Last weekend, Warner Bros. Pictures released Guy Ritchie and Lionel Wigram‘s adaptation of the television series The man From U.N.C.L.E..
The original series featured 105 episodes between 1964 and 1968 as a collaboration between creator Norman Felton and You Only Live Twice‘s Ian Fleming, creator of lead character Napoleon Solo. Other contributing writers were Robert Towne, Sherman Yellen and Harlan Ellison. The pilot episode featured character Ilya Kuryakin, who drew positive reception from audiences, prompting Felton to make him the second lead rather than April Dancer. Solo and Kuryakin would star in the series as two spies working for United Network Command Law Enforcement, Section Two – Operations and Enforcement. Solo was Number One and Kuryakin was Number Two. The third and final regular was Alexander Waverly, Number One of Section One. It wasn’t so much The man From U.N.C.L.E. as The men From U.N.C.L.E.. U.N.C.L.E. was founded by the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics from mutual fear of T.H.R.U.S.H. Producer Sam Wolfe created U.N.C.L.E.’s hierarchy, and designed it as a global agency recruiting agents from anywhere.
The series’ pilot was feature length. W.A.S.P. took the place of T.H.R.U.S.H., and Allison took the place of Waverly. Kuryakin has a brief role, which would be upgraded to major for the rest of the series. The original version was edited to an hour, titled The Vulcan Affair (Wolfe). Due to the unseen feature-length edition, The Vulcan Affair was released theatrically as To Trap a Spy. The success of this lead to other feature-length stories from the show being released theatrically…
Clyde Ware and Joseph Calverri‘s The Double Affair also had additional scenes, which was included in the cinematic version, The spy With my Face. The United Kingdom release was titled Mr. Solo, and not marketed as part of the series. It remained in British cinemas for two months, which elevated the series to top ratings on ITV Granada.
Season two premièred with the two-part Alexander the Greater Affair (Dean Hargrove). These two episodes were released theatrically as a single feature, One spy too Many, which not only added a romantic subplot that were more sexual than what was seen in the series, but also removed elements from the television broadcast to compensate. Sydney Morning Herald’s Richard Neville described One spy too Many as “a slick and imaginative production, it is nothing more than a celluloid comic strip”.
Another second season two-parter, The Bridge of Lions Affair (Howard Rodman, Wolfe and Henry Slesar) was also released theatrically as One of our Spies is Missing. This was adapted from a tie-in novel, Slesar’s The Bridge of Lions. This involved scenes being rearranged to accommodate the run time, as well as new scenes being filmed to add substance.
Season three featured another two-parter, The Concrete Overcoat Affair (Peter Allan Fields). Unlike previous theatrical releases of episodes, less changes were made to the televised version. The music was carried-over, and no new scenes were added. Some scenes were re-edited to include longer versions than seen in the original episodes. The theatrical title was The spy in the Green Hat.
Another third season two-parter, The Five Daughters Affair (Norman Hudis), was released theatrically as The Karate Killers. Like The Concrete Overcoat Affair/The spy in the Green Hat, minimal changes were made, though these did include musical changes, and scenes were trimmed rather than extended, but still made more graphic than the broadcast edition.
Season four’s final two-part episode, The Prince of Darkness Affair (Hargrove), was released theatrically as The Helicopter Spies. Like The Concrete Overcoat Affair/The spy in the Green Hat and The Karate Killers/The Five Daughters Affair, little changes were made. Scenes remained generally the same apart from being longer to include more mature material, and few scenes were added. But music was changed as before. Alternate cuts were used, involving different camera angles and higher quality stock footage of the rocket launch. Of all the theatrical releases of television episodes, The Helicopter Spies resembled its original television edition the closest.
The final two episodes, The Seven Wonders of the World Affair (Hudis), were released theatrically as How to Steal the World. This was the only theatrical edition to not feature Jerry Goldsmith’s theme music.
The television series was cancelled during its fourth season. Its popularity had lead to imitators, which caused the original show to experiment with different styles that regular audiences felt tested their loyalty. Ratings dropped, and National Broadcasting Company cancelled The man From U.N.C.L.E..
After the cancellation, the series’ cast would reunite in a television feature, The Return of the man From U.N.C.L.E.: the Fiteen-Years-Later Affair (Michael Sloan). This was instead broadcast on Columbia Broadcasting System, guest starring The Avengers‘ Patrick Macnee and featuring a tribute to Ian Fleming with a George Lazenby character driving an Aston Martin DB5 identified as J.B., the initials of Fleming’s most popular character, James Bond. (Lazenby portrayed Bond in the adaptation of Fleming’s On her Majesty’s Secret Service (Richard Maibaum and Simon Raven), and Bond drives the Aston Martin DB5 in the adaptations of Goldfinger (Maibaum and Paul Dehn), Thunderball (Maibaum and John Hopkins) and Skyfall (Neal Purvis, John Logan and Robert Wade) and the theatrical features GoldenEye (Michael France, Jeffrey Caine, Kevin Wade and Bruce Feirstein) and Tomorrow Never Dies (Feirstein). It also appears in the adaptation of Casino Royale (Purvis, Wade and Paul Haggis).) The television feature establishes that T.H.R.U.S.H. is disestablished, with their leader incarcerated. Kuryakin resigned after a mission in-which an innocent was killed and now designs fashion. Solo was dismissed, and sells computers, until he’s contacted through the radio pen he kept for sentimental reasons and assigned to capture T.H.R.U.S.H.’s escaped leader. Solo and Kuryakin are separated for the majority, working as a back-door pilot to a potential new series that wasn’t commissioned.
In 1993, producer John Davis optioned theatrical film rights to Warner Bros. Pictures and Felton. Over the next twenty years, Davis claims, he commissioned twelve to fourteen screenplays from such screenwriters as Jim Thomas & John Thomas, John Requa, Glenn Ficarra and Scott Z. Burns. Burns’ screenplay was selected by director Stephen Soderbergh, slated to begin production in March 2012. Warner Bros. Pictures line producers wanted a budget beneath USD60, 000, 000, a budget Soderbergh felt wouldn’t meet the required period, props and locations. In November 2011, Soderbergh departed. It was eventually directed by Guy Ritchie. Armie Hammer was signed as Kuryakin with Tom Cruise set to be Solo. Cruise dropped-out to work on Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation (Christopher McQuarrie), adapted from the fourth season of Mission: Impossible, which began as one of The man From U.N.C.L.E.‘s imitators. Cruise was replaced with Henry Cavill. Hugh Grant was cast as Waverly. Production began in September 2013 in London and Italy. Principal photography began on 9th September 2013, utilising locations from across Europe and with a final budget of USD75, 000, 000. Ritchie’s collaborator David Allcock said of Ritchie’s process:
“He’s quite intuitive and tends to constantly rewrite stuff, which he does even when they’re shooting. He’ll rewrite things in the morning if they’re shooting that day, working with the actors if something doesn’t feel right.”
Originally scheduled for release on the 16th – 18th January 2015 weekend, Warner Bros. Pictures moved release on 12th August 2014 to the 14th – 16th August 2015 weekend. Goldsmith’s original score was replaced with Daniel Pemberton. It opened to USD13, 421, 036 at third in the box office, directly beneath Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, which had opened three weekends prior. In the United Kindgom, it opened with GBP1, 448, 298 to fourth position, also directly beneath Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, which opened in the same weekend as its North American release. In the Russian box office, the Cold War theme is considered by analysts to have helped its performance, as it opened with RUB201, 036, 611 at number one, instead directly above Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, which was only in its second week. Metacritic scored The man From U.N.C.L.E. at 55, “mixed or average reviews”. Rotten Tomatoes aggregated its reviews to 66%, and said “The man from U.N.C.L.E. tries to distract from an unremarkable story with charismatic stars and fizzy set pieces, adding up to an uneven action thriller with just enough style to overcome its lack of substance”. The North American under-performance was compared with Straight Outta Compton (Jonathan Hermann and Andrea Berloff) having a better marketing campaign, as well as Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation having already provided enough espionage until Purvis/Wade/Logan’s Spectre, the first Bond after Skyfall. The liberal use of the original series as a property was also thought to have been too limiting to the target audience for having little brand recognition.
The man From U.N.C.L.E. was written by Guy Ritchie and Lionel Wigram, based on the television series by Ian Fleming and Norman Felton.