Sunday, 16 March 2014

The Man From UNCLE: The Hula Doll Affair

After my post on The Off-Broadway Affair I had a doubt as to whether The Man From UNCLE could possibly be satirising American society as much as I thought it was. On the against side is that I am of course seeing this matter through the eyes of an outsider, & The Man From UNCLE is hardly heavyweight televisual social commentary.
However watching this episode I am confirmed in my view that there is at least a heavy streak of social satire, if not commentary, in this series. For one thing this episode continues the Thrush-as-corporation theme, with an at times advantageous comparison to UNCLE, right from the words of the man in the tailor's at the start: 'I bet Thrush ain't so cheap'. Additionally this episode satirises that great American institution of the family, through the medium of the Sweet family, who have made Thrush the family business. A more classic spy thriller theme is also added by the necessity for the UNCLE agents to rescue the M4 in a heatwave before it explodes. This is of course given a humorous - literally - overcoat with the gags about air conditioning.
The point of the satire is one that ought to have been very uncomfortable for any 'company man' who had the self-awareness to compare his own company with either Thrush or UNCLE. The bottom line is that Thrush's security is non-existent. Beyond the gimmicky trick of hiding behind a gents' outfitters - Thrush & UNCLE really are the same - they have an actual UNCLE agent in their boardroom posing as an (apparent) agent from Thrush Central with a deciding vote. Employing so many family members is asking for the sort of compromised characters that actually run the show in this episode. Nor is UNCLE actually run any better - since UNCLE doesn't seem to do anything other than fight Thrush, it is very poor management that they have *no* idea where Thrush headquarters is. Thrush clearly knows where theirs is, shown by the device of the blind pencil-selling little person. Thrush - only ever painted as the baddies - is shown operating by policies & procedures, showing the criminal fraternity is just like every other organisation. The point I am making here is that anyone working for a large corporation should watch this & compare these incidents to some of the cock ups in their own organisation. I feel this undercurrent of reflection on society may partly explain the unpopularity of series 3 - anyone with any self-awareness should be made uncomfortable by watching this.
I loooove the character of Mrs Sweet. The irony of course is that she is exactly the sort of compromised character that Thrush's human resources policies attracts & nurtures: I do however feel that her initial proclamation that she is a Thrush woman before a mother more convincing than her later statement to her sons that of course they will always come first. I love Kuryakin in the next door wardrobe giving a commentary on her preparing dinner to Mr. Waverley over Channel D.
What I like visually best about this episode is the Thrush board room. It is very obviously a set, with apparently no attempt to suggest anything outside the windows, but it has all of the attributes of 1960s luxury. There is a whole wall clad in stone, the carpet is deep pile: it would have been fabulously expensive to build at the time. I think one of the reasons I like it so much is that it is so of its time & so looks terribly dated now. The leatherette upholstery of the chairs would be uncomfortable at best to sit on. The wood looks as if it might be laminate. I assume those huge round things on the table are ash trays. There is even a bar. They don't make board rooms like that any more.
Unusually for me I don't really have a major criticism of this one, & I've even just watched it twice in close succession, always a sure test of a TV programme. Plot-wise it is a conventional spy drama of the time, given a Man From UNCLE veneer. It is capable of some deeper understandings. The characters are drawn with broad strokes but are not caricatures (except the pencil-seller, who was obviously intended to be very obvious). I like the pantomimic aspects, such as Illya appearing in no time with a taxi, & the sons' faces when they realise their own mother is 'Number 26'.
Best line:
Mr Waverley (on hearing over Channel D that Illya is with a woman): 'This is the sort of thing I expect from Mr Solo.'
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