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The eighties could easily be considered a come back decade for TV shows from the sixties and seventies, in fact the craze was just starting when someone had the bright idea to re-unite two master spies of television from the sixties era that had been launched by James Bond. Co-created by Ian Fleming The Man From Uncle had become a phenomenal hit from the mid-sixties and made its two main stars, Robert Vaughan and David McCullum stars as the show was sold across the world. Unfortunately by the end of its fourth season the quality of the scripts had reached dire levels that involved the cast rising giant stink bomb missiles or dancing with an Ape and the show was cancelled due to the impact of falling ratings and also some felt the way people were changing their TV habits as well as one of the reasons were that shows of a higher calibre were being placed up against it in the TV schedules, either way the show was no more. That was until The Return of the Man from Uncle - The Fifteen Years Later Affair was broadcast.
Recently there has been talk in of the show being bought back to life as a film and potential franchise with George Clooney in the lead role, yet in 1983 a reunion movie was produced that bought the two super spies out of retirement and back into a modern day and much changed Uncle organisation . The reasons why the two are bought back are over the top in some respect, the enemy of Uncle called Thrush have obtained an H-957 Nuclear device and are holding the world to ransom for money or else they blow the bomb up. The only problem is that they want Napoleon Solo to deliver the money, Solo left Uncle a number of years ago and vowed never to return. Uncle need to track down both Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin, who were once Uncle's top agents. For them to be bought back they need to be located, its shown that Solo is now a failed computer salesman while Kuryakin is now a highly regarded fashion designer, interestingly both based in New York which is where Uncle's base still resides.
As the original Head of Uncle, Alexander Waverly, played by Leo G Carroll had passed away a number of years before, the actor replacing him was a surprise to say the least. Patrick McNee plays Sir John Raleigh, a direct descendent of Sir Walter. It's only been six years since he played John Peel in The New Avengers and McNee looks older as well as heavier and his part is little more than a cameo appearance as such due to Raleigh being the main person in charge of locating Solo and Kuryakin back into Uncle. I think it was a good idea to have him take the role, but I think the spoof value has been laid on rather thickly as worse was to follow as the story opens. A small homage is paid to Carroll as a photo of Alexander Waverly is seen on Raleigh's desk which I thought was a nice touch.
The villain of the piece who is identified immediately at the beginning when he is dramatically sprung from prison by the use of a helicopter is played by well known actor Antony Zerbe who seems to have appeared in almost every TV show going. He plays Justin Sephrame, the man who had been put away by Uncle a number of years before and wants Solo to pay the ransom and act as courier. Zerbe is a fine villain and has had plenty of opportunities to practice in the past in the roles he has played. He is a total psychopath and something different for Uncle to address.
Backing up the rest of the cast is British actor Simon Williams as Pennington-Smythe the creator of the device that Thrush have stolen, his is the hardest role of all as the character is under immense pressure towards the end of the film. However even for Williams the script seems to be hard to work with. I also have to mention that Keenan Wynn and Geoffrey Lewis appear in this as well, but if I mention anymore will send out some major spoilers.
I don't blame either Vaughan or McCullum for coming back to the parts, without these two the film isn't actually that much at all. Vaughan looking decisively older than 15 years earlier yet still appears to be nimble in his movements with his black hair and immaculate dress sense while McCullum hasn't changes a bit in appearance at all and still looks the same as he did in the last show with his blond hair. Both men look reasonably fit in appearance and as the show goes on you see them working apart which was a trait of the show, however this time the roles seem to be switched. Kuryakin gets the more cerebral and static role while Solo has to manage the full on attack with explosions happening all around. Compared to the TV show this is the exact opposite and it doesn't quite work as I got the impression both actors felt a little outside there comfort zones with what they had to do in the script as the script in places does mirror a Bond film, a good example is at the half way point where the agents go to the armoury to be kitted out for the assignment.... they pay a visit to Z, no not Q they go to see Z. This makes the pitch of the film somewhat uncertain as in some parts the film uses the Uncle values that have simply been transplanted from the TV show such as the use of the Pen communicators which is good and nostalgic, however at some points there are some major curveballs, such as ex-James Bond actor George Lazenby wearing a tuxedo appears driving an Aston Martin DB5 to give assistance to Solo while in Las Vegas, and curiously playing a British spy whose name is never mentioned! It is a surprise and a joy to watch, yet it doesn't feel right and it's nice to see this cross-over even if the actual name of the character that Lazenby is playing isn't mentioned, but this does give the whole thing a serious tongue in cheek feel. In fact it's in Las Vegas that we find Solo playing a losing streak at the card table in Caesars Palace when his pen goes off. The funniest part relates to believing that the character is actually relieved that he is being called into save the world again and from here onwards Solo has a spring in his step which leads to some humorous exchange of dialogue debating where all the Uncle girls have gone to which Solo replies "in the Uncle home" and even at the end they both agree that this was a lot easier fifteen years ago.
Okay, there are a few things happening here. Firstly Uncle wouldn't give up straight away as that's not the way they work. Secondly the film is clearly split into two parts and plays more like a pilot to re-launch the show, I say this as the titles have been updated with the legendary music now remixed to modern 1983 standards and the whole thing has that "look at me" thing that sticks with an attempt to bring something out of one era into another. At the time it was shown in America there was genuine interest in the show, but unfortunately it didn't work out and this is the last time that we see the actors in these roles.
There are a number of sequences in the film that up the pace of the story, however the continuity is a problem and the attention to detail was a luxury rather than a necessary as some scenes such as the visible blue screen outside an airplane window or the self repairing cars that are dented one minute and not the next do tend to mess things around and this causes the sequences to lose momentum and they don't work together. When I first saw this on VHS when it was released under the long gone Channel 5 label I used to watch it again and again and was fascinated by the film as it was The Man From Uncle, now watching it again as an adult I do wonder what all the fuss was about, as now its simply nostalgia reasons that I got the Region 1 DVD imported through Amazon in the first place.
The opportunity to completely go against the grain here has also been taken as well and add something new into the mix. I was surprised to see Sam Rolfe's names as scriptwriter appear as he was one of the main people on the original series. It's interesting to note that the film as an adventure film made for TV works on its own, however the fact that the producers have tried to re-launch Uncle as a TV series doesn't work well and putting aside the issues with the plot we also have issues with the budget as there are locations that are instantly recognisable as being in California that are doubling for installations in Libya. The worst being a street in Los Angeles that is apparently New York, that is until you see the background that is crying out as Los Angeles. This is a trademark of producer Michael Sloane who went on to produce the three Six Million Dollar Man reunion movies as those films as well as this one has been made on the cheap, if the budget had been higher then who knows what would have happened.
There is more facts about this film on You Tube than there are extras, the disc doesn't have any at all and this is a let down on its own. The fanfare of media interest it caused at the time with the actors being interviewed and documentaries being shown could have been collected together for a nice presentation of extras, except they haven't and the only thing you get is a trailer for the film itself that although good to watch doesn't add any substance to the film.
Like I said earlier, for a film that is 96 minutes in length the film is entertaining and continues the Uncle legacy in a way that some thought would never be seen, in my opinion the fact that they managed to get the two main stars back together is quite an achievement on its own. However the transplanting of the humour and the updating doesn't quite work with the same style and panache that the original series showed some fifteen years earlier and what looked good on paper didn't transfer to the screen with the same gusto and scope, whether it was the fact that the film could have been set anywhere in terms of simply changing the name in the script or the fact that this is a stealth approach to launching a "Next Generation" type series is something that could have bought in the new and younger actors that appeared alongside the more established characters. Bottom line is that while it is an Uncle movie that does entertain, it's a shame that in parts it majorly let itself down.