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.

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.

‘Mr. Warner’ steps up ad spending for the U.N.C.L.E. movie

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

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

“Mr. Warner” has boosted ad spending for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie ahead of the film’s Aug. 14 release, VARIETY REPORTED on July 29.

The entertainment news site estimated Warner Bros. spent almost $11 million in its most recent weekly report of movie advertisement expenditures. The studio, a unit of Time Warner paid for “1,398 national airings across 42 networks, led by ESPN and Comedy Central,” according to Variety. Warners has spent $14.78 million on U.N.C.L.E. since July 14, according to a chart that accompanied the story.

Originally, Warner Bros. scheduled U.N.C.L.E. for a mid-January release, not considered a prime time for movie releases. “Mr. Warner” switched it to August, part of the summer movie season but after most “tentpole” films have arrived in theaters.

It appears Warners is betting The Man From U.N.C.L.E. can find a new audience. The original series ran from September 1964 to January 1968. The last U.N.C.L.E. production was the 1983 television movie The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which featured original stars Robert Vaughn and David McCallum.

With next month’s film, director Guy Ritchie has stripped out familiar memes from the show, including its secret headquarters, while providing new takes on the characters of Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer). The film had a production budget of $75 million.

No. 2 on the Variety ad-spending list was Paramount’s Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation at $6.57 million during 1,633 national telecasts over 44 networks. That film has showings tonight and its formal release date is Friday.

To see the Variety story and its list of the top five movies for ad spending, CLICK HERE.

Shoutout to Cynthia W. Walker and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Inner Circle page on Facebook.

Illya Kuryakin, U.N.C.L.E.’s loyal Soviet

David McCallum's main titles credit in the final season

David McCallum’s main titles credit in the final season

One change in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie compared to the original series: The film makes explicit that Illya Kuryakin is a loyal Soviet while the show tiptoed around the issue.

The 1964-68 series was the utopian spy show of the era. An American and a Soviet could work together to combat larger threats. But the show only went so far.

In one first-season episode, The Neptune Affair, Kuryakin (David McCallum) was dressed in a generic Soviet military uniform. He’s somewhere on the northern coast of the Soviet Union in the company of some Soviet sailors after rockets launched from the United States are destroying the grain harvest with a “chemical fungus.”

Afterward, there’s a brief scene back at U.N.C.L.E. headquarters. There has been a series of such rocket launches, timed to destroy the Soviet wheat harvest. The next spot where the wheat will be ready for harvesting is Orbesk “where I must be tomorrow,” Kuryakin says. The Soviet military is on alert and another attack and World War III will begin if there’s another attack.

The other major reference to Kuryakin as Soviet occurred in another first-season episode, The Love Affair. Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) and Kuryakin arrive outside a party of rich people.

“Suddenly, I feel very Russian,” Kuryakin says.

“That’s just your proletarian blood,” Solo responds.

A moment later, there’s another exchange as Solo prepares to crash the party.

KURYAKIN: Well, let’s not keep the blue bloods waiting.

SOLO: If I’m not hour in a half-hour, start a revolution.

KURYAKIN: That would be a pleasure.

That’s some snappy banter, but the meaning also is pretty clear, particularly with the tone and expression actor David McCallum employs in the scene. After McCallum’s Kuryakin says starting a revolution would be a pleasure, Vaughn’s Solo shoots him a very interesting glance. (It’s at the 15:06 mark of the episode, according to the Spy Commander’s DVD player.)

Meanwhile, at this point, Kuryakin has been an U.N.C.L.E. agent for nine years. (A fourth-season episode establishes that Kuryakin graduated from U.N.C.L.E.’s “survival school” training facility in 1956.) Clearly, living and working with Westerners hasn’t changed the Russian’s outlook.

Still, there’s a portion of the original U.N.C.L.E. fan base that’s not convinced. Some fan fiction stories, for example, depict Kuryakin as a defector. Others simply say there’s no way Kuryakin could possibly work for a reprehensible government.

Interesting, except….that would be the easiest thing for the show to do.

Consider what was going on with other popular shows of the era.

I SPY: Soviets and Communist Chinese were villains.

THE FBI: Soviet bloc and Communist Chinese were villains.

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE: Soviet bloc agents were villains.

HAWAII FIVE-O: Communist Chinese agents were villains until the United States normalized relations with China in 1972. Arch-villain Wo Fat, the chief Chinese intelligence operative in the Pacific, goes independent in a 1974 episode, and complains how the Chinese leadership has gone soft against the U.S. Wo Fat even attempts a coup to take over China in a 1976 episode.

So if Illya Kuryakin were a defector or something similar, that would be the norm of 1960s television. The notion of a Soviet working closely with an American is one of the main aspects of the series that differentiates it from other spy series.

It’s understandable why the show would be subtle about this angle. At the time, executives of television networks and advertisers got nervous about possible controversies. In the end, Kuryakin’s popularity conquered all, with his image used in an advertisement promoting U.S. Savings Bonds.

With The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie coming out, the idea of Kuryakin as loyal Soviet is straight forward and is part of the film’s Cold War setting. Armie Hammer’s Kuryakin is a KGB agent. In this case, his partnership with Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) is more of a shotgun marriage.


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