Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Review: THE GIRL FROM U.N.C.L.E. - THE COMPLETE SERIES

At the height of the 60s spy-fi craze, one of the most popular adventure shows on television was THE MAN FROM U.N.CL.E., which ran for four years on NBC. It was so popular, in fact, that the network felt the audience would enjoy two U.N.C.L.E. shows every week, and demanded a spin-off.

So, during the parent program's third year, THE GIRL FROM U.N.C.L.E (1966) made its debut. Unfortunately, the network had miscalculated, and GIRL only lasted one season (and MAN took a ratings dive). Still, fans of the franchise have long desired the show on home video, and now Warner Archives has obliged.

The "Girl" of the title is sexy April Dancer (Stefanie Powers, HART TO HART) a glamorous, classy brunette with a knack for undercover work, employed as an agent of the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, a global security organization. Her partner is Mark Slate (Noel Harrison), a hip Englishman who handles most of the physical duties on their missions. As on the parent show, her boss is Mr. Waverly (Leo G. Carroll), and he keeps her busy thwarting ambitious gangsters, nefarious masterminds, and the machinations of the International crime cartel called THRUSH.

Over on THE MAN FROM U.N.CL.E. the producers had made the bad decision to "camp up" the program in order to emulate the incredible success of the BATMAN television show, and, unfortunately, the distaff spin-off was forced to follow suit, with many episodes played almost entirely as comic capers. In my opinion, GIRL manged the tongue-in-cheek humor better than MAN, but TV audiences were not amused by the tone of either show. After a single season, GIRL was cancelled, and MAN only barely got renewed - for what turned out to be a truncated fourth year.

Still, watching the shows now, there's a lot of fun to be had. The characters are charming (and Powers is plain gorgeous), the production values are generally high (although, watching episodes back-to-back tends to reveal a lot of recycled sets, backlot streets and even effects footage), and while there are a few outright awful episodes, most are breezy, devil-may-care romps and a lot of fun to watch.

Guest stars include Robert Vaughn (the Man from U.N.C.L.E. himself), Boris Karloff in drag(!), sultry Luciana Paluzzi, Michael Ansara, John Carradine, Fernando Lamas, Dom DeLuise, Denny Miller, Yvonne DeCarlo and many others.

Warner Archives has released GIRL's sole season in two manufactured-on-demand volumes. Volume One is a four-disc DVD-R set and contains the first 15 episodes in decent-looking, 1.33:1 "full-frame" format. The picture quality is generally pretty good, but there are a lot of specks and other minor imperfections throughout. Audio is Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, and is perfectly adequate. Volume Two contains the remaining 14 episodes on four discs. There are no supplemental features provided in either set.

THE GIRL FROM U.N.C.L.E. is light television entertainment from the mid-60s, filled with bright "mod" fashions, jazzy music, charming leads, and plenty of chuckles. It's not the greatest spy show - and it's far from the best that the U.N.C.L.E. franchise has to offer - but it is genuinely fun. If you're an U.N.C.L.E. aficionado and already have the MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. box set that came out a few years back - or a fan of 60s TV spies, in general - then you'll almost certainly want to pick these up to complete your collection.

Me, I loved watching it, and am pleased to have it on my shelf.

BUYThe Girl From U.N.C.L.E.: The Complete Series Part One

BUYThe Girl From U.N.C.L.E.: The Complete Series Part Two

2 comments:

Lionel Braithwaite said...

Sorry, but I'd rather read The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. novels instead. Or watch an episode of Alias.

Anonymous said...

afair, it was not a bad show (and Stefanie Powers was cute and sexy). By the time it premiered, though, the secret agent fad was already starting to pass.