Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Spy-Fi Flashback: U.N.C.L.E. @ 45

Cinema Retro reminds us that forty-five years ago tonight, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. premiered on NBC. Starring Robert Vaughn as suave secret agent Napoleon Solo and David McCallum as his enigmatic Russian colleague, the show ran for four years.

The first U.N.C.L.E. show I ever saw was the 1983 TV movie reunion. Not the greatest example, obviously, but it was good enough to make me want to see more.

I never saw an episode of the original series until the mid-1980s, when cable's CBN, the Christian Broadcasting Network, ran the first season, black & white U.N.C.L.E. episodes at five AM on weekdays. I set my VCR timer to record the show, and enjoyed finally seeing the series I had been reading about for years.

In subsequent years, I caught episodes from the later seasons on stations like TNT, and last year I finally got my hands on the complete series DVD set.

U.N.C.L.E. was both a product of its time and a bit ahead of it. It was a Cold War era spy show that flat out ignored the Cold War, and showed an American agent (some sources claim Solo was Canadian, but that was never mentioned on the air) and a Russian agent working together to keep the world safe. Despite the limitations of a television budget, the producers and directors used the resources of the then-fading MGM studios -- especially its vast backlot -- to give the show a sense of scope and spectacle that its contemporaries lacked. And it was its success that helped give rise to the TV spy boom of the Sixties, making it responsible, in part, for the existence of shows such as Get Smart, The Wild Wild West, I Spy and Mission: Impossible.

So, happy anniversary to the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, for without it, this blog may not have been possible.

1 comment:

Janus said...

And one of the best lines on McCallum's current series, NCIS, was this exchange:

Kate (Sasha Alexander): What did Ducky look like when he was younger?

Gibbs (Mark Harmon): Ilya Kuryakin.