One of Our Spies Is Missing (1966) ***

Sometimes completing the circle just turns the wrong way and the idea that the search for eternal youth can be viewed as a bad thing seems a tad out of touch with today’s mentality. It’s also open to question whether it was ever seen as having much of a downside in the 1960s when there must have been anti-ageing creams although not the availability of cosmetic surgery to ostensibly turn back the clock.

Trust the men from U.N.C.L.E. to uncover the only genius not intent of monetizing his discovery to the tune of gazillions but intent on using it for dire political purpose. This time out Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) and Ilya Kuryakin (David MacCallum) are on apparently different missions in Britain and France which eventually coalesce. Ilya is cat-hunting in London’s Soho. Not pet-hunting which might be a harmless occupation and give us an insight into his carefully-concealed personal life, but chasing down cats which look different from what they did before, mature cats, for example, that turn into kittens. (Probably a fortune to be made from that, too, the eternal pet, putting pet cemeteries out of business).

So is Solo’s investigation of the disappearance of renowned 83-year-old biologist Benjamin Lancer which takes him into the orbit of Parisian couturier Madame de Sala (Vera Miles) where Lancer’s daughter Lorelei (Dolores Faith) is a model. Anyone with any experience of Solo would have warned Lorelei off since he seems too closely associated with danger. As it happens, Lorelei doesn’t get the chance to make his acquaintance as she is bumped off by models Olga (Monica Keating) and Do Do (Ahna Capri).

Solo and Kuryakin soon realize there are a lot of malevolent women on the loose including  obstreperous nurse Joanna Sweet (Ann Elder), full-time carer to aged statesman Sir Norman Swickert (Maurice Evans), to whom de Sala is devoted.

Judging from the number of characters mentioned so far you can guess how complicated this one gets, so to cut to the chase, yes, the cats-turned-kittens are linked to attempts to rejuvenate Swickert, the power to do so eventually controlled by T.H.R.U.S.H. (you were wondering when they would turn up, weren’t you?).

As in The Spy with the Green Hat (1967), Solo spends most of the time being ineffectual, tripped or trapped, here at least in the novel situation of being crushed in a wine press, an odd item to find in England but never mind, movies always have creative latitude. Things come to a fine pass when Alexander Waverley (Leo G. Carroll), normally recumbent in New York, is parachuted in to save the day.

As usual, the actions zips along, but due to the way the original two-part episode from which this was culled has been oddly edited some of the zipping goes zap straight into a cul de sac of confusion. That said, there is a very tender scene when De Sala pours out her heart to the infirm Swickert and Ms Sweet is similarly defensive of her charge, a strict ration of emotion in the otherwise action-swirling picture. Solo manages some deft comedy outwitting the man mountain guarding a mansion.

This is a bit harder to follow than the others, and no expense has been spared in sticking to the MGM backlot in attempting to emulate British locations, Soho especially quaint as if imagined by a tidy-up campaign, and, as I mentioned, the wine press (??).

This was drawn from the second season two-parter The Bridge of Lions Affair, broadcast in February 1966, the concept of the bridge and the lions it connects too dumb to bother explaining. But one of the beauties of this series is you never quite know what you’re getting, Vaughn and MacCallum pretty much stick to the knitting of their screen personas, and it’s left to the guests stars to take advantage of the opportunity to do something different, Vera Miles (Hellfighters, 1968) in this case the opportunist.

Bit parts in spy pictures were seen as a boost for young actresses, but that wasn’t always the case. Ann Elder (Don’t Make Waves, 1967) was making her movie debut, Dolores Faith (Mutiny in Outer Space, 1965) was coming to the end of her short career, but Anha Capri (Kisses For My President, 1964) lasted another decade.

Screenwriter Howard Rodman was the pick here, going on to write Madigan (1968) and Coogan’s Bluff (1968). E. Darrell Hallenbeck didn’t received another movie director credit until as a contributor to The Green Hornet (1974) when it surfaced as a re-edited version of several episodes of the television series.

U.N.C.L.E. pictures regularly crop up on streaming services and mainstream television but if you can’t wait and fancy splurging on the entire series, check this out.

Author: Brian Hannan

I am a published author of books about film - over a dozen to my name, the latest being "When Women Ruled Hollywood." As the title of the blog suggests, this is a site devoted to movies of the 1960s but since I go to the movies twice a week - an old-fashioned double-bill of my own choosing - I might occasionally slip in a review of a contemporary picture.

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