Aug 13, 2015

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

I missed most of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1964-68).  First it was on past my bedtime, and then there were too many competing choices (The Time Tunnel, Hogan's Heroes) -- so I watched only sporadically, when one of my friends insisted.  But I had more than one friend who thought it was "good beyond hope."

 It was a buddy spy series, like I Spy and Wild Wild West, but with an interesting twist.  In the heart of the Cold War, we heard over and over that "Russkies" were all evil monsters plotting our destruction.   But one of the secret agents was Russian.

The premise: The USSR, the United States, and other countries have set aside their differences and formed U.N.C.L.E. (United Network Command for Law and Enforcement) to fight the evil THRUSH (acronym unknown), which wants to "subjugate the human race."

The plots were much more extravagant than anything seen on Mission: Impossible, rivaling Batman in campiness:
THRUSH tries to bring Hitler back to life.
THRUSH invents a deadly hiccup-inducing gas.
THRUSH invents an exploding hula-dancing doll.
Pat Harrington, Jr. (later on One Day at a Time) steals a rare book containing THRUSH code.
Sonny and Cher play clothes designers with THRUSH code hidden in one of their dresses.

But the main draw was the "The Man,"  American Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn, previously seen shirtless in Teenage Caveman), and his partner, the Russian Illya Kuryakin (Scottish actor David McCallum).  They were not only spy partners: they seemed to live together (and when traveling always took hotel rooms with just one bed).  They expressed their affection with the easy nonchalance of Starsky and Hutch.  And, contrary to James Bond style, they mostly ignored women.

Solo was a no-nonsense man's man (notice the use of his last name).  By contrast, Illya (notice the first name) was soft, quiet, intellectual, "feminine."  As a result, he was captured by the baddies a lot more often: 8 times (Solo was captured alone 4 times, and they were captured together 10 times).

Sometimes the capture was specifically to egg Solo on.  For instance, in "The Deadly Quest Affair," Viktor Karmak (Darren McGavin) tells Solo that Illya has been sequestered somewhere in New York City, and he has 12 hours to find him before Illya is killed by nerve gas.

There were also many shirtless and underwear shots.  David McCallum had the blond, shaggy-haired dreaminess that appealed to preteens, so he received the lion's share of coverage in teen magazines.

There were lots of book tie-ins and miscellaneous toys.

After U.N.C.L.E., the two moved on to other projects, but returned to their characters in The Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1983). They are called back into service 15 years after they broke up.  Dig their civilian careers: Solo became a computer developer, and Illya. . .um. . .a fashion designer.