by Bill Stamets

Stylish spy trio thwarts Nazi nuke sale in sixties NBC spinoff

Posted in Uncategorized by Bill Stamets on August 19, 2015

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

directed by Guy Ritchie
written by Guy Ritchie and Lionel Wigram
based on the television series by Sam Rolfe
acted by Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, Luca Calvani, Sylvester Groth, Jared Harris, Hugh Grant
presented and distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures

 

Three cool spies ply their trade during the Cold War of 1963. For the big screen, Guy Ritchie (“Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows,” “Sherlock Holmes,” “Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels”) packages a cheeky backgrounder on the “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” vintage television series.

That 105-episode NBC series started its three-and a-half year run in 1964. Tonal shifts ensued across five producers and five time slots. Prompted by the popular James Bond films, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” belonged to a broadcast fad. American networks booked eight different programs on the 1965-1966 season. Its co-stars were celebs: Robert Vaughn was a guest speaker at Notre Dame, where he forecast our Vietnam policy triggering World War III; and David McCallum did a guest gig NBC’s rock dance show “Hullabaloo.”

In his hyphenate roles as the director– and a writer and a producer– Ritchie never spells out the acronym in the original title. In the last two seconds of his film he introduces “Uncle” (without the five abbreviating periods) as a code word. Spoiler alert: a sequel is conceivable. As for “The Man” in the title: there are in fact two men and one woman in play, as in Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes films. “I’m drawn to that male-to-male dynamic as kind of a genre unto itself,” he reveals in his press notes.

Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill, “Man of Steel,” “Immortals”) is a CIA agent. Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer, “The Lone Ranger,” “The Social Network”) is a KGB agent. “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” opens with the pair meeting cute to extract Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander, “Ex Machina,” “Testament of Youth”), who appears to be an auto mechanic in East Berlin.

Napoleon and Illya soon learn their respective governments are now secretly collaborating in order to keep a nuclear warhead out of the clutches of ex-Nazis. Gaby’s long-lost father– “Hitler’s favorite rocket scientist,” according to his dossier– is aiding the Vinciguerra Shipping and Aerospace Company in Rome. Gaby is key to getting to him.

Most of the action is set in the deluxe estate and high tech lair of the Vinciguerra family empire. Their name may derive from Vincenzo Vinciguerra, the Italian neo-fascist terrorist from the National Vanguard and New Order who was convicted for a 1972 car bombing with C4 linked to a NATO munitions cache. Or maybe not. More legible are the sly riffs on James Bond’s savor faire. Vocals by Nina Simone, Louis Prima and Roberta Flack are well chosen.

There’s much to like in the wry patter, hip decor, swinging couture, retro tunes and twisty schemes in this forgettably light summer fare. The plot is hardly serious about the computer disk with secrets for enriching uranium to win the arms race or install a new reich, but Ritchie offers flirty outwitting by three attractive agents in killer outfits.

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