Cinema Retro's Lee Pfeiffer provides the first review of the U.N.C.L.E. boxed set
Santa arrived a month and a half early with an advance review set of one of the most eagerly-awaited DVD collections ever - The Man From U.N.C.L.E. from Time Life, distributed under license from Warner Home Video. Quite obviously, I haven't had time to make a dent in the 100+ episodes contained on the staggering 41 discs. However, I did choose the episode I was most eager to watch: The Alexander the Greater Affair. This two-part episode was the season 2 opener in September 1965 and has been virtually unseen since. It also formed the basis of the feature film One Spy Too Many. Purists always argue over the merits of each individual episode, but for me, this was representative of the best of the series. Just as the third James Bond movie, Goldfinger, found the perfect balance between adventure and humor, so, too did season two of U.N.C.L.E.- at least in this writer's humble opinion. Many fans prefer the more straight-forward, less-than-humorous episodes in season one, when the show was seen in black and white. Virtually all agree that season three was a disaster, with the content designed to emulate the campiness of Batman. Things got considerably back on track for the aborted season 4, which ran from September 1967 to mid-January 1968, but the bloom was off the rose. The spy craze had peaked and U.N.C.L.E. had also been damaged by being placed in constantly new nights and timeslots, opposite ratings powerhouses like Gunsmoke.
The series has not been widely seen in syndication since the 1970s. Those episodes that have been shown on networks like TNT have been cut to shreds to accomodate more commercials. Thus, the arrival of the show on DVD is especially liberating for enthusiasts who will no longer have to depend upon the largesse of cable stations to show the occasional episode. The first aspect of the collection that commands attention is the packaging. The entire set is packed in a sturdy mini-silver attache case that boasts an U.N.C.L.E. emblem on the top and even has traditional snap locks to open the "case". When you do open it, there is a cool black and white photo on the upper inside cover of Del Floria's tailor shop. Each season is packaged as a separate set and features an illustrated collector's booklet complete with extensive and informative liner notes. Each season's notes is written by an expert on the series: New York TV critic David Bianculli, Jon Burlingame, Cynthia Walker (a professor) and Craig Henderson, who is authoring Cinema Retro's continuing series of articles about the U.N.C.L.E. feature films. Each collector's booklet also contains a statement about the series by Robert Vaughn and David McCallum. The only hitch here is that the same statement appears in each set, rather than presenting their views on each specific season. A small quibble, though, considering how welcome the booklets are in an age in which standard DVD releases have virtually done away with this once omnipresent value-added feature.