Monday, 10 March 2014

The Man From UNCLE: The Suburbia Affair

Oh dear, I'm starting to heap up the draft posts (& ideas for posts a bit, but since I'm watching Series 3 of TMFU, & this one came on, I just had to post about it. Like The Off-Broadway Affair, I feel this episode is best watched as a satirical comment both on suburban life (perhaps in a similar vein to the way Bewitched satirised suburban life) & the spying industry.
Of course the nature of the satire is that Peaceful Haven is crawling with power-crazed megalomaniacs & spies. Of course they're deranged. Of course the plot is deranged. Of course the attempts to kill the UNCLE agents are deranged.
There are two familiar faces - to me - in this show, & just for a change they're not the usual round of actors who appeared in every British series in the sixties. Victor Borge - we had some of his records when I was a child - does a surprising turn as a 'straight' actor, although clearly with a nod to his normal self, since he plays a musician. Reta Shaw makes a wonderfully megalomaniac baddie: 'You're too old for a spanking.'
This show is also (perhaps unintentionally) a comment on what happens when the American dream goes wrong, almost in the vein of certain X-Files episodes thirty years later. Even fifty years later what most strikes my British eyes about Peaceful Haven (sounds like a retirement home, or even cemetery) is how prosperous it looks, & particularly how large everything is. This is pre-oil crisis American dream at its best, & the irony is that it's rotten to the core.
Visually the episode looks just like so many other 1960s series (to me, don't forget). This is relieved by the sheer eccentricity of the characters & unlikeliness of the plot. You don't need scenery that's a riot of colours when you have the cast playing this one. Even the scenes of domesticity, with Solo & Kuryakin acting like an old married couple within hours of setting up home, sparkle with a chemistry that isn't in every Man From UNCLE episode.
I have one criticism of the plot. Once you know there's a musician around, the plot falls flat on its face, since to me it is so obvious that musicians are often mathematicians also. The fact that he is also Danish is every so slightly a giveaway.
I have two favourite bits. The first is Solo pulling the estate agent's caravan with an ice cream van, still playing the music. The other is the two patrolmen sitting down to watch the 'old film' on television, which is actual torture broadcast by CCTV from within the house they are in.
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2 comments:

Mike Doran said...

Chicago Calling:

In an earlier post I mentioned "The Major Get", i.e. when a star who didn't normally do episodic TV would turn up in a "dramatic" role.

Victor Borge's appearance here is a classic example; his TV appearances were mainly on musical or variety shows. The music angle in the UNCLE story was a given; many of the "Major Get" shows during this time were usually tailor-made for the Guest Star in this fashion.

Atually, this practice was never more commonplace than during the mid-'60s, when Color took over and everybody went wild all at once.
The two UNCLE shows*, with MGM as their home base, were avid participants in this craze (so were just about every other filmed series in the USA, comes to that).
I noted that the only other actor you IDed by name was Reta Shaw, who was spoofing her typecast as a "jolly grandma" in almost every sitcom from that time. Most of the other "suburbanites" in this episode were doing the same thing here, sending up their images from other shows.
(I'll make the guess that American situation comedies didn't figure much in UK TV programming back then.)

'66-'67 was UNCLE's comedy year; Norman Felton and his crew made a point of using popular comedians in guest roles on both The Man and The Girl quite frequently. On top of that, Felton also encouraged his most serious Guest Stars to go over the top, most notably in one Girl episode with Raymond Massey as "B. Elzie Bubb" - a long way from Abe Lincoln (or Dr. Gillespie ...).

Another UNCLE "Major Get"show that I can think of (that you haven't written up here) was "The Concrete Overcoat Affair", one of the two-part shows that got edited together into "features" for overseas theatrical release.
Not only two Major Gets - Jack Palance and Janet Leigh - but as a bonus for older fans, a "reunion" of '30s movie gangsters: Eduardo Ciannelli, Allen Jenkins, Jack LaRue, Elisha Cook Jr., Vince Barnett, Slapsie Maxie Rosenbloom - and Joan Blondell as "Mrs. Fingers Stiletto".
OK, maybe not "high satire", but it was a lot of fun to watch in '66 - and today, it still is.
(I think so, anyway ...)

Back with more later ...

John said...

And of course I would have to agree with you, Mike. Your comments show how differently audiences would view shows. Of course you're right that UK audiences wouldn't get the sit com reference here, although it all falls inro place now, although Victor Borge was very popular. Thank you for commenting again.