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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The first season of 'M.F.U.' debuted to low ratings and mixed reviews
but by the end was firmly established as a pop culture phenomenon. The
summer reruns got better audiences than the original showings. There
are two main reasons for this; firstly, the success of the 'James Bond'
movies starring Sean Connery created an appetite for more of the same,
and secondly, the unexpected popularity of the 'Illya Kuryakin'
character, played by David McCallum. Robert Vaughn's 'Napoleon Solo'
also had his share of fans.
Season 2's opener 'The Alexander The Greater Affair' was the show's first two-parter, and also the first made in colour ( not counting Season 1's 'The Vulcan Affair' and 'The Double Affair' which were released theatrically ). A U.S. army base is attacked and a number of capsules of B.G.3.0 'will' gas ( able to break down an enemy's will to win a war ) stolen. Found at the scene of the crime is a slate bearing the number '8'. The thief is believed to be 'Mr.Alexander' ( Rip Torn ). Not content with being one of the world's wealthiest men, he plans on ruling the world, and wants to break every one of the Ten Commandments. Having already tackled 'Thou Shalt Not Steal', he goes on to 'Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbour's Wife' by committing adultery with Princess Nicole ( Donna Michelle ).
Solo and Kuryakin think the best way to get near the megalomaniac is by tagging his ex-wife Tracey ( the recently deceased Dorothy Provine ), who is chasing her former spouse to get him to agree to paying out a million dollar divorce settlement. At a lavish party in Greece, Solo plays chess with Alexander ( a scene that anticipates the famous human chess game in 'The Prisoner' episode 'Checkmate' ). Losing to the U.N.C.L.E. agent, Alexander is furious and plots revenge, leading to a car chase through a quarry and, ultimately, to an underground tomb. The episode ends with a gloating Alexander leaving Solo to face certain death at the hands of a swinging scimitar, while Illya and Tracey are poised to fall into a bottomless pit.
Dean Hargrove was one of the show's best writers, being able to effectively combine adventure with humour. With Joseph Sargent in the director's seat, the result is a terrific episode. Torn is suitably menacing as 'Alexander', while Provine is sexy and funny as 'Tracey'.
Both this and the second instalment were later combined to make the feature film 'One Spy Too Many' which took more money in London than the Bond movie 'Thunderball' in its fifth week. A scene was deleted featuring Alexander's parents, the Baxters ( one of whom is played by Madge Blake, who went on to play 'Aunt Harriet' in 'Batman' ), who are working like slaves in their son's quarry ( another Commandment - 'Thou Shall Honor Thy Mother And Father' - broken! ).
When this episode debuted in the States, 'M.F.U.' shot to the top of the ratings, edging out 'Bonanza' and 'The Dick Van Dyke Show'. It was a remarkable comeback for a show that, only a few months earlier, looked set for the scrap heap.
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