A girl from his uncle would be Judge Josh Rode's cousin. Right?
The year was 1966. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was one of the top shows on American television, but was in decline due to stiff competition from the new and fabulously popular Batman. In an effort to shake things up, the producers decided to vary the formula of their show and, at the same time, introduce a spin-off series. Alas, the gamble failed. The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. lasted only one season, and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was cancelled the very next year. This release comes one year before a film remake of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is due to hit theaters. Coincidence?
Facts of the Case
April Dancer (Stephanie Powers, Hart to Hart) is a secret agent from U.N.C.L.E. (United Network Command for Law and Enforcement). She and English agent Mark Slate (Noel Harrison, The Murder in China Basin) travel around the world to protect its citizens from hit men, evil fly fishermen, killer eagles, and, of course, T.H.R.U.S.H., the evil agency bent on world domination.
The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. The Complete Series, Part One really wants to be taken seriously, and that is a problem, because the setup for most of the episodes seems to point directly at satire. The very first episode involves an antagonist whose weapon of choice is a fishing rod, yet it is never played for laughs; there is no Austin Powers to frown and say, "Really? Who uses a fishing rod as a weapon?" In fact, the Austin Powers franchise clearly used both of the U.N.C.L.E. series as fodder; every time Mark hit someone with the side of his open hand (usually missing the neck and landing in the vicinity of the ribs, which still managed to knock the bad guy out), I expected him to call out, "Judo chop!"
The production values are what you'd expect from a Sixties show, with sets that often look straight off the Enterprise, and there is no fault to be had with that. That being said, there's no such excuse for the continuity and logic errors that are ingrained in each episode. For instance, the shades are drawn when looking at the windows of the apartment in "The Mother Muffin Affair," but both the shades and the windows themselves are open during the indoor scenes. A few episodes later, April sneaks up on a boat in the middle of the day using a bright yellow dinghy. They had SCUBA gear in 1966, and, in fact, April herself announces just before that scene that, "It's time to SCUBA." In another episode, the heroes need to get somewhere in a hurry, so they hop in a golf cart…and need several stops and turns just to get it pointed in the correct direction. It's like watching my teenage son trying to parallel park. Even if you want to view The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. as complete camp, incongruities such as these reek of poor direction and editing.
The biggest issue of the show is in the character of April Dancer, who is supposed to be a superspy, but invariably ends up as a damsel in distress. If her "feminine wiles" don't get her what she wants, she's in deep trouble, and must rely on a man (usually Mark) to rescue her. This, during the heyday of "Most Dangerous of All—AVOID" Emma Peel on The Avengers. Small wonder The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. didn't last.
There are some bright moments. The chemistry between Powers and Harrison is pretty good, and they both do as well as could be expected with the scripts they were given. Their light banter is usually funny, and Harrison plays off the wooden Leo G. Carroll (North by Northwest) to show his character's mischievous airs. The truly best parts of the series involve some of the guest stars; from Boris Karloff to Tom Bosley, there is a small amount of star power sprinkled throughout the fifteen episodes.
• "The Prisoner of Zalamar Affair"—A powerful sheik is murdered and his daughter is kidnapped so his viceroy can claim the throne. Fortunately, April is the spitting image of the heiress, and steps in to thwart the plan.
• "The Mother Muffin Affair"—A crossover episode, as The Man From U.N.C.L.E.'s Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) teams with April to rescue the daughter of an informant. But first they must get away from the infamous Mother Muffin (Boris Karloff in drag. Really.)
• "The Mata Hara Affair"—When April fails to save a famous belly dancer from a killer, she must take the place of the victim to unveil the killer and protect sensitive information. As a nice nod to film buffs, Powers recreates Greta Garbo's dance from 1932's Mata Hari.
• "The Horns-of-the-Dilemma Affair"—April infiltrates the compound of a man who is sucking the knowledge from prominent scientists in order to build a rocket. The best acting in the episode comes from a twelve-year-old pickpocket.
• "The Danish Blue Affair"—Clues in a block of cheese lead April and Mark to a secret base where a T.H.R.U.S.H. agent is nearly finished with a naval death ray. The late, great Dom DeLuise stands out as an eccentric genius.
• "The Garden of Evil Affair"—A cult connected to T.H.R.U.S.H. needs the lone descendant of their former leader in order to reincarnate him. April takes the place of the unfortunate girl.
• "The Paradise Lost Affair"—A T.H.R.U.S.H. agent maps out a series of beacons to run a submarine smuggling scheme, but his plans go awry when April and Mark inadvertently blow up his boat. Marooned on an island that is home to a tribe of insane castaways, they must find a way to escape with the map while avoiding forcible marriage.
• "The Lethal Eagle Affair"—It begins with a T.H.R.U.S.H. agent's trained attack eagle, but the real invention is a machine that seems to be able to instantly teleport items from one point to another. April, disguised as the T.H.R.U.S.H. agent's aide, is suspicious of the teleporter's merits. Unfortunately, Mark bungles his part of the assignment and an innocent man is sucked into the fray.
• "The Romany Lie Affair"—April infiltrates a traveling circus to uncover a stock market swindling scam. This episode features Gladys Cooper (My Fair Lady) as a fortune teller and the worst "man in a bear suit" performance in history.
• "The Jewels of Topango Affair"—April visits an island that is home to a fortune in uncut gems, with orders to protect them from infiltrators. In the meantime, Mark is fooled into thinking an imposter is an U.N.C.L.E. agent. To add confusion to the mix, it turns out Mark's old college chum is the son of the island's king, and is in love with the imposter (although the actors in question don't really have good chemistry).
• "The Faustus Affair"—The show finally plays up its campy side as April and Mark try to stop a man who dresses like a devil and calls himself "B. Elzie Bubb," and whose motives are strictly personal. The highlight of the episode is scientist Quantum, played by Mr. Cunningham himself, Tom Bosley (Happy Days, for you young people).
The show is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio, and looks pretty good, given its age, but its use of stock film footage, most notably during helicopter takeoffs and landings, is emphasized by the sudden appearance of grain, dirt, and other defects. Those instances are brief, and are therefore only light distractions. The mono audio track is clear of debris as well, and is as good as one might reasonably expect. The real question is, why no extras? How about the episode from The Man From U.N.C.L.E. where April and Mark were first introduced (albeit with different actors)? Or Mark's crossover role in The Man From U.N.C.L.E.'s "The Galatea Affair?" Maybe they're waiting for the inevitable complete series.
The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. tries to play both sides of the spy street. It presents silly premises with odd antagonists and lead characters who play everything completely straight. If it had chosen one or the other, it might have made more of a mark in television history than one lone season. Instead, it is a nearly-forgotten curiosity from a time when spy shows were all the rage, and all the women save for April Dancer were coming into their butt-whooping own.
I was going to say "not guilty," but a man from T.H.R.U.S.H. presented new evidence in the form of a gun pointed at my head. Guilty on all charges! Don't shoot!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
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