Real life catches up to (some) futuristic tropes

Dick Tracy started out with a two-way wrist radio (1946), then upgraded to a two-way wrist TV (1964) and upgraded yet again to a two-way wrist computer (1986).

One of the appeals of the 1960s spy craze was how it embraced gadgets.

In From Russia With Love (1963), James Bond could be buzzed out in the field to call back to headquarters. In Goldfinger, the original version of the Aston Martin DB5 was equipped with a GPS device (a term not coined at the time). The Man From U.N.C.L.E. had communication devices of apparently unlimited range.

The spy craze was predated by the Dick Tracy newspaper comic strip by Chester Gould (1900-85). The detective got his two-way wrist radio in 1946, courtesy of industrialist Diet Smith. Smith upgraded the device to a two-way wrist TV in 1964 and a two-way wrist computer in 1986.

But has real life caught up to all this?

The Screen Rant website has come out with an article saying Bond 26 will struggle to utilize gadgets.

Although the gadgets used by James Bond have always been a vital part of the franchise’s appeal, it seems unlikely that Bond 26 will be able to bring back this 007 trope.

We’ll see about that.

The 1960s spy craze had some gadgets yet to be invented. For example, episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. included “McGuffins” such as a limitless energy supply developed to repel invaders from outer space (The Double Affair), a serum that accelerates the healing of the human body (The Girls of Nazarone Affair), a mind-reading machine (The Foxes and Hounds Affair) and a device that can reverse the aging process (The Bridge of Lions Affair).

And, of course, we have yet to see anything like the Space Coupe, Diet Smith’s spacecraft with magnetic power.

Wait, what? Really?

Henry Cavill

Supposedly, a sequel to the 2015 movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is in development, according to a website called Giant Freakin Robot. (Giant Freakin Robot?)

Cavill, who turns 40 in June, has departed various film franchises. He was once Superman but is no longer. He was once the star of the streaming series The Witcher but is no longer.

U.N.C.L.E. didn’t catch on when it was released in August 2015. Normally, that would be it.

Yet, this is an excerpt from the latest article:

 Through our trusted and proven sources, we can report that The Man from U.N.C.L.E 2 is being developed with Henry Cavill returning in the main role. Guy Ritchie is also returning to write and direct the sequel, though we are sure Armie Hammer will not be in it.

Armie Hammer, who played Illya Kuryakin in the 2015 movie, has endured, shall we say, various controversies that have stalled his acting career.

For now, color the blog skeptical. Maybe something will happen. Then again, it may be another chapter in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. curse.

Henry Cavill: The U.N.C.L.E. footnote

Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer (as devised by the late Paul Baack)

There has been plenty of coverage how Henry Cavill is being retired as Superman. Some James Bond fans still hold out (the fading) hope the 39-year-old Cavill could still be cast as James Bond. But that may be a long shot at this point.

Meanwhile, this week, the Collider website published an article that The Man From U.N.C.LE. was “the Henry Cavill franchise that should have been.”

Background: Cavill was a late casting as Napoleon Solo for the U.N.C.L.E. movie (filmed in the fall of 2013, but not released until August 2015).

Until Cavill came aboard, the filmmakers envisioned an older Solo paired with a younger Illya Kuryakin. Armie Hammer was cast as Illya first. Eventually, Guy Ritchie took over the project and his first choice was Brad Pitt as an older Solo. For a time, Tom Cruise was in the picture, but he went back to Paramount’s Mission: Impossible franchise.

When Cavill was cast as Solo, the concept of the original series was re-established: Two leads of about the same age.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie was not a financial success. It divided fans of the original 1964-68 television series. Some loved it. Others despised it, saying it was U.N.C.L.E. in name only.

Regardless, there is a “what could have been” vibe associated with all this. We’ll likely never know what could have been.

A few thoughts about the 1960 spy craze

The 1960s was the era of the spy craze. But some folks will argue that point with you.

Some James Bond fans will say everything other than Bond are only “knockoffs.”

Meanwhile, some fans of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (on social media) argue that was actually “the U.N.C.L.E. Craze” with Get Smart, I Spy, and The Wild Wild West following.

A few facts:

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. originally was pitched as “James Bond for television.”

Television producer Norman Felton and Ian Fleming co-created the character Napoleon Solo on October 29-31,1962 during their meetings in New York City.

The Wild Wild West was pitched as “spies and cowboys.”

Get Smart originated as a mix of Bond and Inspector Clouseau.

The success of Bond created a market for an “anti-Bond.” John Le Carre (real name David Cornwell) benefited. Still, Le Carre and his prominent fans said Bond wasn’t up to Le Carre’s standards.

Danger Man (Secret Agent in the U.S.) and The Avengers came out before 1962’s Dr. No. Yet both British TV shows were influenced by the Bond films.

The 1960s spy craze was a high point for the genre. But, even to this day, there’s a lot of grumbling going on.

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.

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:

Alan Caillou: Colorful writer-actor

Alan Caillou, right, with Albert Paulsen in The Terbuf Affair, an episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. that he also wrote.

Another in a series of unsung figures of television.

Alan Caillou (born Alan Samuel Lyle-Smythe in England in 1914) worked in front of and behind the camera.

He appeared on television shows as a character actor sporting a distinctive mustache. Behind the camera, he spun colorful tales as a writer. At times, he acted in stories he had written.

In the 1930s, he served as a member of the Palestine Police. During World War II, he served in the Intelligence Corps. It was during this time he adopted Caillou as an alias. According to his Wikipedia entry, he was captured in North Africa and imprisoned in Italy.

After the war, Lyle-Smythe returned for a time to the Palestine Police and then various posts in Africa. He later moved to Canada.

Lyle-Smythe eventually moved to California, where he was frequently employed in various television productions. His IMDB.COM ENTRY lists 80 credits as an actor and 28 as a writer.

One of the shows where Lyle-Smythe had a major impact was The Man From U.N.C.L.E. He wrote five first-season episodes and appeared in one. The character of Illya Kuryakin had been created by Sam Rolfe. But Lyle-Smythe’s scripts expanded the mystique of the character. He wrote the first U.N.C.L.E. story, The Bow-Wow Affair, where the primary attention was on Kuryakin.

Lyle-Smythe was back at the start of U.N.C.L.E.’s second season. But there was a new production team and Lyle-Smythe departed after writing two scripts (and making another appearance). He would also appear in two episodes of The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., strictly as an actor.

Lyle-Smythe died in 2006 in Arizona at the age of 91.

Nehemiah Persoff, veteran character actor, dies

Nehemiah Persoff in Mission: Impossible

Nehemiah Persoff, a character actor who excelled at playing villains, has died at 102, according to Deadline: Hollywood and other outlets.

Persoff, over a career lasting from the late 1940s to almost 2000, played:

–A Blofeld-like villain in the 1961 John Wayne Western The Comancheros;

–A secondary Thrush villain out to kill his former mentor Mandor (Jack Lord) in The Master’s Touch Affair in the final season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.;

–Three episodes of The Wild Wild West, including the show’s 1965 pilot;

–Two episodes of I Spy, three episodes of Mission: Impossible, an episode of It Takes a Thief, and seven episodes of Hawaii Five-O.

Persoff could play heavies in comedies as well as dramas.

For example, Persoff played gangster Little Bonaparte in 1959’s Some Like It Hot. The mobster was hearing impaired, wearing hearing aids. Little Bonaparte has fellow gangster Spats Columbo (George Raft) and his men gunned down at a party, with the killer coming out of a large cake.

A lawman played by Pat O’Brien enters asking what happened.

“There was something in that cake that didn’t agree with them,” Little Bonaparte replies.

The actor was versatile and didn’t only portray villains.

In a 1975 episode of Columbo, he played a nightclub owner who is blackmailing a former Nazi (Jack Cassidy). Persoff’s character is killed by Cassidy’s magician character during the middle of his act.

In the final episode of Gunsmoke, he played an immigrant father who pressures his eldest son (Robert Urich) to fight him as a rite of passage.

Footnote to Fleming’s involvement with U.N.C.L.E.

Last week, an artifact of Ian Fleming’s involvement in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. showed up on social media.

It was a copy of a November 1964 article in the Daily Mail with a headline of “FLEMING’S LAST CASE: The Man From UNCLE versus The Girl From THRUSH.”

An excerpt:

Mr. (Napoleon) Solo was the last creation of Ian Fleming before he died. You will see Napoleon Solo when a new TV series called The Man From UNCLE comes to Britain next year. Mr. Solo, I predict, will soon have a following. Not perhaps quite as large as Agent 007 but satisfying enough. I like him.

What’s interesting about the article is how earlier in 1964, attorneys for Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman sent a cease and desist letter to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (where the U.N.C.L.E series was produced).

That led to legal negotiations. The result was the TV series being retitled The Man From U.N.C.L.E. instead of Solo (also the name of one of the gangsters in Goldfinger), as originally planned. At one point, MGM issued a press release saying Ian Fleming had nothing to do with the TV show. The text of both the cease-and-desist letter and the MGM press release can be FOUND HERE.

The Daily Mail story contains an amusing gaffe. It identifies the “Girl From THRUSH” as actress Anne Francis. It was really actress Janine Gray (b. 1940). The Daily Mail also used a severely cropped image of Gray from her appearance in an U.N.C.L.E. episode, The Deadly Games Affair. Here’s the full image: