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'The Man from U.N.C.L.E.' was an bona fide television phenomena when it
first aired, in 1964. The brainchild of producer Norman Felton, who was
a fan of Ian Fleming's 'James Bond' novels, the missions of the United
Network Command for Law and Enforcement (U.N.C.L.E.), would be set on
an international scale, pitted against SPECTRE-like THRUSH, an
organization composed of terrorists, anarchists, and megalomaniacs. In
the original concept, a 'civilian' would be drawn into the intrigue,
each week, to aid U.N.C.L.E. on a mission, and provide a link that
viewers could relate to.
Felton sent his notes to Ian Fleming, asking the author to create a name for the series' hero, and Fleming came up with 'Napoleon Solo', the last name 'lifted' from a gangster character from 'Goldfinger'. He offered a few other minor suggestions, and gave Felton his blessing on the endeavor. With a 'pedigree' like this, how could the series fail?
Veteran writer Sam Rolfe came on board to write the pilot script and co-produce, and an excellent cast was assembled. Oscar-nominee Robert Vaughn, who'd worked with Felton on the series, 'The Lieutenant', was cast as Solo; young Scot actor David McCallum, fresh from THE GREAT ESCAPE, would play the supporting role of fellow agent Illya Kuryakin; and, in a casting coup, legendary character actor Leo G. Carroll, who'd portrayed a spy chief in Alfred Hitchcock's NORTH BY NORTHWEST, would assume the same function for U.N.C.L.E. (Getting Carroll required some creativity; while his 'official' birth date was listed as 1892, he was actually born in 1887, and NBC would never have permitted a nearly 80-year old series regular...Felton stuck with '1892', and made his scenes as easy as possible, which worked, as Carroll survived the entire series' run, not passing away until 1972).
Shot in black and white for the first season, and featuring a marvelous 'bulletproof glass' opening sequence, with a majestic, John Barry-influenced theme (by Jerry Goldsmith), 'U.N.C.L.E.' debuted in 1964 as both FROM Russia WITH LOVE and GOLDFINGER were in theaters, and soon became a major hit...then reached unprecedented heights, when McCallum, with his 'Beatles'-like haircut, captured the attention of younger fans caught up with the 'British Invasion' of Rock music, and became an overnight sex symbol nationwide. McCallum's role was quickly 'beefed-up' to co-star status, and U.N.C.L.E.-mania had begun!
With a terrific mix of action, tongue-in-cheek humor, and what NBC would allow for sex, the first season offered many memorable moments, including the first appearance of future 'Star Trek' stars William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, together, in an episode (Shatner was the heroic 'civilian' called in to aid U.N.C.L.E., Nimoy was the villain's henchman).
NBC was very pleased with their hit series, and Vaughn and McCallum were soon doing 'cameos' in other series, as well as promotions for the Peacock Network. One of the first 'primetime' series to be extensively marketed, a line of U.N.C.L.E. merchandise appeared, with dolls, toy guns, lunch boxes, comic books, model kits, cologne, clothing, and more filling store shelves. It was a heady time for everyone!
For the second season (1965-66), 'U.N.C.L.E.' was produced in color, and a 'guest' list of legendary stars lined up for appearances on the series, but despite respectable ratings, the overall quality of the show fluctuated, with some episodes downright silly. Just as the 'Bond' films peaked in popularity in 1965, with THUNDERBALL, then began to decline as the 'craze' subsided, the novelty of 'U.N.C.L.E.' began to wear off, and new 'line' producers were more interested in comedy and campiness, discarding, by season's end, any 'edge' the series first had. By the third season (1966-67), 'camp' was the rule; a spin-off, 'The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.', flopped; and the writing was on the wall that the series was on it's way out.
The producers made a last-ditch attempt to return the more dramatic elements to the series at the start of it's fourth season, in 1967, discarding the campiness, and, unfortunately, nearly all of the humor, as well, but the newly 'serious' 'U.N.C.L.E.' had lost it's audience, and the show was canceled in early 1968.
The impact of 'The Man from U.N.C.L.E.' cannot be minimized. It paved the way for 'The Wild, Wild, West', 'Get Smart', 'Mission Impossible', and all the other 'spy' shows that followed in it's footsteps, became a 'cult' favorite after cancellation that is still generating interest, to this day (with successful conventions, a 'reunion' TV-movie, and a steady stream of fan mail continuing to be sent to Vaughn and McCallum, 35 years after the final episode first aired), and there is talk of a feature film in the works.
And, as we fans will always remember, without the cooperation of the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, none of this would be possible!
To action adventure loving kids between 1964 and 1968 this was the mother and father of all TV shows.Every week we would thrill to the globe-hopping adventures of Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin never realising that they rarely left the confines of MGM studios even when fighting the power hungry THRUSH in places as far flung as Hong Kong or Alaska.We devoured every gadget,girl and gunfight they were involved with and even 30 years on,I can remember many of the moves in their fantastic fight sequences.Bond has only had 20 adventures in nearly 40 years;Solo and Illya must have had about 100 in 4 years.It was a sorry day indeed when this series came to an end but I bet there are lots of folks around these days who feel a warm breathe of nostalgia whenever they see Robert Vaughn and David McCallum.Man,what it was like to be a teenager in the 60's.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is arguably one of the greatest shows of the Sixties and definitely the best American spy show. It blended tongue in cheek humour with action and adventure for an end result that was extremely entertaining. Unfortunately, all good things cannot last. The first season (when it was still shot in black and white) and the second season (the first one shot in colour) place The Man From U.N.C.L.E. among the best television has to offer. All of this changed with the third season, when the series became so silly that watching its episodes became nearly unbearable. The show recovered somewhat in its abbreviated fourth season (it would be cancelled midway through), but by that time The Man From U.N.C.L.E. had lost its charm. Though the fourth season episodes are watchable, they lack the humour and pinache of the first two seasons. Regardless, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is a testament to what Sixties television could do at its very finest.
Hollywood has missed a bet by not capitalizing on the fact that Robert Vaughn and David McCallum are still alive. There should be another series or a movie with these two, but it would require some good writing to get a show worth watching. DO NOT MAKE THE MISTAKES THAT WERE MADE ON THE AVENGERS MOVIE. I've always maintained that if you wanted to watch a show about the past, you could watch Wild, Wild, West; if you wanted to watch a show about the present, you could watch Man From Uncle; if you wanted to watch a show about the future, you could watch Star Trek; if you wanted a foreign flavored show you could watch The Avengers; and if you wanted to watch a comedy, you could watch Get Smart. MFU started in 1964, WWW and Get Smart in 1965 and Star Trek in 1966. The Avengers with Emma Peel hit here around 1967. You can get by in life just watching these shows. My feeling is that the Sixties started in February 1964 with the Beatles on Ed Sullivan and ended with the Manson murders in August 1969. Those were 5 magical, wonderful years that I wish could be recaptured and relived somehow. Anyway, what made MFU such a hit? There were numerous teen-age baby-boomers who thought the exciting life shown on the show was how life was going to be. Women, travel, women, cool suits, women, weapons, excitement, women, etc,. Did I mention women? Sure beat the work-a-day world our Dads had to live in the 1960s. We were in for a big surprise when we grew up. No UNCLE organization, no space travel, no huge amounts of leisure time. Sigh.
My dad used to watch this show during the first two seasons of the show,and I immediately became hooked! The Man From U.N.C.L.E was one of the best spy shows ever to come out of a period which the cold war,civil rights,and the height of the Vietnam War was a great escape for young minds back then. Since the show was a huge hit on the NBC network when it premiered on September 22,1964,it was something that no one thought of at that time: a character who was in the same ranks as James Bond 007 himself! The gadgets on that show were awesome(pens that acted as a radio to phone back at headquarters;an automobile with a built in machine gun and seat ejector)and the headquarters of the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement which were secretly hidden in a tenement complex in New York..something to beholded!!! Robert Vaughn was a true gentlemen and a suave secret agent who was in the same category as Sean Connery,but he made the role very interesting as Napoleon Solo,and his Russian counterpart Illya,played by David McCallum,the coolest ever with a 60's shag blonde look(who looked like a rock star instead of an secret agent)!! The show's first two seasons were very dramatic and their was a great chemistry between the actors themselves which kept the action intense and very hipped!!! The sad part is that when the show's color episodes came it wasn't dramatic or very appealing anymore,but incredibly silly by the end of series' final run in 1968 (the 29 black and white episodes from 1964-1965 were the best ever and some of the best gadgets too). Jerry Goldsmith's theme score for the series was the best ever for a TV series,and still is to this day. U.N.C.L.E was so,so good it spawned two feature films,and dozens of toys,comic books,mystery novels,and posters,and can you believe that David McCallum have a hit record out based on the show back in 1965(which he teamed up with Nancy Sinatra on a hit song,which hit the top of the charts too-very rare to find that album nowadays),plus a very short-lived Saturday Morning cartoon show? The repeats are rarely seen on TV nowadays,but they can be seen on TNT every once in a while if possible. A total of 105 episodes were produced with 29 episodes of Season 1 were in black and white. 76 episodes of Seasons 2 thru 4 were in color until the series finale on January 15,1968.
The Man From UNCLE premiered in 1964 based on the popularity of the
James Bond movies. I never was a big fan of the Bond flicks, but I
loved the Man From UNCLE. The combination of tongue-in-cheek humor and
outlandish gadgets was not only entertaining, but great fun! And Robert
Vaughn and David McCallum did a terrific job in their roles, skirting
just on the edge of silliness, but still with a certain gleam in their
eye that let you know the whole business was just too outlandish to
possibly be real. Secret headquarters, outlandish villains, super spy
gadgets, MFU had it all. And it was all great fun!
Leo G. Carroll played the unflappable Mr. Waverly, who always seemed to be one step ahead of his agents. Season 1 was undoubtedly the best, although 2 had its moments. Season 3 was not entirely a disaster, but the producers tried too hard to make it all silly comedy, a la Batman, which was a campy hit, and lost the flavor of the show, although there are some outstanding moments, as when Solo is busy kissing the girl in the warm comfort of a car, while Kuryakin is fighting the bad guys in the pouring rain. As he stands there, drenched, Illya looks at his warm, dry partner and remarks, "we make such good partners." But by the time season 4 rolled around, the damage had been done, although they tried going back to the original concept. All the actors had lost interest and it was canceled.
It's still fun to watch and nice to know both actors are still busy performing, Vaughn in the British series, Hustle, and McCallum in the CBS hit NCIS. I still miss the fun of the Man From UNCLE. No-one ever did a spoof better, and we'll never see anything quite this good again. Too bad Warners seems to have some kind of problem releasing it to DVD, there are plenty of people who'd love to have it.
This show which debuted on NBC in September 1964 was the first movie or show to cash in on what was becoming the "James Bond Phenomenon". With only two Bond films released and the blockbuster "Goldfinger" to be released in the US at Christmas time "The Man from UNCLE" was the first introduction to secret agents for many people. Each week Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin saved the world or part of it from the evils of Thrush, an organization bent on world domination.It started as a cult show but quickly became a hit and at times the #1 show in the ratings to losing it's focus by the third season when it decided to copy the campy tone of the "Batman" TV show which turned off viewers who had liked the more serious tone of the first two seasons. As someone growing up in the sixties the Christmas of 1965 was flooded with secret agent toys with "The Man From UNCLE" even rivaling James Bond as far as toys and other product tie-ins. For a lot of people including myself this is their all time favorite TV show.
I know the last user thought the episodes were just average, but you
cannot judge very early 60's TV by today's standard and technology. The
show was very cool, and so were Napoleon and Illya. Heck, that is why
there is still a huge following forty years later.
Yes, the shows look as if they were filmed on back lot. They were. The pace and budget did not allow for on location scenes. Look at old Star Trek and you will see the same limitations.
Many shows were intended to be funny or at least tongue in cheek. The episode with Joan Collins is a riot. The agents are trying to get a low class woman to pass off as a lady. This episode, The Galatea Affair, is a take on My Fair Lady and introduces Noel Harrison as Mark Slate. OF course you will remember that his father had the task of transforming Liza Doolitle in MFL.
Try the very early pairing of Shatner and Nimoy in Project Strigas or The Ultimate Computer Affair, another great MFU episode. There were over 100 of them in this popular 60's show.
Like other baby boomers, I grew up with this weekly spy series. It was
very popular with all my classmates, and the talk the next morning at
school after its TV showing would invariably be the latest exploits of
the daring young Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin. The boys all wanted
to be just like them, and the girls were all besotted with them. We
were all hooked on their ridiculous intelligence seeking or defensive
gadgetry devices. After the spin off series The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.
premiered, then all the girls wanted to be just like HER.
The show chronicles the assorted adventures and derring do of two agents of the agency U.N.C.L.E. (the United Network Command for Law Enforcement)... the American Napoleon Solo and the Russian Illya Kuryakin. (For a change, the Cold War enemies were comrades here.) Together the pair use their charm, wits, and of course assorted spy gadgetry to defeat the forces of evil, notably the terrorists and other threatening international villains of the wicked agency T.H.R.U.S.H. The duo take their orders from the older Mr. Alexander Waverly.
The two lead actors had the looks and the charisma to carry off the show, with great chemistry between them. Robert Vaughan plays the suave, dashing dark haired Solo, and David McCallum his cool, blond, British accented sidekick, Kuryakin. The role of Mr. Waverly is portrayed by the gentlemanly Leo G. Carroll.
It's been quite a few decades, have not seen it in re runs, so have forgotten many of the details. However, it was an adventurous, suspenseful, and primarily fun show, shades of James Bond's 007. Lots of fights, close calls, torturing villains, assorted intrigue, and of course beautiful women! Around this era there was also a cute comedy spy series, Get Smart. To this very day, whenever The Man From U.N.C.L.E. comes to mind or I chance upon either of its two stars on TV, I'm filled with a great sense of nostalgia. Sigh.
Watching a "Christmas Carol" and seeing Leo G. Carroll, more or less made me remember the "Man from U.N.C.L.E.". Napoleon Solo, in my humble opinion, was the only other spy who could seriously rival Sean Connery. Vaugn was not only kool and suave, but handsome and cunning, much like James Bond except that Napoleon Solo had a quite different style. Illya Kuryakin, aka David Mcallum, was excellent as the right hand man for solo and was the first time I had seen an intelligent Russian portrayed on the screen. Although I had previously seen Mcallum in "The Great Escape". Finally, Leo G. Carroll gave a commanding performance as Mr. Waverly, a man who had complete control over his agents yet had a fatherly kind of feel. But, hey, you all know this and now back to the movies!
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