Paramount Home Video has released a DVD edition of the 1983 TV movie Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. starring Robert Vaughn and David McCallum reprising their legendary roles that they had last performed in 1968 when the original show was canceled after a four-season run. The release is most welcome, though it's bare bones treatment virtually cries out for some bonus extras. Paramount apparently didn't want to capitalize on the recent Warner Home Video mega set of the TV series by having Vaughn and McCallum contribute to this edition. However, they could have easily have obtained the services of the one of the many U.N.C.L.E. scholars to discuss the TV movie on a commentary track. Nonetheless, the film is as interesting as it is controversial. Casual fans of the show always enjoyed the reunion broadcast, but hardcore U.N.C.L.E. fans always viewed as second-rate and a missed opportunity (sort of the Never Say Never Again of the U.N.C.L.E. franchise.) I count myself among the few die hard aficionados of the series who genuinely likes Return -though it is not without flaws.
By April of 1983, when the reunion movie was broadcast on CBS, U.N.C.L.E. fans were quite impatient to see the end result. For years, there had been rumors of a reunion movie and at one point MGM had virtually committed to a big screen feature starring Vaughn and McCallum before a new regime at the studio got cold feet. The on-again, off-again nature of the project kept evolving and was complicated by McCallum's ambivalence about recreating a character that had made him a teenage idol in the 1960s - a mantle he neither wanted nor wore very comfortably. Ultimately, TV producer Michael Sloan obtained the rights to the sequel and managed to get McCallum on board. The movie was intended as a pilot for a revival of the series that, sadly, never materialized despite the fact the film got decent ratings. The best aspect, of course, is seeing Vaughn and McCallum together again, both looking remarkably unchanged over the ensuing fifteen years. The agents are called back into action, despite the fact they have long been retired from U.N.C.L.E. McCallum's Illya Kuryakin is now a noted fashion designer and Vaughn's Napoleon Solo is in the computer industry. (An unintended joke because Vaughn still refused to use a personal computer in real life).The evil THRUSH organization is now posing a nuclear threat and only Solo and Illya are deemed qualified to stop it. They reunite by literally bumping into each other during a fight with the bad guys in the Russian Tea Room!
There are some amusing touches scattered throughout, most notably
Solo searching in vain for the legendary tailor shop entrance to
U.N.C.L.E. HQ. He soon finds out that the organization is now so well
known, it advertises its location through a major sign. Solo and Illya
also find that U.N.C.L.E. chief Alexander Waverly has been succeeded by
an equally dapper and witty Englishman, Sir John Raleigh (Patrick
Macnee in an inspired bit of casting). There is a nice touch in the
inclusion of a photo of Leo G. Carroll's Waverly displayed prominently
in U.N.C.L.E. HQ. One of the complaints about the script is that, after
finally reuniting Solo and Illya, it sends them off on separate
missions. However, if one studies the original series, this was
generally the scenario with both agents often working in locations far
removed from each other. The movie does skimp on production costs and
some of the "exotic" locations are as apparently phony as those in the
original show. There is a fun supporting cast, however, including Gayle
Hunnicutt sporting what we hope is an intentionally bad Russian
accent, Anthony Zerbe,Keenan Wynn and Geoffrey Lewis as a THRUSH
baddies and a bizarre but highly entertaining cameo appearance by
George Lazenby as a thinly-disguised James Bond. This affords spy movie
fans to enjoy the sight of Lazenby driving the classic Aston Martin
DB5, something not seen in his one and only Bond film On Her Majesty's Secret Service.
Paramount DVD provides a crisp, terrific picture but the only extra is
a strange "trailer", sans any narration, that suspiciously seems as
though it were cobbled together simply for this release. I wouldn't rate
Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E as high as the best episodes of
the original series, but it is head-and-shoulders over the show's
notoriously campy third season - and mid-range U.N.C.L.E. is still a
total delight. One hopes that Warner Home Video will now release the
eight 1960s feature films derived from the original series as a DVD
Click here to order Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. from Amazon.
(Cinema Retro contributor Craig Henderson has been giving in-depth coverage to all of the U.N.C.L.E. feature films in every recent issue.)