DVD Review: Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

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Review: Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. - The Fifteen Years Later Affair (PG) / Director: Ray Austin / Screenplay: Michael Sloan / Starring: Robert Vaughn, David McCallum, Patrick Macnee, Gayle Hunnicutt, George Lazenby, Tom Mason, Geoffrey Lewis, Anthony Zerbe, Simon Williams / Release date: 26th March

Spy kids of an advanced age will be thrilled by Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E. and the chance to renew their childhood acquaintance with Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin, formerly the top two agents of secret US intelligence organisation U.N.C.L.E. (United Network Command for Law and Enforcement) who blazed a trail across American TV in the 1960s in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. in the wake of the fad for outlandish super spy adventures following the success of James Bond at the cinema. The series was ignominiously cancelled midway through its fourth season in 1968 but this hearty reunion movie from 1983, intended to launch a new series, serves as a nostalgic and occasionally quite poignant coda to the original series with the promise of more adventures yet to come and yet still unseen.

For those too young to remember, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was more than just a TV series. This was a hugely-inclusive experience with comic books, original novels, a fan club whose members were enrolled into their own department of U.N.C.L.E., an attache case full of U.N.C.L.E. merchandise including the show’s trademark guns (the Walther P.38 complete with a scope and long barrel which turned it into a carbine). For those of us who were there, Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E. will unlock long-lost memories of our youths even if the reboot doesn’t have the pace and energy of the original TV shows. Like many resurrections of old favourites it’s done with a real and palpable affection but the fact remains that times have changed and the original Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin (Vaughn and McCallum) were dinosaurs in the 1980s and their reunion film can’t help reflect the passing of the years.

But there’s still fun to be had here, some of it outrageous. U.N.C.L.E.’s deadly enemy, the unfortunately-named THRUSH (Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity…who knew?) has long been disbanded but when old THRUSH head honcho Justin Sepheran (Zerbe) audaciously escapes from prison the organisation quickly regroups and is soon in possession of a deadly nuclear device which it threatens to detonate on American soil unless a ransom of $300 million is handed over by long-retired U.N.C.L.E. agent Napoleon Solo. U.N.C.L.E.’s urbane new British boss Sir John Raleigh (Macnee) galvanises U.N.C.L.E. into action to find the retired Solo and his moody sidekick Ilya Kuryakin, now a fashion designer.

This is a 1960s nostalgists wet dream. Time may have thickened Vaughn and McCallum’s waistlines and the former in particular is a bit more sluggish and greyer about the temples than he was but the dynamic between the two characters is as sharp as it ever was. The film acknowledges the passing of time - one amusing scene sees Solo trying to access U.N.C.L.E. HQ through a dry-cleaning store as he did in the old days only to find that U.N.C.L.E. is a bit less secretive than it once was. McCallum remains the dour Russian agent, reluctantly dragged back into action having left the organisation after being betrayed by a colleague during a previous mission. Elsewhere there’s an hilarious cameo from one-shot Bond George Lazenby as “JB”, driving a familiar Aston Martin around Las Vegas  and using its gadgetry to help Solo escape a bunch of gun-totin’ baddies. “Just like ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” squeals Solo’s just-rescued passenger Andrea Markovitch (Hunnicutt). I’m still not sure how they got away with it…

The film’s story is simplistic generic ransom stuff and there’s an attempt at a Bond-style action-packed finale which the budget and direction can’t quite pull off but and while ‘The Fifteen Years Later Affair’ doesn’t have the colourful charm and tongue-in-cheek wit of the original, being so distanced by time from the craze which spawned it in the first place, it certainly won’t disgrace anyone’s memories of the 1960s series. With the TV episodes still unavailable in the UK (apart from a boxset of the cobbled-together 1960s ’feature film’ releases) this is likely to be an essential purchase for anyone for whose spine tingles at the phrase “Open Channel D.”

Special features: G.A.L.L.E.R.Y of publicity photos.

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