Elements that should be part of an U.N.C.L.E. movie

Henry Cavill

Henry Cavill

If Warner Bros. is serious about making a movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. with Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer, there are some elements that should be part of the film. Here are some examples:

The “innocent”: As envisioned by executive producer Norman Felton and writer-developer Sam Rolfe, the innocent was a character who acted as a stand-in for the audience. The innocent was an average person who got sucked into an exotic world of adventure, sometimes by design, sometimes by luck.

For example, in the Rolfe-scripted pilot episode, Napoleon Solo has been assigned to prevent an assassination of the leaders of a newly independent African country. Industrialist Andrew Vulcan (Fritz Weaver) is known to be part of Thrush, an independent, villainous organization (think SPECTRE but much larger).

Robert Vaughn’s Solo recruits Elaine May Donaldson (Patricia Crowley), a Vulcan girlfriend from college because she can get close to him quickly enough to be of help.

Some U.N.C.L.E. fans don’t like the innocent because they’d rather have more screen time for Solo and Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum). But the innocent is what makes U.N.C.L.E. different from James Bond. Solo and Kurykin have to both look out for the innocent and try to save the world.

Innocents can be hard characters to write. Bill Dana in the THIRD-SEASON episode The Matterhorn Affair is supposed to be funny but is really, really annoying. But it would be throwing out the baby with the bath water to not include the innocent.

The theme by Jerry Goldsmith: Jerry Goldsmith provided a distinctive theme for the 1964-68 series and scored three early episodes. Here’s how television music expert Jon Burlingame descrbed it in a 2004 INTERVIEW:

…”The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” will not be “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” without Jerry Goldsmith (or, at least, a faithful rendition of his theme played by a 100-piece orchestra).

Sometimes, though, film composers don’t like using existing themes. There are some Star Trek movies that either don’t use or greatly downplay the Star Trek themes from the 1966 original show or 1987 Star Trek: The Next Generation theme. Indeed, Goldsmith himself scored the first Star Trek movie in 1979 and came with a main title theme that ended up being used as the Next Generation theme eight years later.

Meanwhile, Goldsmith’s U.N.C.L.E. theme isn’t the composer’s most famous television music with the general public. Star Trek: The Next Generation’s theme (which includes part of Alexander Courage’s 1966 original theme) is certainly better known. You could argue that’s also true of Goldsmith’s themes for The Waltons and Barnaby Jones.

As a result, it might be tempting for the filmmakers to not use Goldsmith’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Theme. But that would be a mistake.

A proper drama-humor balance: Like 007 movies, U.N.C.L.E. mixed humor in with drama. But U.N.C.L.E. had to produce as many as 30 episodes per television season. That (along with a turnover of producers) meant that the mix could, and did, get out of whack. In general, the third season had too much silliness (titles such as The My Friend, the Gorilla Affair are a sign of that). In fact, some of this began creeping in during the second half of season two. Meanwhile, some fans think the fourth season overcorrected and didn’t have enough humor.

Armie Hammer, who is slated to play the Kuryakin role, SAID IN AN INTERVIEW that the script is “so funny.” That would imply it’s not like the show’s fourth season. The trick is to avoid being like the third and instead like the better entries from the first two seasons.

We’ll see. Meanwhile, here’s the standard caveat: Warner Bros. has yet to make an announcement, though Cavill and Hammer have commented multiple times in interviews about it.

11 Responses

  1. open channel d oh i agree with all this and of course i hear its gonna be a period piece hope its a great movie awaiting for it by the day closing channel d

  2. Good memo. Hope Guy Ritchie sees this and gets it. I don’t think there’s any danger of the film “aping” Season Three. Season Three was so low-brow the action couldn’t fill the small TV screen, much less the big movie screen.

  3. I seem to remember that Soderbergh said he’d watched the entire FIRST season of UNCLE for inspiration. The question is, has Guy Ritchie done the same?

  4. thanks frank concur with you 110%

  5. “The script is so funny” – that already let me down, to thf bottom of the sink.

  6. Love the art above, although I was tempted to say, “Not mad about his tailor…” Agreed on all points, Bill. Great post.

  7. I really liked “the innocent” role in the first season. It was the hook, the everyman (more times than not the everywoman) role that provided that common ground for the viewer. My favorite UNCLE episodes – The Vulcan Affair, The Iowa Scuba Affair, The Project Strigas Affair and The Never-Never Affair – used this to great affect. Die hard fans will roll with just about whatever UNCLE throws at Solo and Kuryakin, but to achieve that broad audience – for global and repeat ticket sales – then the “average” viewer has to be sucked in from scene one. JJ Abrams does this with the first Star Trek movie. Hopefully any new UNCLE movie will, also.

  8. Agreed. I would also add that crucial to MFU’s success Is the relationship between Solo and Kuryakin. Sam Rolfe remarks upon this over and over again in memos and it is the reason that the show eventually took off. There must be chemistry between the two leads. Kuryakin is not just a sidekick. He’s not Tonto or Robin. It’s a partnership which involves both the political and the personal.


  10. […] played by Leo G. Carroll in the original 1964-68 series? Who will be the villain? Will there be an “INNOCENT” CHARACTER, one of the key elements that made U.N.C.L.E. different than James […]

  11. […] Elements that should be part of an U.N.C.L.E. movie (June 30, 2013): What made The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series different from other spy entertainment and why those elements should be retained in a film version. […]

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