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.

Character actress Arlene Martel dies at 78

Robert Vaughn and Arlene Martel in a first-season episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Robert Vaughn and Arlene Martel in a first-season episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Arlene Martel, a busy character actress, including 1960s spy shows, has died at 78.

Her death was disclosed on THE FACEBOOK PAGE for These Are The Voyages, a three-volume book about the original Star Trek series. The author, Marc Cushman, was a friend of Martel’s, according to TREKNEWS.NET, a Star Trek site.

Martel is primarily known for Star Trek as T’Pring, a Vulcan woman Spock is supposed to marry before complications arise in the episode “Amok Time.” That connection, along with her other television work, made her a regular at collectibles shows where fans meet and get autographs from fans.

But Martel also showed up on 1960s spy shows, including The Man From U.N.C.L.E. as a Rome-based operative who assists Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin in a first-season episode, “The King of Knaves Affair.” She also made appearances on It Takes a Thief, Mission: Impossible and The Wild Wild West.

The actress made guest appearances in series covering various genres, including police/detective dramas (Columbo, Mannix); comedies (including several episodes of Hogan’s Heroes); and science fiction (playing opposite Robert Culp in the Harlan Ellison-scripted “Demon With a Glass Hand” on the original Outer Limits series).

UPDATE (Aug. 14): To view a more detailed obituary in The Hollywood Reporter, CLICK HERE.

Secret Service delayed, Batman-Superman blinks

Henry Cavill in a new publicity image

Henry Cavill in a new publicity image

As was once said of Willard Whyte, it’s like playing Monopoly with real buildings.

Movie studios have shuffled their release schedules of major movies. For readers of this blog, two shifts are of note.

Kingsman: The Secret Service, directed by Matthew Vaughn, has been pushed back from October to Feb. 13, 2015, according to A STORY ON COLLIDER.COM. The film, based on a comic book by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, has been marketing itself as embodying elements of 1960s James Bond films, as well as ’60s spy shows such as The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

The bigger news was that Warner Bros./DC Comics blinked, avoiding a potential confrontation with Marvel Studios/Disney. Superman V. Batman: The Dawn of Justice, is now slated to come out on on March 25, 2016.

Originally, Warner Bros. wanted the Batman-Superman film to come out in July 2015. Then, it was pushed back to the first weekend of May 2016. Marvel characters have owned the first May weekend since 2008, when the first Iron Man movie debuted. For 2016, Marvel, now part of Walt Disney Co., planned a third Capt. America movie for that weekend. Nobody thought both superhero epics would come out at the same time — and they were right.

U.N.C.L.E. figures, indirectly, into both moves. The Batman-Superman film includes Henry Cavill, who plays Napoleon Solo in Warner Bros. movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., as Superman. The Secret Service — which includes some U.N.C.L.E. memes — now will come out less than a month after the U.N.C.L.E. movie’s debut in mid-January 2015.

The changed release date for the Batman-Superman film is part of a broader schedule of films that Warners/DC releases, according to the Deadline entertainment website.

UPDATE: VARIETY OFFERS AN ALTERNATE EXPLANTION for the Batman v Superman change. “(B)y moving out of May and into March, the comicbook film signals that Hollywood is opening its eyes to the fact that moviegoing can be a 12-month-a-year proposition. Now, the superhero mash-up will be the first film starring the Dark Knight not to debut during the summer, something that would have been all but unthinkable a few years ago.”

It also quotes a Warner Bros. executive as saying, “If you have a great film, people will come no matter when it’s dated.” If that’s sincere, and not just spin, perhaps U.N.C.L.E. fans might feel better about that movie’s January 2015 release date. We’ll see.

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