Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Overlooked Films: The Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Open Channel D. U.N.C.L.E. is back.

Or at least it was, briefly, back in 1983, in “The Fifteen Years Later Affair,” and lives again on DVD. All in all, I found this a not-too-stinky trip down memory lane.

When ex-Thrush agent Anthony Zerbe busts out of prison and plots to detonate a bomb under a Chicago nuclear plant, U.N.C.L.E. is forced to bring their big guns Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin out of retirement. Illya, we learn, has been wiling away the years designing women’s fashions, while Solo has been selling computers.

There are no big surprises in the plot. Our heroes run around battling bad guys and facing certain death, mostly apart, as was normal for the series, until they eventually give Thrust a sound spanking. But there are some nice surprises in the supporting cast. Mr. Waverly (Leo G. Carroll) has passed on, so old Avenger Patrick McNee is called in to replace him. Anthony Zerbe, of course, makes a fine villain, and one of his henchmen (underused, I thought) is Keenan Wynn. In one scene Wynn asks Solo how he manages to look so young. “A good make-up man,” Solo replies.

My favorite touch was a cameo by Geroge Lazenzby as “JB,” who just happens to be tooling around Las Vegas in his Aston Martin, and uses some of the car’s old tricks to aid Solo.

And there are other hat-tips to the Bond films. (Yeah, I know the whole series was inspired by 007, but these bits are particularly derivative.) Solo fights a guy with the height, personality, and rock-hard stomach of Jaws, and the climax finds an army of U.N.C.L.E. agents in blue jump suits making as assault on a massive Thrush facility defended by guys in orange jump suits. It was almost a surprise to see Robert Vaughn in the mix rather than Sean Connery or one of the long line of lesser Bonds.

The film was apparently a pilot for a revived series that never got off the ground. Too bad. But it’s not too late. Vaughn and McCallum are still around, and if they could be persuaded to make an episode called “The Forty-Five Years Later Affair,” I would most certainly watch it.

A big-screen U.N.C.L.E. film has been rumored for a couple of years, and the latest news I could find, from last December, says Guy Ritchie (the Sherlock Holmes guy) is supposed to direct. We’ll see.

Unoverlook more Films each week at this time at Sweet Freedom.


Todd Mason said...

I rather enjoyed this one when it was new, and there was perhaps only one GET SMART! revival film and one WILD, WILD WEST offer kicking around...and Vaughn and David McCallum still actively engaged in episodic television, no less...

Randy Johnson said...

I remember reading something somewhere that the original script had Napoleon and Illya in the "correct" post-U.N.C.L.E. professions. It was McCallum's idea to swap them around.

I have the series and this movie on DVD. Now all I need is The Girl From... and the movie series)a couple are on the series set along with the original color pilot with no Waverly and the enemy was Wasp.

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

I remember watching this in 80s and loving Lazenby's cameo as it was the same year that Moore and Connery also played Bond.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Loved the series but don't think I caught the movie.

Ron Scheer said...

Back when I was a TA in the late 1960s, more of my freshmen knew Napoleon Solo than Gen. Westmoreland.

George said...

It's hard to believe the popularity of THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. in the Sixties. Today, many of the episodes just don't hold up. The entire series was available DVD in a cool suitcase.