1979: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie that wasn’t

Robert Vaughn and David McCallum

Robert Vaughn and David McCallum

The impending start of production of a movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is a reminder of other attempts at reviving U.N.C.L.E. One of the most ambitious story lines was devised in the late 1970s as an attempt at a feature film.

Robert Short and Danny Biederman pitched what they called The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: The Feature Film. The Short-Biederman tale involved an all-out assault by Thrush, the villainous organization of the 1964-68 series, against U.N.C.L.E. Short and Biederman also intended that Robert Vaughn and David McCallum reprise their roles as Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin.

What’s more, according to a 17-page outline dated April 1979, Thrush “has gained a solid grasp on the world’s economy by having bought controlling interest in numerous multi-national corporations.”

A more elaborate 74-page treatment was later written but the outline provides an idea what this version of U.N.C.L.E. would have been like.

What follows are a few examples:

— We witness the destruction of U.N.C.L.E.’s New York headquarters.

— The “innocent” character is Brandy Burns, an advice columnist for The New York Times. (For a movie made in 1979-80, the New York Daily News or New York Post would have been closer to real life.)

— The femme fatale is Serena, played by Senta Berger in The Double Affair of the original series or The Spy With My Face, the movie version based on that episode.

— Alexander Waverly, the U.N.C.L.E. chief of the original show isn’t seen but we’re told by the end of the 17-page outline is still alive. LEO G. CARROLL, who played Waverly in the original series had died in 1972.

— Dr. Egret, a Thrush master of disguise who appeared in two first-season episodes, makes an appearance late in the story.

— The Thrush Ultimate Computer, only seen in one second-season episode (where it was blown up), plays a prominent role in the story.

— Late in the story we’re told that Thrush’s ruling council consists of “major world figures known to have died during the past several decades. As it turns out, each death had been a phony, staged to provide the individuals a means of exiting one position of power and enter another.”

No specific examples are given, but had a movie been given the go ahead in 1979-80, the possibilities are endless. John F. Kennedy (died 1963)? Robert F. Kennedy (died 1968)? Joseph Stalin (died 1953)? Mao Zedong (died 1976)? Nikita Khrushchev (died 1971)?

In the end, it was not to be.

The Short-Biederman project kicked round until the spring of 1982, according to CRAIG HENDERSON’S U.N.C.L.E. TIMELINE ON THE FOR YOUR EYES ONLY WEBSITE. Sometimes it was pitched as a made-for-television movie as an alternate for a feature film. Henderson’s U.N.C.L.E. timeline says in 1981 Short and Biederman lined up Laura Antonelli to play Serena, Jane Seymour as the innocent and Klaus Kinski as the villain.

A 1983 TV movie, The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., was made instead and was broadcast in April 1983. Vaughn and McCallum reprised the Solo and Kuryakin roles and Robert Short was technical adviser.

There hasn’t been an official U.N.C.L.E. production since. That will change if director Guy Ritchie begins filming his U.N.C.L.E. movie in early September with Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer as Solo and Kuryakin.