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In 1964, The Hollywood Reporter wasn’t quite sure what to make of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. The reviewer seemed confused as to whether the NBC drama offered straightforward action or a tongue-in-cheek spoof of spy movies.
At the time, THR compared U.N.C.L.E. (the initials stood for United Network Command for Law and Enforcement) to old-time Saturday matinee serials where villains are defeated in the nick of time, in U.N.C.L.E.’s case by agents from a too-cool-for-school “super-secret organization dedicated to combat all anti-American forces regardless where and how they crop up.”
In a casting move that went against Cold War expectations, American agent Napoleon Solo (played by Robert Vaughn) was paired up with Soviet sidekick Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) to fight evil around the world. Though the premise was clearly farcical, Vaughn says he was told some viewers contacted the United Nations to inquire about joining U.N.C.L.E. The series went on to have a four-year run that included 15 Emmy nominations (albeit no wins), one week atop the ratings and a 1965 Golden Globe for best TV show.
“The show was intended to be James Bond for television,” says Vaughn, now 82. “But the last year, the producers decided to be more over-the-top, like Batman with clowns shooting cupcakes out of cars. U.N.C.L.E. went from being camp to being goofy, and from being number one to being off the air.”
A Guy Ritchie-directed Warner Bros. film with Henry Cavill as Solo and Armie Hammer as Kuryakin is set for an Aug. 14 release. — Bill Higgins.
Below is THR‘s original review:
‘U.N.C.L.E.’ IS THRILL-A-MINUTE
Shades of Herbert Rawlinson in The Black Box and Pearl White in the Perils of Pauline [mix] as a potent appetite-whetter for those who like a thrill every few minutes and those fixed for fantasy and will go along with most of the modernized shenanigans just to get an added booster in that after-dinner cocktail.
And so, for the sheer sake of curiosity of what’s gonna happen next, this skeptic-turned-thrill-seeker will look forward to next week to see who producer Sam Rolfe, exec. producer Norman Felton and the various scribblers pick for spoofing in a serious way. By that we mean this series definitely will have its arched cynics and the we-want-more coterie. We hated every villain, drat ’em, and quickly warmed up to Bob Vaughn, the man from U.N.C.L.E., a super-secret organization dedicated to combat all anti-American forces regardless where and how they crop up.
David McCallum, a newcomer, doesn’t have much to ingratiate his audience with as a starter, but he will be more prominently in the forefront as the series grow[s] into one of those inevitable residual propositions.
If you have any idea we were kidding about the Saturday matinee serials of the Rawlinson-White era, this TV series opener is divided into four chapters, each having a separate heading to get you into the dime movie-plus serial era. It’s novel, to say the least, to bring this idea out of the misty past, and can very well be the beginning of something.
Anyhow, Solo (Vaughn) is assigned to investigate what goes on with Andrew Vulcan (Fritz Weaver) and his chemical plant while three African dignitaries are inspecting it. To accomplish this, he makes Patricia Cowley, an old college date of Weaver’s to assist him. She does, leaving two children and husband behind, to accomplish the mission, almost losing her life and Solo’s in the attempt to stop impeding disaster.
Leo G. Carrol, as U.N.C.L.E. executive officer, doesn’t perform much, just enough to start the ball rolling, it seems. William Marshall, better known for his operatic voice, is the African who turns on Solo. Grrr.
Joseph P. Calvelli is associate producer. Writers will vary with the series, as will directors. Don Medford directed this one. Rolfe penned it, as well as created it. Calvelli also contributed some of the writing.
Music was by Jerry Goldsmith, camera work by Joseph Biroc, art direction by Merril Pye and George W. Davis, film editor was Henry Berman, assistant director, Maurice Vaccarion; and set decorations by Henry Grace and Frank McKelvy. All contributed enormously to the overall objective. — Bill Ornstein.
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