Joseph Sargent talks about directing U.N.C.L.E.

Joseph Sargent (1925-2014)

This weekend, the blog caught up on a 2006 interview that director Joseph Sargent (1925-2014) did for the Archive of American Television and checked out what he had to say about The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Sargent said the 1964-68 spy show helped him develop as a director.

Sargent working on episodic television in general was a training ground “not the least of which was Man from U.N.C.L.E. That was like summer stock is to an actor in terms of training.”

U.N.C.L.E., he said, gave him “the opportunity to break the envelope a little bit.”

“It was an  innovative and very daring and very wild, free style kind of show. It had whip pans for instance for the first time, it gave it a sense of energy.”

Whip pans (sometimes call zip pans) have the camera move suddenly, creating a blur. U.N.C.L.E. used whip pans as a transition between scenes.

“There was this twinkle Bob Vaughn and David (McCallum) had about the whole role,” Sargent said in the 2006 interview.

The series involved “a very broad, wonderful concept of peace and cooperation between, in effect, the two major antagonists of the Cold War, the Soviet Union and America.” At the same time, he said, it employed humor which “saved it from being a heavy polemic.”

Sargent directed 11 episodes of the series, plus one episode of its spinoff, The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. The series was made at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer while the studio still had its legendary production lots still in tact.

As a result, Sargent said, scenes were devised “using the available infrastructure of MGM Studios,” which was like being “a kid in a candy store.”

U.N.C.L.E. episodes were shot in six days, often in a hurry.

Getting Napoleon Solo out of this fix had to be devised during lunch.

“We had a script that was incomplete,” Sargent said. “In this case, they were writing and still writing and I was on the scene that hadn’t been written yet and it was going to be filmed right after lunch.”

The scene to be filmed, but not yet written, involved Illya Kurykin (McCallum) having to rescue fellow agent Napoleon Solo (Vaughn) from being executed by the villains.

Over lunch, Sargent talked to the prop man who gave him a small tape recorder. After lunch, the scene was filmed. Two agents assisting Kuryakin play the tape, which is a cavalry charge, and provide Kuryakin protective fire which he performs the rescue.

“Of course, you couldn’t do that today,” Sargent said.

Two asides:

–In the interview, Sargent mis-remembers one aspect of the scene. He describes a character played by Ricardo Montalban as trying to kill Solo. Actually, that character was double crossing his allies in the story. They catch on and are trying to kill Montalban’s character as well in the scene. Remember, though, the interview was done 40 years after the episode aired.

–The episode is titled The King of Diamonds and has its oddities. It was plotted and co-scripted by Edwin Blum, who co-write Stalag 17 with Billy Wilder. The script was rewritten by Leo Townsend, a co-writer on Beach Blanket Bingo. The tone is a bit uneven.

Anyway, the portion of the 2006 interview dealing with U.N.C.L.E. is in the video below. It begins around the 11:30 mark.

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Requiem for a TV tie-in novel

David McDaniel’s The Dagger Affair

Once upon a time, when a television series debuted, it was accompanied by “tie-in” novels. Writers were hired before the series was out so the novels would be on sale when the TV show was on.

One of the most successful series of tie-in novels were commissioned for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (1964-68). More than 20 were published under the Ace brand.

One of the novels, in particular, still has an impact today.

That would be the fourth novel, The Dagger Affair by David McDaniel.

McDaniel was an actual fan of the show and came up with an origin or the villainous organization, Thrush. In McDaniel’s tale, Thrush was once an acronym, the Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity and had ties to Sherlock Holmes foe Professor Moriarty.

The thing is, many fans liked McDaniel’s take more than what clues were presented in the show.

A second-season episode, The Adriatic Express Affair, featured Thrush official Madame Nemirovitch (Jesse Royce Landis) claiming to be the founder of the organization. Other than that, the show itself didn’t provide a lot of details about how Thrush got started.

The more colorful McDaniel version got repeated in U.N.C.L.E. fan fiction. In fact, it has been repeated so often, it’s virtually accepted as canon, even when it’s not.

For example, there was The New York Times’s 2016 obituary for Robert Vaughn, who played Napoleon Solo in the series.

But no character (Vaughn) played was as popular as Napoleon Solo. From 1964 to 1968, in the thick of the Cold War, millions of Americas tuned in weekly to “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” to watch Mr. Vaughn, as a superagent from the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, battling T.H.R.U.S.H. (Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity), a secret organization intent on achieving world domination through nefarious if far-fetched devices like mind-controlling gas.

Among first-generation U.N.C.L.E. fans, McDaniel (1939-1977) is considered the best of the tie-in novel writers. He wrote other novels in the Ace series. He also penned an unpublished U.N.C.L.E. story, The Final Affair, which sought to tie up loose ends from the series, which was abruptly canceled in the middle of its fourth season.

Vaughn, Moore, Landau in Emmy In Memoriam

Robert Vaughn in The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Robert Vaughn (The Man From U.N.C.L.E.), Roger Moore (The Saint) and Martin Landau (Mission: Impossible) were among those included in the In Memoriam segment of the Emmy broadcast Sunday night on CBS.

Also included were Mike Connors of Mannix and Adam West of the 1966-68 Batman series. With the latter. a short clip from the show’s pilot played, with Batman doing the “Batusi” dance.

The Emmy version of In Memoriam seemed more weighted to performers compared with the Oscars telecast on ABC, which included publicists. However, some behind-the-camera professionals were included in the Emmy In Memoriam, including producer Stanley Kallis, who worked on Mission: Impossible, among other shows.

Vaughn, who had an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor, and Connors were not included in the Oscars In Memoriam segement earlier this year.

Others included were Mary Tyler Moore (the segment ended with her) and cartoon voice June Foray.

UPDATE (Sept. 18): You can view the In Memoriam segment for yourself.

Some Rod Taylor spy movies on TCM early Friday

Rod Taylor from the main titles of the Masquerade television series.

Friday, Aug. 18, is Rod Taylor day on TCM’s Summer Under the Stars. And some of Taylor’s spy movies will be part of the proceedings.

As an aside, TCM’s programming day starts at 6 a.m. New York time. The spy movies start early. Sorry for the late notice, but the Spy Commander just found out himself.

6 a.m.: 36 Hours, World War II espionage movie. Germans kidnap an American officer (James Garner). They make him think World War II is over to trick him out of information about the invasion of Europe. Taylor plays the German performing the deception. Based on a story by Roald Dahl.

8 a.m.: The Liquidator. Rod Taylor as John Gardner’s Boysie Oakes. Music by Lalo Schifrin and a title song performed by Shirley Bassey.

10 a.m.: The Glass Bottom Boat, a Doris Day comedy involving spies seeking secrets from a Tony Stark-like character played by Taylor. Cameo by Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo.

1967: Spy TV star debates a conservative icon

Robert Vaughn, right, with Richardo Montalban in the first-season Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode, The Dove Affair

July 8 is the 50th anniversary of when Robert Vaughn, the star of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., debated William F. Buckley Jr. about the Vietnam war on the program Firing Line.

Buckley, the founder and publisher of National Review, took on debate partners over more than 30 years on Firing Line.

Firing Line’s format was polite but intense. In 1967, the Vietnam War was raging and it was an intense time.

Vaughn was one of the most prominent actors who opposed the war.

Vaughn, decades later, in an interview for the Archive of American Television, described his preparation for the debate.

The actor said he “spent a month in a monastery reading everything Buckley had ever written in his life, including term papers at Yale. So I walked in as the young challenger against the old champ.”

The Firing Line taping occurred during a day off during filming of the fourth-season U.N.C.L.E. episode The Thrush Roulette Affair (July 5-7 and 10-12, according to Jon Heitland’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E. book).

The Hoover Institution, a conservative think thank has posted the Buckley Vaughn encounter. It lasts more than 48 minutes. It’s considerably more polite than a debate, a year later, between Buckley and author Gore Vidal on ABC.

You can view the Buckley-Vaughn video below. There’s a judge, C. Dickerman Williams.

At the end, Williams says, “We’ve had a conflict between a hawk and a dove…Whose feathers were the more ruffled? The hawk’s or the dove’s? I must leave that to you to decide, As chairman, I can’t make a decision myself, I regret to say.”

(Corrected to remove reference to PBS. Firing Line wasn’t shown on PBS until the early 1970s.)

 

“The pace is killing!” (Evidently)

Over the weekend, an oddity came to our attention.

A trailer for The Spy in the Green Hat, one of the movies re-edited from episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. showed up online. Except the trailer mistakenly gives the title as The Man in the Green Hat.

What’s more, the man doing the voice over work was the same guy who voiced many U.S. trailers for James Bond movies.

It gets stranger. Around the 1:20 mark of the U.N.C.L.E. trailer the announcer proclaims, “The pace is killing!” You can take a look for yourself.

Flash forward a few years to 1974 and the trailer for The Man With The Golden Gun, the second 007 film starring Roger Moore.

Once more, the same announcer proclaims, “The pace is killing!” In this case, it’s at the 1:11 mark.


Evidently so. The burden of being a secret agent, I suppose.

Luciana Paluzzi: Angela vs. Fiona

Luciana Paluzzi and Robert Vaughn in To Trap a Spy, the first U.N.C.L.E. movie.

Today, June 10, is the 80th birthday of Luciana Paluzzi. She’s perhaps best known for Thunderball.

But her character in the 1965 James Bond movie is more than a little similar to another femme fatale she played in The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

How similar? Let’s take a look.

Quick explanation: Paluzzi did U.N.C.L.E. first. She and Robert Vaughn shot extra footage after production of the pilot so it could be a movie for international audiences. That extra footage (although some times a tamer version) was used in an episode called The Four-Steps Affair

To Trap a Spy/The Four-Steps Affair: Angela pretends to be the girlfriend of an U.N.C.L.E. agent (named Lancer in one version, Dancer in the other)

Thunderball: Fiona pretends to be the girlfriend/”social secretary” of a NATO pilot.

Luciana Paluzzi and Sean Connery during the filming of Thunderball

U.N.C.L.E.: Angela is really an operative of Thrush (called Wasp in To Trap a Spy, but it’s dubbed — the actors are saying “Thrush”).

Thunderball: Fiona is really an operative of SPECTRE.

U.N.C.L.E.: Angela sets up Lancer/Dancer to be killed by a machine gun.

Thunderball: Fiona sets up the pilot to be poisoned to death by an agent who has underwent plastic surgery to be the pilot’s double.

U.N.C.L.E.: Angela goes to bed with Napoleon Solo (To Trap a Spy only; in the Four-Steps Affair they just do a lot of heavy flirting.)

Thunderball: Fiona goes to bed with James Bond (Sean Connery).

U.N.C.L.E.: Angela tries to push Solo so he’ll be shot with a machine gun. He ducks and she gets shot instead. In To Trap a Spy, it’s pretty clear she’s dead. In The Four-Steps Affair, it’s stated she’s unconscious.

Thunderball: Bond is dancing with Fiona, turns so she is hit by a shot fired by a SPECTRE thug.