5 U.N.C.L.E. stories to watch this weekend

The original U.N.C.L.E.s

The original U.N.C.L.E.s

With the passing of actor Robert Vaughn, a natural reaction for fans would be to view some episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

This list was originally devised last year ahead of the 2015 movie version. It was intended for people not familiar with the series.

It’s still a good list of episodes to view, even for long-time fans.

These aren’t necessarily the very best episodes. But the list was intended to include examples from all four seasons of the show. Stories told over two episodes are listed as a single entry here.

The Quadripartite Affair/The Giuoco Piano Affair: These two episodes were filmed together but presented as separate, but related episodes.

Solo verbally jousts with Harold Bufferton (John Van Dreelen) in The Giuoco Piano Affair

Solo verbally jousts with Harold Bufferton (John Van Dreelen) in The Giuoco Piano Affair

Quadripartite was the third episode broadcast. It’s also the first episode where Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) and Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) function as a team. There’s plenty of good “bits of business” for both characters.

The story involves a power-hungry woman, Gervaise Ravel (Anne Francis), whose lover, Harold Bufferton (John Van Dreelan), is one of the world’s richest men and who’s more than willing to finance her plans. That’s not unlike the new film, where Elizabeth Debicki, is the lead villain.

Giuoco Piano (the seventh episode broadcast) is even better than Quadripartite, showing how manipulative Solo can be. The title comes from a chess gambit that symbolizes Solo’s plan. If James Bond is the blunt instrument, this story demonstrates how Solo is the sharp operator.

Both episodes were written by Alan Caillou, who did intelligence work for the British in World War II. Think an Ian Fleming, who actually went out into the field. Caillou’s two scripts helped define the Kuryakin character. Sam Rolfe, who wrote the pilot, envisioned Kuryakin as a large, massive man. Caillou provided McCallum with the material so the actor could make Illya his own.

Also, the two episodes were directed by Richard Donner, who’d become an A-list film director in the 1970s.

The Never-Never Affair: Through the first season, the show tried to find the right balance of drama and humor. Never-Never, aired late in the season, became the model for future episodes.

Solo and Illya during the theater shootout in The Never-Never Affair

In the story, Solo feels sorry for U.N.C.L.E. translator Mandy Stevenson (Barbara Feldon), who yearns for an adventure. He sends her to get pipe tobacco for U.N.C.L.E. chief Waverly (Leo G. Carroll), while telling her she’s acting as a courier. However, she accidentally is given a valuable microdot covered by the villainous organization, Thrush.

The episode includes a memorable set piece, where a Thrush assassin is firing through a movie theater screen at Solo and Kuryakin, who are having to deal with other Thrush operatives. A high percentage of the jokes work, and writer Dean Hargrove would become one of the main scribes of the series. It was the second episode of show helmed by Joseph Sargent, one of the best directors on the series.

Vincent Price and Patricia Medina as rival villains in The Foxes and Hound Affair.

Vincent Price and Patricia Medina as rival villains in The Foxes and Hounds Affair.

The Foxes and Hounds Affair: A breezy episode that aired early in the show’s second season. The new movie’s tone is supposed to be similar to the second season and Foxes and Hounds is one of the season’s better entries.

U.N.C.L.E. and Thrush are both after a mind-reading machine. That’s pretty fantastic, but no more so than what can be seen in a Marvel Studios film of the 21st century. Both Solo and Kuryakin get chances to shine. We also see that Waverly is perfectly capable of being cold blooded. On top of everything else, Vincent Price is a very good villain who has to watch his back for attacks from a rival in Thrush (Patricia Medina).

The Concrete Overcoat Affair: This two-part episode was edited into a movie for international audiences called The Spy in the Green Hat. Thrush has another ambitious plan that U.N.C.L.E. is trying to foil. But some retired gangsters end up becoming involved and act as a wild card.

This ran during the third season, when the drama-humor balance got out of whack in favor of humor. This Joseph Sargent-directed story reins that in to an extent. There’s also a good scene early in Part II where Solo wants to go save Kuryakin but Waverly disapproves. The U.N.C.L.E. chief relents, but only reluctantly. It’s an unusual moment of drama in a season where that was in short supply.

The Test Tube Killer Affair: In the fourth season, new producer Anthony Spinner wanted to dial the humor way back. This episode, early in the season, is one of the better entries produced by Spinner.

Christopher Jones, center, one of Thrush's

Christopher Jones, center, as Greg Martin, in The Test Tube Killer Affair.

Thrush’s Dr. Stoller (Paul Lukas) has been raising young men from childhood to be the perfect killing machines, able to turn their emotions on and off as needed. Stoller’s prize pupil, Greg Martin (Christopher Jones), has been chosen to blow up a dam in Greece. It’s strictly an exercise and the dam has no strategic importance but many will die if Martin succeeds.

Meanwhile, the young killer is highly intelligent — intelligent enough where it appears Solo and Kuryakin may have met their match. The episode has a less-than-happy ending, something not common on the show.

5 U.N.C.L.E. TV stories new fans should see before the movie

The original U.N.C.L.E.s

The original U.N.C.L.E.s

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. hasn’t gotten a lot of exposure since its last broadcast on Jan. 15, 1968. Yet, seemingly against long odds, a big-screen version comes out on Aug. 14.

There are a lot of new fans — particularly those who are fans of actors Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer — who haven’t had a lot of opportunity to catch the original show. With that in mind, here are five U.N.C.L.E. stories from the 1964-68 series that may enhance the experience of new fans ahead of the film.

These aren’t necessarily the very best episodes. But some have elements in common with the movie. Also, this list is intended to include examples from all four seasons of the show. Stories told over two episodes are listed as a single entry here.

The Quadripartite Affair/The Giuoco Piano Affair: These two episodes were filmed together but presented as separate, but related episodes.

Solo verbally jousts with Harold Bufferton (John Van Dreelen) in The Giuoco Piano Affair

Solo verbally jousts with Harold Bufferton (John Van Dreelen) in The Giuoco Piano Affair

Quadripartite was the third episode broadcast. It’s also the first episode where Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) and Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) function as a team. There’s plenty of good “bits of business” for both characters.

The story involves a power-hungry woman, Gervaise Ravel (Anne Francis), whose lover, Harold Bufferton (John Van Dreelan), is one of the world’s richest men and who’s more than willing to finance her plans. That’s not unlike the new film, where Elizabeth Debicki, is the lead villain.

Giuoco Piano (the seventh episode broadcast) is even better than Quadripartite, showing how manipulative Solo can be. The title comes from a chess gambit that symbolizes Solo’s plan. If James Bond is the blunt instrument, this story demonstrates how Solo is the sharp operator.

Both episodes were written by Alan Caillou, who did intelligence work for the British in World War II. Think an Ian Fleming, who actually went out into the field. Caillou’s two scripts helped define the Kuryakin character. Sam Rolfe, who wrote the pilot, envisioned Kuryakin as a large, massive man. Caillou provided McCallum with the material so the actor could make Illya his own.

Also, the two episodes were directed by Richard Donner, who’d become an A-list film director in the 1970s.

The Never-Never Affair: Through the first season, the show tried to find the right balance of drama and humor. Never-Never, aired late in the season, became the model for future episodes.

"I can't believe everything that's going on, Illya."

Solo and Illya during the theater shootout in The Never-Never Affair

In the story, Solo feels sorry for U.N.C.L.E. translator Mandy Stevenson (Barbara Feldon), who yearns for an adventure. He sends her to get pipe tobacco for U.N.C.L.E. chief Waverly (Leo G. Carroll), while telling her she’s acting as a courier. However, she accidentally is given a valuable microdot covered by the villainous organization, Thrush.

The episode includes a memorable set piece, where a Thrush assassin is firing through a movie theater screen at Solo and Kuryakin, who are having to deal with other Thrush operatives. A high percentage of the jokes work, and writer Dean Hargrove would become one of the main scribes of the series. It was the second episode of show helmed by Joseph Sargent, one of the best directors on the series.

The Foxes and Hounds Affair: A breezy episode that aired early in the show’s second season. The new movie’s tone is supposed to be similar to the second season and Foxes and Hounds is one of the season’s better entries.

U.N.C.L.E. and Thrush are both after a mind-reading machine. That’s pretty fantastic, but no more so than what can be seen in a Marvel Studios film of the 21st century. Both Solo and Kuryakin get chances to shine. We also see that Waverly is perfectly capable of being cold blooded. On top of everything else, Vincent Price is a very good villain who has to watch his back for attacks from a rival in Thrush (Patricia Medina).

The Concrete Overcoat Affair: This two-part episode was edited into a movie for international audiences called The Spy in the Green Hat. Thrush has another ambitious plan that U.N.C.L.E. is trying to foil. But some retired gangsters end up becoming involved and act as a wild card.

This ran during the third season, when the drama-humor balance got out of whack in favor of humor. This Joseph Sargent-directed story reins that in to an extent. There’s also a good scene early in Part II where Solo wants to go save Kuryakin but Waverly disapproves. The U.N.C.L.E. chief relents, but only reluctantly. It’s an unusual moment of drama in a season where that was in short supply.

The Test Tube Killer Affair: In the fourth season, new producer Anthony Spinner wanted to dial the humor way back. This episode, early in the season, is one of the better entries produced by Spinner.

Christopher Jones, center, one of Thrush's "test tube" killers in a fourth-season Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode

Christopher Jones, center, as Greg Martin, in The Test Tube Killer Affair.

Thrush’s Dr. Stoller (Paul Lukas) has been raising young men from childhood to be the perfect killing machines, able to turn their emotions on and off as needed. Stoller’s prize pupil, Greg Martin (Christopher Jones), has been chosen to blow up a dam in Greece. It’s strictly an exercise and the dam has no strategic importance but many will die if Martin succeeds.

Meanwhile, the young killer is highly intelligent — intelligent enough where it appears Solo and Kuryakin may have met their match. The episode has a less-than-happy ending, something not common on the show.

Second U.N.C.L.E. movie trailer arrives

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. teaser poster

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. teaser poster

The second trailer for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. arrived in some U.S. theaters this weekend — or at least one in the Detroit area.

The new longer trailer for the Guy Ritchie-directed film contains several scenes that were part of the teaser trailer released on Feb. 11. But there are some additions. Among them:

Kuryakin as large, powerful man: The character of Illya Kuryakin was created by Sam Rolfe, who wrote the pilot for the 1964-68 television series. Rolfe’s original version was a large “slavic” man.

That changed when 5-foot-7 David McCallum was cast in the role. The character was further refined by writer Alan Caillou in a number of first-season stories.

The movie Kuryakin is going back to the Rolfe version, based on the second trailer. We see Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) complaining to his CIA superior (Jared Harris) that a mission in Berlin was supposed to be “a simple extraction” but that the agent ran into something “barely human.”

That was Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) who, we see, managed to rip off the trunk lid of Solo’s car as he was trying to get away.

More sexual innuendo: The new trailer includes some sexual innuendo between Solo and femme fatale Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki) as well as Kuryakin and “innocent” Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander). Included: a scene where Our Heroes strap a 1963 version of a track device on Gaby’s thigh.

Different music: The second trailer has different music than the Feb. 11 teaser trailer. There’s no way to tell whether this is from Daniel Pemberton’s score.

Solo in peril: Solo is in an electric chair at one point.

A bit more Waverly: Hugh Grant, the new-look Alexander Waverly, still has only one line (as he did in the teaser trailer) but there’s an additional shot of him in a sequence filmed in Rome.

As of May 31, the official movie website still has THE TEASER TRAILER.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. celebrates its 50th anniversary

Publicity still from the 1964-68 series.

Publicity still from the 1964-68 series.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. debuted 50 years ago today with the telecast of The Vulcan Affair on NBC.

The series had false starts. First Ian Fleming was a participant, then after several months he wasn’t, bowing out to pressure from Bond movie producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. Then there was threatened legal action from Eon Productions stemming from the show’s original title, Solo.

In turn, the series got a new title and the legal problems went away. The makers of Goldfinger did make one change in their film. A gangster named Solo died the most spectacular death among hoodlums invited to Goldfginer’s Kentucky stud farm, a change from earlier drafts and from Fleming’s original novel. (Adrian Turner’s 1998 book on Goldfinger details the changes in the movie’s script.)

Nor did U.N.C.L.E. get off to an easy start. Airing on Tuesday nights, it was up against The Red Skeleton Show on CBS, which nearly led to cancelation before a mid-season switch to Monday nights.

But the audience discovered the series, eventually ensuring a renewal for a second season for 1965-66, which would be its highest-rated campaign.

Executive Producer Norman Felton soldiered on. His developer-producer Sam Rolfe departed after the first season and things weren’t quite the same, certainly not as consistent. Various other producers — David Victor, Boris Ingster and Anthony Spinner among them — put their own stamp on the show with varying degrees of success. Major contributions were made by writers such as Alan Caillou (who arguably shaped the Illya Kuryakin character), Dean Hargrove and Peter Allan Fields.

It remains to be seen whether U.N.C.L.E. can resonate with modern audiences. A movie version won’t be out until next year, and some fans aren’t crazy about the idea. It is back on U.S. television, via MeTV, which is showing it on Sunday nights.

Regardless, happy anniversary, U.N.C.L.E.

Happy 80th birthday, Robert Vaughn

Happy birthday, Mr. Solo

For people of a certain age, it’s doesn’t seem possible, but it’s true. Robert Vaughn, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., turns 80 on Nov. 22.

The 1964-68 spy series was just one stop on a long, and still continuing, career.

He’s the last surviving actor of those who portrayed the title characters in 1960’s The Magnificent Seven. He picked up a nomination for Best Supporting Actor in 1959’s The Young Philadelphians, holding his own in a veteran cast. He was twice nominated for an Emmy in political-related drams and received one playing a thinly veiled version of H.R. Haldeman in the 1977 mini-series Washington: Behind Closed Doors. And he’s played more than his share of oily and/or villainous businessmen and/or politcians, thanks to 1968’s Bullitt.

Still, when he shows up at collectible shows, he’s more than often or not autographing stills of himself as Napoleon Solo, the television spy with a name courtesy of 007 creator Ian Fleming and developed by Sam Rolfe under the supervision of executive producer Norman Felton. For those who weren’t there during its run on NBC, U.N.C.L.E. really was a big deal.

The production values may look cheap compared to modern-day television. The series did all of its filming within about a 30-mile radius of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s Culver City, California, studios. None of that matters. Vaughn established a U.S. beachhead for 1960s spy entertainment beginning in the fall of 1964. U.N.C.L.E. was pitched as “James Bond for television” but it successfully developed its own spin on the genre. Other fondly remembered shows followed, starting in the fall of 1965.

Vaughn had help, of course. His co-star, David McCallum, became popular in his own right. Early episodes were directed by the likes of Richard Donner and Joseph Sargent, who’d go on to direct feature films. Writers including Alan Caillou, Dean Hargrove and Peter Allan Fields spun tales that hold up today, despite the modest production budgets.

Still, it was up to Vaughn to sell everybody on all this. And sell it he did. Vaughn last played the character in the 1983 television movie The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. But he remains tied to Solo. So happy birthday, Mr. Vaughn.

Happy 79th birthday, David McCallum

David McCallum, left, in all of his U.N.C.L.E. glory as Illya Kuryakin

For many actors, there are periods of few jobs. David McCallum, who turns 79 on Sept. 19, always seems to keep working.

It has been almost 30 years since he last played U.N.C.L.E. agent Illya Kuryakin (in the 1983 television movie The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.), but McCallum never seems to lack for work over a long career. In fact, his current gig, in a supporting role on NCIS, has lasted more than twice as long as his turn as Kuryakin (1964-68 excluding the 1983 TV movie).

The Scotsman transcended the “sidekick” role. There were other sidekicks on TV shows whose popularity rivaled or even exceeded that of the lead character (Rowdy Yates on Rawhide or Kookie on 77 Sunset Strip come to mind). But McCallum’s Illya Kuryakin went a step further.

McCallum appeared, in character, as host of Hullabaloo, introducing musical acts and dodging assassination attempts by enemy agents. At the end, two women “agents” get him in handcuffs, arousing an, er, interesting reaction among women McCallum fans.

All of that was a chance to get some extra work. On The Man From U.N.C.L.E., McCallum, by all accounts, was a true professional. Also, the actor made the best with lines like this one: “No man is free who works for a living. But I’m available.”

The Kuryakin character was created by Sam Rolfe, who scripted the pilot episode of the series and was producer of the show’s first season. But much of the character was developed by writer Alan Caillou in four key episodes: The Quadripartite Affair and The Guioco Piano Affair (the first significant use of the Kuryakin character); The Terbuf Affair (which actually revealed background about Robert Vaughn’s Napoleon Solo); and The Bow-Wow Affair (the first Kuryakin-centric story, which included the “no man is free” line). It didn’t hurt that star Vaughn was concurrently pursuing a PhD and didn’t mind the occasional break from the grind of filming.

McCallum has had his share of tough times. His first marriage to actress Jill Ireland ended in divorce and an adoptive son died of an accidental drug overdose. And the Illya Kuryakin has been a mixed blessing AS DESCRIBED IN A 1998 NEW YORK TIMES STORY.

Still, McCallum keeps working. He can even enjoy the occasional in-joke about his former life as U.N.C.L.E.’s ace Russian operative:

Joel Edgerton offered Kuryakin role, New York blog says

Actor Joel Edgerton has been offered the role of Russian agent Illya Kuryakin in Steven Soderbergh’s planned movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., according to A REPORT in Vulture, an entertainment blog of New York magazine.

The post also includes this passage:

This has post has been corrected to note that our sources just clarified that Bradley Cooper is still weighing the role of Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn’s old part), but is waiting to commit until seeing who WB gets to play the role of Illya. If Edgerton signs on and Cooper approves, the A-Team star may still play Solo.

David McCallum, who plays Ducky on NCIS, was Kuryakin in the original 1964-68 series. The character was created by Sam Rolfe (who got a “developed by” credit in the original), and expanded by writer Alan Caillou.

The Vulture blog earlier this year published a list of everything Soderbergh had watched at home over a year’s time. It included almost all first-season episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., an indication he was researching the original pretty thoroughly.

UPDATE: If you read the comment section of the Vulture post, it originally had some errors, calling the agents Nathaniel Solo and Ilya Kuryakin. A New York magazine staffer wrote, “@duckysgirl – Yep, we got the names wrong. Tongue lashing has been appropriately self-administered and spelling corrected.”