Wednesday, February 10, 2021

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.: "The Quadrapartite Affair"

In “The Quadrapartite Affair,” a scientist in Yugoslavia, Dr. Raven, is infected with a terrible “fear gas.” His grown daughter, Marion (Jill Ireland) manages to return to the States and warn U.N.C.L.E. about the situation. 

Ilya Kuryakin (David McCallum) is assigned to protect her, should the forces of THRUSH seek to capture her.  But a delivery man drops off a box of chocolates that emits the fear gas, incapacitating the agent.  

Consumed by fear, Ilya is unable to save Marion.

Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) stages a dangerous rescue mission of Marion, freeing her from imprisonment on the yacht of a deadly THRUSH operative, Gervaise Ravel (Anne Francis).  

Then, Napoleon, Marion and Ilya head to Yugoslavia to meet up with a local scoundrel who may be able to provide information about the fear gas, first developed in World War II.  

But can they trust Milan Horth (Roger C. Carmel)?

The “Quadrapartite Affair” opens with the unusual sight of our favorite U.N.C.L.E. operatives breaking the fourth wall and introducing themselves to the audience.  After a narrator reveals the HQ in an “ordinary tailor shop” (or “is it?”), Solo, Kuryakin and Waverly all tell us their names, and their positions in the organization. 

I suppose this was deemed necessary, to make certain that viewers were caught up with the details of the series, but today it nonetheless plays as a bit strange, and labored.  Imagine if, on Star Trek, Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) suddenly broke the fourth wall, addressed us directly, and began discussing the details of Starfleet hierarchy.

Otherwise, this early episode of the series in notable, perhaps, for the increased role played by Kuryakin. 

The Soviet agent comes across in the episode as supremely self-confident, but also physically edgy in a way that Solo is not, really. Solo is dashing and debonair.  Kuryakin, it is clear -- especially from his flirtations with Marion -- is more direct, or more basic. There is real attraction in the air here, and that may be a result of the fact that McCallum and Ireland had been married since 1957. They starred in five episodes of Man from U.N.C.L.E. together, the last in 1967.

One extremely impressive aspect of “The Quadrapartite Affair” is the interlude aboard Gervaise’s yacht.  Solo breaks Marion out of the brig, and then must get her off the ship, which is sailing in New York Harbor.  

The chase goes up to the deck of ship, over the deck roof, back down to the deck, up and down stairways, and finally onto a waiting skiff, and is genuinely exciting.  There is no fakery or studio-bound footage here, and it looks like Vaughn and Ireland really jump onto the boat’s bow seconds before it speeds off.  This is a sustained, well-directed action set-piece, and a nice reminder who well assembled some 1960s cult-television really was.

The main threat of the episode a “fear gas,” is one that, for some reason, was extraordinarily popular in 1960s cult-television. An episode of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (also from 1964) called “The Fear Makers” involved fear gas.  

Similarly, an episode of Batman (1966 – 1968) saw Shame (Cliff Robertson) unleash a similar type of fear gas on the Dynamic Duo.

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