U.N.C.L.E.: Sam Rolfe’s Solo is ready for filming Part II

Title card for the Solo series pilot

When Sam Rolfe wrote up a series proposal titled Ian Fleming’s Solo, the concepts of the villainous organization Thrush and the “innocents” who would interact with U.N.C.L.E. agents were teased. In his 103-page script, Rolfe would flesh out both.

Thrush is so vast that the prominent Vulcan Chemicals company, headed by Andrew Vulcan, is part of Thrush. Solo remarks that Vulcan’s company is “the third largest plastics company in the country.” Allison, his superior, says it’s “the eastern seaboard cover of Thrush.”

Clearly, the stakes are enormous.

There is a silent reaction from Solo. Allison pushes the file across his desk. Solo takes it and looks at the photo stapled to the outer cover.

INSERT – THE FILE – PHOTO OF VULCAN

The photo shows a man in his mid thirties…

ALLISON’S VOICE
A few months ago we discovered that the president of the firm, Mr. Andrew Vulcan himself, is an officer of Thrush.

Lancer, another U.N.C.L.E. agent had gone undercover as an employee for Vulcan’s company. He tried to communicate with Allison but was cut cut off and is presumed dead.

That precipitated the raid on U.N.C.L.E. headquarters in New York at the beginning of the script. All U.N.C.L.E. knows is there will be some kind of assassination attempt planned for the three leaders of a newly independent African nation who are guests of Vulcan.

Solo gets a second, more detailed, briefing from a “young attractive woman (MARGARET OBERON)” who has been designated as Channel D and assigned to Solo on a “twenty-four hour until mission complete basis.” In the series, Channel D would simply be a communications channel, rather than an individual.

Oberon provides more details about Andrew Vulcan and his company as well as the contingent from Western Guiana (renamed Western Natumba when filmed). The three men led the guerilla war that led to their nation’s independence. They are led by Ashumen, the premier of the country.

The innocent of the script comes up because Andrew Vulcan once had a girlfriend in college.

Illya visits Solo at his apartment with a yearbook from Ruttenberg College. As typed in the script, it’s from 1942. The copy of the script the blog has shows that’s crossed out and 1949 substituted instead.

The agents also have a clipping from the college newspaper which has a picture of a young Vulcan with “his arm around a pretty young girl (ELAINE MAY BENDER).”

Solo says since college that Vulcan “has wrapped himself in a protective cocoon. No friends, no women that mean anything to him.” As a result, he opts to see if Elaine, now a married housewife, can be enlisted to help — to try to get through Vulcan’s cocoon.

Fritz Weaver’s title card for the pilot for The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Solo meets the now Elaine May Donaldson at her home. Her reverend has arranged an introduction but he’s nervous. He did it under duress from his bishop. Nevertheless, after initially refusing, Elaine agrees to help.

Thus, Rolfe establishes one of the aspects that would make U.N.C.L.E. different than other 1960s spy shows. In this case, there’s a firm reason why Solo seeks her help. In the series, over 105 episodes, there wouldn’t always be such strong connections. More often, innocents would stumble into the middle of the action. Still, Solo (and later Illya) would need to watch out for the welfare of the innocents as well as trying to accomplish their assignments.

What follows is a bit of spy vs. spy. Vulcan and the other Thrush operatives know who Solo is. At one point, Solo radios into Channel D.

SOLO
Thrush has me spotted. Also…it’s possible…correction probable that a member of the Western Guiana delegation is with Thrush.

The agent averts one attempt on his life when one of Vulcan’s engineers booby traps Solo’s car.

Meanwhile, Elaine does get through Vulcan’s protective cocoon — sometimes more successfully than she imagined. U.N.C.L.E. has established a cover story for Elaine (she’s supposed to be the widow of a Oklahoma oilman). For a time, Elaine has doubts whether Vulcan is really part of Thrush.

Despite that, Solo convinces Elaine to ask Vulcan to show her the industrialist’s plastics plant. The delegation from the African nation is scheduled to visit the facility the next day.

Solo investigates the plant while Elaine and Vulcan are walking the grounds. He’s eventually discovered. Solo is in peril and appears about to be captured when Elaine makes her choice and helps him get away momentarily.

The pair sees a car and intend to use it to leave the grounds. However, Ashumen, the African premier, is in the car. He turns out to be the member of the delegation who’s part of Thrush. Solo and Elaine are captured at the end of Act III.

Things aren’t looking good at the beginning of Act IV. “Solo’s wrists are encase in manacles linked together by a foot long chain,” according to the stage directions. Vulcan is more than displeased with Elaine.

He has dropped all pretenses. He starts a backhanded slap at Elaine. Solo quickly steps in the way, taking the blow across his own shoulder. Solo clasps his wrists and swings back, the loose swinging chain lashing across Vulcan’s face.

As filmed, Solo would simply punch Vulcan before he could strike Elaine.

A dire moment for Elaine (Patricia Crowley) and Solo (Robert Vaughn).

Vulcan and Ashumen plan to stage an “accident” during a demonstration of a reactor at the plant used to make new plastics. The other two leaders of the African nation will die and become martyrs. Ashumen will “rule in their names” — and provide Thrush with diplomatic immunity and other benefits of nationhood. Solo and Elaine will be killed by steam and their bodies will be found after the explosion.

Solo and Elaine have other ideas. The U.N.C.L.E. agent figures a way out of the fix they’re in.

He foils the assassination attempt while Vulcan and Ashumen die in the explosion instead. The script is a bit more elaborate than what was filmed. For example, the script has Solo donning an asbestos suit before going to the reactor. In the final version, he didn’t bother and is still in his tuxedo.

The script also has Nobuk, one of the surviving African leaders, telling his colleague, Conuellen, “You and I…we must continue in his name. His dreams were the dreams of our people. For him, we must go on. We must build.” This wouldn’t be part of the final product. Conuellen would renamed Soumarin in the final version.

The next evening, Solo and Elaine fly back to her home. She’s ready to disembark while Solo will fly on to New York.

She leans forward and kisses him on the cheek. Then she hurries down the aisle towards the exit. For a moment Solo stands rubbing his cheek perhaps ruefully, a lonely figure.

Not necessarily for long. A flight attendant, seeing Solo sitting by himself, asks if there’s anything she can do for him.

“…for we FREEZE FRAME…”

The last line has been delivered in the earnest manner of the young stewardess, trying hard to do her job. Solo turns to the stewardess and beckons for her to lean down towards him.

SOLO
Well…as a matter of fact….

But that is all we hear for we FREEZE FRAME and THE CAMERA MOVES IN TO HOLD ON A CLOSEUP of Solo and the stewardess as we:

FADE OUT.

The script is missing one thing — Solo’s first name. He is only called “Solo” or “Mr. Solo” during the story. In the end titles of the pilot shown to NBC executives, it simply reads, “Starring Robert Vaughn as Solo.”

However, the Napoleon Solo name devised by Ian Fleming would return. This would occur after Sam Rolfe was enlisted to write additional scenes to make Solo into the film To Trap a Spy.

Also, there was the matter of some revised scenes before the show, now called The Man From U.N.C.L.E. would air on NBC in September 1964. An important part would be recast, necessitating the change.

TO BE CONTINUED

Elements that should be part of an U.N.C.L.E. movie

Henry Cavill

Henry Cavill

If Warner Bros. is serious about making a movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. with Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer, there are some elements that should be part of the film. Here are some examples:

The “innocent”: As envisioned by executive producer Norman Felton and writer-developer Sam Rolfe, the innocent was a character who acted as a stand-in for the audience. The innocent was an average person who got sucked into an exotic world of adventure, sometimes by design, sometimes by luck.

For example, in the Rolfe-scripted pilot episode, Napoleon Solo has been assigned to prevent an assassination of the leaders of a newly independent African country. Industrialist Andrew Vulcan (Fritz Weaver) is known to be part of Thrush, an independent, villainous organization (think SPECTRE but much larger).

Robert Vaughn’s Solo recruits Elaine May Donaldson (Patricia Crowley), a Vulcan girlfriend from college because she can get close to him quickly enough to be of help.

Some U.N.C.L.E. fans don’t like the innocent because they’d rather have more screen time for Solo and Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum). But the innocent is what makes U.N.C.L.E. different from James Bond. Solo and Kurykin have to both look out for the innocent and try to save the world.

Innocents can be hard characters to write. Bill Dana in the THIRD-SEASON episode The Matterhorn Affair is supposed to be funny but is really, really annoying. But it would be throwing out the baby with the bath water to not include the innocent.

The theme by Jerry Goldsmith: Jerry Goldsmith provided a distinctive theme for the 1964-68 series and scored three early episodes. Here’s how television music expert Jon Burlingame descrbed it in a 2004 INTERVIEW:

…”The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” will not be “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” without Jerry Goldsmith (or, at least, a faithful rendition of his theme played by a 100-piece orchestra).

Sometimes, though, film composers don’t like using existing themes. There are some Star Trek movies that either don’t use or greatly downplay the Star Trek themes from the 1966 original show or 1987 Star Trek: The Next Generation theme. Indeed, Goldsmith himself scored the first Star Trek movie in 1979 and came with a main title theme that ended up being used as the Next Generation theme eight years later.

Meanwhile, Goldsmith’s U.N.C.L.E. theme isn’t the composer’s most famous television music with the general public. Star Trek: The Next Generation’s theme (which includes part of Alexander Courage’s 1966 original theme) is certainly better known. You could argue that’s also true of Goldsmith’s themes for The Waltons and Barnaby Jones.

As a result, it might be tempting for the filmmakers to not use Goldsmith’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Theme. But that would be a mistake.

A proper drama-humor balance: Like 007 movies, U.N.C.L.E. mixed humor in with drama. But U.N.C.L.E. had to produce as many as 30 episodes per television season. That (along with a turnover of producers) meant that the mix could, and did, get out of whack. In general, the third season had too much silliness (titles such as The My Friend, the Gorilla Affair are a sign of that). In fact, some of this began creeping in during the second half of season two. Meanwhile, some fans think the fourth season overcorrected and didn’t have enough humor.

Armie Hammer, who is slated to play the Kuryakin role, SAID IN AN INTERVIEW that the script is “so funny.” That would imply it’s not like the show’s fourth season. The trick is to avoid being like the third and instead like the better entries from the first two seasons.

We’ll see. Meanwhile, here’s the standard caveat: Warner Bros. has yet to make an announcement, though Cavill and Hammer have commented multiple times in interviews about it.