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.

U.N.C.L.E. Jazz CD becoming available

The original U.N.C.L.E.s, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum

A jazz CD featuring a live performance of music from The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is becomes available this week.

The Jazz From U.N.C.L.E. is the brainchild of Robert Short, an Oscar-winning film industry professional and first-generation U.N.C.L.E. fan, and Jon Burlingame, a journalist and movie and TV music expert.

The CD consists of 14 tracks of music performed at 2014’s The Golden Anniversary Affair, a Los Angeles-area gathering that celebrated the 50th anniversary of the series.

The music was performed by the Summit Six Sex Sextet  and “played from the original sheet music used during the scoring sessions,” according to the project’s website.

Short runs a Facebook page, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Inner Circle. The CD is being offered at a special price to page members through today, July 10. After that, it becomes generally available for a price of $15 plus $3 shipping and handling. The CD is limited to 1,000 units. For more information about ordering, CLICK HERE. Full disclosure: the Spy Commander was asked to proof some of the pages of The Jazz From U.N.C.L.E.’s website.

Here’s a sampling of the music.

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.

U.N.C.L.E.’s connection to The Prize (1963)

Poster for The Prize (1963)

Poster for The Prize (1963)

This week, Turner Classic Movies televised a series of spy films, including The Prize (1963). The movie, released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, had a number of connections to The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Some of this stemmed from how U.N.C.L.E. was also produced at MGM. In any case, here’s a partial list of U.N.C.L.E. ties to The Prize.

Crew: These names show up on just about every production either produced by MGM or made at MGM in the 1960s: George W. Davis (co-art director), Henry Grace (co-set decorator) and Franklin Milton (sound or recording supervisor). Another name that shows up in many MGM-related productions is William Tuttle, who headed MGM’s makeup department.

(Totally as an aside: Grace resembled Dwight Eisenhower. As a result, he played the Allied supreme commander in 1962’s The Longest Day.)

The Prize also includes a score by Jerry Goldsmith. At this point, Goldsmith was transitioning from a television composer to a movie composer. Despite that, Goldsmith scored the pilot episode for U.N.C.L.E. as well as two additional episodes.

Speculation: The Spy Commander has long wondered if Goldsmith, in his early 1960s work, was influenced by Bernard Herrman. Both Herrmann and Goldsmith did work at CBS during this period. In his score for The Prize, there are bits of Goldsmith’s score that evokes Herrmann (this also applies to Goldsmith’s score for 1964’s In Harm’s Way).

Cast: The Prize (which, essentially is a star vehicle for Paul Newman) includes a number of cast members who would later appear in U.N.C.L.E. Among them:

Leo G. Carroll: Played U.N.C.L.E. chief Alexander Waverly. In the Prize, he plays a small, but key, role as a Swedish count who helps administer the Nobel Prizes.

John Banner: Most famous for playing Sgt. Schultz in Hogan’s Heroes, the character actor also played one of a group of scientists trying to take over the world in The Neptune Affair in U.N.C.L.E.’s first season. In The Prize, he plays a newscaster during the movie’s title sequence.

Teru Shimada: In U.N.C.L.E., he plays the head of an Asian country who’s the target of an assassination plot in Season Two’s Part Two, Alexander the Greater Affair. In The Prize, he’s another newscaster in the title sequence. Shimada also played Mr. Osato in the 1967 James Bond film You Only Live Twice.

Kevin McCarthy: He played the villain in the U.N.C.L.E. Season Two episode The Moonglow Affair (which was also the pilot for The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.). In The Prize, he plays a Nobel Prize winner.

Ben Wright: The character actor was in two U.N.C.L.E. episodes (The Deadly Games Affair and The Girls of Nazarone Affair). In The Prize, he plays a reporter who asks question of Andrew Craig (Paul Newman’s character) at a press conference.

Noel Drayton: Played a physician who conducts an autopsy on a seal in U.N.C.L.E.’s The Finny Foot Affair. In The Prize, he plays a policeman trying to verify what seems to be a wild story from Newman’s character.

Miscellaneous

Irving Wallace: The Prize is based on a novel by Wallace, who also had written some episodes of Have Gun — Will Travel, which was co-created by Sam Rolfe, who developed U.N.C.L.E. Wallace’s nephew was Danny Biederman, a first-generation U.N.C.L.E. fan who (with Robert Short) attempted to produce an U.N.C.L.E. movie in the late 1970s-early 1980s.

 

EPILOGUE: The U.N.C.L.E. movie that wasn’t

A sample of The End of the World Affair

Solo and Kuryakin in peril in The End Of The World Affair

The other day, this blog published a POST about the storyline for a late 1970s-early 1980s movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. that was never produced. It turns out that wasn’t the entire story.

About 20 years ago, the Robert Short-Danny Biederman story was almost adapted into a comic book — except it wasn’t published. Deja vu all over again, as Yogi Berra might say.

Background: In 1993, Millenium Publications, an independent publisher of comic books, came out with a two-part comic book based on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. called The Birds of Prey Affair.

Millenium planned a second U.N.C.L.E. foray, to be based on the aborted Short-Biederman movie, The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: The Feature Film. The title would have been The End Of The World Affair.

The project ran into problems. There were management changes at Millenium while the project was underway. Eventually, the art was completed. However, the studio that controlled U.N.C.L.E., which would have been Turner Entertainment at the time, wanted an increase in the licensing fee. (Turner was acquired by Time Warner, the parent company of Warner Bros., in 1996). As a result, nothing was published.

Thus, the imaginative story line again was denied an audience. The tale involved an all-out assault on U.N.C.L.E. by Thrush, the villainous organization of the original 1964-68 series. Also, the story revealed that Thrush already exerted control over the world through economic means, including controlling ownership of multi-national conglomerates.

Two decades later, a new U.N.C.L.E. movie is scheduled to begin production in September. This one will be a 1960s period piece, with Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer as U.N.C.L.E. agents Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin. It remains to be seen what the new film, to be directed by Guy Ritchie, has in store or whether it can match the scope of the Short-Biederman story.

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.

NEVER-MADE U.N.C.L.E. SCRIPTS:
THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. EPISODE GUIDE

DECEMBER 2010 POST:
DANNY BIEDERMAN’S SPY-FI COLLECTION

HMSSWEBLOG POSTS ABOUT THE U.N.C.L.E. MOVIE: CLICK HERE

Separated at birth? U.N.C.L.E. and 007 guns

Albert R. Broccoli, from the available evidence, couldn’t stand The Man From U.N.C.L.E. In his autobiography, the 007 film producer called the 1964-68 television show “a straight steal from (Ian) Fleming’s use of acronyms like SMERSH and SPECTRE.” (Page 199, When the Snow Melts).

The U.N.C.L.E. Special in its fully assembled glory


For a short time, Bond creator Ian Fleming was involved in development, his main contribution was the hero’s name of Napoleon Solo. Of course, there was a gangster called Mr. Solo in Goldfinger, so Eon Productions attempted to prevent the show (originally titled Solo) from going into production. The whole matter was settled out of court, though Cubby may have gotten a bit of revenge. Goldfinger’s script was changed in its latter drafts so that Mr. Solo was crushed in a Lincoln Continental after not wanting to participate in Goldfinger’s scheme.

Still, Broccoli’s animosity might not have prevented Eon from, eh, borrowing from U.N.C.L.E.

One of the iconic props of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was the U.N.C.L.E. Special, a Walther P38 (initially a Mauser) handgun with a sight, shoulder stock, barrel attachments and an extended magazine. People who barely watched an episode still came away impressed by the U.N.C.L.E. Special.

Mr. Bond, we think we've seen that gun somewhere before...


Flash forward a quarter-century to 1989’s Licence to Kill. One of its signature gadgets was a “signature gun,” supplied by Q to a 007-gone-rogue (Timothy Dalton). It consisted of a gun disguised as a camera which was added a sight, a shoulder stock and gunbarrel attachments. It didn’t have an extended magazine but it had a “palm reader” that ensured nobody other than Bond fired it.

And it looked….an awfully lot like a fully assembled U.N.C.L.E. Special.

Now, to be fair, a long time had passed since The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was first on the air (although the 1983 television film The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. included a Robert Short-designed new U.N.C.L.E. Special). And Cubby Broccoli, in what would be his last 007 film as a credited producer (he would “present” 1995’s GoldenEye but not have a producer credit) had a lot on his mind beyond what the art department was cooking up for props. Still, the resemblance is there regardless. (CLICK HERE to see a larger photo of the Licence to Kill signature gun.)