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New Adaptation Cries 'U.N.C.L.E.' Again
August 15, 2015  | By Bill Brioux  | 3 comments

WARNING: TV Worth Watching has asked me to do something I don’t usually do as a TV critic—review a movie.

The movie is The Man from U.N.C.L.E., the Guy Ritchie film that opened Friday, so this request kinda makes sense. No. 1, it’s based on an old spy series from the ‘60s, and No. 2, I’m old enough to (barely) remember it.

My first thought on leaving the theatre was that The Man from U.N.C.L.E. should be on a double bill with Ant-Man. Think about it.

Second was that it was a pretty sleek thrill ride, although it bore about as much of a resemblance to the original series as anything else made 50 years later.

The original Man from U.N.C.L.E. TV series ran from 1964 to 1968 and was very of its time. The show that brought the James Bond spy craze to TV, it featured Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo and David McCallum (top, right) as Illya Kuryakin. McCallum, with his blond, Beatles haircut, sold plenty of lunch boxes, and the series became a sensation. It was never as campy as Batman, but it didn’t take itself very seriously, either, with the bad guys being made up of international terrorists from something called THRUSH instead of Cold War communists. This was a time of great escapism on television with shows such as Bewitched, The Munsters and My Favorite Martian making everyone in the U.S. feel 10 again.

This ambitious movie adaptation apparently kicked around for 20 years. Everyone from George Clooney to Jon Hamm to Tom Cruise was attached at one point, as were Quentin Tarantino and Steven Soderbergh. Finally Ritchie, who co-wrote the script with Lionel Wigrum, came on board and Warner Bros. gave the green light.

The high-energy feature captures much of the spirit of the original, especially in the two leads--Henry Cavill as Solo and Armie Hammer as Kuryakin (top, left.) Cavill (Man of Steel) plays it with the same playboy swagger as Vaughn, while Hammer (The Lone Ranger) is nyet bad as the brooding Soviet.

Ritchie takes filmgoers on a fab trip back to the ‘60s. Scattered over the exotic Mediterranean scenery are plenty of classic Jaguars, Ferraris, and Mercedes. The fashions and hairdos are swingin’ although there is not nearly enough smoking.

The director’s trademark kinetic cutting is evident but not overused. He channels the ‘60s again through the use of panning multiple images as in the original Thomas Crown Affair.

The film has a couple of chase scenes that would have eaten up the entire budget of the ‘60s series. The camera work in those scenes is outstanding offering a panorama of danger and energy. One of the most effective scenes, however, found Solo alone in a beat up old truck as his pal Illya flames out and nearly drowns in the background. Cavill chomps on a damn fine sandwich and takes his sweet time coming to the rescue, a nice bit of character play that harkens back to Vaughn at his unflappable best.

Less effective is Elizabeth Debicki as Victoria Vinciguerra, the villainess of the piece. She has the vacant charm of Paris Hilton but not enough menace. Better is Alicia Vikander as Gaby Teller, a street-smart mechanic Solo picks up in East Germany who turns out to have a more impressive resume. Her father is the Nazi nuclear bomb specialist the Americans want back if the Soviets don’t get to him first.

Hugh Grant shows up here and there as spy boss Alexander Waverly, dryly underplayed to perfection in the original by Leo G. Carroll (on left, with Vaughn and McCallum, right). Grant does a nice job here, too, but fans might wonder where the hell the time went that this guy now gets the old boss parts. Plus would it have killed them to have offered this role to David McCallum? The durable, Scotland-born star is still catching bad guys 50 years later on NCIS.

The music swells in all the right places and offers an eclectic sample of the ‘60s, from jazz to rock. I could have done with a more pronounced echo of Jerry Goldsmith’s original theme song.

The film ends with a set-up to the inevitable sequels. It works, I guess, but maybe these two super spies could be sent out on a really impossible Hollywood mission—to find an original idea.

[Editors Note: Here is a compilation of the swinging U.N.C.L.E. opening title themes, (starting at 1:30) most after the series went to color, as did many shows in the late 60's. --TVWW]





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Great work, lucky to find this amazing post.
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Jan 19, 2023   |  Reply
Scott M
One of my favorite shows as a kid. My 4th grade class photo is a picture of me with, yes, Beatle hair and a black turtle neck shirt. And Santa was cool enough to bring me one of these for Christmas: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/16/1e/c8/161ec8166b60e39ce86892ab26f38008.jpg
Aug 16, 2015   |  Reply
I was in high school when this show came on and remember being enthralled with it, but of course it was long before the days of being able to record TV and it was probably on a night where I couldn't watch it. It was fun to see, but I saw episodes a few years back, I thought on YouTube but don't see them now. Like most shows of the 60's (Route 66, anyone?) it's very dated. The new movie looks ok but stars two guys who don't seem to have much personality.
Aug 15, 2015   |  Reply
"The Man From U.N.C.L.E." is currently run on ME-TV Sunday nights at 10. The series was cancelled mid-way through its fourth season; it's replacement was "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In".
Aug 20, 2015
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