Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’s 35th anniversary

Robert Vaughn and David McCallum in a publicity still for The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Adapted from a 2013 post with updates.

You can’t keep a good man down. So it was for former U.N.C.L.E. spies Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin, who made a return 35 years ago.

The intrepid agents, again played by Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, were back after a 15-year absence. This time they appeared in a made-for-television movie broadcast in April 1983 on CBS, instead of NBC, home of the original 1964-68 series.

It was a mixed homecoming. Return’s script, penned by executive producer Michael Sloan, recycled the plot of Thunderball, the fourth James Bond film. Thrush steals two nuclear bombs from a U.S. military aircraft. Thrush operative Janus (Geoffrey Lewis) boasts that the criminal organization is now “a nuclear power.” Yawn. Thrush was much more ambitious in the old days.

The show had been sold to NBC as “James Bond for television.” Sloan & Co. took the idea literally, hiring one-time 007 George Lazenby to play “JB,” who happens to drive as Aston Martin DB5. JB helps Solo, who has just been recalled to active duty for U.N.C.L.E., to get out of a jam in Las Vegas.

In a sense, this TV movie was a footnote to 1983’s “Battle of the Bonds.” Roger Moore and Sean Connery were starring in dueling 007 films, Octopussy and Never Say Never Again respectively.

As a result, for a time in 1982, when the two Bond films and this TV movie were in production, all three Bond film actors up to that time were either playing 007 or a reasonable facisimile..

The original U.N.C.L.E. had been filmed no further out that about 30 miles from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s studio in Culver City, California. Return was really filmed in and around Las Vegas, with the desert nearby substituting for Libya, where Thrush chieftain Justin Sepheran (Anthony Zerbe) has established his headquarters.

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George Lazenby’s title card in the main titles of The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Vaughn and McCallum, being old pros, make the best of the material they’re given, especially when they appear together. That’s not often, as it turns out. After being reunited, they pursue the affair from different angles. Solo has to put up with skeptical U.N.C.L.E. agent Kowalski (Tom Mason), who complains out loud about new U.N.C.L.E. chief Sir John Raleigh (Patrick Macnee) bringing back two aging ex-operatives.

Sloan did end up bringing in two crew members of the original series: composer Gerald Fried, who worked on the second through fourth seasons, and director of photography Fred Koenekamp, who had photographed 90 U.N.C.L.E. episodes from 1964 through 1967.

Also on the crew was Robert Short, listed as a technical adviser. He and Danny Biederman had attempted to put together an U.N.C.L.E. feature film. Their project eventually was rejected in favor of Sloan’s TV movie.

In the end, the April 5, 1983 broadcast produced respectable ratings. CBS, however, passed on committing to a new U.N.C.L.E. series.

For a long time, Return remained the last official U.N.C.L.E. production. Another U.N.C.L.E. project wouldn’t be seen until 2015. That’s when The Man From U.N.C.L.E. film debuted. It had an “origin” story line, didn’t feature many of the familiar U.N.C.L.E. memes and revised the back stories of Solo and Kuryakin.

In 2013, the blog did a post about Return’s 30th anniversary. Since then Vaughn, Macnee and Koenekamp have died.

For a more detailed review of The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., CLICK HERE.

An Avengers stage production may occur, Bamigboye says

Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg in a publicity still for The Avengers television series.

A stage musical version of The Avengers may be in the offing, the Daily Mail’s Baz Bamiboye said in a post on Twitter.

The project “in very early stages development 4 poss musical by #UniversalStageProductions,” Bamigboye wrote on Twitter.

(UPDATE, 7:20 a.m., New York time: Bamigboye now has a story online at the Daily Mail website. “A small team has been assembled to explore whether The Avengers could work under a West End proscenium,” he wrote.

Former 007 film composer David Arnold has been asked to work on the stage project as well as writer-director Sean Foley, Bamigboye reported.)

Bamigboye, this decade, has had a number of 007 film scoops proven correct, which is why the blog notes this.

The original Avengers television series ran from 1961 to 1969. There was also a revival, The New Avengers, that ran in the 1970s.

But there was also a 1971 stage play.

The Voices of East Angela website had a summary of the 1971 stage play.

Patrick Macnee, the star of the 1960s and ’70s TV versions, declined to participate. Instead, “experienced British TV actor Simon Oates was drafted in,” according to the website.

Voices of East Angela also reproduced posters of the play, directed by Leslie Phillips and written by Terence Feely and Brian Clemens. The latter worked as a writer and producer on the 1960s and ’70s TV shows.

“It seems the technically challenging stage show proved too challenging and the plot was verging on the pantomime featuring as it did invisible dolly birds (this was 1971 remember) and a giant computer brain,” according to Voices of East Angela.

“Numerous set changes and a multitude of set mishaps generated more unintended laughs than those written in to the script and following an initial run of ten nights in Birmingham the show was shipped down to the West End where it opened nine days later.

“Such were the poor reviews and numerous stage mishaps that it lasted a mere three weeks at the Prince of Wales theatre before it was unceremoniously hoisted off stage with a metaphorical shepherd’s crook.”

We’ll see what happens. In the U.S., fans of The Avengers television show are deeply annoyed how Marvel’s Avengers (featured in two movies so far, with two more scheduled for 2018 and 2019) have pre-empted the name.

The original Avengers comic book debuted in 1963, two years after The Avengers TV show premiered in the U.K. but before the series came to America.

Roger Moore, an appreciation

Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman pose with Roger Moore during the filming of Live And Let Die.

Roger Moore as James Bond wasn’t the physical specimen that Sean Connery was in his early 007 films. Moore’s best moments in the role occurred when he didn’t try to be.

One of the actor’s best Bond scenes occurred in 1983’s Octopussy. Bond takes on Kamal Khan (Louis Jourdan) in a crooked game of backgammon.

Bond exercises “player’s privilege” and opts to use Kamal’s “lucky dice.” Bond can only win with a double six.

Bond throws the dice. “Fancy that,” Bond says, without looking down. “Double sixes.” Bond has out-cheated the cheater.

Octopussy is a movie with a lot of outrageous action as well as a hot-air balloon with a Union Jack design. But it also had a quiet, dramatic moment in the middle of all this.

Moore was 54 when Octopussy began production in the summer of 1982. In the story, Bond befriends a younger MI6 agent, Vijay (Vijay Amritraj). Bond almost becomes a mentor to Vijay.

One part of the Bond formula is the “sacrificial lamb,” an ally of Bond who is killed. The chemistry between Moore and Amritraj helped give the film a little emotional oomph when Vijay is killed by goons working for Kamal.

Moore doesn’t overplay the scene. He says, “No more problems,” while looking at Vijay’s body, a reference to Vijay’s catchphrase throughout the film. Later, while in Berlin, Bond is reminded of Vijay when a driver for MI6 says, “No problem.” There’s a little John Barry music to emphasize the point.

“Bond and Holly” by Paul Baack

The Moore films have various examples of this sort of thing if you know where to look. Bond visiting Tracy’s grave in For Your Eyes Only. Bond admitting to Anya he had killed her lover in The Spy Who Loved Me. Bond discovering Tibbett (Patrick Macnee) has been killed in A View to a Kill. They’re brief but effective.

The actor was mostly known for bringing a lighter tone to the series. In reality, the series was already going in this direction, starting with Diamonds Are Forever.

Screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz introduced the tone when he took over for Richard Maibaum on Diamonds. The scribe said in an interview for the documentary Inside Live And Let Die it accelerated when Moore became aboard because “you wrote differently for Roger” than Sean Connery.

Some fans still hold Moore accountable. Some argue the producers “indulged” Moore.

Once, I was on a conference call at work. Somehow, the subject of Bond came up. When Roger Moore’s name was mentioned, someone on the call said, “I don’t think you can count Roger Moore” as being James Bond. I briefly registered a protest but gave up.

The actor never seemed to mind. In his public comments, he always acknowledged Connery’s popularity as Bond. After he left the role, Moore spoke fondly of his successors.

While some fans complained — in some cases, *still* complain  — you got the impression Roger Moore was fine with it all.

Post-Bond, Moore was an unofficial ambassador for the series. He also performed humanitarian work for UNICEF.

Perhaps that’s why, when Moore’s family announcing his death via Twitter on May 23, people around the globe expressed sorrow.

Roger Moore lived a long, full life. He died famous and wealthy. Still, his passing resulted, for many, with an enormous sense of loss.

Here’s one such expression.

 

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Happy 89th birthday, Roger Moore

Roger Moore in Live And Let Die

Roger Moore in his first 007 film, Live And Let Die (1973)

Oct. 14 is the 89th birthday of Sir Roger Moore, the seven-time film 007.

He’s the oldest of the movie Bonds. He’s also at that stage of life where you’re saying your final good-byes to people you’ve known.

This year, on HIS TWITTER FEED, he’s posted about the passing of Guy Hamilton (director of his first two 007 films), Ken Adam (“a friend, a visionary and the man who defined the look of the James Bond films”) and George Martin (“He made my first Bond film sound brilliant!”).

In 2015, he did the same for acting colleagues Patrick Macnee (“true gent”) and Christopher Lee (“one of my oldest” friends). He had known both long before they had appeared in his Bond movies.

Such farewells, as hard as they are, are the way of the world. The actor also lost his 47-year-old stepdaughter Christina Knudsen because of cancer this past summer.

Still, of all the movie Bonds, Moore carries on as the most active ambassador for the 007 movie franchise. Example: THIS PROMO for AN INTERVIEW he did for the James Bond Radio website.

It’s a great “get” for James Bond Radio. But it also shows how the actor still carries the 007 banner.

At a time nobody has any idea when the next James Bond film will come out, that’s reassuring.

Happy birthday, Sir Roger.

Patrick Macnee, an appreciation

Patrick Macnee's image in an end titles to an episode of The Avengers

Patrick Macnee’s image in a titles sequence of an episode of The Avengers

Patrick Macnee had a career that last decades. His acting credits in his IMDB.COM ENTRY begin in 1938 and run through 2003.

During that span, he didn’t get the role that defined his career — John Steed on The Avengers — until he was 39.

Even then, it took a while for The Avengers to become a worldwide phenomenon. Macnee’s Steed was the one consistent element in a show that changed cast members often.

It’s easy to see why. John Steed didn’t just know the right wines. He knew which end of the vineyard where the grapes had been grown. Steed could handle himself but — as the epitome of the English gentleman — he could adeptly out think his foes as well as out fight them.

It was all outrageous, of course. Steed and his various colleagues encountered robots, mad scientists, Soviet agents and all sorts of dangers. All were dispatched with a sense of style and elegance.

After that show ran its course, he seemed to transition effortlessly to an in-demand character actor. The captain of a cruise ship on Columbo. An alien menace on Battlestar Galactica. Dr. Watson in the made-for-TV movie Sherlock Holmes in New York.

All done with style, seemingly without effort. It seemed like he’d go on forever. He couldn’t, of course. He died today at 93.

Anytime it seems like a performance was effortless, chances are it wasn’t. To keep getting acting gigs is tough. However, watching Macnee it’s understandable why casting directors would keep turning to him.

Even with lesser material, he established a presence. For example, the 1983 TV movie The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. had an uneven script. Yet Macnee shined as new U.N.C.L.E. chief Sir John Raleigh. When performing great material — such an Avengers script by Brian Clemens or Philip Levene — Macnee made it even more special.

Part of it was his distinctive voice. In the 1990s, when documentaries were made about James Bond movies for home video releases, he was a natural to narrate them. (He didn’t narrate Inside A View to a Kill, presumably because he was in the cast of the 1985 007 movie.)

On social media today, fans all over the world expressed sadness. That’s very understandable. Macnee was so good, for so long, it was easy to take him for granted. Nobody is doing so today.

Patrick Macnee dies at 93, BBC says

Patrick Mcnee and Diana Rigg in a publicity still for The Avengers

Patrick Mcnee and Diana Rigg in a publicity still for The Avengers

Patrick Macnee, debonair actor best known for playing John Steed on The Avengers, died today at 93, according to the BBC, WHICH CITED MACNEE’S SON RUPERT.

There was also a statement ON THE ACTOR’S WEBSITE that said Macnee “died a natural death at his home in Rancho Mirage, California…with his family at his bedside.”

Macnee enjoyed a long career, playing dozens of characters. Still, The Avengers and his character of John Steed, with his bowler and umbrella, became Macnee’s career trademark. The show first went into production in 1961. Its greatest popularity came when he was paired with Diana Rigg’s Emma Peel.

The actor saw two of his co-stars — Honor Blackman and Rigg — leave the series to take the lead female role in James Bond movies (Goldfinger and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). Another Majesty’s actress, Joanna Lumley, was Macnee’s co-star in a 1970s revival, The New Avengers.

Macnee finally got his turn at a Bond movie, A View to a Kill, in 1985, playing an ally of Bond (Roger Moore) who is killed by henchwoman May Day (Grace Jones). Macnee, years earlier, had played Dr. Watson to Moore’s Sherlock Holmes in a made-for-television movie. Macnee also made a properly dignified chief of U.N.C.L.E. in 1983’s The Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E.

UPDATE: For the second time this month (Christopher Lee’s death was the other), Roger Moore bids adieu to a colleague:

Brian Clemens, mastermind of The Avengers, dies

Patrick Mcnee and Diana Rigg, arguably the best pairing in The Avengers

Patrick Mcnee and Diana Rigg, arguably the best pairing in The Avengers

Brian Clemens, a mastermind of the television series The Avengers, has died, according to an obituary on the INQUISITR WEBSITE.

Clemens, born in 1931, had a lengthy career as a writer and producer. But he is perhaps best known for his work on The Avengers (1961-69) and The New Avengers (1976-77).

In a 2008 U.K. television interview, Clemens said The Avengers “had a curious logic all its own.” Ideas that might work elsewhere could work on The Avengers, he said. “The Avengers had unwritten rules” which were “in my head,” Clemens said.

Of suave John Steed, played by Patrick Macnee, Clemens said in 2008: “He is the manipulator of the all the girls he’s ever been associated with. He gets them into situations for his own benefit.”

Eon Productions, maker of the James Bond film series, used The Avengers as a farm club. Honor Blackman, who played Cathy Gale on The Avengers, was signed to play Pussy Galore in 1964’s Goldfinger. After bringing aboard Diana Rigg as Emma Peel, the series even made a joke about Mrs. Gale sending Steed a card from Fort Knox.

Rigg, of course, ended up playing Tracy, Bond’s doomed bride, in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Macnee finally made his 007 appearance in 1985’s A View to a Kill. Going the other way, Joanna Lumley, who had a small part in Majesty’s, was the female lead in The New Avengers.

Here’s the 2008 interview with Clemens: