U.N.C.L.E. at 50: an unusual anniversary

Robert Vaughn in a first-season main title.

Robert Vaughn in a first-season main title.

This month marks The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’s 50th anniversary. But the milestone comes at an unusual time and is full of ups and downs.

The original 1964-68 series starring Robert Vaughn and David McCallum is getting a bit more visibility in the U.S. because THE METV CHANNEL HAS STARTED TELECASTING the show. Meanwhile, in the Los Angeles area, there’s a SOLD OUT EVENT LATER THIS MONTH featuring actors and crew members of the series.

Of course, there’s a reborn U.N.C.L.E. in the form of a Guy Ritchie-directed film starring Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer in the Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin roles. But the only people outside of Warner Bros. who’ve seen it are those who’ve attended test screenings. The movie, which originally had a mid-January release date, now won’t debut for 11 months.

Fans generally welcome the MeTV development, except for those annoyed at their local MeTV outlet for pre-empting the show for other programming.

On the other hand, divides U.N.C.L.E. fans. Some would like to see a movie, if it’s true to the spirit of the show. We already know it’s not true to the last letter of the show. The movie, set in the early 1960s, is an U.N.C.L.E. origin story. In the series, U.N.C.L.E. had been established for years.

Other fans are actively rooting against the movie for a variety of reasons. Examples: the original doesn’t need remaking, the changes already known between film and series are too much and objections to the casting (for a variety of reasons) of Cavill and Hammer. How deep is such feeling? In the absence of scientific polling, hard to say.

The show did help launch spymania on U.S. television. There had been other espionage series, such as Five Fingers, starring David Hedison and Luciana Paluzzi, that ran just one season. Even the notion of a multi-national organization, one of the ways U.N.C.L.E. differentiated itself, had been tried in AN UNSOLD PILOT that aired as the last episode of the Boris Karloff Thriller series in 1962.

The series got off to a slow start, but was helped by a mid-season change in time slot and the surge of movie spymania stemming from 1964’s Goldfinger. By the fall of 1965, other spy series were on the air.

U.N.C.L.E. hasn’t had the visibility of other old television shows, one reason why the show joining MeTV’s Sunday night schedule was welcomed by fans.

The movie is something else. Go to various places on social media and you can see the debates for yourself.

As a result, U.N.C.L.E. on its golden anniversary doesn’t seem to have the sense of celebration as, say, Dr. No’s golden anniversary two years ago.

It’s still an anniversary worth noting. Those attending the Los Angeles area program will have the chance to meet with crew members in their 80s and 90s and will get the opportunity to hear their insight. Still, it’s a different kind of anniversary, for good or ill, depending on your view.

Richard Kiel, 007 and spy villain, dies at 74

Richard Kiel as Jaws

Richard Kiel as Jaws

Richard Kiel, who stood more than 7-feet-tall, making him a natural as a villain in 1960s spy series plus two James Bond films, has died at 74, according to an obituary in the LOS ANGELES TIMES. An excerpt:

Richard Kiel, the 7-foot-2 actor best known for portraying the James Bond villain Jaws, never wanted to be typecast as a dimwitted character just because of his enormous stature. While his towering physique may have made him intimidating, he was not dumb, he told the Los Angeles Times during a 1978 interview. “If I wanted to be a trial attorney, I could have been. If I wanted to be a real estate magnate, I could have been that, too,” he said.

Kiel appeared as Jaws in 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me and 1979’s Moonraker. But he had plenty of experience portraying menacing henchmen. He had one uncredited scene in the pilot to The Man From U.N.C.L.E. as well as another first-season episode, The Hong Kong Shilling Affair. He was the henchman of Dr. Loveless, a scientist dwarf, in three episodes of The Wild Wild West, plus a later appearance as another character. And he appeared in In Spy. Here’s a sample of Kiel’s pre-007 work, the first Loveless episode on The Wild Wild West. Bear in mind it could be yanked from YouTube at any time. Kiel also reprised the Jaws role (sort of) at the 1982 Oscars during a production of For You Eyes Only, which was nominated for Best Song of 1981. He appeared along with Harold Sakata, who played Oddjob in Goldfinger.

Guy Ritchie’s U.N.C.L.E. philosophy

Photo of Armie Hammer and Guy Ritchie that appeared in the Daily Mail

Photo of Armie Hammer and Guy Ritchie that appeared in the Daily Mail last year.

The Empire magazine story about The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie still isn’t online, but fans have posted images of the print version. It contains a few quotes from director Guy Ritchie.

Ritchie said he only dipped so far into the original 1964-68 series that starred Robert Vaughn and David McCallum.

“We’re tipping our hat to the original series, but we’re really taking the positives of the existing brand and reworking them for a contemporary audience,” Ritchie told Empire.

“There were only a few things I needed to keep from the TV series. It needed global stakes, a Russian and an American. The Russian had to be blond and the American dark. Other than that, it brings no baggage for being an ‘inherited project.'”

The last comment is an apparent reference to how an U.N.C.L.E. movie project has been bouncing around for years. Ritchie took it over after director Steven Soderbergh exited in late 2011.

Ritchie’s movie is an “origin of U.N.C.L.E.” story, with Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) a CIA agent and Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) a KGB operative who join forces in the early 1960s. In the television series, U.N.C.L.E. had been around for some time, with Solo and Kuryakin trained as U.N.C.L.E. agents in the 1950s.

The movie is schedule for release in August 2015.

UPDATE: Henry Cavill News has a post with an image of the article. You can CLICK HERE to view it. You can CLICK HERE for a larger image of the article on that website that’s easier to read.

 

Still new questions about the U.N.C.L.E. movie

Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer during filming in 2013

Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer during filming in 2013

As Michael Corleone once said, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.” In that spirit, here’s a look at some new questions about the U.N.C.L.E. movie that have arisen in the past few weeks.

The release date has been pushed back to August 2015 from January. Good or bad? Honest answer: I don’t know.

Skeptics will say it’s another sign of trouble. Then again, the January date was seen as a sign of trouble, an indication that Warner Bros. didn’t think it could take the holiday season competition.

The more optimistic interpretation is that Warners has more faith in the project, concluding it could fare well in the late summer slot. On the studio calendar, “summer” starts on May 1, and in 2015 that means the sequel to Marvel’s The Avengers, which is already getting buzz. Marvel will also have Ant Man in July. While Ant Man isn’t that well known to the general public, the same was true of Guardians of the Galaxy, which has become a big hit.

So it’s probably a good idea to keep U.N.C.L.E. away from the early- to mid-summer months. But some summer movies released in August can become hits. We’ll see.

What’s up with all the reshoots? Again, hard to tell from the outside. At the very least, it indicates the studio isn’t just shoving the movie out the door. The first rounds of reshoots didn’t involve the principal actors. But Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer were eventually summoned back. That appears to be done because Cavill is back working on the Batman-Superman movie due out in March 2016.

The star hasn’t even watched the show. Good or bad? Cavill, who plays Napoleon Solo, told Empire magazine he hadn’t watched any episodes of the 1964-68 series.

That’s part of the actor’s M.O. He didn’t watch previous Superman movies or television stories, according to 2013 stories from REUTERS and THE DAILY BEAST He said he studied original comic books for insights into the character.

But one thing different about U.N.C.L.E. is that the television series is the source material. We’ll have to see how this turns out.

Illya Kuryakin is a hothead? What is up with that? This week, there’s another test screening of the movie. The invitations refer to “cool, & collected CIA agent Solo, and hot-headed rival KGB agent Kuryakin.”

For original fans, that’s a little concerning. Kuryakin very much kept his cool in tense situations and was a big part of the character’s appeal.

Then again, this is an “origin” story and the Kuryakin portrayed by Armie Hammer (who says watched original U.N.C.L.E. episodes) may not be fully formed yet. It sounds like a broken record, but we’ll see.

U.N.C.L.E. movie: 1 star has seen TV show, 1 hasn’t

Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer (Art by Paul Baack)

Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer
(Art by Paul Baack)

Henry Cavill, who plays Napoleon Solo in the movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. hasn’t seen the original 1964-68 series while Armie Hammer, the film’s Illya Kuryakin, has.

The source of this is Empire magazine, which has published a feature about the movie, scheduled to be released in August 2015. The Empire story isn’t at the publication’s website but THE COMIC BOOK MOVIE WEBSITE has a summary.

According to that summary, Cavill told Empire, “I don’t see that it was necessarily important. I just wanted to meet with Guy (Ritchie, the director) to know how he saw it.”

Hammer told the magazine, “It is completely different. If you watch the pilot episode, it just starts. It doesn’t say what U.N.C.L.E. is, who these characters are. It just goes and you have to catch up. So, this is a genesis story of U.N.C.L.E.”

The Comic Book Movie post by Josh Wilding also has what are described as the first official images from the movie. You can CLICK HERE to see it.

The series, with Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, marks its 50th anniversary next month. In the U.S., the MeTV channel will begin showing the series at 10 p.m. eastern time on Sunday, Sept. 7, as part of a weekly bloc of spy shows.

U.N.C.L.E. movie gets another test screening

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is getting another test screening on Aug. 26 in Pasadena, California. Here are the details, via @laneyboggs2001 on Twitter, who re-Tweeted a posting by an entertainment industry professional. As it turns out, the person who received the invitation isn’t eligible to go.

The movie, which now won’t be released until August 2015, had a test screening in June. Since then, stars Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer have participated in some reshoots. Those have been completed. Cavill is back in the Detroit area, where a Batman-Superman film is in production, with a March 2016 release date. You can CLICK HERE to view a Henry Cavill News post with photos of Cavill in his Superman costume.

Whether the new U.N.C.L.E. test screening will incorporate the latest reshoots isn’t known. There have been other reshoots not involving the main actors.

The film, directed by Guy Ritchie and based on the 1964-68 television series, originally had a January 2015 release date. Fan speculation has run the gamut from “it must be a disaster” to “maybe Warner Bros. has more confidence to release it in the summer.” Meanwhile, the test screening, by limiting attendees to no older than 54, will prevent a lot of first-generation U.N.C.L.E. fans from going, even if invited.

UPDATE: U.N.C.L.E. scholar Cynthia. W. Walker posted a link to one of the invitations. It has a description of the movie that expands on a plot summary in a September 2013 press release by Warner Bros. The expanded version reads as follows:

HENRY CAVILL (“Man of Steel”) stars as Napoleon Solo, opposite ARMIE HAMMER (“The Social Network”) as Illya Kuryakin. Set against the backdrop of the early 1960s, at the height of the Cold War, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” centers on calm, cool, & collected CIA agent Solo, and hot-headed rival KGB agent Kuryakin. Forced to put aside longstanding hostilities, the charismatic duo team on a mission to stop a mysterious international criminal organization, which is bent on destabilizing the fragile balance of power through the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The duo’s only lead is the daughter of a vanished German scientist, who is the key to infiltrating the criminal organization. Together, they must race against time — provided they stop flirting long enough to get the job done! — to prevent a worldwide catastrophe. “The Man from U.N.C.L.E” is based on the popular 1960’s TV show of the same name, and also stars Alicia Vikander (“Anna Karenina”), Elizabeth Debicki (“The Great Gatsby”), with Jared Harris (“Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows”), and Hugh Grant (“Cloud Atlas”). The film is expected to be rated PG-13.

U.N.C.L.E. movie delayed to August 2015

Slow down, Solo. You're not being called up for another year.

Stand down, Solo. Mr. Warner says you can wait another seven months.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie is being delayed by seven months to Aug. 14, 2015 from Jan. 16, according to several entertainment news sites, including Deadline: Hollywood and Comingsoon.net.

The Guy Ritchie-directed film, based on the 1964-68 television series, has underwent a series of reshoots. Initially, they were being done with a second-unit crew. But Henry Cavill, who plays Napoleon Solo, traveled from the Detroit area (where a Batman-Superman film is in production) to London to participate in a reshoot along with Armie Hammer, who plays Illya Kuryakin.

Some fans were concerned about the January release date. That’s sometimes viewed as a dumping ground for movies not good enough for the end-of-the-year holiday season. Now it’s slated for a late summer slot. By the time August 2015 rolls around, it will have been 23 months since the start of principal photography. Another chapter in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. curse?

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