The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’s comic book sensibility

"It's a memo from Stan Lee, sir."

“It’s a memo from Stan Lee, sir.”

MeTV on April 26 is scheduled to show The Foxes and Hounds Affair, a second-season episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. that’s one of the best of the series, that includes Vincent Price as a villain.

It also has a whopper of a “McGuffin” at the center of the story — a mind-reading device which, if it falls into the wrong hands, will cause all sorts of problems.

Of course, mind-reading machines didn’t exist then (1965) or now. U.N.C.L.E., during its 1964-68 run, embraced comic book-style science fiction concepts, giving its stories, on occasion, a taste of the fantastic. Here are some other examples.

Project Earthsave (The Double Affair/The Spy With My Face): The possibility that Earth might be invaded “from beyond the stars” was real enough that major nations funded something called Project Earthsave.

It’s apparently an energy source to use against aliens (it’s not explained in detail). Something that powerful, of course, is bound to interest villains.

Regenerating serum (The Girls of Nazarone Affair): A professor, who died under mysterious circumstances, invented a serum which causes the body to regenerate from even the most severe injuries or wounds.

The serum has fallen into the hands of villainous organization Thrush. It tests the serum on one of its operatives, race driver Nazarone, by shooting her with machine guns. She survives.

Regeneration is one of the powers of Marvel Comics character Wolverine (who didn’t make his debut until an early 1970s Hulk comic book). With the serum, you could have an army of Wolverines (minus the claws, of course). However, something Thrush didn’t foresee comes into play.

Vaporizer (The Arabian Affair): Thrush is developing a vaporizer that disintegrates items or people. In the pre-credits sequence, it’s tested on an unfortunate Arab man. So the Thrush scientists involved with the project wear special white outfits, similar to the radiation suits worn by Dr. No and his men.

We’re told the white outfits are “inter-molecular,” which prevents the wearer from being disintegrated. That sounds similar to the “unstable molecules” devised by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby used in the costumes of the Fastastic Four.

Age-reversal device (The Bridge of Lions Affair/One of Our Spies Is Missing): Another scientists has constructed a device (which includes the head of Robby the Robot from the MGM prop room) that can old men young again. As you might guess, this could cause problems if it falls into the wrong hands.

Cyborgs (The Sort-of-Do-Itself-Dreadful Affair): Part human, part machine they can really cause problems.

The Gurnius Affair
Mind-control ray (The Gurnius Affair): Thrush has invested $4 billion with some neo-Nazi types to perfect a mind-control ray.

The problem for Thrush: Nazis are prone to pursuing their own agenda, as Thrush operative Mr. Brown (Joseph Ruskin) finds out the hard way.

Cavill says U.N.C.L.E. movie has a ‘little bit of grit’

Logo for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie

Logo for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie

The Los Angeles Times has a preview of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie in which star Henry Cavill says the film has “a little bit of grit.”

Fans of the original 1964-68 series have, on occasion, expressed concern the movie might be too light, similar to the show’s third season, when the drama-humor mix got out of balance. Both Cavill, who plays Napoleon Solo, and Armie Hammer, who plays Illya Kuryakin, previously have said the movie’s sense of humor was an attraction to them.

In the Times story, Cavill’s full quote was: “There’s a coolness, a humor and a little bit of grit as well.” In 2013, when the movie was being filmed, Entertainment Weekly described a scene where Solo’s Cavill is attacked pretty viciously.

Here’s an excerpt from the Times story, concerning co-screenwriters Lionel Wigram and Guy Ritchie. The latter also directed the movie:

Ritchie and Wigram shared a love of early James Bond films — what Wigram called late Sean Connery/early Roger Moore — and wanted to make a spy film that returned to the glamorous era.

“People have reinvented Bond, but nobody’s gone back to the 1960s,” Wigram said.

To read the entire article, CLICK HERE. The film is scheduled to released in the U.S. on Aug. 14.

Marvel Studios and the Cubby Broccoli playbook

Avengers: Age of Ultron poster

Avengers: Age of Ultron poster

The Wall Street Journal, in a story by Ben Fritz, takes a look at how Marvel Studios operates. While it doesn’t come up in the story, it sounds like Marvel has read the old Albert R. Broccoli playbook.

Like James Bond movies produced by Broccoli, Marvel makes big, sprawling movies. But, like the Eon Productions co-founder, Marvel doesn’t spend top dollar for everything. Here’s a key excerpt:

But no company has eschewed A-list talent as consistently and effectively in the modern age as Marvel. All but one of its 10 films released so far have been hits, a record rivaled only by Pixar Animation Studios. And none have featured a major star or established action director.

Money is a key reason, say people who have done business with Marvel. The Disney subsidiary’s chief executive, Ike Perlmutter, is notoriously frugal and doesn’t believe that the millions rivals like Warner Bros. spend to get big-name stars like Ben Affleck and Will Smith are worth it.

“They are in the business of hiring the guy who hasn’t had a big success, because they don’t have to pay that guy very much,” said Mr. Whedon, adding that he made more money on his self-produced Internet series “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” than he did directing the first “Avengers,” which cost $230 million to produce and grossed $1.5 billion world-wide.

When Broccoli (first with Harry Saltzman and then on his own) produced 007 films, a formula eventually emerged where the actor playing James Bond would be paid well but Eon didn’t usually pay for A-list actors for other roles. “Regulars” such as Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell and Desmond Llewelyn were paid relatively modestly.

As directors, Eon would hire journeymen such as Terence Young and Guy Hamilton. Or, with John Glen, promote from within, elevating him to the director’s chair from the second unit.

Marvel isn’t exactly the same, but there are similarities. The Journal describes how Marvel’s approach to talent is to seek out actors on their way up (who don’t cost top dollar yet) or are making a comeback (such as Robert Downey Jr.). There’s a similar strategy with directors, including Joss Whedon (referenced in the excerpt above) and Joe and Anthony Russo.

As we’ve written before, Eon’s strategy has evolved since the Cubby Broccoli days. Bond movies employ more auteur directors (Sam Mendes, Marc Forster) and more expensive actors for at least some roles (Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes).  Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, the co-leaders of Eon, have been putting their own stamp on the series.

In any case, if you want to read the entire Journal story about Marvel, CLICK HERE.

 

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.

Cavill, Hammer say they’d like to do an U.N.C.L.E. sequel

Logo for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie

Logo for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie

Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer, stars of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie, say they’d be happy to reprise the roles of Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin in another film if their first effort is successful at the box office.

The two were interviewed at CinemaCon this week by JBlo Movie Trailers, which posted the video to YouTube.

“I certainly enjoyed playing Napoleon Solo so fingers crossed I get to do it again,” Cavill said. Added Hammer, “I’d love to make one of these again.”

The big question is whether the movie, due out Aug. 14 in the United States, will do well enough for Warner Bros. to commission a sequel. The movie will come out just two weeks after Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, the fifth installment of the film series featuring Tom Cruise. On the other hand, the U.N.C.L.E. movie had (these days at least) a modest production budget of $75 million, which is small change compared to the $300 million outlay for SPECTRE, the 24th James Bond film.

This blog has previously posed the question if Cavill would have the time to make an U.N.C.L.E. sequel. He’s committed to playing Superman in a two-part Justice League project, with release dates in 2017 and 2019 as well as a stand-alone Superman movie at some future date. Based on Cavill’s comments, he sounds like he could fit in another U.N.C.L.E. turn if it comes up.

In the interview, Hammer also discussed something he’s mentioned before. The actor says he bought a DVD set of the original 1964-68 series after he was cast as Kuryakin. He said he liked the second season but thought the show went “off the rails” in the third when the humor-drama balance tipped more toward the humor side.

Anyway, here’s the interview:

SPECTRE footage shown at CinemaCon (no spoilers)

SPECTRE teaser poster

SPECTRE teaser poster

Sony Pictures showed some new footage from SPECTRE, the 24th James Bond film, at CinemaCon in Las Vegas, according to writers who attended.

The event is where studios make presentations for theater owners of upcoming films.

Steven Weintraub, the editor-in-chief of the entertainment website Collider.com, tweeted the following about Sony’s presentation:

Jim Vejvoda, executive editor-movies of IGN.com, also sent out a tweet:

Paramount and Warner Bros. on April 21 had presentations that highlighted Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation and The Man From U.N.C.L.E., both coming out this summer. SPECTRE is due out in theaters in early November.

UPDATE (April 23): COMICBOOK.COM has a description of of the footage, leaving out what it describes as a “big spoiler.” For those who don’t want to know anything about the movie, even with the “big spoiler” withheld, don’t click on the link.

VARIETY also has a description of a key scene that’s part of the footage shown at CinemaCon. Variety doesn’t disclose the main spoiler, but has a plot detail not in the Comicbook.com story. Those who are super spoiler sensitive probably should avoid.

Cavill tells MTV how Solo is different than Superman

Actor Henry Cavill, while being interviewed by MTV, commented how playing Napoleon Solo was different than portraying Superman.

Cavill said while playing the Man of Steel “is an honor,” the character also is stoic. “He’s the golden boy.”

On the other hand, “To play a character like Napoleon Solo, it’s so much fun, because he’s not the golden boy,” he said. “He’s kind of a bad boy who does the right thing…He’s one of those sarcastic fun guys. It’s great to play.”

Cavill was interviewed along with Armie Hammer, who plays Illya Kuryakin in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie, at CinemaCon in Las Vegas. At the event, studios made presentations to theater companies about upcoming films. The U.N.C.L.E. movie is due out Aug. 14 in the United States.

The full interview is below. MTV also asked a number of Superman questions. Cavill, who played the character in 2013’s Man of Steel, reprises the role in next year’s Batman v Superman: The Dawn of Justice.

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