UPDATED: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. curse

The cast of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television show.

The cast of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television show.

Almost five years ago we published a post about The Man From U.N.C.L.E. curse.

Since the end of the 1964-68 series, a lot of things just seemed to go wrong. Well, after taking a look at the original, we decided to dress it up with events of the past few years. The more things change, the more, etc.

So you be the judge whether there’s a curse.

1970s: Veteran James Bond screenwriter Richard Maibaum is hired to develop a new version of U.N.C.L.E. Nothing comes of it, despite Maibaum’s track record.

1976-77: Writer-producers Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts hire Sam Rolfe, the original developer of the show, to do a script for a made-for-televison movie that could be the springboard for a new show. “The Malthusian Affair” has some interesting concepts (including having a dwarf occupy an armored exo-skeleton) but it doesn’t get past the script stage. Had it become reality, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum would have reprised their roles as Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin.

Early 1980s: Would-be producers Danny Biederman and Robert Short cobble together a theatrical movie project. Their script had Thrush, the villainous organization of the original series, take over the world without anyone realizing it. Vaughn and McCallum had expressed interest, as had former 007 production designer Ken Adam. Alas, nothing happened.

1983: The made-for-television series movie The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. airs on CBS. No series, or even a sequel made-for-TV movie, develops.

Early 1990s: Sam Rolfe attempts to do a made-for-cable-television movie that would have been an U.N.C.L.E. “next generation” story. Rolfe drops dead of a heart attack in 1993, ending any such prospect.

Circa 2004-2005: Norman Felton, executive producer of the orignal show, cuts a deal with a small production company for some sort of cable-televison project. Nothing concrete occurs.

2010-2011: Warner Bros. entices director Steven Soderbergh to direct an U.N.C.L.E. movie after a number of false starts. However, the director and studio can’t agree on budget and casting. Ironically, one of Soderbergh’s choices, Michael Fassbender as Napoleon Solo, later emerges as a star. Soderbergh gives up in late 2011.

Spring 2013: Guy Ritchie is now the director on the project. For a time, there are negotiations with Tom Cruise to play Solo. He’d be paired with Armie Hammer as Illya Kuryakin. In May, Cruise breaks off talks to concentrate on a new Mission Impossible movie.

June 2013: The Solo slot doesn’t stay vacant long. Henry Cavill, currently doing publicity for Warner Bros.’s Man of Steel emerges as the new choice.

September 2013: Filming actually starts on an U.N.C.L.E. movie. Is the curse abut to lift?

August 2015: The answer turns out to be no. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is trounced at the box office. One of the movies doing the trouncing: Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation starring none other than Tom Cruise. Meanwhile, some fans of the original show complain Rolfe was denied a credit and Jerry Goldsmith’s theme went almost entirely unused.

August 2016: A year after the flop, some salt gets rubbed in the wound. Matthew Bradford, in a post on the Facebook group The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Inner Circle notes the following: A commentary track for a Blu Ray release for Modesty Blaise dismisses U.N.C.L.E. as “unwatchable” today.

It turns out the commenter, film historian David Del Valle, based his comment on an episode of The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., where Robert Vaughn appeared as Solo. That episode was titled The Mother Muffin Affair and features Boris Karloff as an elderly woman.

‘Jane Bond’ shows interest in women spies

Salt poster

Salt poster

This week’s buzz about whether actress Gillian Anderson should play a female version of James Bond caused a lot of fans to complain about click bait and political correctness.

But the media attention concerning “Jane Bond” may show something else — continuing interest in women spies.

There have been attempts at a woman spy movie series. Eon Productions, maker of the 007 films, tried to develop a spinoff movie featuring Halle Berry’s Jinx character from Die Another Day. But in the end, no movie occurred.

In 2010, Angelina Jolie starred in Salt, which had worldwide box office of $293.5 million. The film had an ending that left things open for a sequel but none has taken place. Sony Pictures is developing a television series version, Screen Daily said in February.

In 2015, the movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. included Alicia Vikander as a British spy, Gaby Teller, who wasn’t a character in the original 1964-68 television series.

Thus, Solo and Illya became Solo, Illya and Gaby. Vikander got good reviews, but the movie limped home with worldwide box office of $109.9 million, pretty much killing any chance of a sequel.

On the other hand, Jennifer Garner’s Alias television series ran more than 100 episodes from 2001-2006.

In the 007 films, women spies have been a major part of the proceedings for decades.

Bond has allied himself with women agents from the Soviet Union (The Spy Who Loved Me), United States (Moonraker), China (Tomorrow Never Dies) the U.S. again (Die Another Day) and Bolivia (Quantum of Solace) . 2012’s Skyfall provided a new take on Moneypenny, in which the Naomie Harris version is initially an MI6 agent.

In these risk-adverse days, studios may want to check out properties such as the comic strip Modesty Blaise, the subject of a 1966 movie.

Anyway, we were reminded by reader Stuart Basinger that back when the film rights to Casino Royale were first acquired (years before Eon Productions was formed), producer-director Gregory Ratoff wanted to change James Bond into a woman. Ratoff wanted to cast Susan Hayward in the role. Screenwriter Lorenzo Semple Jr. worked on the project and described it in a 2012 article in Variety.

What prompted this post was a comment from a reader, @CinemaOnFire on Twitter. So, as a shoutout, we present that tweet:

UPDATE (May 25): Alyssa Rosenberg, a pop culture blogger for The Washington Post, has weighed in with an essay titled “No, a woman shouldn’t play James Bond.”  Here’s an excerpt:

If our goal is for Hollywood to create action-oriented jobs for women that will be available for decades to come, then we need franchises that are built around women. We need roles like Bond’s, or Jack Ryan’s, or Captain Kirk’s that are designed to be occupied by a rotating series of women. Borrowing Bond’s tux might be a fun fantasy. But real power means a role we don’t have to give back to the men.

Modesty Blaise’s creator passes away

From the Comic Mix Web site:

Peter O’Donnell, one of the greatest of comics writers, died last night at the age of 90. He is best known for his creation Modesty Blaise, which ran in newspapers from 1963 to 2001, initially drawn by Jim Holdaway. He also created Romeo Brown (again, with Holdaway) and for many years authored the classic time-travelling adventure strip Garth. O’Donnell also adapted Ian Fleming’s Dr. No to comic strips.

Peter also wrote 11 Modesty Blaise novels and two short story collections, as well as nine gothic romance/adventure novels under the name Madeleine Brent.

To read the entire post by Mike Gold, you can CLICK RIGHT HERE.

The 1960s boom in spy entertainment, led by the James Bond movies, spurred production of a Modesty Blaise movie in 1966. Here’s the trailer.

UPDATE: It took a few days but The New York Times has now published a detailed obituary. You can read it BY CLICKING HERE.