Say Uncle. That’s U.N.C.L.E., otherwise known as The United Network Command for Law and Enforcement. Starting in 1964 The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was one of a flurry of shows to take advantage of the new James Bond craze. It featured much of the same elements as the super spy films. You had sophisticated spies in tuxedos. There were plenty of gadgets. And there were constant threats of world domination, mostly from the evil counter organization, THRUSH. The two top spies for the good guys were Napoleon Solo (Vaughn) and Illya Kuryakin (McCallum). The Bond references were never subtle and always intentional. Ian Fleming himself consulted on the show and named Napoleon Solo after a Bond character. Together Solo and Kuryakin would travel around the globe saving the world from almost certain doom. The series ran for four years. In 1983 there was talk of bringing the show back. Apparently the two stars were still up to the task and both could have used the work. Thus was born the television film and potential pilot: The Return Of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: The Fifteen Year Affair.
It’s been 15 years since Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin have left U.N.C.L.E. and the spy game behind. Solo is now the owner of a computer company, and Kuryakin is designing women’s clothes. It has also been 15 years since anyone’s heard peep out of THRUSH. But now an American nuclear bomb has been intercepted, and Justin Sepheran (Zerbe), the last leader of THRUSH, has been broken out of jail. Someone’s putting the old band back together. Now the newly reformed THRUSH is blackmailing the United States. They will destroy a major part of that country if a $350 million ransom isn’t paid. And there’s a kicker. The money must be delivered by Napoleon Solo. The newest chief of U.N.C.L.E. is Sir John Raleigh (Macnee). He has to track down the former spies before time runs out. Once back in the fold, the duo are hot on the trail. They realize that only one man alive can activate the complicated device, so they set out to protect him. Before long the old cat and mouse spy game is in full throttle, and Kuryakin has a personal reason for joining back up. He wants revenge on the double agent who betrayed him on his final mission, causing the death of a young girl. There’s scores to settle and a world to save. Sounds like a fine ride. The film ends in an almost comical clichéd scene. Was it the red or the blue wire?
Just to make sure that audiences remember the James Bond connections, the film begins with two in your face references. When we first run into Solo, he’s gambling in Vegas. When asked to introduce himself, he smiles wryly and says Solo, Napoleon Solo. Solo then rescues a damsel in distress, causing a car chase and gun fight. Just when it looks like Solo is outnumbered and outgunned, a classic automobile with the plates JB enters the scene to assist. It’s driven by George Lazenby, who portrayed Bond once in the film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. He’s got all of the car gadgets here including smokescreen and rockets. The film is loaded with these gentle and not so gentle winks at the audience. Even with these reminders that this is a film, the story unfolds with a typical enough plot that the style of the show begins to click again. This is in no small part due to the fact that Vaughn and McCallum work together like they’ve never been apart. The old chemistry is still there. The film ends with the obvious implications of the expected new series or at least more movies. Alas, none of that was to come, and by now both actors are likely beyond their ability to play the parts effectively enough. While there are still rumors of a new film, ala Mission Impossible, I can’t imagine other actors in those roles.
Unfortunately, the show was missing its third main character and actor. Leo G. Carroll played the Chief, Alexander Waverly, in the original series. The veteran actor of such sci-fi/horror classics as Tarantula passed away in 1972. It was a nice touch to see Patrick Macnee fill in for Carroll. Macnee, of course, is best known for his role in The Avengers, a similar show from the same time. If one needs any proof of how bad an idea making this show into a film without these stars is, look at how dreadful The Avengers film was, and that film had Sir Sean Connery. Anthony Zerbe was wonderful as the main villain. He would go on to work with this film’s producer Michael Sloan in the similar themed The Equalizer later on television.
The film is presented in its original broadcast full frame format. It’s all pretty typical for a 1980’s television film. There’s not a lot to love in this transfer. The picture is almost always grainy. There are too many overt instances of compression artifact. In general this was not a carefully prepared transfer. Colors are fair, but there is a subdued overall tone to the entire presentation. Black levels suffer the most and are quite poor.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 track delivers exactly what you are looking for and nothing more. The dialog is clear, and that’s all you’re going to get out of this minimalist presentation. If you’re looking for the nostalgia of watching a ten year old television show, Paramount decided to make the experience authentic by delivering a ten year old sound.
Extended Scenes: This 5 minutes of extra footage doesn’t really look much different.
Strictly for nostalgic sake. There’s nothing terribly original or endearing about the film itself. It doesn’t sport a terribly clever script, and the production values are strictly what you should expect from 1980’s television. The real value is in seeing these actors and characters together again after 15 years. Now it’s been over 20 years since the reunion, so even that luster is long gone. But the film does capture one important element from the series, “style”.