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, the movie 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.

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2 Responses

  1. Doubt if anyone is actively campaigning against the film. The actors selected for the movie don’t match the “regular guy” profiles that Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin have. If you remember the Lost in Space movie from 1998 remaking the 1960’s Irwin Allen science fiction series original fans hated everything about it and the movie tanked. What good that came from the movie was a whole slew of toys and collectibles based on the original series that came to market. I’m hoping the same will happen for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Hate the movie but love the toys!

  2. I was one of those people who liked parts of LOST IN SPACE. My opinion when south when that cartoon character was added to the mix, toward the end. Everything else about it, I liked. I would have preferred that the robot not been like the one on TV and the movie had kept the robot the film started with, which was a menacing thing. The cast was overall great, which included Gary Oldman as Mr. Smith.

    I am also all for a big-screen adaptation of THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., because, really, the old one does not stand the test of time, mostly because of its stinted budget. And I’d just like to see how someone else would interpret the material. Audiences are a lot more sophisticated and our expectations are higher. TV these days have some really great shows on. It’s time for an upgrade of the original series. If it doesn’t work, no one will be the worse for it.

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