U.N.C.L.E script: Getting the series started Part II

Robert Vaughn in The Iowa-Scuba Affair

With authorities have suddenly solved the case of a member of the U.S. military (really a saboteur killed by Solo), the U.N.C.L.E. agent quickly flies back to Iowa from New York.

Solo resumes his cover as the man’s brother. He’s with authorities who are showing him where a bookie died, supposedly while smoking in bed, which caught on fire. The authorities are ready to declare the case solved. Solo, though, acts indignantly and comments harshly to a newspaperman witnessing the scene.

The pages for this scene are dated May 29, 1964, two days later than the date on the cover page. In this scene, the name Blair (the name assumed by the saboteur as well as Solo) has been changed to Blenman instead of Blair. The broadcast version would go with Blenman.

Solo returns to the hotel. The same scrub woman who saw him earlier when the agent had been shown the saboteur’s body by authorities. She tells him she’s just turned down the bed.

After she leaves, the scrub woman goes to a pay telephone and makes a call. She tells “Hod” (presumably her supervisor in this operation) that “the little do-hickey is in the shower head.” It will make it look as if Solo died of a heart attack.

Solo, in the meantime, is radioing back to New York and gets in touch with U.N.C.L.E. chief Alexander Waverly. He provides his superior an update.

INT. RESEARCH ROOM – NIGHT
(snip)

WAVERLY
I trust you were appropriately indignant.

SOLO’S VOICE
Yes, sir. Particularly to the newspapers.

WAVERLY
Very well. I needn’t remind you that you are inviting an attempt on your life.

INT. BATHROOM – NIGHT

SOLO
Isn’t that the idea?

WAVERLY’S VOICE
Report any such attempt immediately.

SOLO
Yes, sir. Unless it’s successful.

In the final version, Waverly’s line becomes, “Report any such attempts immediately — unless they’re successful.” Solo replies, “Yes, sir,” before doing a double take at Waverly’s remark.

Shortly thereafter, Solo prepares to take a shower, wearing a robe and slippers. The “little do-hickey” in the shower head begins to emit gas. The door knob to the bathroom has been tampered with and Solo can’t get out. But using his wits, He wrap “an aerated bomb of shaving lather” in a towel. He then lights the towel and pours rubbing alcohol over it. The agent moves away as far as he can before it explodes which kicks the door open.

Having established the threat that Solo faces, Harold Jack Bloom’s script calls for Jill Denison, the episode’s “innocent” to knock on the door to Solo’s hotel room.

ANOTHER ANGLE

He opens the door to reveal Jill. She is somewhat intimidated to find him in his robe, but tries to carry it off.

JILL
Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize…

SOLO
No, no. It’s all right. Come in.

She does, delicately aware of the door closing behind her. But then she reacts to the unhinged bathroom door. He moves to her side, aware of her curiosity.

Solo talks Jill into taking her home. As they talk, Solo looks at dark windows across the alley from his hotel room. “But now a MATCH flickers there momentarily.”

The agent sends Jill to the hotel lobby while he changes. As he gets ready to leave, he turns off the light. But he gets his camera and takes an instant picture of the dark windows across the alley.

INSERT – PHOTOGRAPH

in Solo’s hands. The photograph shows a fleshy, middle-aged woman dressed in the black lace-and tiara fashion of Spanish aristocracy. And she is smoking a cigar.

What follows is mostly like the finished episode. Solo and Jill drive into the country. But Jill’s vehicle is low on gasoline — even though she filled it up that afternoon. They’re being followed by a car with its lights out.

A second car appears and cuts off Jill’s vehicle. Solo and Jill ditch her car (in the finished episode it’s a pickup truck) and they begin to flee. There are four men in pursuit of them. “They are masked by black sheer stockings pulled down over their faces, and each carries a rifle with bulky sight attachments above and below the barrel.”

Solo and Jill eventually reach a grain silo. They go in, ride up an elevator and hide in the grain. But Solo also sends the elevator back down because their pursuers will know for sure their quarries are inside if the elevator isn’t on the ground floor. Solo finally tells Jill who he really is and he’s an agent for U.N.C.L.E.

The assassins do come up the elevator but Solo and Jill successfully wait them out. After the killers leave, Jill gets another shock. The body of the real Tom Blenman/Blair is buried in the grain. Jill feints in Solo’s arms in the script, but it would be staged slightly differently by director Richard Donner in the televised version.

After Jill recovers, the pair exit the silo. Jill suggests they go to Clint Spinner’s place which isn’t far away. “He’d help us,” she says.

Suffice to say, Spinner isn’t the country bumpkin he seems. He parts of a conspiracy that intends to take over a South American country. The mysterious cigar-smoking woman has a brother who will seize power. Spinner’s well is actually a subterranean series of tunnels, some of which are underwater.

The conspirators are going to break into the Air Force chamber that houses the “catapult” plane (equipped with an H-bomb) which will be used to exterminate the current South American government.

The script, however, gives the principals more lines than the final TV version. Spinner, in particular, gets to be more evil than he’d appear on television.

SPINNER
Yes. Some friends of mine are standing ready to take over a particular government. I call them friends because once the present government is blown out of existence, my friends and I will merely walk in and take over.

SOLO
While the rest of the world watches?

SPINNER
“The rest of the world” has developed a talent for just watching. Once the strong and the smart take what they want, the “rest of the world” says that was naughty, but we won’t make a fuss if you promise not to do it again.

SOLO
And your phony promise is your talent.

SPINNER
No…your weakness…sentimental faith…
(exposed viciousness)
I clawed my way up from a dirt farm learning that human nature is fear and greed, not the milk of human kindness. A powerful lesson, and a lesson in power.

Solo foils the plot, saves Jill and personnel from the Air Force base help clean things up.

At the end of Act IV, Solo is with Jill at the farm house where she lives. She says she may visit Solo in New York. They nearly kiss when Aunt Martha “stands in an open doorway, watching with a jaundiced eye.” Solo merely kisses Jill on the top of her nose and leaves.

MARTHA
You should have slapped his face!

JILL
Why? He only kissed me on the tip of my nose.

MARTHA
Call that a kiss? I certainly hope he can do better than that when you visit him in New York.

Aunt Martha goes about her business. HOLD on Jill’s reaction.

FADE OUT:

THE END

NOT QUITE THE END: In a Nov. 24 post, the blog wrote about early U.N.C.L.E. scripts had introductions where Solo broke the fourth wall. The Iowa-Scuba Affair was one of those episodes. The script also had an epilogue/next week previews that also broke the fourth wall.

SAME SCENE AS TEASER…

SOLO
Well, we made it this time, didn’t we?
(a beat)
But next week…well…here’s a taste of what we’ll encounter:

WHIP PAN TO A SERIES OF TRAILER CUTS FROM THE FOLLOWING WEEK:

THEN, BACK TO SCENE.

SOLO
Look interesting? It will be. See you next week.
(a smile and a wave)

THE END

We wish to thank the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement without whose assistance this blog post would not be possible.

U.N.C.L.E. script: Getting the series started Part I

Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo in the early moments of Act I of The Iowa-Scuba Affair.

Having sold Solo (now-renamed The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) as a series, it was now up to executive producer Norman Felton to get the series underway.

In place as day-to-day producer was Sam Rolfe, who wrote the series proposal for “Ian Fleming’s Solo” as well as the pilot script and its expanded movie version To Trap a Spy.

The critical first post-pilot script would be penned by Harold Jack Bloom. Rolfe and Bloom co-wrote the 1953 western film The Naked Spur. They were nominated for an Oscar for their efforts on that movie.

Bloom would also be the first writer employed on the 1967 James Bond film You Only Live Twice. He’d receive an “additional story material” credit for the 007 movie.

The copy the blog has of the script is dated May 27, 1964, just a few days before filming would begin on June 1, with Richard Donner directing. Some pages are dated as late as June 4, after filming had begun.

FADE IN:
INT. FARMHOUSE NIGHT
Just inside the door JILL DENNISON, nineteen, eyes closed dreamily, is wrapped in the arms of TOMMY BLAIR, twenty-seven, a uniformed non-com in the Air Force. But then her defenses become alerted to his rising passion.

JILL
Tommy…?

He stops, moving his head back to meet her eyes. A heavy sigh seems to restore his self-control.

TOMMY
Tomorrow night?

She nods. He gives up and grins. This wins him a final peck before he exits.

However, after the final “peck,” things are about to take a bad turn for Tommy. He drives off on a motorcycle.

ANOTHER ANGLE
As Tommy comes out of the turn, he reacts to something he sees ahead, o.s.

SUBJECTIVE FROM HIS POV

CAMERA MOVES ALONG ROAD APPROACHING the silhouette of a man who stands in the center of the road. The cycle’s headlights stop short of the man’s legs.

REVERSE

Tommy has stopped. Bends forward to raise his headlight.

HIS POV

The light picks up Solo standing in the road, his gun held, assembled for automatic fire. He holds his free hand up in a gesture of “halt”. ZOOM INTO CLOSE.

INTERCUT
Tommy reacts. His boyishness is gone now, replaced by an ugly intent. He kicks the motorcycle into full speed and it jerks forward. Solo FIRES. The shots go through the cycle’s plastic windshield behind which Tommy is crouched. Solo somersaults at the last moment to avoid the swerving machine. The cycle swerves past, skidding over on one side to dig its own halt.

The scene in the final version wasn’t quite as dramatic (Robert Vaughn’s Solo didn’t somersault) but it’s pretty much what Bloom wrote.

Solo inspects the body. He also sees that the dead man was carrying scuba diving equipment. The stage directions state that Solo holsters his gun. That would be difficult with all the attachments of what would become known as the U.N.C.L.E. Special. “A final look at Tommy, then MOVE INTO CLOSE OF SOLO.”

In the next scene, Solo poses as the dead man’s brother. He acts outraged when the local authorities have no clues who killed him. The only lead Solo has is Jill, the young woman that Tommy was with just before Solo killed him.

As the agent leaves, he passes “an elderly SCRUBWOMAN” who radios the information to someone named “Hod.” She indicates no harm should come to the stranger yet.

Solo then visits Jill. They’re being observed by “AUNT MARTHA, a hawk-faced spinster in her mid-forties.” She is “doing needlepoint with quick, angry thrusts.” Jill, meanwhile, is telling Solo that she and Tommy “weren’t in love or anything.” It quickly becomes clear Aunt Martha wasn’t happy with Jill dating Tommy.

During the conversation, there’s another visitor: “CLINT SPINNER, a tall, raw-boned man in his early fifties.” It turns out Spinner’s father was a “sharecropper” in the area. He’s purchased land nearby after being a successful oil man. Spinner has dug a deep well to benefit his new farm.

The scene becomes a way for writer Bloom to provide information to the audience. A secret U.S. Army base has built in the area. Spinner says the base houses the SX-9 “catapult plane” which in “case of war” can be hurled “into the air going better’n three thousand miles an hour.”

“They make such a big deal about military secrets,” Solo responds. “I bet everyone around here knows what you just told me.”

“They know what I know,” Spinner says. “We was all right here when they built it.”

As the scene concludes, Solo asks Jill about why Tommy would have scuba gear. The question surprises Jill. Tommy said he couldn’t swim.

It turns out the entire scene has been observed at a distance by three people in scuba outfits including “an exotic Spanish woman.” The other two are men who hold “strange looking rifles.” One begins to aim his weapon but the woman “gently” pushes the barrel of the rifle down.

Solo then returns to New York and U.N.C.L.E. headquarters. He confers with Alexander Waverly. It turns out Tommy was really Eric Freedlander, a saboteur. Solo had been on his trail. Freedlander slipped away in Berlin but then showed up in Iowa, the site of the secret base. There was a real Tommy Blair but he is missing.

What follows is a briefing scene which provides more details for the audience. We’re told more about the plane and its capabilities. In the middle of the briefing, Waverly is told that the authorities in Iowa have released a statement they’ve found the murderer of Thomas Blair.

They react.

WAVERLY (looking at Solo as he answers)
Isn’t that interesting…?

TO BE CONTINUED

53 years ago today…

Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo in the early moments of Act I of The Iowa-Scuba Affair, as photographed by Fred Koenekamp.

…production began on The Iowa-Scuba Affair, the first regular series episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (The pilot, The Vulcan Affair, had been filmed in late 1963.)

On June 1, 1964, even the earliest U.N.C.L.E. fans didn’t knew what awaited them in a few months. For the crew, it was another job.

What a crew it was.

The director, Richard Donner, would eventually become a big-time film director. The writer was Harold Jack Bloom. He shared an Academy Award nomination with episode producer Sam Rolfe on the screenplay of The Naked Spur, a 1953 western starring James Stewart.

The director of photography was Fred Koenekamp, who’d later photograph Patton. The composer for the episode was Morton Stevens.

While he’d never become famous, Stevens was a few years away from composing the theme for Hawaii Five-O, one of the best-know television themes.

When the cameras rolled, star Robert Vaughn, as Napoleon Solo, would be in almost every scene. David McCallum, signed to play Russian U.N.C.L.E. agent Illya Kuryakin, wasn’t even in the episode. But McCallum would make his presence known shortly.

5 U.N.C.L.E. stories to watch this weekend

The original U.N.C.L.E.s

The original U.N.C.L.E.s

With the passing of actor Robert Vaughn, a natural reaction for fans would be to view some episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

This list was originally devised last year ahead of the 2015 movie version. It was intended for people not familiar with the series.

It’s still a good list of episodes to view, even for long-time fans.

These aren’t necessarily the very best episodes. But the list was intended to include examples from all four seasons of the show. Stories told over two episodes are listed as a single entry here.

The Quadripartite Affair/The Giuoco Piano Affair: These two episodes were filmed together but presented as separate, but related episodes.

Solo verbally jousts with Harold Bufferton (John Van Dreelen) in The Giuoco Piano Affair

Solo verbally jousts with Harold Bufferton (John Van Dreelen) in The Giuoco Piano Affair

Quadripartite was the third episode broadcast. It’s also the first episode where Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) and Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) function as a team. There’s plenty of good “bits of business” for both characters.

The story involves a power-hungry woman, Gervaise Ravel (Anne Francis), whose lover, Harold Bufferton (John Van Dreelan), is one of the world’s richest men and who’s more than willing to finance her plans. That’s not unlike the new film, where Elizabeth Debicki, is the lead villain.

Giuoco Piano (the seventh episode broadcast) is even better than Quadripartite, showing how manipulative Solo can be. The title comes from a chess gambit that symbolizes Solo’s plan. If James Bond is the blunt instrument, this story demonstrates how Solo is the sharp operator.

Both episodes were written by Alan Caillou, who did intelligence work for the British in World War II. Think an Ian Fleming, who actually went out into the field. Caillou’s two scripts helped define the Kuryakin character. Sam Rolfe, who wrote the pilot, envisioned Kuryakin as a large, massive man. Caillou provided McCallum with the material so the actor could make Illya his own.

Also, the two episodes were directed by Richard Donner, who’d become an A-list film director in the 1970s.

The Never-Never Affair: Through the first season, the show tried to find the right balance of drama and humor. Never-Never, aired late in the season, became the model for future episodes.

Solo and Illya during the theater shootout in The Never-Never Affair

In the story, Solo feels sorry for U.N.C.L.E. translator Mandy Stevenson (Barbara Feldon), who yearns for an adventure. He sends her to get pipe tobacco for U.N.C.L.E. chief Waverly (Leo G. Carroll), while telling her she’s acting as a courier. However, she accidentally is given a valuable microdot covered by the villainous organization, Thrush.

The episode includes a memorable set piece, where a Thrush assassin is firing through a movie theater screen at Solo and Kuryakin, who are having to deal with other Thrush operatives. A high percentage of the jokes work, and writer Dean Hargrove would become one of the main scribes of the series. It was the second episode of show helmed by Joseph Sargent, one of the best directors on the series.

Vincent Price and Patricia Medina as rival villains in The Foxes and Hound Affair.

Vincent Price and Patricia Medina as rival villains in The Foxes and Hounds Affair.

The Foxes and Hounds Affair: A breezy episode that aired early in the show’s second season. The new movie’s tone is supposed to be similar to the second season and Foxes and Hounds is one of the season’s better entries.

U.N.C.L.E. and Thrush are both after a mind-reading machine. That’s pretty fantastic, but no more so than what can be seen in a Marvel Studios film of the 21st century. Both Solo and Kuryakin get chances to shine. We also see that Waverly is perfectly capable of being cold blooded. On top of everything else, Vincent Price is a very good villain who has to watch his back for attacks from a rival in Thrush (Patricia Medina).

The Concrete Overcoat Affair: This two-part episode was edited into a movie for international audiences called The Spy in the Green Hat. Thrush has another ambitious plan that U.N.C.L.E. is trying to foil. But some retired gangsters end up becoming involved and act as a wild card.

This ran during the third season, when the drama-humor balance got out of whack in favor of humor. This Joseph Sargent-directed story reins that in to an extent. There’s also a good scene early in Part II where Solo wants to go save Kuryakin but Waverly disapproves. The U.N.C.L.E. chief relents, but only reluctantly. It’s an unusual moment of drama in a season where that was in short supply.

The Test Tube Killer Affair: In the fourth season, new producer Anthony Spinner wanted to dial the humor way back. This episode, early in the season, is one of the better entries produced by Spinner.

Christopher Jones, center, one of Thrush's

Christopher Jones, center, as Greg Martin, in The Test Tube Killer Affair.

Thrush’s Dr. Stoller (Paul Lukas) has been raising young men from childhood to be the perfect killing machines, able to turn their emotions on and off as needed. Stoller’s prize pupil, Greg Martin (Christopher Jones), has been chosen to blow up a dam in Greece. It’s strictly an exercise and the dam has no strategic importance but many will die if Martin succeeds.

Meanwhile, the young killer is highly intelligent — intelligent enough where it appears Solo and Kuryakin may have met their match. The episode has a less-than-happy ending, something not common on the show.

50th anniversary of The Wild Wild West’s best episode

End title images for The Night of the Murderous Spring

End title images for The Night of the Murderous Spring

April 15 is the 50th anniversary of what may be the best episode of The Wild Wild West, The Night of the Murderous Spring. If not the series’ best outing, it’s in the conversation.

It was the next-to-last episode of West’s first season and the fourth to feature Michael Dunn as Dr. Loveless.

The episode, written by John Kneubuhl (creator of Dr. Loveless) and directed by Richard Donner, removed all of the limits from the villain’s initial encounters with U.S. Secret Service agents James West (Robert Conrad) and Artemus Gordon (Ross Martin).

Loveless is determined to kill humanity to restore Earth’s ecological balance. The villain has come up with a chemical, when mixed with water, will spur men to hallucinate and go into a murderous rage.

Loveless’ first test subject is James West himself. The Secret Service agent imagines he kills his partner.

That’s just the start. Loveless conducts another test where his lackeys kill each other. Loveless does so simply to demonstrate to West and Gordon he means business.

As an aside, one of Loveless’ thugs is played by Leonard Falk, the real life father of Robert Conrad.

This was not Loveless’ final appearance on the show. But it was arguably the most memorable. The only significance weakness was the episode didn’t have an original score, forcing music supervisor Morton Stevens to dip into the music library of CBS. Among the music used is the original Dr. Loveless theme, composed by Robert Drasnin, who scored the first Loveless episode of the series.

 

5 U.N.C.L.E. TV stories new fans should see before the movie

The original U.N.C.L.E.s

The original U.N.C.L.E.s

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. hasn’t gotten a lot of exposure since its last broadcast on Jan. 15, 1968. Yet, seemingly against long odds, a big-screen version comes out on Aug. 14.

There are a lot of new fans — particularly those who are fans of actors Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer — who haven’t had a lot of opportunity to catch the original show. With that in mind, here are five U.N.C.L.E. stories from the 1964-68 series that may enhance the experience of new fans ahead of the film.

These aren’t necessarily the very best episodes. But some have elements in common with the movie. Also, this list is intended to include examples from all four seasons of the show. Stories told over two episodes are listed as a single entry here.

The Quadripartite Affair/The Giuoco Piano Affair: These two episodes were filmed together but presented as separate, but related episodes.

Solo verbally jousts with Harold Bufferton (John Van Dreelen) in The Giuoco Piano Affair

Solo verbally jousts with Harold Bufferton (John Van Dreelen) in The Giuoco Piano Affair

Quadripartite was the third episode broadcast. It’s also the first episode where Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) and Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) function as a team. There’s plenty of good “bits of business” for both characters.

The story involves a power-hungry woman, Gervaise Ravel (Anne Francis), whose lover, Harold Bufferton (John Van Dreelan), is one of the world’s richest men and who’s more than willing to finance her plans. That’s not unlike the new film, where Elizabeth Debicki, is the lead villain.

Giuoco Piano (the seventh episode broadcast) is even better than Quadripartite, showing how manipulative Solo can be. The title comes from a chess gambit that symbolizes Solo’s plan. If James Bond is the blunt instrument, this story demonstrates how Solo is the sharp operator.

Both episodes were written by Alan Caillou, who did intelligence work for the British in World War II. Think an Ian Fleming, who actually went out into the field. Caillou’s two scripts helped define the Kuryakin character. Sam Rolfe, who wrote the pilot, envisioned Kuryakin as a large, massive man. Caillou provided McCallum with the material so the actor could make Illya his own.

Also, the two episodes were directed by Richard Donner, who’d become an A-list film director in the 1970s.

The Never-Never Affair: Through the first season, the show tried to find the right balance of drama and humor. Never-Never, aired late in the season, became the model for future episodes.

"I can't believe everything that's going on, Illya."

Solo and Illya during the theater shootout in The Never-Never Affair

In the story, Solo feels sorry for U.N.C.L.E. translator Mandy Stevenson (Barbara Feldon), who yearns for an adventure. He sends her to get pipe tobacco for U.N.C.L.E. chief Waverly (Leo G. Carroll), while telling her she’s acting as a courier. However, she accidentally is given a valuable microdot covered by the villainous organization, Thrush.

The episode includes a memorable set piece, where a Thrush assassin is firing through a movie theater screen at Solo and Kuryakin, who are having to deal with other Thrush operatives. A high percentage of the jokes work, and writer Dean Hargrove would become one of the main scribes of the series. It was the second episode of show helmed by Joseph Sargent, one of the best directors on the series.

The Foxes and Hounds Affair: A breezy episode that aired early in the show’s second season. The new movie’s tone is supposed to be similar to the second season and Foxes and Hounds is one of the season’s better entries.

U.N.C.L.E. and Thrush are both after a mind-reading machine. That’s pretty fantastic, but no more so than what can be seen in a Marvel Studios film of the 21st century. Both Solo and Kuryakin get chances to shine. We also see that Waverly is perfectly capable of being cold blooded. On top of everything else, Vincent Price is a very good villain who has to watch his back for attacks from a rival in Thrush (Patricia Medina).

The Concrete Overcoat Affair: This two-part episode was edited into a movie for international audiences called The Spy in the Green Hat. Thrush has another ambitious plan that U.N.C.L.E. is trying to foil. But some retired gangsters end up becoming involved and act as a wild card.

This ran during the third season, when the drama-humor balance got out of whack in favor of humor. This Joseph Sargent-directed story reins that in to an extent. There’s also a good scene early in Part II where Solo wants to go save Kuryakin but Waverly disapproves. The U.N.C.L.E. chief relents, but only reluctantly. It’s an unusual moment of drama in a season where that was in short supply.

The Test Tube Killer Affair: In the fourth season, new producer Anthony Spinner wanted to dial the humor way back. This episode, early in the season, is one of the better entries produced by Spinner.

Christopher Jones, center, one of Thrush's "test tube" killers in a fourth-season Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode

Christopher Jones, center, as Greg Martin, in The Test Tube Killer Affair.

Thrush’s Dr. Stoller (Paul Lukas) has been raising young men from childhood to be the perfect killing machines, able to turn their emotions on and off as needed. Stoller’s prize pupil, Greg Martin (Christopher Jones), has been chosen to blow up a dam in Greece. It’s strictly an exercise and the dam has no strategic importance but many will die if Martin succeeds.

Meanwhile, the young killer is highly intelligent — intelligent enough where it appears Solo and Kuryakin may have met their match. The episode has a less-than-happy ending, something not common on the show.

The Twilight Zone’s spy story

John Van Dreelan and Martin Landau in The Jeopardy Room

John Van Dreelen and Martin Landau in The Jeopardy Room

The Twilight Zone, more than a half century after it ended its original run on CBS, remains fondly remembered — an example of how television can be imaginative and thought provoking.

It also, in its final season, deviated from its usual fare of science fiction and fantasy to present a spy story.

The Jeopardy Room, which originally aired April 17, 1964, is essentially a two-man play for television.

On the one side, we have Major Ivan Kuchenko (Martin Landau), a Soviet military officer who served 12 years of hard time in Siberia. He wants to defect to the West. Despite his long imprisonment, he still has information that would be of value to the West.

On the other side, there is Commissar Vassiloff (John Van Dreelen). He has tortured Kuchenko in the past. Moreover, Vassiloff fancies himself as the last of the “imaginative” executioners. Vassiloff has been assigned to kill Kuchenko to make sure he doesn’t reach the West. But Vassiloff wants to do it with style.

In Act I, the two opponents meet in a dingy hotel room Kuchenko is renting. Vassiloff gets the better of him, tricking Kuchenko into drinking drugged wine. Vassiloff drinks first but has developed an immunity to the drug through constant use.

In Act II, Kuchenko awakes in the same room. Vassiloff has planted a fatal booby trap in a common object. Kuchenko has three hours to find it. If the would-be defector tries to get away, he’ll be shot by a thug accompanying Vassiloff.

The booby trap is in the room’s telephone. Kuchenko almost bites but figures it out. Eventually, he manages to get out before Vassioff’s thug can kill him. A bit later, Vassiloff and his flunky are in the room. Vassiloff is determined to get Kuchenko in “the next city.” Just then, the phone rings and Vassiloff’s (not too bright) lackey picks up the receiver, setting off an explosion.

At a telephone booth in an airport we see Kuchenko being told by an operator that the call has been disconnected. “That is all right, operator,” he says. “I have reached them.”

While not the best for what the series had to offer, The Jeopardy Room shows that writer-creator Rod Serling still had plenty in the creative tank despite five years of exhaustive television production on The Twilight Zone. The final season of The Twilight Zone consisted of 36 episodes. On broadcast networks today, 22 or 23 episodes is a full season.

Landau is a sympathetic hero. But Serling and director Richard Donner give Van Dreelen a springboard to chew the scenery. We say this admiringly. It’s a great performance by an old pro.

Van Dreelen would be a villain in a number of 1960s television shows. He makes the most of his part here, even smoking a cigarette in a long cigarette holder. Interestingly, Van Dreelen and Donner would be reunited a few months later, working together in two first-season episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Espionage was not The Twilight Zone’s wheel house. You could argue the ending is a little too pat (you’d think Vassiloff would have the flunky disarm the bomb in the telephone before coming in). Still, this episode was a great change of pace for a classic series.

Trivia: If you see this episode in syndication today (like on the evening of April 23 on MeTV), you’ll see a blurred image on the lower left of the end titles. Originally, there was a pack of cigarettes there because of a sponsor during the show’s run in the 1963-64 season.