The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: The Complete Series (WB, 1964-68) Creators: Sam Rolfe, Norman Felton, w/ Robert Vaughn, David McCallum. Rating: NNN; DVD package: NNNN
It premiered on NBC four months before Goldfinger hit American screens, reached the top of the TV charts and did as much as the first Bond blockbuster to create and define the spy boom that lasted through the 60s and never fully went away after that.
Each week, agents Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) and Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) emerged from secret U.N.C.L.E. headquarters to battle the minions of Thrush, which was hell-bent not on mere world domination but on reducing all humanity to slavery.
For the time, it was radical. Solo and Kuryakin were young, slim, smart and deadpan funny. Awash in guns, girls, gadgets and preposterous adventures, they never cracked a smile. Nor did the guest stars, who included such luminaries as Joan Crawford, Janet Leigh, Vincent Price and Sonny and Cher. Some of them turned in excellent performances.
In-close hand-held cameras lent tension to the action. Abrupt scene changes linked by swish pans kept up the speed, and extensive use of the MGM back lot gave the series much greater scope than its contemporaries. Jerry Goldsmith's bizarre score still stands as a spy music highlight. Lalo Schifrin's Mission: Impossible theme owes it a lot.
Today, U.N.C.L.E. plays both well and poorly, often at the same time. Everyone's having fun, and the scripts are smart, but the odour of cheese floats over occasional poor pacing, stiff acting and cardboard props. Under the influence of the Batman craze, season three goes openly camp. Ratings plummeted and the show died the next season.
Extensive interviews with Vaughn and McCallum, director Joseph Sargent and writer Dean Hargrove provide the backbone for over 10 hours of making-of and appreciation docs. Despite some repetition and fannishness, they offer a good look at hard work on a frantic schedule, the spy boom, the series's phenomenal popularity and, most interesting, the attitudes and concerns of working actors.
EXTRAS Nine docs, interviews, memorabilia, McCallum on-set home movies, colour pilot, feature film. Full-frame, black-and-white (season one) and colour. Collectible carrying case.