Saturday 19 June 2021

Decoy (1957)

Decoy was a syndicated 1957 cop drama that has considerable historical interest, being the first American cop series to feature a woman as the lead character. It’s also unusual for American TV of that era in featuring some actual location shooting with some great New York street scenes.

Officer Patricia “Casey” Jones (Beverly Garland) is a New York policewoman. She doesn’t have a regular assignment. Like a lot of her fellow policewomen she gets assigned to various squads when they need a female officer to go undercover.

The series only lasted for one season (of 39 episodes). The obvious explanation for this is that it tried to be fairly realistic. Policewomen didn’t spend most of their time beating up bad guys or shooting them. When assigned to plain-clothes work they just went undercover and tried to blend into whatever environment they found themselves in, either patiently gathering evidence or equally patiently for a criminal to take the bait (the policewoman being the bait). Which means that it’s a much less action-packed series than something like M Squad. The insistence on not making Casey an unrealistic action heroine was admirable but would not have helped the ratings.

It’s not hard to see why none of the networks were interested - they would have had no idea what to do with a series such as this which is too unconventional and low-key to fit neatly into the cop show genre.

The show’s biggest asset is without a doubt Beverly Garland, an extraordinarily talented actress who should have become a major star but it just never happened for her. The format of the series gives her plenty of opportunities to stretch her acting wings. An undercover policewoman like Casey had to be an actress of sorts, constantly playing different rôles which of course means that Garland gets to vary her performances (and she does so very skilfully).

She also has to be tough and she has to be sensitive and occasionally she has to be vulnerable. All of which Garland manages with ease.

It also has to be said that Beverly Garland is very glamorous. And when she gets undercover assignments that require her to play up the glamour she’s very very glamorous indeed.

At the end of every episode Casey breaks the fourth wall and gives us a spiel about the work of policewomen. This sort of thing (along with voiceover narration) was a common but irritating feature of a lot of 50s cop shows. Of course the producers needed the coöperation of police departments so the spiels occasionally sound like public relations releases.

The scripts are, on the whole, extremely strong and despite the half-hour format they have a lot more complexity than you might expect. They’re pleasingly varied - sometimes very dark, sometimes slightly whimsical. And on occasions they’re not afraid to address tricky ethical dilemmas.

It’s fascinating to compare Decoy to Police Woman. Police Woman is a wonderfully entertaining series but Decoy is more interesting, more psychologically complex, more realistic and more intelligent. It can be dark but it can be hopeful as well. And while Angie Dickinson has enormous charisma Beverly Garland is in her own way just as memorable.

Episode Guide

In Stranglehold a sailor has been murdered and a woman, Molly Orchid, has been picked up trying to pawn the dead man’s watch. The police think her boyfriend George did the killing but they know nothing about him apart from his name. It’s Casey’s job to befriend Molly and find out who George is. It turns out to be a much more dangerous job than she expected.

The Red Clown is an episode that offers a clue as why this series only lasted one season. Casey is trying to track down an errant husband so that he can be forced to pay child support. Casey has visions of reuniting father and daughter but finds that putting families back together isn’t so easy. It’s not a bad story. In fact it’s very good. I admire the series for showing a policewoman working the sort of unglamorous everyday cases that a real policewoman would have been involved in. It’s just not a cop show story. There’s no crime, no arrests, no guns, no-one is in any danger. It’s just a cop trying to bring a father and a daughter back together. When you compare it to contemporary cop shows like Dragnet or M Squad you can see why a lot of viewers were going to be alienated or mystified. In TV in that era a series that did not fit genre expectations was going to have trouble finding an audience.

In The Phoner Casey has to trap a man making obscene phone calls to a woman named Betty. It could be more dangerous than it sounds, for both Betty and Casey. An effectively tense episode.

To Trap a Thief starts with Casey on a routine assignment, trying to catch pickpockets. Then gunfire breaks out. It’s the aftermath of an armed robbery. The robbery itself is far from routine. $17,000 was stolen but the thieves only had $7,000 on them when apprehended. What happened to the other $10,000? Suspicion falls on veteran cop Frank Torrino. As part of the investigation Casey poses as a blackmailer but what she uncovers is not what she expected. It’s a solid story but what makes this a typical (and very good) Decoy episode is the compassion for human weakness.

Dream Fix
deals with a junkie, a young woman who might lead the cops to a big-time dealer. Casey goes undercover as a nurse at a rehab hospital. Another typical Decoy episode with the emphasis on the human side of police work.

The Savage Payoff deals with sports betting and rigged basketball games. Casey goes undercover to befriend a player whom the cops suspect is involved. He’s a nice boy and Casey hates to think he might be mixed up in anything dishonest. Another story in which right and wrong is not something straightforward.

Casey finds herself behind bars in Deadly Corridor, posing as a prisoner to solve the murder of an inmate. She might find the answer but she might not like it. This one gives Beverly Garland a chance to do her tough girl thing. Not a bad story.

In Escape into Danger Casey arrives home after a long shift to find that one of her neighbours has committed a murder. Mary Waleski has killed her violent alcoholic husband and now Mary has fled. But there’s something really important that Mary doesn’t know, so Casey has to find her. A good tense story with an interesting twist - the police are hunting a woman they know to be innocent.

Casey is launched into high society in Necklace of Glass. She’s the bait in the trap for the man responsible for a series of jewel robberies. It’s the kind of job she’s done before but you can’t always be sure things will go smoothly. A good episode which gives Beverly Garland the chance to show how glamorous she can be.

In Scape Goat Casey screws up badly. She and a male detective had to go to the airport to take a woman into custody (the woman had been extradited from Canada). Casey followed her instincts and took the cuffs off the woman. Casey was wrong, but she was also right. Her instincts told her correctly that this woman was no ordinary criminal. Now Casey and her colleague are in race against time to prevent a tragedy. This is another Decoy episode focused on the emotional pressures that can lead a person to commit a crime. And it’s another solid episode.

In Two Days to Kill Casey has to act as bodyguard to a 18-year-old named Selma who is a vital witness against her hoodlum boyfriend. It’s only for two days but it’s a long two days for Casey. She and Selma are just not going to get along and Selma is going to be trouble. A darker episode, and a good one.

Queen of Diamonds
takes Casey undercover as a photographer in a night-club. Her job is to find evidence that will break an unbreakable alibi. There’s a complex romantic triangle involved as well, and conflicting loyalties that could play out disastrously. There are complications from the past and the past can haunt the present. A very good episode.

My Brother's Killer starts with Casey getting a very lucky break. An incident that is absurdly trivial could lead to the capture of a man wanted for his part in an armed hold-up that ended in murder. That lucky break isn’t as straightforward as it seemed and the result is a remarkably dark, brutal suspense-filled episode with some real film noir atmosphere. A truly excellent episode, the best of the series so far.

In Bullet of Hate a teenage girl is driven to murder her cruel aunt, or at least that’s how it looks. Casey isn’t so sure. She’s spotted quite a few clues that tell a different story but she’ll have to move carefully to find evidence to support her suspicions. There’s certainly plenty of festering hate in this overheated melodramatic episode. Decoy is usually a bit more subtle than this.

Casey infiltrates a major shoplifting gang in Death Watch. Her job is to find the man behind the operation, which she does only she finds out that he is involved in a lot more than shoplifting. She also has to deal with a punch-drunk young ex-fighter. This episode deals with evil but as usual with some touches of complexity. Unfortunately it’s an episode that should be suspenseful but the suspense falls a bit flat.

In Odds Against the Jockey there’s murder at the race-track. This one has a decent mystery plot and Casey is charmed by a loveable rogue who may be a killer. It’s fairly light-hearted but stylish and slick and overall it’s a very good episode.

A model is murdered in the garment district in New York in Dressed for the Kill. She wasn’t a very popular model. Casey goes undercover as a model to find the killer (there’s no point in having a series about a beautiful policewoman unless there’s at least one episode in which she has to pose as a model). The mystery in this one isn’t too challenging but it’s a decent enough episode.

In An Eye for an Eye Casey goes undercover as a junkie after a female junkie is murdered. The police want the murderer and they want to break up the narcotics ring that was supplying her. It turns out the dead girl’s brother was involved in the drug ring. It’s a story of loyalty betrayed and it’s not bad.

The Challenger is a boxing story, dealing with mobsters trying to take control of a young boxer’s career. Casey gets involved when she encounters the boxer’s wife. The problem of course is that no-one in the boxing game is prepared to talk to the cops but Casey isn’t giving up. A reasonably good and rather dark episode and one which emphasises the difficulties the police face when people make the mistake of thinking they can deal with criminals on their own.

In Across the World an import-export business is dealing in more than just machine tools and the owner of the business is murdered when she finds out too much. Casey goes undercover as the new owner and finds herself in the middle of some complicated double-crosses. And she gets beaten up for her trouble. Not a bad episode.

The Showplace
deals with a bar that is a front for prostitution although this is implied rather than stated outright. One of the girls has been murdered. Casey has to find the killer, preferably without getting herself killed. A decent episode.

Reasonable Doubt is interesting. The police have one suspect for an armed robbery and they want to nail the guy’s brother as well. Casey has to find the evidence to prove the brother’s guilt but she’s not comfortable with the lies and manipulation in which she has to engage in order to do so. It’s rather surprising for a cop show in 1957 to be so honest about the methods of the police. There are several layers of betrayal in this extremely good episode.

Night of Fire is an arson case. The chief suspect is one of the office girls, a former patient in a mental hospital. This one gets just a tiny bit preachy but there’s some good stuff with alibis.

In Saturday Lost Casey has to help a woman who has lost her memory. Her memory loss is real enough but maybe she’s lost her memory because there’s something that she really doesn’t want to remember. A good story.

In High Swing a drug overdose leads the police to a robbery racket and, as so often in tis series, we’re dealing with criminals who are tragic rather than evil. And Casey discovers once again that when you work undercover you get inside people’s lives. A very good episode.

A high-stakes gambling club is the target in Earthbound Satellite, but the operators are very clever indeed. Casey is of course undercover but she’s without backup. There’s some fun 1950s high-tech stuff in this story and it’s another case which for Casey has a rather bitter-sweet ending. A very good episode.

In The Sound of Tears a rich young man is shot by a woman in Central Park. She really wanted to make sure of the job - she shot him six times at close range. A cop on the scene let her get away. There is one clue - a dachshund which may belong to the murderess. Another story that combines mystery and emotional depth.

Ladies Man
starts interestingly - a woman carrying a cardboard box on the subway, but it’s a deadly box. And the man who gave her the box has to be found. There’s a good tense climax in a cabin in the woods. A pretty good episode.

Cry Revenge starts with a woman reporting threatening phone calls from a pair of hoodlums. Casey is assigned to protect her and discovers there’s a complicated family drama going on as well. There’s a daughter who wants revenge and there are illusions that would be better off being shattered. The police case against the hoodlums collapses but that family drama will have unexpected consequences. There’s a crime story here but it’s the family dynamics that really matter, with Casey remaining mostly in the background. Another emotional story but it works.

In The Gentle Gun-Man a cheap hood named Danny gets killed in a bungled robbery but it’s his gun the police are interested in. Lots of similar guns have been used in recent robberies - guns that have been so cleverly doctored that they are completely untraceable. Casey poses as Danny’s widow to try to find the source of these guns and she learns that sometimes criminals can be not just sympathetic - they can be really really nice people. But she still has her job to do. A very good episode.

On the surface Night Light is about upscale jewel thefts but it’s really about the complex relationship between a father and his son. Nick (Martin Balsam) is a crook and a loser but he loses his son. Unfortunately that’s going to be very bad for the kid in the long run. Casey wants to solve the case but as usual she’s more interested in the human cost of crime. And that’s really what this series is all about. A very good episode.

In Fiesta at Midnight Juan Ortega is fresh off the boat from Puerto Rico and now he’s facing a murder charge. He has an alibi but the police can’t find the girl who can confirm it. All Juan can tell them is that her name is Maria and she’s the most beautiful girl in the world. The alibi stuff is handled well and the clue that leads Casey to the solution is clever. A good episode.

The Lieutenant Had a Son is another domestic drama episode. A soldier is looking for the son he abandoned five years earlier. He finds him but the result is a heart-breaking tug-of-love story. These are the stories that Decoy did very well, accepting the complexities of domestic situations in which nobody is actually the bad guy but there seems to be no way to resolve the situation with someone getting hurt. As so often Casey doesn’t see her job as being to arrest people but to persuade them to do the right thing. A fine episode.

In Shadow of Van Gogh someone is producing high quality forgeries of Van Gogh paintings. The forgeries are so good that it’s almost as if they’re being painted by someone who really thinks he is Van Gogh. Which proves to be the case. But Casey’s job is not to find the forger but the man behind the forgeries. This is a reasonably successful attempt to explore the strange world of art. Maybe it’s a bit too respectful of that world but it’s more successful in getting into the mind of a struggling artist. A good episode.

In Tin Pan Payoff Casey discovers that the music business is a world of glamour and excitement but also a world of heartbreak, treachery and murder.

Blind Date starts with a woman involved in a minor traffic accident. The police find $125,000 in her suitcase. The woman was supposed to deliver that money somewhere and now Casey is going to deliver it instead. It’s a good plan, if it works. Another solid episode.

The Come Back is a racetrack crime story involving counterfeit betting slips. Casey thinks she’s figured out how it’s being worked but she has to go undercover, as a crooked cop. This is another character-driven drama with Casey finding as so often that the case revolves around all-too-common human weaknesses. A good story.

First Arrest is a semi-comic episode. Casey is talking to a young policewoman who has just made her first arrest and feels bad about it so Casey recounts the slightly farcical and slightly sordid story of her own first arrest and how it made her feel that she was using and manipulating people (which in fact she was but that’s what the job is all about). An OK episode at best.

The Lost Ones starts with Casey visiting girl just out of reform school. Casey hopes she’s going to be OK now but it’s not to be. Elsa has shot and killed her violent, drunken father. And now she’s armed and on the run. This is a dysfunctional family drama, with the question being whether the dysfunctionality is going to destroy the whole family. As usual with Decoy the emphasis is not on Casey solving a crime but on her attempts to help people put their lives back together.

Final Thoughts

Decoy is hampered a little by the half-hour format but it still manages to be an emotionally grown-up and very engaging character-driven cop drama. And Beverly Garland is terrific. Very highly recommended.

Thursday 10 June 2021

The Avengers - A Touch of Brimstone

Yes, this is it, the infamous banned episode of The Avengers, A Touch of Brimstone. Or at least it was banned by the network in the US during the initial run of the series there. It was screened in Britain in February 1966, despite censorship difficulties, and became the most-watched episode of the series. The censorship difficulties were caused by Mrs Peel’s notorious appearance as the Queen of Sin, and most of all by the scene in which Mrs Peel is whipped.

It’s also famous for featuring one of the great Peter Wyngarde’s finest performances.

It all starts with a series of pranks. The pranks are the sort of thing that would appeal to teenaged boys except that the victims are public figures, often foreign diplomats, and they’re causing all sorts of international repercussions.

Steed has a strong suspect in mind, the Honourable John Cleverly Cartney (Peter Wyngarde), a clever but dissolute minor aristocrat. Cartney has revived the Hellfire Club. There were in fact several real-life Hellfire Clubs in Britain during the 18th century, the most famous being the one established by Sir Francis Dashwood in 1749. They were places in which young gentlemen could indulge themselves in all manner of debauchery and libertinage.

Cartney’s club has the same aims as the original Hellfire Clubs - debauchery with political overtones.

Steed thinks he can get a lead through the young and foolish Lord Darcy, one of Cartney’s cronies. Mrs Peel’s job is to get close to Cartney. She certainly has no trouble attracting his attention. And no trouble getting invited to a meeting of the Hellfire Club.

Steed of course will have to join the Hellfire Club as well, and go through the initiation.

You won’t be surprised to learn that Cartney is planning something much more ambitious than a club for drinking and wenching.

We get some fine fight scenes, including a sword-fight and including Mrs Peel memorably (and wittily) despatching one of the bad guys while dressed in her bondage costume. And of course there’s the whipping scene, which is more a case of Cartney trying to whip Mrs peel rather than actual whipping her.

There’s as much implied sexuality as you could get away with in Britain in 1966 (and obvious a lot more than you could get away with in the US) but I suspect that it was the all-pervasive atmosphere of sex and decadence that sent the American network into a panic rather than any one particular element.

The eighteenth-century costumes are great and the Hellfire Club set is wonderful (especially with the snake slithering about). The opening scene with the chair moving toward the camera establishes an atmosphere of mystery right from the start and provides Peter Wyngarde with a great entrance.

Diana Rigg is very sexy in her bondage outfit and gives another fine performance. Mrs Peel seems genuinely disturbed by the Hellfire Club which gives the episode a sense that this time she and Steed really are up against not just regular bad guys but something truly evil - a villain who glories in his immorality and cruelty.

Steed gets plenty of heroic stuff to do with both swords and umbrellas.

Look out for Carol Cleveland (a regular on Monty Python’s Flying Circus) as Cartney’s girlfriend Sara.

Naturally it’s Peter Wyngarde who steals the show. Nobody could do decadence the way Peter Wyngarde could. Wyngarde would go on to make another memorable appearance in the series in Epic. He would gain much greater fame in Department S and Jason King but I don't think he ever did anything better than A Touch of Brimstone.

James Hill directed. He directed some of the best-known episodes of The Avengers, including The Forget-Me-Knot, Something Nasty in the Nursery and one of my favourite episodes from the Tara King era, Look - (Stop Me If You've Heard This One) But There Were These Two Fellers... There’s a publicity still for A Touch of Brimstone showing Mrs Peel as the Queen of Sin holding Hill on a leash.

A Touch of Brimstone was written by Brian Clemens who needs no introduction to readers of this blog.

Mrs Peel’s fetish-inspired Queen of Sin costume, consisting of a corset, long black boots with stiletto heels and a dog collar with three-inch spikes, was designed by Diana Rigg herself. And I haven’t mentioned her snake.

There’s real villainy here but there’s plenty of humour as well. The Avengers had a knack of striking just the right balance, never taking itself too seriously but never quite descending into mere silliness. It was an outrageous series but it was outrageousness done with wit and style in a manner that modern television simply cannot replicate.

A Touch of Brimstone effortlessly lives up to its reputation. Very highly recommended.

Tuesday 1 June 2021

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. season 2 (1965-66)

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was more than just a hit TV series. It was a bona fide pop culture phenomenon. But only for a short time. Meddling by the network resulted in the disastrous third season from which the series was unable to recover and it was cancelled midway through the fourth season. But the second season (which is what we’re concerned with at the moment) which was launched in late 1965 saw the series riding very high indeed in the ratings.

The second season was the first to be shot in colour. The formula was mostly the same as season one, with perhaps a slightly more light-hearted tone. It was not quite as good as season one but it was still very very good. The first two seasons featured often outlandish plots and outrageous villains but the series was not an out-and-out spoof. It was closer in tone to the 1960s Bond movies and to The Avengers. Most spy fans would probably agree that no spy series has ever been able to match the subtle surrealism, the sophisticated playfulness, the wit and the style that The Avengers achieved at its peak. That might be so but in its first two seasons The Man from U.N.C.L.E. goes very very close indeed to matching The Avengers in these areas. 1960s spy television doesn’t get much better than this.

One of the trademarks of the series in its first season was that a typical storyline would revolve around some poor innocent bystander caught up in the world of espionage and that device was used extensively in the second series as well.

With the success of the early Bond movies gadgets had become an essential feature of spy stories. The gadgets in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. are remarkably clever in seeming to be suitably high-tech while involving almost nothing in the way of budgetary outlays.

Production values are high by the standards of the day and the sets are often quite inspired. In its early days at least the series had considerable cachet and had no trouble attracting some very fine guest stars. It all adds up to an aura of classiness and quality. The emphasis was on fun, but very well-crafted fun.

Like The Avengers this is a series that perfectly captures the spirit of a very brief moment in history. In 1965 the Swinging 60s were still swinging but hadn’t yet turned weird and crazy. Style and energy were everything. And The Man from U.N.C.L.E. had a great deal of style. By 1967 the Flower Children had arrived and style started to go out the window.

On the subject of style, it’s interesting to look at the two leads. Robert Vaughn plays Napoleon Solo very much as a sophisticated late 1950s American hero. Always impeccably groomed, with clothes that are sharp but conservative. It is impossible to imagine Napoleon Solo wearing jeans. Illya looks more like a 1960s hero, but very much an early 60s hero. His clothes are very 60s but he’s still very neat and well-groomed. Within a very few years both Napoleon and Illya would look decidedly retro. And Napoleon’s suave style with the ladies would seem very retro.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was one of the two great American spy series of the 60s, the other being of course Mission: Impossible. While the plots of Mission: Impossible were so outrageous as to challenge credibility it was played very straight. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was tongue-in-cheek from the start. But the two series do have a number of things in common, things which were characteristic of the best American television of the 60s - they were fast-moving, exciting, polished and very very stylish. And in their very different ways both series were exceptionally cool.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. inspired something of a merchandising bonanza with a wide assortment of toys and similar products. There were also a couple of dozen tie-in novels, which sold by the truckload. They were all original stories and some of them are pretty good. I reviewed The Dagger Affair here a while back. There were also Man from U.N.C.L.E. comics, several young adult novels and a series of novellas published in the Man from U.N.C.L.E. magazine. And of course there was a spin-off series, the ill-fated but somewhat underrated The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.

Episode Guide

Alexander the Greater Affair is a two-parter. A tycoon named Alexander sees himself as a modern Alexander the Great. He intends to achieve world domination and his theft of a new top-secret nerve gas that destroys the will to fight is part of his plan. Along the way he also intends to break all of the Ten Commandments. Having lost a game of chess to Napoleon Solo he is also out for revenge and he plans his destruction of our heroes like a chess game. It’s a story that uses lots of clichés from pulp fiction and old movie serials, with buried ancient tombs, secret passageways, fiendish booby traps and a nod to Edgar Allan Poe with a razor-sharp axe on a slowly lowering pendulum. The obligatory innocent bystander caught up in this adventure is Alexander's estranged wife Tracey (played with panache by Dorothy Provine) and she causes Mr Solo and Mr Kuryakin almost as much trouble as Alexander.

The Foxes and Hounds Affair utilises one of the standard tropes of the first season - the innocent bystander who gets hopelessly entangled in a case. A stage magician has invented a mind-reading machine. U.N.C.L.E. wants it and naturally so does THRUSH. U.N.C.L.E. has it at the moment but they have to get it back to their New York headquarters. Mr Waverley decides that a decoy would be useful. That’s where magician’s assistant Mimi Doolittle comes in. She’s the decoy although she doesn’t know it. Napoleon Solo doesn’t know what’s going on either. That’s Mr Waverley’s idea also - if Mr Solo is in danger of having his mind read it’s best if he has no idea what is going on.

The real fun in this episode is the rivalry between local THRUSH chiefs, the suave Victor Marton (Vincent Price) and the glamorous but ruthless Lucia Belmont (Patricia Medina). They’re both trying to sabotage each other in order to gain a promotion. There’s some wonderful witty dialogue in this episode. There are no spectacular sets or fancy gadgets. With Vincent Price and Patricia Medina in such sparkling form such distractions are not needed. A very very fine episode.

In The Arabian Affair Ilya does a Lawrence of Arabia thing and leads an Arab revolt against THRUSH. THRUSH are using their desert base to develop a vaporizer - a disintegrator ray type of thing. Quite a fun episode.

The Deadly Toys Affair is a bit of a romp. There’s one particularly brilliant pupil at an exclusive private school that U.N.C.L.E. are worried about. THRUSH has plans to groom the youngster for a career of evil with them. Angela Lansbury gets to do some splendid overacting as the outrageous Elfie van Donck. A silly but very enjoyable episode.

The Cherry Blossom Affair takes Mr Solo and Mr Kuryakin to Japan where they have to investigate repots that THUSH have developed a way to control the power volcanoes. An excellent episode that strikes just the right balance.

The Children’s Day Affair involves a THRUSH school for young assassins. A very good episode, with good use of the settings (supposedly Switzerland) and with just the right amount of outrageousness. Great performances by the supporting cast in this one, with Warren Stevens subtly unhinged as the school’s headmaster and Jeanne Cooper totally and delightfully perverse as Mother Fear (whose henchmen are very loyal because if they aren’t she gives them a dose of the strap). Susan Silo is fun as a ditzy Italian social worker. Everything works in this one.

In The Indian Affairs Affair THRUSH is working on a thermonuclear bomb at their base concealed on an Indian reservation. THRUSH is putting pressure on the chief through his daughter, an exotic dancer in New York. U.N.C.L.E. are also trying to use the daughter to influence the chief. An OK episode.

The Birds and the Bees Affair is rather fun, wth THRUSH employing swarms of killer bees to wipe out its enemies. There’s also a deadly sound machine, a crooked roulette wheel and a well-meaning but crazy scientist. Mr Kuryakin learns to dance, which he enjoys very much. That might have something to do with the very pretty dance instructress. He has to get to know her in the line of duty. Sometimes doing one’s duty can be remarkably pleasant. The premise is outlandish but clever. It’s classic Man from U.N.C.L.E. stuff.

Where would 1960s action/adventure television be without Nazis? They’re the ultimate reliable standby. In The Re-Collectors Affair a shadowy organisation is hunting down and killing ex-Nazis to retrieve stolen paintings. The paintings are restored to their rightful owners. Sometimes. And at a price. A high price. There is one very puzzling aspect to this case, which of course turns out to be the key. This is typical early Man from U.N.C.L.E. - the camp factor is pretty much non-existent. It’s a fairly neat story done in a reasonably straightforward spy thriller manner and it works very well.

The Deadly Goddess Affair takes Napoleon and Ilya to the Island of Circe in the Mediterranean, to intercept a THRUSH radio-controlled aircraft carrying secret plans and money. They get drawn into various local dramas. Mia Corragio wants to marry but she cannot do so until her older sister Angela gets married - it is the local custom. But no-one will marry Angela without a dowry. Except maybe a rich American might do so. And that nice Mr Solo is obviously a rich American. The two U.N.C.L.E. agents also get drawn into the plans of the Corragio girls’ impoverished father’s plans to sell antiquities to visiting rich Americans. It all becomes outrageously farcical, and a great deal of fun. The ludicrously sinister THRUSH agent Colonel Hubris adds even more enjoyment to the mix. A delightfully entertaining episode.

The Round Table Affair concerns a tiny European principality with curiously has no extradition treaties with any other countries. Which is why a collection of assorted gangsters plans to take over. Arranging a suitably advantageous (advantageous for the gangsters) marriage for the Grand Duchess is part of the plan. U.N.C.L.E. must prevent this. Much medieval-flavoured silliness ensues and it’s rather good fun.

You can’t really go wrong with a spy thriller set on board a train so The Adriatic Express Affair has that going for it for starters. Solo and Kuryakin are trying to get their hands on  a virus culture which THRUSH can use as the ultimate weapon - it destroys the human urge to reproduce. It’s in the hands of Madame Olga Nemirovitch, the ageing but glamorous owner of a cosmetics empire. She also claims to have been the founder of THRUSH. In typical Man from U.N.C.L.E. style there is an innocent caught in the middle - a young assistant named Eva from one of Madame’s beauty salons. Madame convinces her that Napoleon is a dangerous THRUSH agent who must be stopped at all costs. This one throws in every thriller-on-a-train trope in existence. There’s even a fight scene on the roof of a carriage. Jessie Royce Landis overacts outrageously as Madame while Juliet Mills is delightful as the naïve Eva. This story offers non-stop fast-paced fun with just enough outlandishness to provide superb entertainment value.

If you were a secret criminal organisation like THRUSH and you had something (like the ultimate computer) that you wanted to protect in a kind of fortress with lots of guns and guards then what better place to choose than a prison, which is already a kind of fortress with lots of guns and guards. That’s the idea behind The Ultimate Computer Affair. In order to get into this prison (in South America) Illya gets himself arrested and Napoleon poses as the English upper-class twit husband of a prison inspector. It’s a fun fast-paced romp.

The Waverly Ring Affair is a relatively straightforward spy thriller story. There’s a traitor within U.N.C.L.E. and the situation is so serious that Mr Waverly has issued Mr Solo with a Waverly Ring, which ensures instant unquestioning obedience from any U.N.C.L.E. agent. But it seems that someone else has a Waverly Ring. And an U.N.C.L.E. has to be de-trained, a process that erases all memories of his employment with the organisation. It’s a very extreme step. Solo and Kuryakin have to find the traitor but they’re not if they can trust anyone at all. This one is played fairly straight with only a few tongue-in-cheek touches. A good episode.

The Bat Cave Affair is quite goofy, with Martin Landau overacting outrageously as a Transylvanian count with a plan to disrupt international air traffic with bats. Vampire bats of course. Illya had enough to deal with getting away from the bull. U.N.C.L.E. gets some help from a hillbilly girl with clairvoyant powers. It’s silly but it’s fun.

In The Discotheque Affair Napoleon, injured during an investigation, finds himself on light duties keeping an eye on some property owned by U.N.C.L.E., the property being next door to U.N.C.L.E. headquarters. One of the tenants, a ditzy blonde actress, is causing problems. The building also includes a discotheque which is actually a front for THRUSH. As is so many of the early season episodes we have an innocent bystander (the ditzy blonde actress) caught up in the middle of a case. This episode features go-go dancing and as far as I’m concerned any movie or TV show that includes groovy 60s chicks go-go dancing (especially cage dancing) is A-OK. And overall it’s a fun episode.

In The Dippy Blonde Affair the innocent bystander drawn into the world of espionage is not quite so innocent as most. JoJo has been a bit of a bad girl. She has a very long and colourful police record. She’s the girlfriend of a senior THRUSH official. But she is willing to help U.N.C.L.E. so that’s something. And the local THRUSH chief (her boyfriend’s superior) is madly in love with her. The THRUSH headquarters in the graveyard is a highlight. Napoleon and Ilya manage to get themselves captured over and over again. It’s a non-stop thoroughly enjoyable romp and JoJo is a delight.

In The Virtue Affair a M. Robespierre, a descendant of the infamous Robespierre, having run unsuccessfully for the presidency of France (on a platform of banning wine) now seems to be contemplating more direct method. He has been accumulating missile components, and missile scientists.

In The Project Deephole Affair THRUSH is trying to kidnap a geologist but they become convinced that Buzz Conway is that geologist. In fact Buzz Conway is a one-time used car salesman, encyclopaedia salesman and blackjack dealer, unemployed and trying to dodge debt collectors. So it’s another example of the innocent bystander caught up in a spy drama of which he understands nothing. Jack Weston is fun as Conway while Barbara Bouchet is delightful as the glamorous but hopelessly self-absorbed THRUSH superspy Narcissus Darling.

The Tigers Are Coming Affair takes Napoleon and Illya to India where Prince Panat is causing U.N.C.L.E. some concern. Missing villagers, that sort of thing. U.N.C.L.E. enlists the help of glamorous French botanist Suzanne de Serre (Jill Ireland). Napoleon and Illya join a tiger hunt, but are they the hunters or the hunted? A reasonably good episode.

In The Foreign Legion Affair Illya has to make quick escape from an aircraft, by parachute, over the desert. Now when you have to jump to save your life you obviously look for something you can grab quickly to take with you, something that will help you survive the cold nights of the desert. So naturally Illya grabs the pretty blonde stewardess. Having landed in the desert they find themselves prisoners of war of the French Foreign Legion, suspected of being spies. Illya tries to explain to the commandant, Captain Basil Calhoun that the Legion doesn’t exist any more but Captain Calhoun begs to differ. It soon becomes obvious to Illya and his little stewardess friend that Captain Calhoun is quite mad and getting to Marrakesh, where they need to go, may be a challenge. Napoleon meanwhile falls into the hands of THRUSH but luckily there’s a pretty girl in a cute harem outfit to make his captivity a little bit more bearable. Overall this episode is pretty slight but reasonably enjoyable.

The Very Important Zombie Affair takes Solo and Kuryakin to a small Caribbean nation where they have to rescue an opposition leader, a man named Delgado, from the evil president, El Supremo. The problem is that El Supremo has turned Delgado into a zombie. They’re going to have to find a voodoo priestess to solve that problem. Of course there’s a glamorous but ditzy female to help them, a manicurist from Louisiana. I just love anything with voodoo and zombies so I was always going to like this one, even if the surprise ending is not that much of a surprise.

The Minus-X Affair sees THRUSH getting hold of a drug called Plus-X which not only enhances the senses to an extraordinary degree but seems to enhance the intelligence as well. If you’re good at something and you take this drug suddenly you’re better at that something than anyone else in the world. THRUSH has found a use for Plus-X which could have disastrous consequences. There’s also a variant called Minus-X which has other interesting effects. There’s a brilliant scientist whose loyalties may be suspect and there’s a beautiful girl (the scientist’s daughter) whom THRUSH intends to use as a bargaining counter. It’s a very solid episode with plenty of classic Man from U.N.C.L.E. elements.

Final Thoughts

My review of the first season of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. can be found here. The second season might not be quite as good but it’s very nearly so and it's still superb spy adventure television with all the right ingredients perfectly combined. Highly recommended.