Wednesday, 26 February 2014

The Man from UNCLE: The Gazebo in the Maze Affair

I like this episode lots. It's no use pretending to myself, my first love will always be the later episodes of The Avengers, but this Man from UNCLE can play The Avengers very closely at its own game. It has literally everything you could want, a diabolical mastermind, enough eccentricity to make the later psychedelic sixties look sane, & a contrived atmosphere of phony Britishness.
Visually, what's not to love about a red London bus driving down an American street? Very difficult to fail with that one, really. I particularly love the black policeman's double take when he sees it. And of course atmospherically, an old mansion & a maze can't really fail.
The main failure of this episode is one I notice particularly as a Brit: obviously I have no idea how it would strike an American. There is something subtly wrong about Partridge's Britishness. That is of course only if you take this episode at face value & not the camp feast it really is: Partridge is really as much of a cardboard cut-out unreal character as any in The Avengers. The Nottingham Guards? Really? This apparent failure is therefore only a failure if you miss that this show is a hilarious send-up of both Brits & a certain sort of American. I say this because I feel this show can also be understood on a different level, of satirising the American millionaires who come over here, buy a mansion, & transport it back to the States. Of course it is overdone, the wish to be British is as ridiculous as buying a genuine mansion & transporting it across the Atlantic. This is a similar reference to the uber-Britishness of The Avengers series 6, surely pointed at the American market.
In fact, I would go so far as to say that this *is* an Avengers episode. Strange village. Diabolical masterming. Cunning (but strangely insane) plot. Eccentric commoners. Emblems of British culture. 'Bondage' scene - although with a less sexual dynamic than it would have in The Avengers. The scene in the pub feels like The Town of No Return. Protagonist who solves the situation by remaining the only sane character in the cast... I mean, the similarities are endless. Interestingly the actor who stabs Kuryakin with his umbrella on the bus later played a spoof of John Steed (http://m.imdb.com/title/tt0641096/reviews?ref_=m_tt_urv#showAll)
I can only agree that for sheer deranged acting ability Partidge's wife takes the prize ('I haven't been the same since that awful rain forest business.'), especially laying herself down on the rack. George Sanders, who plays Partridge, was of course British. I had no idea he had been married to Zsa Zsa Gabor, nor that his death was by suicide.
Of course much of Partridge's point is that his wife who is dangerous in her mumsyness ('Come along, get on the rack.') Is the power behind the throne. She actually reminds me of someone I used to work with - 'Let me know when you're ready to comply, dear'. I wouldn't really describe it as having a moral, but this show illustrates very well how dangerous people do dangerous things - by attracting other people with dangerous ideas, or else making those ideas so normative that other people get drawn in. The quality of Jeanette Nolan as an actress comes across in her chilling acquaintance with torture methods.
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2 comments:

Mike Doran said...

Chicago Calling (onward and upward):

Just got back from my DVD wall, where I watch these episodes as they come up.

In the USA in the '60s, there was a real pecking order involving actors appearing in the various entertainment media; if you were a Movie Actor, it was understood that you wouldn't appear on Television, except under Special Circumstances (like if you needed the money, for example).

In the business, when a Movie Name would appear on a mere TV show, the Suits would call this "a Major Get" for the show.
In 1965, George Sanders would be considered just such a "Major Get"; he'd all but given up acting altogether at that point. This reasoning applied the next year when he did one of the early episodes of Batman.

On the other hand, Jeannette Nolan was all over TV during this time, and for many years before and after. Ms. Nolan, who went back to Orson Welles's Mercury Theatre on radio, could and did play anything - Western matriarchs, mountaineer women, rich ladies, derelicts, you name it.
She was married to the equally ubiquitous John McIntire; whenever John had a series, Jeannette would turn up as his wife somewhere along the line.
The McIntires worked all their lives - deservedly so.

Hollywood had a long-standing community of British actors in residence, many of whom are in this episode (and would be in many others throughout UNCLE's run). One of these worthies, Alan Caillou, isn't in this one, but he wrote many UNCLE episodes in the early going, including "The Bow-Wow Affair", op cit. (I always wanted to do that ...)

MGM, the producing entity, had the largest and best studio back lot in Hollywood, so setting episodes anywhere in the world was all in a day's work for them. (Same with the actors, comes to that.)

The cute ingenue was a young New York stage actress named Bonnie Franklin, who went back to New York after this and a couple of other TV spots. A decade later, she came back to Hollywood and became a TV star, playing the divorced mother of teenage daughters on a sitcom that ran about a decade in its own right.
Draw whatever lesson you can from that ...

John said...

Oh the days when people would refuse to have a television in the house!