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Tuesday, February 2, 2016


This time several decades ago, you might have found me sitting crosslegged in front of the family TV watching one of my favorite shows, "The Man From U.N.C.L.E.", which ran for four seasons back in 1964-1968. 

Back then I never could've imagined that someday I'd be able to own entire seasons of the show on magical discs that I could watch whenever I felt like it, as with the new 10-DVD set THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.: THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.

These second-season episodes are much more fun and, surprisingly, a bit less tacky-looking than I remember from when they originally aired.  There's a breeziness to the action and character interplay that skirts the edges of self-parody while occasionally stepping right in it. (Which, as I recall, became a much bigger problem in season three.)

Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, as top U.N.C.L.E. agent Napoleon Solo and his Russian partner Illya Kuryakin, even seem to be having more fun here than in the previous season.  Everything's lighter and there's a sense of fun about the whole thing that makes even the most outlandish and/or least substantial plots not only bearable but rather amusing in their own way.

Speaking of plots, they're fairly paper-thin and not all that important anyway except as vehicles for the raucous action scenes and tongue-in-cheek character interplay complete with willfully clunky dialogue--which is one big reason I liked the show so much as a kid. 

U.N.C.L.E. (which stands for "United Network Command for Law Enforcement", a multi-national organization that polices the world) must remain forever vigilant against the evil forces of their main adversary, THRUSH (I can't remember what that stands for, but it's bad), a global gang of bad guys who use advanced technology, biological weaponry, etc. to terrorize the world.

In the episode "The Birds and the Bees Affair", they actually wipe out an entire European branch of U.N.C.L.E. using tiny poisonous bees introduced into their headquarters through the ventilation system.  (John McGiver guests as the sinister THRUSH boss "Mr. Mozart.") In "The Ultimate Computer", Charlie Ruggles and Roger C. Carmel have developed a 1960s version of a super-computer that will threaten to rule the world with its superior brain power. 

Other nefarious THRUSH schemes include a machine that reads people's thoughts ("The Foxes and Hounds Affair"), a highly corrosive new substance which resembles soap suds and dissolves human flesh ("The Arabian Affair"), and a boys' academy where Jeanne Cooper as "Mother Fear" trains the impressionable lads to be junior assassins ("The Children's Day Affair").  

One of the more noteworthy guest appearances is by Martin Landau as Zark, a cape-wearing Transylvanian villain with a Bela Lugosi accent, in "The Bat Cave Affair."  Not only does Landau get to chew the scenery as only he can while his character plans to attack the entire continent of Europe with bloodthirsty vampire bats, but he gives us a preview of his Oscar-winning performance as Lugosi in Tim Burton's 1994 film ED WOOD.

As in the first season, these episodes whisk us off to various exotic hot spots all over the world, each of which is represented by the same familiar backlot locations, fake city streets, and grainy stock footage with intertitles to let us know where we are.  These fake locales are invariably populated by caricatures with really bad accents, which becomes part of the show's charm after awhile.

Technically, "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." is no better or worse than the usual low-budget TV comedy-drama from the mid-60s. Direction, camerawork, and editing range from workmanlike to downright slapdash at times, with frenetic fight sequences that are hardly more realistic  or well-choreographed than those in Adam West's "Batman."  Missing here is the talent of director Richard Donner from season one.    

Most of the semblance of seriousness that ran through the first season has begun to fade away in favor of a decidedly tongue-in-cheek atmosphere.  This is reflected in Vaughn's performance, which is casual to say the least.  McCallum's Kuryakin maintains a bit more Russian reserve although he's often the butt of comedic misfortune.

I like the way the two avoid the usual sentimentality by keeping their interplay light and sometimes caustic.  Often a story will end with one of them cock-blocking the other as he tries to make time with their current leading lady.  Even the dignified Mr. Waverly gets in on the act in some cases.  But Leo G. Carroll (NORTH BY NORTHWEST) is such a distinguished actor that he manages to lend needed class and believability even when things border on the farcical.

A large part of the show's charm is the fact that our heroes tend to recruit a different civilian woman in each episode to help them in some way against THRUSH.  (This happened often in season one but has become a standard feature in season two.)  Some of the more likable actresses to fill this role include "Laugh-In" star Judy Carne, Joyce Jameson, Julie Sommers, Dorothy Provine, Juliet Mills, Jocelyn Lane, France Nuyen, Sharon Farrell, Joan Freeman, and, notably, McCallum's wife at the time, Jill Ireland in her second guest appearance.

In addition, the show is a cornucopia of notable guest stars for viewers who enjoy spotting familiar faces.  Among those in season two are Rip Torn, James Hong, Madge Blake, Vincent Price, Patricia Medina, Ray Danton, Joy Harmon, Harvey Lembeck, Eric Braeden, George Macready, Theo Marcuse, Vic Tayback, "Three Stooges" regular Gene Roth, Michael Ansara, Phyllis Newman, Mala Powers, Lawrence Montaigne, George Sanders, Claude Akins, Jessie Royce Landis, Sig Ruman, Warren Stevens, Victor Buono, Maurice Evans, Gil Perkins, Angela Lansbury, John Hoyt, Jay North, Arnold Moss, Diane McBain, Lee Bergere, Florence Marly, Vera Miles, James "Scotty" Doohan, Michael Pate, Norman Fell, Kevin McCarthy, Nancy Kovack, Ricardo Montalban, Jack Weston, Bruce Gordon, Whit Bissell, Eve Arden, Paul Winfield, and Victoria Vetri (aka Angela Dorian).

Bad sci-fi fans should be especially pleased to spot King Moody of TEENAGERS FROM OUTER SPACE in the episode "The Minus-X Affair."  Of special interest as well is "The Moonglow Affair", which serves as a pilot for the later spin-off series "The Girl From U.N.C.L.E." with Mary Ann Mobley and Norman Fell in the roles of agents April Dancer and Mark Slate (played in the series by Stephanie Powers and Noel Harrison).

The 10-disc DVD set from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment is in full screen with Dolby English mono sound.  Subtitles are in English.  Aside from a paper episode guide insert, there are no extras.

One of the nicer surprises I got from watching THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.: THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON is that not only is season two better than I remembered from its original airing, but a lot more fun as well.  If you're into 60s television that doesn't take itself too seriously, the adventures of Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin are a real hoot.

Read our review of Season One

Buy it at the
Street date: Feb. 2, 2016
Stills are not taken from DVD

Episode Titles:

The Alexander the Greater Affair, Part I
The Alexander the Greater Affair, Part II
The Ultimate Computer Affair
The Foxes and Hounds Affair
The Discotheque Affair
The Re-Collector's Affair
The Arabian Affair
The Tigers are Coming Affair
The Deadly Toys Affair
The Cherry Blossom Affair
The Virtue Affair
The Children's Day Affair
The Adriatic Express Affair
The Yukon Affair
The Very Important Zombie Affair
The Dippy Blonde Affair
The Deadly Goddess Affair
The Birds and the Bees Affair
The Waverly Ring Affair
The Bridge of Lions Affair , Part I
The Bridge of Lions Affair , Part II
The Foreign Legion Affair
The Moonglow Affair
The Nowhere Affair
The King of Diamonds Affair
The Project Deephole Affair
The Round Table Affair
The Bat Cave Affair
The Minus-X Affair
The Indian Affairs Affair


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