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DVD Review: ‘The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’ Complete Series
T.E. Pouncey   |  

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
The Complete TV Series DVD Box Set
Starring Robert Vaughn, David McCullum, Leo G. Carroll
On sale: Nov. 27, 2007

When I was a kid, there were so many spy shows on network TV, that prime time looked like a propaganda project for the Department Of Defense.

On any given night you could watch British spies (The Avengers ran on American TV from 1966-69 and Secret Agent, also called Danger Man, from 1964-66); cowboy spies (The Wild Wild West, 1965-69; cool-talking, tennis-playing spies (I Spy, 1965-68); spy teams (Mission: Impossible, 1966-73); funny spies (Get Smart, 1965-70), and even monkey spies (Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp 1970-72). The grand TV spy tradition continues today with shows like Alias (2001-06) and the new USA cable show Burn Notice.

But one of the first spy TV shows — and some would say one of the best — was The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (1964-68) The series starred Robert Vaughn (who you may remember as the villain and Richard Pryor’s comic foil in Superman III) as the suave Napoleon Solo and David McCullum (currently a medical examiner on the series NCIS) as the enigmatic Russian spy Illya Kuryakin. The series was a huge hit and top-rated series that spawned several TV movies, a reunion a spin-off (The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. 1966-67), comic books, and countless toys and other merchandise.

Now TimeLife has issued all 105 Man From U.N.C.L.E. episodes on 41-disc DVD set. To promote the effort, the TimeLife folks also issued an advance DVD containing the first U.N.C.L.E. pilot, simply called “Solo”; an interview with Vaughn and McCallum; a background feature on the series and a feature on the various U.N.C.L.E. episode guest stars (including a great clip of William Shatner, playing an intoxicated character, having a conversation with Leonard Nimoy, playing a deadly foreign agent).

In the “Solo” episode we see many of the familiar elements that would make The Man From U.N.C.L.E. a hit. We see the secret entrance to U.N.C.L.E. headquarters is through a tailor shop in New York; U.N.C.L.E. agent Napoleon Solo fighting to make the world safe in a tuxedo; Napoleon’s boss, Alexander Waverly (played by Leo G. Carroll, who was later immortalized in a song from The Rocky Horror Picture Show), and get a pretty good background for the series. The plot of “Solo” involves the suave spy recruiting a housewife to help him get evidence against her ex-boyfriend who is involved with an international spy ring.

“Solo” is a pretty standard action/adventure story with spy elements but it establishes what would become standard themes for the show — Napoleon Solo as a dashing ladies man, last-minute escapes from death traps, foreign agents working to destroy America, and the idea of a hyper-vigilante U.S. government that spares no expense to protect us from the bad guys.

In the “Untold History Of U.N.C.L.E.” feature, we learn that James Bond creator, Ian Flemming, played a fundamental role in developing the series. We learn that the U.N.CL.E. organization got its name to evoke “Uncle Sam” and that U.N.C.L.E. was supposed to represent the United Nations, but they couldn’t say that on TV for some reason, so U.N.C.L.E. became an acronym meaning “United Network Command [for] Law Enforcement” and NOT “United Nations Command [for] Law Enforcement” as was originally intended. If you are a fan of the series, this segment provides a wealth of information and U.N.C.L.E. trivia, and if you’re not, it gives you the solid background information on the program’s creation that will draw you into U.N.C.L.E. mythos.

There is also a lengthy interview with Vaughn and McCallum about the series. Some of the interview is informative — Vaughn laments the series began as an action/adventure show with romance and humor and devolved into (in his words) “a farce.” Some of the interview is embarrassing — like hearing McCallum and Vaughn “lamenting” they were treated like “rock stars” at the height of the series popularity and couldn’t go anywhere without being assaulted by gangs of teenage girls (is there anything more tiresome than hearing how celebrities have to cope with the pressures of all their fame and money?). Some of the interview is pretty cool — we hear that the production offices for the TV series were in the same building as Elvis Presley’s record office, so Vaughn and McCallum passed the King Of Rock on their way to work almost every day. Some of the interview is even a little sad — Vaughn is an old guy now, and he wanders away from the topic of discussion several times like your grandfather trying to recall and complete a story before he loses focus.

If you were a fan of the Man From U.N.C.L.E., the DVD series will be a delight. I can still recall watching the closing credits when I was 8-year-old and in the credits each week it would say: “The producers would like to thank the United Network Command for Law Enforcement, without whose cooperation, this series would not be possible.” I would read that and think: “Holy Crap!!! U.N.C.L.E. is a REAL spy organization!!!!” and then try to figure out a way I could get them to recruit me as an international spy after I graduated from high school.

You can’t imagine how disappointed I was that I was never asked to join them.

If you missed the Man From U.N.C.L.E., this is your chance to get in on the fun. The series is a throw-back to a simpler time when America was making the world safe for democracy, when the enemies of America were clearly sinister foreign spies and NOT ideologically fueled terrorists, when government agents were clever and swaggering and always ended up with a beautiful girl and weren’t partisan political hacks controlled by special interest groups, when working as a spy meant that you weren’t outed in The New York Times and had to explain and justify your actions on Larry king Live, and when we were naive enough to imagine the world would be a better place if everyone just acted more like the United States.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

DVD Box Set Features

• 41 DVDs in special “attaché case” collector’s packaging.
• 4 eight-page booklets with liner notes written by Jon Burlingame (journalist, producer of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. music CDs), Craig Henderson (journalist, U.N.C.L.E. fanzine publisher); Cindy Walker (author of Work/Text: Investigating the Man From U.N.C.L.E.) and David Bianculli (television critic, NY Daily News).
• All 105 Original unedited episodes (1964-68).
• Interview: “Double Agents – The David McCallum & Robert Vaughn Reunion”
• “Solo” – the original color U.N.C.L.E. pilot.
• One Spy Too Many – the feature film based on The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
• 9 Featurettes:
• “The Cloak and Swagger Affair: The Untold History of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”
• “The Spy-Fi Tour: Archives, Art & Artifacts”
• “Cold War, Hot Spies: U.N.C.L.E. and the Cold War”
• “MGM’s Secret Operations”
• “Guns, Gizmos, Gadgets and Garb”
• “Behind the Wheel: U.N.C.L.E.’s Piranha”
• “Fandemonium”
• “The Music from U.N.C.L.E.”
• “The Girls of U.N.C.L.E.”
• 17 On-camera interviews with David McCallum, Robert Vaughn, Director Richard Donner, Writer Peter Allan Fields, Writer Dean Hargrove, Director of Photography Fred Koenekamp, Assistant Producer George Lehr and Director Joseph Sargent and others.
• 4 “U.N.C.L.E V.I.P.s – A Celebration of U.N.C.L.E. Guest Stars” clip collections, featuring Eddie Albert, Joan Collins, Joan Crawford, Janet Leigh, Leonard Nimoy, Carol O’Connor, Jack Palance, Slim Pickens, Vincent Price, Kurt Russell, William Shatner, Sonny & Cher and many more!
• “The Secret Tapes of Illya Kuryakin: Home Movies from the Set of U.N.C.L.E.”
• Clips from Robert Vaughn and David McCallum’s appearances at the 1965 Emmy and Golden Globe broadcasts, plus a clip from McCallum’s appearance on The Andy Williams Show.
• Tom & Jerry Cartoon – “The Mouse From H.U.N.G.E.R.”
• U.N.C.L.E. memorabilia, Ian Fleming’s personal notes, NBC Broadcast and Standards memos, research files, set designs and blueprints.
• Promos, trailers and television commercials.
• “Hidden Camera: An U.N.C.L.E. Photo Gallery”

The Man From U.N.C.L.E Official Time Life Page

Preview: Streaming Video Clips

Clip 1 – In an iconic moment from the rarely seen color pilot SOLO, Napoleon Solo is introduced in a highly dramatic way, first appearing behind bulletproof glass, then emerging to kill a Thrush operative who has broken into U.N.C.L.E. headquarters.

– “What a goodly outside falsehood hath!” Illya discovers a deadly insect in the boutonniere that has just been pinned on Solo’s lapel by a Thrush femme fatale in a scene from the first-season episode “The Deadly Games Affair.”

– Solo, Illya and companion Tracey (Dorothy Provine) appear doomed in this scene – set in a lost Egyptian tomb – from Part II of the “Alexander the Greater Affair,” which opened the series’ second season.

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