For Baby Boomers, owning a season or two of a fondly remembered TV series on DVD is enough to satisfy any nostalgic yearnings. The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
, though, warrants the full-series treatment. It's a wild '60s flashback to the Espionage era that was ushered in by Ian Fleming's James Bond adventures. According to a series retrospective that's just one of this cleverly packaged set's prodigious extras, Fleming himself was recruited to create a spy series for American television. His contribution was the name "Napoleon Solo," the moniker of a crime boss in Goldfinger
. That movie, which would kick Bond and spy mania into overdrive, had not yet opened when viewers were introduced to Robert Vaughn's Solo and David McCallum's Illya Kuryakin, agents of the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement. This covert agency operated out of Del Floria's Tailor Shop in New York under the command of true Brit Alexander Waverly (Leo J. Carroll, playing much the same character he portrayed in North by Northwest
). The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
offered a bit of hope in Cold War America that an American and Russian could work together to stop a common enemy, THRUSH, a ruthless organization bent on world domination. The intriguing conceit of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
was to give audiences an empathetic surrogate who would be plucked from their humdrum lives for whirlwind adventures with Solo and Kuryakin. In the pilot episode, Patricia Crowley guest-stars as a housewife who acts as bait to foil the plans of her former college boyfriend, who is plotting the assassination of a world leader. In a series benchmark, "The Never-Never Affair," a pre-Get Smart
Barbara Feldon stars as an U.N.C.L.E. translator who unwittingly becomes involved in actual espionage. Seasons one and two are the series' best, with a stellar roster of guest stars ("The Project Strigas Affair" features the first onscreen pairing of William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy), stylish direction by directors who would go on to some renown (Michael Ritchie, Richard Donner), smart scripts, and great action (a movie theatre shoot-out in "The Never-Never Affair"). In its third season, The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
's campy and absurdist tone with shark-jumping results While this season has its share of groaners (in one episode, Sollo watusis with a gorilla), several "Affairs" stand out. Jack Palance and Janet Leigh as a long cool woman in a white dress are great villains in "The Concrete Overcoat Affair." Harlan Ellison wrote the witty "The Pieces of Fate Affair," in which he takes some sly digs at television and literary critics (a THRUSH operative is a book reviewer). Joan Collins makes like Eliza Doolittle in a dual role as a Bronx stripper and a countess in "The Galatea Affair." The series went back to basics in Season Four
, but by then, The Avengers
was a bigger hit and the writing was on the wall for this once trendsetting series. This lavish box set affair contains upward of ten hours of bonus features, including the unaired series pilot, a series retrospective, an interview with a reunited Vaughn and McCallum, dossiers on each season's guest stars, one of the U.N.C.L.E.
feature films edited and expanded from a two-part episode, segments about the great gadgets and cool music, U.N.C.L.E.
designs and blueprints, and season-specific booklets.This definitive box set does full justice to a series that had such an impact on popular culture (as witness the bonus Tom & Jerry cartoon, "The Mouse From H.U.N.G.E.R."). More than a blast from the past, The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
is still a potent blend of "cloak and swagger." --Donald Liebenson