Angela Lansbury in 1960s spy stories

Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian candidate (1962)

Angela Lansbury (1925-2022) is, understandably, being celebrated for a stellar career that lasted decades. That long career included some stops in the spy/espionage genre.

Most prominent was The Manchurian Candidate (1962), concerning an attempt to take over the United States. Lansbury’s Eleanor Shaw Iselin is one of the plotters, who is working with the Soviet Union and China. Her plan calls for an assassination of a leading presidential candidate. One of the pawns in the plot is her own brainwashed son (Laurence Harvey).

Lansbury received an Oscar nomination for best-supporting actress for her performance.

In 2003, movie critic Roger Ebert took a look back at the film. His essay included this passage:

Lansbury’s Mrs. Iselin, nominated for an Academy Award, is one of the great villains of movie history. Fierce, focused, contemptuous of the husband she treats like a puppet, she has, we gather, plotted with the Russians and Chinese to use the Red Scare of “Iselinism” to get him into office, where she will run things from behind the scenes. But it comes as a shocking surprise that her own son has been programmed as the assassin. That so enrages her that, in another turn of the corkscrew plot, she tells him: “When I take power, they will be pulled down and ground into dirt for what they did to you. And what they did in so contemptuously underestimating me.” 

After President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, the film went into the vault. It finally resurfaced in the late 1980s via home video releases.

In 1965, Lansbury had a chance to act in a more escapist take on the genre: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode The Deadly Toys Affair, which originally aired on NBC on Nov. 12, 1965.

Lansbury played Elfie van Donck, an international star. Her young nephew (Jay North) is a super genius, currently at a boarding school secretly run by Thrush, the show’s villainous organization.

U.N.C.L.E. is determined to get the nephew away. Lansbury’s character becomes involved. The episode is very escapist and Lansbury’s performance fits right in. She’s over the top, but in a pleasing way. Lansbury’s Elfie van Donck even pilots the helicopter whisking our heroes (Robert Vaughn’s Napoleon Solo and David McCallum’s Illya Kuryakin) to safety.

American actor Robert Brown dies

Robert Brown (1926-2022)

Robert Brown, an American actor who had a long career on television, has died at 95, The Hollywood Reporter said.

Brown’s bio at IMDB.COM lists 31 credits from 1948 to 1994. He was also in the running for two prominent roles in 1960s television.

The actor was among those considered for the part of Napoleon Solo, according to The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Book by Jon Heitland. Others included Harry Guardino and Robert Culp.

The role went to Robert Vaughn. At the time of the casting, Vaughn worked for executive producer Norman Felton on The Lieutenant.

Brown was even cast, briefly, as Steve McGarrett on Hawaii Five-O. Former CBS executive Perry Lafferty, in an interview for the Archive of American Television, said Five-O creator Leonard Freeman had second thoughts about Brown.

CBS had Jack Lord under contract for a possible Western series. Rose Freeman, the widow of Leonard Freeman, said at a 1996 fan convention that Lord was cast on a Wednesday and started filming the next Monday. Here’s an excerpt from the Lafferty interview:

The THR obit on Brown emphasizes two important roles: Being the star of Here Come the Brides, a series that ran two years on ABC, and cast as a last-second replacement on an episode of the original Star Trek series.

Happy 89th birthday, David McCallum

David McCallum in a Man From U.N.C.L.E. publicity still

Today, Sept. 19, is David McCallum’s 89th birthday.

He’s almost the last man standing from The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Robert Vaughn is gone. So is Norman Felton, the producer who met with Ian Fleming in 1962. So is Sam Rolfe, who took the Felton-Fleming ideas and put them into a script. Many of the actors are gone, including Leo G. Carroll.

Other contributors such as directors Richard Donner and Joseph Sargent as well as director of photography Fred Koenekamp have passed away in recent years.

There’s not a whole lot that needs saying. McCallum had a great career. He still has many fans who admire him. Happy birthday. We’ll leave it at that.

McCallum: 2015 Illya was ‘ridiculous’

David McCallum, the original Illya Kuryakin, in a 1965 publicity still.

David McCallum, the original Illya Kuryakin, has said the 2015 version of the character was “ridiculous.”

Excerpts from an interview with McCallum about his career were posted this month on YouTube. One excerpt centered on McCallum’s reaction to the 2015 movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

“It’s the Cold War, it’s the Berlin Wall,” McCallum said. “I thought the character of Illya was ridiculous. But he (actor Armie Hammer) did a nice job.”

The 2015 version of Illya, McCallum added, “was uptight, and crazy, and strangling people.”

In 2015, McCallum had a different view in an interview that was telecast 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.,” McCallum said at that time.

“I think it’s a wonderful success,” McCallum told Fox News in 2015. “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.”

The 2015 U.N.C.L.E. movie did not lead to any sequels.

Here’s the excerpt of the interview where McCallum, who turns 89 in September, talked about the 2015 movie:

RE-POST: Robert Towne channels 007 for U.N.C.L.E.

Richardo Montalban and Robert Vaughn in The Dove Affair

Richardo Montalban and Robert Vaughn in The Dove Affair

Screenwriter Robert Towne celebrated his 87th birthday on Nov. 23. The Oscar winner also participated in the 1960s spy craze. This is adapted from a 2013 post.

1963 saw From Russia With Love, the second James Bond movie. About a year after it came out, a future Oscar winning screenwriter would channel the film for an episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Robert Towne would go on to win an Oscar for his script for 1974’s Chinatown. A decade earlier, he was among the writers to pen first-season scripts for The Man From U.N.C.L.E., a show that had been pitched as “James Bond for television.”

Towne perhaps took that idea a bit literally. His sole U.N.C.L.E. credit, The Dove Affair, featured an extended sequence on a train going through the Balkans, a very similar setting to From Russia With Love.

U.N.C.L.E. agent Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) faces a complicated situation. His mission is to smuggle out a medal in the shape of a dove that has tiny engraved names of agents of Thrush, the villainous organization that opposes U.N.C.L.E. Satine (Richardo Montalban) is the top intelligence agent of a Balkan nation where Thrush is trying to seize control. Satine is a genuine patriot but he’s willing to kill Solo if it furthers his country’s interests.

Much of the episode’s second half evokes the mood of From Russia With Love. The TV show, though, isn’t as compelling when it comes to a short fight scene with Solo and Satine compared to a fight between James Bond (Sean Connery) and SPECTRE killer Red Grant (Robert Shaw). Part of it stems from the limitations of 1960s television in depicting violence. Some of it probably stems from tight TV production schedules.

Overall, though, the similarities are telling. With The Dove Affair, there is the additional complication of “the innocent” character, in this case, a school teacher (June Lockhart), who’s escorting a group of U.S. high school students around Europe.

Satine, as written by Towne, has one quirk — he’s afraid of children. Solo uses the presence of the high school students to his advantage. There is also some good dialogue.

SATINE (agitated, referring to the students): They find me interesting!

SOLO: And so you are. I wouldn’t deny that for a minute.

To read a more detailed review of The Dove Affair, CLICK HERE and scroll down to episode 12.

Happy 88th birthday, David McCallum

David McCallum in a Man From U.N.C.L.E. publicity still

Today, Sept. 19, is David McCallum’s 88th birthday.

He’s almost the last man standing from The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Robert Vaughn is gone. So is Norman Felton, the producer who met with Ian Fleming in 1962. So is Sam Rolfe, who took the Felton-Fleming ideas and put them into a script. Many of the actors are gone, including Leo G. Carroll.

Earlier this year, Richard Donner, who directed the first U.N.C.L.E. episodes to prominently feature McCallum’s Illya Kuryakin character, also passed away.

There’s not a whole lot that needs saying. McCallum had a great career. He still has many fans who admire him. Happy birthday. We’ll leave it at that.

1977: Sam Rolfe (sort of) revisits U.N.C.L.E.

Sam Rolfe dances with Jill Ireland in an early episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. while director Richard Donner hams it up.

Sam Rolfe was nothing if not persistent. In the 1970s, he re-worked his two greatest television triumphs. One, The Manhunter, took the concept of a bounty hunter, a la the western Have Gun-Will Travel, and set it during the Great Depression. It ran for one season.

With Engima, a pilot production, the writer-producer revisited the basic concept of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Enigma, like U.N.C.L.E., was a mysterious organization with a secret headquarters. Enigma’s base of operations was further out, an island in the Caribbean.

Enigma, like U.N.C.L.E., featured a dashing operative, in this case Andrew Icarus (Scott Hylands). He’s assisted by Mei San Gow (Soon-Tek Oh) and reports to Maurice Mockcastle (Guy Doleman). The supporting players were alumni of the James Bond film series (The Man With the Golden Gun and Thunderball respectively) and Doleman had been in other espionage productions.

Enigma, like U.N.C.L.E., also had a thing for triangles. U.NC.L.E.’s security badges were triangle shaped. Enigma’s headquarters made triangles a major part of the interior design.

Around this same time, Rolfe had also scripted a proposed TV movie that would have been a straight U.N.C.L.E. revival that would have been titled The Malthusian Affair. That project was commissioned by producers Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts, veteran writer-producers themselves but without U.N.C.L.E. experience. It was never produced.

With Enigma, Rolfe also wore the producer’s hat as well as writing. For director, he hired Michael O’Herlihy, who had been one of the leading directors of Hawaii Five-O but by this point had moved on. O’Herlihy also had directed one first-season episode of U.N.C.L.E. and would later direct The Say U.N.C.L.E. Affair, an episode of The A-Team with Robert Vaughn and David McCallum.

Rolfe’s Enigma had one other thing with U.N.C.L.E. Like U.N.C.L.E.’s Napoleon Solo, Andrew Icarus recruits an “innocent” to help him accomplish his mission.

This curiosity has been posted to YouTube by the Museum of Classic Chicago Television. You can take a look for yourself. The video includes commercials.

U.N.C.L.E. script: The Cut and Paste Affair Part IV

Miki and Illya at the end of The Four-Steps Affair

There are a number of differences between Ian Fleming’s two spy heroes. James Bond plays card games like baccarat. Napoleon Solo likes to play chess.

That probably reflects the fact that Solo was developed by Sam Rolfe, who co-created Have Gun-Will Travel. That was a 1957-63 Western series whose hero, Paladin, could out-play chess grandmasters. Not to mention being able to quote poets, scholars, and philosophers.

Needless to say, Kaza at the end of Act III of The Four-Steps Affair has fallen into a trap sprung by Solo. The agent’s gun was loaded with blanks. Everything was a ruse to force Kaza to force his hand. And Solo’s gun has a homing device so U.N.C.L.E. can follow him.

Solo soon joins up with Australian U.N.C.L.E. agent Kitt Kittridge and a group of operatives who are ready to make an assault on the Thrush headquarters.

That’s a good thing because Thrush is getting ready to execute Miki, a 10-year-old boy who is the religious leader of a country in the Himalayas. Also on the execution list is Illya Kuryakin, Solo’s partner, and Kelly Brown, a young nurse looking after Miki.

The script depicts more tension between Kaza and Walchek (renamed Rudnick in the final broadcast version). In the script, Kaza complains about being shot accidentally while that isn’t specified in the broadcast version. Walchek, meanwhile, complains about being in a no-win situation no matter what he did.

Before IIlya, Miki and the nurse can be executed, Solo and the U.N.C.L.E. assault team arrive. Much of this sequence was used as extra footage for The Spy With My Face feature film.

During this sequence, Miki is confronted with how Kaza is a traitor. “So, my little friend; you learn even more about the ways of men,” Illya says.

Eventually, the U.N.C.L.E. agents prevail. Kaza and Walchek start to flee. Solo is ready to open fire at them. But he is interrupted by Miki, again showing more maturity than a 10-year-old would normally demonstrate. Miki notes the Thrush superiors of both men will know they have failed and neither can be headed toward any sort of sanctuary.

CLOSE SHOT OF SOLO
A unique situation: Napoleon Solo stands in open-mouthed astonishment, digesting the wisdom of the little sprout who confronts him, and whom he has not previously met. But he has obediently lowered his weapon.

(snip)
SOLO
Uh…ten years old?
ILLYA (to Solo; knowingly)
I don’t believe it either.

However, the script has something not present in the final episode.

CLOSE SHOT — MIKI’S FACE
He is grinning — just like a kid.

The next day, Miki is preparing to return to his home country. Miki reassures his nurse one last time. Solo wishes Miki well and then tells Kelly not to worry because the young leader will carry his burden “like the mature man he is.”

But there’s one last piece of business. Illya, sent on a mission by Miki, returns with some bubble gum. Miki, as mature as he is, still has some growing up to do.

WE WISH TO THANKS THE UNITED NETWORK COMMAND FOR LAW AND ENFORCEMENT WITHOUT WHOSE ASSISTANCE THIS POST WOULD NOT BE POSSIBLE.

U.N.C.L.E. script: The Cut and Paste Affair Part III

Things aren’t looking good for Solo and Waverly at the end of Act III of The Four-Steps Affair.

At the midway point of The Four-Steps Affair, neither Napoleon Solo nor Illya Kuryakin is in a good place.

Solo gets out of his fix first. Angela (Luciana Paluzzi) attempts to shove Solo into the line of fire of an assassin outside her house. The U.N.C.L.E. agent side steps Angela, leading her to hit by a burst of machine gun fire.

In the TV version, Angela survives while in To Trap a Spy, she’s done for. Solo manages to get away and back to safety at U.N.C.L.E. headquarters.

Solo then confers with Alexander Waverly, the U.N.C.L.E. chief and Australian agent Kitt Kittridge, who was with Illya when the Russian picked up Miki, the religious leader of a remote Himalayan nation.

Kaza, Miki’s wounded guardian, emerges as the leading suspect who helped set up Miki for an ambush.

Solo confronts Kaza in his hospital room. The U.N.C.L.E. agent claims that Angela has talked (we are told she was unconscious but this wasn’t shown)..

Meanwhile, at a Thrush mansion, Illya, Miki and nurse Kelly Brown are imprisoned. The script has a scene not seen in the broadcast version of the episode.

Walchek (changed to Rudnick for the broadcast version) is in the library reading Crime and Punishment. When one of his men tries to interrupt, “Walchek holds up his hand for silence. After a short pause, he closes the book and shakes his head slightly at what he’s just read.”

In U.N.C.L.E., as a general rule, the villains were a well-read bunch.

Walchek and his subordindate analyze what has gone wrong this evening. Most of this exchange is absent from the final broadcast version. Walchek/Rudnick comes across as more of a threat than the final show.

Meanwhile, Illya is launching an escape attempt. It almost succeeds. Miki had a chance to get away on his own but decides to come back. This leads to one of the best exchanges in the episode.

ILLYA
Friends! You are responsible for an entire country. You must have no friends.

CLOSE SHOT OF MIKI
as he blinks at Illya’s tone and words. He has been told, and is disgesting, a practical truth.

Back at the hospital where Kaza is staying, the potentate admits he’s working with Thrush. This confession would not be part of the episode. Instead, on the show, he continues to claim his innocence.

Soon, Kaza grabs Solo’s handgun from his shoulder holster. He blasts both Solo and Waverly and makes his getaway.

TO BE CONTINUED

U.N.C.L.E. script: The Cut and Paste Affair Part II

Solo (Robert Vaughn) and Angela (Luciana Paluzzi) play some deadly cat-and-mouse games in The Four-Steps Affair

When Arena Productions decided to cook up a new episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. using extra footage from two of the theatrical film versions, the question is who would do it.

The final writing credit for The Four-Steps Affair (dubbed The Himalayan Affair in the script) listed Peter Allan Fields for the teleplay and Joseph Calvelli for the plot.

Calvelli had been associate producer during the first half of U.N.C.L.E.’s first season. He had also rewritten The Double Affair, which was the basis for the second U.N.C.L.E. movie, The Spy With My Face.

Based on the final writing credit, it appears Fields may have done the heavy lifting. Fields was a former lawyer for the Williams Morris Agency. He was hired to rewrite a script (The Fiddlesticks Affair). He proved to be fast, turning out four acts in four days, all of which was “shootable.” That probably explains how he was assigned The Four-Steps Affair.

In the new material, presumably penned by Fields, U.N.C.L.E. agents Illya Kuryakin and Kitt Kittridge pick up Miki, the 10-year-old boy who is the spiritual leader of Shanti, a country in the Himalayas. With him is Kaza, his guardian, and Kelly Brown, a nurse accompanying Miki after dental surgery.

Kaza is “a large, imposing man; a potentate in stature as well as name.” Kelly Brown is “about nineteen years old, very scrubbed-looking, and trying quite hard to live up to the student nurse’s uniform she wears.”

The U.N.C.L.E. agents lead the group from the safe house where they have been to a waiting station wagon. An ambush ensues. Kaza is wounded. Kittridge and Kuryakin return fire. Illya drives off with Miki and the nurse while Kittridge fights off the remaining Thrush operatives.

With Thrush temporarily subdued, Kittridge radios to headquarters that Kuryakin is on his way. He also arranges for Kaza who has only been wounded in the “fleshy part” of the shoulder to be transported to the hospital.

Inside the car, Miki, who acts quite mature for his age, is comforting the nurse.

MIKI (helpfully)
To release one’s emotions is quite therapeutic, Miss Brown.

ILLYA
Thereapeutic? How old are you, my friend?

MIKI
I am ten, Sir…in my present reincarnation.

Things, however, don’t go as planned. The car is spotted by a panel truck (in the televised version, it would be a Volkswagen minibus) which has a device that takes control of the car. Thrush now has abducted the group. The U.N.C.L.E. station wagon is guided and goes inside a large truck. Once secure, the truck drives off.

At this point, the script goes back to the (mostly) Sam Rolfe-scripted sequence where Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) encounters the deadly Angela.

Solo checks out the wreckage of a car driving by the missing (and by now dead) agent Dancer.

Solo is ordered to return to headquarters because Illya didn’t arrive on time. He begins to drive back. However, he soon realizes he’s not alone.

As “Solo drives, the scent of perfume reaches his nostrils,” according to the stage directions. “For a moment, he hesitates, ‘tasting’ the scent. He likes it, but not enough to stop being alert. His casualness is studied.”

Naturally, Angela is in the back seat. After a period of questioning and flirting, Angela tells Solo that Dancer is trying to contact him but his communications device can only receive but not send.

“Her voice has been extremely sincere,” the stage directions read. “Solo opens the door of his car for her.”

“I’ll have to find out…won’t I?” Solo says.

The script alternates between Illya and the Thrush prisoners and Solo and Angela.

With the former, nurse Kelly Brown is getting emotional. Apparently, she’s had relationship trouble and is getting anxious because of her present situation.

MIKI (to Illya — man to man as they stare uncomfortably at Kelly’s weeping)
They did not instruct me about such things at the Lamasery.

ILLYA (resignedly — indicating Kelly)
For men, there is no instruction on such things.

Meanwhile, Solo arrives at Angela’s house, still on guard for trouble. He flirts with Angela (in To Trap a Spy they end up having sex, but this is for television so it never goes beyond flirting). But then Solo discovers a label from from Dancer’s jacket in the fire place. Dancer had tried to burn it before he was killed.

Solo, of course, now knows Angela is with Thrush. She attempts to spring the same trap that did in Dancer. She tries to guide Solo to a large widow. An assassin outside the house waits to do in the U.N.C.L.E. agent.

TO BE CONTINUED