1964: U.N.C.L.E.’s Soviet history in-joke

For much of The Project Strigas Affair, Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) wears a disguise that appears to resemble…

Next month marks the 55th anniversary of The Project Strigas Affair, the ninth episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. It’s mostly known today for being the first time William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy acted together.

However, it’s also an example of an in-joke, albeit one that many members of the audience might not catch.

For much of the story, U.N.C.L.E. agent Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) wears a disguise consisting of a black wig, fake mustache and wire rim glasses.

It’s part of an elaborate con to ensnare a diplomat (Werner Klemperer), whose government is plotting to get the United States and Soviet Union to declare war on each other.

…Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky

Students of Soviet history might recognize the disguise. That’s because the disguised Illya appears to resemble Leon Trotsky, a Russian revolutionary who had a falling out with Stalin. Trotsky was assassinated in Mexico City in 1940.

Kuryakin was U.N.C.L.E.’s resident Russian operative. The U.N.C.L.E. series treated the agent’s nationality very gently. This was the 1960s, after all, and the Cold War was on.

The show mostly had subtle references (“Suddenly I feel very Russian,” he says as he parks near a Long Island party held by rich people in the first-season episode The Love Affair.)

Illya’s disguise for The Project Strigas Affair, assuming it really was an intentional in-joke, falls into this category. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was escapist entertainment, first and foremost. But the Kuryakin disguise shows there’s a bit more at work.

One Response

  1. IMO, one of the best Blk & Wht Season 1 episodes! Look at the guest talent! Story is layered too. Much was packed into 50 min. Kudos for highlighting DM. MFU may be a product of the decade. But was also a bit ahead of the times in terms of what it always wished to achieve!

    Thank you a MFU mention!

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