Saturday, October 12, 2013

Classic TV: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (1964)

Ian Fleming's super spy, James Bond, had become a fixture in movie theatres in the early 60's, such that the clones & copycats began coming out of the woodwork in short order.

One of those small screen clones was The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which managed to hang around for 3 1/2 seasons on NBC before succumbing to declining ratings and MGM & NBC bowing to the temptation to resort to campy plotlines in an attempt to hold viewer interest.

Robert Vaughn starred as Napoleon Solo, with David McCallum as Russian agent Illya Kuryakin. Leo G. Carroll (ex-Topper) is their boss, Alexander Waverly. Carroll would make history in 1966, as Waverly would also be a player in a companion series, The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., which ended up being cancelled after 1 season. This allowed Waverly to be the first character to appear regularly on two shows at the same time. A feat duplicated a decade later when Richard Anderson & Martin E. Brooks reprised their Six Million Dollar Man roles on its sister series, The Bionic Woman.

15 years after the series ended, Solo & Kuryakin would reunite in a TV-movie that aired not on NBC, but rather CBS. Don't ask why, it just happened that way. Four years after that, after Vaughn joined the cast of The A-Team, McCallum guest-starred, as a villain this time, in an episode that was a homage to U.N.C.L.E. in every way possible. Today, Vaughn is retired, while McCallum stars on CBS' N.C.I.S., a long ways from his 1975 Invisible Man series.

Let's go back to 1964, and an early episode, in which our heroes introduce themselves to the audience.

At the time, Jill Ireland was married to McCallum, as they had appeared on a British game show together some time before. Anne Francis, of course, was a year away from Honey West. Rating: B+.


magicdog said...

I got to se some repeats of this show in the 90s. Not bad - it was the chemistry of Vaughn & McCallum that ultimately made this work.

I remember seeing the reunion TV movie before the series, and even if you hadn't seen the show - you could still see the outline of the original series in it.

I still enjoy seeing both actors when they appeared in other projects - also a hallmark of their talents separately as well as together. McCallum is still a great performer when he appears as "Duckie" on NCIS and whenever he does voice work (like Professor Paradox on the various Ben 10 incarnations).

You are correct to mention Jill Ireland was once married to McCallum - until Charles Bronson stole her from him!

That had to hurt!

hobbyfan said...

I wasn't really aware McCallum was also working on Ben 10. Oy!

I had one or two Man From UNCLE paperbacks as a teenager. Think I got them from the school library for a bit. Decent stuff.

I saw parts of the reunion movie myself, and I barely remembered the original series, though I did see some reruns.