Participants discuss 1983 U.N.C.L.E. TV movie

Participants, including director Ray Austin and actor Anthony Zerbe, talked about the 1983 TV movie The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. on a June 26 Zoom call that’s up on YouTube.

The TV movie brought back Robert Vaughn and David McCallum to again play Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin. George Lazenby had a small part as a James Bond-like character.

Among other things, Austin references how a scene where Zerbe’s villain escapes was filmed at a real prison. Zerbe grabbed onto a helicopter, which the actor says was for real. Zerbe also talked about working as a villain on the original Mission: Impossible series.

The video is below. It run for three hours.

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.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. curse strikes again

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (2015) teaser poster

Years ago, the blog discussed The Man From U.N.C.L.E. curse — a series of mostly unrelated events with one thing in common. Namely, The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

There were genuine tragedies. Sam Rolfe, who developed the original show, died of a heart attack while trying to come up with a new made-for-cable-TV version in the 1990s. More of the “curse” involved promising new versions that would never see the light of day.

The “curse” has reared up its ugly head with the two stars of the 2015 movie, the most recent (and perhaps final) version of U.N.C.L.E.

The biggest impact is being felt by Armie Hammer, who played Illya Kuryakin in the 2015 movie.

To put it simply, Hammer’s career is in freefall. Here’s an excerpt of a Variety story via the Chicago Tribune.

The new year kicked off with what will likely be the most bizarre celebrity story of 2021: Armie Hammer — the genetically blessed movie star of “Call Me by Your Name” and “The Social Network” fame, and heir to the Hammer family oil fortune — began trending online for being a cannibal.

Hammer is not a cannibal.

What, what? It’s a long story. And it’s not really worth telling in detail here. The problem is Hammer has been dropped by his talent agency and his publicist because of isues with his personal life. Also, he hasn’t had many hits. So, suddenly, he’s seen as radioactive. He has dropped out of projects and his future is in doubt.

Also facing future questions is Henry Cavill, who played Napoleon Solo in the 2015 film.

In the early 2010s, Cavill was cast as Superman. His solo Superman film, Man of Steel, came out in 2013. It was supposed to be the first step in creating a film universe based on DC Comics characters, similar to the Marvel Cinematic University.

Unfortunately for Cavill, he only got the one solo movie. He appeared in Batman v Superman (2016) and Justice League (2017), but took a back seat to Ben Affleck’s Batman

At one point, had U.N.C.L.E. been a box office success, he could have been part of two film franchises. But U.N.C.L.E. was a disappointment and Warner Bros. clearly isn’t hurrying to bring out any new Cavill versions of Superman. His last hurrah may be a Zack Snyder-cut of Justice League due to come out on the HBO Max streaming service.

When Cavill began his Superman career, he was the young and up-and-comer. Now he’s pushing 40 (he’ll turn 38 in May) with an uncertain future.

Oh, well. At least, Cavill has the streaming show The Witcher streaming series to fall back on.

Happy New Year 2021 from The Spy Command

Our annual greeting

It’s the end of another year. Here’s hoping for a great 2021 for readers of The Spy Command. There’s actually going to be a James Bond film in the new year, so there will be plenty to discuss.

Of course, regarding that latter point, we said that a year ago and it didn’t work out. Hopefully, it will go better this time around.

And, as Napoleon Solo reminds everyone, be sure to party responsibly this New Year’s Eve (even in a hunkered down, pandemic way).

Happy New Year, everyone.

Spy entertainment in memoriam

In the space of 12 months — Dec. 18, 2019 to Dec. 18, 2020 — a number of spy entertainment figures passed away. The blog just wanted to take note. This is not a comprehensive list.

Dec. 18, 2019: Claudine Auger, who played Domino in Thunderball (1965), dies.

Jan. 8, 2020: Buck Henry, acclaimed screenwriter and co-creator of Get Smart (with Mel Brooks), dies.

Feb. 8, 2020: Anthony Spinner, veteran writer-producer, dies. His credits include producing the final season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and a 1970s version of The Saint.

Feb. 8, 2020: Robert Conrad, star of The Wild Wild West and A Man Called Sloane, dies.

March 8, 2020: Actor Max von Sydow dies. His many credits playing a villain in Three Days of the Condor (1975) and Blofeld in Never Say Never Again (1983).

April 5, 2020: Honor Blackman, who played Cathy Gale in The Avengers and Pussy Galore in Goldfinger (1964), dies.

Sept. 1, 2020: Arthur Wooster, second unit director of photography on multiple James Bond movies, dies.

Sept. 10, 2020: Diana Rigg, who played Emma Peel in The Avengers and Tracy in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), dies.

Sept. 21, 2020: Michael Lonsdale, veteran French actor whose credits included playing the villain Hugo Drax in Moonraker (1979), dies.

Oct. 5, 2020: Margaret Nolan, who was the model for the main titles of Goldfinger and appeared in the film as Dink, dies.

Oct. 31, 2020: Sean Connery, the first film James Bond, dies. He starred in six Bond films made by Eon productions and a seventh (Never Say Never Again) made outside Eon.

Dec. 12, 2020: David Cornwell, who wrote under the pen name John le Carre, dies. Many of his novels were adapted as movies and mini-series.

Dec. 18, 2020: Peter Lamont, who worked in the art department of many James Bond films, including production designer from 1981-2006 (excluding 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies), dies.

Happy 87th birthday, David McCallum

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

Today, Sept. 19, is David McCallum’s 87th birthday.

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

About that Thunderball jet pack

Sean Connery in an insert shot during the pre-titles sequence of Thunderball

For first-generation fans of the James Bond films, the pre-titles sequence of Thunderball is an enduring memory. A major reason was how Bond (Sean Connery) got away from thugs with a jet pack.

Bond fans who weren’t around then may not understand the excitement that the sequence generated. That’s understandable. You had to be there.

Still, here’s the broader context: By 1965, the Bond films had created a market for all sorts of spy entertainment. On television, the best of these entries had interesting characters and concepts: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (a series where Ian Fleming had been involved for a time), The Wild Wild West, I Spy and others.

In terms of movies, the Matt Helm and Derek Flint films were in production.

By the fall of 1965, spies were *everywhere*. How could Bond stay ahead?

That was the challenge for Thunderball, which began filming in early 1965.

Eon Productions decided to go bigger, giving the audience what they couldn’t get on TV or on other more modestly budgeted films.

With Thunderball, the jet pack was the perfect example. It was real. No special effects (example for the insert shots of Sean Connery supposedly piloting the jet pack).

Over the years, Eon Productions flirted with bringing the jet pack back. The first draft of Moonraker had Bond using a jet pack during the Venice sequence. The first draft of The World Is Not Enough had Bond using a jet pack instead of the “Q boat.”

The closest Eon got was a jet pack cameo for Die Another Day. We haven’t seen it since.

That’s probably how it should be. Thunderball was catching lightning in a bottle (there was a lot of that, circa 1965). It should remain there. But for those of us who witnessed it first run, we won’t forget it.

Meanwhile, this tweet embeds a video of a Lego version of the Thunderball jet pack sequence. Amazing work.

 

Happy New Year 2020 from The Spy Command

Our annual greeting

It’s the end of another year. Here’s hoping for a great 2020 for readers of The Spy Command. There’s actually going to be a James Bond film in the new year, so there will be plenty to discuss.

And, as Napoleon Solo reminds everyone, be sure to party responsibly this New Year’s Eve. Happy New Year, everyone.

Sid Haig dies at 80

Sid Haig as the hood who had “a bruddah” in Diamonds Are Forever

Sid Haig, an actor who made it big in horror movies but also had his moments in spy-fi, died Sept. 21 at age 80, according to Yahoo Movies UK.

Haig starred in films such as House of 1000 Corpses,  The Devil’s Rejects and other films directed by Rob Zombie.

Before becoming a horror star, Haig was a busy character actor, including a lot of work on television. That included appearances in The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Mission: Impossible and Get Smart.

Haig also made an impression with a small role in 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever. He’s part of the “brain trust” (Felix Leiter’s words) of hoods waiting on Sean Connery’s Bond (posing as Peter Franks) to take the body of the real Franks to Slumber Inc.

On the way to the mortuary, there’s a brief exchange of dialogue where the leader of the group (Marc Lawrence asks, “The stiff, uh, deceased back there. Your brother, Mr. Franks?”

“Yes, it was,” Bond replies.

Haig’s character perks up. “I got a bruddah!”

“Small world,” Bond says.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’s 55th anniversary

Familiar third-season publicity still for The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Adapted and updated from a Sept. 22, 2014 post

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. debuted 55 years ago today with the telecast of The Vulcan Affair on NBC.

The series had false starts. First Ian Fleming was a participant, then after several months he wasn’t, bowing out to pressure from Bond movie producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. Then there was threatened legal action from Eon Productions stemming from the show’s original title, Solo.

In turn, the series got a new title and the legal problems went away. The makers of Goldfinger did make one change in their film. A gangster named Solo died the most spectacular death among hoodlums invited to Goldfginer’s Kentucky stud farm, a change from earlier drafts and from Fleming’s original novel. (Adrian Turner’s 1998 book on Goldfinger details the changes in the movie’s script.)

Rough Start

Nor did U.N.C.L.E. get off to an easy start. Airing on Tuesday nights, it was up against The Red Skeleton Show on CBS, which nearly led to cancellation before a mid-season switch to Monday nights.

But the audience discovered the series, eventually ensuring a renewal for a second season for 1965-66, which would be its highest-rated campaign.

Executive Producer Norman Felton (1913-2012) faced other challenges.

His developer-producer Sam Rolfe (1924-1993) departed after the first season and things weren’t quite the same, certainly not as consistent.

Various other producers — David Victor, Boris Ingster and Anthony Spinner among them — put their own stamp on the show with varying degrees of success. Major contributions were made by writers such as Alan Caillou (who arguably shaped the Illya Kuryakin character), Dean Hargrove and Peter Allan Fields.

Time Takes Its Toll

Few of the creative personnel are still with us. In the five years since the show’s 50th anniversary, time has taken its toll. Frequent U.N.C.L.E. director Joseph Sargent died in December 2014, three months after the anniversary. Star Robert Vaughn died in 2016. Fred Koenekamp, who work as director of photography on U.N.C.L.E. got him movie jobs, passed away in 2017. Peter Allan Fields died earlier this year at 84.

Dean Hargrove

There are still survivors. David McCallum just celebrated his 86th birthday. Dean Hargrove, 81, in a long interview in March with the Writer’s Guild Foundation provided some insights into the show. He acknowledged it put him on the map, setting up a long and successful career as a TV writer-producer.

The franchise is in limbo. A 2015 movie based on the series wasn’t a financial success. There was talk of trying to get a sequel going but there’s no sign much is happening.

Hargrove, in the interview this year, said studio Warner Bros. may have simply waited too long to do a movie version.

All of that is a story for another day. For now, happy anniversary, U.N.C.L.E.