The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The Matterhorn Affair”
Right up front: This late-season-three barrel-scraping episode doesn’t have much going for it. Its most interesting feature is probably the pedigree of its writer, David Giler, who churned this script out at the very start of his career; his father, prolific television scribe Bernie Giler, contributed episodes as well, including “The Her Master’s Voice Affair,” “The Foreign Legion Affair,” and “The Take Me To Your Leader Affair.” Following his brief association with U.N.C.L.E., David Giler made the switch to features, writing the scripts for such disparate films as Myra Breckinridge and The Money Pit; he’s best known for producing (and occasionally writing) all the Alien films, from the 1979 original that jump-started the franchise all the way through the upcoming Alien: Covenant. I defy anyone to find any thematic common ground between The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Myra Breckinridge, and Alien.
Illya and Napoleon meet with a man named Fred Score in Singapore, who passes them half of a filmstrip containing some top-secret information. Midway through the transaction, he’s riddled with bullets by a ne’er-do-well named Beirut (Vito Scotti), who snatches the film and leaves. Before dying, Score gasps out something about how the other half of the film is in the possession of a man named Marvin Klump.
Back at headquarters, Napoleon and Illya brief Mr. Waverly on their latest failure. Weary and resigned to the ongoing ineptitude of his two brightest stars, Waverly gloomily notes that they might have doomed the world by losing the film, which contains the plans to the top-secret Project Quasimodo. Due to its highly-classified nature (“It’s one of the most closely-guarded secrets in the world!”), Waverly refuses to give them any more details about the project. Illya offhandedly mentions that he already knows all about it: “It’s a plan to develop a miniature atomic reactor.” While Mr. Waverly looks increasingly despairing and morose, Illya cheerfully explains that somebody from U.N.C.L.E.’s Intelligence division was yammering on about it in the elevator that morning.
At moments like this, when a spotlight is aimed at the rampant incompetence riddling the entire organization, it becomes all too easy to believe that Napoleon and Illya really are U.N.C.L.E.’s two best agents, though that’s entirely by default.
Napoleon exposits that Beirut is a known accomplice of a dealer in stolen goods named Backstreet (Oscar Beregi, Jr). “Apparently, Fred Score was working the back alleys for Backstreet,” Napoleon quips. Illya rolls his eyes dramatically and staggers over to the window in exaggerated horror at his partner’s penchant for lame gags.
Illya and Napoleon head to Los Angeles to talk to Fred Score’s bumbling former neighbor, Marvin Klump (Bill Dana), who lives with his overprotective sister, Heather (Norma Crane, Fiddler on the Roof’s Golde). Despite Score’s dying words, Klump insists he knows nothing about the film.
Then there’s a weird detour in which Illya, Napoleon, Marvin, and Heather all head to a nearby cemetery to see the unveiling of a tombstone for the son of Marvin’s boss, Mr. Quartz (Hal Smith). I’m skipping over a lot of plot, because this is not the kind of episode where the story needs to be described in loving detail, but trust me, this development doesn’t make any more sense in context.
At the cemetery, Beirut kidnaps Marvin at gunpoint and drags him off to Backstreet’s lavish mansion to interrogate him about Project Quasimodo. Via a series of very lame misunderstandings, Backstreet acquires the mistaken impression that Marvin is a genius at espionage. To coerce the information out of him, Backstreet dangles Marvin upside-down from the ceiling and forces him to inhale the fumes from a rare blooming plant that emits mind-altering chemicals.
While Napoleon ransacks Marvin’s house searching for the film, Illya loiters outside Backstreet’s heavily-guarded mansion, waiting for the right moment to stage a rescue. For some unfathomable reason, Illya will spend this entire scene with one hand casually jammed down the front of his pants. Weird acting choice, David McCallum.
Meanwhile, Napoleon makes a half-hearted attempt at putting the moves on Heather. Neither Napoleon nor Heather seem particularly invested in this relationship.
Illya breaks into the mansion and single-handedly knocks out all of Backstreet’s guards. Or rather, some dude in a shaggy blond wig who is very plainly not David McCallum single-handedly knocks out all of Backstreet’s guards. The stunt doubles are not integrated seamlessly into this episode, I’ll just say that.
Illya rescues Marvin, who is tripping balls from inhaling the plant fumes, and smuggles him out of the mansion. Zany hijinks ensue.
They head back to Marvin’s home, only to find that Backstreet and Beirut have captured Napoleon and Heather. Upon apprehending Illya and Marvin, Backstreet intercepts a registered letter mailed to Marvin by Fred Score before his death, in which Score states that the other half of the film can be found at the Matterhorn.
So Backstreet and Beirut haul Marvin off to Switzerland to hike the Matterhorn, leaving Illya, Napoleon, and Heather back at Marvin’s home under armed guard. They overpower their captors and head to the Matterhorn as well. At some point, Marvin gets tossed off the top of the mountain but is saved from certain death by Illya and Napoleon. It’s all very… well, “joyless” is a good way to describe this episode. I look upon most of season three with a certain benevolence—sure, the show absolutely drifted off course by becoming too goofy and campy—but my largesse stops here. It’s goofy, but it’s not fun.
Anyhoo, Marvin realizes belatedly that the clue in Score’s registered letter actually refers to Quartz’s dead son, a star basketball player with the nickname of Matterhorn. So everybody heads back to the cemetery in Los Angeles, whereupon Marvin finds the other half of the filmstrip hidden inside the son’s tombstone. A big brawl breaks out between Illya and Napoleon and Beirut and Blackstreet. Once again, in all shots apart from close-ups, the role of Illya is played by David McCallum’s stunt double; I kept glancing at the screen at random moments and wondering who the new character in the ill-fitting blond wig was supposed to be.
Having defeated Beirut and Blackstreet, Illya and Napoleon take Marvin and Heather out for celebratory ice cream sundaes. Marvin announces his intention to start living on his own, while Heather, having been sexually awakened by Napoleon or some such idiocy, starts randomly romancing Mr. Quartz. It all ends with an odd little scene in which Napoleon tries to wheedle Illya into ordering something called a Quasimodo Delight; Robert Vaughn manages to make this sound unspeakably filthy. There is nothing good about this episode—nothing at all—but I’ll give it a single point for the closing moment, in which Napoleon leans close to Illya and purrs into his ear, “Would you like a Quasimodo Delight?”
As it turns out, Illya would not—he places his order for a plain black coffee instead, while looking simultaneously scornful and intrigued by his partner’s offer—but bless you for asking, Napoleon.