U.N.C.L.E. movie, we hardly knew ye

U.N.C.L.E. movie poster

U.N.C.L.E. movie poster

This month marks the year anniversary of the release of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie.

For a film that seemed to disappear from theaters almost without a trace, it occasionally showed up on lists of underrated movies.

Also, we heard anecdotes from people who convinced friends to see it in the theater (while they could). These friends, the way these anecdotes were told, would then say they were surprised (pleasantly) by the movie.

Still, numbers are hard things. The 2015 Guy Ritchie-directed movie had a global box office of only $109.8 million, and only $45.4 million in the U.S. and Canada, according to Box Office Mojo.

To put that in perspective, this year’s remake of Ghostbusters, had worldwide box office as of Aug. 3 of $161.3 million, with $109.6 million coming from the U.S. and Canada. And it’s not even seen as a hit.

Last year, was, as this blog called it, “The Year of the Spy.” U.N.C.L.E., which last saw a new production with a TV movie in 1983, was the runt of that litter. About the only place the movie was a hit was Russia, presumably thanks to the presence of Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer).

Still, numbers aren’t everything. The U.N.C.L.E. movie was not a James Bond wannabe. Instead, it tried to be its own thing.

Some fans of the original 1964-68 series felt the movie tried too much to be its own thing, with no cameos by original stars Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, and the original Jerry Goldsmith theme barely being present.

Yet, it seems unlikely cameos or a longer version of the theme would have substantially boosted the box office. Some times, a movie simply fails to find an audience.

The movie’s biggest change was an edgier version of Illya Kuryakin. The film’s Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) was similar to that of the series, albeit with changes to the character’s back story, primarily a history of being a thief blackmailed into working for the CIA.

For the Spy Commander, this month is one of nostalgia for the movie. For a brief time, there was a new version of U.N.C.L.E. Even with debates among first-generation fans, at least there was *something new* to discuss after decades.

By contrast, 2016 has a new Bourne movie — and one not so much different than most Bourne films — and not much else. U.N.C.L.E. and “The Year of The Spy” isn’t happening again soon.

 

(Almost) 20 years of the U.N.C.L.E. episode guide

The original U.N.C.L.E.s, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum

The original U.N.C.L.E.s, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum

We were reminded the other day that The Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode guide will mark its 20th anniversary this year. Naturally, after researching some things, the Spy Commander couldn’t wait to do a post.

The episode guide was one of the first U.N.C.L.E. fan sites. It first went live on Dec. 1, 1996. It wasn’t complete at the time by any means, but there were at least some reviews for each of the four seasons of the show.

The following summer, the Spy Commander did a geeky thing, sending a printout of the website to retired executive producer Norman Felton. After putting it in the mail, I immediately had the equivalent of buyer’s remorse.

Some of the Season Three reviews (when the show often took a campy approach) were pretty rough. What if Felton became offended? I wondered. Yikes.

Not to fear. Felton sent a letter dated June 23, 1997. At the top, there was a cartoon of someone critiquing a frustrated William Shakespeare. “Good, but not immortal.”

The letter read thusly (underlined words are highlighted with asterisks) in part:

Terrific! The pages from the Web page — yes, and there were ‘duds’ along the way — but enough *good enough* for our *fans*, yes?

In a P.S. he said he might send a copy of a screenplay he was about to finish. “*Not* in the vein of U.N.C.L.E. — and certainly *not* immortal. Wow!”

Also included were two strips of film with a Post It Note. “Enclosed bits of film made to checking lighting for the cameraman” during filming of U.N.C.L.E.’s pilot.

The Spy Commander did a second geeky thing. Making yet another printout, I went to a collectible show in suburban Chicago in the late 1990s where Robert Vaughn, who played Napoleon Solo, had a table signing autographs.

“What’s that?” he asked.

“It’s a printout of a website.”

No reaction from an actor. I began to try to explain but simply felt embarrassed for bringing the printout. Later, I was told from someone who talked to him extensively he wasn’t on the internet much at the time.

The episode guide also generated a response from writer Stanley Ralph Ross, a frequent writer for the 1966-68 Batman show, who also penned some third-season U.N.C.L.E. episodes. He liked how the episode guide noted how the writer used the same joke in U.N.C.L.E. and Batman.

An e-mail interview ensued. “I have some funny stories about the show, especially when I was in The Pop Art Affair,” he wrote in a June 21, 1999, e-mail. Ross said he did an uncredited rewrite on the episode and got a part in the third-season episode as part of the deal.

“David  asked me to stand on a box,” Ross wrote. “I am already 6:6 and said that he would look like a midget but he replied that the taller I was, the stronger and more macho he would seem for having me beat up.” Ross referred to 5-foot-7 David McCallum, who played U.N.C.L.E. Russian agent Illya Kuryakin.

The U.N.C.L.E. episode guide, meanwhile, has had its share of ups and downs. It originally was hosted by AOL. But in 2008, AOL stopped hosting websites. It moved to the Her Majesty’s Secret Servant website. But when HMSS went offline in 2014, the episode guide went dark with it — missing the show’s 50th anniversary in September of that year.

But you can’t keep a good U.N.C.L.E. agent down. The episode guide returned on Oct. 18, 2014 on WordPress, part of a family of websites including The Spy Command.

Since then, the site has been improved, including finally finishing reviews for The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.  and updating and adding features because of the 2015 movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. with Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer.

Hopefully, the episode guide will remain around for a while — good, but not immortal.

Thrilling Cities, the series?

Ian Fleming's Thrilling Cities book

Ian Fleming’s Thrilling Cities book

Actor Michael Weatherly’s production company is trying to turn Ian Fleming’s Thrilling Cities book into a television, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

The story is mostly about Weatherly’s impending departure from the popular NCIS television series and Thrilling Cities only gets a passing reference.

“In the meantime, however, Weatherly said he’s busier than ever with his production company, Solar Drive Productions, which is working on turning the book Thrilling Cities, from James Bond author Ian Fleming, into a possible series,” the story by THR’s Kate Stanhope reads.

Thrilling Cities was a non-fiction book by Fleming. It was based on a series of stories he did for The Sunday Times about important cities around the world.

“Fleming saw it all with a thriller writer’s eye. From Hong Kong to Honolulu, New York to Naples, he left the bright main streets for the back alleys, abandoning tourist sites in favour of underground haunts, and mingling with celebrities, gangsters and geishas,” according to a summary on the Ian Fleming Publications website.

Fleming’s short story 007 in New York was included in the U.S. edition of Thrilling Cities. The author had a harsh opinion about New York City and the short story was a bonus for American readers.

In 1962, there was an attempt to turn Thrilling Cities into a television series. The result, ended up being The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series.

Craig Henderson’s 1962 page for his U.N.C.L.E. Timeline website notes that producer Norman Felton was asked to read galleys of the upcoming Fleming book concerning whether it could be made into a TV show.

At a meeting, “Felton rejects the possibility of developing a TV series from Thrilling Cities — but he’s inspired to ad lib an idea about a mysterious man who travels the world on sensitive secret missions,” according to Henderson’s website.

That was the genesis of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Fleming himself was involved with U.N.C.L.E. from October 1962 until mid-1963 before withdrawing under pressure from 007 film producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman.

Also of note, one of Weatherly’s co-stars on NCIS is David McCallum, who played Illya Kuryakin on U.N.C.L.E. Irony abounds.

 

Happy birthday, David McCallum

Happy 82nd birthday to David McCallum. To celebrate, here’s a publicity still of the actor during production of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

 

David McCallum with Sharon Tate in 1965,

U.N.C.L.E. movie underwhelms in U.S. opening

U.N.C.L.E. movie poster

U.N.C.L.E. movie poster

UPDATE (Aug. 17) — Revised figures on Monday, ACCORDING TO THE NUMBERS WEBSITE, put The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie at $13.4 million, compared to $60.2 million for Straight Outta Compton.

(ORIGINAL POST): The Man From U.N.C.L.E. underperformed in the United States and Canada, finishing No. 3 in its debut weekend with estimated ticket sales of $13.5 million, according to THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER.

Guy Ritchie’s reinterpretation of the 1964-68 television series trailed Straight Outta Compton, a film about the rap group N.W.A. at $56.1 million and Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, in its third weekend of release.

The Tom Cruise M:I film had estimate weekend ticket sales of $17 million, according to A TWEET from Exhibitors Relations.

Straight Outta Compton initially was estimated to produce a $30 million opening weekend and is coming in at almost twice that. It also was also shown on 2,757 screens, compared with U.N.C.L.E.’s 3,638, according to the Box Office Mojo website.

Over the weekend on social media, there was some debate about all this. Those who were annoyed (or worse) that the movie didn’t retain the series’ secret headquarters, Jerry Goldsmith theme (only a few notes were used in the film), or who wanted different casting, etc., said the results validated their positions.

The answer, though, may be more simple than that. It could be that outside of the aging U.N.C.L.E. fan base (including folks such as the Spy Commander) and the younger Henry Cavill fan base, there weren’t that many people who wanted to see the movie.

Warner Bros. can’t be blamed for a lack of marketing support. The studio bought ads all over U.S. television the past few weeks. For example, it paid for a two-minute ad on the ABC prime-time telecast of the ESPN ESPY awards. The spot ran shortly before transgender ex-athlete Caitlyn Jenner picked up an award for sports courage, the main highlight of the show.

Would having Jerry Goldsmith’s full theme boosted the box office take? If a great Goldsmith theme had that much impact, the 1973 series Hawkins on CBS would have lasted longer than a season and the 1975 Archer series (as in Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer) on NBC would have run longer than six episodes.

Would having the secret HQs, complete with Del Floria’s tailor shop have changed the outcome? 2015 audiences already had a secret HQs in Kingsman: The Secret Service. It was basically an updated version of the U.N.C.L.E. secret HQs of the show.

Would having, say, Jon Hamm, the star of the now-completed Mad Men series, as Napoleon Solo instead of Henry Cavill changed things?

Hamm’s Million Dollar Arm in 2014 was No. 4 its opening weekend in the U.S. at $10.5 million, according to Box Office Mojo. It finished with worldwide box office of $38.3 million. Of course, to be fair, he also was the voice of Herb Overkill in Minions, which had worldwide box office of more than $900 million.

Would having cameos by Robert Vaughn or David McCallum, the stars of the original show, increased ticket sales significantly? Would ticket sales double or triple? Or would they have risen by 1 percent or less? Meanwhile, McCallum endorsed the film in a Fox News interview and that doesn’t seem to have had much impact.

For Warner Bros., the best hope for the film may be in overseas markets. The DEADLINE: HOLLYWOOD website reported there were early signs of a better reception in various countries, including Russia.

Movie draws attention to U.N.C.L.E.’s origins

The original U.N.C.L.E.s, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum

The original U.N.C.L.E.s, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie comes out this week, prompting the Los Angeles Times to examine the origins of the 1964-68 series it’s based on.

The story looks at a number of angles, including how 007 author Ian Fleming was involved in the first few months of the show’s development.

Susan King of the Times talked to the likes of Dean Hargrove, one of the main writers on the show; Steven Jay Rubin, author of books about James Bond; film and TV music expert Jon Burlingame, who produced a series of U.N.C.L.E. soundtrack recordings in the 2000s; and Ron Simon, curator of television and radio at the Paley Center for Media in New York.

Here’s an excerpt:

Young moviegoers checking out the feature film version Aug. 14 starring Henry Cavill as Solo and Armie Hammer as Kuryakin probably don’t realize the original TV series existed — let alone know of the show’s impact on baby boomers.

“Man From U.N.C.L.E.” hit at the right time. Noted Ron Simon, curator of television and radio at the Paley Center for Media in New York, “The same excitement seeing the Beatles live on television which happened a few months before, I think the same thing happened when ‘Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ debuted in fall 1964.

“There was something cool about it. It created an emotional resonance for TV. It became the most popular show on campus in 1964, ’65 and ’66 — the first two seasons. It was a cultural phenomenon.”

Separately, The Hollywood Reporter talk about how U.N.C.L.E. MAY HERALD THE RETURN OF SPY ACRONYMS.

U.N.C.L.E. helped popularize such acronyms, although Marvel Studios has beaten the U.N.C.L.E. movie to the punch by including SHIELD (which didn’t debut until a year after U.N.C.L.E.) in its films.

Meanwhile, if you’re interested in knowing more about the show, CLICK HERE for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode guide, produced by The Spy Command.

David McCallum endorses the U.N.C.L.E. movie

David McCallum in a Man From U.N.C.L.E. publicity still

David McCallum in a Man From U.N.C.L.E. publicity still

David McCallum, the original Illya Kuryakin, endorsed The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie in AN INTERVIEW ON FOX NEWS.

The movie “in no way encroaches into what we did back in the ’60s and at the same time uses a lot of the elements that Norman Felton and Sam Rolfe created within the old Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” the 81-year-old actor said.

Felton was the executive producer of the original 1964-68 series, co-creating the character of Ian Fleming with author Ian Fleming. Rolfe took it from there, writing a detailed prospectus as well as the script for the pilot. Rolfe also was producer of the show’s first season.

“I think it’s a wonderful success,” McCallum said. “My favorite line in the whole movie, the new movie, is the last one delivered by Hugh Grant because clearly it’s going to lead to at least another Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie. I don’t think there’s any question of that.” Grant plays Waverly, portrayed by Leo G. Carroll in the series.

The movie has an “origin” story line, including background for Solo and Kuryakin.

“They’re interesting stories,” McCallum said of the background presented in the film. “We never went into any of that. It’s a shame.”

Based on discussions on social media the past few days, McCallum’s comments probably won’t matter much. Fans of the original show who want to see the movie, will do so. Original fans opposed to the idea of an U.N.C.L.E. film, aren’t going to change their minds. Warner Bros. is betting the material can find a 21st century audience.

For the entire interview, CLICK HERE.

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