Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’s 35th anniversary

Robert Vaughn and David McCallum in a publicity still for The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Adapted from a 2013 post with updates.

You can’t keep a good man down. So it was for former U.N.C.L.E. spies Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin, who made a return 35 years ago.

The intrepid agents, again played by Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, were back after a 15-year absence. This time they appeared in a made-for-television movie broadcast in April 1983 on CBS, instead of NBC, home of the original 1964-68 series.

It was a mixed homecoming. Return’s script, penned by executive producer Michael Sloan, recycled the plot of Thunderball, the fourth James Bond film. Thrush steals two nuclear bombs from a U.S. military aircraft. Thrush operative Janus (Geoffrey Lewis) boasts that the criminal organization is now “a nuclear power.” Yawn. Thrush was much more ambitious in the old days.

The show had been sold to NBC as “James Bond for television.” Sloan & Co. took the idea literally, hiring one-time 007 George Lazenby to play “JB,” who happens to drive as Aston Martin DB5. JB helps Solo, who has just been recalled to active duty for U.N.C.L.E., to get out of a jam in Las Vegas.

In a sense, this TV movie was a footnote to 1983’s “Battle of the Bonds.” Roger Moore and Sean Connery were starring in dueling 007 films, Octopussy and Never Say Never Again respectively.

As a result, for a time in 1982, when the two Bond films and this TV movie were in production, all three Bond film actors up to that time were either playing 007 or a reasonable facisimile..

The original U.N.C.L.E. had been filmed no further out that about 30 miles from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s studio in Culver City, California. Return was really filmed in and around Las Vegas, with the desert nearby substituting for Libya, where Thrush chieftain Justin Sepheran (Anthony Zerbe) has established his headquarters.

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George Lazenby’s title card in the main titles of The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Vaughn and McCallum, being old pros, make the best of the material they’re given, especially when they appear together. That’s not often, as it turns out. After being reunited, they pursue the affair from different angles. Solo has to put up with skeptical U.N.C.L.E. agent Kowalski (Tom Mason), who complains out loud about new U.N.C.L.E. chief Sir John Raleigh (Patrick Macnee) bringing back two aging ex-operatives.

Sloan did end up bringing in two crew members of the original series: composer Gerald Fried, who worked on the second through fourth seasons, and director of photography Fred Koenekamp, who had photographed 90 U.N.C.L.E. episodes from 1964 through 1967.

Also on the crew was Robert Short, listed as a technical adviser. He and Danny Biederman had attempted to put together an U.N.C.L.E. feature film. Their project eventually was rejected in favor of Sloan’s TV movie.

In the end, the April 5, 1983 broadcast produced respectable ratings. CBS, however, passed on committing to a new U.N.C.L.E. series.

For a long time, Return remained the last official U.N.C.L.E. production. Another U.N.C.L.E. project wouldn’t be seen until 2015. That’s when The Man From U.N.C.L.E. film debuted. It had an “origin” story line, didn’t feature many of the familiar U.N.C.L.E. memes and revised the back stories of Solo and Kuryakin.

In 2013, the blog did a post about Return’s 30th anniversary. Since then Vaughn, Macnee and Koenekamp have died.

For a more detailed review of The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., CLICK HERE.

Roger Moore part of TCM Remembers 2017

Turner Classic Movies has unveiled the 2017 edition of its TCM Remembers video, honoring actors and crew members who passed away during the year.

Roger Moore, who played James Bond in seven 007 films from 1973 to 1985, was part of the video. At around the 3:10 mark, the video includes a clip of Moore from 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me.

Other notables in the video include:

–Martin Landau, who played a henchman in 1959’s North by Northwest (used for one of two clips in the video) and gained fame in the Mission: Impossible television series.

–Veteran character actor Clifton James, whose many credits include playing redneck sheriff J.W. Pepper in Live And Let Die and The Man With the Golden Gun.

–Fred Koenekamp, an Oscar-winning director of photography who had earlier honed his craft photographing 90 episodes (out of 105 total) of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series.

–Daliah Lavi, an actress whose credits included the first Matt Helm film, The Silencers, and the 1967 Casino Royale spoof.

–Bernie Casey, a busy actor who, among other things, played Felix Leiter in 1983’s Never Say Never Again, the non-Eon 007 film starring Sean Connery.

You can view the video below.

53 years ago today…

Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo in the early moments of Act I of The Iowa-Scuba Affair, as photographed by Fred Koenekamp.

…production began on The Iowa-Scuba Affair, the first regular series episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (The pilot, The Vulcan Affair, had been filmed in late 1963.)

On June 1, 1964, even the earliest U.N.C.L.E. fans didn’t knew what awaited them in a few months. For the crew, it was another job.

What a crew it was.

The director, Richard Donner, would eventually become a big-time film director. The writer was Harold Jack Bloom. He shared an Academy Award nomination with episode producer Sam Rolfe on the screenplay of The Naked Spur, a 1953 western starring James Stewart.

The director of photography was Fred Koenekamp, who’d later photograph Patton. The composer for the episode was Morton Stevens.

While he’d never become famous, Stevens was a few years away from composing the theme for Hawaii Five-O, one of the best-know television themes.

When the cameras rolled, star Robert Vaughn, as Napoleon Solo, would be in almost every scene. David McCallum, signed to play Russian U.N.C.L.E. agent Illya Kuryakin, wasn’t even in the episode. But McCallum would make his presence known shortly.

3 things to note before declaring Skyfall best 007 movie ever

Last week, the entertainment Web site Whatculture! presented 5 Reasons Why Skyfall Might Be the Best James Bond Film Ever. Author Chris Wright opined:

I am confident that this will be the best of the series so far and a hell of a way to celebrate the momentous 50th Anniversary. (emphasis added)

Wright has bought into Barbara Broccoli’s comment how Skyfall may exceed the 22 previous installments of the series made by Eon Productions. What follows that people may want to keep in mind regard Whatculture!’s reasons that Skyfall will be the best:

An A-List cast and crew doesn’t guarantee success: Imagine a movie with at least five former or future Oscar winning actors and a crew that included a director, a composer, a director of photography and an editor who had all won Academy Awards. You’d have The Swarm, Irwin Allen’s 1978 disaster movie that was a critical and box office flop.

The cast included Michael Caine, Olivia de Havilland, Jose Ferrer, Patty Duke and Henry Fonda, all of whom had either won Oscars up until then or would receive them in the future. Producer-director Allen had an Oscar on his shelf (for a 1953 documentary), as did director of photography Fred Koenekamp, composer Jerry Goldsmith and editor Harold F. Kress. All of those crew members, including Allen, had other Oscar nominations.

Is this a pretty extreme example? Absolutely. But it’s not unique, either.

Third-time-the-charm rule has a mixed record: Author Wright, cites one of his reasons thusly:

With Skyfall marking Daniel Craig’s third time in the lead role, the history of the series suggests this might be his finest instalment. When Sean Connery and Roger Moore were both starting out in the role it took them both three films to fully settle into the part and make it their own. Goldfinger and The Spy Who Loved Me are both considered to be among the best of the series and it is no coincidence that these are both the third films for each actor.

What about Pierce Brosnan and The World is Not Enough? Brosnan’s third Bond movie did fine at the box office but it wasn’t universally proclaimed his best outing. Nor did the film have the impact of either Goldfinger or The Spy Who Loved Me, the latter giving the series a jump start. Maybe Daniel Craig’s third film will have that kind of impact, but again merely being the actor’s third film isn’t a guarantee.

The Aston Martin DB5?: The 1960s sports car has been driven by Bond in two mega hits (Goldfinger and Thunderball), in two Pierce Brosnan movies (GoldenEye and Tomorrow Never Dies) and Craig’s Casino Royale. In terms of impact, it played a central role pretty much only in Goldfinger, where it was the movie’s centerpiece gadget. You don’t see it after Bond gets to Nassau in Thunderball. In the Brosnan and Craig movies to date it’s more like an homage to the earlier movies. In Casino Royale, Craig/Bond wins the DB5 in a poker game against a secondary villain. Any super-priced luxury car could have substituted had a DB5 not been available.

Despite that, Whatculture! says the DB5 will be a leading reason why Skyfall is No. 1.

Again, this is not a prediction that Skyfall is going to bomb at the box office or be a bad 007 movie. Fans say you can’t say that until the movie is out. Again, predicting Skyfall will be No. 001 among 007 movies is a matter of faith at this point.

Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. out on DVD

The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., the 1983 made-for-TV movie, came out on DVD this week. It wasn’t included when the original series came out on DVD in 2007. So here’s a look, starting with the main titles:

Gerald Fried, the veteran composer who did more MFU episodes than any other composer, was hired for the ’83 TV movie and did the arrangement of the Jerry Goldsmith theme. While OK, some fans aren’t happy with it. However, Mike Post was the choice at one time to be the composer for Return. Fried ended up being one one of two U.N.C.L.E. crew members on the film. (Director of photography Fred Koenekamp being the other).

The U.N.C.L.E. TV movie also featured George Lazenby (sort of) reprising his role as James Bond. It was filmed at the same time Roger Moore was going before the cameras in Octopussy and Sean Connery in Never Say Never Again. Thus, it was the only time all of the actors playing Bond were doing the role (sort of, at least) at the same time. Take a look:

Of course, it should be remembered that Ian Fleming helped (in a small way; Sam Rolfe did the heavy lifting) to create the original show.