‘Mr. Warner’ and creator credits

Sam Rolfe, circa 1964

Sam Rolfe, circa 1964

Fans of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series, for the most part, weren’t happy to see that Sam Rolfe — the major creator of the 1964-68 television series — didn’t get a credit with the movie that debuted this month.

Rolfe (1924-1993) created Illya Kuryakin, Alexander Waverly as well as the U.N.C.L.E. organization and format. The main element he didn’t create was Napoleon Solo, which had been hashed out by executive producer Norman Felton and 007 author Ian Fleming.

Felton (1913-2012) did receive an “executive consultant” credit in the U.N.C.L.E. film.

The series didn’t carry a formal creator credit. Instead it was either, “Developed by Sam Rolfe” or “The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Developed by Sam Rolfe,” depending on the season of the show.

While Rolfe not getting a mention is understandably disappointing, Warner Bros., aka “Mr. Warner” on this blog has an interesting history.

In the early days of Warner Bros. television, the real-life Mr. Warner (Jack) had an aversion to bestowing a creator credit. Roy Huggins didn’t get a creator credit for either Maverick or 77 Sunset Strip. Charles Larson (the person who most likely deserved one) didn’t get a creator credit for The FBI, a co-production with Quinn Martin. On the other hand, When Maverick became a Warner Bros. movie in 1994, Huggins did get on-screen recognition.

Warner Bros. also controls DC Comics. The studio gives credit for movies based on DC characters where it has an obligation. Superman movies, for example, have a creator credit for Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster. Warner and DC only agreed to that in the 1970s as the first Superman film with Christopher Reeve was being prepared and there was a big public relations campaign for Siegel and Schuster.

Warners also gives Bob Kane the creator credit for Batman, although there’s evidence that uncredited Bill Finger really did the heavy lifting. In 2014, cartoonist Ty Templeton drew what a Batman without Bill Finger would look like. Anyway, Warners/DC also credits Charles Moulton (real name William Moulton Marston) for Wonder Woman.

Other than that, though, no creator credits. The 2011 Green Lantern, for example, movie didn’t credit John Broome and Gil Kane. The current Flash television series doesn’t credit Robert Kanigher and Carmine Infantino.

Put another way, Sam Rolfe — who wrote the U.N.C.L.E. pilot and produced the show’s first season — has plenty of company. Also that “developed by” credit probably gives the studio legal leeway in not including Rolfe in the movie’s credits.

Miscellaneous notes about the U.N.C.L.E. movie

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. teaser poster

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. teaser poster

No real spoilers (in terms of giving away plot points) but the most spoiler adverse should avoid until they’ve seen the movie.

A few tidbits after seeing The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie twice:

Alternating lead billing: Armie Hammer (Illya Kuryakin) gets top billing in the main titles while Henry Cavill (Napoleon Solo) gets top billing in the end titles.

Possible in-joke: In the end titles, we see Waverly’s dossier and discover he was, at one time, an opium addict. Director Guy Ritchie directed Sherlock Holmes movies in 2009 and 2011. The great detective was known, on occasion, to partake of opium. A passing reference to the director’s previous work?

Missed opportunity for an in-joke: The Waverly dossier in the end titles gives his birth date as March 1, 1913.

It would have been really cool if it had been April 29, 1913, the birth date of Norman Felton, the producer who initiated U.N.C.L.E.

Beyond that, a bespectacled Hugh Grant (who turned 53 during production) as Waverly looks somewhat like a 51-year-old version of Felton in The Giuoco Piano Affair, which aired in the first season of the 1964-68 television series. Obviously, some projection on the part of the Spy Commander.

A credit of note: Felton got an “executive consultant” credit on the movie even though he passed away in 2012, more than a a year before the Ritchie film began production.

Presumably, Felton’s credit was the result of a contractual obligation. John Davis, one of the producers of the movie, originally optioned the property in the early 1990s.

Thunderball reference: In the film, Armie Hammer’s Kuryakin beats up three Italian fellows, one of whom is named Count Lippi. The 1965 James Bond film included a minor villain named Count Lippe. Interestingly, the character was referred to as Count Lippi in a 1961 draft by Richard Maibaum.

REVIEW: Guy Ritchie adds an edge to U.N.C.L.E.

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

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

Director Guy Ritchie, after stripping out some familiar memes from his version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., adds in some edge that often wasn’t present in the 1964-68 television series.

It mostly works, although things don’t really kick in until the film’s second half. The first half is a little flat.

The proceedings get reinvigorated when Henry Cavill’s Napoleon Solo finds himself in peril starting at the midway point of the movie. From that point on, both Cavill and Armie Hammer’s version of Illya Kuryakin get more traction. Make no mistake. The movie remains light and breezy, but there’s a feeling of increased stakes.

The second half also is when Hugh Grant’s Waverly, a cagey British spymaster, starts to have a slightly bigger role. Grant, who turned 53 when U.N.C.L.E. was in production, is decades younger than Leo G. Carroll was when he played Waverly in the series. But Grant’s version is just as manipulative, if not more so, than the original.

Ritchie, who co-wrote the script with Lionel Wigram, essentially tore down the original show. No secret headquarters, no vast worldwide organization. Even if a sequel is made, it’s doubtful any of that would make a comeback in a Guy Ritchie U.N.C.L.E. universe.

Instead, the writers emphasize the basic characters — Solo, Kuryakin and Waverly. Even here, there are notable differences from the show. Solo’s still a womanizer who likes the finer things in life, but has a back story of being an art thief. Kuryakin is given a back story even more at odds with the show (which had very little background for the character).

Ritchie also emphasizes the Cold War setting in a way the original didn’t. It’s the initial layer of edge added by the director. The story begins in East Berlin as Solo, here a CIA agent, is assigned to “extract” Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander), a mechanic whose estranged father is a missing nuclear scientist.

That’s the beginning of a long sequence where Solo and Gaby are pursued by the seemingly indestructible Kuryakin, here a KGB operative. Things move quickly and it holds the viewer’s interest.

By comparison, the rest of the first half, while not bogging down, doesn’t move as quickly. We get the set up.

A mysterious organization is close to building an atomic bomb. The U.S. and Soviet Union decide they have to work together. Solo and Kuryakin size each other up (an excuse to add more of the back story the screenwriters have devised). Gaby is to be part of the mission because she has an uncle who works for the company run by evil mastermind Victoria (Elizabeth Debicki).

Besides all that exposition, Ritchie is setting things up for the second half, but not in a straight forward way.

The director pays lip service to U.N.C.L.E.’s idea of having an “innocent” be part of the plot. Instead, it’s sleight of hand, introducing a complication that — stop me if you’ve heard this before — adds edge to the film.

Despite all the alterations in their backgrounds, Cavill and Hammer do provide recognizable versions of Solo and Kuryakin. Each one ups the other equally. Each saves the other’s life. They eventually do operate as a a team.

Once Solo gets captured — and is being tortured by a former Nazi who’s pretty adept at it — the preliminaries are over and film gets down to business. Cavill is suitably suave and the British actor is convincing enough as an American who thinks his way out of trouble as much as he fights.

Hammer’s Kuryakin, or rather “Edgier Illya,” is falling for Gaby and Hammer does fine taking advantage of those scenes. “Edgier Illya” has more than a few psychological problems, and Hammer gets to play with that also.

For those who’ve never seen the original series, there really isn’t a need to catch up before seeing the film. For fans of the show, the ones who accept the film as an alternative reality will like it just fine.

One of the highlights of the movie is Daniel Pemberton’s score. It’s more Lalo Schifrin than John Barry, but that fits with Ritchie’s alternate universe U.N.C.L.E.

Some notes, mostly for fans of the show. Norman Felton (1913-2012), the executive producer of the series, is credited as an “executive consultant.” Sam Rolfe (1924-1993), who developed the series and was its first-season producer, receives no credit. Meanwhile, the 1965 Hugo Montenegro arrangement of Jerry Goldsmith’s theme is heard for *maybe* five seconds when Solo is checking radio stations while in a truck.

Also, for James Bond fans, a character gets to share the name of a minor villain in Thunderball, although here it’s spelled Count Lippi.

Finally, the end titles show dossiers of the principal characters. It’s an effect similar to, but more subtle than, the little scenes that occur in the end titles of Marvel Studios movies. Fans of the show will likely want to review them to see even more differences, particularly with Waverly’s.

For the Spy Commander, the movie was a tossup in the first half, but the second charged things up. GRADE: B-Plus.

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

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.

SFX magazine plays up U.NC.L.E.’s ties to Fleming

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

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

SFX magazine has come out with a cover story about The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie. The tireless Henry Cavill News HAS PUBLISHED A POST with screen images.

Among other things, SFX begins with playing up Ian Fleming’s ties to the original 1964-68 series.

Napoleon Solo is Fleming’s other great contribution to the espionage game, brought to deadly, dapper life by Robert Vaughn…Teamed with David McCallum as taciturn, Beatle-mopped Soviet operative Illya Kuryakin, Solo fought the Cold War on the small screen while 007 ruled the big.

That’s a tad oversimplified, but within bounds. Fleming was involved with U.N.C.L.E. from October 1962 until June 1963. Writer-producer Sam Rolfe did much of the heavy lifting. And the whole project originated with producer Norman Felton, who initially devised the Solo character before meeting with the James Bond author. Fleming’s main contribution to the finished product was the name Napoleon Solo.

The SFX spread also includes an question-and-answer sidebar with Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer, who took on the Solo and Kuryakin roles that Vaughn and McCallum originated. Cavill, in one brief answer, address the Fleming connection between Solo and Bond, a role he auditioned for in 2005, but lost out to Daniel Craig.

HC: James Bond’s a very different thing. As much as Ian Fleming may have created both characters, they’re different — especially with the way Bond is in style now. If we were talking about previous Bonds then perhaps you could call them similar, but Napoleon Solo is a very different animal. He’s not for Queen and country. He’s for Napoleon Solo and Napoleon Solo.

To view the entire Henry Cavill news post, CLICK HERE. For information on how to order the SFX issue, CLICK HERE.

Fact checking TCM’s To Trap a Spy presentation

Luciana Paluzzi and Robert Vaughn in To Trap  a Spy

Luciana Paluzzi and Robert Vaughn in To Trap a Spy

TCM on July June 13 showed To Trap a Spy, the movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. pilot during prime time, part of a evening featuring films with actor Robert Vaughn, the original Napoleon Solo.

The cable channel has showed the film before but usually in off hours. The 10:15 p.m. eastern time presentation meant it’d get an introduction from TCM host Robert Osborne, a one-time actor (he makes a brief appearance in the pilot for The Beverly Hillbillies) who has written extensively about movies for decades.

However, there were a few errors. Most of these are old hat to long-time U.N.C.L.E. fans. But with a new U.N.C.L.E. movie coming out in August, potential new fans may have watched. With that in mind here’s some fact checking.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was an immediate hit. No. It originally aired on NBC on Tuesday nights against The Red Skelton Show on CBS. U.N.C.L.E.’s ratings struggled, but rallied after a mid-season change to Monday nights. The show’s best season for ratings was the 1965-66 season when it aired at 10 p.m. eastern time on Fridays.

The show was “created by producer Norman Felton.” The situation is a bit more complicated. Felton definitely initiated the project. He consulted Ian Fleming, who contributed ideas but the one that stuck was naming an agent Napoleon Solo.

The vast bulk of U.N.C.L.E. was created by Sam Rolfe (who wrote the pilot and gets the “written by” credit on To Trap a Spy), including the character of Illya Kuryakin. The show had no creator credit and Rolfe had a “developed by” credit.

Felton’s “inspired idea.” Osborne said Felton always intended to turn some of the episodes into feature films released internationally (true). He then said the films were actually two episodes of the series edited together along with extra footage. (Not 100 percent true).

The first two movies, To Trap a Spy and The Spy With My Face, were based on first season single episodes: the pilot, The Vulcan Affair, and The Double Affair, with additional footage.

Starting with the second season, the show did two-part episodes that were edited, with some additional footage, into movies for the international market. That was the case for the rest of the series, including the two parter, The Seven Wonders of the World Affair, that ended the series in January 1968.

Osborne also made it sound as if all of the first season were filmed in color, even though it was broadcast in black and white on NBC. Not true.

Both The Vulcan Affair and The Double Affair were filmed in color, as was the extra film footage with each. The rest of the season, however, was filmed in black and white.

One oddity is the first season episode The Four-Steps Affair. Ever efficient, Felton took some of the extra footage from the first two U.N.C.L.E. movies (including Luciana Paluzzi in To Trap a Spy) and had a new story written to incorporate it. Sexy scenes for To Trap a Spy between Vaughn and Paluzzi were toned down for Four Steps.

Some of Four Steps is a black and white print from a color negative. The same applies to the broadcast versions of Vulcan and Double. But the new material for Four Steps was filmed in black and white, like most of the first season. There’s a slight change in contrast as the story goes back and forth between the two sources of footage.

Meanwhile, in Osborne’s closing remarks after the movie, he worked in a plug for the Guy Ritchie-directed U.N.C.L.E. movie coming out in August. TCM is owned by Time Warner, also the parent company of Warner Bros., the studio releasing the August film.

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