The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The Apple-a-Day Affair”

At a newsstand, Illya and Napoleon make contact with a traitorous THRUSH agent, who slips them THRUSH’s latest top-secret project—a bag filled with apples—in exchange for cash. Their transaction is interrupted by a gaggle of armed THRUSH goons, who swoop in and retrieve the apples. In the resulting melee, Napoleon hurls an apple at the newsstand, which explodes on contact.

Back at headquarters, Mr. Waverly explains the assignment: THRUSH has developed a new strain of apples laced with nitroglycerine, which they plan to use to blow up a nuclear stockpile. The apples given to U.N.C.L.E. by the THRUSH turncoat were wrapped in paper bearing the label of an orchard located in what Waverly dismissively refers to as “hillbilly country,” so Illya and Napoleon rent a jeep and, posing as a pair of traveling encyclopedia salesmen, head into the Appalachians to find the orchard. Illya looks at the rustic surroundings and sniffs, “I have a feeling we’re not going to dispose of too many encyclopedias around here.” Here’s what I have learned in the first five minutes of this episode: U.N.C.L.E. is teeming with elitist snobs.

The road is blocked by an obstinate burro. Being worthless city folk, Illya and Napoleon are unable to get it to move out of the way (at one point in their efforts, Napoleon whips out his gun, whereupon Illya shouts in horror, “What are you doing?”). A pretty young woman named Nina (Jeannine Riley) comes to their aid and leads the animal out of their path; in repayment, Napoleon gallantly offers to give her a ride into town. Illya seethes and bites his thumb in ill-concealed frustration at his partner’s omnipresent horniness: “Napoleon, I know you have a need, but—“ Napoleon interrupts him: “She can show us the way!” Bristling in annoyance, Illya hisses, “I have a map.”

This is a lousy episode from deep in the stinky bowels of season three, but damn it all, David McCallum’s caustic delivery of “I have a map” raises it up a notch or two. Anyway, Napoleon ignores Illya’s spiteful (yet valid) complaints about his needs and tells Nina to hop in.

Upon reaching the town, they’re accosted by Nina’s shotgun-toting grandfather, Daddy Jo (Gil Lamb). “Grandpa don’t take kindly to me riding with strangers. Man strangers, that is. He thinks they’ve only got one thing on their minds,” Nina tells them. Daddy Jo snarls and yells at Illya and Napoleon for a while, then storms off with Nina. Illya, who magically perks up upon ditching Nina, tells Napoleon, “She’s not your type anyway.” 

The apple orchard is hiring day laborers, so Illya whips off his suit coat, dons a straw hat and battered leather jacket he happened to have stashed in the back of the jeep, and gets himself a job. He’s promptly identified as a spy and apprehended by the orchard’s owner, Colonel Picks (Robert Emhardt), who is also a THRUSH boss. Colonel Picks ties Illya up, menaces him with a bullwhip, and, er, forces him to eat bits of a (non-exploding) apple off the tip of a switchblade. I’m pretty sure there’s an entire section of the official THRUSH manual devoted to lists of bizarre and disconcertingly sexualized ways to torment Illya.

Meanwhile, the town’s corrupt lawman, Sheriff Skully (Harry Swoger), arrests Napoleon on a trumped-up charge of speeding, then sets loose a pack of rambunctious bloodhounds to tear him to pieces. Robert Vaughn gamely pretends to be terrified while a bunch of nice doggies pounce all over him, tails wagging happily.

Anyway, he’s saved by the timely arrival of Nina, who shoos away the dogs before they can maul him to death and/or exuberantly lick his face. Napoleon brushes off Nina’s offer to repair his torn suit: “That’s okay. It’s almost a month old.”

Nina insists, however, so Napoleon lets her lead him to her home, where he removes his pants so she can mend them. Daddy Jo walks in on a pantless Napoleon smooching his granddaughter and draws the natural conclusion. He whips out his shotgun and orders Napoleon at gunpoint to marry Nina.

For those keeping score at home, this is now the third time in this series that Napoleon has been forced at gunpoint to marry a woman due to a zany misunderstanding.

Bored with torturing Illya, Colonel Picks chains him up inside an abandoned mineshaft along with a hapless day laborer, Gardner Brown (future blaxploitation star D'Urville Martin, director of the cult classic Dolemite), who happened to stumble upon THRUSH’s secret lair. 

With their wrists shackled together in what I’m assuming is a half-assed homage to The Defiant Ones, Illya and Gardner manage to find their way into THRUSH’s lair deep within the mine, in which a bunch of female scientists industriously work at creating explosives-laced apples. Yet again, I’m forced to feel a stab of grudging admiration for THRUSH’s commitment to closing the gender gap in STEM fields. They may be crazy and evil, but by gum, it’s hard to fault their hiring practices.

Upon being spotted by THRUSH goons, Illya and Gardner make a break for it, then manage to rid themselves of their manacles and go their separate ways. Illya bursts in on Napoleon as he’s reluctantly exchanging vows with Nina. Dig Napoleon’s horrifically patched trousers and his splendidly grumpy expression. This episode's charms, meager as they are, all lie in the details.

Anyway, Illya tries to save his partner from matrimony by claiming to be his brother-in-law and spinning a web of lies about Napoleon’s penchant for chronic polygamy. This tactic fails, inevitably, so Illya and Napoleon just hide under a table until everyone else leaves. Problem solved.

Long story short, Illya, Napoleon, Nina, and Daddy Jo all end up captured by THRUSH and tied up inside the mine. Colonel Picks loads a truck up with explosives and heads off to the nuclear stockpile, leaving his prisoners behind to get blown up by apples.

Robert Vaughn lost all faith in this episode several scenes ago.

Napoleon and Illya break free of their bonds and hustle Nina and Daddy Jo to safety as the mine explodes, then blow up the apple truck before Colonel Picks can drive it to the nuclear stockpile. Back at headquarters, Illya celebrates the successful conclusion of their mission by giving Napoleon an impromptu lecture on atomic fission. 

This is a better place to end the episode than the actual ending, in which Napoleon is called away from Illya’s lecture by the arrival of Nina and Daddy Jo, who insist on being taken to a hootenanny, so let’s cut our losses and wrap it up right here. Trust me, it’s better that way.


Lady Silence said…
Do you think the show considers one of THRUSH's evil traits the fact that they hire so many women? You know, taking them out of their rightful place in the home and giving them wrong-headed notions of "gender equality"? The very idea!!
Morgan Richter said…
Lady Silence -- I've wondered that exact same thing myself. Disappointingly, it's entirely possible the show does consider THRUSH's forward-thinking pro-woman hiring policies very suspicious. Regardless, it's one of my very favorite things about THRUSH.
vintagehoarder said…
Worse, sometimes I suspect that the show considers women interested in STEM to be so wrong and deviant that they'd naturally gravitate towards an evil organisation like THRUSH! "Real" women, on the other hand, are content to be housewives, typists, and love interests for Napoleon.
I feel like Gardner Brown should have had his own film. He was the deepest thing in the whole episode and should have led a story about the exploitation of black workers post-slavery in the deep south. Everything else was a beautiful cliché. Beautiful because Napoleon and Illya are always beautiful in this kind of situation, Illya cock-blocking Napoleon at every opportunity, wearing their shared boyfriend-jacket, being force fed apple while Napoleon is almost forced to marry,yet again. I can't help it. It's awful but I love it.
montereysnow said…
I was astounded when I recently watched this episode, and it turned into The Defiant Ones. Even the watery escape scene is from the movie. I wonder what the writer was thinking, did he just need material and decide to throw it in, did he think U.N.C.L.E. should be more socially relevant?

Black characters on U.N.C.L.E. were usually heads of countries. This is one of the few times when an American back character is depicted. Yes, in a very short time, he does create some depth to the character: exploited worker stealing from the town boss to support his family.
vintagehoarder said…
And gosh, finally watching this one and losing count of all the hillbilly clichés (somewhere between the bloodhounds and the shotgun wedding). I can't help contrasting it with "The Iowa Scuba Affair" which also had a rural setting and a simple country girl for an innocent without piling on the stereotypes.

I did like the homage to The Defiant Ones however, and I wish we'd ended the episode with Gardner Brown rather than Nina and her idiotic grandfather!
Amused said…
Colonel Picks is clearly an apple short of an orchard. Who in their right mind would get bored with torturing Illya?

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