Illya Kuryakin, U.N.C.L.E.’s loyal Soviet

David McCallum's main titles credit in the final season

David McCallum’s main titles credit in the final season

One change in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie compared to the original series: The film makes explicit that Illya Kuryakin is a loyal Soviet while the show tiptoed around the issue.

The 1964-68 series was the utopian spy show of the era. An American and a Soviet could work together to combat larger threats. But the show only went so far.

In one first-season episode, The Neptune Affair, Kuryakin (David McCallum) was dressed in a generic Soviet military uniform. He’s somewhere on the northern coast of the Soviet Union in the company of some Soviet sailors after rockets launched from the United States are destroying the grain harvest with a “chemical fungus.”

Afterward, there’s a brief scene back at U.N.C.L.E. headquarters. There has been a series of such rocket launches, timed to destroy the Soviet wheat harvest. The next spot where the wheat will be ready for harvesting is Orbesk “where I must be tomorrow,” Kuryakin says. The Soviet military is on alert and another attack and World War III will begin if there’s another attack.

The other major reference to Kuryakin as Soviet occurred in another first-season episode, The Love Affair. Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) and Kuryakin arrive outside a party of rich people.

“Suddenly, I feel very Russian,” Kuryakin says.

“That’s just your proletarian blood,” Solo responds.

A moment later, there’s another exchange as Solo prepares to crash the party.

KURYAKIN: Well, let’s not keep the blue bloods waiting.

SOLO: If I’m not hour in a half-hour, start a revolution.

KURYAKIN: That would be a pleasure.

That’s some snappy banter, but the meaning also is pretty clear, particularly with the tone and expression actor David McCallum employs in the scene. After McCallum’s Kuryakin says starting a revolution would be a pleasure, Vaughn’s Solo shoots him a very interesting glance. (It’s at the 15:06 mark of the episode, according to the Spy Commander’s DVD player.)

Meanwhile, at this point, Kuryakin has been an U.N.C.L.E. agent for nine years. (A fourth-season episode establishes that Kuryakin graduated from U.N.C.L.E.’s “survival school” training facility in 1956.) Clearly, living and working with Westerners hasn’t changed the Russian’s outlook.

Still, there’s a portion of the original U.N.C.L.E. fan base that’s not convinced. Some fan fiction stories, for example, depict Kuryakin as a defector. Others simply say there’s no way Kuryakin could possibly work for a reprehensible government.

Interesting, except….that would be the easiest thing for the show to do.

Consider what was going on with other popular shows of the era.

I SPY: Soviets and Communist Chinese were villains.

THE FBI: Soviet bloc and Communist Chinese were villains.

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE: Soviet bloc agents were villains.

HAWAII FIVE-O: Communist Chinese agents were villains until the United States normalized relations with China in 1972. Arch-villain Wo Fat, the chief Chinese intelligence operative in the Pacific, goes independent in a 1974 episode, and complains how the Chinese leadership has gone soft against the U.S. Wo Fat even attempts a coup to take over China in a 1976 episode.

So if Illya Kuryakin were a defector or something similar, that would be the norm of 1960s television. The notion of a Soviet working closely with an American is one of the main aspects of the series that differentiates it from other spy series.

It’s understandable why the show would be subtle about this angle. At the time, executives of television networks and advertisers got nervous about possible controversies. In the end, Kuryakin’s popularity conquered all, with his image used in an advertisement promoting U.S. Savings Bonds.

With The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie coming out, the idea of Kuryakin as loyal Soviet is straight forward and is part of the film’s Cold War setting. Armie Hammer’s Kuryakin is a KGB agent. In this case, his partnership with Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) is more of a shotgun marriage.

Impressions from an extended U.N.C.L.E. movie preview

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. teaser poster

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. teaser poster

By Kevin Bertrand Collette, Guest Writer

Ok , so you did not want to dance …
Would you want to wrestle , then ?

(Gaby Teller/ Alicia Vikander)

Ok, I’ll be the first to admit it, I’m not really a fan of Guy Ritchie’s movies.

And although I attended the Strasbourg French shooting of Sherlock Holmes: a Game of Shadows, it was more out of curiosity than anything else.

I was therefore a bit anxious about the result of his adaptation of the Cult TV series of the Sixties (based on various ideas by Ian Fleming himself), The Man From U.N.C.L.E .

Warner France organised at its Neuilly headquarters this Wednesday a Show Case of the new movie, consisting of 40 minutes of extracts of the upcoming movie, completed by a wonderful exhibition of storyboards, costumes drawings and various pre- production sketches.

So open channel D!

And stop reading right there if you do not want to learn some massive spoilers at every turn of my little compte-rendu …

First extract takes place in KGB headquarters in Moscow, where some top ranking officer lectures Illya Kuryakin about Napoleon Solo.

We then learn practically everything that is to know about the CIA man,an ex art dealer (a talent he acquired during World War II when stealing stuff back from the Nazis for the allied forces) .

Solo’s natural talents for smooth undercover action is rapidly noted, he is hired by the Agency and quickly became one of their top operator. All this is explained to Kuryakin – a massive silent giant who has just be chosen to team up with the American to dismantle a new terrorist organization .

Second extract is a (much) longer version of the East Berlin car chase, where Solo and his lovely protégée try to lose Kuryakin through the cobbed streets of Berlin. But nothing seems to stop the Russian (not even concrete walls. I surprise myself thinking there of Richard Kiel’s Jaws character … ).

After a lengthy chase ( without the ‘ cheek-to-cheek car waltz appearing in the trailer, btw), abandoning their car which tires have been shot at by the persistent Soviet agent , the duo enter a building situated just in front of the infamous Berlin wall .

Solo pulls up a gadget ( à la Goldeneye grappling hook belt) and with the help of a fellow agent parked just on the other side of said Wall, the two Westerners escape the fury of the Russian in the nick of time …

Third extract takes place in a U.S. novelty shop where Solo, Kuryakin and the girl choose various Haute Couture dresses for their lady companion. The plan is to infiltrate in Rome the evil organization with Kuryakin and madame posing as a couple of Russian architects, while Solo will tail them . It’s an amusing sequence where Illya is horrified by the decadent tastes of Western women, while Solo keeps on mocking him for his peasant tastes.

Fourth extract takes place in a Rome Hotel bedroom, where Madame is getting bored while Illya quietly tries to play chess. The nerves of the Russian slightly began to crack when she turns up the volume of the Radio and starts to dance.

Fifth extract sees Illya and Madame strolling by the Colisée and being then abruptly mugged by a couple of local thieves. Since Kuryakin’s specific instructions are him to pass for a gentle spirit (understand : a coward) , he has to refrain himself not to knock out both thugs with just one hand! A rather funny sequence indeed, with Solo finally commenting, “Not sure you were made for that part.”

Sixth and final extract took place in an unidentified harbor – where Solo and Kuryakin manage to escape the commando after them.

While Solo slips very early in the water (without Kuryakin realizing that) and then comfortably settles down in a truck parked nearby to observe the nautical chase going on, his partner’s speedboat is finally gunned down .

Solo immediately enters in action full throttle and throws his truck right into the Villain’s boat!

He then manages to save Illya (who was slowly drowning) and bring him back to terra ferma .

Screening concluded with a much longer version of the trailer (with a line of hugh Grant I instantly memorized, “You are from now on a very special agent , Mr Solo.”)

So, what to think of it, in the end ?

I , for one, was instantly immersed into that Cold war drama setting. And I never honestly try to put the faces of Mr. Vaughn nor Mr. McCallum in lieu et place of their modern counterparts, Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer.

I guess some die hard U.N.C.L.E fans will scream in rage at the new Illya Kuryakin (who is first presented as a bully-type character but then mellows into a nice individual of his own. The Russian accent is much more pronounced than in the TV series of course , but Illya finally appears as a much more interesting character than dapper Napoleon Solo. It reminds me in place of the Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Red Heat police officer: subtle and unstoppable as a T80 soviet Tank, but with a very big heart and sense of friendship.

Alicia Vikander is a great Female element. She frequently conjures images of Audrey Hepburn, and her interaction with both Hammer and Cavill is genuine and quite fun . Miss Vikander is quite a feisty girl indeed.

As for the music, no classic UNCLE theme heard anywhere but a very 1960s type style , à la John Barry.

Can’t wait to see the final version of the movie .

U.N.C.L.E. stars to promote movie at San Diego Comic Con

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. teaser poster

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. teaser poster

The stars of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie will promote the film at the San Diego Comic Con on July 11, according to a WARNER BROS. PRESS RELEASE.

Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer, who play Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin, are scheduled to be joined by female leads Alicia Vikander and Elizabeth Debicki, the studio said in announcing its activities at the convention.

Cavill and Hammer reprise the roles that Robert Vaughn and David McCallum played on the 1964-68 television series. Vikander plays Gaby Teller, the “innocent” of the story while Debicki is the lead villain. The movie, directed by Guy Ritchie, is a different take on U.N.C.L.E., without familiar memes such as the organization’s secret headquarters.

The convention appearance will take place a little more than a month before the U.N.C.L.E. movie’s Aug. 14 release date.

Cavill is doing double duty for Warners at the event. He’s also scheduled to be promote Batman v Superman: The Dawn of Justice. That movie, which comes out in March 2016, features a conflict between Superman (Cavill) and Batman (Ben Affleck). It also an attempt to be Warners’ answer to Disney/Marvel’s Avengers franchise. The press release leads off with details about the Batman v Superman promotion.

Cavill first played Superman in 2013’s Man of Steel. He was cast as Solo in U.N.C.L.E. around the time Man of Steel came out in June of that year.

Will Solo’s moral streak make it into the U.N.C.L.E. movie?

"I sincerely hope so," Solo said.

“I sincerely hope so,” Solo said.

According to actor Henry Cavill, in an SFX magazine interview, Napoleon Solo is different than James Bond because Solo is “not for Queen and country. He’s for Napoleon Solo and Napoleon Solo.”

Cavill, of course, is the only actor who has experience with both, having auditioned for Bond in 2005 and having played Solo in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie coming out in August.

This caused the Spy Commander to have a Lt. Columbo moment where “little things — LITTLE THINGS” were bothering him. What about the moral streak of the original Solo, seen in the 1964-68 series in the person of actor Robert Vaughn?

We ran a DECEMBER 2014 POST, outlining how the two heroes associated with Ian Fleming are different. Namely, Solo has a moral streak that Bond doesn’t display.

Here’s the part of the post that related to Solo:

(start excerpt)
In the first-season episode The Finny Foot Affair, the “innocent” is a young boy played by Kurt Russell. Russell’s character has a rough time. He witnesses an U.N.C.L.E. agent fight to the death. The agent, with his dying breath, entrusts the boy with an object that may be of assistance to Solo.

Later, on a flight to Norway, the boy describes what he saw to Solo. The U.N.C.L.E. agent attempts to deceive the boy that what he saw wasn’t as serious as it seems.

Later, the boy witnesses Solo kill some of his opponents. “Chris,” Solo tells the boy at one point, “you know now this is for real.” At the end of the episode, the Russell character decides Solo may not be the best potential mate for his “beautiful widowed mother.”

The best example of Solo’s moral streak occurs during the last episode of the series, broadcast by NBC on Jan. 15, 1968. Its one of the best scenes in the entire show for star Robert Vaughn. Solo confronts a group that plans to bring the entire world under its control, ending the “fight between good and evil” once and for all. The leader of this scheme is named Kingsley (Barry Sullivan), a former top U.N.C.L.E. official.

SOLO: You intend — you seriously intend — to make the world world act and think like you want it to?
(snip)
It’s a blasphemy. Your plan denies humanity its freedom to find its own way to better times.

At the end of the episode, there’s this exchange between Solo and his boss, Alexander Waverly.

WAVERLY: Good job, gentlemen.

SOLO: Kingsley sincerely believed history would have said the same of him, sir.”

That’s not the kind of thing that Bond stops to reflect about.
(end excerpt)

It remains to be seen whether this quality will be present in the Guy Ritchie-directed movie, of if it fell by the wayside along with some of the show’s memes such as the secret headquarters, etc.

SFX magazine plays up U.NC.L.E.’s ties to Fleming

U.N.C.L.E. movie poster

U.N.C.L.E. movie poster

SFX magazine has come out with a cover story about The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie. The tireless Henry Cavill News HAS PUBLISHED A POST with screen images.

Among other things, SFX begins with playing up Ian Fleming’s ties to the original 1964-68 series.

Napoleon Solo is Fleming’s other great contribution to the espionage game, brought to deadly, dapper life by Robert Vaughn…Teamed with David McCallum as taciturn, Beatle-mopped Soviet operative Illya Kuryakin, Solo fought the Cold War on the small screen while 007 ruled the big.

That’s a tad oversimplified, but within bounds. Fleming was involved with U.N.C.L.E. from October 1962 until June 1963. Writer-producer Sam Rolfe did much of the heavy lifting. And the whole project originated with producer Norman Felton, who initially devised the Solo character before meeting with the James Bond author. Fleming’s main contribution to the finished product was the name Napoleon Solo.

The SFX spread also includes an question-and-answer sidebar with Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer, who took on the Solo and Kuryakin roles that Vaughn and McCallum originated. Cavill, in one brief answer, address the Fleming connection between Solo and Bond, a role he auditioned for in 2005, but lost out to Daniel Craig.

HC: James Bond’s a very different thing. As much as Ian Fleming may have created both characters, they’re different — especially with the way Bond is in style now. If we were talking about previous Bonds then perhaps you could call them similar, but Napoleon Solo is a very different animal. He’s not for Queen and country. He’s for Napoleon Solo and Napoleon Solo.

To view the entire Henry Cavill news post, CLICK HERE. For information on how to order the SFX issue, CLICK HERE.

Fact checking TCM’s To Trap a Spy presentation

Luciana Paluzzi and Robert Vaughn in To Trap  a Spy

Luciana Paluzzi and Robert Vaughn in To Trap a Spy

TCM on July June 13 showed To Trap a Spy, the movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. pilot during prime time, part of a evening featuring films with actor Robert Vaughn, the original Napoleon Solo.

The cable channel has showed the film before but usually in off hours. The 10:15 p.m. eastern time presentation meant it’d get an introduction from TCM host Robert Osborne, a one-time actor (he makes a brief appearance in the pilot for The Beverly Hillbillies) who has written extensively about movies for decades.

However, there were a few errors. Most of these are old hat to long-time U.N.C.L.E. fans. But with a new U.N.C.L.E. movie coming out in August, potential new fans may have watched. With that in mind here’s some fact checking.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was an immediate hit. No. It originally aired on NBC on Tuesday nights against The Red Skelton Show on CBS. U.N.C.L.E.’s ratings struggled, but rallied after a mid-season change to Monday nights. The show’s best season for ratings was the 1965-66 season when it aired at 10 p.m. eastern time on Fridays.

The show was “created by producer Norman Felton.” The situation is a bit more complicated. Felton definitely initiated the project. He consulted Ian Fleming, who contributed ideas but the one that stuck was naming an agent Napoleon Solo.

The vast bulk of U.N.C.L.E. was created by Sam Rolfe (who wrote the pilot and gets the “written by” credit on To Trap a Spy), including the character of Illya Kuryakin. The show had no creator credit and Rolfe had a “developed by” credit.

Felton’s “inspired idea.” Osborne said Felton always intended to turn some of the episodes into feature films released internationally (true). He then said the films were actually two episodes of the series edited together along with extra footage. (Not 100 percent true).

The first two movies, To Trap a Spy and The Spy With My Face, were based on first season single episodes: the pilot, The Vulcan Affair, and The Double Affair, with additional footage.

Starting with the second season, the show did two-part episodes that were edited, with some additional footage, into movies for the international market. That was the case for the rest of the series, including the two parter, The Seven Wonders of the World Affair, that ended the series in January 1968.

Osborne also made it sound as if all of the first season were filmed in color, even though it was broadcast in black and white on NBC. Not true.

Both The Vulcan Affair and The Double Affair were filmed in color, as was the extra film footage with each. The rest of the season, however, was filmed in black and white.

One oddity is the first season episode The Four-Steps Affair. Ever efficient, Felton took some of the extra footage from the first two U.N.C.L.E. movies (including Luciana Paluzzi in To Trap a Spy) and had a new story written to incorporate it. Sexy scenes for To Trap a Spy between Vaughn and Paluzzi were toned down for Four Steps.

Some of Four Steps is a black and white print from a color negative. The same applies to the broadcast versions of Vulcan and Double. But the new material for Four Steps was filmed in black and white, like most of the first season. There’s a slight change in contrast as the story goes back and forth between the two sources of footage.

Meanwhile, in Osborne’s closing remarks after the movie, he worked in a plug for the Guy Ritchie-directed U.N.C.L.E. movie coming out in August. TCM is owned by Time Warner, also the parent company of Warner Bros., the studio releasing the August film.

U.N.C.L.E. movie to be promoted at Rome event, fan site says

Logo for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie

Logo for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie

Cast members of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie will be participate in a media event in Rome this weekend, the HENRY CAVILL NEWS WEBSITE said.

Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer and Elizabeth Debicki will be part of the event, according to the fan website, which writes extensively about Cavill’s various projects.

Cavill and Hammer play Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin, the characters portrayed by Robert Vaughn and David McCallum in the 1964-68 series. Debicki plays a new character who appears to be a femme fatale in the film that comes out in mid-August.

Here’s one of the items contained in the Henry Cavill News story. Alicia Malone, who is part of a website called Malone’s Movie Minute took to Twitter to tease the event.

Cavill and Hammer appeared at the recent CinemaCon event in Las Vegas, where upcoming movies are promoted to theater owners.

Rome was one of the main locations for the Guy Ritchie-directed U.N.C.L.E. movie, which was filmed in the late summer and fall of 2013. The movie, set in 1963, has an “origin” story, showing how American Solo and Soviet Kuryakin came to work together. It has a different time line than the show, where U.N.C.L.E. had been formed shortly after World War II.

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