks me up. He's the Man of a Thousand Faces, all of which look remarkably the same.
vintagehoarder said…
I have a feeling the powers behind the scenes saw Robert Vaughn as "the American one" and David McCallum as "the foreign one who can do funny accents", which is why he got to dress up as Chinese rickshaw drivers/South American vagabonds/Native Americans etc. I suppose we should count ourselves lucky they never made him don blackface and an afro wig!

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