Monday, February 4, 2008

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. on DVD: UPDATED

Last month I broke down and purchased the forty-plus DVD set of the Complete Man From U.N.C.L.E. four season (105 episode)collection, and so far it's been a purchase about which I haven't had any regrets. Well almost; the packaging of the DVDs on flimsy glued together cardboard slats with one disc on top of the other isn't designed for longevity. ( I have to be very careful taking the discs out and then putting them back in.) That complaint aside, I've just finished watching the last two episodes of the show's first (1964-65) season (the one filmed in black & white) with guest stars Sharon Tate (whom U.N.C.L.E. star Robert Vaughn reminisced fondly about in an interview on one of the DVD extras included in the set) & Martin Balsam respectively and I've enjoyed them all, some more than others.

(Left to right: David McCallum as Russian UNCLE agent Illya Kuryakin, Leo G. Carroll as UNCLE chief Mr. Waverly and Robert Vaughn as American UNCLE agent Napoleon Solo.)

Yes, when you've watched these shows back to back on a nightly (or even a weekly) basis, it's not hard to pick out the same sets -the show was shot at the old MGM studio in Hollywood from 1964-68- regardless of how they've been "dressed up". (One week Solo & Illya will walk down "Main Street" in what's supposed to be New York City. The following episode the same street set, now with vaguely Easten European-language signs all over the place, will have been relocated to a fictional Communist Bloc country "somewhere behind the Iron Curtain" as U.N.C.L.E. chief Mr. Waverly would put it. And yes, the hound dog attitude Vaughn's Solo character projects around the female U.N.C.L.E. agents (and this being the mid-60s, the women agents in these episodes act more like secretaries than intelligence operatives, religated to making coffee & looking up research while the men do all the dangerous stuff) would've been grounds for a sexual harassment suit today.

In a nutshell, the show is representative of the period it was created in. The idea of a multi-national law enforcement agency, where various countries including the US & Russia (strangely, I have yet to see a Chinese U.N.C.L.E. representative), could put aside their differences and work together to protect those less fortunate may be native today, but it is still charming (and, in these post 9/11 days, not so far fetched anymore)in that post-JFK afterglow of the early 60s. To try and read anything more into it would be a mistake.

The set can be ordered by Time Life here . And an online episode guide can be found here.


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