GUEST REVIEW: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

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

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

By Nicolás Suszczyk, Guest Writer

I never fully watched The Man from U.N.C.L.E. I wasn’t born when it was released and no DVDs (and few TV telecasts) where released in my country, at least in my teens.

As a Bond fan, of course, I enjoyed many rip-offs, from the funny ones like Get Smart, Johnny English and Kingsman: The Secret Service to the more realistic ones like Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible saga, the Harry Palmer films and a few modern-espionage films like The International.

Still, I barely knew about Napoleon Solo and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. except for the fact it was one of the many ingredients of the ‘60s spy phenomenon and the Ian Fleming connection with the character of Napoleon Solo. I was kind of interested, but I never ended up closely following the episodes as I did with Zorro, Batman, The Saint or other cult TV series.

So, what follows “review” of someone in the mid-20s who hasn’t properly watched the original TV series produced by Norman Felton but has an idea on it.

I had a free afternoon so I booked the tickets on a close theatre in my hometown in Buenos Aires. The screening was around 6:30 p.m. As I entered the theatre, all the seats were empty! I wondered if some of the negative reviews had such an impact on people that left Napoleon Solo a bit… “solo” (if you speak Spanish, you’ll get the word game).

A few minutes later, people appeared — not many, five or seven more, making around ten people if you count me. On a side note, I catched the SPECTRE teaser trailer before the film. I’ve always been unlucky in finding a Bond trailer on a screening, something that only happened before in 2002 when the Die Another Day trailer popped up before My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the movie my grandmother took me to watch.

And then, Guy Ritchie’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E. filled the screen.

Overall, the film is enjoyable… enough to relax after a tough day at work, at least. It looks indeed as a movie set in the 1960s: a masterful work of the cinematographer, the costume designer, and Daniel Pemberton in the music department.

There’s a lot of humor like the one you’ll find in Kingsman: The Secret Service, but a lot less exaggerated, and more in the vein of the 1972 TV series The Persuaders. The Henry Cavill-Armie Hammer relationship onscreen is in a way very similar to the Roger Moore-Tony Curtis one.

A scene of Napoleon Solo (Cavill) comfortably drinking wine and having sandwiches while sitting in a truck as Russian agent Ilya Kuryakin (Hammer) gun fighting his enemies on a boat is particularly effective and funny for the inclusion of “Che Vuole Questa Musica Stasera” (sung by Peppino Gagliardi) as both events are taking place. This rivalry that slowly turns into friendship is akin to The Persuader’s pilot “Interlude.”

Other of the film’s pros is the backdrop created for the protagonists: Solo being an art thief working for the CIA on probation and Kuryakin having with anger management problems. The girls, Gaby (Alicia Vikander) and Victoria (Elizabeth Debicki), are in a way the stereotypical “good girls” and “bad girls” you’ll find in any retro spy series. They are not complex characters, but they fit very well into the film.

More into the 60s influence, the scene where Solo is tortured seems to have a small nod to the 1967 spoof version of Casino Royale, where Le Chiffre (Orson Welles) provides a “mind torture” to Peter Sellers’ Evelyn Tremble, aka James Bond 007, when uncle Rudi shows a video of the Nazi “achievements” as the hero is tied to an electric chair.

A special mention is deserved by Hugh Grant as Waverly, whose presence itself is more than welcome and adds a special touch to the film with his comic quips.

There is, however, a big negative point in The Man from U.N.C.L.E.: the editing. It tried to be artistic and it perhaps succeeded in the desired effect, but the fast camera shots, the flashbacks and the split-screen shots are very distracting. It happens, even in a more confusing way, the same that in the shakey cam shots of Quantum of Solace.

The film’s ending offers a nice cliffhanger, maybe predictable, but very similar to the current “reboot” movies where we see the inception of what has been established before. There is a word association to the last line said by Waverly to the relationship a character had with other, something that would probably get lost in translation for many non-English speaking countries.

Verdict: Love the ‘60s spy movies with lots of humor? Watch it!

The Chronicles of SPECTRE Part I: Dr. No

Dr. No poster

Dr. No poster

By Nicolas Suszczyk, Guest Writer
The first film of the James Bond series was released in the middle of the Cold War, the Space Race and one year after Ian Fleming’s novel Thunderball was published.

That novel provoked a legal dispute between a severely ill Fleming and producer Kevin McClory. The conflict — not settled until 1963 — prevented Thunderball from becoming the first Bond film made by Eon Productions as originally intended.

1962’s Dr. No followed followed the story line of Fleming’s 1958 book, with Sean Connery as 007 investigating the disappearance of MI6 agent Strangways, who was investigating the activities of the title character.

In the novel, the doctor worked for the Russians. Yet, in the Terence Young-directed film, he is completely apolitical, calling East and West “each as stupid as the other”. He introduces himself as a member of SPECTRE, a criminal organization standing for SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion.

In this way, the great antagonist of James Bond is introduced: an organization that helped to depoliticize the films. At the time, East and West superpowers were rivals in both the Cold War and the conquest of space, a topic that would be slightly associated to the movie’s plot.

Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman) proudly endorses the organization’s activities and, as one of its top members, he carries on one of the group’s world domination plans: the toppling of rockets launched by Americans at Cape Canaveral.

Without being the leader of SPECTRE, Dr. No’s modus operandi is pretty much the same of his Number One and the organization itself: he has goons everywhere at his disposal and provokes fear in those who fail. He is based on an island known as Crab Key.

Dr. No even tells Bond there might be a place in SPECTRE for him, which the British agent refuses. Bond says he if joined SPECTRE, he should be in the “revenge department,” and would begin with those responsible for the death of his friends Quarrel and Strangways.

007 spoils SPECTRE’s plan by sabotaging the toppling mechanism and causing Dr. No’s base to explode. Before the explosion, Bond and Dr. No fight on a platform above the villain’s atomic reactor. As the two men are being lowered into the reactor’s boiling water, Bond is able to get away while Dr. No’s metal hands can’t get a grip and perishes.

Audiences would get a proper introduction of the organization in the second Bond film, From Russia with Love. So far, this first Bond film provides us with a strong nemesis and a mention of the people behind him and their sinister activities. What can we surmise? They’re up for world domination, they’re apolitical, they want chaos and brilliant people, like scientist Dr. No, are on the payroll.

The fictional organization would appear in more films including the 1983 non-Eon film, Never Say Never Again and the upcoming SPECTRE, directed by Sam Mendes.

Nicolas Suszczyk is the editor of The GoldenEye Dossier.

Ian Fleming, without whom, etc.

Our annual post.

On the 51st anniversary of the author’s death, this headline has a double meaning.

Obviously, without Ian Fleming there would be no James Bond novels and thus no James Bond movies.

What’s more, had Fleming not written Thrilling Cities, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. wouldn’t have occurred. Television producer Norman Felton originally was contacted about trying to turn that book into a series. Felton didn’t see a series but ad-libbed a pitch. That led to meetings in late October 1962 between Felton and Fleming in New York.

In the end, there’s not a whole lot of Fleming in U.N.C.L.E. But he was still a catalyst for the show and without that series, there’d be no movie coming out this weekend.

Fleming-obit

Common thread in 007 scripts: Making Bond bigger

Sean Connery in a 007 publicity still

Sean Connery in a 007 publicity still

There’s something a number of James Bond scripts have in common: There are attempts to build up supporting characters. But in the end, there’s only one top dog. And his name is Bond, James Bond.

007 collector Gary J. Firuta has provided copies of a number of Bond scripts. In a June 1966 draft, screenwriter Roald Dahl had Japanese agent Suki more of an active participant in the Kobe docks action sequence. Both Bond and Suki are shooting it out with thugs at one point. In the final film, however, agent Aki doesn’t do a whole lot, except flee to report to Japanese spy chief Tiger Tanaka.

In both Jack Whittingham’s first draft for what would become Thunderball as well as a later Richard Maibaum-John Hopkins draft, Felix Leiter also is more of an active participant in events. In the final 1965 film, Felix (Rik Van Nutter) gets punched by 007 in the stomach (so Felix won’t say “007” before Bond does so) and watches Bond (Sean Connery) do his thing.

In Richard Maibaum’s rewrite for The Man With the Golden Gun, Lt. Hip *and his nieces* infiltrate the martial arts school where an abducted Bond has been taken. They end up saving him from being finished off by prized pupil Chula. Not so in the final movie, where Bond (at the last second) fights off Chula and escapes *and then* encounters Hip and the nieces.

Finally, here’s an example the blog CITED IN 2009 about the differences between the Goldfinger novel and film. In Ian Fleming’s novel, it was Bond’s caddie who figured out how Goldfinger was cheating. In the film, Bond does it by himself while the caddie nods his approval.

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.

1966: Roald Dahl finds Twice is the only way to Live

You Only LIve Twice poster

You Only Live Twice poster

When Roald Dahl handed in his June 17, 1966, draft of You Only Live Twice, things were getting tight.

The fifth James Bond film produced by Eon Productions would begin filming in a few weeks, on July 4. Dahl, taking over from American writer Harold Jack Bloom, had jettisoned the plot of Ian Fleming‘s 1964 novel. Dahl’s story would try to out-Thunderball Thunderball in terms of spectacle.

The Spy Commander reviewed a copy of Dahl’s draft, thanks to Bond collector Gary J. Firuta. The draft has some pages that were updated in mid-July after the start of filming.

Not surprisingly, the draft largely resembles the final film. But there are still a number of interesting differences. When this draft was completed, there was no helicopter with a giant magnet. The Little Nellie helicopter was present, but it didn’t have all the gadgets it’d have in the movie.

Dahl even included an Ian Fleming-ism that would be stripped from the final film. Both Tiger Tanaka and Japanese agent Suki (renamed Aki after actress Akiko Wakabayashi was cast) address Bond as “Bondo-san” in the draft.

In the novel (Chapter 6, Tiger, Tiger!) Tanaka explains that Bond-san sounds too much like bon-san, or “a priest, a graybeard.” Also, Tiger says, hard consonants aren’t easy for Japanese, so “when these occur in a foreign word, we add an O.” This isn’t included in Dahl’s draft but “Bondo-san” is used anyway. It’d be dropped from the 1967 movie.

In the pre-titles sequence, the most significant change is the American spacecraft is called Gemini (as in real life at the time). Some scenes play longer and there’s more dialogue, but it’s mostly as viewers of the film know it. The sequence ends with Bond apparently being killed.

After the titles, Bond’s “funeral” takes place. Again, dialogue is different. Aboard a submarine, Bond bums a cigarette from M when he says the only ill effect he was feeling was “a slight lack of nicotine.” Bond also uses the lit cigarette to light the paper with his contact address in Tokyo.

Interestingly, Bond only has 10 days to act before the next U.S. space flight, instead of 20 as in the movie. After he’s done with M, Bond gives Moneypenny a kiss. She does not give him a copy of Instant Japanese and 007 doesn’t say he took a first in Oriental languages at Cambridge.

Bond meets up with his contact, Henderson. Bond kicks the shin of Henderson’s false leg to ensure he’s the right person. Henderson makes martinis. “Shaken not stirred? That *was* right, wasn’t it?” Apparently, it wasn’t Dahl’s fault that the film has Henderson stirring the martinis and Bond declares they’re “perfect.”

Sometime later, after Henderson’s death and Bond has been to Osato Chemical, 007 meets Tiger Tanaka. As in the film, he falls down a chute, through a door and lands into a comfortable chair.

Tiger, in this draft, provides more information. Had it not been Bond, computers “would very quickly have redirected the chute and you’d have been in a much hotter seat than that one.”

As in the film, Tiger takes Bond to his house. 007 asks the Japanese Secret Service chief if his wife’s at home.

“Me, a wife?” Tiger replies. “Never! In matters of this sort, I think I am very much the Japanese equivalent of Bondo-san.” Or Derek Flint based on the number of women present in the house.

Bond and Tiger first go to “sweat boxes” before they’re washed by the Japanese women. It’s here that the two men compare notes. Tiger is “offended” when Bond says Mr. Osato isn’t big enough to be behind the hijacking of American spacecraft. When Tiger asks who is large enough, Bond says, “Nobody…unless it could my old friends in the Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion.” The finished film wouldn’t bother to say what SPECTRE stood for.

Now it’s time to be washed. “It is noticeable that the TWO GIRLS helping TANAKA are unable to keep their eyes off BOND,” according to the stage directions. Shortly thereafter, “all FOUR GIRLS have quietly slid over to BOND, leaving TANAKA alone.”

Tiger bellows for the women to come back. “The FOUR GIRLS ignore TANAKA,” the stage directions say. “They rinse soap off BOND and help him into the bath. TANAKA roars at them in Japanese, threatening them with terrible punishments.” One could only imagine what 21st century audiences would make of this.

As for what it is about Bond that fascinates the women, Tiger says: “It is nothing but your ape-like appearance…All Japanese men are blessed with exceptionally clean smooth skin. We consider hair on the chest to be obnoxious.”

Bond has a nice comeback:

BOND
(looking at the FOUR GIRLS lined up at the edge of the bath)
What are they waiting for now?

The next day, as in the film, Bond goes undercover to meet Mr. Osato. When Osato uses the X-ray device in his desk to check out Bond, “BOND’S REVOLVER is very prominent.” Yet, later in the movie, Blofeld says the gun is a Walther PPK, which most assuredly isn’t a revolver. Details, details.

Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl

Osato orders Bond killed. Suki saves him and the pair get away in her while but are pursued by thugs in a sedan. Suki requests the “usual reception” from Tiger but in this script that takes a different form.

For thing, Suki tells the Japanese Secret Service chief that she’s “heading for Street X as fast as possible.”

Tiger is in his office. He “flicks speak-box switch, and begins to shout into box with great rapidity and urgently in Japanese,” according to the stage directions. We see “TWO JAPANESE MEN” receive orders in Japanese.

Soon after, Suki’s car “swerves into a deserted alley” with the thugs in the sedan still in pursuit.

Suki “begins to SOUND HORN…Suddenly, ONE BUILDING on either side fo the street dislodges itself from the other houses and slides forward. The buildings meet in street centre, forming a brick wall.” The sedan of the thugs “crashes into the wall and explodes in a sheet of flame.”

Much of what happens next mimics the finished movie, though many of the scenes have more dialogue. Little Nellie doesn’t have all the explosive power it’d have in the film. But he mini-copter has other gadgets such as “a kind of wire fishing-net” that fouls the rotor-blade of one of the SPECTRE helicopters menacing Bond.

The deaths of two women characters also are different in this draft than the final film. Assassin Helga walks across a bridge at SPECTRE HQs that’s over a lava pool. Blofeld pulls lever, the bridge drops “like a trap door” and she goes into the lava.

When Suki dies from being poisoned, Bond is more affected than when Aki perishes in the film.

BOND, visibly distressed, stares at the girl he is carrying. Then he holds her close, lays his cheek against hers. He walks away with her, and sits down, still holding her in his arms.”

Still later, on the Ama island, Bond and Kissy (following their phony marriage that’s part of Bond’s cover) investigate a tunnel where an Ama diver died. As in the film, they discover poison gas and dive into the water to save themselves.

The stage directions have one major difference. After reaching safety, “BOND is lying on his back. He has more or less recovered. Much of his Japanese make-up has come off in the water. (NOTE: During the next few scenes, he should revert, as inconspicuously as possible, to being non-Japanese.)”

Finally, there’s the big Blofeld reveal. Dahl’s script attempts to make the most of it.

CAMERA reaches BLOFELD’S FACE. And what a face it is! We see reflected therein all the evil in the world. The eyes, greatly magnified behind steel-rimmed pebble glasses, are like the eyes of an intelligent octopus — all black, with no whites around them at all. The skin of the cheeks is pock-marked. The ears protrude slightly, the jaw is prognathus. CAMERA STAYS CLOSE on FACE.

There’s more, of course, but suffice to say there was still a lot of work to do before You Only Live Twice was ready for theaters in the summer of 1967.

The draft is 142 pages, meaning the movie should have been 142 minutes. The final movie came in at just under two hours, with many scenes considerably tighter than they appear in this draft.

Our Ian Fleming U.N.C.L.E. primer

Ian Fleming

Ian Fleming

Less than a month from now, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie will be in theaters. The point of this post is to keep everything concerning Ian Fleming’s connection to the original television series in perspective.

1962: There is interest in developing Ian Fleming’s non-fiction book Thrilling Cities into a television series. (For specific dates, as compiled by Craig Henderson’s For Your Eyes Only website, CLICK HERE.)

Late October 1962: Television producer Norman Felton meets with Ian Fleming in New York City. The duo eventually hash out some ideas for a television series.

Late May 1963: Fleming, under pressure from 007 film producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, sends a message on his 55th birthday that he intends to exit the television project.

June 1963: Fleming signs away his U.N.C.L.E. rights for 1 British pound.

November 1963: The pilot for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. begins filming. The script is written by Sam Rolfe (1924-1993).

1964: Broccoli and Saltzman try to stop U.N.C.L.E. from going into production. There’s a settlement where the lead character in U.N.C.L.E. keeps the name Napoleon Solo (a Fleming suggestion) For specific dates, check out Craig Henderson’s website by CLICKING HERE.

Sept. 22, 1964: The pilot episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. airs on NBC.

Nov. 26, 1965: NBC pre-empts The Man From U.N.C.L.E. to show the special The Incredible World of James Bond. Originally, Sean Connery was to be the narrator but pulls out at the last minute. Character actor Alexander Scourby takes over the narration duties. Many U.N.C.L.E. fans discover the world of 007 as a result.

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