The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The Round Table Affair”
This is a frightfully silly episode in which very little happens: Illya and Napoleon swill beer, huddle together in small spaces, and whine about their jobs a lot. I have no complaints. Let’s dive in:
Illya zips through the Alps in a sporty red convertible, in hot pursuit of a car driven by noted crime lord Lucho Nostra (Bruce Gordon). The road is blocked by uniformed sentries, who raise the barricade to allow Nostra to pass, then lower it in front of Illya. Illya smashes through the barricade, spins out of control, and crashes his car. While he’s struggling to collect himself, he’s approached by a suave ne’er-do-well named Artie King (the multifaceted jazz musician/actor/activist Don Francks, who, I just learned yesterday, is Cree Summer’s dad. You know what might be even cooler and more random than that? He voiced Sabretooth in the 1990s FOX X-Men cartoon. Dude led a fascinating life), who informs him that he has illegally entered the tiny sovereign nation of Ingolstein and is now under arrest.
Illya squawks about this, whereupon Artie smugly chastises him for his reckless behavior: “An American citizen abroad must never forget that he’s a roving ambassador of goodwill.” Honest question here: Why on earth do bad guys keep assuming Illya—globe-trotting, Russian-accented Illya—is an American? What do they know that we don’t?
Illya contacts Mr. Waverly and Napoleon from his jail cell to fill them in on his situation: Since Ingolstein has no extradition treaties with any other countries, it’s become a haven for wanted fugitives like Artie King and Lucho Nostra. Ingolstein’s regent is the teenaged Grand Duchess Vicky (Valora Noland), who is currently finishing her education at a convent outside Paris. In her absence, the country is being ruled by her dissolute uncle, Prince Frederick (Reginald Gardiner), who has allowed criminals to roam freely in return for repayment of his gambling debts.
So Napoleon dons a snazzy bowler hat and a carnation boutonnière and heads to Paris to escort Vicky to Ingolstein to bring law and order to her nation.
This is Castle Ingolstein, which is played by a tattered old postcard of some other castle. Just when I start thinking the Man From U.N.C.L.E. set department can’t get any cheaper and lazier, they come up with bold new ways to cut corners. I am suitably impressed.
Anyway, Napoleon and Vicky arrive at Ingolstein, where Vicky chews out sleazy Prince Frederick, orders the criminals to leave town, and announces that she’ll start signing extradition treaties immediately. With the situation seemingly under control, Napoleon heads to the jail to caress Illya’s face a bit.
This episode was written by Robert Hill, who had a prolific early career scripting tawdry sexploitation flicks like She Gods of Shark Reef and Sex Kittens Go To College before finding quasi-respectability as a workhorse staff writer for both The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. While his U.N.C.L.E. episodes aren’t the strongest or most clever in the history of the series—that coveted top spot is held by the great Peter Allan Fields, with Dean Hargrove not far behind him—Hill managed to turn out one all-time classic script with “The Adriatic Express Affair” and provided us with several other hours of buoyant escapist television. Plus, he did manage to get Illya and Napoleon in bed together in “The It’s All Greek To Me Affair”, and for that we all thank him. I guess what I’m saying is, Hill had a finely-honed understanding of the concept of subtext.
Napoleon and a newly-free Illya hit the local tavern, where they swig beer and chow down on knockwurst and cheerfully annoy all the assembled criminals.
I feel like David McCallum is trying to express his attitude toward this episode through secret hand gestures.
Upon learning of Vicky’s plan to kick the fugitives out of the country, Lucho Nostra locks Napoleon and Illya up in a closet and storms off to talk to Prince Frederick, who is already getting an earful from Artie King. Frederick pleads with Vicky to reconsider: Due to Frederick’s debts, Artie owns all of Ingolstein. To protect the country’s finances, Frederick drums up a Hail-Mary plan: If Vicky marries Artie, their bond will return stability to the nation.
This is a terrible plan. This plan is so jaw-droppingly awful and reckless and irresponsible, it’s somewhat surprising that neither Illya nor Napoleon came up with it.
To his credit, Artie thinks this is a ghastly plan as well, and flat-out refuses to go along with it. In order to retain Ingolstein as a safe haven for vice and all-purpose depravity, Lucho Nostra threatens to murder Artie unless he marries Vicky.
Jubilant, the criminals let Illya and Napoleon out of the closet and force them to toast to the looming union of Artie and Vicky.
While trying to slip out of town, Artie, who is a decent enough fellow at heart, runs into a desperately unhappy Vicky. They commiserate about how much it totally sucks that they have to get married to each other. Artie reassures Vicky that he has no intention of taking advantage of the situation, then gives her his dice-studded pinky ring to cement their engagement. Sure enough, they fall madly in love.
To save Vicky from her marriage, Illya and Napoleon hatch a scheme to kidnap Artie. They break into the castle and, with the invaluable aid of Illya’s shockingly comprehensive guidebook to Ingolstein, maneuver their way through secret tunnels and hidden doors until they reach Artie’s bedroom.
They capture Artie and head out of the country with him. Mr. Waverly, who is surprisingly well-informed as to the inner political machinations of Ingolstein, contacts them with an urgent update: Since Artie has vanished, Lucho Nostra has decided to marry Vicky himself, which, everyone agrees, puts her in a far worse predicament.
So Napoleon, Illya, and Artie head back to Ingolstein, where Artie dons a suit of armor and challenges Nostra to a duel for Vicky’s hand. A slew of utterly ridiculous shenanigans ensue.
The duel goes on for approximately eight million years. It’s interspersed with a bunch of awkward reaction shots from Illya and Napoleon, who are ostensibly perched on the roof of the castle, watching the duel from above.
Why do I have the sneaking suspicion neither Robert Vaughn nor David McCallum were anywhere near the set the day the duel was filmed?
Anyway, Artie defeats Lucho Nostra and wins the right to marry Vicky. With the extradition treaties newly in effect, Interpol agents swarm Ingolstein and arrest the criminals, minus Artie, en masse.
It wraps up in classic U.N.C.L.E. style, with Napoleon and Illya celebrating the marriage of a teenaged duchess to a dangerous criminal by swilling beer and wearing adorable hats.
Job well done, boys.