Some U.N.C.L.E. myths, goofs for April Fool’s Day

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

It may be April Fool’s Day, but one website apparently takes its readers for fools. It has some myths and goofs about The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series.

The CrimeReads website has an April 1 article proclaiming, “These are plot descriptions of actual episodes from the 1960s spy television series The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and wow they are…insane.”

But not necessarily accurate. Time for a fact check.

The acronym for the villainous organization is T.H.R.U.S.H, which I think is also some kind of yeast infection.

In the series, the villainous organization was just named Thrush. No acronym. A tie-in novel, The Dagger Affair by David McDaniel, invented one. But it was never canon in the show. In fact, it was never referenced.

The Iowa Scuba Affair (S.1, Ep. 2)

When a young air force officer is shot to death in an Iowa cornfield, Solo finds scuba-diving suits, a fresh-scrubbed farm girl and a “farmer” whose silos contain not grain but a super-secret missile.

The air force officer is really a saboteur. He was shot to death by Solo. It turns out the saboteur murdered the air force officer and took his place.

The Finny Foot Affair (S.1, Ep.10)

A 12-year-old boy, a beautiful stripper, a dog named Spike and a murderous Japanese warlord send Solo and Illya to a mysterious castle where they discover a strange plague that ages its victims.

There is no stripper in the episode. I have no idea where CrimeReads got this from. I’ve seen the episode more times than I count. The boy was played by Kurt Russell, 13 years old at the time.

The Bow Wow Affair (S. 1, Ep. 20)

When world leaders are found dead with their throats slashed, Solo, Illya and Mr. Waverly suspect THRUSH has electronically gained control of the brain of each victim’s pet dog and turned it against its master.

One, Thrush isn’t part of the episode. Second, world leaders aren’t found with their throats slashed. They are rich people who have been attacked by their dogs. The person behind the threat is a gypsy. The gypsy is trying to get control of a major company. The rich people attacked by their dogs are major shareholders in the company.

The See-Paris-and-Die Affair (S. 1, E. 22)

A singing student is turned into a glamorous Parisian nightclub singer by Solo, Illya and Mr. Waverly when they use her to trap jewel thieves.

Waverly doesn’t appear in the episode.

The Discotheque Affair (S. 2, Ep. 5)

Solo, Illya and Mr. Waverly Watusi, frug and swim into a wild bunch of deadly dancers at a discotheque run by THRUSH.

Waverly is in the episode but goes nowhere near the discotheque until the end of the story when other U.N.C.L.E. agents arrive to mop things up. He certainly doesn’t Watusi, frug or swim.

The Thor Affair (S. 3, Ep. 7)

The Men from U.N.C.L.E. travel to Switzerland to protect an Asian leader and receive unexpected help when a vacationing schoolteacher’s dental work can tune in THRUSH’s radio communications.

Thrush isn’t part of the episode. The title refers to the villain, Brutus Thor, who is working for himself.

Some 007-related U.S. TV episodes to watch

Luciana Paluzzi and Robert Vaughn in To Trap a Spy. A tamer version of the scene would be in The Four-Steps Affair.

In the 1960s and 1970s, there were a number of episodes of popular series that had major James Bond influences.

Over in the U.K., there were plenty including The Saint and The Persuaders! (both starring Roger Moore), The Avengers (Honor Blackman and, Diana Rigg playing the female leads in Bond films and Patrick Macnee eventually appearing in A View to a Kill), Danger Man (John Glen was an editor on the series) among others.

But there other examples in the U.S. as well. My collection of TV shows skews that way, so here are some examples. This isn’t a comprehensive list.

THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.

To Trap a Spy/The Four-Steps Affair (first season)

The pilot for The Man From U.N.C.L.E., titled The Vulcan Affair, was produced in late 1963. But the production team decided to add scenes so a movie could be released outside the U.S. if the pilot didn’t sell.

That movie version would be titled To Trap a Spy.

The extra scenes were filmed in early 1964. Luciana Paluzzi played a femme fatale named Angela. Her character would be extremely similar to the Fiona character she’d portray in Thunderball (1965).

In the spring of 1965, that extra footage was incorporated into a first-season episode titled The Four-Steps Affair. So there are two versions of Paluzzi’s Angela character.

What’s more, Richard Kiel plays a thug in both The Vulcan Affair and To Trap a Spy. He shows up as another thug in a first-season episode titled The Hong Kong Shilling Affair.

The Five Daughters Affair (third season)/The Karate Killers

Two actors who would later play Bond villains, Telly Savalas and Curt Jurgens are part of the proceedings. Neither plays a villain. Each character has a relationship with one of the five daughters of the two-part TV episode title.

HAWAII FIVE-O

This series, of course, starred Jack Lord, the first film Felix Leiter. But the series had other James Bond connections of note.

Soon-Tek Oh: The busy character actor (who played Lt. Hip in The Man With the Golden Gun) was in eight episodes of the 1968-80 series. He’s in the pilot as one of the scientists in the employ of arch-villain Wo Fat. He’d return, making his final appearance in the 12th season.

The 90-Second War (fourth season): Wo Fat shows up to frame Steve McGarrett. It’s part of a complicated plot to disable the ability of the U.S. to monitor a key Chinese missile test.

This was a two-part story. In Part II, Donald Pleasance plays a German missile scientist working for the U.S. who is being blackmailed by Wo Fat.

The Jinn Who Clears the Way (fifth season): This is one of Soon-Tek Oh’s appearances. He plays a “young Maoist” who is being manipulated by Wo Fat as part of his scheme. It appears Steve McGarrett finally captures Wo Fat. But the U.S. makes the lawman give up the arch-villain as part of a prisoner exchange.

I’m a Family Crook — Don’t Shoot! (fifth season) The highlight of this episode is a family of grifters headed by a character played by Andy Griffith. But Harold Sakata, Oddjob from Goldfinger, shows up as a thug. Believe it or not, he gets fewer lines here than he had in Goldfinger.

Deep Cover (10th season): Maud Adams plays the head of a spy ring that causes plenty of trouble for McGarrett.

My Friend, the Enemy (10th season): Luciana Paluzzi (in one of her final acting performances) plays an Italian journalist who makes life difficult for McGarrett.

The Year of the Horse (11th season): George Lazenby plays a secondary villain but gets “special guest star” billing in a two-hour episode filmed in Singapore.

THE FBI

Rope of Gold (second season): Louis Jourdan was a villain in three episodes of the 1965-74 series. But his first appearance here is his best.

Jourdan’s character is pressuring a business executive (Peter Graves) to supply information regarding the shipments of key components of interest to the Soviet bloc. Jourdan has a really good scene where he discusses how he came to lead the life he has chosen.

Also appearing in a small role is helicopter pilot James W. Gavin (listed in the cast as “Gavin James”). He was the pilot who had the presence of mind during filming of Diamonds Are Forever on the oil rig to get his cameras rolling when explosions were set off by mistake. Gavin, naturally, plays a pilot but gets a few lines.

The Executioners (second season): In this two-part story, Telly Savalas plays a high-ranking official of La Cosa Nostra who wants to get out but can’t. The two-part story was re-edited as a movie for international audiences.

The Target (sixth season): Karin Dor plays the daughter of the economics minister of a Communist nation who has defected. The daughter doesn’t even know her father has defected yet. Communist operatives intend to kidnap her to force her father to return.

Dark side of 1960s escapist entertainment

Solo tells Chris that “the game is over.”

1960s TV shows are often dismissed as escapist. But even some escapist TV episodes have their dark side.

Case in point: The Finny Foot Affair, the 10th episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which originally aired in 1964.

Here are a few examples from the episode.

–U.N.C.L.E. agents Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) and Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) investigate an “island off Scotland” where all the inhabitants are dead from old age. That’s not the real reason, but it’s a grim mystery to start off an episode.

–The episode’s innocent, Christopher Larson (played by Kurt Russell, then 13), witnesses an U.N.C.L.E. agent stabbed to death during a fight by a thug working for the villain. The agent apparently dispatches the thug with some kind of gas, although this isn’t fully explained. But Christopher saw everying.

— Christopher watches Solo kill one of the villain’s thugs, using one of Christopher’s toys as decoy.

— Christopher watches Solo kill the villain in a shootout.

One might think Christopher would suffer psychological trauma from all this. He might even have mental health issues later in life. Perhaps, perhaps not.

1967: The U.N.C.L.E./Invaders connection

A first-season episode of The Invaders directed by Sutton Roley…

….and a fourth-season U.N.C.L.E. episode directed by Sutton Roley

The final season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (1967-68) included a major change in tone. The show got a lot more serious after a campy third season.

The primary reason was a change in producers. In came Anthony Spinner, a veteran of some Quinn Martin series. His time at QM Productions up to that point included being associate producer for the first season of The Invaders.

Spinner had written a first-season U.N.C.L.E. episode, The Secret Sceptre Affair. But he also wrote a number of episodes for Quinn Martin series such as 12 O’Clock High and The FBI.

QM Productions hired Spinner for the Invaders, where he was deputy to the day-to-day producer, Alan A. Armer.

The show was a departure for QM — it was a science fiction series about how architect David Vincent (Roy Thinnes) tries to convince humanity the Earth is being invaded by an alien race.

The Invaders was a mid-season replacement series that debuted in January 1967 on ABC. Spinner departed the show after the first half-season and he landed as the new day-to-day producer for U.N.C.L.E.

Spinner, along the way, hired some contributors from The Invaders. Among them were writers Don Brinkley, Robert Sherman and John W. Bloch. Bloch, like Spinner, had also worked on a first-season U.N.C.L.E. episode. Sherman’s U.N.C.L.E.’s script was among those that went unproduced because the series was canceled at mid-season.

But perhaps the most significant contributor from The Invaders was director Sutton Roley (1922-2007).

Roley was known for filming shots from unusual angles. He helmed two episodes of the first season of The Invaders, including one titled The Innocent.

The aliens try to fool David Vincent about their intentions, claiming they really want to help mankind.

The episode includes a point-of-view shot where Vincent, having not been fooled, looks up at the aliens.

Roley would direct three episodes in U.N.C.L.E.’s Spinner-produced final season, including the two-part series finale, The Seven Wonders of the World Affair. The director practically duplicates his shot from The Invaders as we see Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) look at people hovering over him.

For U.N.C.L.E., the changes brought by Spinner didn’t pan out. The show got clobbered in the ratings by Gunsmoke on CBS (a series which had been initially canceled but reprieved).

Nevertheless, a number of contributors to The Invaders had an impact on the tone for the final 16 episodes of The Man From U.N.C..E.

Footnote: The main guest star in The Innocent was Michael Rennie. He’d be the villain in the fourth-season U.N.C.L.E. episode, The Thrush Roulette Affair. Rennie would also return in the second season of The Invaders for the show’s only two-part story.

Looking for a suit? Here’s an U.N.C.L.E. version for $735

Henry Cavill as Napoleon Solo in 2015’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (2015) wasn’t a big box office hit. But that hasn’t stopped the marketing of a suit based on the film.

Magnoli Clothiers is offering a three-piece suit based on the movie for $735. Here’s a description.

This retro three-piece suit features a three-button single-breasted jacket with cloth-covered buttons, three flapped pockets and a square-cut bottom. The six-button waistcoat has matching buttons and two welted pockets. The pleated trousers have angled side pockets and plain bottoms with no cuffs.

Shown in a premium wool blend, dark blue with double window-pane and hand-stitched detailing

Henry Cavill wore a variety of three-piece suits in the 2015 film. Cavill, a one-time contender to play James Bond, portrayed Napoleon Solo in the U.N.C.L.E. film.

Solo was the role originated by Robert Vaughn in the 1964-68 television series. The Solo character was created by television producer Norman Felton and James Bond author Ian Fleming. The bulk of the series was created by writer-producer Sam Rolfe.

When the U.N.C.L.E. movie came out, some who didn’t like the movie (done as a period piece set in 1963) commented about the costumes, including Solo’s suits.

High-end merchandise related to James Bond is old hat. Currently, you can buy a $6,000 backgammon set, a $3.5 million replica Aston Martin DB5 with gadgets (but not street legal so you can’t drive it on the open road) and another Aston Martin model for $700,007.

Also, clothier N. Peal has come out with a line of James Bond-related clothing such as sweaters.

h/t Robert Short of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. — Inner Circle page on Facebook.

1964: U.N.C.L.E.’s Soviet history in-joke

For much of The Project Strigas Affair, Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) wears a disguise that appears to resemble…

Next month marks the 55th anniversary of The Project Strigas Affair, the ninth episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. It’s mostly known today for being the first time William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy acted together.

However, it’s also an example of an in-joke, albeit one that many members of the audience might not catch.

For much of the story, U.N.C.L.E. agent Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) wears a disguise consisting of a black wig, fake mustache and wire rim glasses.

It’s part of an elaborate con to ensnare a diplomat (Werner Klemperer), whose government is plotting to get the United States and Soviet Union to declare war on each other.

…Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky

Students of Soviet history might recognize the disguise. That’s because the disguised Illya appears to resemble Leon Trotsky, a Russian revolutionary who had a falling out with Stalin. Trotsky was assassinated in Mexico City in 1940.

Kuryakin was U.N.C.L.E.’s resident Russian operative. The U.N.C.L.E. series treated the agent’s nationality very gently. This was the 1960s, after all, and the Cold War was on.

The show mostly had subtle references (“Suddenly I feel very Russian,” he says as he parks near a Long Island party held by rich people in the first-season episode The Love Affair.)

Illya’s disguise for The Project Strigas Affair, assuming it really was an intentional in-joke, falls into this category. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was escapist entertainment, first and foremost. But the Kuryakin disguise shows there’s a bit more at work.

Happy 86th birthday, David McCallum

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

Today, Sept. 19, is David McCallum’s 86th 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.