U.N.C.L.E. script: A change in direction

Solo (Robert Vaughn) and Illya (David McCallum) at the climax of The Deadly Quest Affair

The fourth season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. would take a serious turn compared with the campy third season. The new tone was reflected in one of the fourth season’s early scripts.

The Deadly Quest Affair was written in May 1967. Some pages of the script by Robert E. Thompson are dated as early as May 2. Other pages are dated May 16, with some pages revised on June 5. However, the episode wouldn’t be seen until Oct. 30, the eighth episode actually broadcast.

Thompson had written one first-season episode, The Green Opal Affair. The new day-to-day producer, Anthony Spinner, sought to bring back as many first-season scribes as possible. Spinner, in fact, was one of them, penning The Secret Sceptre Affair.

The copy of the script the blog has is pretty close to the episode as aired. But, as often is the case, there are some interesting differences.

Originally, the villain was named Viktor Karnak. Spinner or someone else involved with the production may have felt the name was too close to the Johnny Carson character Carnac the Magnificent. He’d be renamed Karmak. Most of the pages of the script the blog retain the Karnak name.

Karnak/Karmak had tangled with U.N.C.L.E. agents Solo and Kuryakin (Robert Vaughn and David McCallum) two years before. It had appeared the villain perished (we’re told the agents had only recovered bones and a few remains). However, Karnak/Karmak really hadn’t died and is back to get even.

In the script, the villain is described thusly: “His blond haiar is cropped short. His eeyes, though masked now by dark glasses are a startling blue. Only a single scar gashed across one cheek mars the harsh, cold symetry of his features. He seems to project a vaguely Baltic loo. His accent is vaguely reminiscent of a foreigner’s overly precise Oxonian.”

The production team ended up casting brown-haired actor Darren McGavin in role, though he’d be made up with a scar.

In the pre-titles sequence, Illya is in the hospital, recovering from a concussion from a recent assignment. Solo is visiting and is “in black tie.” As filmed, he’d be wearing a suit, rather than a tuxedo. Two henchmen of Karnak/Karmak kidnap Illya after Solo departs.

The script has a scene not in the episode where KarnakKarmak asks, “The…message has been delivered?” The henchman dubbed “Steel Rims” in the script answers, “Exactly at nine o’clock.”

At U.N.C.L.E.’s New York headquarters, bossman Alexander Waverly (Leo G. Carroll) has called Solo in. The U.N.C.L.E. chief informs Solo that Karnak/Karmak is alive. The script describes how the villain has delivered his message.

There is a shrouded, box-like object in f.g. Waverly and Solo stand in front of it. Waverly reaches out and raises the covering on the unseen side of the shrouded object. We are aware of a very slight reaction of surprise from Solo.

It turns out to be a myna bird. “Solo…Solo: Twelve o’clock at twelve…or Illya die.”

Eventually, Solo figures out, without informing his boss, that Karnak/Karmak is hiding out in a 10-block section of Manhattan that’s been condemned for re-development. We get a variation on the plot of The Most Dangerous Game, with Karnak/Karmak hunting Solo.

Before the hunt begins, Solo meets up with the episode’s “innocent,” Shiela (Marlyn Mason), a “starving artist” who’s the daughter of a rich man. Now, she has to accompany Solo during the hunt. The only weapons Solo has are a hammer and chisel Shiela used to make sculptures.

The hunt begins at midnight. Solo has to find Illya by 6 a.m. or he dies. The Russian U.N.C.L.E. agent is in a tight spot. He’s in a gas chamber that will dispense cyanide gas at the appointed hour.

Toward the end, Karnak/Karmak corners Solo and Shiela. He sics his pet cheetah Bruno (who’d be called Ying in the episode) on Solo. As described, it’s not much of an encounter

A claw rips the chisel from Solo’s hand. He twists free of the animal…retrieves the chisel…turns back in time to meet another lunge from the cheetah — striking home this time with the chisel.

The scene was staged more elaborately by director Alf Kjellin. Of course, there was no way a live cheetah was going to get close to Robert Vaughn. So we have shots of the actor wrestling with a fake cheetah. Still, the scene comes across more dramatically than what was on the page.

During the fight, Shiela followed Karnak/Karmak to Illya and the gas chamber. The villain momentarily get the drop on the U.N.C.L.E. agents. With help from Shiela, the agents get the upper hand.

Karnak/Karmak “hurtles helplessly into the gas chamber — but with his hands flailing wildly, trying vainly to catch hold of something to steady himself. In his instinctive frenzy, what he grabs hold of is the door to the chamber — dragging it shut after him as he falls into the chamber.”

Of course, it’s now 6 a.m. and the poison gas fills the chamber.

At the end, we’re back at the hospital, Illya is in black tie and Solo (him arm chewed on by the cheetah) is a patient. “Illya waves  jauntily and leaves” while a nurse tries taking Solo’s temperature.

There was more drama behind the scenes than was contained in the script. Composer Gerald Fried had emerged as the show’s go-to composer during the second and third seasons. He did a score for this episode but it was rejected, apparently because it didn’t match the more serious tone that Spinner was implementing. (This became known following the release of original U.N.C.L.E. soundtracks in the 2000s.)

First-season music composed by Jerry Goldsmith (who also wrote the U.N.C.L.E. theme) was re-recorded for use in fourth season episodes. This episode would mostly use that music, although some music by Richard Shores, the primary composer this season, would be used at the end of Act I. The credit for this episode was just, “Music by Jerry Goldsmith.”

Fried, however, got a second chance. He composed a score for The Test Tube Killer Affair that very much matched the more-serious tone of the fourth season. It would be Fried’s final work for the series, although he’d be back for the 1983 TV movie The Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E.

2 Responses

  1. Thank you for pulling out the vault a Man from UNCLE script/episode for an article. Yes there are a few of the original fans still living!! I wish there hadn’t been such a radical shift from the 3rd to 4th season.

    It’s understandable what they were trying to accomplish. (More reality perhaps?) In spite of the spy genre losing steam (and novelty) no matter what. But I think what was lost in the 4th season was the playfulness of the characters. After all, this was a fantasy/action series to begin with, never really structured to be taken seriously.

    For one thing the dated tropes were meant only to increase suspense, and hardly as rational decisions for defeating an enemy. It is a shame that UNCLE didn’t try to modernize in a way. Delving more into character examination and motive, maybe some internal conflict, rather than be involved in simple capture and escape maneuvers.

    There was much that could’ve been drilled down upon, as so much of the characters’ personalities were a mystery to begin with. While I am aware of how popular it was, I found the 4th season to be harsh and unforgiving and yet without much novel purpose achieved.

    Thank you, for any time you find, to write about The Man from UNCLE series! It is appreciated!

  2. As I comment on my blog, I found Season Four’s change in tone from the disappointing and campy Season Three to be a very welcome change. Even at age 14, I knew the silliness of Three was the wrong tack to take; I never liked the Adam West Batman series, for example, and I’d been a Batman-in-the-comics fan since I was 9 or 10.

    It’s true, the Season Four scripts could have gone into more depth about the characters’ relationships and backgrounds, though in 1967-68 it was still fairly unusual for an action-adventure series to do that. Shows of the 1970s like “Cannon” and other Quinn Martin series would deal with this aspect much more, often starting off the pilot with the lead character stepping in to help an old friend (we saw that ad nauseam in that decade, and since).

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