Since 2015 is the year of the spy movie, I’ve been eagerly awaiting for the big-screen version of The Man From UNCLE. I was a big UNCLE fan back in the 1960’s when the show was on network TV for four seasons. I was in elementary school, but this show was required viewing for every kid in my neighborhood and, since it was on a night I could stay up, I was allowed to watch every episode to the end. My favorite Christmas present was the UNCLE briefcase which came with its own radio that turned into a cap pistol and secret camera you could take pictures of your friends never have them know. I even went as Napoleon Solo for Halloween one year. I wonder how many guys went into the CIA or FBI because of this show?
In the original series (1964-1968) Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) and Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) played American and Russian agents working for the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement. They spent the four seasons running down various criminal maniacs who were intent on Destroying Civilization As We Know It. Their man adversary was an organization called THRUSH, bent on conquering the world. Where UNCLE came from and how it united operatives from all over the world was never explained, but I’ve come to the conclusion the show existed in its own alternative universe where Russia and America were at peace to confront the greater threat from THRUSH.
The first season was in black and white, my favorite one. The general theme always involved ordinary people becoming caught-up in super spy affairs. The mood was always humorous and is best summarized by this exchange:
Solo: “I wouldn’t suppose this boat is wired to explode?”
Criminal Mastermind: “You wouldn’t? I would!”
The show has been called “Spy-Fi” and I think the designation sums it up. Not only were Solo and Kuryakin immaculately dressed, but they had every sixties’ gadget imaginable. Every time I saw a cigarette lighter I wanted pop it open and say: “Open Channel D!” The headquarters of UNCLE were accessed by using the door to the back of a tailor shop in New York City. UNCLE was headed by the genteel Mr. Waverly (Leo G Carrol). I should also point out that this is not the first time UNCLE has been on the big screen. Longer episodes of the original show had new scenes added and were released to theaters as full-length features.
I caught the new big screen version directed by Guy Ritchie, at the a local video projection cinema called The Movie Tavern. It’s part of a chain of these places where you can buy your ticket, choose a seat and order a meal from the restaurant on site. There’s also a full-service bar attached so you can drink your scotch while watching Solo blast it out with the bad guys. I caught the ten thirty morning show, but the place wasn’t serving breakfast when I arrived or the article would have been called “Breakfast with UNCLE”. It was practically deserted when I saw the movie, so not much to say about the audience reaction.
The new movie is a prequel to the TV show. Solo (Henry Cavill) is introduced as a CIA agent who goes behind the Berlin wall to extract a woman whose nuclear scientist father has disappeared. He’s intercepted by his KGB equivalent, Kuryakin (Armie Hammer). Solo barely makes it over the wall with Kuryakin in hot pursuit. They meet again when their respective spy agencies join forces to stop an Italian industrialist who is trying to build a nuclear bomb. I’d like to point out that Armie Hammer is the great-grandson of rakish billionaire Armand Hammer who has a road named for him about five miles away from where I’m writing.
The new movie is a lot of fun and is set in the early sixties, so it’s a period spy film too. Henry Cavill is just suave enough to be a good stand-in for Robert Vaughn’s Solo, without over-doing the role. Armie Hammer is good as Kuryakin, although he plays him as a big, strong guy who prefers to smash his way out of situations as opposed to David McCallum’s cool, calculating version. We don’t get much of Mr.Waverly (Hugh Grant, who is starting to show his age), until later in the movie. Rounding out the good guys is Alicia Vikander as an English operative.
The film has the right look for the time period. You get to see race cars which match the early sixties. There’s a femme fatale who is a tall model in just right amount of pastel colors for the year the movie is supposed to take place. Also included is a hilarious running gag about a computer disk which involves a round container with a spool of magnetic tape. There are a number of funny cameos, such as David Beckham as a projectionist. I also liked the inclusion of the UNCLE gun with it’s numerous attachments from the original TV series.
Although it’s not as gadget intensive as the old TV series, the new Man from UNCLE movie is a lot of fun. Check it out if you get a chance and make sure you don’t get followed out of the theater by men in trench coats.