Evolution of spy entertainment 1960s-present

Sean Connery in an insert shot during the pre-titles sequence of Thunderball (1965)

In the newest episode of James Bond & Friends, Dr. Lisa Funnell raises the question whether spy entertainment has evolved beyond James Bond.

You could make the argument that things have regressed since the 1960s spy craze.

In 1965 alone, you could go to a movie theater and see the likes of Thunderball (the fourth James Bond movie and definitely on the escapist end of the spectrum) as well as The Ipcress Files (produced by Harry Saltzman with Bond film crew members along for the ride) and The Spy Who Came In From the Cold (based on a John le Carre novel).

That’s a lot of variety for a single year.

On British and American television, you could see series either affected by Bond (The Avengers and Danger Man) or started because of the spy craze (The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Get Smart, I Spy and Mission: Impossible).

Today? Well, Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman series was influenced by early Bond movies as well as U.N.C.L.E. and The Avengers.

Le Carre novels continue to be adapted but they often appear on TV mini-series.

The 1960s was the decade of the spy craze. The 1970s was a barren time for spy TV. It has waxed and waned since then.

Richard Donner dies at 91

Richard Donner, left, making a cameo in The Giuoco Piano Affair episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Richard Donner, a director who made audiences believe a man could fly with 1978’s Superman, has died, Variety reported. He was 91.

Donner became an A-list movie director as a result. He directed four installments of the Lethal Weapon film series as well as The Goonies, and Conspiracy Theory.

Among the stepping stones to achieving that status was helming episodes of 1960s spy TV shows. He directed four episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., three episodes of The Wild Wild West, and two episodes of Get Smart.

Donner’s U.N.C.L.E. work was all within the show’s first half-season. Two of his episodes, The Quadripartite Affair and The Giuoco Piano Affair, helped establish the character of Illya Kuryakin played by David McCallum.

The Quadripartite Affair was the third episode broadcast and the first with a significant amount of air time for the Kuryakin character. That and The Giuoco Piano Affair were filmed back-to-back. But the latter episode aired four weeks later, presented as a sequel.

Donner, along with other members of the production team, had cameos in a party scene. The director’s character was listed as “Inebriate” in the end titles and was used as comedy relief.

One of Donner’s episodes for The Wild Wild West, The Night of the Murderous Spring, was one of the best episodes involving Dr. Loveless (Michael Dunn) as the arch-foe of U.S. Secret Service agents James West and Artemus Gordon (Robert Conrad and Ross Martin).

Also among Donner’s credits was a 1966 episode of The FBI with an espionage theme titled The Spy Master.

Donner also directed a rare episode of The Twilight Zone, The Jeopardy Room, which had no fantasy or science fiction elements. It was a spy story, essentially a match of wits between two men (Martin Landau and John Van Dreelen).

The director also helmed one of the most famous episodes of the show, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, where an aircraft passenger is the only person aboard who can see a gremlin on the wing of the plane.

After Superman, Donner’s services as a film director were in demand.

Donner was Sean Connery’s first choice to direct Never Say Never Again, the 1983 non-Eon Productions James Bond film. The director, however, had misgivings about the script, according to the book Some Kind of Hero. Irvin Kirschner ended up getting the job.

How the 1970s were tough on TV spies

Robert Conrad in a publicity still for A Man Called Sloane

After a boom for spy shows in the 1960s, things dried up in the 1970s. Nevertheless, there were various attempts to return to the espionage genre.

The Spy Command Feature Story Index, the blog’s sister site, has a new story, 1970s: Tough times for spy TV. It examines a combination of unmade projects, unsold pilots and short-lived series. It’s based on some recent posts in the blog.

Among the examples: An unmade TV movie for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and unsold pilots devised by the likes of Sam Rolfe (U.N.C.L.E.) and Brian Clemens (The Avengers).

1965: U.N.C.L.E.’s star appears on a rival network

Red Skelton with Robert Vaughn, 1965

By the fall of 1965, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was a big hit. In December 1965, star Robert Vaughn appeared as the guest star on CBS’s Red Skelton Hour, the variety show that almost killed U.N.C.L.E.

U.N.C.L.E. debuted in September 1964 on NBC opposite Skelton’s CBS show. The spy show suffered in the ratings. NBC considered canceling U.N.C.L.E. Instead it changed the show’s time slot to Monday nights. That gave the series the boost it needed, plus a lift from Goldfinger boosting interest in spy entertainment.

A little over a year later, the Skelton show had Robert Vaughn on as a guest star. During a two-part skit, there were one-liners (perhaps ad libbed) where Skelton said Vaughn was plugging his own show.

After the skit, Vaughn appeared with Skelton. The U.N.C.L.E. star had a communicator (not the one that was seen on the series) so Skelton could call his wife. (See above.) At one point, Vaughn says into the device: “Illya get off the line, willya?”

Vaughn’s appearance was a sign of how spy shows had arrived as a thing. The Red Skelton Museum has been posting full episodes of the Skelton show to YouTube. Below is the Vaughn episode.

Unmade U.N.C.L.E. story emerges on eBay

Dean Hargrove

An unmade 1967 story treatment for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. has emerged on eBay, with an asking price of $575.

The title is The Stolen Time Affair. It was written by Dean Hargrove (b. 1938), who was one of the main writers on the series. It was among a number of stories in the pipeline when U.N.C.L.E. was canceled in the middle of its fourth season.

Until now, the main thing known about The Stolen Time Affair was a short description on a list of unmade stories that appeared in a publication called The U.N.C.L.E. Files in the 1980s. “A provocative Thrushwoman threatens the use of a device that will stop clocks within a 10-mile area. Major cities of the world will be subject to chaos unless a blackmail sum is paid and collected” by U.N.C.L.E.

The treatment being sold is 25 pages. The seller provides photos of sample pages. The treatment breaks down events by acts (teaser, Act I, etc.). There’s no dialogue. The names of executive producer Norman Felton and producer Anthony Spinner are on the title page and it has a production number of 8461.

According to the seller’s description, the main character (presumably the provocative Thrushwoman) is named Alexis Nadir.

You Only Live Twice’s mysterious credit redux

You Only Live Twice promotional art

Back in 2009, the blog wrote about writer Harold Jack Bloom, the first screenwriter hired for You Only Live Twice.

After all these years, Bloom remains a mysterious figure in the Bond film series. He was an Oscar-nominated screenwriter for The Naked Spur, a 1953 Western film starring James Stewart. But books about the James Bond films gloss that over.

For example, the book Some Kind of Hero mentions Bloom wrote an episode of a television series produced by Harry Saltzman. That book says Bloom “took over writing chores” while retaining elements of a treatment written by Sydney Boehm, himself an Oscar-nominated screenwriter.

How did Bloom get involved with Bond? He had a successful career. The Naked Spur put him on the map but he ended up mostly writing for television. He wrote scripts for westerns, crime dramas and medical dramas. However, he didn’t write a lot of spy stories.

The main exception to that was the second episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Iowa-Scuba Affair. The show’s day-to-day producer was Sam Rolfe, who all but created U.N.C.L.E. and had been Bloom’s collaborator on The Naked Spur.

The written history of You Only Live Twice is pretty sketchy. Bloom accompanied key production members to Japan. Then, for whatever reason, he was gone. In came Roald Dahl, an accomplished writer but who had little experience writing TV and film scripts.

Dahl was a pretty colorful character. In the 1960s, a BBC special about the making of You Only Live Twice featured Dahl prominently. Harold Jack Bloom? He was yesterday’s news.

Strictly a guess, but it seems likely Bloom got the job on the basis of his U.N.C.L.E. script. In the 21st century, it’s unlikely that Eon Productions would admit that. Albert R. Broccoli took shots at U.N.C.L.E. in his autobiography.

When legend becomes fact, print the legend.

Now and forever, Harold Jack Bloom will be a forgotten figure in the Bond film world.

A modest proposal about U.N.C.L.E.’s future

U.N.C.L.E. insignia from a second-season episode

The future of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., if it has one, needs to be different because of changes in the movie and television industry.

Traditional over-the-air networks (ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox) face increasing pressure and programs face tight windows to prove themselves or get canceled.

U.N.C.L.E.’s last try as a feature film in 2015 wasn’t a big hit. A sequel always was a long shot and with each passing year the odds get longer.

U.N.C.L.E.’s best chance at a revival may be as a series on streaming television. Marvel Studios is extending its universe of characters to series on Disney Plus. An initial effort, WandaVision, is getting a lot of attention, with outlets doing episode-by-episode recaps.

Corporate leaders such as those at Walt Disney Co. (Marvel’s parent company) and AT&T (parent company of Warner Bros.) are going all-in on streaming.

U.N.C.L.E. is a Warner Bros. property. So if U.N.C.L.E. went streaming it would be ticketed for AT&T’s HBO Max. In 2021, AT&T is using Warner Bros. films as a loss leader to drive traffic to HBO Max. The movies show up on the streaming service and theaters (those that are open) at the same time. The films stay on HBO Max for about a month.

Of course, where U.N.C.L.E. is concerned, things are never easy. If Warner Bros. is even interested, how do you cast about for a showrunner to oversee an HBO Max version of U.N.C.L.E.? Is there someone out there who can retain the core of U.N.C.L.E. while updating it for modern audiences?

U.N.C.L.E. had an overall optimistic center (agents of all nationalities, an American was paired with a Russian). The original series, though, in its fourth season showed that could be adapted to darker storylines.

Also, do you recast? Answer: Likely. The most recent movie was actually filmed in the fall of 2013. It’s hard to maintain momentum with actors audiences haven’t seen in the roles of Solo and Illya for years.

One of those actors, Armie Hammer, is fighting for his professional life because of controversy involving a sex scandal. Who knows if the other, Henry Cavill, is still interested. You get the impression he’s waiting around to see if he can be cast as James Bond in the future.

What’s more, if a showrunner was new to U.N.C.L.E. (a strong possibility if such a streaming show happened) that person would likely want to cast the leads. A fresh start makes sense.

The streaming route raises a lot of questions. But hoping for a sequel to the 2015-released film seems like a dead end. For U.N.C.L.E. to have a future, streaming may be the way to go.

Jack Turley, veteran TV writer, dies

A group of “test tube” killers in a fourth-season Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode written by Jack Turley

Jack Turley, an American TV writer who was active for three decades, died last month at the age of 93, according to the Writers Guild website.

Turley wrote in various genres including westerns, crime dramas, and soap operas. He found work in spy television shows of the 1960s, including The Man From U.N.C.L.E., I Spy, and Blue Light, the latter a short-lived World War II spy drama starring Robert Goulet.

Turley wrote three U.N.C.L.E. episodes. One of his best-remembered stories was The Test Tube Killer Affair in the show’s fourth season.

The villainous organization Thrush has raised young killers from childhood. One of them, Greg Martin (Christopher Jones) is the prize pupil of the bunch. As a demonstration project, Martin is on a mission to blow up a dam in Greece and destroy a nearby village.

Turley also was often employed by QM Productions. Among the series he wrote for were The Fugitive, 12 O’Clock High, The FBI, and Dan August.

The writer’s IMDB.COM ENTRY lists 54 credits.

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