RETURN OF THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.
broadcast in 1983, this rather cumbersomely titled film (the full
title is The Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E.: The Fifteen
Years Later Affair) was one of several TV movie revivals
of much-loved old shows in the decade of despair, and much like
other rivals, served mostly as a reminder of how good the original
shows were, while rather missing the point of what made them so
good in the first place. Seen now, it’s not as bad as you
might fear – its appearance on DVD does serve to highlight
the sad absence of the original series - and the movies created
from it – from the shelves.
Part of the problem with this movie is that it can’t quite
decide what it wants to be. Shot at the height of American Eighties
anti-Russian paranoia, it tries to mix straight-faced action with
the tongue-in-cheek approach of the original show, and doesn’t
quite succeed in either case, as our heroes battle both THRUSH
and the KGB. Opening with THRUSH agents downing a military plane
carrying a nuclear bomb, the film sees Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn)
and Ilya Kuryakin (David McCallum) brought out of retirement to
tackle the resurgent enemy, whose leader has escaped from the
world’s least secure jail (I mean – even the most
open prison might be able to stop a helicopter flying into the
yard and picking up a convict). THRUSH are planning to kidnap
the one man in the world who can arm the bomb, and the two retired
U.N.C.L.E. agents are the only people who can stop him –
possibly because in the intervening years, U.N.C.L.E. seems to
have only been employing oafish Noo Yoik stereotypes.
The problems here are manifold. It takes ages to bring the two
stars together, and then the story sees them almost immediately
separated – its less a reunion that a casual meeting. The
story can’t seem to decide if Solo is still the playboy
character of the Sixties or not (his embarrassed reaction to a
topless model during a fashion show is decidedly out of character
for such a cool character) and the humour struggles to break through.
Early on, it seems that the film will be following the Eighties
TV moral code by making it very clear that the bad guys
are walking away from car wrecks unhurt – but then THRUSH
agents are mown down like flies during the climax.
Guest appearances from Patrick Macnee (as the new U.N.C.L.E. head
Sir John Waverleigh, replacing the dead Leo G. Carroll), Simon
Williams (as Nigel Pennington-Smythe – presumably, the name
Nigel British-Caricature was considered a little too on the nose)
and Gayle Hunnicutt don’t add much to the film, though Geoffrey
Lewis and Anthony Zerbe make decent enough villains. As for George
Lazenby’s appearance as ‘JB’… well, it
probably seemed a good idea at the time, but it doesn’t
But… I can’t be too negative about this.
It is what it is, and I found it an entirely inoffensive viewing
experience. As a one-off revival, it has its place – if
the optional follow-up series had been made, it might seem less
agreeable. Viewers unfamiliar with the series shouldn’t
bother with this, but fans might find it a passable substitute
while we await the arrival of the real thing.
IT NOW (UK)
IT NOW (USA)