Friday, 28 March 2014

The Man From UNCLE: The King of Diamonds Affair

This is an episode of TMFU that so badly tries to be The Avengers & misses the target in some subtle, yet dramatic ways. It begins with a woman in a hotel in London breaking a tooth on a rough diamond found in a tin of Pogue's Pudding.
Needless to say, no amount of putting red telephone boxes on the corners of a standard American street set won't turn it into a London street scene, & much of the charm of this one for me is the near-caricature of Britishness it presents. The accent of the woman who bites into the Pogue's pudding is good but not quite right to a British ear (it's overdone), there's a fire hydrant in one scene that is definitely more New York than London, & so on.
That said, I don't think the unreality of this show is really a shortcoming. It almost feels in season 2 of TMFU that they's picking up on something in the zeitgeist that The Avengers also picked up on, by attempting to create a world where you can really imagine someone recreating the Indian Mutiny in the potting shed. Where I think TMFU fails is that the unreality is a) overdone & b) becomes the point. This episode is only slightly unbelievable until the introduction of Raphael Delgardo: it is a mistake to attempt to merge reality & unreality: it shows up the unreality for what it is. Where the Avengers would have done this episode differently is that Mr Delgardo would not have appeared: the episode would have focused on the Pogue family probably. The crime plot would come from one of Steed's aunts who happened to write a story, rather than a real criminal. There are attempts to parody the mafia family (the use of umbrellas) but that element fails by introducing a different genre.
Nice Avengers-esque touches include the bone china teapot & cup in a prison cell, & the use of a manhole cover by the men from UNCLE. I love that Delgardo is smuggled out of Dartmoor prison in a laundry van!
Visually this show is also a mixed bag: the gangsters in the mist scene is very effective, the car chase with the identical blue cars is good. They're Hillman Imps, one of those cars with the engine at the back & always considered eccentric, thus a good choice for that scene in comparison to the more staid British cars of the time. The production is very evidently completely studio-bound, which I don't have a problem with. What idoes raise a question for me is the muddy colour palette chosen for the scenes, & even the clothes. Greys & browns predominate, creating an atmosphere of, well, chewing gum. The rare touches of colour come as a relief. I don't remember a TMFU striking me like this before, even the unrestored ones I saw repeated on the telly in the eighties. It gives an effect of sameness. I wonder frankly whether it was an attempt to ape the sets of The Avengers that failed abjectly.
So overall, I don't think I would object to this one if I didn't have The Avengers to compare it to! It tries to be several things so badly. It's probably also one of the few episodes that
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2 comments:

Mike Doran said...

Chicago Calling (here we go again):

- Starting with history:
Were you aware (I'm guessing not) that when the ABC network introduced The Avengers in the spring of 1966 -
- nobody in the American TV business expected it to catch on?
Hey, it was in black-and-white, nobody had ever heard of the stars, it was English for God's sake!
This was an obvious throwaway - a placeholder for the off-season, gone by the fall.
That The Avengers did catch on in the USA -
- and that Diana Rigg in particular caught on -
- nobody saw it coming (at least not in the Business, and anybody who says otherwise is lying).

I just looked up the exact dates: the ABC/USA premiere of The Avengers was on March 28, 1966.
The first NBC airing of "The King Of Diamonds Affair" was on March 11, 1966 - two weeks earlier.
Could the two productions have somehow known about each other, and one copied the other?
Unlikely - UNCLE was at its peak of US ratings popularity, whereas Avengers was all but unknown in the USA at tat time (outside of a brief write-up in the American TV Guide a year before).
My vote would be for coincidence; there were a lot of spy shows around that year, many working the fantasticated style.

"King Of Diamonds" is another of UNCLE's Big Get shows
This time the Big Get was Ricardo Montalban , who still thought he was going to be a Movie Star, and was mostly staying off TV (Fantasy Island was a couple of decades away). In the same show was Nancy Kovack, who was supposed to be English here; not too long before, she played Annie Oakley in The Outlaws IS Coming!, the final starring feature film of the Three Stooges (make of that what you will).
If you watch enough of the UNCLE shows, you'll soon find MGM's backlot European Street as familiar as your own neighborhood. Same with the glamorous interiors; MGM reputedly had more standing sets than any other studio (they were the last studio to downsize in later years, but that's another story).

I've heard/read that when The Avengers went to color - whoops, sorry ... colour - some parts of its hardline British fan base were upset about it: they thought that the producers were trying to Americanize their favorite show (this is hard on an old Chicagoan - just add 'u's wherever you like). UNCLE was cited as a major negative influence here - and not only on The Avengers.

Today in America, it's Memorial Day - the day where we in the USA pay tribute to the brave men of our Armed Forces by watching a giant auto race and eating barbecued ribs.
I hope your day is equally memorable.

John said...

Thank you for another great comment Mike. I didn't know that, actually! But I have learned today that 38 bowler hats were used in making The Avengers!
It's been Spring Bank Holiday here and has rained and rained...