1979: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie that wasn’t

Robert Vaughn and David McCallum

Robert Vaughn and David McCallum

The impending start of production of a movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is a reminder of other attempts at reviving U.N.C.L.E. One of the most ambitious story lines was devised in the late 1970s as an attempt at a feature film.

Robert Short and Danny Biederman pitched what they called The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: The Feature Film. The Short-Biederman tale involved an all-out assault by Thrush, the villainous organization of the 1964-68 series, against U.N.C.L.E. Short and Biederman also intended that Robert Vaughn and David McCallum reprise their roles as Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin.

What’s more, according to a 17-page outline dated April 1979, Thrush “has gained a solid grasp on the world’s economy by having bought controlling interest in numerous multi-national corporations.”

A more elaborate 74-page treatment was later written but the outline provides an idea what this version of U.N.C.L.E. would have been like.

What follows are a few examples:

— We witness the destruction of U.N.C.L.E.’s New York headquarters.

— The “innocent” character is Brandy Burns, an advice columnist for The New York Times. (For a movie made in 1979-80, the New York Daily News or New York Post would have been closer to real life.)

— The femme fatale is Serena, played by Senta Berger in The Double Affair of the original series or The Spy With My Face, the movie version based on that episode.

— Alexander Waverly, the U.N.C.L.E. chief of the original show isn’t seen but we’re told by the end of the 17-page outline is still alive. LEO G. CARROLL, who played Waverly in the original series had died in 1972.

— Dr. Egret, a Thrush master of disguise who appeared in two first-season episodes, makes an appearance late in the story.

— The Thrush Ultimate Computer, only seen in one second-season episode (where it was blown up), plays a prominent role in the story.

— Late in the story we’re told that Thrush’s ruling council consists of “major world figures known to have died during the past several decades. As it turns out, each death had been a phony, staged to provide the individuals a means of exiting one position of power and enter another.”

No specific examples are given, but had a movie been given the go ahead in 1979-80, the possibilities are endless. John F. Kennedy (died 1963)? Robert F. Kennedy (died 1968)? Joseph Stalin (died 1953)? Mao Zedong (died 1976)? Nikita Khrushchev (died 1971)?

In the end, it was not to be.

The Short-Biederman project kicked round until the spring of 1982, according to CRAIG HENDERSON’S U.N.C.L.E. TIMELINE ON THE FOR YOUR EYES ONLY WEBSITE. Sometimes it was pitched as a made-for-television movie as an alternate for a feature film. Henderson’s U.N.C.L.E. timeline says in 1981 Short and Biederman lined up Laura Antonelli to play Serena, Jane Seymour as the innocent and Klaus Kinski as the villain.

A 1983 TV movie, The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., was made instead and was broadcast in April 1983. Vaughn and McCallum reprised the Solo and Kuryakin roles and Robert Short was technical adviser.

There hasn’t been an official U.N.C.L.E. production since. That will change if director Guy Ritchie begins filming his U.N.C.L.E. movie in early September with Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer as Solo and Kuryakin.




7 Responses

  1. Of course, the first thing that springs to mind reading through the summary points is UNCLE NY being destroyed. That would be off limits altogether I think after 9/11.
    Dr Egret was one of the more intriguing THRUSH masterminds and certainly deserved more time than she got. Maybe Guy Ritchie can work her into his script.

  2. You’re being quite cautious ( rightfully ) : ” if director Guy Ritchie begins filming his U.N.C.L.E. movie ” … No pre publicity pics appearing so far anywhere – with shooting due to begin in less than a month . In our Internet days , that doesn’t smell too good …

  3. That u.n.c.l.e. movie that could have been made in 1979 sounds very cool. I would have loved to seen that one and not the one we were given in 1983.There is info about this movie the 1979 one in files magazine written by john peel I think. I have all the files magazines and I know I have it somewhere maybe i could dig it out and post about sometime soon. closing channel d brian

  4. […] other day, this blog published a POST about the storyline for a late 1970s-early 1980s movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. that was […]

  5. Why are people still cautious about the film starting in two weeks? The recent photo of Cavill and Hammer getting together is a pretty good sign plus the fact that they have the cinematographer and editor signed on.

  6. I am not so sure than the Kennedy Brothers or MLK would have been used … but who knows? That whole era of 1977-1983 was kinda strange when it came to adult humor.
    There is a cut scene from 1978s Animal House with a parade float that featured HUGE heads of JFK and MLK with hands clasped in the middle. Apparently, John Landis actually filmed a scene where one of the Animal House frat boys shoots some kind of garbage can fired, home made mortar round smoke bomb that ends up flying through JFKs head and lodges in MLKs upper chest.
    Still, this UNCLE project does sound better than the 1983 TV movie, which was Ok(ish) even for me as a teenager at the time.
    The problem with any kind of reunion movie of that era, where the actual stars come back to reprise their roles, is that they spend like an act and a half – about 20 minutes – getting them back together, going over what they have done, blah blah blah. All boring. And there are the well worn jokes about how the pair are well worn and old. The “I Spy” telemovie was the same in 1994.
    At least with a reboot, there is the possibility of just cutting to the UNCLE vs (THRUSH?) action without all the prelude.

  7. With both The Malthusian Affair (an attempted UNCLE revival around 1976-77 written by Sam Rolfe) and The Man From UNCLE The Feature Film, it was established Solo and Kuryakin had never left the organization. There was no need to spend time getting them back together

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