RE-POST: Robert Towne channels 007 for U.N.C.L.E.

Richardo Montalban and Robert Vaughn in The Dove Affair

Richardo Montalban and Robert Vaughn in The Dove Affair

Screenwriter Robert Towne celebrated his 87th birthday on Nov. 23. The Oscar winner also participated in the 1960s spy craze. This is adapted from a 2013 post.

1963 saw From Russia With Love, the second James Bond movie. About a year after it came out, a future Oscar winning screenwriter would channel the film for an episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Robert Towne would go on to win an Oscar for his script for 1974’s Chinatown. A decade earlier, he was among the writers to pen first-season scripts for The Man From U.N.C.L.E., a show that had been pitched as “James Bond for television.”

Towne perhaps took that idea a bit literally. His sole U.N.C.L.E. credit, The Dove Affair, featured an extended sequence on a train going through the Balkans, a very similar setting to From Russia With Love.

U.N.C.L.E. agent Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) faces a complicated situation. His mission is to smuggle out a medal in the shape of a dove that has tiny engraved names of agents of Thrush, the villainous organization that opposes U.N.C.L.E. Satine (Richardo Montalban) is the top intelligence agent of a Balkan nation where Thrush is trying to seize control. Satine is a genuine patriot but he’s willing to kill Solo if it furthers his country’s interests.

Much of the episode’s second half evokes the mood of From Russia With Love. The TV show, though, isn’t as compelling when it comes to a short fight scene with Solo and Satine compared to a fight between James Bond (Sean Connery) and SPECTRE killer Red Grant (Robert Shaw). Part of it stems from the limitations of 1960s television in depicting violence. Some of it probably stems from tight TV production schedules.

Overall, though, the similarities are telling. With The Dove Affair, there is the additional complication of “the innocent” character, in this case, a school teacher (June Lockhart), who’s escorting a group of U.S. high school students around Europe.

Satine, as written by Towne, has one quirk — he’s afraid of children. Solo uses the presence of the high school students to his advantage. There is also some good dialogue.

SATINE (agitated, referring to the students): They find me interesting!

SOLO: And so you are. I wouldn’t deny that for a minute.

To read a more detailed review of The Dove Affair, CLICK HERE and scroll down to episode 12.

The Name of the Game redux

Robert Stack, Gene Barry and Franciosa in a publicity still for The Name of the Game

Robert Stack, Gene Barry and Tony Franciosa in a publicity still for The Name of the Game

UPDATED POST: Several years ago, the blog took a look at The Name of the Game, a 1968-71 series made by Universal and airing on NBC.

Since then, more information has emerged. The Hollywood Reporter ran a lengthy 2018 feature story about the history of the series. Each episode cost an unheard of (at the time) $400,000 an episode. 

Occasionally, more episodes show up on YouTube. It’s hard to know how long they’ll stay up. They include an installment set in Cold War Berlin written by Richard Levinson and William Link as well as an episode where ace writer Jeff Dillon (Tony Franciosa) gets involved with espionage. 

ORIGINAL POST: Over the weekend, on a Facebook group, there interesting give and take about a television series that doesn’t get much attention these days: The Name of the Game.

The 1968-71 series consisted of 90-minute episodes dealing with three major figures at a magazine publishing company: its proprietor, Glenn Howard (Gene Barry); a top reporter/writer, Jeff Dillon (Tony Franciosa); and Dan Farrell, an FBI agent turned journalist (Robert Stack). Universal dubbed this the “wheel,” with rotating leads. Susan St. James as Peggy Maxwell would end up assisting all three.

The “wheel” concept would become a staple at Universal with the NBC Mystery Movie in the 1970s.

There’s a bit of spy connection. During the series, there was an episode that revealed Glenn Howard worked for the OSS during World War II. The episode concerned accusations by a Washington politician that Howard used an OSS operation to obtain the funds he’d use to start his publishing empire.

Essentially, Glenn Howard was a younger, handsomer version of Henry Luce (1898-1967), who founded Time, Life, Fortune and Sports llustrated. Like Luce, Glenn Howard was an influential man and traveled the globe.

The series had its origins with Fame Is the Name of the Game, a 1966 TV movie starring Franciosa as Jeff Dillon.

That TV movie also included George Macready as Glenn Howard, Dillon’s boss. But when NBC decided on a series, either Universal, NBC, or both, decided they needed a better known actor. As a result, Gene Barry, who had already done at least two Universal TV movies by this point, got the nod.

The Name of the Game attempted to deal with contemporary issues: the environment, race relations, corruption.

Over time, the 90-minute format fell out of favor for television syndication. The preferred formats are either 30 or 60 minutes or two hours. As a result, The Name of the Game is not seen very much these days. The show ran 76 episodes — hardly a flop, but syndicators usually prefer at least 100 episodes.

Nevertheless, a number of talented people worked on the show. Among them was Steven Spielberg, who directed a third-season Glenn Howard episode about environmental dangers. That episode, LA 2017, has a Twilight Zone quality. Did Howard really travel into the future or what it just a dream?

Other crew members included Norman Lloyd (producer of some Franciosa episodes), Dean Hargrove (a writer-producer who worked on Glenn Howard episodes), Steven Bochco (who was story editor for the Robert Stack episodes the last two seasons) and Leslie Stevens, creator of The Outer Limits who produced the first-season Franciosa episodes.

The show also featured a snappy theme by Dave Grusin, seen below:

Happy Fourth of July from The Spy Command

To celebrate the birthday of the United States, here’s our traditional greeting: Jim Steranko’s classic cover to Strange Tales 167.

The issue wrapped up a marathon Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. story line by the writer-artist.

Jim Steranko's cover to Strange Tales 167

Russian U.N.C.L.E. movie trailer and its extras

The Russian trailer for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. has emerged online and it has some material not in the U.S. trailers.

The trailer, naturally, plays up Armie Hammer’s Illya Kuryakin character a bit more than what has been seen in the United States.

Specifically, there’s a scene (beginning around the 1:15 mark) where Henry Cavill’s Napoleon Solo is using a small wire cutter on a fence. Kuryakin then takes out some kind of laser gadget to do the same thing much easier. Also, we see a shot of Kuryakin’s KGB superior that wasn’t in the U.S. trailers.

Anyway, if you’re interested, you can take a look below. It’s also available on a Russian video site that you can access by CLICKING HERE. Thanks to reader James Harris for posting that video on The Spy Command page on Facebook. Also, thanks to @HenryCavillONL on Twitter for pointing out the YouTube version embedded here.

The U.N.C.L.E. movie’s gamble

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

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

After two years (or so) of fan debates, we’re about six weeks before The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie — a project decades in the making — finally comes out.

Needless to say, it’s been a roller coaster ride. Who should be Solo? Who should be Kuryakin? Should this even be attempted at all?

This post is prompted after reading yet another fan debate on these subjects. Rather than hash over the debating points, this is an attempt to summarize what’s going on.

It would appear that director Guy Ritchie and his producing/writing partner Lionel Wigram are betting they can strip U.N.C.L.E to its component parts — Solo, Kuryakin and Waverly — and dispense with familiar memes (cool secret HQs, among them) that have been adapted by others such as Kingsman: The Secret Service. There may be the odd reference to the original 1964-68 series, but it may not be much more than that.

The Ritchie-Wigram target — something that Warner Bros. evidently agrees with — is younger viewers. Essentially, the filmmakers want to make U.N.C.L.E. palatable to the younger demographic while hoping enough first-generation fans are willing to go along for the ride.

Will it work? We’ll see. For some first-generation fans, having a Del Floria’s front to the secret HQs is a key part of the original U.N.C.L.E. concept. Others don’t like an “origin” storyline, which has become the default option for lots of “re-imagined” popular entertainment.

Whatever the case, “Mr. Warner” (check out old Warner Bros. cartoons for the joke) has stepped up recently to promote the movie, including making it part of next weekend’s San Diego Comic Con. For many long-time fans, having U.N.C.L.E. be part of that event — which has become a major venue for promoting movies — couldn’t even be imagined as recently as a year ago.

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.

Some early U.N.C.L.E. reactions arrive

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

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

Following this week’s early press screenings of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie, reactions are starting to appear on social media.

None of them have been detailed. The guess here is that an embargo is in place before those invited to the see the movie can comment in detail.

That’s standard operating procedure, involving movie reviews and feature articles about films. Occasionally you’ll hear about a flap where a scribe published before the embargo time. The U.N.C.L.E. screen is unusual because it took place six weeks before the movie’s Aug. 14 release date.

In any case, for what it’s worth, here are some tweets that have come out since the screening.

From a Reuters scribe (included in an update of our post the other day about the screening):

From a film critic who has written for BlackFilm.com and Latino Review, according to the Rotten Tomatoes website:

A film writer at Uproxx weighs in.

A writer for BlackFilm.com (spotted by Henry Cavill News, which is how we saw this one):

Warner Bros. gives an early press screening of U.N.C.L.E.

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

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

Warner Bros. has conducted an early media showing of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie, according to the editor of an entertainment news website.

Steven Weintraub, editor in chief of Collider.com, took to Instagram and Twitter tonight to say he was attending.

“Going back to the 60s with Guy Ritchie tonight,” Weintraub wrote in a caption accompanying a photo he put on Instagram. “Seeing an early screening of THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. Wb. must think they’ve got the goods to show us the film 6 weeks early.”

The movie, starring Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer, doesn’t arrive in theaters until Aug. 14. Warners originally scheduled the Guy Ritchie-directed film for mid-January, usually seen as a studio dumping ground for movies.

Warners later switched U.N.C.L.E. to August and kept it there, even after Paramount moved up Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation to July 31 from Dec. 25. The M:I movie features star/producer Tom Cruise, who had been courted to play Napoleon Solo in U.N.C.L.E. but opted against it. That paved the way for Cavill’s selection.

UPDATE (June 30): A writer for the Reuters news service put out a tweet after the screening. No other details provided.

A cool U.N.C.L.E. publicity still (1965)

Toward the end of the first season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., David McCallum, playing Illya Kuryakin, posed for a series of publicity stills during production of The Girls of Nazarone Affair, the next-to-last episode of the show’s first season.

In this photo, he’s in a convertible with Sharon Tate, who had a small role in the episode. Tate, in this photograph, shows off her personality that made an impression on casting directors. She soon would soon get larger roles.

Looking at this image, you can understand why Dean Martin wanted Tate to return for a planned fifth Matt Helm movie, The Ravagers. Tate had been his co-star in The Wrecking Crew.

It wasn’t to be. Tragically, she would be murdered in 1969 by the Charles Manson family.

David McC, Sharon Tate

007 veteran crew member talks to James Bond Radio

The Internet series James Bond Radio today debuted a new podcast featuring veteran James Bond crew member Terry Bamber.

Bamber worked on Bond films from The Man With The Golden Gun through Skyfall. He’s not involved with SPECTRE (though his wife is a crew member). He was also assistant director and production manager of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie, which debuts Aug. 14.

Bamber’s father worked on the early 007 films. Given the family history, he makes some observations of note:

Favorite Bond movies: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (“fantastic film, fantastic film”), followed by Casino Royale and Diamonds Are Forever (“I could watch it over and over again.”) The Living Daylights is “in my top third” of Bond films.

First experience on a Bond set: Being taken by his father to the You Only Live Twice volcano set.

Favorite Bond: By “millimeters of a point,” Sean Connery.

Why he’s not working on SPECTRE: He says he got a phone call saying the production team decided “to go in a different direction.”

Bamber also makes some brief comments about his work on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie, where he was assistant director and production manager on the second unit.

The interview lasts more than 90 minutes and covers more ground than this post can really cover. You can listen to the podcast below. The Terry Bamber interview starts around the 17:00 mark.