Wednesday, February 27, 2008

MFU: The Adriatic Express Affair

At the beginning of the year, after many members of the Channel_D Yahoo group had received their complete series DVD set of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., it was decided that the group would start discussing each episode, one per week, starting from the beginning of the series and continuing in chronological order. This is great except that my favorite character, Illya Kuryakin, is either in few scenes or not in some of the early episodes at all. So, over on the Channel_M Yahoo group devoted to David McCallum's work, I suggested that we start watching the episodes using our favorite Illya centric ones as the criteria for viewing selection (and no need to spare the fawning comments about Illya either!). We soon agreed upon a method of picking one person each week to start the discussion of one of their favorite episodes they had listed in the database set up for this on group website.

I was fortunate enough to be selected a few weeks ago to start the discussion of one of my favorite episodes, The Adriatic Express Affair, from season two. I'm reposting what I wrote here below. I thought it might be nice to add some screen caps in the appropriate spots throughout my review. I think you'll be able to see why I set up this blog when you see the length of my review. :-)

There is so much I love about this episode I hardly know where to start. The setting is wonderful - the mystery and intrigue of a train speeding through a cold New Year's Eve on the Continent. All the characters are confined to the train. We're allowed several rather cramped sets that reinforces the sense of confinement. No driving around on the unpaved roads of MGM's backlot! It just gives it a classier feel. And, unlike some episodes, there's nothing to give away the fact that they aren't on a train traveling from Vienna to Venice.

Fascinating characters this time too. Madame Nemirovitch is quite sybaritic as she names various pleasures she enjoys and slyly adds at the end "and all the other pleasures too." She has enjoyed her life of wealth and adventure so much, she seems a bit depressed, knowing she has aged and is no longer the femme fatale she once was. But who would have thought that, cleverly disguised in polite dinner conversation, we would learn that she had thought up Thrush "43 years and 11 months" ago!? Who would suspect the female head of a cosmetics empire as being the brains behind such an evil organization as Thrush?

Juliet Mills, Hailey Mills older sister, was perfectly cast as the (literally) innocent 19 year old shampoo girl who is an accidental passenger on this trip and a big part of the action. She maintains just the right mix of coyness and righteous indignation throughout the episode.

But I've saved the best for last: the blond model. We never learn her name and I don't think she ever learns Illya's. She is the perfect quintessential fashion model. I hadn't really thought of that type going back that far, but after Mary Quant, swinging London, etc., it comes as no surprise she would be the beautiful, flighty party girl. She never seems to grasp what's going on, but certainly helps out when she's needed. And she's the perfect one night stand for Illya. ;-) She's not a bit shy and, once she sets her sights on him, she's gonna get him.

That's probably what I like best about this episode. Illya gets the beautiful girl, but parts of it are done so quietly, you really have to look for it. They start flirting in the bar, over drinks and a coy conversation about long distance phone calls. The next time we see her she opens her compartment door when Illya, Napoleon, and the chemist are in the hall. She mock complains to Illya about his long distance call taking "forever" and that she wanted to talk to him about it, pulling him into her compartment and closing the door. No argument from Illya, no complaint from Napoleon that IK has work to do, just quiet acceptance. And we don't see Illya for another two scenes! Hmmm, wonder what could be going on in that model's compartment? ;-)

Soon after Illya reappears, he and Napoleon are on the top of the train again, being cat burglars going to Madame Nemirovitch's compartment from the outside. (Even to be set up on the lot, those top of the train scenes were edge of your seat thrilling.) And, when NS mentions Illya's cat burglar skills, how many men do you know that carry white rope in the back of their trousers just in case they are called upon to climb to the top of a moving train - at night - in winter? Although we see Illya holding the rope in their compartment early in the episode, I found that a bit unexpected. I absolutely loved the scene where Illya has slipped off the top of the train and is hanging upside down in front of the model's window. She then starts kissing him through the glass, in different spots every time his head moves,lol. This girl has got it bad for him! Incidentally, very nice view of David from behind as he drops down in front of Madame N.'s window.

A bit later when Illya and Napoleon are being held in the train's makeshift jail cell comes the best known scene of the episode as they set fire to the wood floor with the help of brandy and a book of matches. This is where the model helps the most, coming in at just the right time, finding Illya and saying, "There you are! I thought you were coming back." After she give them the brandy to pour on the floor and Illya tells her to go get some bottles of soda, we get the classic line from Illya that Ellen has on her site: "I burst into flames with very little encouragement". OK, what "Illya chick" can watch him saying that and not just melt? During this scene, Illya is holding the model's shoulders through the bars in a familiar manner and before she leaves to get the soda, the camera is behind David's head with is head angled toward hers in such a way as to imply they were kissing.

Jumping to the end, we see Illya and the model and NS and Eva sitting across from one another in the dining car on New Year's Day from outside the train with snow blowing past. The model is dressed in her traveling clothes again as is everyone else. As they share champagne, Illya seems very comfortable with the model, laughing, smiling, offering her more champagne. Don't you just love seeing him like that? The model now seems very proper, subdued, and sophisticated as she offers Illya champagne from her glass which he accepts. And with a slight cough from Illya as a reaction to what NS has just said, the episode ends.


Shirley said...

Very nice review, Marianne, and the screen caps are brilliant! Certainly enough encouragement to make ME burst into flames! :-)
Many thanks

Ellen said...

excellent writing Marianne, and yeah! screencaps are goooood. - Ellen

Marianne said...

Thank you, Shirley and Ellen! I'm glad you like the screen caps. I think they add a lot, but they take more time to do than I expected. Well, what doesn't after all?

Anonymous said...

I wish I knew how to do screen caps with my reviews. Illya looks gorgeous in the cell, and, as you know I love the little model girl.


Marianne said...

Beth, it took a lot of trial and error and scrounging around the Internet for info, but I finally figured out screen capturing. Quite a bit depends on your operating system.