The Cold War and the U.N.C.L.E. movie

Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer during filming in Italy

Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer during filming in Italy

Jared Harris, in A RECENT INTERVIEW provided a detail about his part in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie: he plays Napoleon Solo’s CIA superior.

The interview is a reminder about how the movie is going to play up the Cold War angle whereupon the original 1964-68 television series downplayed it.

Harris participated in one of the first sequences filmed, where Solo and Illya Kuryakin (here a KGB operative) meet at an outdoor cafe. (CLICK HERE to see a photo on the Henry Cavill Fan website.)

The movie’s story will, in part, depict the beginnings of U.N.C.L.E., a multi-national security agency, in the early 1960s.

In the series, U.N.C.L.E. had been well-established. The Odd Man Affair, the final episode for season one, implies U.N.C.L.E. has been around for a couple of decades, or roughly the end of World War II. The Survival School Affair, in the fourth season, establishes that Solo and Kuryakin graduated from the agency’s training facility in the 1950s.

Both the makers of the series and the network that carried it (NBC) wanted to avoid a lot of specific Cold War references. Something similar happened in the James Bond film series. In the Ian Fleming novels Dr. No and From Russia With Love, the villains worked for the Soviet Union. In the film versions, they work for SPECTRE. The film Rosa Klebb, for example, has just recently defected to SPECTRE in the From Russia With Love film.

There’s also the matter of doing a movie as a period piece. Compare Murder, My Sweet with Farewell My Lovely. Both are adaptations of a 1940 Raymond Chandler novel. The former was released in 1944. The latter debuted in 1975. Philip Marlowe (Robert Mitchum) is constantly musing about Joe DiMaggio and his 56-game hitting streak in the 1975 film, which establishes a firm time.

By making U.N.C.L.E. a period piece, the Cold War becomes a device, along with vintage cars, of helping to establish the mood for the story. In the original show, it was revolutionary enough in 1964 to have an American and Russian together. The series, with Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, debuted only 23 months after the Cuban Missile Crisis. Meanwhile, the cinematic Bond wouldn’t be paired with a Russian ally until 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me. For a movie to be released in 2015, the thinking appears to be you have to remind everyone about the Cold War to show why the Solo-Kuryakin team is unusual.

Apparently, director of photography John Mathieson did some things to also give the movie a 1960s look. Here’s an excerpt from THE INDEPENDENT:

John added: “We filmed in London on a digital camera but we were trying to give it more of a sixties feel.

“It’s a very good looking film, it’s set in the sixties, it’s very chic.

“So in some ways we were using old lenses and things to deteriorate the image. However what we did has a certain flavour to it, and that has to be screened so the cinema goer or viewer at home can see what we were trying to do.” (emphasis added)

The movie, starring Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer, is scheduled to be released in January 2015.

One Response

  1. i dont think the film-makers are wrong in giving the .u.n.c.l.e film a sixties period look. remember the sixties era was everything spy shows and movies. and the bond film ‘goldfinger’ was the biggest influence back then. so returning to the cold war era is a good marketing strategy for the film.

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