Some U.N.C.L.E. myths, goofs for April Fool’s Day

U.N.C.L.E. insignia from a second-season episode

It may be April Fool’s Day, but one website apparently takes its readers for fools. It has some myths and goofs about The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series.

The CrimeReads website has an April 1 article proclaiming, “These are plot descriptions of actual episodes from the 1960s spy television series The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and wow they are…insane.”

But not necessarily accurate. Time for a fact check.

The acronym for the villainous organization is T.H.R.U.S.H, which I think is also some kind of yeast infection.

In the series, the villainous organization was just named Thrush. No acronym. A tie-in novel, The Dagger Affair by David McDaniel, invented one. But it was never canon in the show. In fact, it was never referenced.

The Iowa Scuba Affair (S.1, Ep. 2)

When a young air force officer is shot to death in an Iowa cornfield, Solo finds scuba-diving suits, a fresh-scrubbed farm girl and a “farmer” whose silos contain not grain but a super-secret missile.

The air force officer is really a saboteur. He was shot to death by Solo. It turns out the saboteur murdered the air force officer and took his place.

The Finny Foot Affair (S.1, Ep.10)

A 12-year-old boy, a beautiful stripper, a dog named Spike and a murderous Japanese warlord send Solo and Illya to a mysterious castle where they discover a strange plague that ages its victims.

There is no stripper in the episode. I have no idea where CrimeReads got this from. I’ve seen the episode more times than I count. The boy was played by Kurt Russell, 13 years old at the time.

The Bow Wow Affair (S. 1, Ep. 20)

When world leaders are found dead with their throats slashed, Solo, Illya and Mr. Waverly suspect THRUSH has electronically gained control of the brain of each victim’s pet dog and turned it against its master.

One, Thrush isn’t part of the episode. Second, world leaders aren’t found with their throats slashed. They are rich people who have been attacked by their dogs. The person behind the threat is a gypsy. The gypsy is trying to get control of a major company. The rich people attacked by their dogs are major shareholders in the company.

The See-Paris-and-Die Affair (S. 1, E. 22)

A singing student is turned into a glamorous Parisian nightclub singer by Solo, Illya and Mr. Waverly when they use her to trap jewel thieves.

Waverly doesn’t appear in the episode.

The Discotheque Affair (S. 2, Ep. 5)

Solo, Illya and Mr. Waverly Watusi, frug and swim into a wild bunch of deadly dancers at a discotheque run by THRUSH.

Waverly is in the episode but goes nowhere near the discotheque until the end of the story when other U.N.C.L.E. agents arrive to mop things up. He certainly doesn’t Watusi, frug or swim.

The Thor Affair (S. 3, Ep. 7)

The Men from U.N.C.L.E. travel to Switzerland to protect an Asian leader and receive unexpected help when a vacationing schoolteacher’s dental work can tune in THRUSH’s radio communications.

Thrush isn’t part of the episode. The title refers to the villain, Brutus Thor, who is working for himself.

Some 007-related U.S. TV episodes to watch

Luciana Paluzzi and Robert Vaughn in To Trap a Spy. A tamer version of the scene would be in The Four-Steps Affair.

In the 1960s and 1970s, there were a number of episodes of popular series that had major James Bond influences.

Over in the U.K., there were plenty including The Saint and The Persuaders! (both starring Roger Moore), The Avengers (Honor Blackman and, Diana Rigg playing the female leads in Bond films and Patrick Macnee eventually appearing in A View to a Kill), Danger Man (John Glen was an editor on the series) among others.

But there other examples in the U.S. as well. My collection of TV shows skews that way, so here are some examples. This isn’t a comprehensive list.

THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.

To Trap a Spy/The Four-Steps Affair (first season)

The pilot for The Man From U.N.C.L.E., titled The Vulcan Affair, was produced in late 1963. But the production team decided to add scenes so a movie could be released outside the U.S. if the pilot didn’t sell.

That movie version would be titled To Trap a Spy.

The extra scenes were filmed in early 1964. Luciana Paluzzi played a femme fatale named Angela. Her character would be extremely similar to the Fiona character she’d portray in Thunderball (1965).

In the spring of 1965, that extra footage was incorporated into a first-season episode titled The Four-Steps Affair. So there are two versions of Paluzzi’s Angela character.

What’s more, Richard Kiel plays a thug in both The Vulcan Affair and To Trap a Spy. He shows up as another thug in a first-season episode titled The Hong Kong Shilling Affair.

The Five Daughters Affair (third season)/The Karate Killers

Two actors who would later play Bond villains, Telly Savalas and Curt Jurgens are part of the proceedings. Neither plays a villain. Each character has a relationship with one of the five daughters of the two-part TV episode title.

HAWAII FIVE-O

This series, of course, starred Jack Lord, the first film Felix Leiter. But the series had other James Bond connections of note.

Soon-Tek Oh: The busy character actor (who played Lt. Hip in The Man With the Golden Gun) was in eight episodes of the 1968-80 series. He’s in the pilot as one of the scientists in the employ of arch-villain Wo Fat. He’d return, making his final appearance in the 12th season.

The 90-Second War (fourth season): Wo Fat shows up to frame Steve McGarrett. It’s part of a complicated plot to disable the ability of the U.S. to monitor a key Chinese missile test.

This was a two-part story. In Part II, Donald Pleasance plays a German missile scientist working for the U.S. who is being blackmailed by Wo Fat.

The Jinn Who Clears the Way (fifth season): This is one of Soon-Tek Oh’s appearances. He plays a “young Maoist” who is being manipulated by Wo Fat as part of his scheme. It appears Steve McGarrett finally captures Wo Fat. But the U.S. makes the lawman give up the arch-villain as part of a prisoner exchange.

I’m a Family Crook — Don’t Shoot! (fifth season) The highlight of this episode is a family of grifters headed by a character played by Andy Griffith. But Harold Sakata, Oddjob from Goldfinger, shows up as a thug. Believe it or not, he gets fewer lines here than he had in Goldfinger.

Deep Cover (10th season): Maud Adams plays the head of a spy ring that causes plenty of trouble for McGarrett.

My Friend, the Enemy (10th season): Luciana Paluzzi (in one of her final acting performances) plays an Italian journalist who makes life difficult for McGarrett.

The Year of the Horse (11th season): George Lazenby plays a secondary villain but gets “special guest star” billing in a two-hour episode filmed in Singapore.

THE FBI

Rope of Gold (second season): Louis Jourdan was a villain in three episodes of the 1965-74 series. But his first appearance here is his best.

Jourdan’s character is pressuring a business executive (Peter Graves) to supply information regarding the shipments of key components of interest to the Soviet bloc. Jourdan has a really good scene where he discusses how he came to lead the life he has chosen.

Also appearing in a small role is helicopter pilot James W. Gavin (listed in the cast as “Gavin James”). He was the pilot who had the presence of mind during filming of Diamonds Are Forever on the oil rig to get his cameras rolling when explosions were set off by mistake. Gavin, naturally, plays a pilot but gets a few lines.

The Executioners (second season): In this two-part story, Telly Savalas plays a high-ranking official of La Cosa Nostra who wants to get out but can’t. The two-part story was re-edited as a movie for international audiences.

The Target (sixth season): Karin Dor plays the daughter of the economics minister of a Communist nation who has defected. The daughter doesn’t even know her father has defected yet. Communist operatives intend to kidnap her to force her father to return.

1965: Jesus and the spy (actors)

Blu Ray cover for The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)

The death this week of actor Max Von Sydow was a reminder for the blog of a Biblical film that highlighted actors from the 1960s spy craze.

The movie was The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), about the life of Jesus Christ, played by Von Sydow.

The movie was years in the making. The writing of the script alone took about two years. Filming occurred in 1962 and 1963.

The producer-director was George Stevens (1904-1975). Over the years he had helmed movies such as Gunga Din (1939), I Remember Mama (1948), A Place in the Sun (1951), Shane (1953) and Giant (1956).

With the release of 1959’s The Diary of Anne Frank, Stevens was at the height of his powers. The film was both a popular and critical hit, winning three Oscars and nominated for five more.

For his next project, Stevens opted to tackle the story of Jesus. The film originated at 20th Century Fox (which had released The Diary of Anne Frank) but ended up at United Artists.

Major stars wanted to be part of the project. John Wayne got one line as a Roman centurion (“Truly this man was the son of God.”). Charlton Heston (as John the Baptist), Sidney Poitier, Jose Ferrer, Claude Rains, Dorothy McGuire (as the Virgin Mary), Shelly Winters and Ed Wynn were in the cast.

And then there was the future spy actor contingent.

There were three future Blofeld actors — Von Sydow (Never Say Never Again), Donald Pleasance (You Only Live Twice) and Telly Savalas (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). The latter shaved his head for the role of Pontius Pilate, a look he’d keep until the end of his life.

There was one Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum as Judas), one future Felix Leiter (David Hedison) and one future Rollin Hand (Martin Landau). In a 2007 extra for a home video release of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Robert Vaughn told McCallum that he, too, had sought the Judas role that McCallum won.

Also present: Victor Buono, who screenwriter Richard Maibaum had recommended to play Goldfinger. Buono had his share of work during the 1960s spy craze in The Silencers, The Wild Wild West, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and I Spy.

The Greatest Story Ever Told had an actual tragedy. Director of photography William C. Mellor, who had worked with Stevens on other films, died of a heart attack during production.

The movie proved to be a flop. By the time it came out in early 1965, the market for such films had seemingly run its course. The movie was earnest and sincere. So was Ben-Hur (1959), but that project had also ship battles and the famous chariot race.

Stevens would direct only one more film, 1970’s The Only Game in Town.

The Greatest Story Ever Told was nominated for five Oscars, including special visual effects. It lost out to another United Artists release.

Max Von Sydow dies at 90

Max Von Sydow in Never Say Never Again

Max Von Sydow, who played the good (Jesus Christ), the bad (Ernst Stavro Blofeld) and everything in-between, dies Sunday at 90, according to the BBC.

Obituaries noted Von Sydow’s 11 films with director Ingmar Bergman. One was The Seventh Seal where Von Sydow’s character plays chess with death.

He came to Hollywood. He played Christ in 1965’s The Greatest Story Ever Told, a big financial flop for United Artists. The supporting cast included actors such as David McCallum (as Judas), Donald Pleasance (as Satan, not long before playing Blofeld in You Only Live Twice), Telly Savalas (another future Blofeld), David Hedison and Martin Landau

Von Sydow often was called upon to play villains. Examples: Three Days of the Condor (1975), Flash Gordon (1980) and Never Say Never Again (1983) where he got his turn as Blofeld. The latter was not part of the Eon Productions series of James Bond films. It featured Sean Connery’s return to the role of Bond after 12 years.

The actor was the subject of tributes on social media.

“Max Von Sydow, such an iconic presence in cinema for seven decades, it seemed like he’d always be with us,” director Edgar Wright wrote on Twitter. “He changed the face of international film with Bergman, played Christ, fought the devil, pressed the HOT HAIL button & was Oscar nominated for a silent performance. A god.”

Actress Mia Farrow tweeted a photo of Von Sydow with cinematographer Sven Nykvist.

“Two great artists. Two true gentlemen,” she wrote. “I picture Max in heaven wearing his white linen suit, w Sven, Ingmar Bergman, Bibi Andersson, laughing & loving each other.”

Von Sydow’s IMDB.COM ENTRY lists 163 acting credits going back to 1949.

Dark side of 1960s escapist entertainment

Solo tells Chris that “the game is over.”

1960s TV shows are often dismissed as escapist. But even some escapist TV episodes have their dark side.

Case in point: The Finny Foot Affair, the 10th episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which originally aired in 1964.

Here are a few examples from the episode.

–U.N.C.L.E. agents Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) and Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) investigate an “island off Scotland” where all the inhabitants are dead from old age. That’s not the real reason, but it’s a grim mystery to start off an episode.

–The episode’s innocent, Christopher Larson (played by Kurt Russell, then 13), witnesses an U.N.C.L.E. agent stabbed to death during a fight by a thug working for the villain. The agent apparently dispatches the thug with some kind of gas, although this isn’t fully explained. But Christopher saw everying.

— Christopher watches Solo kill one of the villain’s thugs, using one of Christopher’s toys as decoy.

— Christopher watches Solo kill the villain in a shootout.

One might think Christopher would suffer psychological trauma from all this. He might even have mental health issues later in life. Perhaps, perhaps not.

Hawaii Five-0 reboot to end in April

Original cast of the Hawaii Five-0 reboot

The second Hawaii Five-0 series on CBS will come to an end in April, wrapping up a 10-year run, Deadline: Hollywood reported.

The show was a reboot of the 1968-80 original show that starred Jack Lord as Steve McGarrett. In the 2010-20 version, Alex O’Loughlin played McGarrett, with Scott Caan as Danny Williams.

Five-0 2.0 was darker than the original. For example, the governor was in the employ of arch-villain Wo Fat (until he bumped her off).

Also, it was revealed Wo Fat 2.0 (Mark Dacascos) had a personal reason for going after McGarrett, a development that would be extremely similar to the way the 2015 James Bond film SPECTRE rebooted Blofeld. McGarrett 2.0 and Wo Fat 2.0 had their final showdown in a 2014 episode.

Finally, Five-0 2.0 occasionally did homages to James Bond films, including Die Another Day. For example, a November 2011 episode took place mostly in North Korea. Scenes set there were photographed to look dark while scenes in other locations had bright colors. Die Another Day employed the same trick back in 2002.

Separately, a September 2012 episode of Five-0 borrowed elements of You Only Live Twice and Licence to Kill.

The series finale will be a two-hour episode on April 3, according to Deadline.

UPDATE (5:45 p.m. New York time): The show put out a post on Twitter confirming the conclusion of the series.

 

Robert Iger steps down as CEO of Disney

Walt Disney Co. logo

Robert Iger, who expanded Walt Disney Co. by acquiring Marvel, Star Wars and 20th Century Fox, has stepped down as CEO, effective immediately, the company said in a statement.

Iger’s successor as CEO is Bob Chapnek, Disney announced. He has been head of the company’s theme parks unit.

Iger will remain as chairman until the end of 2021, according to the announcement.

Under Iger, Disney became a major force among entertainment companies. The company’s acquisition of Marvel has been a major driver of profit. Disney’s purchase of the Star Wars franchise has been bumpy, with more ups and downs.

Iger’s biggest bet was buying the bulk of 21st Century Fox (including the 20th Century Fox studio) for more than $71 billion. Properties such as Fox News, Fox Sports and Fox Business remain with Rupert Murdoch. Under Disney ownership, the film studio is now known as the 20th Century brand for Disney.

In December, Iger said he was a big James Bond fan while saying the company wasn’t looking to do another big acquisition. Whether or not that happens, it won’t take place under Iger’s watch.