The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’s comic book sensibility

"It's a memo from Stan Lee, sir."

“It’s a memo from Stan Lee, sir.”

MeTV on April 26 is scheduled to show The Foxes and Hounds Affair, a second-season episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. that’s one of the best of the series, that includes Vincent Price as a villain.

It also has a whopper of a “McGuffin” at the center of the story — a mind-reading device which, if it falls into the wrong hands, will cause all sorts of problems.

Of course, mind-reading machines didn’t exist then (1965) or now. U.N.C.L.E., during its 1964-68 run, embraced comic book-style science fiction concepts, giving its stories, on occasion, a taste of the fantastic. Here are some other examples.

Project Earthsave (The Double Affair/The Spy With My Face): The possibility that Earth might be invaded “from beyond the stars” was real enough that major nations funded something called Project Earthsave.

It’s apparently an energy source to use against aliens (it’s not explained in detail). Something that powerful, of course, is bound to interest villains.

Regenerating serum (The Girls of Nazarone Affair): A professor, who died under mysterious circumstances, invented a serum which causes the body to regenerate from even the most severe injuries or wounds.

The serum has fallen into the hands of villainous organization Thrush. It tests the serum on one of its operatives, race driver Nazarone, by shooting her with machine guns. She survives.

Regeneration is one of the powers of Marvel Comics character Wolverine (who didn’t make his debut until an early 1970s Hulk comic book). With the serum, you could have an army of Wolverines (minus the claws, of course). However, something Thrush didn’t foresee comes into play.

Vaporizer (The Arabian Affair): Thrush is developing a vaporizer that disintegrates items or people. In the pre-credits sequence, it’s tested on an unfortunate Arab man. So the Thrush scientists involved with the project wear special white outfits, similar to the radiation suits worn by Dr. No and his men.

We’re told the white outfits are “inter-molecular,” which prevents the wearer from being disintegrated. That sounds similar to the “unstable molecules” devised by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby used in the costumes of the Fastastic Four.

Age-reversal device (The Bridge of Lions Affair/One of Our Spies Is Missing): Another scientists has constructed a device (which includes the head of Robby the Robot from the MGM prop room) that can old men young again. As you might guess, this could cause problems if it falls into the wrong hands.

Cyborgs (The Sort-of-Do-Itself-Dreadful Affair): Part human, part machine they can really cause problems.

The Gurnius Affair
Mind-control ray (The Gurnius Affair): Thrush has invested $4 billion with some neo-Nazi types to perfect a mind-control ray.

The problem for Thrush: Nazis are prone to pursuing their own agenda, as Thrush operative Mr. Brown (Joseph Ruskin) finds out the hard way.

Cavill says U.N.C.L.E. movie has a ‘little bit of grit’

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

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

The Los Angeles Times has a preview of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie in which star Henry Cavill says the film has “a little bit of grit.”

Fans of the original 1964-68 series have, on occasion, expressed concern the movie might be too light, similar to the show’s third season, when the drama-humor mix got out of balance. Both Cavill, who plays Napoleon Solo, and Armie Hammer, who plays Illya Kuryakin, previously have said the movie’s sense of humor was an attraction to them.

In the Times story, Cavill’s full quote was: “There’s a coolness, a humor and a little bit of grit as well.” In 2013, when the movie was being filmed, Entertainment Weekly described a scene where Solo’s Cavill is attacked pretty viciously.

Here’s an excerpt from the Times story, concerning co-screenwriters Lionel Wigram and Guy Ritchie. The latter also directed the movie:

Ritchie and Wigram shared a love of early James Bond films — what Wigram called late Sean Connery/early Roger Moore — and wanted to make a spy film that returned to the glamorous era.

“People have reinvented Bond, but nobody’s gone back to the 1960s,” Wigram said.

To read the entire article, CLICK HERE. The film is scheduled to released in the U.S. on Aug. 14.

The Twilight Zone’s spy story

John Van Dreelan and Martin Landau in The Jeopardy Room

John Van Dreelen and Martin Landau in The Jeopardy Room

The Twilight Zone, more than a half century after it ended its original run on CBS, remains fondly remembered — an example of how television can be imaginative and thought provoking.

It also, in its final season, deviated from its usual fare of science fiction and fantasy to present a spy story.

The Jeopardy Room, which originally aired April 17, 1964, is essentially a two-man play for television.

On the one side, we have Major Ivan Kuchenko (Martin Landau), a Soviet military officer who served 12 years of hard time in Siberia. He wants to defect to the West. Despite his long imprisonment, he still has information that would be of value to the West.

On the other side, there is Commissar Vassiloff (John Van Dreelen). He has tortured Kuchenko in the past. Moreover, Vassiloff fancies himself as the last of the “imaginative” executioners. Vassiloff has been assigned to kill Kuchenko to make sure he doesn’t reach the West. But Vassiloff wants to do it with style.

In Act I, the two opponents meet in a dingy hotel room Kuchenko is renting. Vassiloff gets the better of him, tricking Kuchenko into drinking drugged wine. Vassiloff drinks first but has developed an immunity to the drug through constant use.

In Act II, Kuchenko awakes in the same room. Vassiloff has planted a fatal booby trap in a common object. Kuchenko has three hours to find it. If the would-be defector tries to get away, he’ll be shot by a thug accompanying Vassiloff.

The booby trap is in the room’s telephone. Kuchenko almost bites but figures it out. Eventually, he manages to get out before Vassioff’s thug can kill him. A bit later, Vassiloff and his flunky are in the room. Vassiloff is determined to get Kuchenko in “the next city.” Just then, the phone rings and Vassiloff’s (not too bright) lackey picks up the receiver, setting off an explosion.

At a telephone booth in an airport we see Kuchenko being told by an operator that the call has been disconnected. “That is all right, operator,” he says. “I have reached them.”

While not the best for what the series had to offer, The Jeopardy Room shows that writer-creator Rod Serling still had plenty in the creative tank despite five years of exhaustive television production on The Twilight Zone. The final season of The Twilight Zone consisted of 36 episodes. On broadcast networks today, 22 or 23 episodes is a full season.

Landau is a sympathetic hero. But Serling and director Richard Donner give Van Dreelen a springboard to chew the scenery. We say this admiringly. It’s a great performance by an old pro.

Van Dreelen would be a villain in a number of 1960s television shows. He makes the most of his part here, even smoking a cigarette in a long cigarette holder. Interestingly, Van Dreelen and Donner would be reunited a few months later, working together in two first-season episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Espionage was not The Twilight Zone’s wheel house. You could argue the ending is a little too pat (you’d think Vassiloff would have the flunky disarm the bomb in the telephone before coming in). Still, this episode was a great change of pace for a classic series.

Trivia: If you see this episode in syndication today (like on the evening of April 23 on MeTV), you’ll see a blurred image on the lower left of the end titles. Originally, there was a pack of cigarettes there because of a sponsor during the show’s run in the 1963-64 season.

Cavill, Hammer say they’d like to do an U.N.C.L.E. sequel

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

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

Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer, stars of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie, say they’d be happy to reprise the roles of Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin in another film if their first effort is successful at the box office.

The two were interviewed at CinemaCon this week by JBlo Movie Trailers, which posted the video to YouTube.

“I certainly enjoyed playing Napoleon Solo so fingers crossed I get to do it again,” Cavill said. Added Hammer, “I’d love to make one of these again.”

The big question is whether the movie, due out Aug. 14 in the United States, will do well enough for Warner Bros. to commission a sequel. The movie will come out just two weeks after Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, the fifth installment of the film series featuring Tom Cruise. On the other hand, the U.N.C.L.E. movie had (these days at least) a modest production budget of $75 million, which is small change compared to the $300 million outlay for SPECTRE, the 24th James Bond film.

This blog has previously posed the question if Cavill would have the time to make an U.N.C.L.E. sequel. He’s committed to playing Superman in a two-part Justice League project, with release dates in 2017 and 2019 as well as a stand-alone Superman movie at some future date. Based on Cavill’s comments, he sounds like he could fit in another U.N.C.L.E. turn if it comes up.

In the interview, Hammer also discussed something he’s mentioned before. The actor says he bought a DVD set of the original 1964-68 series after he was cast as Kuryakin. He said he liked the second season but thought the show went “off the rails” in the third when the humor-drama balance tipped more toward the humor side.

Anyway, here’s the interview:

Cavill tells MTV how Solo is different than Superman

Actor Henry Cavill, while being interviewed by MTV, commented how playing Napoleon Solo was different than portraying Superman.

Cavill said while playing the Man of Steel “is an honor,” the character also is stoic. “He’s the golden boy.”

On the other hand, “To play a character like Napoleon Solo, it’s so much fun, because he’s not the golden boy,” he said. “He’s kind of a bad boy who does the right thing…He’s one of those sarcastic fun guys. It’s great to play.”

Cavill was interviewed along with Armie Hammer, who plays Illya Kuryakin in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie, at CinemaCon in Las Vegas. At the event, studios made presentations to theater companies about upcoming films. The U.N.C.L.E. movie is due out Aug. 14 in the United States.

The full interview is below. MTV also asked a number of Superman questions. Cavill, who played the character in 2013’s Man of Steel, reprises the role in next year’s Batman v Superman: The Dawn of Justice.

U.N.C.L.E. movie stars attend Warner Bros. presentation

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. teaser poster

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. teaser poster

Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer, the stars of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie, participated in a Warner Bros. presentation in Las Vegas on April 21.

The event was CinemaCon, a national trade show for motion picture exhibitors. By sheer coincidence, it’s at Caesar’s Palace, where the last official U.N.C.L.E. production — the 1983 television film The Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E. — was filmed.

Cavill and Hammer, who play Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin in the U.N.C.L.E. film, were part of a Warner Bros. panel. Both showed up in beards and light-colored suits and no ties.

During the presentation, Cavill and Hammer showed new footage from the U.N.C.L.E. movie, according to THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER. The trade publication didn’t provide details.

Earlier, Tom Cruise appeared at CinemaCon to plug Paramount’s Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation. According to THE WRAP, the actor-producer explained how the movie’s signature sent was performed where Cruise is hanging from the side of an aircraft.

Cruise also showed two clips from the film. For more details, CLICK HERE to read a story by The Associated Press.

The Mission: Impossible film will debut on July 31, with the U.N.C.L.E. movie coming out two weeks later.

What follows are Tweets From MTV and Warner Bros. of Cavill and Hammer.

UPDATE (11:25 p.m.): We embedded an MTV video where Cavill and Hammer were interviewed. An hour later, it stopped working. So we went ahead and stripped it out.

The rise of the ‘origin’ storyline

Daniel Craig and Jeffrey Wright in Casino Royale

Daniel Craig and Jeffrey Wright in Casino Royale

Fifty, 60 years ago, with popular entertainment, you didn’t get much of an “origin” story. You usually got more-or-less fully formed heroes. A few examples:

Dr. No: James Bond is an established 00-agent and has used a Baretta for 10 years. Sean Connery was 31 when production started. If Bond is close to the actor’s age, that means he’s done intelligence work since his early 20s.

Napoleon Solo on TV: fully formed

Napoleon Solo on TV: fully formed

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: During the first season (1964-65), Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) has worked for U.N.C.L.E. for at least seven years (this is disclosed in two separate episodes). A fourth-season episode establishes that Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) graduated from U.N.C.L.E.’s “survival school” in 1956 and Solo two years before that.

Batman: While played for laughs, the Adam West version of Batman has been operating for an undisclosed amount of time when the first episode airs in January 1966. In the pilot, it’s established he has encountered the Riddler (Frank Gorshin) before. There’s a passing reference to how Bruce Wayne’s parents were “murdered by dastardly criminals” but that’s about it.

The FBI: When we first meet Inspector Lewis Erskine (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) in 1965, he’s established as the “top trouble shooter for the bureau” and is old enough to have a daughter in college. We’re told he’s a widower and his wife took “a bullet meant for me.” (The daughter would soon be dropped and go into television character limbo.) Still, we don’t see Young Lewis Erskine rising through the ranks of the bureau.

Get Smart: Maxwell Smart (Don Adams) was a top agent for CONTROL despite his quirks. There was no attempt to explain Max. He just was. A 2008 movie version gave Max a back story where he had once been fat.

I Spy: Kelly Robinson (Robert Culp) and Alexander Scott (Bill Cosby) have been partners for awhile, using a cover of a tennis bum and his trainer.

Mission: Impossible: We weren’t told much about either Dan Briggs (Steven Hill) or Jim Phelps (Peter Graves), the two team leaders of the Impossible Missions Force. A fifth-season episode was set in Phelps home town. Some episodes introduced friends of Briggs and Phelps. But not much more than that.

Mannix: We first meet Joe Mannix (Mike Connors) when he’s the top operative of private investigations firm Intertect. After Joe goes off on his own in season two, we meet some of Joe’s Korean War buddies (many of whom seem to try to kill him) and we eventually meet Mannix’s father, a California farmer. But none of this is told at the start.

Hawaii Five-O: Steve McGarrett (Jack Lord) is the established head of the Hawaiian state police unit answerable only to “the governor or God and even they have trouble.” When the series was rebooted in 2010, we got an “origin” story showing McGarrett (Alex O’Loughlin) as a military man, the unit being formed, his first meeting with Dan Williams, etc.

And so on and so forth. This century, though, an “origin story” is the way to start.

With the Bond films, the series started over with Casino Royale, marketed as the origin of Bond (Daniel Craig). The novel, while the first Ian Fleming story, wasn’t technically an origin tale. It took place in 1951 (this date is given in the Goldfinger novel) and Bond got the two kills needed for 00-status in World War II.

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, co-bosses of Eon Productions

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson

Nevertheless, audience got an “origin” story. Michael G. Wilson, current co-boss of Eon Productions (along with his half-sister, Barbara Broccoli) wanted to do a Bond “origin” movie as early as 1986 after Roger Moore left the role of Bond. But his stepfather, Eon co-founder Albert R. Broccoli, vetoed the idea. With The Living Daylights in 1987, the audience got a younger, but still established, Bond (Timothy Dalton). In the 21st century, Wilson finally got his origin tale.

Some of this may be due to the rise of movies based on comic book movies. There are had been Superman serials and television series, but 1978’s Superman: The Motion Picture was the first A-movie project. It told the story of Kal-El from the start and was a big hit.

The 1989 Batman movie began with a hero (Michael Keaton) still in the early stages of his career, with the “origin” elements mentioned later. The Christopher Nolan-directed Batman Begins in 2005 started all over, again presenting an “origin” story. Marvel, which began making movies after licensing characters, scored a big hit with 2008’s Iron Man, another “origin” tale. Spider-Man’s origin has been told *twice* in 2002 and 2012 films from Sony Pictures.

Coming up in August, we’ll be getting a long-awaited movie version of U.N.C.L.E., this time with an origin storyline. In the television series, U.N.C.L.E. had started sometime shortly after World War II. In the movie, set in 1963, U.N.C.L.E. hasn’t started yet and Solo works for the CIA while Kuryakin is a KGB operative.

One supposes if there were a movie version of The FBI (don’t count on it), we’d see Erskine meet the Love of His Life, fall in love, get married, lose her and become the Most Determined Agent in the Bureau. Such is life.

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